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Title: A Sovereign Remedy
Author: Steel, Flora Annie Webster, 1847-1929
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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   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                          A SOVEREIGN REMEDY



                          A Sovereign Remedy


                                  By

                          FLORA ANNIE STEEL

                _Author of "On the Face of the Water,"
        "The Hosts of the Lord," "Voices in the Night," etc_.



                               New York
                      Doubleday, Page & Company
                                 1907



                         Copyright, 1906, by
                          Flora Annie Steel
                       Published, January, 1907



                        _All rights reserved,
        including that of translation into foreign languages,
                     including the Scandinavian_



                          A SOVEREIGN REMEDY



                          A SOVEREIGN REMEDY



                              CHAPTER I


"Oh! Dash it all!... I'm so sorry...!"

"Oh! Dash it all!... I'm so sorry...!"

The coincident exclamations and their sequent apology were separated
by a crash, followed by a pause, during which the two cyclists who had
collided picked themselves out of the dust unhurt and looked quickly
at their machines; finally turning to each other with a smiling
_bienveillance_ born of relief--for there was no denying that the
affair might have been serious, and they were both conscious of sin.

"It was my fault; I was looking at the view," said one of the two
young men candidly. He was a trifle the taller, the broader, and
distinctly the better looking; but they were both excellent specimens
of clean, wholesome-looking British manhood; curiously alike also, not
only in feature, but in resolute adherence to the conventional type.

"But so was I!" returned the other. His voice was the pleasanter, not
perhaps so resonant, but with more modulation in it. "Besides, your
machine is damaged, and mine isn't--Oh! by George! I hadn't noticed
the pedal," he added, following the other's look. He bent for closer
inspection, then gave a laugh which was but half rueful; in truth, he
was not altogether dissatisfied with this justice of Providence.

"About equal--so we'll cry quits," he said.

"It means walking for us both," said the other with a shrug. "Are you
going my way?"

He nodded towards the blue depths of the valley, which, from this gap
in the wavy outline of rolling hill where they stood, dipped down to
the distant sea that lay half-way up the sky like a level pale-blue
cloud.

The gap was the summit level between east and west; as such, a
meeting-place for much water, and many roads.

One of the latter meandered backwards over the wide stretch of pink
bell-heather and tasselled cotton grass which told of a catchment bog,
where, even in fine weather, the mountain mists dissolved into dew,
and the dew gathered itself into dark peaty pools like brown eyes
among the tufted lashes of the bents and rushes.

And on either side of this central track two others curved down the
rolling moor, north and south, to turn sharply behind a patch of gorse
and boulders to join hands, all three, for the steep descent before
them, as if afraid of solitude in this new venture. Whence, indeed,
had come the collision between the two cyclists, each intent on a
suddenly disclosed view.

"There is no other way--except back on our traces--back to
Blackborough--Good Lord!" came the reply.

The first speaker smiled. "So you are a Blackberry also--Well! it is
an awful place--one can hardly credit up here that all the soot and
dirt is only--say a hundred miles off. Here one can breathe----"

He looked as if he could do more than that, as, finally shaking
himself free of the last speck of dust, he prepared to start.

"Left nothing behind, I hope," said the other, glancing back.
"Hullo! There's a letter tumbled out of somebody's pocket in the
stramash--yours or mine?"

It lay address upwards between them, and the taller of the two with a
brief "Mine," picked it up and put it in his pocket. His companion
stared at him.

"Look here," he said, holding out his hand. "You've made a
mistake--that letter belongs to me--I'm Edward Cruttenden."

It was the other's turn to stare. "The deuce you are! Why!--my name is
Edward Cruttenden!"

They stood thus staring at each other with a sudden dim sense of their
own similarity, until the shorter of the two shook his head
whimsically.

"This is confusing," he remarked in a tone of argument. "Let's sit
down and have a pipe over it--we shall have to differentiate ourselves
before we start out into the world together."

Almost at their feet a tiny trickle of water, scarcely heard in its
soft bed of sphagnum moss, told that already the descent had begun;
but this was stayed a few feet further by a rocky hollow in which the
stream gathered and brimmed, so that as you looked out over the
shallowing pool, the rushes which fringed it stood out against the far
distant blue of the sea beyond, and there seemed no reason why the
little lakelet should not take one wild leap into the ocean, and so
save itself many miles of weary journeying through unseen valleys.

On the brink of this pool, their backs against a convenient boulder,
their legs on the short sweet turf that was kept like a lawn by the
hungry nip of mountain sheep, the two Edward Cruttendens rested,
smoked, and compared notes; somewhat dilatorily, since the afternoon
was fine and the effect of a sinking sun on moor and fell absolutely
soul-satisfying.

"Let's differentiate our names somehow," said the pleasant-voiced one
lazily--"Did your godfathers, etc., do anything more for you than
Edward--mine didn't."

The other shook his head. Something in his handsome face had already
differentiated itself from the amused curiosity on his companion's.

"That's awkward--we shall be driven to abbreviations. You shall be
Ted, and I Ned--both dentals but philologically uninterchangeable; so
they'll do for the present. Well, Ted, since you are twenty-seven and
I'm gone twenty-nine, and my father died before I was born, we can't
be complicated up as long--lost brothers--can we?"

Ted turned to him frowning sharply--"No! but--but what put that into
your head. I----"

Ned laughed; a laugh as musical as his voice, but with a quaint
aloofness about it as if he himself were standing aside to listen.

"The position is--romantic; and novels have it so always. As if it
were not frankly impossible in this England of ours to dissociate one
man from another by breed--we're hopeless mongrels, kin to each other
all round. Birth counts for nothing; so let's quit it--Upbringing?"

Ted interrupted shortly--"I--I never knew my father, and my mother
died when I was born."

"So did mine," said Ned softly.

There was a pause in which the luring wail of a circling plover who
deemed the intruders too near her nest, became insistent, and seemed
to fill the mountain solitude with a sense of motherhood, until, once
more, the musical, critical laugh struck in on it.

"'Come!' as Shakespeare says, 'there's sympathy for you!' So far we
start fair. Education?--I was at Eton, and----"

"I was a Blue-Coat boy," interrupted Ted again, and something in his
tone made Ned look the other way, and idly busy himself in trying to
dissociate a tender trail of ivy-leaved mountain campanula from its
coarser companions in the turf.

"A better education, I expect," he said at last, "though I admit the
yellow stockings must be devilish; still"--he paused, settled himself
yet more comfortably in his cleft, and with clasped hands behind his
head, relapsed into smoke and silence. Even the plover, convinced of
their innocence, had ceased her wheeling, luring wail.

So desultorily, sometimes in thought only, sometimes by question and
answer, they sat trying to dissociate themselves from the tie of a
common name. And before them the afternoon sun, slowly sinking towards
extinction in the sea, began to send level rays of light to fill up
the valley with a golden haze in which all things lost their
individuality.

Finally Ned sat up, and knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

"About equal, I should say; except, of course, for money."

"That means we are unequal in all things," remarked Ted shortly. "You
can't deny it. A clerk as I am, out for a Whitsun holiday with ten
pounds to spend on it in his pocket, isn't--isn't in the same week
with--well! what shall I say----"

"A man who employs clerks," suggested Ned with a smile.

Ted gave an impatient shrug. "As you will. However you come by it, you
admit having a hundred pounds."

"A hundred and ten I should say," interrupted Ned, who was counting a
handful of loose gold and silver. "I've a hundred in notes besides.
However! That needn't be a difficulty!"

The level, golden sun-rays flashed on a curved gold flight, as a
bright new sovereign flitted duck-and-drake fashion over the brimming
pool at their feet, then disappeared, leaving a circled series of
ripples like a smoke wreath on its shiny surface.

"Hold hard! I say--you know--here! stop that, will you--don't be such
a blamed fool!" ...

There was imminent danger of a struggle in reality when a voice from
the road behind them said with a mixture of appeal and authority:

"Do not quarrel, see you, my good fellows, but tell me the cause of
your disagreement, and I will advise to the best of my ability."

The speaker, also a young man of some thirty years, was tall and dark
with a jaw which should have been strong from its length, but was
curiously marred by the almost feminine softness of contour which
belied the blue shadow of a hard-shaven beard. For the rest he had a
fine pair of fiery dark eyes, set close to the thick eyebrows which
almost met on his high, narrow forehead. It was the face of a saint or
a sinner, preferably the former; but whichever way, the face of an
enthusiast.

"You're a parson," said Ned, ceasing from horseplay and eyeing the
rusty black suit. "So we will refer to you, sir, since you are bound
by your cloth to agree with _me_, and say that money is the root of
all evil."

Apprised of the cause of dispute, the Reverend Morris Pugh, of the
Calvinistic Methodist Church in the valley below, sat and looked
doubtfully first at the loose gold and silver, then at Ned
Cruttenden's critical blue eyes. Both appealed to him strongly; the
poetry of his race leapt up to meet the one, the inordinate valuation
of even a penny, also typical of his race, reached out to the other.

"Don't say it might be sold and given to the poor," said Ned with a
sudden smile--"To begin with, the remark has been appropriated by
Judas, and then, it's such a rank begging of the question! Poor or
rich, the point at issue between us--my friend over there being a bit
of a socialist is, of course, a bit of a mammon worshipper also--is
whether gold is--is a sovereign remedy! I say not. It doesn't touch
the personal equation, which is all we have--if we have that! So I
contend that neither I, nor the world at large, would suffer if I made
ducks and drakes like this ..."

Another curving flight of gold ended in a swift _whit-whitter_ of
lessening leaps and a final disappearance; but this time the detaining
hand was Morris Pugh's. His eager face held no doubt as to his desire,
though his mind evidently hesitated over a reason for it.

"You really, sir, ought not," he began; then paused.

"Why?" asked Ned quietly.

Ted answered. "Because it isn't really yours. You never earned it,
I'll bet, and the wealth of the world is labour----"

Ned emptied his handful on the turf and interrupted him.

"I give them up! There they are, your sovereign remedies! What are you
going to do with them? Why! spend them to please yourselves, of
course, as I was doing, as every one does! So I repeat, it wouldn't
matter a hang to the world or any of us three here present if I were
to make----"

A third sovereign would have followed the other two, but for the
arresting power of a new voice.

"Perhaps not; but it would be a most distinct injury to one Peter
Ramsay, M.D. So just hand it over, will ye?"

Close behind them stood a sturdy, thick-set man, with bright red-brown
eyes and bright bronze-red hair.

He had evidently come down one of the steep mountain sheep-tracks,
leading his pony, for it stood beside him now, its hoofs half hidden
in the moss, while it stretched its inquiring muzzle towards the
glittering pile of sovereigns, as if suspicioning them as a new kind
of corn.

"Welcome, sir, so far as I am concerned," replied Ned calmly. "But it
isn't in any lack of claimants that our difficulty lies. We have in
fact too many! Our reverend friend wants the shekels, why he would be
puzzled to say, since he preaches that they have no purchasing power
for the one thing needful. My namesake over there wouldn't be averse
to them, though he holds the possession of gold to be a crime----"

"I never said so," broke in Ted hotly.

"Excuse me! It follows inevitably from your premise of equality. That
gives the _coup de grace_ to lawful personal possession of anything;
since 'to possess,' means the having and holding of something
extraneous to the personality, whereas if every personality has an
equal amount of any one thing, that thing ceases to be a possession
and becomes part of the personality!--which, of course, is mere
hair-splitting! As for you, doctor, you also are illogical. Health and
life are the goods you desire, yet money is no remedy for disease and
death. Practically, I am the only one with a leg to stand upon. I am a
pleasure seeker, pure and simple, so, as this gives me pleasure--here
goes!"

The third curved flight of gold finished his remarks so pointedly that
silence fell upon all four, as they looked out on the golden light
haze, which, finding a mist-wreath in its path, had driven it, all
transmuted into gold, to blot out both land and sea, leaving nothing
visible save that foreground of rippled brimming pool, set in its
fringe of rushes. The peewit, fearful once more lest the new comers
should have keener eyes, wheeled and wailed; the pony, dissatisfied
with the sovereigns, nosed and nibbled reflectively at the coarse
grass and the delicate campanula.

"I'll tell you what," cried Ned suddenly, his face showing a half
scornful amusement. "Let Fate decide which of us needs money most!" He
took out a pocketbook as he spoke, and withdrew from it a sheaf of
bank notes. "There's a hundred here, and I don't want it--that"--he
pointed to the cash--"will carry me through for a week, so my namesake
and I could start fair together for a holiday--if he chooses. I'll
leave this, therefore, on deposit! There is a convenient cleft in the
rock over there, and my tobacco-pouch will keep out the damp----"

He produced the latter also, and began leisurely to exchange contents,
while the others gasped----

"But, sir, you can never mean," began the Reverend Morris Pugh,
finding his voice first--"To leave money here, so close to the
road!--think of the temptation!"

"To us, certainly," interrupted Ned dryly, "but to no one else.
It is ours to take when we think the world--that is, of course,
ourselves--wants it--but mind you--we are to say nothing about the
taking to any one else in the world. Of course, we agree to treat it
as--let us say, a sovereign remedy; therefore we're to use it only
to--to cure what we can't cure without it."

"Or think we can't cure," amended Peter Ramsay with twinkling eyes,
"my prescriptions are personal matters between me and my conscience.
The idea is fetching, an unappropriated balance----"

"Hardly unappropriated," remarked Ned caustically, "it is apparently
hypothecated--as you Scotch call it, doctor--to philanthropy, for I
suppose charity mustn't begin at home."

"Why not?" put in Ned. "There's really no limitation of object or
time. Any of us may withdraw the deposit to-morrow without notice to
any one, if he possess a solid conviction that--that he can't do
without it? Do you all agree?"

There was a pause.

"It's d--d rot," said Ted Cruttenden at last sulkily, "but on those
conditions I agree."

The Reverend Morris Pugh looked abstractedly over the golden haze in
which the whole world was hidden.

"Money is the root of all evil," he began.

"Bosh!" interrupted Dr. Ramsay, springing to his feet. "I'm game! I
shall take that money, if some of you aren't too previous, for the
first real necessity----"

Ned Cruttenden sprang to his feet also, and laughed. "So will I, if I
can only make up my mind as to what constitutes a 'real necessity.'"

The two stood challenging each other, then the red-brown eyes under
the shaggy bronze-red eyebrows softened.

"Not much, I'll allow; very often bare life."

Ned stooped to secrete the tobacco-pouch murmuring, "_Il faut vivre!
Pour moi je n'en vois pas la necessité!_"

Then he looked up. "There it is, gentlemen, very much at your
disposal. And now, namesake, we can start fair--for our walk to the
first blacksmith's shop anyhow."

Five minutes afterwards the golden haze had usurped even the still
unrippled pool and the cleft in the rock, while the four young men on
the downward path were lost to view utterly.



                              CHAPTER II


Owen Jones, who in his leathern apron might have been a _moyen age_
smith, looked up and said something lengthy in Welsh, whereupon the
eager, alert little crowd, which had gathered round on the chance of a
new emotion, echoed something else in Welsh, smiled, nodded, and
looked sage.

"Well," said Ted impatiently.

The smith having no English, the office of translator was taken up by
Morris Pugh, who, with a certain appropriative courtesy, had shown
them all the beauties of the way with pardonable pride, informed them
effusively and charmingly of his past life, his present opinions, told
them of his widowed mother with tears in his eyes, of his clever young
brother whose ambition was Parliament with a thrill of pride in his
voice, and had finally introduced them formally to the smith as an
elder of his chapel.

"In about half-an-hour they will be ready, he says; and, see you, Owen
Jones is an excellent workman, indeed." Here he raised his voice and
looked round for approval. "None better, I am sure."

"No! Indeed," assented Isaac Edwards, who, another elder, had come
from his merchant's shop over the way to help on the general interest,
"there will be none better than Owen Jones from Pembroke to Pwlhelli!"

The largeness of this proposition suited the hearers. It reflected
credit on themselves, their clan, their country; so the quarrymen
off duty from their piles of slaty shale among the oak woods, and
the boys off school this Saturday afternoon, smiled and saluted
_quasi_-military fashion as the two Cruttendens moved off to seek tea
in the little inn, where a Cycle Club sign was nearly hidden in a
massive cotoneaster--all red berries and white blossoms--which covered
the walls from roadway to gable.

Here they bid good-bye to the Reverend Morris Pugh's good offices. He
was due ere long in chapel for choir practice and prayer meeting. As
he said so, the unction came into his voice which was noticeable
whenever he touched on his profession. It was as if some necessity for
shibboleth arose in him, as if some claim--not altogether natural--had
to be considered. Indeed, he had lingered a moment to say that prayer
was needful everywhere--even in the peaceful hamlet of Dinas--prayer
for some outpouring of the Spirit this Whitsuntide week. There had
been no special manifestation at present, but one might come any
moment--the Lord's mercy being nigh to all them that feared Him; let
them remember that. So, having said his word in season, he changed his
manner, wished them good luck heartily, and thus left them to their
own company; for the Scotch doctor, who had also proved a pleasant
acquaintance, had branched off at the bridge, some half a mile up the
hill from the little hollow in which Dinas hid itself modestly among
the trees. But you could see where the bridge lay, because of the
startling red-and-white school beside it, which looked as if it had
sprung, like Diana from Jove's brain, fully armed for education out of
the bare hillside.

Ted, looking through the inn window as they waited for tea, saw it,
and the problem as to why it had been built so far away from the
village, a problem which Morris Pugh had evaded, recurred to him.

"I should say, because the site--belonged to some one," said Ned
coolly. "These things will happen--even to Boards. They are part of
our commercial standard--_caveat emptor!_ And in this case, the
purchaser being the public--well, we don't think of the public
as our neighbour. No! the public is an ill dog in temperance
Wales!--especially amongst the Calvinistic Methodists. The parson,
though, is a good sort--he didn't fancy the subject!"

"Not as he fancied the Welsh motto over the door," laughed Ted. "By
George! how he let out about foreign languages and Wales being a
conquered country. I had to drop reason and the Norman invasion, or
there'd have been a row. He was awfully like Ffluellen--what a genius
Shakespeare was."

"Yes! He understood, and you don't. I tell you, Wales is the most
Rip-van-winkleish place in the world. You can go to sleep in a
fifteenth-century farm and wake up the day after to-morrow in an
Intermediate School. I've been in India, and it reminds me awfully of
the National Congress. But I like it, though it is fatiguing to any
one with a hankering after fact. Still, if there was a little more
water--there is none in summer time, you know--and a little less rain,
a little more right, and a trifle less righteousness it would do very
well."

"Righteousness!" echoed Ted, "there's enough of that, anyhow.
Two, four, six, eight, eight belfries to how many souls in the
village?--four hundred all told?"

"That's only four chapels; the others are Sunday schools, I'll
bet--'the Macleods must have a boat o' their ain.' Then there's the
church--that ruin up yonder--it'll have a school too----"

But Ted's attention was diverted. "I say," he remarked, "that's a
ripping girl!"

She had come out of a cottage a little way from the inn to intercept
Morris Pugh and was engaging him in a lively conversation, despite his
hurry. She was tall, dressed in black that glinted, and the fact that
her hair was in curling pins did not interfere with her very _voyante_
good looks.

"H'm!" remarked Ned, coming over to see, "reminds me of last Monday--I
mean Bank Holiday! Doesn't she?"

The sarcasm was just, but it brought a faintly-annoyed flush to his
companion's face. He knew himself to be a lower bred man, and the
other Edward Cruttenden had a trick of reminding him of this and of
certain other facts which, given fair choice, he would probably have
forgotten.

So the village was left to its own devices till tea was over, when he
took his pipe to the window again.

"Barring the prices, which whip an International Exhibition," he
remarked, "this would be a jolly headquarters spot. That big
hill--'Eye of the World,' the parson called it, didn't he?--is
ripping!"

This time the word lost its inherent triviality before the dignity of
those receding curves of sunshine shown by shadow, which swept up to
the light-smitten crest of the great mountain.

"Personally," remarked Ned drily, "I find the view of the smithy
more--Now, don't!--It isn't the least good fussing--it's the village
tea-time, and not all the king's horses----"

But Ted and his bad words were off hammering at the closed doors, and
finally running the smith to earth, having tea comfortably on an oak
dresser hung with lustre jugs. It was a very small, but highly
decorated cottage, this of the smith, showing uneducated artistic
cravings in many things, in a harmonium, endless cheap photograph
frames, china enormities, a few glazed certificates in Welsh to one
"Myfanwy Jones," and here and there a priceless bit of Staffordshire
ware.

Then ensued a deadlock. For the smith, scenting coercion, flared up
instantly in Welsh, and Ted, conscious of breach of contract, grew
abusive in English, till suddenly from above, came a full, high voice.
"I will come down when I have finished dressing. Pray, sir,
accommodate yourself with a cup of tea."

Then followed shrill Welsh exordiums to the smith, which resulted in a
cheerful smile as he reached down another cup.

Ted took it, also a piece of bread and butter, feeling he could do
nothing else, and as he sat waiting, the feminine voice continued
upstairs a conversation which apparently had been going on when he had
burst into the cottage, though he had been too ill-used to notice it.

"If you do not want the hat, Alicia Edwards, you can oblige by
replacing in the box; but you will be dowdy beside the other girls at
choir holiday, and Mervyn will not look at you twice. No, indeed! And
it is but one-and-twenty shillings. Dirt cheap! Be wise and buy. See,
you shall have it for a pound, and you can pay when you marry Mervyn."

"Mary!" choked a softer, more emotional voice. "Ah! I only want him to
look at me. Ah, Myfanwy I Do you think he could----"

"If you do not care for the height in front you can wear it hindside
before. It is even just so fashionable," went on the first voice,
regardless of sentiment. "Put it on, child, and don't be so foolish.
What is a pound, and you a pupil teacher? There! You look beautiful.
Now, give me my hat pins, I must go to that man downstairs."

A _frou-frou_ of silk petticoats on the ladder stairs which led up
from a corner of the living room made Ted look round.

He saw, first, a pair of many-strapped, beaded black shoes with
superlatively high heels, next, an interval of trim, black openwork
stockings, finally, in a _tourbillon_ of laced silk flouncings, over
which it let down a trailing black satin dress, a vision, in which Ted
at once recognised the girl in curling pins; or rather her apotheosis,
for she was now glorious both within and without.

Her beautiful figure was literally cased in a tight bodice, which
looked as if she must have been melted and run into it ere it could be
so guiltless of wrinkles. The heavy lace yoke with which it was made
showed the whiteness of her skin beneath it; a whiteness which held
its own against the double row of false pearls about her neck. For the
rest she was planned, laid out, developed in exact accordance with a
Paris model in a shop.

In one hand she held a most irresponsible creation, which Ted almost
diagnosed as a hat, though it had neither crown nor brim, and in the
other, a perfect sheaf of long, black-headed pins.

She smiled at him with frank favour and, saying carelessly, "The
smith, my father, will attend to you, sir, when he has had tea,"
passed on to a little mirror on the wall, placed the irresponsible
creation on her tumultuous yet disciplined waves of hair in the very
last position of which any sane creature would have dreamt, and
proceeded, apparently, to stick the long pins through her head.

Seeing, however, in the glass Ted's face of angry consternation, she
flashed round on him tartly yet condescendingly.

"It is no use trying to hurry Dinas. They are country people, not like
London or Blackborough. This is not Williams and Edwards, or such like
place, I can tell you."

The name of the biggest drapery firm in Blackborough gave Ted a clue
to some of his perplexity.

"I see," he said slowly, "that's how you come to be--you are in the
shop, of course, aren't you?"

She was by this time dexterously rolling back her veil preparatory to
tieing it behind, her chin held down to keep it in position. So her
dark eyes had full play as she retorted that she was. Second, in fact,
in the mantle department--because of her figure. She displayed it
lavishly in manipulating her veil, smiling the while at her own
consciousness of perfection.

Ted smiled also. The big, bold, beautiful animal was distinctly
fetching. He said something to that effect which made her giggle.

"You should pass your time coming to choir practice," she said,
challenging him again quite frankly, when, after much shrill Welsh
with her father, the latter stuck to two hours as his shortest
limit for repair. "I sing in chapel when I am on holiday still; my
music-master was the great Taleisin--that is his bard's name, of
course--and Alicia Edwards, here, has won so many times in
competition."

The last sentence introduced a girl who had just come downstairs, with
a display of white lace stockings and thereinafter a blue dress
surmounted by an extremely smart hat, possibly the one over the
purchase of which Myfanwy Jones had spent her eloquence. The girl was
fair and pretty, but there was about her that marked lack of personal
grip on her surroundings, which is so noticeably a result of eleven
years and more of strict Board School life; for Alicia's father had
marked her out as a pupil teacher when she joined the infant class at
three. That had been her ambition till she secured the position at
sixteen. Now, at seventeen? At seventeen she blushed and giggled when
Myfanwy went on:

"She will sing with Mervyn Pugh, our minister's brother. He is a very
good looking young man--just so good looking as you."

To which obvious challenge Ted said something which changed the giggle
to a titter; after which he left them, feeling a trifle uncertain as
to the result of a reference to Ned.

He found him lying flat on his stomach on the bridge which spanned the
stream again a little further down the village, watching, so he said,
for even a shadow of a trout in the deep pool below it, a pool which
after the long spring drought was only connected to the next one by a
mere driblet of water.

"Do?" echoed Ned, looking up at Ted with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Excelsior, of course." He waved his pipe towards the "World's Eye,"
still shrugging high shoulders in the sunshine, and away from Miss
Myfanwy Jones, who was standing with Alicia Edwards at the gate of her
father's neglected cabbage-patch, buttoning her grey suede gloves with
a hook from her silver chatelaine. Her face showed beautiful
unconsciousness, though her eyes were on the alert.

Ted hesitated; then from a larger cottage emerged the Reverend Morris
Pugh, very spick and span, accompanied by a younger man, evidently by
his looks the handsome Mervyn. But the forehead fringe which, after
the fashion of young Wales, he wore, was too much for Ted. It looked
exactly as if it, also, had been in a curling pin, and feeling vaguely
that he would rather not be seen by Ned in its company, he laughed,
said "Excelsior, by all means," and led the way, taking off his hat to
the charmer as he passed.

Five minutes afterwards, pausing for breath, their first spurt upwards
done, the village lay behind them, looking solitary in its close
cohesion of cottages and trees.

But from the church, all ivy-mantled amid its wide graveyard, a bell
was clanging, and across the grassy mounds dotted with stones, a tall
figure in a black cassock and a biretta cap made its way to the vestry
door.

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness," remarked Ned, "but he has
the bell ringer for congregation, and even Miss Myfanwy Jones will
come back to the old churchyard in the end, as her fathers have done,
for a penny funeral." Then he laughed. "I shall never forget my Scotch
groom-----" he paused. Ted eyed him curiously.

"Well?" he said.

"Oh, nothing! only his criticism on a Welsh funeral was scathing.
'There was no a drop o' whisky, an' they asket me tae pit inter the
brod!' Insult on injury!"

So, laughing, they made their way upwards, through black land and
bog, through thickets of unimaginably tall brake, and over sparse
close-bitten knolls, the sheep flying in disorder from them like a
routed army, a stonechat starting from the gorse giving them a
momentary thought of game--a thought, no more. And the sunshine
mounted with them, chased by the shadow, so that it came upon them by
surprise when they reached the summit to see the valley below them
veiled in soft purple, and the sun itself not far from setting behind
an ominous low level of cloud which lay far out to seaward.

"It has taken longer than I thought," said Ned, stretching himself
flat on his stomach, "but there is plenty of time."

"Plenty," echoed Ted, cross-legged like a Turk as he knocked out the
ashes of his pipe on a stone.

"We've done the ginger-beer woman, anyhow," remarked Ned after a
pause. "She comes there," he pointed to a hovel of stones a few
hundred yards further along the plateau, "from the Llangolley side;
seven A.M. till seven P.M. during tourist time, the innkeeper said. I
wonder how she spends her day?" Then, half to himself, he added, "As
if this wasn't meat and drink enough for any one."

It should have been. Far and near, cleft by the purpling shadow from
below, the higher hill-tops dissociated themselves from the lower
ones, shining rosy, resplendent, giving back the sun its parting gift
royally, yet yielding bit by bit to the swift storming uprush of
shadow. Another, and another picket of light stood, broke, fled from
the foe to some higher refuge, until the last steadfast post of the
"World's Eye" remained alone above a world of shadow. Remained alone,
a vantage-ground of clear vision, above the wide cup of amethyst hills
in which the flood-tide of the sea lay prisoned. So still, so serene,
so silvery, lulled to unresisting sleep, as a captive bride might be,
by love for the surpassing beauty of those embracing arms. Beyond,
over the broad belt of darkening ocean, the sun was just dipping into
the bar of cloud, leaving a flame upon the sky.

"We must wait and see the last of it," said he upon the grass
suddenly, and the other nodded.

Up and up breathlessly crept the light. On the patch of bracken in the
hollow, rallying round a spur of rock, flying for a fresh stand across
a shaly slope, so holding its own for an instant against a scarp,
driven over the ledge! Ned's hand went out to touch it, but found it
behind him; so, turning swiftly he saw the last flicker of sunlight
resting, ere final flight, on a yellow placard--

"Ginger beer, 6d."

He started to his feet. "Damn it all!" he cried, "fancy finding that
ultimate sixpence here!"

"Sixpence?" queried Ted, rousing himself from a day dream. "Ah! I
was thinking of the hundred pounds you left over yonder. It really is
d----d rot, you know. What's to hinder my claiming it--well--say
to-morrow morning?"

"You've time now if you wish it," assented Ned, "and if the
thunderstorm----"

As he spoke there came a quiver of light far out over the hidden sea.
It seemed to come from below the threshold of the visible world, like
the sudden gleams from the beyond, which, at times, irradiate the mind
of man with some infinite message.

Ted turned round startled at the greyness that was fast settling down
on hill and sky. "We had better get down as sharp as we can," he cried
hastily, taking his bearings. "I think if we try to the left a little
we shall get down the rocky part before dusk makes going difficult."

Once again, however, the short cut proved the longer way. The path
grew more and more hopeless, until after scrambling down an almost
precipitous corrie they found themselves brought up on a jutting spur,
by a thirty feet drop as the only onward way.

"It's--it's----" muttered Ted, as he satisfied himself they must go
back.

"Worth it," remarked Ned; for the jag of rock on which he stood
overhung a wilderness of grey shadow and grey water; the grey hills
watching the grey water recede from the shores, leaving behind it
still greyer patches of sand that rose roundly from the level reaches
of the ebbing tide.

He stood, long after Ted had started upward, watching also, and
thinking how like these billowy sand-banks were to a drowned woman's
clothes. Some goddess of the earth, surely, lay dead there, her body
compassed by the hills.

"I say! Aren't you coming?" came his companion's shout. "We haven't
time to lose. Look there!"

A vivid flash of lightning shot beyond the deep bank into the rolling
clouds that were coming up swiftly with the rising wind; and, more
quickly than one would have expected, a low mutter of thunder caught
the crags in monotonous echoes.

"Go on! I'll soon catch you up," shouted Ned in return. And he did so;
for there was a lightness, a certain stress of action about his every
movement which differentiated him from his companion's more deliberate
steadiness.

The wind rose at every gust, and in the fast growing dusk, the sheep
sought shelter behind rocks and boulders for the night.

Yet still the downward path could not be found.

"We had best follow the stream yonder," said Ned at last. "It will be
longer, but it will take us down eventually, and I don't want to camp
out with my pipe in that storm."

The first drop or two of rain emphasised his advice; but it was no
easy task to follow it with the mist closing in on all sides. Then
darkness came, bringing a perfect deluge with it. They could scarcely
see the stones at their feet, except when, with the sudden summer
lightning, the whole world of hill and dale and sea was revealed to
them for a second, then shut out again as if in obedience to the
immediate roll-call of the thunder.

But they were young, and it was soft, warm rain; so, with many a slip
and tumble, and many a laugh, they made way somehow, pausing at length
to leeward of a large rock to light a fresh pipe and look at the time.

"Half past ten!" exclaimed Ted, "who'd have thought it!" He spoke
joyously, for his pulses were bounding with the vitality due to the
exercise of mind and body.

"I should," replied Ned; "I'm beastly hungry. However"--here a
brilliant flash gave them the world again, "I believe that's the
bottom down there."

The vision of a stream in flood surging through a low-lying wooded
valley not far beneath them, was certainly the bottom, but it was
nearer twelve o'clock than eleven ere they found level footfall, and
that only on the brink of the stream.

To cross, or not to cross became the question. They referred it to the
next flash of lightning; a long wait in the darkness, for the storm
was passing, the rain had ceased.

When it came, it showed them an oasis of field, a clump of trees, and
something amongst them which might or might not be a human habitation.
The point was settled, however, the next moment by the sudden twinkle
of a wandering light quite close on the other side. It stopped dead at
their view halloo, then retreated, evidently at a run, to reappear,
nevertheless, almost immediately in company with a remonstrant voice,
clear, pleasant, decided.

"Boggles!" it said. "There ain't no sech things as boggles! I've told
'ee so a dozen times, Adam, and I won't 'ave it said. So there!"

"Why, Martha, woman, I'm none fur sayin' 'twas boggles, fur sure, it
might 'a bin a screech howl, but-- Lud 'elp us!--what's that?"

The light was evidently snatched at and held aloft. Then it came
forward a step, and the voice rose in angry scorn.

"Get yer gone, you lazy, good-for-nothin' Welsh libe'tynes. I tell you
she's gone, and right glad was I to get quit o' her. An impident lass,
that friv'lous, her 'ead wouldn't 'old nothing but you young sparks."

"I beg your pardon," called Ned, interrupting the flow of wrath, "but
we have lost our way, and being drenched through, want to know----"

"Well, I never!" came the voice, its owner grasping the situation at
once. "Here, Adam, man, take the light an' show the gentle folk across
the ford, an' I'll just run back and see to things."

Five minutes later, escorted by an apple-cheeked man of about fifty,
they were entering a cottage where the fire had evidently been newly
brushed up, a kettle put on, and a few hurried touches added to
already existing tidiness by an apple-faced woman forty or
thereabouts.

She bobbed them a truly primeval curtsey.

"Dear sakes, gentlemen, you must be through to your vests. Adam, set a
cheer for the gentle folks, man. Adam and me was just after the
hi'fer, sir, she's down calvin', an' they lays like lead on me till
it's over, that they do. An' Adam is such a heavy sleeper, but there!
Two of a sort can't live together, no, they can't."

This calm, philosophic treatment of him, brought a half-conscious
giggle from Adam, and she passed on to treat of other subjects in like
manner. "The village, h'm, not much of a place for _sleepin'_ in, an'
a good mile anyhow, with the bridge locked. Better a hayloft _to
yourself_ than some of them cottages. As for supper, they wouldn't get
nothin' fit for gentle folk to eat. She could see what she'd got, an'
meanwhile Adam'd show them the loft, and bring 'em over pillows an'
blankets; they'd dry easy in the hay, while the clothes hung 'andy on
the rafters, or Adam could bring 'em back to the fire when he tuk over
supper, not but what it _was_ perhaps better to 'ave somethin' to put
on in case o' fire!"

A quarter of an hour afterwards, having made a most excellent meal of
cold beefsteak pie and tea, which, they were assured, was "better to
keep a chill off than beer," they duly put out the lantern, with which
they had been bidden "to be real careful because of the yay," and
listened to the clear, dispassionate voice saying, as its owner passed
the loft--

"You go ter yer bed, Adam, an' sleep while you can. She's passed
midnight, and it wunt come now till dawn; but I ain't the mind to
sleep. They lies too heavy, poor dears."

"That woman," said Ned, from his blanketed bed in the hay, "ought to
have been a Field Marshal or a Prime Minister."

There was absolute conviction in his voice.



                             CHAPTER III


They found the summer sun had been at work for some hours on the
storm-drenched world ere they woke to the lowing roar of the heifer
from the neighbouring cow-house. Motherhood had evidently come to her
at dawn, bringing its wider outlook, its larger self; and sure enough,
when they scrambled down from the loft, they found at the foot of the
ladder, penned in by an old door, a big, black bull-calf lustily
answering anxiety by assertion.

The cottage over against them, however,--it formed part of a long
range of farm-steadings, which stretched right away to the stream they
had crossed the night before--showed no sign of life. The door was
closed, the window-blinds down; the inmates were most likely sleeping
sound after their broken rest.

So, their clothes being still damp, the two young men went up stream
to a long, deep pool, and spreading them out to dry in the hot
sunshine, had a morning bath, thereinafter drying themselves in the
same fashion on a grassy bank, whence, looking up the valley, they
could see the mountains closing in on the narrow strip of level
pasture. Behind them, the downward view was absolutely shut out by the
farm-buildings, above which showed a yew tree, and by a dense clump of
rhododendrons, which trended away until it met the other wooded
hillside of the little glen.

"I believe we are really on an island," remarked Ted, critically
appraising the values of some willows and elders which, higher up
beyond the pasture fields, seemed to betoken another channel of water.

"A desert island," said Ned, busy over the intricacies of cold water
and a razor from his, shoulder-wallet. "We are reduced to the
makeshifts of primitive manhood. What more do we want?--and all
without that hundred pounds! I never slept better than I did in that
hay."

"Small blame to you with feather pillows and best Whitney blankets!
And as for money--we shall have to tip these people. I suppose
half-a-crown will do----"

"Ahem," replied Ned somewhat doubtfully; "but it was beastly late, you
know."

"Very; but that wasn't our doing: they were up with the 'hi'fer.'
However, let's put it at three shillings."

"But, my dear fellow, consider the beefsteak pie--it was simply the
best pie----"

"Charge it to appetite," said Ted, rising ready dressed, supple,
clean, and strong. "Three shillings is ample. Come along if you're
ready, and let us get off. I'm keen to start."

He looked it; but the starting was not so easy, for though on trial
the door of the cottage was found to be on the latch only, no one
could be made to hear.

"Let's leave the tip on the table," suggested Ted impatiently.

"My dear fellow," replied Ned, "I won't go without seeing the
'General,' and thanking her for that excellent pie. Besides--think how
she simply scooped us up last night like half-drowned kittens and set
us going again! I tell you, sir, that if--it being Saturday night--she
had suggested washing my head, I'd have submitted meekly, as I used
with old nurse. Why! I dreamt about frilled drawers all last night!"

Ted was irresponsive; a word had arrested his attention. "Saturday!"
he echoed thoughtfully, "then to-day is Sunday!"

"First Sunday after Whitsun--No! Trinity Sunday, of course, the
shortest night in the year and Midsummer Night's Dream all combined.
How time flies...."

"What luck!" gloomed Ted. "I shouldn't wonder if the smith were to
refuse us our cycles--they are like that in these wild parts--what
beastly bad luck!"

Here Ned, who had been prospecting at the back of the passage, opened
a door, suspecting it to be possibly a coal-cellar; but he fell back
from the sudden blaze of almost blinding sunlight which poured in from
a long, low, absolutely empty room, which stretched away on either
side over boards scrubbed to whiteness to a wide oriel window.

At that on the left-hand side stood a parrot-perch, beside which was a
tall girl in blue engaged in making a white cockatoo with a yellow
crest talk.

"Gimme a sixpence," it muttered hurriedly as the bit of banana turned
away with the girl at the interruption.

So for a second or two they stood; the two young men smitten helpless
by the extreme beauty of that girlish figure, framed as it was by the
great sprays of white June clematis and great trusses of scarlet ivy
geranium from the garden beyond the window.

"Gimme a sixpence, gimme a sixpence," reiterated the cockatoo in
guttural allurement. Then the girl smiled.

"You must have been very wet last night, I'm afraid," she said in an
absolutely perfect voice, true, pure, sweet; the real voice of the
siren, which none who hear forget.

The two at the door, who stood bare-headed, almost doubting the
evidence of their own eyes, gave an audible sigh of relief. This was
no vision then, this beauty of womanhood pure, and simple, with softly
smiling eyes.

And yet? They glanced at each other doubtfully, and the three
shillings in Ted's palm seemed suddenly to become hot and scorch him.
Impossible to offer three shillings to perfection!

"Thank you, yes--I mean no--I mean that we were wet, quite wet--but
now thanks to the kindness of your----" Ned paused. Much as he admired
"the General," he could not affiliate to her this radiant creature.

Ted, becoming conscious vaguely that here was something new to him,
something which held possible danger to his outlook in life,
remembered his hurry and came to the point.

"We are very much obliged, and so, if you please, as we are about to
start, we should like--I mean if you----"

Here absolute terror lest Ted should really offer those three
shillings to the glorious creature in the first flush of a womanhood
which seemed to Ned to be worth the whole world, made him step
forward, holding out a shining sovereign.

"We've really been most awfully comfortable," he said apologetically,
"and if you--if you wouldn't mind giving this----"

"Why!" she exclaimed, all eagerness, snatching at the coin, "I believe
it's a sovereign! Fancy that! A whole sovereign!"

Ned felt outraged at her indecent haste; and at the back of Ted's
brain lay an instant regret concerning the three shillings; he would
then only have been responsible for one and sixpence instead of ten
shillings.

Suddenly she held the coin up to the window, laughed--a rippling laugh
like running water--and handed it back again. "Thanks for letting me
see it; I hadn't seen one before, but, as grandfather says, it blocks
the sunlight just like a penny!"

"You--you hadn't seen a sovereign!" said Ned feebly.

She shook her head. "We don't have money in this house. Grandfather
doesn't hold with it."

"Not hold with it!" echoed Ted argumentatively. "But you must--you
must pay your debts; and we want to pay ours."

Her face grew serious. "Ah! you want to pay something. That's Martha's
business. Here! Martha! These gentlemen want to pay you a sovereign."

At an inner door the figure of "the General" appeared with floury arms
and her prim bob curtsey.

"Hope the hi'fer didn't disturb of you, gentlemen," she said
cheerfully; "but really there ain't nothing owin', let alone a
sovereign's worth."

"But there must be something; and we tried to find you before, but you
were asleep," protested Ned in an aggrieved tone.

"Asleep! Lord save us!" laughed Martha. "Why! Adam bein' that sound
after the calvin', I was over to the loft myself three times afore I
come in to my stove. But there ain't nothin'. The yay was 'ome grown,
and welcome, seeing 'twas but beddin' stuff at best, and none spoilt
for use by humans sleepin' on it." A faint chuckle showed her sense of
superiority.

"But there was the beefsteak pie," began Ned.

Martha's giggle increased. "'Twouldn't never 'ave kep' sweet over
Sunday, sir, so the pigs 'ud 'ave 'ad it if you gentlemen 'adn't."

That was an unanswerable argument.

"Will you please take it back," said the girl imperiously, holding the
gold out in the easy clasp of her finger and thumb.

"But there was the tea--and the pillows and the blankets," protested
Ted severely.

She turned on him swiftly. "Don't you hear Martha doesn't want it, and
I don't want it. So if you don't want it also, we'd better give it to
Cockatua, for I'm tired of holding it. Here, Cockatua, is a golden
sovereign for you."

The bird's great yellow crest rose with greed as it grabbed at the
prize, but fell again at its first hasty bite. The beady black eyes
showed distrust; it turned the coin round, and bit at it again; then
again. Finally, with a guttural murmur of "Gimme a sixpence," it
dropped the sovereign deliberately into its bread and milk tin.

Every one laughed, Martha, however, checking herself with a hasty
"Drat them scones; they'll be burnt as black as the back o' the
grate," and disappearing whence she came, her voice calling back in
warning to Miss Aura, not to forget the master's message.

"Aura?" questioned Ned quickly. "That's not a very appropriate----"

"My name is Aurelia," she said quite frankly, "and the message is that
grandfather would like you to breakfast with him. I think you had
better," she added still more frankly, "for you mightn't get anything
in the village. It's Sunday, you know."

They glanced at each other mechanically, though each had decided to
accept the invitation. So she led them through the kitchen, where
Martha was bustling about over her stove, into a hall. This further
house had evidently been joined on to the back of the cottage by the
long room in which the cockatoo lived.

"We breakfast in the verandah," said Aurelia, turning to the left into
a large low-roofed room, lined from floor to ceiling with books, but
containing no other furniture save a chair and a writing-table.

The glimpse afforded by the open hall-door showed them that Ted's
surmise had been correct. They were on an island, for to the right of
the garden a stream, after dashing over some rocks, disappeared behind
the high wall enclosing the orchard which filled up the end of the
valley, while, as they passed on through the book room, a lawn lay
before them sloping down to a deep, still pool, a pool shadowed by
surely the biggest yew-tree they had ever seen. Its great arms spread
themselves out, and, bowed to earth by their own weight, found a fresh
foothold for another upward spring, until the one tree seemed a grove.

Here in a sunny square formed by the joining of house and steading
walls, they found a breakfast-table, and beside it, in an arm-chair,
an old man with a thin face and Florentine-cut, silver-white hair.

"Excuse my rising, gentlemen," he said in a high, suave voice, his
nervous hands gripping the chair-arms in rather a helpless fashion,
"but I am somewhat--more or less--of a cripple at times--I suffer from
rheumatism, and last night's rain----"

"Might have made us rheumatic also but for your kindness," began Ned
politely.

"Not at all! Not at all--Martha does all that sort of thing well--an
excellent creature--really an excellent creature, but alas! quite
devoid of intelligence," said their host, and his large, restless,
pale blue eyes which, from the smallness of his other features,
dominated his face, took on a remonstrant expression that was
curiously obstinate yet weak. "Yes!" he continued, "absolutely devoid
of brains. One of those hewers of wood and drawers of water by desire
and determination who stand so--so infernally--in the way of true
socialistic development. But, by the way I am forgetting to introduce
myself. I am Sylvanus Smith, President--but stay----! Aurelia, my child,
fetch the Syllabus of the Socialistic Congress from my writing-table;
that will be the best introduction. And here comes Martha with, I
presume, breakfast. We generally have a parlourmaid, but"--the
remonstrant expression came to his face again--"Martha is somewhat hard
on maids. She--she doesn't believe in perfect freedom of soul and body,
so the last left yesterday in--in a flame of fire! The young men of the
village----"

Ned laughed. "We know about that, sir; we were taken last night for
'lazy good-for-nothin' Welsh libertynes.'"

Mr. Sylvanus Smith appeared shocked. "I really must speak to Martha,"
he said in an undertone, adding aloud, "Well, Martha, what have you
there?"

The question was provoked by the setting down of a silver dish among
the fruits, nuts, and other vegetarian diets on the table, and there
was a certain tremulous authority in it.

The subservience of Martha's bob was phenomenal.

"Bacin an' eggs, sir, an' there's more ter follow if required."

The authority dissolved into an ill--assured cough.

"As a rule," remarked Mr. Smith helplessly, "we do not allow meat----"

"But lor! sir," put in Martha, beaming, "wasn't it jest a Providence
as me and Adam had left that bit o' beefsteak pie, seeing that
strawberries an' sech like are but cold comforts to stummicks as has
bin drenched through by storm."

There could be no reply but acquiescence to this proposition, so the
strangers began on the bacon and eggs. Mr. Sylvanus Smith breakfasted
off some patent food, and Aurelia ate strawberries and brown bread,
and drank milk; they seemed to have got into her complexion and
hair--at least so thought Ned.

The clematis wreaths, the great bosses of the scarlet geraniums hung
round them, the great yew-tree shot out fingers of shadow claiming the
lawn and actually touching one of the jewelled flower-beds, while
behind these, tall larkspurs and lychnis, their feet hidden in a
wilderness of bright blossom, rose up against the rows of peas and
raspberries in the kitchen garden, and the green of young apples in
the orchard.

Against this paradise of flower and fruit they saw Aurelia, like any
Eve, beautiful, healthful, gracious, smiling; and they lost both their
hearts and their heads promptly--for the time being, at any rate.

They looked at her by stealth in the long silences which were perforce
the fate of Mr. Sylvanus Smith's guests, for he could talk, and talk
as he wrote well, of the future of Socialism, and the happiness of the
many, oblivious altogether of the happiness or unhappiness, of the few
that was being worked out in his immediate neighbourhood. That did not
trouble him in the least.

Whether from happiness or unhappiness, past, present, or to come, the
two young men were singularly silent as, after being piloted by Adam
through the rhododendrons and across the drawbridge, they left the
island paradise behind them.

"That was a beautiful garden," said Ted.

"Very," remarked Ned.

Then they were silent again; but they thought persistently of Aurelia,
of her beauty, her unworldliness, her curious frank dignity, and the
shrewd common-sense she had shown in every word she uttered.

The road to the village led through a wood at first; a wood--as such
Welsh mountain woods are at Midsummer--all lush with fern and bramble
and great drifts of foxglove envious of each other's height, and
holding their heads higher upon the narrowing clefts, until some very
ordinary spike, gaining a vantage of rock, out-tops the rest, and so
lords it over all.

Then, after a while, the wooded slopes closed in to rock. Here the
divided streams rejoined each other with a quick babble of
recognition, and, as if out of sheer good spirits, gave a gladsome
leap or two ere settling down to race hand in hand through a ravine
but a few feet below the curving road.

Finally a precipitous bluff blocked the view, but round this at a
sharp turn Ted paused.

"Hullo!" he said. "Why, here we are again!"

They were at the bridge by the cross-roads where they had parted with
Dr. Ramsay the day before. On the bare hillside stood the school,
deserted this Sunday morning; below them lay the village. Over yonder
was hidden the hundred pounds of floating deposit--(Ted's eyes sought
this out immediately.) Over there, still shrugging that high shoulder
of his in the sunshine, was Llwggd-y-Brydd disclaiming--so Ned
thought--all responsibility for their last night's adventure. A real
Midsummer Eve's dream, indeed! And to-night?--Midsummer night--would
the adventure continue?

"It was two o'clock, was it, he said, for dinner?" asked Ted
irrelevantly. He knew the hour perfectly, but he wanted to discuss the
question.

"Two o'clock if the cycles couldn't be got," corrected Ned gravely.

"Of course," replied Ted impatiently, "and we will go and ask----"

Ned suddenly burst out laughing. "Why the deuce should we ask? You'd
rather dine and so would I. That's simplicity itself; besides, we can
go to church or chapel and confess the sin of omission meanwhile--if
you like."

Ted looked at him with gloomy virtue. "Of course we must ask--at any
rate I shall," he replied haughtily. He felt in his way exactly as his
companion did, that is, as if every atom of life in him had been
stirred to its depths; but conventional morality and solid fact meant
more to him than they did to Ned.

The smith, mercifully, was kind. It had been too late to finish
repairs on Saturday; they must wait over till Monday.

So, in a blissful state of relief, they sat on the bridge parapet
again and watched the country folk come in to chapel.

"The Calvinists take the cake in dress," remarked Ned. "Half the
big drapery shops in Blackborough belong to them, I'm told, and they
give a percentage to their assistants. So I expect Miss--what's her
name?--Jones is responsible for half the hats here. Ye gods! what a
superstructure for one soul!" As he spoke he watched a carrotty-haired
girl with a brick-red burnt face, who wore, both inside and outside a
leghorn hat, a wreath of crushed roses shaded from beetroot to
carrots.

"Myfanwy," said Ted lightly, "is equal to the burden. Here she comes
with the parson, and Miss Alicia has the beauty-boy Mervyn. How happy
could both be with either--I wonder how they grow those curls."

He spoke with lazy scorn; but by and by the sound of part-singing
instinct with swing and go roused him, for he had sung in a choir all
his life, and, after vainly trying to persuade Ned to accompany him,
he went off to listen, leaving the latter stretched out full length on
the parapet watching for invisible trout.

After a time, however, the old churchyard in its turn attracted Ned's
lazy interest, and he strolled off to examine the tombstones. They
stood cheek by jowl, and to judge by the dates on many, must represent
a perfect battlefield of dead, if all the parish came thither to rest.
Some lettering over a low round arch of a sunk door in the church
arrested him. Fourteen hundred and fifty-two! No wonder the place
looked ruinous, and that he had to step down into the porch! Here his
eye took in various framed regulations in red and black, signed
"Gawain Meredith, Rector." Evidently the Reverend Gawain was high. And
was that a smell of incense?

He set aside the curtain, and stood under the organ-loft. Here
surprise held him motionless. Everything was so new, so gilded, so
flawless. There was a blaze of red and white on the altar, before
which a tall figure in red and white attended by two acolytes, knelt
reading the ante-communion service. From them, scattered sparsely over
regulation oak benches, was a surpliced choir, four boys on either
side coming down, as it were, to meet a huge brass lectern and a red
embroidered faldstool.

But the congregation? Six or seven may be in dark corners, or rather
since some one must play the organ, eight! No! for the celebrant,
after giving out a hymn, strode to a harmonium close to the pulpit,
and thereinafter, upborne by his strong baritone, a long-drawn
sacramental chant wavered in the aisles, and died away in the rafters
of the roof.

What then of the organ? Ned turned, crept up the stair without
waking an old man--the bell-ringer no doubt--who was asleep in his
long-accustomed seat beside the blow-handle, and found himself before
the usual red-curtain screen. Seating himself on the organ stool he
looked out, unseen, on the church below.

It was quaint. There was the Reverend Gawain in the pulpit giving out
his text, "There came a mighty rushing wind," and looking out over his
church as if it had been full instead of empty.

There were some, said the preacher, who expected signs and wonders
direct from the Almighty, but the great rushing mighty wind was the
teaching of the Church which had begun on Whit Sunday and would go on
throughout the year. It was a mighty voice, indeed, sounding in the
ears of all his parishioners, even those who were absent. And it spoke
through him, their priest, responsible to the Church for the soul of
every man, woman, and child, in the parish of Dinas. Seven minutes, by
Ned's watch, of unbounded authority, of absolute priesthood, of the
Middle Ages. Ned, watching the dignity of the Reverend Gawain
Meredith's denial of the passage of Time became admiring. And he was
such a fine figure of a man. The old type, chief, medicine man, Druid,
Archbishop--Archangel if you will--always the same, in all ages.

Ned wandered off into thoughts such as men of his type have had since
the beginning of time, and was roused from them by seeing the priest,
holding a huge sacrificial brass platter, awaiting the sheepish
sidesman at the chancel steps.

By all that was holy!--one penny--only one, the sidesman's own; but
its poverty was covered the next instant by the Rector's sovereign.
Well done to the Rector!

What an imagination, what a magnificent make-believe. Something in
Ned's innermost soul leapt up to meet this escape from deadly reality.
It deserved a recognition. Yes! as the man couldn't play himself out
of church, _he_ would--the organ was there!

In sudden impulse he laid an awakening hand on the drowsy sexton.
"Blow!" he whispered strenuously, "Blow, I tell you, for all you're
worth."

The man, half--asleep, obeyed; Ned opened the keyboard, and not
knowing his instrument put on full diapason. Thus, when the last Amen
had echoed out from the Rector, for the choir appeared to be dummies,
and the cope and the brass platter began to follow the little white
surplices, the whole procession paused in amazement, as, with many a
note dumb, many a dissonance overborne by the full burst of sound,
Handel's "Lift up your heads, oh! ye gates," crashed into every corner
of the old church. Crashed for the first two bars, then, the pressure
on leaky bellows yielding, wavered and sank.

Ned, realising his failure, was down the loft stairs, through the
graves, and over the back of the churchyard wall, where he lay
convulsed with inextinguishable laughter at his own mad prank, before
curiosity followed the amazement in the church as the last breath of
air escaped in a long-drawn pipe from a stuck note in the treble.

It was some time ere, seeing the chapel folk coming out, he made his
way round at the back of the Rectory wood and joined Ted, whom he
found enthusiastic about the singing, and glad to have heard the
Reverend Morris Pugh's "hwl," the bardic note. It was really rather
impressive, that constant iteration of the A-flat, and even to one
ignorant of Welsh gave a feeling of something being desperately wrong,
of something needing desperately to be set right.

But there had been no outpouring--nothing out of the common.

"You should have----" said Ned, and paused.

"What?" asked Ted.

"Nothing, except that it must be about time for us to be going
back--to Paradise!"



                              CHAPTER IV


Aurelia in a blessed white frock, looking like a Botticelli angel, was
in the garden talking to old Adam. She received their half-hearted
apologies for return with a fine superiority.

"Of course," she said, "we all knew you were coming. Martha was unkind
enough to kill a beautiful white chicken for you, and there is
raspberry tart, and curds and cream. Oh yes! and I made a sponge-cake
for tea. So you ought to have enough I'm sure. Now, before we go in, I
do want to find my Ourisia coccinea, and Adam has mislaid it. Now,
Adam, do think! and please don't say the underground mice have eaten
the label, for I'm sure they haven't--it would be a miracle, you know,
if they did."

Here she turned to her companions with shining eyes.

"You see, Adam believes in boggles and miracles, and all sorts of
queer things, though he isn't Welsh. And to-day there was a miracle in
church."

"A miracle," echoed Ned, flushing slightly and wondering more.

She nodded. "Yes! The organ that hasn't sounded a note for ever so
long, played of itself, or rather Griffiths Morgan, the sexton, says
he was awoke by the Archangel Gabriel."

"Nonsense," interrupted Ned with spirit, "it--it couldn't have
been----"

"That is what Adam says," replied Aurelia smiling. "Adam! tell the
story yourself."

"'Twain't much story, Miss Aura," put in the old gardener, "but 'twas
how as this. Rector he bin preechin' of the roarin', rushin' wynd, an'
as he coombed down the chauntrey steps, as might be the Pope o' Rome
with that there brass platter, it let loose quite suddint. A wynd,
indeed, a rushin' and roarin', an' heavenly notes all a-dyin' away to
twanks like the last Trump. Folks were greatly put about, even passon
himself didn't know what to make on't till Griffiths Morgan, as sleeps
on the beller's 'andle through being accustomed to it as a lad, said
he was woke and bid blow by the Archangel Gabriel. Whereupon passon
give it 'im for sleepin', and says as he must a' laid on the notes
somehow; but I says, says I, that nothin' but true miracle 'ud ever
make the broken-wynded old orgin' give out sech a rare 'ollerin'."

"But there's no such thing as a miracle, Adam," declared the girl, and
the next moment was on her knees peering into an aster patch. "Why,
there it is," she cried, "Oh! Adam, how could you?"

Adam stooped over the border in simulated astonishment.

"Why, drat my garters" (this was his most extreme form of words). "So
be it. Well, miss, 'tis true miracle how that pr'anniel stuff comes
up, libel or no. 'Tis the Lord's doings, as don't call 'em by name,
see you."

"But Adam did," said Ned, relieved as the necessity for confessing
that he was not the Archangel Gabriel vanished before this change of
venue.

"What Adam?" asked Aura. "Oh! I suppose you mean the one in the Bible,
only grandfather doesn't believe in it, you know. It couldn't, anyhow,
be this one," she continued, her eyes shining with laughter once more
as they moved across the lawn, leaving Adam shaking his head over the
Ourisia coccinea, "for when he digs my borders he begins by collecting
all the tallies into a heap; then he puts them back again at regular
intervals in a row. It's very funny, you know, but terribly confusing.
Each spring I have to rack my brains to think what each dear thing
means as it peeps up. Of course, that is interesting in itself,
but"--here her eyes grew clearer, lighter as she looked up for
sympathy--"it is rather sad to make mistakes. I don't like dreaming a
campanula is white when it is blue, blue when it is white."

"I think one is as beautiful as the other," laughed Ted.

"Yes!"--then her eyes sought Ned's--"but it is hard, always, to lose
what one has learnt to expect."

He smiled back at her but said nothing.

So as they strolled over the grass, she, every now and again giving
them a glimpse of the secluded busy life she led (for she and her
grandfather never went into the village except, perhaps, to judge at
some competition concert) the bell rang, and crossing to the verandah
they found Mr. Sylvanus Smith less crippled as the day went on, but
urbane and talkative as ever, while Martha, with her little bob
curtsey, was waiting to take off the covers.

And they feasted like kings on the chicken and raspberry tart; and the
weak rough cider which Martha made, and Mr. Smith drank for his
rheumatism, seemed to get into their heads with the Wine of Life, as
they sat and talked and watched Aurelia against the background of
flower and fruit.

"Oh! cupbearer! save the Wine of Life, what gifts canst thou bring?"
quoted Ned suddenly under his breath.

"A fine poet Hâfiz--a very fine poet," remarked Sylvanus Smith, who
appeared to have read and remembered most things, "but he lacks the
true human spirit. He fuddles himself into content with mystic
unrealities, and misses the great individual claim of each soul to
freedom and equality. So unlike Byron."

"Very," assented Ned dryly.

Still the conversation did not languish, and when dinner was over they
adjourned to another large room opposite the library, which was also
empty of all things save a grand piano, an arm-chair, and a music
rest. Here Ned settled himself down to accompany Ted and Aura as they
sang, and finally, with apologies, for not being so much at home on
the piano as on the organ, persuaded Mr. Sylvanus Smith, who turned
out to be a passed musician, into trying a Brahms sonata for piano and
violin. And here Martha coming to announce tea found them still
happily busy over the great piles of music that were ranged along the
wall.

It was when Ned lingered to close the piano that Aura lingered also
watching him quietly; but she made him start and blush violently by
saying with a smile, "You were the Archangel Gabriel, weren't you?"

Taken aback as he was, his eyes met hers with a reflection of their
confidence. "I was. But how did you find out?"

"I don't know," she said, a faint trouble coming into her face, "that
is the worst of it. It was when we were running through the _Messiah_,
something in your mind touched mine, I think. It happens sometimes,
doesn't it?--and--and it isn't altogether pleasant."

She drew herself away from him instinctively, but he followed her.

"Why?" he asked.

She flashed round on him. "Because I dislike being touched."

There was a silence; finally he asked curiously, "Ought I to tell
Adam?"

"Why should you? He loves miracles, and it will give him something to
talk about, besides"--here she laughed--"it was a miracle, you know,
to make the old organ sound at all."

"Perhaps," replied Ned, relieved of the necessity for confessing one
of the many sudden impulses which were always getting him into
trouble.

They found Martha by the tea-table looking very rakish and young in a
coat and skirt and a sailor hat, which, however, did not prevent her
from, as usual, masking her supremacy by subserviency. The gentlemen's
rooms were quite ready for them, and as she was going through the
village could she leave any message with the smith?

"Thanks, no!" replied Ted curtly, for he had noticed Aura's confidence
with Ned, and had--he scarcely had time to think why--resented it;
"but, I think, Cruttenden, that if we do avail ourselves of Mr.
Smith's kindly offered hospitality, we must start at dawn, picking up
our bicycles by the way."

"As you please, Ted," replied Ned carelessly. "But thanks all the
same, Martha. I hope there will be no more miracles in church."

"Thank _you_, sir," retorted Martha cheerfully, "but I don't 'old with
church nor yet with chapel neither. As I keep tellin' of Adam, they
makes people think too much of their sins. An' 'is is but what we
cooks call second stock at that, sir; for takin' 'im, fine an' wet,
Adam do 'is work like a real Briton--yes! he really do----"

With which testimonial to Adam's worth she bobbed another curtsey, and
was off for her panacea for all ills, a "spin on her bike."

"I suppose," said Ted after a pause, in a somewhat awed voice, "that
Adam is Martha's husband."

Aura bubbled over with quick mirth. "Martha's husband! Oh dear, no!
Why, she is always at me 'not to incline to no man, no; not if his
'air be 'ung round with gold'; and just think of Adam's little cropped
head!"

Her laugh was infectious.

"And so Martha shares the--the family dislike to gold," suggested Ned
slyly.

Mr. Sylvanus Smith rose to the fly at once. "We do not dislike it,
sir; gold has undoubtedly its appointed place in the world, but it
happens to be in its wrong place. So I disregard it, and pay all my
bills by cheque."

"Martha makes out the lists for the Army and Navy, you know,"
explained Aura quickly. "It's rather fun unpacking the boxes when they
come."

"There is no doubt," continued Mr. Smith, in a tone of voice which
suggested an effort to be strictly original, "that as now
administered, money is the root of all evil. Our hoarded millions
instead of, as they should, bringing equality--comfortable, contented
equality--to the world, separate man from his fellow man by a purely
artificial distinction; they bring about class antagonism, and are a
premium on inept idleness."

"Hear, hear!" said Ted. "I quite agree with you, sir. If these
millions were equitably divided----"

"They would be a premium on idle ineptitude instead," laughed Ned
lightly. "If you gave a loafer the same wage as a working man, I for
one would loaf. It is the better part. If any one were to offer me a
golden sovereign at the present moment, Miss Aura----"

She arrested the teapot in the middle of pouring out his second cup,
and glanced up at him in smiling horror.

"And I never gave back the one in Cockatua's bread and milk tin! Dear
me, what should I have done if you had gone away and left it? I'll
remember it after tea."

But after tea found them still laughing, still talking, still sitting
silent awhile listening to the song of a thrush which, as the day drew
down to dusk, sat on the bent branch of the old yew to sing as surely
never thrush sang before.

So the moon climbed into the sky and the flowers faded into the ghosts
of flowers, each holding just a hint of the hues it had worn by day.

"What a pity it is to go to bed at all," said Aura suddenly, leaning
over her grandfather's chair and laying her cheek on his thick, white
hair; "for we seem to have so much to say to each other, don't we?"

He winced slightly; since for once he had forgotten the absorption of
his later years, and had let himself be as he would have been but for
the tragedy which he had fled into the wilderness to hide. For he had
seen his wife starve to death, and his daughter sell herself for
bread, while he, struck down by rheumatic fever, had waited for the
tardy decision of a Law Court. The verdict had come too late for
either; too late for anything but decent burial for a poor, young
mother, and flight, if possible, from himself. But, though he forgot
sometimes, the tragedy of seeing his wife die before his helplessness,
it remained always to blur his outlook, to make him what he was, a
half-crazy visionary.

And to-night he had forgotten. He had laughed at trivialities, and
told trivial stories of the thousand-year-old yew tree, and the
Druidical legends connected with the summer solstice--the real
midsummer night, though St. John's Day came later.

But now remembrance came back, and he rose. "We have talked too much,"
he said almost captiously, "and these gentlemen have to leave at dawn.
We wish them good luck, don't we? Come, Aurelia, my child."

So they had said good-bye; but five minutes afterwards, as the two
young men sat silently finishing their pipes, they saw her returning
over the lawn, holding the sovereign in her raised right hand.

It seemed to them as if the whole world came with her as, rising to
their feet instinctively, they waited beside the cool, dark pool, full
of the black shadows of the yew tree, full also of marvellous moonlit
depths going down and down into more and more light.

The air was heavy with the flower fragrance of the garden, the round
moon, large, soft, mild, hung in the velvety sky, not a breath stirred
in earth or heaven, her very footstep on the turf was silent.

"Which of you gave it me?" she asked. "You are so much alike, at
first, that I forget."

They were silent, uncertain what to claim, what not to claim.

She smiled. "Is it a puzzle? You want me to find out; but really, I
expect it came from you both."

"Yes, from us both," assented Ned.

Her eyes were on Ted's face, which was good indeed to look upon, but
she turned swiftly to Ned.

"Ah! It was you, of course. Yes, it was you," she said, holding out
the coin. He took it without a word.

"It seems a shame to go to bed this heavenly night, but you have to be
up so early." There was regret in her voice.

"Why should we?" said Ned impulsively. "Let us roam the hills, I have
done it before now, alone."

She stood looking at them both, her face mysteriously bright.

"And you?" she asked of Ted.

He laughed. "I feel like it to-night, anyhow."

"Ah," she said, nodding her head, "you are a wise man. Good-night and
pleasant dreams."

They watched her pass in her white raiment across the lawn, taking the
glamour of the night with her, and leaving them with an ordinary moon
shining on an ordinary garden.

Then Ted gave a short laugh and flung himself on the turf again,
resuming his pipe.

"What's the matter?" asked Ned imperturbably.

"Nothing. I was only thinking of all the gassing you let out yesterday
concerning money. Why, it means--everything! Hang that sovereign to
your watch-chain, man, and then you can tell her a romantic tale
when----"

A "_whitt whitt, whitter_," followed by a sudden sob among the shadows
and lights of the pool, told of one more duck-and-drake----

"As if that made any difference," he continued sardonically. "You have
plenty more of them."

"So far as I'm concerned, it makes some difference," retorted Ned with
spirit. "That particular coin won't be put to baser uses."

There was a pause, broken only by Ned's vain effort to get his cheroot
to draw. Suddenly he flung it aside, edged himself out of the shadow
into the light and faced his namesake.

"Look here, Cruttenden," he said, "I've got something to explain to
you, because--well--because I want this thing to be fair and square
between us. The fact is, that though my name is Edward Cruttenden all
right, I have the misfortune to have been for the last two years, most
unexpectedly, Lord Blackborough."

"Lord Blackborough!" echoed Ted slowly. "Why--why, you're--you're my
master--that is to say, I'm one of your clerks--and--and you're the
richest man in the midlands."

"I believe I was, a year ago; but money doesn't stick by me. I wasn't
brought up to it. Yes, I became Lord Blackborough against my will, by
the death of my uncle, a cripple, who inherited the barony--bought by
screws chiefly--from the original purchaser, who had a fit on hearing
that his only son had shot himself over a woman. A squalid story, and
the distinction between us is, as you see, a purely artificial
one----"

"I quite agree with your lordship," interrupted Ted.

"My dear fellow," replied Lord Blackborough, "you will oblige me by
not being a garden ass. The fact is, we have a considerable likeness
to each other outside, in which you have distinctly the advantage.
You're taller, broader; briefly, the better looking. As to the inside,
we differ somewhat, but there again you have the qualities which make
for wealth, and I haven't. I can see myself a poor man in my old age.
Then we tumbled off our cycles together in an equal way. In a still
more equal way we have tumbled into--let us say, this Garden of Eden.
Now, why shouldn't we remain in it on equal terms?"

"Because it is impossible. You are Lord Blackborough, and I am your
clerk."

"But why should we not remain the brothers Cruttenden? In this
remote----"

"Impossible," repeated Ted angrily.

"Anyhow, let us think over it. We agreed, didn't we, to spend our
holiday together. Well, let us talk it over, and if it is feasible,
come back----"

Ted laughed bitterly. "A clerk hasn't so much holiday as a lord. I've
had my week, while you----"

"Yes, of course; don't, please, go off at a tangent like our host. We
have got to work this thing out somehow, for, unless we do--well--I
won't come back alone, so you would always have that between you and
your night's rest. Do you understand?"

Ted nodded sulkily. He had liked his companion before he knew he was a
lord, and now all the Englishman's love for one, that strange modern
inversion which grants quality to title, instead of as in the
beginning granting title to quality, was mixed up in the thought of
future friendship with one who would, who _could_ be such a friend.

"Of course, I could buy you off, or turn you out. Now, don't fume. I
won't interfere with your personal liberty if I can help it. I really
am in deadly earnest. It seems to me we have been given a lead
over--that there is something behind all this. However, that is
neither here nor there, so far as you are concerned." He sat for a
moment thinking.

"When can you get your next holiday?" he asked abruptly.

"I believe I could get a week at Christmas," admitted Ted grudgingly.

Lord Blackborough sprang to his feet like a schoolboy, and laughed.
"How will Eden look under snow? Jolly, I expect----"

"You don't mean----" began Ted, rising also.

"Yes, I do. I mean that, so far as I'm concerned, we shall say
good-bye to it--till Christmas--at dawn--the dawn which will so soon
be coming. Good Heavens!" he added, his eyes on the horizon of the
hills, his voice softening infinitely, "why _am_ I going to bed? Who
knows? Perchance to dream. Good-night."

Ted could hear him going on with the quotation as he strolled over to
the house. Thereinafter there was a light in one of the upper windows,
and then darkness.

He himself sat for a while thinking over the queer chances of the last
few days. It was like a novel; not like real life. That hundred
pounds, for instance, lying out on the hillside ready for any one who
chose to take it. There had been plenty of chances of a hundred pounds
even in his life, had he felt any immediate necessity for them, but he
had not. His life on the whole had been pleasant enough. Fond of
football, cricket, cycling, rowing, he had not thought much of the
delights of money-getting. But now? A hundred pounds well laid out,
for instance on that investment about which his old school friend, a
clerk on the Stock Exchange, had written him only last week, might
well be a thousand by Christmas.

It held him fast that hundred pounds, thinking what could be done with
it by Christmas.

It might win him Aurelia. For if in other ways equality could be kept
up, why shouldn't he have a fair chance? He was the better looking--if
that counted for anything. Then he had another advantage. Though he
was long past much of the old man's antiquated Socialism, he was keen
on more modern ideas, a Radical of the most forward type politically,
whereas Lord Blackborough--what was Lord Blackborough? Well, he was a
very good fellow anyhow.

Yes, he was a good fellow, though he was right in saying money didn't
stick to him. How could it, when he left it, so to speak, lying about.

Ted knocked out the ashes of his pipe, and, after a space, another
light showed in one of the upper windows. Then it went out, and the
window eye was shut.

But what of the eyes within. Were they shut or open?

Who knows?

Were their owners asleep or awake, conscious that they had reached
a crossing of the ways--that one path led up to the rugged
mountain--tops, the other into the smooth valleys.

Who knows?

The moon shone softly behind a haze of midnight coolness, rising from
the earth to blur the clear circle of her heavenly rim.

There was a breathlessness in the very stillness of the night, that
was broken only by the distant wailing of the lambs new-separate from
their mothers.

Hark! What was it they were calling? Faint and far away, what was it?

"_Aura! Aura! Aura!_"

Up in the corries, setting the tall brackens a-quiver, high on the
birch woods hidden in their silver, higher still among the tumbled
rocks of the "Eye of the World," what was that passing?

Was it, white and dim, a wandering sheep looming large upon the
moonlit mountainside as it sought to answer the cry, or, this
midsummer night when the spirits wander, was it a restless wraith
seeking it knew not what?

Or was it Aura herself, free and fearless among the hills?

"_Aura! Aura! Aura!_"

The faint, far--distant call sounded from the valley, from the
corries, from the birch woods, from the rocks.

The shadows lay so still, so soft, yet that one surely moved--moved
upwards.

"_Aura! Aura! Aura!_" Was it Aura, or only the echoing sound of the
calling lambs?

Still, soft, equable, serene, oh, misty mountain moonlight what didst
thou hold?

And in the garden across the lawn, where the girl's feet had lain, was
that curved shadow, a snake making its way to the black and white
shadow of the Druid's yew tree?

Oh, misty moonlight of the valley what didst thou hold, as the faint,
far--away cry echoed between the hills, and up into high heaven?

Did they meet and hold converse face to face upon the mountain-top,
those wandering lights and shadows on the mountainsides? or did they
wander, searching for something, until dawn, and find nothing?


                          *   *   *   *   *


Dawn at any rate came soon, as Ned had said it would.

The moonlight changed swiftly to sunlight, the heifer lowed for her
bull-calf, a sleepy chaffinch chirruped his challenge to the coming
day, and Ted Cruttenden coming into the verandah from the library saw
Ned entering it from the music room, while at the hall door between
them stood Aurelia, blushing at being caught so early.

She was in a loose, white overall, girded in at the waist with a
leathern girdle, and her bare feet were shod in sandals.

"Good-morning," she said, without any trace of the blush in her voice.
"See what I have found under the old yew tree. Grandfather's chair had
torn the turf, and there it was. Do you think it can be the snake-ring
grandfather told us about?"

The flat, bead-like stone she held out was no larger than a sixpence,
but it had a hole through its greenish, semi-opaque lustre.

"I think it must be," said Ted, passing it on to Ned. "You will have
'all the wealth of the world.' Wasn't that what it is supposed to
bring?"

"But I don't want money," she said.

"The wealth of the world is not all money," smiled Ned, handing the
stone back to her. "There is love."

She laughed merrily. "I don't want that either. No! not if 'is 'air be
'ung round with gold."

They waved a good-bye to her from the turn of the draw-bridge.

"Till Christmas," said Ned cheerfully.

"Till Christmas," replied Ted cheerfully.

They found the village early astir. Miss Myfanwy Jones's holiday
having come to an end, she was starting for Williams and Edwards with
a pile of empty dress and bonnet boxes, which Alicia Edwards, the
Reverend Morris Pugh, and the Adonis Mervyn were packing into the
village shandrydan.

"It is most kind of you gentlemen to be up so early," said Myfanwy,
dispensing her smiles impartially. "It is no use asking you, Mr.
Morris," she said, throwing a little flavouring of regret into her
voice, "you are too busy and too good; but if Mr. Mervyn comes up to
town I trust he will call on me."

Mervyn, whose front lock looked exactly as if it had just left a
curling-pin's care, nodded at her approvingly.

"That would be jolly fun," he said. "I have to go up for an
examination in September."

"Good-bye, then, till September. Good-bye, Alicia." As she kissed the
latter she whispered, "That will be a guinea to your account for the
hat."

"You said a pound," protested Alicia.

"That was for cash, child. And what is a shilling? But two sixpences;
and you shall pay when you are married, see you."



                              CHAPTER V


Would anything stop those waves except a Cornish coast? thought Helen
Tressilian, as she watched the green-blue, solid water slip over a
half-sunk rock, and with unabated strength, send up against a higher
shelving mass a forty-foot column of reckless spray.

And the sky was so blue, the sun so hot, bringing out all the aromatic
odours of the cliff herbs. How sweet they were! It would almost be
worth while to be a humble bee to work so busily among the purple
thyme. She let some heads of it she had picked fall on her lap with a
little listless gesture. Yes! to work instead of droning out the days.
To work as Herbert, the dead young husband of her dreams, had meant to
work. It was seven years since she had lost him in Italy, whither they
had gone on their honeymoon for his health. So he lay there dead
through the breaking of a blood vessel; dead without a good-bye; dead
under the blue sky amid the orange blossoms, while she, after her
mother's death, kept house for her father, Sir Geoffrey Pentreath. And
still on her roughest serge suits she wore the conventional muslin of
widowhood round her throat and wrists.

And in her heart? In her heart she had set up such a fetich of
bereavement that the idea of a second marriage was unthinkable. Yet it
would have been advisable. The death of her only brother in South
Africa sent the few farms, which was all that remained of the great
Pentreath estates, to a distant cousin, and for long years past Sir
Geoffrey had had no ready money. Poor father! It was the thought of
her which made him----

She glanced to the left, over a great scaur of tumbled rocks like some
giant's house in ruins, gave a little shiver and buried her face in
her hands.

Poor father! Yet how could he? And how could he be mixed up with all
those fateful, hateful people with money, who brought their
_chauffeurs_ to the old serving-hall at the Keep? Those _chauffeurs_
were the bane of her life; for what should she give them to eat!

Some one from behind clasped her wrists close, and held her hands
still on her eyes.

"Guess!" said a sepulchrally gruff voice.

"My dear Ned! Where have you come from?" she answered gaily.

"How did you find out?" asked Ned Blackborough, seating himself on the
thyme beside her.

"As if any one but Ned Cruttenden--I can't help the name, my dear--was
ever quite so hoarse!"

"By George, Nell," he said, looking seawards, "it is good to be here.
That's what one always says, isn't it, when the visible Body of the
Lord is transfigured before one's eyes as it is now."

"You know, Ned, I do not agree with your Buddhistic notions," she
said, a trifle severely.

"Beg pardon! They're not Buddhistic; but I'm always forgetting you
don't like--though you will some day! Meanwhile I want to ask you a
question: and as the butler told me you would be on the coast
somewhere ... you've a most superior set of London servants just now,
Nell----"

"To keep the _chauffeurs_ company," she interrupted, shrugging
her shoulders. "One must--but don't let's talk of it--it's
sickening---- And so you came to the old place?"

"To the old place, Nell," he repeated, looking at her with criticising
eyes of kind affection, and thinking she looked as though she stood in
need of physical and moral backing; "I always think of you here,
looking out to sea, just under Betty Cam's chair----" he nodded his
head backwards to the scaur of tumbled rocks. "If you get looking so
long, Nell, you will be seeing ghostly things--like she did. She was
your ancestress, you know, and it isn't safe----"

He spoke tentatively, but she evaded him. "You said you had a
question," she asked; "what is it?"

"Only if you have room at the Keep?"

She laid her hand on his in swift reproof--"Was there ever a time when
there was not room?"

He smiled. "True; but unfortunately I've--I've a second self now."

"Ned!" She stared at him. "Oh Ned! How could you--without a word! Who
is she?"

"It is a he, my dear. We collided together and found out our
respective names were the same. But of that anon. And there is a
Scotch doctor too--a rattling good fellow, one Peter Ramsay, whom we
picked up--but of that also anon. Meanwhile these are at the 'Crooked
Ewe' regaling themselves, and--well! I can't leave them, you see, for
they're my guests, but--but we could dine with the _chauffeurs_, you
know."

"Don't be silly, Ned! Of course you must come. There's still room in
the ruins for the family--and _you_ won't mind----"

She broke off suddenly, and looked out to sea.

"Tired, Nell?" he asked quietly. "How you fuss, my dear cousin!"

"Who could help fussing?" she said without looking at him. "We could
live so comfortably, father and I, on what we have got, if it were not
for this craze of his to make money for me. Ah, Ned! I wish you had
never lent him that fifteen thousand."

It was nearer twenty-five thousand, but that fact lay lightly on Ned
Blackborough's mind.

"I believe it to be an excellent investment," he remarked coolly,
"though I own I didn't know what he wanted it for at the time."

"And you don't know now?" she broke in passionately. "There it
stands--despicable utterly--facing the sea--that sea." She pointed to
it appealingly.

Ned looked out to the clear horizon, so definite yet so undefined,
where a liner, after taking its bearings from the lighthouse far away
to the west, was steering straight up Channel. It seemed to glide
evenly between sea and sky, and yet here the thunder of each wave
filled the air with sound. Ay! a sea not to be safely faced by
anything despicable.

"You are letting this beast of an hotel get on your mind, Nell," he
said, after a pause. "After all, half the white and coloured cliffs of
Old England are so desecrated----"

"Don't excuse it," she interrupted almost fiercely; "it's inexcusable.
When I think what Jeff would have said--Jeff who loved every
stone--dear old Jeff----" She broke off and hid her face in her hands.

"Curse South Africa!" said Ned under his breath.

She looked up after a while. "You see," she began more composedly,
"what stings is that it is all done for me; and I--fifty pounds a year
would keep me going as a hospital nurse; and I shall never be anything
else, Ned, never! I lost everything for myself seven years ago, and
what I have belongs to others. And there is so much in the past for
which atonement should be made. You don't belong to the Pentreaths,
you see; but they were a wild race--Betty Cam, as you reminded me!
Think of her! Why, Ned, when I see at night that hateful place all lit
up with electric light and shining far, far out to sea, I feel as if
we were doing it all over again! Luring ships to the rocks!"

"My dear Nell, what an imagination you've got!" expostulated her
cousin.

She pulled herself up. "Have I? But it is so useless. And it seems to
get worse and worse since Mr. Hirsch came in. He is at the Keep now,
arranging for a light railway. And oh, Ned! the place where we used to
picnic as children--you remember, of course--is all placarded as
'eligible building-sites.'"

Ned whistled, and looked out to sea. As he had said, the white cliffs
of Marine England were so disfigured everywhere; but that did not
bring much consolation for the destruction of absolute beauty.

"Well," he said, "I only hope some one may think them so, and that the
hotel is crowded up to the garrets. It's got to be; for the farmers
and the little shopkeepers at Haverton, who put their piles into
it--because my uncle did--will expect a dividend!"

"And the others too," she added bitterly. "You know Mr. Hirsch has
floated it. It's quoted on the Stock Exchange now, and they are going
to run up select jerry-built villas with the money they get on the new
shares, as they ran up the jerry-built hotel----"

"With mine," laughed Ned, a trifle uneasily. "Well, my dear child, I
hadn't any intention of building it--but it's there--and let us come
and look at it. It can't help, can it, being in a lovely spot?"

"Can't it?" she said coldly; "but I try to forget its existence--it
gets on my nerves."

"Apparently," he said quietly.

"And so it would on yours," she retorted, "if you lived within hail of
it, and nothing else was talked about day and night. But there--let's
leave it alone! You can see it on your way to the 'Crooked Ewe.' We
shall expect you to lunch, of course."

"Thanks," he replied; "and--and I think you'll like the Scotch
doctor--he is so awfully keen. So full too of his work at
Blackborough. He is house-surgeon, I think, to some hospital there."

Her face, a moment before, almost sullen in its obstinate
objection, lit up at once. "Not St. Peter's!" she cried. "How
interesting---- Why! it is the best, they say, in the kingdom; and I
mean to have my training in the children's ward there."

"You look rather as if you ought to go there as a patient, Nell," he
replied, shaking his head; "and you are a perfect child still. I
wonder if you will ever learn----"

"What?" she asked quickly.

"Yourself," he laughed, as he started up the scaur.

Betty Cam's chair lay at the top; a huge slab of gneiss with another
forming the back, bearing no particular resemblance to a chair at all.
Still there it was that Betty Cam, the witch, used to sit, and, after
lighting her false fire, fling her arms about and mutter incantations
till deadly storms arose.

Many are such stories, current on the wild west coast, and still
firmly believed of the people; none perhaps better authenticated than
this, that on the nights of fierce sou'westers a glow of light could
still be seen at Betty Cam's chair, and that more than once the ghost
of the ghostly Indiaman which, with all sails set, had sailed one
awful winter's night straight up the bay, straight over the cliff,
nipped up Betty Cam, and sailed away with her right over far
Darty-moor to Hell, had been seen pursuing the same extraordinary
course.

Ned felt as if he could have put other folk aboard for that trip, as,
cresting the hill-top, he came full in sight of the Sea-view Hotel.

He sat down promptly on the chair, and gave a low whistle of dismay.

Cam's point, as he had known it, that gorse-covered promontory sheer
down in purpling cliff to the blue-green sea, was gone. In its place
was an ineffectual attempt at a--at a tea-garden! Winding walks here,
winding walks there, meandering toward aimless summer-houses, kiosks,
bandstands, which were recklessly scattered about the bare soil. For
it was bare. Gorse would grow there, or scented purple thyme, or any
of the innumerable small aromatic herbs which the south-west wind
loves, but grass and most garden flowers were helpless before the
constant breeze, which, instant in season and out of season, swept
over the point laden with salt, and even in this flat, calm, June
weather making the steel guy-ropes of the flag-staff hum like a hive
of swarming bees.

As for the Sea--view--ye gods! the pestilential obviousness of that
name!--Hotel, if it also were not guyed by ropes it looked as if it
would be the better of it. What was it, standing on the very edge of
the cliff--Italian--Greek--Gothic--or a Swiss chalet? There were
reminiscences of all in its medley of inconsequent towers, gables,
battlements, balconies. A lunatic asylum built by the patients!
Utterly irrational, utterly out of touch with its surroundings of
earth, and sea, and sky. Yes! quite antagonistic to the little fishing
village in the bay below, to the supreme fairness of the coast
trending away westward in headland after headland. Above all,
absolutely unfit to face that wide waste of water, so smooth, so
silent on the far horizon, so restless, so clamorous in its assault on
the near cliffs. You could hear the angry roar of the waves on the
rocks, see the weather--stains on those thin walls.

And as he watched a strange thing came about. In every wide window of
the huge façade a blaze of light showed, and round the arches hung
with lamps in the tea-garden, a multi-coloured flash shone for a
second, and then went out again.

They must be trying the electric light. Then he laughed suddenly. It
tickled his fancy--apt to be vagrant--to think how this gigantic
modern sham, full of false civilisation, full of lifts, lounges, bars,
winter-gardens, a real up-to-date, twentieth-century substitute for a
home, engineered on the latest American lines, must look to any
home-bound ship passing up channel. A beacon distinctly; but a beacon
warning the world against what?

"Trinity House and Betty Cam had better settle it between them," he
muttered to himself, as, turning at right angles, he set off over the
moorland to the "Crooked Ewe," where Peter Ramsay and Ted Cruttenden
were awaiting him.

He had picked up the former crossing over from Cardiff to Ilfracombe,
and finding he had a few days to spare before taking up his new
appointment, Ned had asked him to come on with him and see the
prettiest part of Cornwall, and perhaps stop a night with his uncle
Sir Geoffrey Pentreath--if there was room.

He wondered rather how Helen had found this room, as he looked round
the long lunch table; but, as his uncle confided to him, half of the
guests belonged to the hotel. There had been a committee of ways and
means, and several people--notably Mr. Robert Jenkin, who was sitting
next Helen--were over from Wellhampton for the day. Yes! that was Mr.
Hirsch at her other side, a most able man, but rather too near his
_bête noire_, Mr. Jenkin, to show to advantage.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Hirsch was making himself extremely
disagreeable to his enemy by insisting on keeping the conversation at
a much higher level of culture than any to which Mr. Jenkin could
aspire, for he had begun and gone on with life for a considerable time
as a local ironmonger. Then fortune had favoured him, and he became
the local millionaire, remaining still, however, so Mr. Hirsch
declared, "the petty tradesman."

The latter was a very clever, very dapper little German Jew, with
nothing to show his ancestry and his age, except a slight foreign
lisp, and a still more slight tendency to size below the last button
of his waistcoat, a tendency which gave him more concern than it need
have done, since it really only showed in profile. For the rest, he
was inscrutably good-natured. Money stuck to him, and his many
kindnesses never interfered with his keen eye for business--or beauty.

It was Helen's handsome, melancholy face which had been the secret of
his interest in Sir Geoffrey's venture; on the principle of opposites,
it is to be supposed, since he was a frank pagan, a _bon viveur_ born.

So he talked lightly of Rome, and a few of the crowned heads of Europe
with whom he had a bowing acquaintance; but finding this rather too
interesting to Mr. Jenkin, he settled down on Bayreuth, and gossiped
_Parsifal_, becoming after a time really engrossed, and saying almost
with tears in his eyes, "Ah! my dear lady, how I should love to show
you it."

He felt seriously sentimental; in truth, the remark was as near a
proposal as he had gone for quite a number of years.

"We intend, Mrs. Tressilian," put in Mr. Jenkin, not to be outdone,
"to get the Yaller Peking band down from the Halls durin' our
season--July-August. It'll play durin' meals, an' after dinner in the
Pirates' Pavilion. An' I'm sure, Mrs. Tressilian, the conductor--he
ain't really a Chinaman, ma'am, the pig-tail bein' only a thing to
catch on--ha! ha! ha! that ain't a bad joke, is it, Hirsch? Pig-tails
a thing to catch on to--ha! ha! ha!"

Mr. Hirsch surveyed him with distasteful wonder.

"You don't wear one, do you, Mr. Jenkin?" he asked suavely, his
foreign accent coming out, as it always did, when he was annoyed.

"No, sir, I don't," snapped his adversary; "but as I was sayin',
ma'am, I'm sure if you had a hankerin' after any particular tune, he'd
play it. I don't know about Percival, but his _repertoire_ of Cake
Walk is the first, I'm told, in Europe."

Meanwhile Ned Blackborough was taking stock of the rest of the
company. On the whole--queer! The Wrexhams he knew, of course. She
went in for spiritualism and he for spirits; both good enough sorts
even at that; but the bulk smelt distinctly of money.

And his uncle?

Ned had not seen him for over a year, and he was frankly taken
aback by the change in him. His face, weakly handsome as ever, hale
still in its thin ruddiness, had lost the cheery look which had
survived even the death of his only son, who had "died as a Pentreath
should." This and such vague comfortings regarding "rest," and
being "with his mother," and of the youthful company whom "the gods
love,"--comfortings with which humanity has always met bereavement,
had not only been on his lips, but in his heart. He had always been an
optimist--and now? Anxiety sat on every feature. The man was haggard.
And what was this grievance against Helen which made such sentences as
"Mrs. Tressilian will have her own opinion, no doubt," or "You must
ask my daughter; I cannot answer for her," quite noticeably frequent
in his conversation.

As he sat listening while his next-door neighbour, a very talkative
and a very deaf lady, assured him that her motor, which she had bought
in Paris, was the only one of its kind in England, and that it was
absolutely, entirely, shakeless and noiseless, Lord Blackborough had
time for cogitation.

They were very smart people, and it was a very smart luncheon:
champagne, _pâte-de-foie en aspic_, liquers, and cigarettes on the
lawn. A new _régime_ certainly for the kindly old Keep, where, as a
boy, he had spent his holidays with his aunt, his mother's sister.
Yes! a new _régime_, especially if the _chauffeurs_ were being
similarly regaled downstairs!

And what a fine old place it was! set so deep out of the way of the
wind in a hollow of old pines and oaks, and yet so close to the sea
that even now the hollow boom of the Atlantic waves sounded against
the shrill voices of those smart women as a bassoon sounds against a
violin. Ay! and in the winter sou'-westers, the rush and hush of the
sea blent with the rush and hush of the leaves. He could imagine Betty
Cam--h'm, that was Helen's fault for being so tragic! He looked round
for her, and saw her talking to Dr. Ramsay. Ted also was well
employed, hanging on Mr. Hirsch's lips as he spoke airily of bulls and
bears. Ted, if he didn't take care, would become a zoologist also!

So thought Ned Blackborough as he wandered away from the lawns that
were still kept smooth and green, towards the wilderness of garden
beyond. And the thought of money bringing the thought of Aura, he
smiled, lit a cigar, and went still further afield to find a certain
peach tree that used to have peaches on it.

The others were happy, why should he not have his share of enjoyment?

As a matter of fact, however, Helen and Dr. Ramsay were not enjoying
themselves; at least _she_ was not, for he had met her assertion that
the one wish of her life ("since my husband's death seven years ago,"
being interpolated with the usual note of resigned reverence in her
voice) had been to be a hospital nurse, with a dubious shake of the
head.

"I wouldn't if I were you," he said slowly. "I rather doubt your being
fit for it. One requires a lot of stamina."

She stared at him almost haughtily. "But I am very strong, I assure
you," she replied, with a smile of great tolerance, "I daresay I look
pale--for the Cornish coast; but, oh! I am very strong!"

"Physically, perhaps." His Scotch accent gave the qualification great
precision.

"Then, mentally----" she almost gasped.

"Mentally, no," he replied quite calmly.

"Excuse me," she remarked, "but I really do not think you know me well
enough."

"Do I not?" he remarked, his brown eyes smiling into hers; "you forget
that I am a doctor, and, Mrs. Tressilian, your nervous system is at
the present moment--mind you, it's no blame--in absolutely unstable
equilibrium."

"Unstable equilibrium! Really, Dr. Ramsay"

"My dear lady," he said, "I have been thinking all lunchtime that if
you would only allow yourself to be hypnotised, you would be
clairvoyant. I shouldn't wonder if you would be able to project
yourself! and think what that might mean! Why, you might give us a
clue----" he paused quite excited.

"And what has that to do with nursing?" she asked coldly.

"It makes for a temperament that is too--what shall I call
it?--unpractical. You have a gift--a great gift--but it is not for
nursing; you are too sentimental."

"And how do you arrive at that conclusion?" she asked, interested in
spite of herself.

"Excuse me!" He touched the muslin cuff she wore with a hand she could
not help admiring: it was so shapely, so strong, so skilful-looking,
albeit so small for a man of his height.

Yet her eyes flashed a quick challenge at him. "You mean that it is
sentimental and unpractical to mourn those one loves. I do not agree
with you."

The sunlight glinting through his eyes turned them almost to amber.
There was a world of gentle raillery in them at which, however, it was
impossible to be angry.

"To wear your heart on your sleeve?--yes," he replied. "Ah, Mrs.
Tressilian, believe me, you are lost to the world! What a wife you
would have made with your ardent imagination to some grovelling slave
tied down, as I am, by the nose, to the body of things! But that is
another story, and so is clairvoyance, though in your present state
I'm convinced you could see. The point at issue remains that----" he
paused.

"Well!" she asked almost eagerly.

He laughed. "My patients say I prescribe Paradise, when I beg them not
to fash themselves. But there is one thing I have found out. I can't
tell you why, but worry stops the working of the vital machine. It
gets into the cogs somehow and clogs the wheels. Then you fall back on
reserve-force, and having exhausted that, feel exhausted. We doctors
nowadays are helpless before the feeling of hustle. We prescribe
rest-cures, but you can worry as much, perhaps more, on the flat of
the back! The remedy lies with the patient. And you have so much
imagination, Mrs. Tressilian. Used cheerfully, it is the most valuable
therapeutic agent we have. Ah! here comes your father. Some of the
hotel people want to take us all back to tea, and I expect he is
coming to ask you about it."

She looked at him steadily, but he showed no consciousness, and she
turned to meet Sir Geoffrey feeling baffled. She had known about and
had meant to avoid this tea; but something in the very directness of
Dr. Ramsay's unsought diagnosis roused her to show him its
incorrectness.

Anyhow she found herself rather to her disgust not only going to the
hotel, but going in the front seat of Mr. Hirsch's motor.

And once in the wide, south-western verandah--which was built so close
to the perpendicular cliff that leaning over the balustrade you could
see nothing but the sea--while the salt wind clung to her cheek like
the fierce kiss of a lover, bringing with it an unwonted flush of
colour, she was forced to admit that the place had its charms; that it
was not all vulgarised. There was laughter and music, of course (both
of them loud), about the tea-tables, but at the further end
comparative peace reigned around the couch of an invalid lady, whose
little girl was apparently a great friend of Sir Geoffrey's. He was
always so good to children, she remembered with a pang, picturing
herself as she was at little Maidie's age.

The child's mother, Amy Massingham, was very dark--dark, with those
large lustrous eyes, and very white teeth, which suggest Indian blood;
and she must have been beautiful before languor and pallor had come
instead of rich colour and vivacity. Still, even at her best she could
never have touched the exceeding brightness and beauty of her little
daughter Maidie. She was incomparable. A little vivid tropical bird
flitting about Sir Geoffrey, chattering, her small round face glowing
with brilliant tints, sparkling, dimpling, her teeth showing in a
flash of smiles that seemed to irradiate her body and soul, while her
cloud of dark hair, still golden bronze at its curly tips, floated
about with her.

She was like a ripe pomegranate, yellow and red-brown in her dainty
little yellow silk frock.

Perched now on Sir Geoffrey's long lap, she was stroking his soft
moleskin knees, and swinging herself backwards and forwards
rhythmically.

"And when daddie comes from India," she insisted, "we won't go 'way
and leave 'oo, Sir Geoffley, will we, mumsie? We'em goin' to stop at
Seaview always, an' always, an' always. Ain't we, mums?"

Amy Massingham smiled gently: she did everything so very gently that
she failed, as it were, to do anything at all. Her impact was not
strong enough to move any fixed object.

"Well, my precious! It would be delightful, and dear Sir Geoffrey is
so kind, isn't he? but I'm afraid dadda can't manage it. You see, Mrs.
Tressilian, darling old Dick is only home on short leave--really only
to see me--but his people will want to have him first thing."

"Oh, mumsie! We'se goin' to have him the firstest thing of all,"
protested Maidie, who was now on the floor, fondling the big curly
retriever who was always Sir Geoffrey's shadow, "for his ship'll pass
over there--right over there, don't you see, Mrs. T'sllian."

She was by this time leaning over the balustrade beside Helen and
looked up at her--such a sparkling, brilliant little maid!--with
fearless eye. Something in the childless woman's heart went out to
her, and beyond her again to the grave far away under the orange-trees
of the man who was dying when she married him. If she could have had
such a child!--it had been better, perhaps.

"Supposing we were to put up a signal here, saying, 'Mumsie and Maidie
waiting for you,' wouldn't it be fun?" she said, smiling.

"Will you do it?" said the child quickly.

She shook her head. "It was only supposing, Maidie," she replied.

The little brilliant creature's face fell. "Oh! I wis' you would--make
'em stop right here, just this corner. I want him to stop, an' then
I'd go on the ship too, an' sail, an' sail, an' sail." She had
forgotten her disappointment in the new idea. That is what the world
does generally, thought Helen; and yet----

"I suppose you love your father, don't you, Maidie?" she asked
suddenly.

The child looked at her gravely. "'Normous much," she replied,
repeating her stock phrase. "An' I love Sir Geoffley 'normous much
too. We 're goin' to live together, an' I'm to be his darlin' for ever
an' ever an' nay! Ain't we? Ain't we?"

And she flung herself into his arms as he approached them, an
unreserved joyous bundle of curls, smiles, and dimples. His face
relaxed from the hard look of pressing anxiety it had worn all day. He
caught the child up, tossing her like a feather above his long length,
then cuddling her close to kiss.

"For ever, and ever, and aye!" he echoed; "Never fear, Maidie, I'm
yours to command."

Then he set her down and turned to his daughter. "Helen!" he said,
"I've some business here which may keep me awhile. You'll drive back
with Hirsch, of course."

She did not meet his eyes, but kept hers far out at sea.

"I think not, father," she said gently, "I want to walk home with Ned.
I have something to say to him."

Sir Geoffrey looked at her resentfully. "Ned has found a sick Indian
friend upstairs and won't be available--you'd better go."

She turned round then. "No, father, I can't. It isn't fair--on him.
Even coming here----" She broke off, and turned to the sea again.

He came closer, hesitated. "Nell," he said almost pitifully, "can't
you--to please me? He really is a good fellow at bottom. I wouldn't
ask it otherwise. It would free me--from you don't know what. And, my
God! in London half the pretty women one meets are married to such
awful bounders."

"It is because Mr. Hirsch isn't a bounder--because he really is in
some ways a good fellow," she said, "that I will not--I can walk back
with the others."

He stood looking at her with anger and affection in his eye for a
moment, then strode off to say good-bye to Mrs. Massingham.

"I suppose your husband may drop in any moment," he said cheerfully.

"Any moment," she echoed, "we are so excited, Maidie and I. This
morning we saw such a big vessel passing, right away on the horizon.
The manager thought it might be a transport."

Maidie looked up and nodded her cloud of curls. "But it wasn't, you
see," she said; "for she's--(here she nodded again at Helen)--goin' to
signal 'Stop here!'"

"That was only supposing, Maidie!"

"Supposing an' supposing an' supposin'. 'Free times 'free is 'free,"
quoted Maidie slyly, "Just you wait an' see."

"Yes! wait and see," laughed Sir Geoffrey; "Goodbye, little one! Next
time, I suppose, daddy will have put my nose out of joint, and you
won't have anything to say to me--eh?"

She grew crimson to her ear-tips. "Never! never! never!" she cried,
stamping her foot wilfully; "we's goin' to live together for
everan'everan'--aye!"

The bystanders laughed at her sudden passion, and Sir Geoffrey's thin,
ruddy face actually flushed a still deeper red.

"All right, little lady," he said half-sheepishly. "Never you fear!
I'll keep my promise for ever an' never an'-naye!"



                              CHAPTER VI


The London footman was rolling out the dressing-gong as if he had been
apprenticed to a bronze, when Ned Blackborough returned from his sick
friend at the Seaview Hotel; but he took no heed to its warning, and
turning down a side passage sought a room in the older part of the
house where, as a rule, his uncle was to be found.

And sure enough, there he was, seated at his so-called writing-table,
and turning round a trifle startled, pen in hand, at the sound of the
opening door. But Ned's quick eye detected neither paper nor ink. The
pen, then, was a mere shelter against the unlooked-for visitor.

It was a quaint room, full from floor to ceiling of the man and
his immediate forbears, that succession of Sir Richards and Sir
Geoffreys who had inherited the ever-lessening estate of Pentreath for
the last two hundred years. Fishing-rods, guns, hunting-horns, and
dueling-pistols testified to their amusements, a tin box labelled
"Pentreath Estate Records," to their occupation, and a complete set of
the _Annual Register_ and _Gentleman's Magazine_ to their literary
tastes. There was a weighing-machine also, and in a glass case the
sword presented to the then Sir Richard by Prince Charlie; for the
Pentreaths were always on the losing side in everything. Yet they had
always held their heads high in the past.

But now Sir Geoffrey's haggard face looked as if it had been seeking
refuge in the hands, one of which he held out in kindly greeting.

"So it's you, Ned!--like old times. I'm glad to see you back again, my
boy."

"And I'm glad to be back, sir," he replied, paused, and then feeling
there was no good in beating about the bush, made a plunge.

"I've got something to say to you, sir. We are leaving to-morrow
morning, and I may not have another opportunity----" he paused again.

"Not much time before dinner," said Sir Geoffrey, consulting his
watch. "But fire away. Going to get married?--eh?"

"Perhaps," said Ned coolly, "but this is about the hotel."

"Damn the hotel! What's up now?" Never was curse more heartily or more
hopelessly given. "Well--go on."

"I don't know who is responsible for installing the electric light,
but it isn't safe. The wires are always fusing. They keep it very
dark, but my friend--who is a bit of an electrical engineer
himself--found out when he was awake last night----"

Sir Geoffrey's face was hidden by his hand again as he interrupted Ned
with a short laugh.

"Oh! that's it--why, they always 'krab' each other's work--always!
And--and your money's safe enough now; the place is insured."

"I wasn't thinking of the money, sir," cried Ned outraged. "I was
thinking of all those women and children."

Sir Geoffrey's face came up from his hand full of such passionate
resentment that Ned was fairly startled. "By Gad, sir!" he cried, "and
what right have you to suppose I don't think of them? night and day,
sir--day and night!" Then his eyes finding Ned's, he stretched out his
hand towards him in almost childish helplessness. "Oh, Ned! Ned!" he
said, "you can't think what a relief it is to talk of this with--with
one of ourselves--with--with a gentleman instead of a cursed money
grubber--though I will say this for Hirsch, he isn't a cad."

"Then you've known of this before, sir," said Ned slowly. "I see----"

"Known! My God! Ned, what haven't I known since the devil entered into
me to start this thing! I wouldn't tell you, Ned, for I knew you'd be
like Helen; but I told the heir, and he liked it. All he wants is
money. And I--all I wanted was to make something--just something for
Helen after poor old Jeff--went. He'd have looked after her, you
see--the Pentreaths have always kept our women well--always cared for
them. But he died! Ay!"--here his trembling lip stiffened itself,
"died as a Pentreath should for his Queen and his country."

In the pause that ensued Ned thought bitterly that he had died in an
attempt to hold the yeomanry of England from showing the road to the
rear. That was the truth, and behind that truth what a record of
ignorance, ineptitude, greed of gain. Nothing for nothing, not even
patriotism, was the modern motto; a cheap loaf and a disintegrated
empire--_caveat emptor_ even in the face of war.

"You can't believe it all, Ned," went on Sir Geoffrey, speaking now
with less passion but more eagerness, as if his memories brimmed over,
"until you've been through with it. I meant it all to be above board,
but it wasn't. The jobbery was awful. Every man just clamouring for
money. A gentleman oughtn't to touch a thing like that--it's pitch,
Ned. He has to keep in with builders and masons and plumbers--Oh, my
God!--the plumbers!--all thinking of nothing but 'pay, pay, pay.' Ah!
Kipling knew the game when he wrote that refrain for England's
heroism, her patriotism. It will go down to the ages, Ned, as one
man's insight into what we English are becoming." He was walking up
and down the room now, restlessly. "They were all bad, but Jenkin was
the worst--and he ought to have known. It was his nephew who put in
the electric plant. You'll say I ought to have struck, Ned, and so I
ought, but your money was gone, Ned, and their's too, poor devils!--a
lot of the farmers and people only put in a few pounds because it was
my idea, you see. It had to go on. And what did I know about sea-sand
and second-class putty. It isn't gentleman's work and that's a fact.
But the jolly old Atlantic knew sharp enough and sent salt through the
plaster and sea-spray through the concrete.... Then, when we were in a
bad way, and Jenkin--pettifogging tradesman!--all for saving every
penny, I met Hirsch. Between ourselves, Ned, he began by fancying
Helen, and I--I--well! He isn't a cad, you know, and half those men
one meets are; yet their wives don't--don't seem to mind."

He paused and looked at Ned Blackborough appealingly, but he was
inexorable.

"Hardly the man I should have thought you'd have chosen, sir, as the
father of your grandchildren."

Sir Geoffrey took it full in the face without flinching. "No," he said
simply, "I suppose not. But I've gone down, Ned, gone down terribly. I
sometimes wonder if she--if your aunt, I mean, would know me again
if--if I saw her."

He took a turn or two without speaking, then gave an afterthought
excuse which made Ned smile, and yet feel inclined to curse.

"But there mightn't be any children, you know. What good would they
be--the old place has gone from the Pentreaths--gone utterly. Let me
see--where was I? Oh yes! Hirsch came and saw it, and said it was the
finest site in Britain. And so it is. There's not a better for health
or beauty than Cam's point. So he put us on our feet again, and spent
an awful lot on what he called 'colour wash.' At least it seems an
awful lot to me, and Jenkin was wild. But we had to run it, or the new
company wouldn't have caught on--we have to make it fizz, you see--but
I wish to God I'd never begun,--I wish to God I'd never begun----"

He was still walking up and down muttering to himself.

"And meanwhile," asked Ned, in spite of his supreme pity, "what is to
be done? The wires may fuse any moment--so Charteris thinks----"

Sir Geoffrey caught at the doubt--"It's not so bad as that--I don't
think it's so bad. When the season's over and the new company secure,
we shall put a new plant in and insure the place properly. And
meanwhile we are awfully careful. I was two hours there to-day myself,
seeing what the workmen had done; and it was quite a little thing--put
out in a moment."

"But you don't know anything about electricity, do you, sir?" asked
Ned quietly, "and I thought you said it was insured."

Sir Geoffrey's face reddened. "Yes, in a way. Hirsch insured when he
came in. He wouldn't put his money in without it."

"Would he put his wife and children in, I wonder?" asked Ned bitterly.
"But I still don't quite understand about the insurance----"

Sir Geoffrey fidgeted. "I'll get Hirsch to explain. It's all right, I
believe, though. But they'll insure anything nowadays, if you pay a
decent premium--any mortal thing." He paused and stood the image of
hopeless perplexity; and then--rather to his relief--the dinner gong
sounded. "Good Lord! And I'm not dressed," he muttered, "we'd better
go."

But as he reached the stairs where they divided, he held out that
friendly, welcoming, family hand again, saying:--"Thanks, Ned, it's
been such an awful relief not to be thinking of money. I suppose when
one comes into so much as you have, that--that you don't think of it
any more?"

Was it so, Ned Blackborough wondered. Hardly; for Mr. Hirsch had
millions and still thought of more. No! he personally had been tired
of money for some time. _Caveat emptor_ was an excellent legal if not
absolutely moral axiom; but when men allowed your millions to confuse
the issue in their treatment of you, then--then one could wish the
millions were not in the equation!

And of late--ever, in fact, since he had left the floating deposit and
had seen Aura--he smiled at the remembrance of her standing framed in
scarlet and white, handing back the sovereign with that peremptory
"Take it please!"

Why should not he and she go forth in the wilderness in their
sandalled feet to forget--and to remember? That was life. To forget so
much, and to remember so much that one had forgotten.

He pulled himself up after a time from the unaccustomed line of
thought or reverie, telling himself it was all nonsense--sheer
nonsense. Yet it was attractive.

Suddenly the words "Go! sell all that thou hast," recurred to him,
making him wonder if it were a hard saying or no. For the moment he
felt inclined to obey it literally.

They were halfway through dinner ere Lord Blackborough appeared at the
table. To begin with he had wired to his valet for dress clothes, and,
accustomed to the routine of good service, had expected to find them
in his room. They were not, however, and only by the help of a tearful
little Cornish maiden at whom all the racketty job servants from
London were swearing profusely as she fled about trying to do
everything at once, did he discover his suit-case in the servants'
hall, where two lordly _chauffeurs_ accosted him scornfully as some
one's belated valet. He escaped from them--and from the cook who,
solemnly drunk, was using inconceivable language to the _entrée_ she
was dishing up--only to find that his man had forgotten to put the
studs in his shirt. Whereupon he also cursed as he broke his
finger-nails over the job. And yet all the time at the back of his
brain, the thought of Aura lingered, and in the front of it his
uncle's face, so foolishly, childishly, helplessly wanting money.

What else had the old man expected but chicanery when he dabbled in
the Pool. It was nothing but a clutching whirlpool of hands trying to
grasp at a golden sovereign in the centre! Every one clutched, he as
much as any one. Then with a jar, his mind reverted to the shade of
many a tree he had seen in India, where men lived, and apparently
lived happily, possessed of nothing but their souls, devoid of all
things save the inevitable garment of flesh.

The shade of a Bo-tree!

This certainly was not it, he thought, as with a smiling apology he
slipped into the empty place and found himself in the battle-ground of
a heated discussion.

A trifle dazzling surely, these lights and flowers and fair women.
Helen looked well in white at the head of the table between Mr. Hirsch
and Dr. Ramsay; and, thank Heaven! she had left off weepers in the
evening. What a difference there was between lace and stiff crimped
muslin; and how young she looked.

The rapidity of thought is immeasurable, the velocity of its vibration
untranslatable in terms of mere human flesh and blood. These thoughts
and millions of others suggested by the whole _entourage_ which in a
second became part of Ned Blackborough's life-experience, passed into
his mind and left him free at once to listen to his cousin's gay--

"Here's Ned! I'll appeal to him! Do you think it fair that we women
shouldn't have votes?"

"We shall have to settle our terminology first, Helen," he replied in
the same tone. "What is fair? I presume what Mrs. Tressilian considers
to be right."

"_That_ isn't fair if you like," she retorted. "Fair is"--she paused.

"Exactly so!" laughed Peter Ramsay. "Is there an outside standard or
is there not? That is the question."

Mr. Hirsch, who always wore white waistcoats in the evening (they were
not so becoming as black ones) answered it.

"Of course there is a standard--the general consensus of opinion."

"Made up of units?" suggested Dr. Ramsay.

"Quite so!" retorted the financier, "but it gives the limit of safety.
Between certain lines you can negotiate--even on the Stock Exchange,
ha, ha!" His laugh was curiously explosive and shook him from head to
foot.

"But surely there _is_ a standard," said Helen softly.

"There is a standard which, collectively, we accept, Helen. It comes
back in the end to our personal verdict, I'm afraid," said her cousin,
"and it is curious how that verdict varies," he continued addressing
Mr. Hirsch. "You, I expect, believe in the law of supply and demand.
Now, I feel, somehow, that if I were to charge a thousand pounds for a
glass of water which a distracted husband wanted for his dying wife, I
should be doing a detestably mean thing, even though the man was quite
willing and able to pay for it." There was a pause.

"That is rather a stiff example," said Ted Cruttenden; "but
theoretically, a man surely has the right to get the best price he can
for his wares; without that axiom commerce would come to an end."

"What would the world be without it, I wonder?" remarked Dr. Ramsay.
"Supposing it was made penal for any one to take more than ten per
cent. profit----"

"I should be a pauper," laughed Mr. Hirsch, his bright eyes dancing.
"That would not suit me at all. Why, I should have nothing over to
give away, and my charities cover my sins. Imagine it, a world where
there was no '_coup_,' where your brains were of no use to you. Pah!"
He poured himself out a glass of water abstractedly, and drank it as
if to take away the taste.

He was in great form that night, the rebuff of Helen's refusal to
drive home with him having acted on his abundant vitality much as the
attempt of a rival on the Stock Exchange to limit his freedom of
action would have done, that is, it stimulated his determination to do
as he chose.

And the others seemed in high spirits also, so that even Ned forgot
the very existence of the Seaview Hotel, until some one said
laughingly that there must be electricity in the air, or magnetism, or
hypnotism, and suggested a _séance_ of some kind.

"No," cried Lady Wrexham, who posed as being well in with the
Psychical Research Society. "Let us crystal gaze--or stay, a magic
mirror. Only a little ink in the palm of the hand, Mrs. Tresillian. It
so often comes off when I'm in the room, and I'm sure you could
'scry,' I see it in your eyes."

Helen's caught Dr. Ramsay's instantly, almost resentfully, but he was
silent.

"Perhaps I'm a witch also, who knows?" she said, speaking at him. "Old
Betty Cam was an ancestress of ours, wasn't she, father? and she was
the devil's own warlock. But you shan't be disappointed, Lady Wrexham.
There is a real magical crystal that came from Thibet somewhere in the
house. I will find it for you to-morrow, or rather to-day, for it is
past twelve o'clock. Time for every one who isn't a witch to be in her
bed, surely."

There was a decision about the remark which would not be gainsaid, so
the ladies, some with, some without lights, dawdled upstairs like wise
and foolish virgins, calling down jokes and good-nights to the men on
their way to the billiard-room, while Ned Blackborough, seizing his
opportunity, waylaid Mr. Hirsch and begged for five minutes in Sir
Geoffrey's den.

"About the hotel," echoed Mr. Hirsch when Ned broached the subject.
"_Pardon!_ But excuse me if I change my cigarette for a cigar. There
is always so much to be said concerning that business."

He spoke with a smile, but his face had hardened at once, and Ned,
listening, could not but admire his companion's uncompromising
directness. He was aware of course, he said, that the money Sir
Geoffrey had invested was a loan from Lord Blackborough, and therefore
he treated him, as a shareholder, a large shareholder, with absolute
freedom.

Well! Mr. Hirsch had found Sir Geoffrey in difficulties, and had
helped him. Why? Because, having a great _penchant_ for Mrs.
Tressilian, he was glad to be of use. The hotel would practically have
to be rebuilt. At present its condition would disgrace a jerry-built
villa near London. And they had perpetrated this inconceivable sham in
full face of the Atlantic.

But it was always the way when such schemes were not properly floated
at first. There never was enough money to allow for the inevitable
leakage. Then little men had little ways, and the methods of a
tuppenny--ha' penny ring, like this had been, were simply horrible.

But the site was gigantic, absolutely gigantic, and if you could only
get rid of that bloated mechanic Jenkin and his gang, you could make
anything of it. But they were incurably vulgar--they had wanted a
gramaphone in the hall, they allowed one in the steward's room.

The words reminded Ned that, as he walked up to the hotel, lost in
admiration of that marvellous sea surging against the sheer cliff, he
had been greeted by shrieks of laughter and the sound of a double
shuffle done to the latest music hall "catch on." And he smiled.
Hirsch was right. It was incurably vulgar. Who was it who said that,
since nowadays he had to choose between solitude and vulgarity, he
chose the former?

Mr. Hirsch's cigar had actually gone out in his irritation, but he was
alight again and went on.

Regarding the insurance? Yes. He had made a temporary arrangement to
secure his own money and Sir Geoffrey's, and a little over; you could
secure anything nowadays by a high enough premium. In fact, the best
thing that could happen now, if he might be excused for saying so,
was--was a fresh start--without Jenkin! The hotel would practically
have to be rebuilt anyhow at the end of the season. Meanwhile,
regarding the electric light. It was bad--that was Jenkin again--but
they were exercising extreme care, and could do no more.

"But supposing," began Ned.

"My dear Lord Blackborough," said Mr. Hirsch, with a curious smile as
he arose and pulled down his white waistcoat, "I never deal in
suppositions. As a business man, I can't afford it. I know this has
been worrying Sir Geoffrey, who has old-fashioned ideas of
responsibility, but--ah! here he comes. I was just saying, sir, how
disturbed you were this morning about the slight alarm at the Seaview
last night. But, as I told you, it really lessens the odds of its
occurring again. To make any fuss just at present, when you need to
get all the money you can in order to start the thing fair, would be
suicidal. I don't, in fact, see that we are bound to do any more than
we are doing. There is a certain risk in all large buildings as badly
supplied with water as this one is. But surely one must credit people
with eyes. _Caveat Emptor!_ Lord Blackborough, _Caveat Emptor!_ That
immoral but comfortable piece of wisdom is the backbone of all
reasonable speculation. Good-night. If I may, I'll have some whisky
and water in the billiard room on my way upstairs."

Ned came back from the door and looked at his uncle.

"Well, sir," he said, "what is to be done?"

Sir Geoffrey's face was a study of irresolution. "Let's leave it till
to-morrow, Ned," he said at last; "the night will bring wisdom. But I
expect Hirsch is right. He has a wonderfully clear head; and I only
wish that Helen----"

"I would leave Helen out of the business if I were you, sir,"
interrupted Ned angrily.

It was intolerable to think of her as possible part payment. As he lit
his candle and made his way to the old wing, "among the ruins," as she
called it, he told himself that he had half a mind to buy out all
other interests and spend an extra thousand or two in throwing the
whole gim-crack building over the cliffs. And it was all so useless!
Helen didn't want the money; she was craving to live on an hospital
nurse's pay.

"Ned," said a voice at the door, just as he had taken off his coat,
"let me in, please, I must see you."

It was Helen herself. Her eyes were blazing bright, her face was pale.
She had flung a white shawl over her bare shoulders, yet she shivered.

"Ned," she said swiftly, "thank God you're here! You must come with
me--you will, won't you? Put on your thick shoes and come as you are.
It is quite warm--there is only a fog."

"Come," he echoed, "come where?"

She seemed a trifle confused, and passed her hand over her forehead.

"Down to the point, of course; they must be warned----"

"Warned of what? What have you heard?"

"I didn't hear, I saw. Ah! do come quick, I ought to be there, you
know, showing a light."

She spoke in curiously even tones, and for an instant Ned thought she
was sleep-walking or dreaming. One of those deadly dreams of excessive
hurry in which, no matter what you do, thought leaves the labouring
body far behind.

"You saw it! But where, and what?"

She was silent for a second, looking at him half-dazed, then she spoke
quite naturally. "It was in the crystal--the one they brought from
Thibet. He said I could, and so I saw----"

Suddenly her whole bearing changed.

"Fire! fire! fire!" The cry, loud and clear, came as she turned and
fled, he after her down the dark passage, led by the glimmer of her
white gown.

Had she gone mad, or had she really seen something?

There was a little outside door, once the postern gate of the old
Keep, which opened at the angle of the wing and the main part of the
house. He followed her through that, losing her almost immediately in
the dense white fog which clung to the damp walls. The windows of Sir
Geoffrey's study were open, and as he ran past them, following the
path, he heard something which sent the blood in a wild leap through
his veins. It was a furious insistent ringing of the telephone call
bell, which Sir Geoffrey, in his first delight with his new toy on the
point, had put in so that he might be constantly in touch with the
workmen.

Then something _was_ wrong. What? As he spurted ahead towards Helen's
ghost-like figure seen in the clearer atmosphere beyond, he asked
himself how she could have known.

"Where are you going?" he called breathlessly, "that isn't the way to
the hotel."

She turned for a moment, then ran on, her voice coming back to him,
"It is the light--the light on Betty Cam's chair--the light for the
ship."

"Helen! Helen! go back, what good can you do? Let me go and see," he
called, striving desperately to overtake her; but she was as swift as
a hare, and so dimly seen, too, dodging about among those huge
boulders. And everywhere the sea-fog hung thick. "Helen! Helen!" His
cry came back to him, but no other sound did he hear save the rising
roar of the waves as he neared the cliff.

Right ahead of him rose Betty Cam's chair. Well! if she was going
there he would catch her up then; and he would see--yes! he would see
from there if anything was wrong.

For a moment he saw her above him,--on the sky-line was it? And, if
so, why was the sky so clear? Was there a glow? Great God! there was!
a glow in the sky and at her feet.

"Helen! Helen!" he cried as he sped on. "Tell me, what is it?"

There was no answer, but the next instant he had gained the crest, and
could see. It was fire, but fire seen through fog. The strangest
sight--a huge vignette, a magic-lantern slide, sharp in the centre,
fading to an aureole. Close as they were, he could see nothing save
dim shadows in the blaze of light.

"The ship! the ship! It is coming so fast--oh! so fast," said a
monotonous voice beside him. Helen--Good God! how ill she looked, all
unlike herself--was seated on Betty Cam's chair, pointing with her
right hand far out to sea.

"Nell!" he said swiftly, "Come! I can't leave you here, and I must get
down at once, the road's just below us, they will need all the
help----"

As he spoke he knew some was coming, for a live spark showed swift
curving through the white fog where the road should be, racing like a
great fuse to the heart of a mine. It must be a motor--Hirsch's most
likely--Thank Heaven he was at least a man of action! Yes, that was
his voice coining back as the light flashed, raced, disappeared.

"For God's sake, be calm, sir, we've done all we could, we'll do all
we can!"

Not true! not true! except the last. "Helen!" he cried roughly, "your
father--come!"

Did she smile? He did not wait to make certain, but leaving her,
dashed down the hill. Halfway he turned doubtfully, hoping she had
followed him; but, already almost lost in the mist, he saw the lonely
figure with the faint glow about it still seated on Betty Cam's chair.

As he dashed on again a curious shuddering boom rolled through the
fog. He wondered vaguely what it was, but his whole mind was set on
that nebulous circle of flaming light. He was nearer now, the
vignetting grew sharper, towers and balconies began to loom luridly,
beset by tongues of flame. It must be all on fire--a wide sweep from
end to end.

Again that shuddering boom--what was it? My God! Could Helen be right
again, and was it a ship in distress? As he ran, he counted ten,
twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, fifty-five, sixty. A ship! a ship,
indeed! Was there to be no ending or horrors? He was on the upward
rise now. The aureole had gone. He could see the flames leaping while
the crowd stood still.

A large crowd, thank God! so they must be all out surely!

He met a man running back, calling as he ran, "A ship in distress on
the rocks--the life-boat--more help needed there, come!"

"Are they all out?" he shouted, and the man nodded as he ran.

A relief, indeed!

He slackened speed, as more fisher-folk ran past him back to _their_
work, _their_ trade.

All out! my God! what a relief! No! by Heaven! There was a sudden stir
in the crowd, and high upon the furthermost seaword balcony, as yet
untouched by the flames, a little white figure showed bending over the
balustrade, and calling to some one below.

The answer reached him, making him leap forward--

"All right, little lady! I'm coming!"

There was a struggle ahead of him, a tall figure breaking loose from
hands that would have held it back; and then his uncle----

"For God's sake," he shouted as he ran--"think of Helen!"

The voice arrested Sir Geoffrey for a second, and Ned never forgot the
look of that scared, kindly, distraught face he saw for a moment.

"I am thinking of her," came the answer. Then the pause ended.

Ned was after him without a moment's consideration; life seemed so
small a thing to him that he could not stop to think of it; but Ted
Cruttenden sprang forward, also, to hold him back. The Fates did that,
however, for as he would have plunged into the burning house, the
upper hinge of one of the wide hall doors gave way, and as it swung
inwards with a crash, just touched Ned's forearm, and snapped it like
a bulrush.

As he staggered, Ted had hold of him. "You can't," he said. "He knows
every turn, and may do it yet if the stairs stand. It's madness for
you. And my God! there's Mrs. Tresillian. Why did they let her come?
we didn't tell her on purpose----"

Ned, dazed with a pain he had hardly located, had only time to wonder
stupidly how she had managed to change her dress--she wore a coat and
skirt--before she was beside him clinging to his unhurt arm.

"Father!" she said. "Ned, where is father?"

He shook his head. "Doing his duty, I suppose," he muttered; "I tried
to follow, but got hurt. Try to keep calm if you can, Nell, there's a
chance still."

Yes! a chance, if the fire-proof stairs were fire-proof. She stood
quiet, silent; only once he heard her say to herself, "Why did I
wait--oh! why didn't I come at once?"

So the minutes passed, and the crowds of Camhaven fisherfolk giving up
hope of more excitement here tonight, sought it elsewhere, though
already a murmur had come out of the fog that there was no immediate
danger; a big ship was on the sunken rocks, and had established
communication with the shore. That was all.

And still the minutes passed, and Ned stood holding Helen's hand in
his.

Yet there was no sign of returning feet upon the fireproof stair.

A little breeze springing up had drifted the smoke south-west,
obscuring the balcony so they could see nothing.

Those who knew her began to look at her with pitying eyes. Then in an
instant something in which all else was forgotten--a sharp sound like
the crack of a rifle, a quick upburst of sparks, then a great crash,
and for a few moments silence and darkness.

The roof had fallen in.

"I'll take her home, Lord Blackborough," said Peter Ramsay, for all
her height lifting her easily. "You will be wanted here. Mr. Hirsch, I
may use your motor?"

"Broken," replied Mr. Hirsch, who was as white as a sheet, the tears
almost running down his cheeks. "I drove it myself, and I didn't
understand, but the Wrexham's is here. My God! what a frightful
thing--_shrecklich! schrecklich!_" His voice shook; these things were
not in the bond.

Yet one bond had been kept, for in an hour's time, when the flames had
eaten their full of the frail thing which had dared to usurp Cam's
point, they found Sir Geoffrey half-way down the stair caught in a
trap between two gaps in what had been scheduled as a fire-proof
staircase.

He held the child in his arms, her head, wrapped in his coat to
preserve her from the smoke, nestled close upon his breast.

"For ever never an-naye!" That promise anyhow had been kept as a
Pentreath should have kept it!



                             CHAPTER VII


Early dawn in a house where the new-dead lie unheeding whether it be
darkness or day. Dawn when those who have seen the light of life fade
from a beloved face watch the slow sunlight steal once more over the
edge of the world, and claim all things for its own.

Yet watching alone, how peaceful such a dawn may be, when one can face
death, not as a thing apart, but as a part of life; when there is no
need to cloud its kindly form with sentimentalities, when we need not
drug ourselves into disregarding its dignity by some narcotic of
belief in life to come, when it is enough to feel that this life has
passed where all life goes.

In the old Keep, however, where the master lay dead in his study among
his fishing-rods and guns, as they had left him till the inquest
should be over, there was no one near enough to the dead man so to
watch, for Helen was still unconscious in her room upstairs. Dr.
Ramsay, whose hands were full with many claimants on his care, spoke
of a severe nervous crisis, which had evidently been coming on for
some time. Her best chance was this semi-cataleptic state from which
she would recover in her own good time. So she lay in her simple white
room, on her simple little bed, and the dawn stole in slowly through
the open window bringing the dayspring song of birds with it. But she
was not there. She might have been with her father for all the
bystanders could tell.

Ned, his face drawn with pain from the fractured arm over which Dr.
Ramsay had instantly looked severe, but for which Ned refused to lay
himself up absolutely until certain necessary details had been
arranged, looked in and envied her. He had told the doctor of her
visit to his room, and his wild stern-chase of her to Betty Cam's
chair, and of his wonder--a wonder that grew as he thought over it--as
to how she could possibly have got home, changed her dress and come on
in the Wrexham's motor in so short a space of time. Still she had done
it.

Evidently she had done it, the doctor had replied guardedly, and
there, in the stress of many calls, the subject had dropped.

And yet as Ned went about giving orders in hopes of lessening
anxieties and distress, he was remembering the strange unkenned look
he had noticed on his cousin's face. Was it possible that--No! it was
impossible. Anyhow he had no time to think it over as yet.

The roll-call of inmates had, thank Heaven! been on the whole
satisfactory. Only two had failed to answer. Mrs. Massingham and,
curiously enough, his friend Charteris, who had arranged to leave the
next morning when his attack of Indian fever should have passed away.
The only man who knew of the danger! It was a coincidence certainly.
As for Mrs. Massingham, the fright must have brought on one of her
heart attacks; else there was no reason why she should not have
escaped, taking Maidie with her; it had not been a good life anyhow.
But what an awful home-coming for the husband! He might arrive that
very day, but it would be better if he did not. Not for a few days,
till the whole thing, body and soul alike, should have gone out of ken
for ever.

Then there was the ship. It was a transport from India, a bit out of
its course through having damaged an engine. It had mistaken the fire
for the lighthouse further west, and had struck lightly on a sunken
rock just off the headland beyond Cam's Bay. It seemed none the worse,
and would most likely float off in the next tide or two as the wind
strengthened. In the meantime that would entail another funeral, as
they had had a death on board that night.

So much Mr. Hirsch told Ned, when the latter went to see him about
wiring to the office of the new company.

"I've looked to that," he replied curtly, "and I must get all these" (a
perfect pile of forms lay beside him) "off at once; only the nuisance
is my motor is damaged."

"Ted Cruttenden is cycling with mine," began Ned. Mr. Hirsch looked up
quickly--"You will be careful, won't you?"

"I won't foul my own nest more than I can help," said Ned bitterly.

"That's right! And you know----" Mr. Hirsch was still writing
hurriedly--"I don't believe it was the wires at all. It certainly
began in the back premises, and they tell me the cook was dead drunk
after dinner, and half the servants as well--they were dancing
break-downs to the gramaphone."

"That doesn't take away the taste," burst out Ned passionately, "or
take away the responsibility for having put such a ghastly monstrosity
on that point, before that sea, under the stars of heaven----"

Mr. Hirsch looked up with the surprised kindly look an elder gives to
a child who has suddenly burst out crying over a broken toy.

"You really ought to go to bed, Lord Blackborough," he said. "All this
is so exhausting to the nerves. I shall do so, when I have sent off my
telegrams."

Was it the roll of the double r which made Ned inclined to kick Mr.
Hirsch? It was a relief when Ted Cruttenden ended the conversation by
entering in the silent, unobtrusive way, which people adopt in the
house of mourning.

"Messages ready?" he asked.

"Mine are! Mr. Hirsch has some. I suppose you wanted to be off, It's a
shocking bad road to Haverton," remarked Ned, full of ill-humour as he
left the room.

"I shall not go to Haverton though," said Ted. "I shall save time by
cycling to Wellhampton. Five miles further, but there's an all-night
office, and it seems a pity to waste time till eight o'clock."

"Good," nodded Mr. Hirsch, "though----" here he gave one of his short
explosive laughs--"I am in no particular hurry. I must give Jenkin
time--good Lord, what a relief to get rid of Jenkin--ahem!" He pulled
himself up hurriedly and went on writing.

It was the first time Ted had come to close quarters with a
millionaire, a millionaire too of European reputation as a financier
more than as mere money seeker, and the effect was stimulating. It
roused his admiration, his imagination. He stood at the window,
waiting and watching Mr. Hirsch's head--it was growing, in truth, a
trifle bald at the crown--as it bent over his papers and thinking what
it must feel like to possess the art of transmuting baser things to
gold.

"I will give you a sovereign," began the great man condescendingly.
"One is in cipher, and that costs. The change in stamps, if you
please. I have many letters to write."

Typical of the man, thought Ted Cruttenden, while Mr. Hirsch, noticing
how careful the young man was in discriminating between his and Lord
Blackborough's telegrams, but putting them into different pockets,
smiled. "You are metodical, I see," he remarked, with just that faint
slur over the th which occasionally told he was not English. "It is a
great gift in business."

Ted smiled also, and flushed with pleasure, since Mr. Hirsch's praise
was worth having; and so, then and there, almost as if some chemical
affinity had manifested itself between the molecules composing his
brain and Mr. Hirsch's, he made up his mind to try and follow his
example. He was no fool; other people succeeded, why not he?

As he rode off his mind was full of this new determination. And yet,
one short week ago he had thought himself uncommonly lucky to have
pushed himself so far up the ladder as to be in receipt of a hundred
and fifty pounds a year. For it must not be forgotten that he was
no-man's son. His mother had refused to give his father's name. When
she lay dying, and her people, seeking to trick her, asked what name
the child should be called, she had smiled derisively at them. "Edward
Cruttenden, of course," had been her reply, the latter being her own
name, a common enough one in the Black Country.

Ted had thought all this out many times; yet it came back to him--with
no rancour against his mother, but a good deal against his unknown
father. On this fine June morning as he made his way across the high
Cornish tableland, dipping down--with both brakes on--into some steep
combe and thereinafter climbing out of it again, pushing his bicycle.

If he had only begun earlier to think about making money, he would
have had a better chance with Aura. No doubt at his age Hirsch had
been operating on the Exchange and promoting companies.

Promoting! Operating! These were words indeed!

But it must be uphill work--so was this last combe; for it was to be
one of those hot June days, when the freshness of dawn is gone in half
an hour, and the very grass has no trace of dew on it.

He sat down at the top of the hill and drew out his handkerchief in
order to mop his face.

In doing so one of Mr. Hirsch's telegrams came out also and fluttered
to the ground.

It was the one in cipher, and, as he glanced at it, he found that by a
pure chance he knew it, or something very like it. His little friend
and admirer in the stockbroker's office was an expert in ciphers, and
had shown him several. This--one of the easiest--amongst the number.

He could not choose but read the first word, "Buy."

Buy! That was curious. He should have expected it to be "sell."

Buy what?

_Buy Sea-views all below five shillings. Hirsch_.

He sat looking at the words for some time, puzzled, then rode on, his
mind busy with the problem; but the puzzle remained until, as he was
going into the telegraph office at Wellhampton, he met Mr. Jenkin
coming out. Then the memory of Mr. Hirsch's laugh of relief at
"getting rid of Jenkin," which he had hardly noticed at the time, came
back to him. Jenkin apparently was to be given time to sell, while Mr.
Hirsch was to buy. It was a straight lead-over. What if he were to
follow it even to the extent of but a hundred pounds? His heart gave a
great throb; he felt as a man might, when put on a horse for the first
time and the reins given into his hand. Who was to prevent him going
where he chose--except, of course, the horse!

He returned to the Keep by breakfast time, but for a wonder he had no
appetite, since he was of that healthy strong-nerved sort to whom even
personal sorrow comes as an expenditure of force which requires
recuperation. And there was no personal feeling in this tragedy except
for Blackborough's share in it; for that he was unfeignedly sorry. He,
however, had been finally ordered to his room by Dr. Ramsay who was
too busy to speak to any one. The Wrexhams left early, followed at
intervals by the other guests, and the Keep settled down into the
slack collapse which always follows on the excitement of a
catastrophe. The servants seemed to remember they had been up all
night; Mr. Hirsch was the only person who was really awake, but Ted
did not somehow care to see Mr. Hirsch; though as the day wore on and
the latter went off once more to Cam's point, Ted took down some
telegrams which had come for him, and watched him read them anxiously.
They seemed satisfactory, but by this time Ted was telling himself he
had behaved like a fool in sending that wire to his friend on the
Stock Exchange.

The desolation on the point, where workmen were still searching for
any traces of Mr. Charteris' body, made him still more depressed, so
he strolled over to Camshaven, thereby letting himself in for
additional dreariness; since, just as he abutted on the little quay,
he saw one of the transport's boats, disembarking a coffin. The dead
officer, of course. Poor chap, to die like that within sight of home
was rough luck. He stood with bared head watching the guard of honour
form up and prepare to take the body to the church, where it was to
lie until directions came by wire from the relatives.

"You don't happen to know the name?" he asked of the local pilot who
was close beside him.

"Not for sure, sir," he replied, "tho' I did hear'm say Massin'ham;
same name as the poor madam they people burnt in her bed las' night."

"Massingham!" echoed Ted--"that is very curious."

It was. Indeed, Mr. Hirsch, coming back to the Keep half an hour
afterwards, was quite pale, and called for a whisky-and-soda before he
could explain to Dr. Ramsay the extraordinary coincidence of Major
Massingham's body being brought in for burial to Camshaven, where
those of his poor wife and child already awaited him as it were. But
he, Mr. Hirsch, had seen the captain of the transport, and everything
was quite simple--terribly simple. Major Massingham had come on board
at Bombay ill, but had not, however, let his people know of his
illness, as he expected the voyage to set him up. He had unfortunately
taken a chill off Gibraltar: pneumonia had set in, and in his delirium
he had constantly talked of his wife and child, and begged not to be
buried at sea. The latter idea had been quite an obsession with him;
almost the last words he spoke being "Not at sea--not at sea!" That
had been two hours before the ship struck, and when they discovered
there was no danger, it had seemed another curious coincidence to
ensure poor Massingham's wish. But the whole affair was ...

Here Mr. Hirsch became quite unintelligible in his admixture of
English and German.

"It is certainly--curious," assented Dr. Ramsay thoughtfully; "very
curious. But it is just as well he should come home dead--the news
would have broken him. By the way, I don't want Lord Blackborough
disturbed. There is a nasty splinter that will give trouble; and he
was in such pain, I ordered a sleeping-draught. Indeed----" Here he
smiled. "I am thinking of a sleep myself till dinner time."

"I also," yawned Mr. Hirsch. "Mein Gott! Tragedy is fatiguing off the
stage as well as on it, and this poor Major Massingham ... _Himmel! es
ist un-be-greiflich-auf-erlegbar!_" And he went off to his room,
looking a perfect wreck, aged by ten years; for deep down below the
hard shell which grubbing for gold requires, his heart was soft. And
these things were uncomfortable--they were not in the bond--they
belonged to a spiritual life in which he had no part.

They weighed heavily on Ted Cruttenden also, for he had the
Englishman's innate antagonism to anything which hints at the unknown,
anything which might suggest a wider outlook than the one he already
possesses. But the hundred pounds he had adventured, following Mr.
Hirsch's lead, weighed on him still more heavily. Why had he been so
impulsive? At the most he could gain three hundred; and what would Mr.
Hirsch say if it were to come out? Not that it mattered, since he was
not likely to see much more of Mr. Hirsch, for he must go back to
Blackborough next morning. So, after a time, he also sought his room
and a rest.

Dr. Ramsay, however, was deprived of his; for, looking in while
passing to see how Lord Blackborough fared, he found him not only wide
awake, but greatly excited by the news which a servant had brought
him.

"Curse the fool!" said Peter Ramsay vexedly. "I made sure you would be
asleep. Yes! it is extremely curious, but----"

"What does it mean, doctor--that's what I want to know," burst in Ned.
"What is it, this strange something which every now and again seems to
show us a solemn, shrouded face, and then disappears in mocking,
devilish laughter--in charlatans' tricks?"

Dr. Ramsay shook his head. "If I could tell you that, Lord
Blackborough, I--well! For one thing, I should be the richest
man in the world. All we doctors can say is that there is
something--something which can be explained away if one chooses to
explain it away. But the explanation isn't scientific. It is easy to
say a man is mad because he believes himself to be the Emperor of
China, but what about the question, 'Why does a man think he is the
Emperor of China when he is mad?' We have got to answer that, and show
what it is which induces delusions and hysteria, and why hypnotic
sleep causes certain specific alterations in the body corporate, as it
does. But we've only just woke up to the fact that we stand on the
verge of some great discovery; we've only just begun to question
the nerve centres, and see the incalculable power of suggestion. Now
take this case of your cousin's," he continued eagerly. "Whatever it
may or may not be, it is certain that I suggested to her first that
she was mentally unstable; second, that she might be able to project
herself ... then Lady Wrexham slips in with her crystal-gazing
suggestion--and--and the thing is done."

"There is something else," said Ned slowly, almost reluctantly, "which
might--we were talking of old Betty Cam in the morning--she and I--and
I told her it wasn't safe for her to be always watching the sea--I
warned her--in joke of course--of her hereditary----" Here he broke
off impatiently. "But it is of no use talking--the thing is
frankly--impossible."

"Hardly that," remarked Dr. Ramsay dryly. "We have to learn,
apparently, that many things are possible--at times."

Ned looked at him curiously. "One wouldn't credit you with such
beliefs, Ramsay," he said.

"I don't credit them myself," replied the doctor shortly. "Personally
I wish these phenomena didn't exist. They complicate the equation of
life tremendously. But they are there. It is no use dismissing them as
hysterical manifestations. That only alters the title of the problem,
and we have to refer to the phenomena again under the heading 'What is
hysteria?'"

"Of one thing I am certain," remarked Ned suddenly, with conviction:
"it was not Helen altogether, as she is now, whom I left in Betty
Cam's chair last night. I have been going over the whole incident in
my mind, and I am conscious of having had a sense all through that
there was something unkenned, something not quite real----"

"The question is," put in Dr. Ramsay, "how much she will remember when
she wakes, and that cannot be very long now, for she was much more
normal when I went in to see her last, two hours ago. I shall look in
again as I go upstairs."

"I hope she will remember nothing," said Ned quickly.

Peter Ramsay shook his head. "It may be everything; you cannot
possibly tell----" he broke off as a knock was heard at the door, and a
voice said, "May I come in?" "My God!" he continued, "there she is!"

It was indeed Helen who, entering as he held open the door, passed
swiftly to her cousin's side.

"Poor Ned!" she said, her face, on which showed the marks of recent
tears, full of a grateful, affectionate solicitude. "How foolish it
has been of me to leave you to bear the brunt of it all; but I am all
right now, and shall manage. He ought to be in bed, oughtn't he?" she
continued, her eyes narrowing a little as they met Peter Ramsay's, her
whole expression showing for an instant a half-puzzled pain, as if she
sought for some memory of past trouble. "I am sure you think so--don't
you?"

"I think so very much indeed, Mrs. Tressilian," he replied. "Your
cousin's arm----"

"Poor arm!" she interrupted softly, "that was broken before I came
down--I was asleep, I suppose, when they called me--it seems so
strange that I could have slept, and I seem to have forgotten
everything except the awful suspense; then the awful night on
the point--but--but you couldn't have saved him, Ned. It was the
stairs--if only they had been fireproof!--for he knew every turn. I--I
have been down to see him, Ned, and he looks so peaceful--so content.
You see he had done all he could--all a Pentreath should have
done--so--so it is best. And now, dear, you really must go to bed. I
can manage nicely. I will send to meet the Massinghams--poor
souls!--how terribly sad, and how inexplicable it all is!"

Inexplicable indeed! They looked at each other silently.

She evidently knew all that they knew, but of what they did not know
she also knew nothing. The interval between the time when she had
passed upstairs to her room, joking and laughing with the others, and
her first sight of the halo of fire had simply lapsed into a great
suspense.

It was as well, Dr. Ramsay admitted to himself, and yet he felt
annoyed. For, looking at Helen Tressilian's face, he recognised that
his chance--and the chance of science was over.

In all probability that would be her one solitary intrusion into the
unknown dimension which whetted his curiosity so much. She was normal
now; she might conceivably marry some deserving idiot, and settle down
to half a dozen children. She might even become a nurse!

All things were possible to the calm self-possession with which she
insisted on rest for them both. So, in an evil temper, he followed her
advice.

Meanwhile Ted Cruttenden, after wandering about aimlessly, uncertain
whether to bless or curse himself for his morning's work, had also
sought rest, and was asleep dreaming of Aura. Aura, as he had seen her
in her blue linen smock and sandals, Aura as he could picture her in
pink satin and diamonds. Which was the most beautiful, the most
beautified? He scarcely knew. When he felt inclined to bless himself,
it was because he could picture her in the latter; when curses came it
was because he regretted the former.

So to him in troubled slumber, came a knock at the door.

"Come in," he called drowsily; then sat up with beating heart on the
edge of his bed, feeling for his slippers with his feet. He did not
know that the dapper little figure at the door was to him
Mephistopheles, that he was about to sell his soul to the devil; but
he was vaguely conscious of an approaching crisis in his life.

"_Soh!_ my young friend, you have bought Sea View shares! Why?"

The room was growing dark. There was a wide interval of shadowy light
from the windows between the young man as, having found mental and
bodily foothold, he stood coatless, defiant, as if prepared to fight
Fate, and Mr. Hirsch decently robed for dinner, and with, as ever, the
large white flower of a blameless life in his button-hole. Through the
open window the mellow pipe of a blackbird, full of the glad song of
wood and dale, forced its way insistently. The memory of it lingered
with Ted always. In after years that joyous invitation to the wilds
always seemed to sound in his ears whenever a question of choice
arose.

Now, though he heard it, he was too busy to heed it.

"Why?" he echoed. "I bought them, sir--because I--I believed in
you ... there you have it in a nutshell."

"And why did you believe in me?"

Ted, having recovered his confidence, gave a short laugh. "Upon my
soul, I don't know. I did it--that's all."

"Then you had no private intimation--you had not overheard
anything--you--it was _unvertraute gut_--no more?"

"You gave me a lead over yourself, you know," replied Ted
argumentatively. "You said Jenkin must have time--and the rest
followed--I couldn't help knowing the cipher, could I?"

A faint chuckle came from the gloom by the door. "_Soh!_ you have
prains! Mr. Cruttenden, I ought to be angry, I ought to tell you many
things, but I have searched long for one to believe in me. I need him.
Let this be--you have won three hundred pounds. I give you this per
year as my clerk. You accept?"

It was all over in a moment. The blackbird ceased his song, and as Ted
Cruttenden hurriedly dressed for dinner his head was in a whirl. This
was a chance indeed. By Christmas he might stand on more equal ground.
And after Christmas? His fancy ran riot in pink satin and diamonds.

But, when he left with Mr. Hirsch next morning, the latter was in a
towering bad temper. Lord Blackborough was a fool. He had refused to
listen to reason, and Mrs. Tressilian was no better. They had both of
them declined to be mixed up any further with the hotel, and would not
even let him buy them out. The insurance had no doubt been made in
accordance with business principles, but----

"He will divest himself of every farthing in two years if he goes on
being so _verdammlich gerecht_. Yes! I give him two years to be a
pauper," said poor Mr. Hirsch, and then his eyes positively filled
with tears as he considered how all his efforts to secure a competency
for Helen had failed.



                             CHAPTER VIII


It was early autumn, and Aura was standing in the garden, looking more
like a Botticelli angel than ever, for her face was mutinous, the very
curls about her temples and ears all crisped and gold-edged as she
defied even the sunlight.

She was engaged in an argument with Martha, who, in Mr. Sylvanus
Smith's brief yearly absences on the work of the Socialistic Congress,
still attempted an authority which she had once held undisputed.

"Well, I wouldn't, not if it was ever so," asserted the worthy woman,
her face aflame with righteous indignation. "Mr. Meredith, the rector,
he know his part, an' being unbaptized there won't be no funeral, so
what's the use of flowers?"

Aura's eyebrows almost met in a sudden frown. "You don't mean that
they will refuse----"

"I don't know nothin', Miss H'Aura," interrupted Martha; "only what I
hear tell. I don't 'old with baptism, nor yet with burials, specially
the penny things they has hereabout. I don't want no halfpence to help
bury me. I ain't like the folk nowadays, as is that restless they
don't know where they'll lie, much less where they'll go to when
they're dead. But I do hear it said that there'll be a fuss, becos the
Calvinists wouldn't baptize the babby, hoping to get hold o' the name
o' the father, for it _was_ a sin and a shame, her not bein', as it
were, all there, an' now the rector'll object to a unbaptized, except
in the odd corner where they puts the 'fellow deceased.' No, it ain't
the sort of thing for you to be mixing yourself up with, Miss H'Aura.
Them lovely lilies'd be ashamed o' your taking them to that gurl
Gwen."

Aura bent her head caressingly to the great bunch of gold-rayed
Japanese lilies she held.

"I am taking them to a dead baby," she said quietly, "the lilies won't
be ashamed of it."

And with that she turned on her heel superbly, leaving Martha
speechless, to watch the blue linen smock cross the lawn and disappear
behind the rhododendrons. A glimmer of it showed like a bit of heaven
among the birchwood beyond the bridge ere the older woman found her
tongue, and going over to where Adam was weeding beetroot confided in
him.

"You mark my word, Adam Bate," she said solemnly, "Miss H'Aura" (the
_h_ was always added on such occasions as a point of ceremony) "'ll
marry the wrong man, sure as eggs is eggs."

Adam looked up aghast. "The wrong 'un? Why, sakes me, she ain't got
never one at all; and sorry be, for 'twud be a right sight to see 'un
billin' and cooin' 'mongst the yapple trees, as true lovers shud."

Martha's repressed indignation found instant outlet. "Adam Bate," she
remarked severely, "you 'em's got a low depraved mind, that's what's
the matter with you. Miss H'Aura ain't o' the cuddlin' sort, no, nor
me neither, as you know to your cost, or shud do by this time. No!
Miss H'Aura, bless her dear heart, has such a outlook as no man can
ever reach to it truly; an' when one is a-lookin' down from a 'eight,
it's hard to tell on what rung o' the ladder a feller's standing.
There's always somethin' in the way o' right seein', either 'is body
or 'is head, specially if it has good looks."

"Not if 'e be low 'nuff, Martha, woman," replied Adam, stooping closer
to his beetroot, some of which seemed to get into his sunburnt ears.
"When she be so high as a star, and he be a creepin' wum in the yerth,
an' there never cud be no count of bein' ekal----"

"Then 'e'd better leave coortin' alone," interrupted Martha
uncompromisingly, "seein' 'e cud never clasp her, try 'e ever so hard.
But head or heart, you mark my word, when Miss H'Aura's time comes,
him as cares least, an' lays least finger to her, is the one for that
prize. An' there won't be no billin' and cooin' among your yapple
trees, Mr. Bate--so there!"

Adam stood looking after her admiringly. "'Twarn't so bad if it hadn't
bin for that trick o' blushin'; but there, beet is beet, and what's in
the hands comes out in the face. I'll tell her so when I gives it in
fur bilin'."

With which remark he chuckled, and settled down to his weeding once
more. For fifteen years he had made ineffectual attempts to court
Martha, and nothing now would have surprised or taken him aback more
than the faintest success.

On her side, Martha kept up the conflict with external spirit, but
with a certain sneaking admiration also for his pertinacity. As she
went back to her kitchen she also chuckled. "Blushed like a babby,"
she murmured, "an' he wrinkled like a bad batch o' bread. I'll tell
him that there beetroot's bled when he brings it in."

Aura by this time was out of the woods and cresting the
bracken-patched hillside, the silly Welsh sheep, alarmed even at her
gracious presence, fleeing from the tussocks and rocks far ahead of
her with grunts and whistles such as no other sheep in the world can
make.

The lilies on her arm brought a passing sweetness into the fresh
morning air, and as she carried them her thoughts were busy with what
Martha had said to her. What did it all mean? Her arms, which in all
their young and vigorous life had never held a child, closed tenderly
round the flowers as if they had been the body of the dead baby. Poor
little babe! to come into this world unsought, to leave it to be
quarrelled over. The motherhood which was hers by right of her sex
wakened in her strongly; she laid her soft cheek caressingly once more
on a white petal, then, in sudden impulse, she kissed it softly. Poor
little childie! But Gwen had loved it, and it had not minded being
unbaptized. It had not even minded its fatherlessness. Neither had
Gwen; but then she, poor soul, was what people called wanting. Wanting
in what? Not in motherhood, certainly.

Aura had often seen the two playing together on the sunny banks about
the shepherd's cottage; the toddling baby with its fists full of its
mother's curly hair, both faces aglow with laughter and with love.

And now the child was dead. Poor Gwen!

Aura, accustomed to look at Nature with clear eyes, and utterly
untouched by conventional conclusions, felt a wellspring of sympathy
rise up in her heart. Such a pretty baby, too, as it had been! More
than once she had paused in passing to watch it and wish that she too
had so delightful a plaything, thinking that with so abiding an
interest in them, the hills and woods, the streams and flowers of her
secluded valley would suffice for her life.

And now it was dead!

Her eyes, blurred with tears, made a misty halo round the cottage,
tucked out of man's way in a little hollow among the hills. A
desolate-looking little cottage, gardenless, fenceless, a mere human
habitation set down beside a spouting spring, which day and night,
night and day, splashed on in high-pitched, feeble, querulous
iteration.

As she came up to it a black shadow showed on the doorstep, and,
through the mist of her unshed tears, she recognised it as the figure
of a man. It was, indeed, the Reverend Morris Pugh coming away from
consolation. He paused at the sight of her, as any man well might, and
over his keen Celtic face swept a wave of enthusiastic approval. His
hat was off, his smile shone out brilliantly.

"Excuse me," he said, "I am the minister, and this is kind indeed;
those beautiful lilies, they will surely comfort the poor mother, and
teach her to trust in the mercy of Him who considers the flowers of
the fields--it--it is a Christian act." There were almost tears in his
voice.

Aura looked at him and smiled.

"But I am not a Christian. I brought them for the baby," she said
simply.

Morris Pugh's eyes narrowed. "I am sorry; and they can do no good to
the child. God has taken him. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I
will repay. Gwen has to learn her lesson, poor child."

"You mean,"--Aura's face had grown a little pale,--"that the child's
death is--is a punishment?"

"It is done in love--the Lord loveth whom He chasteneth," he replied
gently.

"And you have told her so?"

Something in the girl's tone made him reply on the instant: "She did
not need the telling; she knew it already."

"She knew it already!"

Aura passed him like a flame of fire, and entered the cottage eager
with her purely human consolation; but the note of preparation within
struck a chill to her very soul.

Old Mrs. Evans, Gwen's mother, sat in a black dress with her Bible
before her at the receipt of custom. The door between the living-room
and the bedroom was half open, and through it, lying on a table
covered with a white sheet, was a tiny, still, uncovered form in a
white gown. Aura could see the little dimpled hands folded so sedately
on the little breast; it sent a great pang through her to think of
them so quiet.

And Gwen? What of her?

"I have brought these lilies," she said almost apologetically to stout
Mrs. Evans; "I should like to give them to Gwen, if I may."

Mrs. Evans's English being of the smallest, she sighed, rose, and
saying "Pliss you, come this way," ushered Aura with her armful of
lilies into the bedroom. In the further corner of it, her apron over
her face, sat Gwen rocking herself to and fro, and muttering under her
breath. She drew down the apron at her mother's touch and quick
sentence in Welsh, and so sat staring across the body of the dead baby
at Aura. Her face was more vacant than distraught, its pink and white
prettiness seeming to hide the tragedy of grief which must surely lie
beneath it.

"I have brought these," said Aura, laying one of the lilies beside the
dead child.

With a cry, fierce as a wild animal, Gwen sprang to her feet, snatched
at the flower, tore it shred from shred, and flung them to the corners
of the room.

"Stand back, Englishwoman!" she cried in Welsh, her eyes blazing with
sudden, wild, distracted passion. "Leave us alone! We are accursed!
accursed! we want no flowers here." Then she clung to her mother and
wailed, "Oh! mother, take it away--take the child away--I do not want
it; it is accursed. God has taken it away, and it must go. Let her
take it if she wants it; take it away and bury it out of sight. I must
forget my sin--my sin--my sin! _Beth n'ai! Beth n'ail Gwae fi! beth
n'ai!_"

The mingled sobbing of the two women, roused in an instant to the very
highest pitch of unrestrained emotion, smote on Aura's ears turning
her to veritable stone. She understood enough to grasp the drift of
what she heard, and with a quick pulse of pity for the quiet rest thus
rudely disturbed, she bent and kissed the clay-cold child, then turned
without a word and left the room. Not to be long alone, however.

The elder woman, recovering her self-control as quickly as she had
lost it, followed her into the sunshine beyond the low door, and
arrested her with mingled tears and apologies. Gwen, she said in
quaintest English and Welsh, was a mad _iolin_--just a silly
nonsense--though it was just true the child wass better to die.
It was not as the 'nother one--here she looked sorrowfully at a
five-year-old who was busy making mud pies by the waterspout, and
shook her head--that one wass two shillin' and sixpence a week. Yess,
indeed! because her daughter wass for ever in the good shentleman
placiss; but Gwen--silly nonsense, Gwen--she could pay nothing. She
was not all wise----

Aura, staring out into the sunshine which happed the whole beautiful
world-expanse of hill and wood in its magic mantle, looked in the
woman's really grief-stricken face, in slow, almost incredulous
wonder.

"You mean that--that--" she hesitated, pointing to the child--"that
your other daughter in service pays you half a crown?"

Something in her voice made Mrs. Evans mop her eyes with her apron
still more strenuously. "It is the price," she protested; "there is
many askiss three shillin'. Mrs. Jhones and she have two, an' Mrs.
Daviss, an'----"

"And Gwen gave nothing!"

The words seemed to Aura to burden the sunshine; she turned swiftly to
go, feeling the need of escape.

"But the ladiess," sobbed Mrs. Evans, "would be given a shillings or
so when they be comning. Yess, indeed! a shillings or so."

Aura wheeled, the lilies still in her arms. "I have no money," she
cried, her voice ringing with passionate scorn, "I never have any
money, thank God!"

So with quick, springing step, her whole young soul aflame with
indignation, she was off breasting the hill, leaving the hollows
behind her, wishing with all her heart that she could have carried the
dead baby with her. To call it accursed! To count it unbaptized! The
darling lying there so peaceful, so still, so waxen, so like the
lilies. Ah! if she could only take it away from all the sordid
thoughts, what burial would not her fingers compass there on the bosom
of the kindly earth! For it and for the lilies. How soft it should
lie, how flower-decked! Yes, the great white petals should shield the
little white face from the touch of the close, damp earth, and it
should sleep--sleep--sleep!

The tears ran down her cheeks silently as, almost at the limit of her
young and vigorous pace, she passed on, passed upwards, pursued by the
one overmastering impulse to get away, to find some safe resting-place
for what she would fain have carried.

But, by degrees, her thoughts became calmer; she began to see the
whole pitiful story and put her finger intuitively on the points of
offence; for she had seen little of the world, and knew still less of
its ways. She thought of the lowing heifer and its bull-calf, of the
second brood of young blackbirds over whose first flight she had but
that morning seen the parents so excited, and then she thought of
the fatherless unsought child whose only worth was the bringing of
two-and-sixpence a week to its grandmother!

Truly her grandfather was right. Money was a curse.

But so were other things. The religion, for instance, which told poor
Gwen that her child was accursed, that its death was a punishment.
Poor Gwen seated in her threadbare black, with her apron over her
head, so unlike the girl in a blue cotton dress who used to tumble
about on the thyme banks with her boisterous, rosy-cheeked baby.

It was pitiful. That cry _Beth n'ai! Beth n'ai! Gwae fi! beth n'ai!_
rang in Aura's ears as she sat down at last among the rocks of a
sheep-shelter on the crest of a hill. Here in winter the south-west
winds howled and swept the bare braes, wasting their force against the
lichen-set boulders behind which even the shearling lambs could lie
snugly, but in this early autumn the sun baked into the close-cropped
turf, and mushrooms grew in clusters where the lambs had lain.

It was a favourite outlook of Aura's, for it gave over the widening
estuary and the sea beyond. Beyond that again the setting sun; for it
was growing late, and the autumn days began to close in.

She sat there on the wild thyme thinking, making up--as the young do
almost unconsciously--her mind about many things, reaching forward to
the future vaguely with certain new thoughts regarding it in her mind,
and all the while watching the great pageant of the Death of Day enact
itself out in the West.

It was a lurid sunset; full of flames, of deep, purple-stained clouds.
It was a pageant of passion, self-existent, self-destroying.

Yet it was beautiful! She would sit and watch it to the end, she would
see the anger and the threat of it pass into grey calm when the sun
had gone.

So she sat on, the lilies still in her lap, until she was roused by a
step, by one word--

"Gwen!"

She turned startled, to see the startled face of a young man behind
her. It was a beautiful face, the sort of a face which women love, and
in its quick amaze there was almost a hint of appeal, of hope for fair
hearing.

The girl grasped the situation in a moment. He had been misled by her
blue dress. He had thought she was Gwen; poor frail Gwen who was not
"all wise," yet still had been wise enough to keep this secret of
hers.

He turned with a half-muttered apology, in another instant he would
have been gone, but Aura's strong, firm fingers were on his wrist; she
looked at him from head to foot, judging him.

Then with one swift sweep of her other hand she struck his handsome
face full with the fading lilies she still held.

"Coward!" she said. "Go! your task is done!"

The flowers broke softly on his warm flesh and blood, leaving no mark,
but her words seemed to shrivel him; he slunk away.

She watched him disappear down the hillside, then with a sob she flung
herself face down on the short turf, crushing the lilies to their
death, and cried as though her heart would break.



                              CHAPTER IX



The little village of Dinas was in a turmoil. Considering its small
size, and the extreme peace of its situation happed round by
everlasting hills, and so cuddled close to the very heart of calm
creation, it held an extraordinary capability for fuss. The hot Celtic
blood would get into the hot Celtic brain at the slightest
provocation, and it had risen from the sub-normal of rural life to the
fever-heat of a revolution over a baby whom some one had refused to
baptize, and some one else had declined to bury.

The rector, relying on the Middle Ages, had pointed to the
nettle-grown corner reserved for those whose salvation was doubtful.
The whole Calvinistic body, forgetful of election and predestination,
had fled as one man from the authority of the Bible to that of the
Burials Act.

Radical religion and religious radicalism had once more met in grips,
and the guarantors of the little telegraph station in the village
breathed freely by reason of the wires that were sent, and that came
from the princes and powers of darkness and light all over the
country.

The result was, of course, that foregone conclusion of these later
days--a compromise. The churchyard belonged to the parish, the burial
service to the Church. And so, with a curious falter at its innermost
heart because of the absence of the rector's familiar surplice and
biretta, the village had signalised its victory by a triumphal
following of Gwen's baby to the grave, not of its fathers, but its
mothers.

As they gathered round the coffin which looked so tiny far away down
in the greasy, black earth, the sound of "Day of wrath, that dreadful
day," sung by the rector at his usual evening service, floated out
from the church to join Morris Pugh's indignant militant prayer to the
Almighty; but the peaceful little dead child slept undisturbed by
either.

Yet the rector, honest man, had no ill-feeling at all, but rather a
profound pity for the lamb of his flock who had been lost through
ignorance on his part, for had he known of its illness nothing would
have prevented him from storming the shepherd's hut and claiming his
right as rector. Indeed, but for the necessity for reprobating the
scandalous withholding of one of the Church's sacraments from an
innocent soul because its parents were blameworthy, there is small
doubt that he would have asked no questions, and buried the small dead
body decently and in order. As it was he came, after service was over,
tall and cassock-garbed, to stand beside the tiny mound of new-turned
soil which broke the lush green of the churchyard, make the sign of
the cross over it, and pray a little prayer for mercy.

Nevertheless, he went back to his study and his ecclesiastical
histories a harder man for the incident. His bishop had not upheld
the authority of the Church; he had--in all reverence be it
spoken--hedged, and the Rev. Gawain Meredith was too priestly, soul
and body, for hedging with heretics.

For there was no mincing of words about him. The Wesleyans were
possibly schismatics; all other dissenters were heretics, and the
Calvinistic Methodists the most distinctly dangerous heretics with
whom he had to deal. They reminded him in their social, religious, and
political organisation of the Jesuits whose history he was studying.
He had a reluctant admiration for their determination to force means
to an end, and he saw plainly how much capital they would make out of
his refusal to bury the body. Elections to the parish council were
coming on, and he had already made himself unpopular by questioning
the expenditure. So he read the paragraphs concerning the baby's
burial which he found waiting for him on his study table in the weekly
local, with a setting of his thin lips. They might turn him out of the
council if they choose, but while he was in it, he would do his duty
by the ratepayers.

Morris Pugh had read these same paragraphs in manuscript; they had
been sent to him for revision, and he had returned them without a word
of comment; yet he had felt a vague regret pluck at his heart.

He was an enthusiast, pure and simple. Those chiefs of his party, who
seized so quickly on every point of vantage, were enthusiasts and
something more.

He felt ill at ease; though, in attempting to get at the truth
concerning Gwen's fault he had acted almost at the instigation of his
elders. Isaac Edwards and Richard Jones, stern fathers of the village,
had been inexorable, and so Gwen, once the pride of the choir, despite
her being "light in the weighing," had been practically
excommunicated. Not that there had ever been any intention of such
excommunication being permanent, or of its injuring the child; but
spasmodic croup waits for nothing, and so--so the Middle Ages and the
Burials Act had come into conflict.

This, however, was not the only cause for Morris Pugh's uneasiness.

Oddly enough, the disturbing element was the hundred pounds which Ned
Blackborough had hidden in the cleft of the rocks. The last two months
had been one long temptation to go and take it at all costs--take it
and say nothing. And yet his soul revolted from the very idea. The
constant conflict, however, had forced him into clearer thought, and
he had shrunk back in horror from much that he saw in himself and
others. The greed of gold! How it riddled all human life; it even
touched the next, for it was the mainspring of religion. Money! Money!
There was a perpetual call for it. Half the spiritual life of his
flock was due to the efforts of those who had built the chapel and who
worked--for God, no doubt--but also to get five per cent. interest on
their mortgages.

Yes! the souls for whom Christ died were bartering them for gold.

O! for something, some voicing of the Great Spirit, to stir them to a
nobler commerce!

This was his desire, his constant prayer, and he had grown haggard and
anxious over the stress of both.

The last two days also had brought a fresh anxiety. Mervyn, his
brother, had returned from a month's visit to Blackborough, curiously
moody, curiously unlike himself; that is the earnest, clever lad who
for years had been the pride of the village, the joy of his mother's
and of his brother's heart. No doubt his failure to pass the
examination had discouraged him; but was that all? It did not really
matter; he was young yet, had another chance, and meanwhile could go
on as he was, earning enough to keep him as clerk to the village
councils and boards.

So as Morris Pugh, hollow-eyed, pale, lingered at the grave of the
little child which he had just committed to the dust whence it had
come, there was no stability in his thoughts. They wandered on
dreamily until, suddenly as a flash, came the certainty that one of
the many mourners, who had but a minute before been looking down on
the tiny coffin, was father to what it held.

And he had stood there silent, unrepentant!

Yes; it must be so, for poor Gwen was no wanderer; her own people
sufficed for that limited life.

He covered his face with his hands and turned swiftly, almost to
stumble over his brother who stood behind him. His face was haggard
also, and Morris looked at it with a quick dread clutching at his
heart.

"There's--there's nothing wrong is there--Merve--" he faltered.

The lad flushed crimson. "Only you've trodden on my toe; that's all,"
he answered, bending low to brush off the dust of the grave which his
brother's foot had left on his boot.

"I beg your pardon," replied Morris Pugh slowly; then the remembrance
that he was pastor here as elsewhere made him add, "I was so overcome
by the horrible thought that the father of that poor child must have
been here--beside us, Merve."

But the lad's face was up again; he looked his brother calmly in the
face.

"I suppose he was; but what is the use of bothering about it? The
thing's over--" He glanced at the grave as he spoke, and looked back
at his brother almost impatiently. "Oh! for God's sake, Morris, let
her be--I dare say it--it was a sort of mistake--he mayn't have
meant--but anyhow, the thing's done with!

"Done!" echoed Morris; "how can it be done without repentance?"

Mervyn's handsome eyes narrowed, his lip set. "And how do you know he
doesn't repent? If the--the baby had lived it might have been worth
while; but now--" he smiled suddenly. "Don't worry any more about it,
there's a good chap. Mother will be waiting tea for us, and you have
all those envelopes to send round this evening."

Morris Pugh winced under the reminder. Yes! tomorrow was Collection
Sunday, and each household of the faith must be provided with an
envelope addressed to it in which the offering must be enclosed, thus
enabling those in authority to trace home any inadequate donation.

Oh! would the time never come to the Church of Christ when the Elect
would need no such precautions against cheating their God? For that
was what it meant.

His whole soul sickened as he thought of how each one of his flock
would weigh the balance between this world and the next. And yet a
good collection was the vivifier of spiritual life. Without it, how
could extra preachers be paid for, and the religio-social work of the
community be kept up?

It was late ere all the arrangements for the morrow, including a
reception and prayer-meeting in honour of the Reverend Hwfa Morgan,
who was to conduct the morning service, were over; but even then
Morris Pugh had not finished his work. That was to wrestle through the
night in prayer for Divine Guidance, for Divine Help.

And all the while the slow, certain stars wheeled in their appointed
courses to meet the dawn, the dawn that came true to its appointed
time.

There was a stir in the village, of course. To begin with, there was
the excitement of a new preacher. Would he come up to his reputation?
And would the performance of the village choir be satisfactory? Then,
as all the outlying members of the congregation came in from the
distant farms early, there was the additional excitement of hearing
and giving gossip. As one of the yearly functions, too, Collection
Sunday was a festival for fine clothes. Alicia Edwards wore hers, an
entirely new get-up which, remembering Myfanwy's look at Mervyn, and
having in mind various penny novelettes in which jealousy played the
principal part, she had ordered from another shop in Blackborough. For
she was becoming reckless. At heart she was an excellent creature, but
her education had been against her. She had learnt so much that was
absolutely unnecessary for what she wanted to make out of life. What
did it matter to her whether she could reel off the names of the
claimants to the crown of Spain during the War of Succession? All she
really desired was love; sentimental, not overpassionate love. Life
without emotion was to her an empty life. Other girls, feeling as
restless as she did, might have defied home authority and followed,
say, Myfanwy Jones's lead; but she was too dutiful, and in addition
she had a reputation to keep up, the reputation of being the best girl
in the village. Her father, of whom she was desperately afraid, talked
of a Training College for Teachers; she held her peace, and lived
feverishly for the moment. That, at any rate, was productive of
emotion!

So she put on her finest clothes and went down to meet Mervyn at the
chapel door, and greet him with a sprightly challenge and a little
quiver of her lip: Not that she was really in love with him. Any other
of the stalwart young men, who cultivated the same forehead curl,
would have done as well, if he had been attracted by her and called
her his darling, and asked her to be his wife; for all her education
had left her woman--woman pure and simple.

There was quite a crowd at the chapel door, a general excitement over
the thought of the new preacher, though to many a bent old man and
worn old woman the great event of the day was in the envelope, safely
tucked away in the Bibles they clutched so confidently. For, realising
that this might be their last donation, they had given their ransom
for the skies. Isaac Edwards fussed round, keeping a watchful eye for
the doubtful members of the flock; and the Reverend Hwfa Morgan, a
tall young man who might have looked sensual but for his exceeding
pallor, spoke to the favoured few, giving them a taste of his fluency.

He was extraordinarily fluent. His periods swept along soundfully and
brought forth many encomiums in the brief period between the services,
for the evening hour had been put forward to the afternoon in order to
allow the outermost outsiders to get home ere dark, and thus have no
excuse for absence.

So the westering sun shone full into the bare, whitewashed chapel when
Morris Pugh, as a preliminary to his final appeal, stepped forward,
and the Reverend Hwfa Morgan stepped back for the moment.

There was the difference of two worlds between their faces. As Morris
gave out a well-known Welsh hymn, a little sudden thrill seemed to
vibrate in the humanity-burdened air of the packed chapel.

What was it?

The quaint modulations rose and fell in wide compass, now high, now
low. Would the Spirit of the Lord speak in a singing voice?

The thought was no new one; it had been in Morris Pugh's mind as he
had listened of late to the oft-told tale--which grew in the telling--
of the mysterious music in the church on Trinity Sunday.

But no! The hymn died away to its Amen, and there was no sign. So he
began his address.

And then suddenly his eye caught a figure by the door, a figure in
black, close veiled. Surely it was Gwen--Gwen the sinner?

And then he spoke again. He had passed the night in prayer; he had
eaten nothing; the whole body and soul of him was in deadly earnest.

Whether there was something more than this or not, that in itself has
to be reckoned with, especially with an emotional audience.

So, as he spoke of the dead child, an old woman, her face seamed with
wrinkles, seemed to feel a half-forgotten tug at her breast and began
to weep; an old man, straining with almost sightless eyes for some
glimpse which might make the young, flexible, lamenting voice more
earthly, less heavenly, followed suit. Then the golden haze which
filled the chapel seemed to hold a radiance, and close to the speaker,
Alicia Edwards gave a little half-suffocated cry and tore, as if for
breath, at the laces round her throat.

And still the insistent, strenuous voice held to its high protesting
pitch of passionate reproof. Its cadence was the only sound----

No! What was that?

From the figure by the door a sound--the merest shadow of a sound!


                   'Just as I am without one plea.'


The Welsh translation of a sinner's joy was familiar, and a thrill,
individual yet collective, ran through the chapel as, turning, every
one in it saw Gwen, her whole face, sodden with tears, transfigured
into angelic light and peace and joy as she sang--


                'Save that Thy Blood was shed for me.'


The strenuous man's voice failed suddenly before the exquisite
sweetness of the woman's, but only for a moment. A voice less
strenuous, yet still a man's, joined in the singing, then another
woman's.

So, by ones and twos and threes, the message of certain salvation grew
from a whisper to a storm of sound.


                       'O Lamb of God, I come!'


And then?

Then, while Morris Pugh stood white, trembling, almost appalled, the
Reverend Hwfa Morgan sprang forward with a shout of "Hallelujah!"

It swept away the last barrier of reserve. With cries and groans the
congregation leapt to its feet or grovelled in the dust.

"Speak to them, man, speak to them, the Spirit is upon you," urged the
Reverend Hwfa Morgan, as Morris Pugh still stood, paralysed by the
realisation of his prayer.

So he essayed to speak, but the power did not lie with him. It lay in
the soft, almost unearthly, harmonies of Gwen's voice, and Mervyn's,
and Alicia Edwards, followed by those of many a young man and maiden.
Over and over again some wild Welsh chant pitted itself against prayer
or preaching, or even the earnest confession of sin from some sinner,
and always with the same result, a victory for the service of song.
Against that soothing background even Time itself seemed lost. The
evening drew in wet and stormy. The necessity for closing the chapel
doors burdened the pent air still more with man's great need of
forgiveness. The miserable ventilation, which sanitation allows to
churches and forbids to theatres, made women faint and strong men turn
sick, while every now and again a burst of unrestrained laughter or
sobbing told of nerves strained to the breaking point.

It was nigh dawn when, by the light of a pale moon obscured by
drifting storm-clouds, Morris Pugh turned the key in the chapel door
with a trembling hand. The Reverend Hwfa Morgan and Isaac Edwards were
waiting for him on the wet, glittering steps.

"That is over," he muttered slowly in Welsh.

"Over!" echoed his brother cleric. "If the Lord will, it has just
begun: from it will spread a wave of revival. You and those sweet
singers--!" His excitement was too much for him, he reverted to
English, "Yes, indeed! We will have a collection----"

Isaac Edwards slapped his thigh with an inarticulate ejaculation.

"Morris Pugh," he said, his voice quivering with regret, "we have
forgotten it. God forgive us, we have forgotten the money!"



                              CHAPTER X


"You might have known, if you hadn't been in a dream," muttered Mervyn
Pugh as he sat, his face hidden in his hands. "Nothing can be done
without money, nothing, and it wouldn't have mattered if it had not
been for this cursed meeting--and--and the rector----"

"Don't curse him, Merve," broke in Morris Pugh, who stood, with the
look of one newly awakened, near the window, gazing out vaguely at a
rising star, which lay on the distant hilltop like a visitant from
heaven. Even as he looked, his mind all confused and blurred, the
novel thought came to him that with such high and holy messengers at
His command, the Creator need not have condescended to send such
farthing dips of wandering lights to mark His elect, as some which had
been manifested during the revival.

For a month had passed since Gwen's singing of the hymn had
electrified the little congregation at Dinas, a month during which----

What had happened?

Morris Pugh, looking at his brother, saw that past month as in a
dream, indeed. He, as the preacher, forgetful of everything save his
mission, and those four voices, Gwen's soprano, Alicia Edwards's
contralto, Mervyn's tenor, and Hwfa Morgan's bass, blending into every
message of penitence or peace which emotion could desire. So they had
gone preaching and singing, rousing an almost frenzied response
wherever they went. And all the while----

"I don't understand yet," he said slowly. "Why was all this money
required?"

Mervyn echoed the "all" with half-pathetic scorn. "A hundred pounds
doesn't go far in running a revival," he said savagely. "One must
start the thing. Why, even before we left Dinas, Gwen and Alicia had
to get their clothes, they couldn't go in what they had got, and there
was music wanted. One had to get a chorus, and the men couldn't sit up
all night and work all day. Morgan and I talked it all over, for some
one must look after practical things, you know, and I said I would
finance it till the subscriptions came in. It's no use your looking
like that, Morris. Any fool would tell you money had to be got somehow
for the time, and it would have been all right but for this row with
the rector. That isn't my fault."

Morris Pugh started as if he had been stung. "No! it was mine," he
said. "I am the elder. I ought to have considered."

Mervyn rose quickly, and, going over to his brother, laid a caressing
hand on his shoulder.

"Now don't, Morris," he said, using a common Welsh endearment, "let us
forget ourselves for a while. I suppose it was wrong, but--" here his
lip quivered, "it musn't injure the work. My God! how awful that would
be." He flung himself on the chair again and, stretching his arms out
over the table, positively sobbed. He was a prey to every emotion,
every feeling that in this moment of anxiety and bewilderment swept
over him, for he and his brother had come home but half an hour ago
full of elation from a successful meeting at the other end of the
county, to find that the rector, ousted member of village boards and
councils, had insisted on a scrutiny of the accounts ere making over
office next day.

And Mervyn knew that the balance would be a hundred pounds short; the
hundred pounds which had been paid over by the central fund for
educational purposes, and which should have been deposited in the Post
Office Bank when it had come in a month ago. He had not done so,
however, because, on emergency, he had borrowed the loan of the use of
it for something else.

To do him justice that was all he had meant. Once the revival was
fairly started the monetary question could be allowed to crop up, but
without money in the background to make it possible to pose as having
no regard to money, how could the very committees which would work the
business properly be called into existence? At the time he had thought
of nothing but God's service, and even now he felt little remorse. His
sense of conversion was too strong, and the whole month of incessant
irritation of every possible religious emotion had left him a pulp so
far as actual facts were concerned ... and as a rule the village
accounts went on and on endlessly ...

He lifted up his hand and smote the table impotently. Great heavens!
what was to be done? That hundred pounds must be replaced somehow.

As he thought of how it had been spent, he felt vaguely uncomfortable
over an item which had gone to pay a small bill of his own, contracted
in amusing Myfanwy Jones at Blackborough. He felt ashamed of that, but
he had no shame for other things in the further past. A curious
fanatical exultation filled him as he thought how marvellous were
God's ways, and how men and women, sinners utterly, might stand in all
innocence together and proclaim infinite mercy. Inscrutable mystery!
Almost incredible secret tie of forgiven sin, which made the voices
thrill and blend.

And this must end unless there was money. They had but a few hours,
and even Hwfa Morgan was not there to help with advice. He would not
return till morning, so there was only poor, dreamy Morris, absorbed
in the personal issues.

There was but one issue! That there should be no setback to the
overwhelming success of the revival.

For it had been successful beyond measure, in works as well as words.

In Dinas itself, the cotoneaster-covered inn might have put up its
shutters for all the liquor sold at the once-frequented bar. There was
no swearing or quarrelling from one end of the parish to the other.
Even the snaring of their neighbours' rabbits for Sunday dinner,
ultimate crime of a Welsh quarryman, had ceased. And these were but
the outward and visible signs of a great inward and spiritual grace. A
sense of perfect personal peace had fallen upon the mass of men.

There were no more anxieties, no more fears. Heaven and its golden
harps were within the reach of all, and, looking forward, each
personality could see itself surviving death and going on unchanged
for ever and ever and aye. So the Grave had lost its Victory. Each
trivial soul was safe.

The result in pure morality, not only in Dinas but throughout the
whole countryside, was unquestionable. Even those who disapproved of
such emotional excitement, or who, like the rector, viewed with
disfavour all outpourings of grace except through the appointed
channels, could not deny this, and were driven to darkling hints as to
the staying power of such religious feeling.

Only Martha, going down in state to order the usual gross of matches
at the village shop--the carriage arrangements precluded their
purchase with all other things at the Stores--fell foul of the whole
business, lock and stock and barrel, to Isaac Edwards, whom she found
singing hymns while he did up the pound package of sugar, in which the
paper, heavy blue, was included in the weight. Not that it was his
fault that this was so. It was only one of the usual tricks of a trade
which on a small scale cannot possibly be run straight.

"You'll excuse me," she said with a sniff, "but it strikes me as
you're all a deal too free with the Almighty. But there, once folk
stops making their reverences to the gentry, 'tain't long ere they get
to noddin' at their Creator. An' you don't go to the Bible for your
crowded-up night-watches, Mr. Edwards. King David, an' he oughter
know, says mornin', evenin', an' noon. At night 'e watered 'is bed
with 'is tears an' was still, like a decent gentleman. There wasn't
none of this not-comin'-home--till--mornin' business, and how folks as
'as to work hard for their livin' does it, beats me. I'll set up agin
most, but I'm a pore piece next day, an' wouldn't ask a full wage of
anybody, not I! And as for the young folk; you mark my words, Mr.
Edwards! Gels is gels, an' boys is boys, whether they stands in a kirk
or a mill, as the sayin' is. An' they'll find it out for theirselves,
poor sillies, by an' by, if them as is past 'youth's hayday' don't
harvest-home 'em before lights out. So there! An' you can send up a
gross an' a half o' matches if you think that not bein' o' your way o'
believin' I shall 'ave to 'arden myself to brimstone."

So she had departed; but her warnings had been as chaff before the
wind while the harvest was being gathered in.

The flood-tide of popular opinion lifted even the wildest
extravagances as well as the most sober actuality and carried them
with it. Whither remained to be seen.

And now?

Morris Pugh, standing at the window looking in dull amaze at the star
which had by this time dissociated itself entirely from earth, could
not think what would happen now.

Everything on which he had any grip seemed to have gone. Since that
day, a long month ago, when his voice had failed before Gwen's voice,
he had, like the star, dissociated himself from the material world
altogether. He had given the rein to his emotions, he had lived in the
clouds, never asking or thinking how Alicia and Gwen came to be
dressed so becomingly, never inquiring how the expenses of railway
tickets, hiring, placarding, advertisements, notices in the papers,
all the thousand and one absolute necessities for a successful
meeting, were defrayed. So the truth came upon him with deadly force.
Morally a far stronger man than his brother, he could not for the
moment get beyond the actual fact of fraud.

How could Mervyn have taken the money? How could he?

"Well!" said the latter at last, rising to pace the room impatiently,
nervously. "Can't you suggest something? The money must be replaced
somehow. We daren't risk anything. What can be done? and in the next
few hours.--Oh! it is maddening to think how many would be willing to
lend it if we had only time! To think even of the thousands who have
hundreds and hundreds of pounds to fling away on a fancy, and
this----" he paused, arrested by his brother's face. "What is it,
Morris? what--what makes you look like that?"

For answer Morris sank to his knees and covered his face as if in
prayer. "I thank Thee, O my God!" he murmured, "this hast Thou
prepared aforetime. O ye of little faith--of little faith!"

"What is it, Morris?" repeated Mervyn curiously. The last month had
done its work on him also. He was prepared for all things, all signs,
and wonders. "You might tell me," he added, after a pause.

"No!"

Morris's face came up from his hands full of triumphant,
transcendental exultation. "No! That is a secret between me and my
God. But the hundred pounds is found! It is found, I tell you! Oh!
marvellous, most marvellous! Truly He moves in a mysterious way His
wonders to perform! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"

For Mervyn's words had recalled to him in a flash the half-forgotten
memory of Ned Blackborough's hidden money, and his mind attuned to
miracles, super-sensitised to the direct dealings of Providence with
man, leapt to the conclusion that the hundred pounds, so idly, so
carelessly flung away on what appeared a mere fancy, was in truth a
heavenly provision against this urgent need.

The thought explained so much. The devil of greed within him, which
had urged him to take the money for his own use--the gradual
unfolding, through this temptation, of the desire for some outpouring
of the Spirit. Here were more marvels than he had time at present to
consider. The great fact was sufficient, that in the wilderness the
table had been spread.

"It was wrong to take the money, Merve," he said, his face suffused
with a heavenly joy; "we must not forget that--we must weep and pray
over that; but it was for His service, and He has forgiven us--the
money is found!"

"But when--that is the point," began Mervyn anxiously; "it must be by
to-morrow morning, and it is late----"

"You will wake to find it on the Bible by your bedside, my brother,"
interrupted Morris solemnly, "and then we will give thanks unto the
Lord, for He hath done marvellous things. Come to supper now; our
mother will be anxious at our delay. Leave the rest in His hands."

The moon was riding high amid the stars when Morris Pugh, closing the
door of the sleeping cottage behind him with a whispered benediction
on its inmates, started for his climb to the gap where Ned
Blackborough had hidden the hundred pounds. The night air struck
chill, for it was late October, but he was in far too exalted a frame
of mind to consider such earthly things as overcoats or comforters.
His exaltation, indeed, would have seemed incredible even to the
self of six weeks ago; for, despite his enthusiasm, he had been
hard-headed and practical enough. Now, enervated by constant use of
his emotions, it seemed to him--full to the brim as he was by right of
his Cymric birth with imaginative fire, poetry passion--that he was
going up into the mountain alone to meet his Lord and receive a gift
from His hands.

He felt as Moses must have felt on Pisgah, as St. Jerome felt when the
last Sacrament was vouchsafed to him. Those last few weeks had made an
ecstatic out of the enthusiast. He saw nothing but his Lord, he heard
nothing but the call to come.

Marvellous! Most marvellous!

Yes! of a truth! for about him--to him unseen--lay the great marvel of
the Real Presence in the world, above him the marvel of the Real
Presence in the skies and stars. But the stones were to his eager feet
but stumbling-blocks, the glory of the starlight and the moonlight was
but the halo of a concrete heaven.

Still it was very rapture; worth in itself a thousand times the petty
hundred pounds which had called it into being. Put into bald English,
here was a man going to take money which he wot of, in order to save
his brother from disgrace. Translated into the terms of emotional
religion, here was a sinner about to find salvation.

The night was very clear, very cold. The stars sparkled brilliantly,
aloofly. There was a suspicion of frost-crackle in the thick covering
of dew which lay like a filmy gossamer quilt over the grassy uplands.
The startled sheep left a darker track of dew-despoiled herbage behind
their flying footsteps. There was no cloud upon the sky whose velvet
darkness seemed devoid of light save for the unhaloed moon and the
sharp shining stars.

But Morris Pugh saw none of these things. He had found what he
sought--what all Religions seek--the Self that is not yourself. He had
found it through an abstraction of the mind, not through the manifold
face of matter. But the sense of finality, of universal Oneness, comes
in a thousand ways, and he felt it fully. He could have sung in the
gladness of his heart, even while his stumbling feet bruised
themselves over the unheeded stones.

The little rush-fringed pool, by which he had sat with the others
asserting that money was the root of all evil, lay so still, so
shining, so set, that it also might have been frost-bound--like the
heart of man before the Mercy of the Most High had touched it.

The root of all evil!

Morris smiled. He knew better now. There was nothing evil in the
Holiest of Holies. Money was a great gift.

So, as if before an altar, every atom of him, soul and body, thrilling
with high expectation, he knelt before the cleft in the rock to
receive what had been given. His very hands trembled.

"Not unto us, Lord, but unto Thy name," he murmured softly.

Then came a pause. His fingers, feeling the cleft, found it empty.

Empty! Incredible! Impossible! A great amaze took him. He stood up and
stared vacantly at the receding whiteness of the dew-covered, moonlit
steeps.

Empty!

Then what became of----

Of everything!

He had been so buoyed up by certainty. He had been so sure of himself
and of his God. He sat down on the frost-wet grass after a time and
tried to think; but his mind was in a maze. He followed one path of
thought after another, always to be brought up by that barrier of
feeling that he had been fooled; or he had fooled himself. Had it not
been for his previous exaltation, his exultation, he might by degrees
have accepted the situation and considered which of the three other
participants in the secret had been beforehand with him. But there was
no question of being beforehand with him. If what he had felt--nay!
had known--was true, they had been beforehand with God.

How long he sat, he did not know. It came upon him by surprise to hear
the voice of a shepherd calling to his dogs. He looked round, and lo!
it was long past dawn. He must go back and tell Mervyn that he had
made a mistake; or was it Someone else who had been tricked?

When he arrived at the village the first early hour had passed, and
folk were already beginning the day's work. Ah! what would Mervyn say,
and what would he do?

It was terrible to try the latch of the cottage, find it open, and
know that his brother must be waiting for him; waiting so anxiously.
But there was a respite. Mervyn was not in. Hwfa Morgan had arrived
early, the woman who tended the house said, and they had gone out
together just as she came in to light the fire.

Morris sat down beside it vaguely relieved. Hwfa Morgan might think of
something. Meanwhile the warmth of the fire was comforting. He must
have been very chill. His blood seemed to rush and bound through him
like a melting river.

He was startled from a half-doze by Mervyn's entrance, and he stood up
unsteadily.

"I am sorry, brother," he began, "but I--I mean some one has
failed----"

Mervyn interrupted him curtly. "It's lucky I didn't trust to you--but
it is all right--the thing's settled. Hwfa Morgan turned up this
morning, and as you hadn't come back we talked it over, and he
suggested taking Edwards into our confidence. So we went over to him,
and he saw it would be as dangerous to his interests as to ours if
there was any fuss, so he consented to take our security--yours, too,
of course--that he shouldn't be a loser, and gave me a voucher of
deposit all right. It can only be a question of a fortnight or so, for
once a Central Committee takes over the revival regularly our expenses
will be paid----"

"But the voucher?" began Morris.

Mervyn interrupted him impatiently, his naturally high colour
heightening itself considerably.

"Oh! yes! of course. He--he antedated it. Luckily there had been no
other deposits for three weeks, so the numbers on the counterfoils
worked all right. And it doesn't really matter to any one, does it?"

He spoke a trifle defiantly.

"No," replied his brother, with an odd sound between a sob and a
laugh. "I don't suppose it matters to--to any one. I--I think I'll go
to bed, Merve--I must have got a chill on the mountains--I--I don't
feel well."

"But there is the meeting," expostulated Mervyn; "it won't go without
you."

Morris shook his head. "I should be no use, Mervyn--I--I can't even
think." And then, strong man as he was, he broke down into sobbing.



                              CHAPTER XI


A whirling spin and din of machinery filled the air. All around was
endless revolution, above was the ceaseless, curiously slow
progression of the driving bands, those heavy-footed transmitters of
elusive incomprehensible force, and below, under the great iron
framings which held half a million machines in position, were men and
women, grime-covered, fluff-covered, dust-covered, according to their
trade, all moving about like automata with dead-alive hearts and
hands, attending on some marvellous adaptation of mechanical power
devised by those sane human hearts and hands out of their own powers.
Pulley and lever, and inclined plane, with all their endless
derivatives, were hard at work, for Blackborough was the biggest
manufacturing centre in the kingdom, and Blackborough was in the
middle of its day's work.

And then, suddenly, a clock struck. Another given moment of eternity
had passed, the wheels stopped, the throbbing air grew still. Then
from a thousand wide gateways humanity began to stream forth to flood
the streets. The stream was thinner, less continuous than usual, for
it was Saturday; therefore pay-day, and tallies had to be made up at
the cashier's desk.

So they came out by twos and threes, counting their gold and silver.
For half Blackborough, the past six days had resolved themselves into
pounds, shillings, and pence.

"_She_ won't be 'ere likely, o' Monday," sniggered one of two girls,
their hair already in curling-pins against the evening's outing, as
they passed a weary-looking woman whose thin shawl failed to conceal
her figure, and whose heavy foot dragged over the greasy pavement.
"Wot ever did she go and get married for, an' to sech a drunken fellar
too. She was a good-lookin' gel and 'ad a good time four year back."

"Oh! She'll be at it agin in a month's time none the worse," giggled
the other girl pertly. "She lost 'er two fust, an' this 'un 'ull go
too, you'll see. Just as well, and they comin' so rapid. My! They is
fair beasts, they husbands; but I'd see mine futher fust, I would!"

And then, as they hurried home to dress, they fell to discussing the
new hats which were "to do the real trick with their boys" on Sunday,
when a long cycle ride was to end in a midnight train, a late supper,
and after that bed--if there was time!

Even in their mill garb, they helped to swell the general tendency to
lark and titter in the streets; but in truth those same streets were a
somewhat curious sight on Saturday afternoons, when, with money in its
pocket, humanity was, at last, at leisure to be human; to loiter, to
laugh, and to make love. For the upper crust of Blackborough
society--the old red-sandstone section labelled "Court" in the social
stratification of the postal directory--made a point of rural
week-ends, so leaving the human pie free from any covering of culture.

It was amusing to watch. Advocates of realism would have found
pictures and to spare amid the overdressed girls whose week's wage had
been squandered on their finery, in the undersized boys prematurely
given to ogle who had spent theirs on football, bets, and cheap
cigarettes.

And as the daylight died down the squalor of it all showed still more
clearly beneath the flaring gas-jets. Especially in the market streets
where all the week's refuse of the great city was exposed for sale,
warranted sound, while buyer and seller alike winked over the
warranty!

Purple heaps of fly--blown meat labelled "prime cuts" in the
butcher-shops, battered tomatoes on the barrows with "best home-grown"
flaunting in green and gold lettering above them; "genuine" butter,
"fresh" eggs, and "selected dairy-fed pork," jostling each other in a
booth.

Such is the market which centuries of civilisation have provided for
the poor.

And the endless crowd passed and repassed, with money in its pocket,
lingering in groups about the gin shines at the corners, giggling,
cursing, gossiping, quarrelling; each person treading on the heels of
the next, and leaving no human footfall on the oozy pavement; only
blisters and scars, only the certainty that some living thing had
walked through the mire and carried some of the dirt away with it.

"Fine turbit! fine fresh Grimsby turbit!" shouted a man with a barrow.
As he turned down a darker by-street, a phosphorescent glimmer shone
from his pile of stale plaice as a testimony to eternal truth!

Peter Ramsay, house surgeon to St. Peter's Hospital round the corner,
making his way thither on his bicycle, followed on the glimmer,
vaguely interested as to whether that semi-putrescent fish bought for
Sunday's breakfast would send him a new patient.

"It's fresh, is it?" asked a wistful-looking old woman from a doorway.

"Smell it, laidy! There ain't no extry charge," retorted the coster
surlily.

The old woman shook her head. That test was too stern. "She comes from
Cornwall," she murmured to herself, "so 'twud put her more in mind o'
'ome, nor liver, wouldn't it?"

There was a chink of coppers behind Peter Ramsay as he rode on,
thinking that some folk ought to be punished for trying to
ptomaine-poison the king's lieges.

But his mind was full of something else, and before five minutes were
over, he was looking down on a sleeping boy, and wondering vaguely for
the hundredth time if he or the other doctors were right? Would an
operation--not a known one, of course, but one based on new lines--be
of any use or not? He would dearly have liked to try.

In truth here, in the spick and span ward, amid those who had been
brought in sickened by that outside squalor, it was difficult to
realise any lack of hygiene, any lack of fair dealing. Yet that lack
had left its mark on the sleeping face of the boy. It lay with a
cunning elusive look on its sharp features among the white pillows.
What a shutting of the door when the steed was stolen it all was!

Looking at him critically, preternaturally sharp, preternaturally
diseased in mind and body as he was, it seemed to be a life not much
worth saving; and yet!--if it could be saved!

The upright wrinkles on Peter Ramsay's forehead corrugated the
transverse ones as he told himself it was useless to think of it here;
in Vienna it would have been different. He had already so far as in
him lay encouraged the performance of a critical new operation the
very next week, and one was enough at a time. He was very keen, very
confident, this young surgeon, fresh from his life abroad; ready to
criticise even his superiors if they seemed to him old-fashioned. For
his hands reaching out into the darkness around him had felt the touch
of Something--Something that he would not lose touch of though it
eluded him; so he followed it fast, almost heedlessly.

This boy----? If he had had time or money! Then suddenly he smiled.
The thought of Ned Blackborough's hidden hundred pounds came to him as
it had come more than once during the last few months. Here was a case
for it, only unfortunately he had not the time for private work. Still
it was odd what a backing that hundred pounds had been to all sorts of
day-dreams. Why it should be so, was a psychological problem; since
after all, it was but a paltry sum, and, in all probability, it no
longer existed for him; for there had been distinct greed on at least
two of the faces which had watched its concealment. It had, no doubt,
been appropriated long ago. So the boy must go out, comfortably fitted
with regulation crutches, to live, possibly, two or three years at the
outside. And yet----

He bent regretfully, tracing the twist of the body beneath the
bed-clothes, then looked up at the lingering of a passing footstep.

"Good evening, Mrs. Tressilian. I beg your pardon, Nurse Helen--I am
always forgetting."

"Because you will not remember," she replied with a smile. Then her
eyes grew soft; she bent over the bed in her turn; "Can nothing really
be done for him, doctor? He is so very patient."

There was something about this woman, Peter Ramsay felt, which took
him away, as it were, into a desert place apart with nothing in it
save himself, truth, and a listener. He had felt it from the moment he
had first seen her; and he had told her the truth even then. It was
another curious psycho-physiological problem which evaded dissection
and analysis; so he had evaded her, ever since--carrying out her
promise to herself--she had appeared as a nurse in the hospital now
nearly five months ago. But the spell remained.

"Nothing," he replied, half-speaking to himself, and following up his
own train of thought; "Nothing at least that will be done--and it
would be but an off chance anyhow."

She caught him up swiftly. "Then there is a chance?"

Peter Ramsay's face became a study in cynical reserve; he turned away.
"My dear lady," he said, "haven't you been a nurse long enough to know
a doctor's convenient formula, 'While there's life, there's hope.'"

To his annoyance as he moved on to the door, she moved also. "I am off
duty," she remarked, as if she had not appreciated his slamming of the
door in her face, "so it is no breach of rules to tell you that I have
had a letter from Ned Blackborough. He is coming back from the
Mountains of the Moon--that was about his last address, I believe--but
his arm is still troublesome. I should like to show you what he says."

They were in the vestibule now, and Dr. Ramsay paused. He rather
admired her pertinacity, and matched her coolness with his own.

"Certainly. May I come in now--or stay! You will want to go out, I
expect. Will you look in at my diggings after dinner? I might be able
to give you a cup of coffee, if you will?"

"I have no doubt the matron will allow me," she laughed. "Good-bye for
the present, Dr. Ramsay."

As he sat waiting for her in a room which beggared description by its
untidiness, he felt distinctly nervous; but he was becoming accustomed
to the fact that she had a disturbing or rather an exhilarating effect
on his nerves. He was a trifle irritated at the fact, a trifle
irritated with her because she had fulfilled his predictions.

She was quite normal, and she made an excellent nurse. He had had to
admit so much. But it was not her natural metier--that was--something
very different.

Possibly he was right. At any rate Helen, entering the room, stood
absolutely aghast at its utter lack of comfort. She had been learning
much about Peter Ramsay of which she had had no idea, when she came
into touch with him in the hospital. To begin with, he was much
younger than she had guessed him. She doubted if he was much older,
perhaps not quite as old as she was herself. Clever as he was, he had
most of the doctor's battle for name and fame before him; and there
was a carelessness of public opinion, a certain roughness of very
solid truth about him, joined to an utter disregard of his own comfort
or that of any one else, except a patient's, which made her feel that
here was a man who, above most men, needed a strong, capable, tactful
woman to look after him privately, if he was to succeed publicly.

And, though the sick adored him, and every one admitted his skill, he
was not one of those men who appeal to the world at large. He was too
swift, too incisive. No young woman would darn his stockings because
he was a dear; the very maid-servants could leave his room like this!

"I don't expect it's good," he said ruefully, pouring her out a cup of
coffee, "but I'm not up to these things. My mother spoilt me. She died
three years ago. She was a widow, and I was her only son."

Helen, sipping at her coffee, told herself that explained a good deal.
He was capable enough professionally, but--the coffee was execrable!

"It isn't very nice," she admitted, "and why doesn't the
housemaid----"

"Oh! I can't have my things touched," he interrupted with a frown;
adding as if to change an unwelcome subject, "So the arm is stiff. I'm
sorry. We shall have to try electricity. There's a place in
London----"

He was off on some new cure, his red bronze eyes shining, his whole
bearing full of confidence and vitality. She waited till the subject
was exhausted, and then put down her cup, fixing her eyes humorously
on his face.

"And now, please, about that boy--No. 36 in the Queen's ward--I came
to speak of him, you know."

Peter Ramsay faced her half angrily; then he smiled. "Of course I
knew, though I don't see why you wish to find out my opinion."

"Possibly because I have an idea that your opinion may be right," she
replied coolly. "What is it you wish to do? Something quite new, I
expect."

He frowned. "There you are mistaken. It--or something like it--has
been done at Vienna."

"By Pagenheim?"

"What do you know of Pagenheim? I beg your pardon! I was forgetting
that women know everything nowadays. Yes, Mrs. Tressilian, by
Pagenheim. He was my master."

She knew that; knew also that the great surgeon had sent him back to
England as his best pupil.

"Well," she said after a time, "If you won't tell me I will order the
_Wiener Hospital Blatt_; I shall see all about it there I suppose."

This time he laughed out loud. "You are very persistent, so I will
save you the trouble of finding out in which number it is reported."

When he had finished, she sat looking at him for a moment, feeling a
sudden motherly desire to help this curiously capable, curiously inept
man, whose strong white surgeon's hands showed themselves firmly
gripping each other beyond frail, frayed wristbands.

"But surely if you hold that there is a chance of life for him----"
she began.

He rose, and resting his arm on the mantelpiece, looked down on her
mentally and physically.

"Life!" he echoed. "What is life worth to him? and how do you know
that what we call death ends it? Mind you, I'm not speaking from my
own beliefs--they are--well! not much! Belief is positive--I'm not.
But you, Mrs. Tressilian. Why do you and your sort hold this life so
dear, and why are you all at the same time in such a blessed hurry to
get another hour or two of it in which to do something when you
believe in a fuller, better life beyond death? It isn't logical. My
mother used to say that when she taught me, a three-year-old, about
Cain and Abel, I refused to give blame to the former on the ground
that he had only sent Abel to heaven. That should be your position."

"And yours?"

"Oh! mine is simple. To a doctor life is merely the converse of death,
and death is the devil! We cannot prescribe for a corpse--or for the
matter of that levy a fee for so doing--and that is the end and aim of
doctoring."

"Why should you say those things, Dr. Ramsay?" she asked quietly. "You
know you never take one--at least you would take none from me."

He flushed slightly. "Because I did nothing--and you were an
interesting case. I levy a big fee of experience, Mrs. Tressilian. But
concerning this boy--my colleagues are against me, and----" He
shrugged his shoulders. "I don't think the world will come to an end
if No. 36 goes out of it. I shouldn't mind if it did--it isn't worth
much."

"But are you not bound?" she persisted. "You have no right to judge
what his life might be. A doctor's duty is to save life and defy death
at all costs."

His face softened immensely.

"You have got it quite pat, Mrs. Tressilian. That is my duty
undoubtedly; but--but I can't afford to do it--as yet--and after all,
there is plenty of time--we have a few centuries of evolution before
us yet."

"But you--you yourself?" she asked, scanning his face eagerly.

"I," he answered. "I am a temporary aggregation of molecules, or, let
us say, electrons. By and by we shall find another word to express the
infinitely little--or the infinitely great----"

Here a shrill whistle from the speaking-tube made Helen start and
Peter Ramsay smile. "That, I'll bet, will be the infinitely little."
He leant over to listen, and his face hardened. "I must go--an old
man, apparently in a fit, brought in from the street. Good-bye, Mrs.
Tressilian. I'll try and save _his_ life anyhow."

She lingered on in the room for a while after he had left it, laying
an orderly hand almost unconsciously here and there, and feeling that,
had she dared, she would like to have gone into his bedroom beyond,
and seen if there were any buttons on the back of his shirts. She
remembered having heard him ask the matron for the loan of a
safety--pin; that looked ominous.

He, meanwhile, going hastily into the surgery, saw a white-haired
figure lying flat on the table, and, having the gift of swift
diagnosis, called as he entered,

"Prop him up, please--and--dresser--amyl, sharp."

Held back thus by swift help from sinking down to perfect rest, the
weary heart rallied, and after a time the old man's set face wavered,
he opened his large, pale-blue eyes, and looked about him.

Then the doctor looked about him also. "Hullo! Cruttenden," he said,
"you here?"

"I brought him in," replied Ted Cruttenden; "he was speaking to some
work-people in the street when he collapsed."

"If you know his friends, you had better send for them to take him
home--he ought not to go alone."

The patient was by this time able to smile. Lying back on the pillow,
he looked extraordinarily frail and refined, and his voice, urbane to
a degree, matched his appearance.

"Friends!" he echoed. "I have none. I left friendship behind me--with
other things--years ago."

"Then, if you know no one, you'd better stop here," suggested Peter
Ramsay brusquely.

"I said nothing of knowledge, sir," replied the old man; "I know many,
and every one knows me. I am Sylvanus Smith."

Dr. Ramsay glanced swiftly at Ted Cruttenden, as if to refresh a
casual memory. "Sylvanus Smith," he echoed. "Oh yes! I remember. Then
you live near Dinas, and have a beautiful granddaughter--and--and you
know Cruttenden?"

Mr. Sylvanus Smith sat up, and flushed a delicate pink. "Excuse me;
neither of those qualifications have any bearing on the question. I am
President of the Social Congress, and I do happen to have a slight
acquaintance with this gentleman. I have to thank you, sir. I saw you
amongst my audience, and I presume----"

"Not at all--not at all," interrupted Ted. "If you like, Dr. Ramsay, I
will see him home."

As he said the words, he knew that here was a stroke of luck. Without
in any way infringing on his compact with Ned Blackborough, here was
an opportunity of ingratiating himself with Aura's legal guardian. He
would be a fool not to take it, a fool not to make the very most of
it.

And yet when, a whole week afterwards, the old man, leaning out of the
through carriage to Wales, in which Ted had placed him duly fortified
with papers and egg sandwiches, shook him warmly by the hand, saying,
"Then you will come to Cwmfairnog at Christmas." The words brought a
distinct feeling of meanness to the hearer. Ned Blackborough would
have to go alone to the inn. That was not what had been intended; but
then the whole business was absurd. He had a great mind to back out of
it altogether. And here the swift thought came, that from what he had
seen of Mr. Sylvanus Smith, a lordling would have scantier grace than
a commoner; so that it might be as well if Ned----

A twinge of remorse had to be stilled by the recollection that
everything was fair in love and war, and by heaven--no one could love
Aura better than he did. No! no one!

Of course, he would have been a fool not to take the luck sent him,
and he was a still greater fool to feel that there was in it any
stealing of a march on Ned Blackborough.

What would Hirsch say? For, ever since he had given himself up soul
and body to that great man, he had formed a habit of referring to him
as his standard of conduct. The result here was that Ted positively
blushed at his own scruples.

No, if--there was any unpleasantness--it would be better to end the
compact, and let them each do their best on their own footing.

His was very different to what it had been five months ago. There was
nothing now to prevent his being as rich as Ned Blackborough; or, in
the future, having such a title as his. For at bottom, all things were
a question of money. That he had learnt from Mr. Hirsch. A quick wave
of eager ambition sent the young blood tingling to the finger-tips. He
felt glad he might have to fight fair for the girl he loved. Besides,
it would be so much fairer on her. She ought not to be deceived. This
highly moral thought brought with it such a sense of conscious virtue
as sent him back to his office thinking deliberately how Hirsch would
admire Aura when he saw her--in pink satin and diamonds of course.



                             CHAPTER XII


Ned Blackborough had been to the Mountains of the Moon; at least so he
told his cousin when he drove her out from the hospital to New Park
the very day of his arrival at home.

"Call it the Mountains of the Moon, my dear," he had said, "it sounds
definite and may mean so much--or so little."

This was about a week before Christmas. It gave promise of being a
hard one, for a slight sprinkling, more of frost than snow, lay on
the roads, and the horses' roughened hoofs echoed cheerfully through
the keen air. It was exhilarating, Helen felt, after those long months
at the hospital broken only by dull constitutionals. She had begun
these by setting her face always to the country; but after a time
the long rows of workmen's houses, the dreary muddiness of gravel
side-walkings, the intolerable admixture of bricks and bakers' carts
had driven her back to wander aimlessly through crowded streets. There
she could at any rate see civilisation, pure and undefiled by attempts
after the Garden of Eden!

So this was joy. The hedgerows were black with unutterable soot, the
sky was grey with smoke, but the birds were twittering among the
smutty hips and haws, and overhead a flight of cawing rooks made the
grey seem light by their blackness.

She looked round for sympathy to Ned, and was struck by his face.

"You're looking awfully well, Ned," she remarked; "What have you been
doing to yourself? You look a perfect boy."

He laughed.

"Having a good time. I found an old man--but that passes. Meanwhile I
expect I shall require some healthful calm. My manager tells me the
business has been going to pot since I've been away. I shall have to
interfere myself, I expect, but that won't be till after Christmas.
How's Ramsay getting on?"

Helen looked a trifle stiff. "You had better ask him yourself, you
will see him when you drive me back; I only know that he has resigned
his appointment."

"So he wrote me. Had a row apparently with the Governing Body--that
was ill advised."

"Very," said Helen coolly, "but then Dr. Ramsay has no tact, and is a
very obstinate person. Is that New Park? You know I have never been
here before."

Ned Blackborough shot a faintly amused glance at her. "It is New Park.
Did you ever see an inheritance more calculated to make a man cut his
throat?"

It was indeed unexpressibly dreary in its long pompous façade of
regularly recessed windows, each with its sham pilasters and heavy
entablature.

"It always seems as if it had a sick headache, and it gives me one to
look at it. It's a fact," added Ned, as Helen laughed. "It is
positively more hideous than--than the Sea View Hotel. I hear, by the
way, they have rebuilt that. Have you heard anything more of Hirsch
since then?"

Helen gave a fine flush. "He comes down to Blackborough on business.
And I have seen him. He is really frightfully distressed because I
will not let him pay back that money. Last time he nearly wept."

"He wept because he could not understand," paraphrased Ned. "It is not
his fault. It is astonishing how little sense of abstract justice
and fairness people have as a rule. They're so set on mercy and
loving-kindness that they forget the eye-for-an-eye, the
tooth-for-a-tooth ideal. Well, here we are. The house is not quite so
bad inside, but it is pretty awful."

It was, though it had been built and upholstered to order regardless
of cost. Still there was a certain comfort in the dull red flock of
its walls, the dull red fleece of its floors, and when once you
reached it, the fire lit up the marvellous expanse of priceless tiles,
and steel, and ormulu, and bronze, cheerfully enough.

"Don't try and sit on any of those chairs," said Ned, "they're screwed
to their places, I believe. Here's a basket one of mine; and will you
pour out tea?"

Yet it was pleasant enough sitting there by the fire in the growing
dusk, and Ned's heart gave a great throb as he thought of Aura in her
blue smock walking unconcernedly over the priceless pile carpets as if
they had been Kidderminster. And she would be right. When she was
there all other things sank into insignificance.

"It's terribly big," said Helen. "You ought to marry, Ned."

"I suppose I ought," he replied solemnly, but his thoughts were simply
running riot over the suggestion; "it is too big for one."

And then he saw a vision of a blue smock held confidingly by a little
toddling child, and something in him seemed to rise up and choke him,
so that he had to get up, and walk away from his cousin's curious
eyes. So to change the subject he began hurriedly--

"I didn't tell you, did I, about that old man I met in the
desert--right away from everybody? I don't believe he was real, but he
was a wonder. If you talked Herbert Spencer with him he replied with
Nietzsche. There wasn't anything he didn't seem to know, and that he
hadn't dismissed as not worth knowing. And yet he knew nothing. If you
hurled an example at him he was floored. It was all pure thought. He
never did anything else but think. You see he was one of their holiest
men, and he had sat in the same place for fifty years."

"You have been back to India, Ned," she exclaimed, "you know you have;
and I sent all my letters to Algiers."

He came over to her and sat on the arm of her chair, as he used to do
when he was a boy.

"They were forwarded--at intervals," he remarked coolly. "Have you
never, Nell, wanted to run away for a bit and find yourself naked, out
in the open?" And then, airily, he began to hum that graceless ditty
of young subalterns at Pekin when the Embassy had been relieved and
the Summer Palace occupied, and the allied army amused itself with
burlesques on the vanished foe:


            "'Fancy me, in this frosty weather.
              Posing as Venus among the heather;
              Fancy me in the altogether,
                  At my time of life!'"


"Really, Ned!" exclaimed Helen, unable to repress her smiles, "You are
the most ridiculous boy. But if I am to see the domain it is time I
began. I must be back by five o'clock."

They were but just in time when he set her down at the hospital and
sought out Dr. Ramsay.

He found him writing for dear life, his face positively aglow with
vitality and fire.

"Smashing 'em up?" asked Ned, after the first welcome was over and he
had lit a cigarette.

Peter Ramsay shifted the papers a trifle shamefacedly. "Yes!" he
replied; "it isn't a bit of good, of course; but it relieves my
feelings and hurts theirs."

"How did it come about?"

"Didn't Mrs. Tressilian tell you? Well, I suppose I have been a bit of
a fool--and yet, I don't see quite what else I could have done. I tell
you, Blackborough, there isn't a spot in England on which you can
tread firmly without crushing a vested interest. Take, for instance,
that pint of beer business. I suppose you know that every one in this
hospital is entitled to one pint of beer a day--typhoid fever
patients, dying patients--the whole stock, lock, and barrel of nurses,
doctors, porters, and such like. If the beer isn't drunk it's at any
rate paid for. Think of the vested interests that means. So when I
suggested retrenchments, and took the trouble to lay the German and
even the Scotch figures before the governors--it costs a third less at
least to run a patient in Scotland--there was the devil and all to
pay; and--and some one made disparaging remarks about porridge, and
so, of course, there was a row...."

"Then about the operation." Peter Ramsay got up and began to walk
about the room, and his voice became more argumentative. "You see, it
was done, and the man died. Well, I wrote an account of it for the
medical paper at Vienna, and some one got hold of it and translated
it--well! not quite fairly. You see, it was a question whether a
certain lesion--but that's a technical detail--I hadn't approved at
the time, and I said so; and they made out I asserted the man had been
killed through incompetence. All I meant was that it wasn't a fair
test of the feasibility of the operation, and it wasn't. I tried to
smooth them over, but, as I said at the time, one must tell the truth
sometimes."

Ned Blackborough interrupted with a sudden laugh. "Did that smooth
them over?"

"Not in the least," replied Peter Ramsay quite seriously, "and they
wouldn't have it either that the translator was a fool and did not
know German. So I resigned. There is never any good in trying to work
with people who aren't satisfied."

"None," assented Ned succinctly, "And what are you going to do?"

"Go back to Pagenheim if nothing else turns up. One can live on
_würst_ over there and no one thinks the--the worse of you, as they do
here. My time isn't up till February, but I've offered to go at once
if they like."

"New Park is at your disposal."

"You're awfully kind. If I go--perhaps. But something may crop up."

As Ned Blackborough drove round to keep his appointment with Ted
Cruttenden at his office, he told himself joyously that anything might
crop up. These next few weeks had been to him for long so full of
possibilities, that the whole world seemed to him capable of launching
out into incredible action, of kicking over the traces even of
conventional chance.

His greeting of Ted Cruttenden rather took the latter aback, for he
had been carefully preparing for the interview.

"How are you? Will the 11.50 suit you on the 24th?--it suits me."

Ted coughed and looked a little embarrassed, for the inward conviction
that, to be quite fair, the invitation to Cwmfairnog ought not to have
been accepted came back with the first glance at Ned's--at his
friend's face. Still it was no use shirking the subject, so he buckled
himself up for his task.

"It will suit all right," he replied boldly, "You had better write for
a room at the inn. I--I am going to Cwmfairnog."

"Cwmfairnog?" echoed Ned incredulously.

"Yes--I'm going to stay with--with Sylvanus Smith." For all his
boldness he had hesitated, and Ned Blackborough fastened on the pause.

"Why didn't you say with Aura?" There was a trace of scorn in his
voice, which Ted resented hotly.

"Because the old man asked me when he came up here. I know it doesn't
sound quite fair, Lord Blackborough, but one can't help luck. He felt
ill, and I happened to be there, and I had to look after him. Then he
asked me to come and stop; and so of course I accepted. You would have
done the same if you had been me."

Ned Blackborough was silent for a moment; then said, "Perhaps."

"Oh! hang it all!" broke in Ted. "If you are not satisfied, you
needn't feel bound in any way. In fact, I have been thinking a lot,
and I have come to the conclusion that your plan isn't quite fair on
her. I think she ought to know; and I'd much rather she had her fair
choice. You see, neither she nor her grandfather really care for
money."

Ned Blackborough smiled. "I see," he said grimly. "On the whole, I
believe you are right." Then he thought for a moment or two. "So be
it! Each for himself, and the devil take the hindmost! But we will
stick to time and place. And if you want a day or two's extra leave
I----"

Ted blushed a little this time. "I--I--am not employed by the firm
any longer, Lord Blackborough," he said hurriedly; "You have been
away--besides, a clerk on a hundred and fifty would hardly come to
your ears. But the fact is that--that Mr. Hirsch offered me three
hundred."

Ned Blackborough's face took on an expression of amusement. "I begin
to understand. So you are on the high road to opulence! Now I wonder
why he did that?--you shall tell me in the train--11.50--for I must be
off, as I've some business to get through before closing-time."

The business appeared to amuse him also, for the expression did not
fade from his face as he drove to the Public Library, hunted up a book
on Wales, then drove to a house-agent's and gave an order, and finally
stopped at those general _entrepreneurs_, Williams and Edwards, and
gave another. Myfanwy Jones, catching sight of him on his way to the
senior partner's office, volunteered a remark to the buyer in her
department that she knew that fellow, had seen him down at her
father's, and was crushed by the reply: "Him! Why, he is Lord
Blackborough--the richest peer in England."

She brazened it out by saying "Get along"; but as a matter of fact Ned
was repeating much the same information in the office. "I am Lord
Blackborough," he was saying, "you need spare no expense. Only see
that everything is well done."

The words had a marvellous dynamic power, setting telegraphic wires
and express vans and confidential clerks in motion. The result being
that when Ned and Ted, who had travelled down third class together in
very friendly fashion got out at the station nearest to Dinas there
were two very smart motors cars awaiting them.

"If you will excuse me for a moment," said Lord Blackborough to his
companion, "I'll just see my cousin, Mrs. Tressilian--you remember her
of course--off for Plas Afon. I've taken it for three weeks and Ramsay
and some other people are coming down, so we ought to have a good
time. Then I can take you round in the Panhard to Cwmfairnog. It will
only make a difference of a mile or two, for Plas Afon, is just the
other side of Dinas, you know."

Ted waiting on the platform while Helen, another lady, and a maid were
stowed away in the covered car, began to realise that Ned was not
going to forgo a single advantage. It was to be check and
counter-check on both sides. It had been quick work, and to get hold
of Plas Afon--the show place of the neighbourhood--must have needed
money indeed! Some day he would be able to do that sort of thing if he
chose. But he would not choose. He would never be such a reckless
devil as Blackborough. Yet he could not help admiring the go and fire
of the fellow!

"So you are going to play the prince over me," he said when they had
settled comfortably down under a priceless fox-skin rug and Ned was
sending the motor up the hill full speed.

Lord Blackborough laughed. "Not at all! I had to check your move
somehow. I couldn't go--as you go--to Mahomet, so I had to try and
induce Mahomet to come to me. You will decline my invitations, no
doubt, but I shall have done my best. Personally," he added. "I would
much rather have stuck to the old plan. Anyhow we won't defile
Cwmfairnog with the smell of petrol. We'll leave the motor at the
bridge--you can send for your things afterwards--and walk up. Ye Gods!
How beautiful this country is in winter."

It was, indeed. The hills lay so still, so soft beneath the pale-blue
wintry sky, the distant ones greyly transparent, the near ones showing
rounded, red-brown bracken-covered lights against rounded, misty,
violet shadows. The very frost rime on each leaf, each blade of grass,
looked soft, and the gold of the slanting sunlight seemed to warm the
very icicles which drooped from the high moss-covered, fern-clad banks
showing where some trickle of water dropped from the hillside above.
But it was up the wooded ravines where the bare branches of the oak
scrub followed each curving contour that the ineffable hues of blent
shadows and shine showed to their fullest. They were valleys of
perfect rest, deep blue in their depths, jasper, jewelled with
crystals on their heights.

The footsteps of the two echoed sharply among the rocks. Their
shadows, blent into one, preceded them. Yet the thought of both went
further ahead still. There were no flowers now, but the brambles
dead-green and russet and gold, still thrust out withered
fruit-branches across their path. The leafless trees gave clearer
vision now. They could see across the stream. There was the garden,
the lawn, and on it, by heaven, reaching down red holly-berries from
an old tree was a figure in white--Aura herself!

Ned gave a view holloa. She turned round, waved one hand, then
dropping her berries waved both.

The thought of the long round by the rhododendrons and the drawbridge
was too much for them. The parapet was low, the stream lower still. In
a moment they were over it, and racing to meet her like a couple of
schoolboys.

She laughed to see them, holding out both hands.

"What a hurry you are in," she cried. "So you have both come.
Grandfather said you wouldn't, but Martha and I thought it wiser to
get the two rooms ready--and I was right!"

Her welcome disarmed rivalry, and gave both the young men a desire to
fall at her feet and kiss the hem of her garment. But they repressed
it.

"Of course we have both come!" replied Ned imperturbably. "Are we not
the inseparable two-headed, four-armed, four-legged monster, Edward
Cruttenden? don't interrupt me, Ted, I am coming to that by and by.
Only Miss--Miss--do you know I don't happen to know your surname. Is
it Smith?"

She shook her head with a smile. "Graham--but every one calls me
Aura."

"Miss Aura," went on Ned doubtfully.

She looked at him and her eyes twinkled.

"Put on the H, please, if you are going to speak like Martha. Only it
sounds better without any prefix."

For some reason or other both the young men found themselves blushing
and their hearts beating.

"Much nicer," assented Ted with fervour; but Ned made an elision.

"I was going to tell you that in addition to Edward Cruttenden I
have--for my sins--to answer to another name--Lord Blackborough."

She stared and frowned.

"You mean," she said slowly, "that as they put it in the books you are
Edward Cruttenden, Lord Blackborough?"

"Edward Cruttenden Gibbs, to be strictly according to Debrett," he
answered meekly. "I had to take the name when I came into the title
three years ago."

A distinct look of disappointment showed on her face. "It is a very
great pity," she said still more slowly; then she added more
cheerfully. "However, I suppose it can't be helped. Only when I
thought of you it was always as Ned and Ted." She glanced at the
latter and smiled.

"So far as I am concerned there is no reason why you shouldn't
continue----" he began.

"No reason at all," interrupted Ned with the first note of rivalry in
his voice. "Let us remain Ned and Ted for--for this week at any rate."

"This week," she echoed, looking from one to the other, "I don't quite
understand." Then suddenly, for the first time in her life she
blushed. It was extremely uncomfortable, and she felt vaguely annoyed
with both the young men. So she turned to them stiffly. "Will you come
and see grandfather and have tea first, or go to your rooms--you know
where they are."

There was a pause, broken accusingly by Ted. "Lord Blackborough--I
mean Ned----"

"Thank you," put in Ned with a laugh, "I can do my own dirty work, if
you please. The fact is"--he paused, still fighting shy of that dear
name, "I mean I'm afraid I can't stop. If I had guessed, but--but I
didn't!" He shrugged his shoulders. "It is so hard to predicate
perfection. The fact is, my cousin is living at Plas Afon for a
fortnight or so, and I must go back to her--after tea."

"Plas Afon," she echoed eagerly. "Oh! I hear that is such a lovely
place. How lucky you are," then the personal aspect of the news made
her frown a little. "Dear me!" she said, "what a pity! It spoils so
much. Now I shall have to differentiate between you two. Will you come
in to tea, Lord Blackborough and Mr. Cruttenden."

They followed her meekly, feeling vaguely ashamed of themselves.



                             CHAPTER XIII


"She is as straight as a yard o' pump water, an' won't never brush
forty again," said Martha up to her elbows in flour, austerely, "but I
wouldn't trust her for that neither. No! Not with Bate comin' into his
dinner wantin' comfort. He have a trick o' blushin', Miss H'Aura, as
sympathy might make a marryin' on--an' I won't have it in the 'ouse."

"But I thought," said Aura gravely, for she was accustomed by now to
Martha's view of the new parlour-maid, "that Bate gave Parkinson no
encouragement."

"Encouragement," echoed Martha bitterly, "no more he do. Why! he don't
even wink at her. Give her the cold shoulder constant; but there!
she's o' that sort, Miss H'Aura, as don't mind whether a jint's 'ot or
cold so long as it's man's meat. Besides, master 'ud need a woman folk
to stand atwixt him and the fun'ral if there was a smash in the motor,
for Bate ain't no manner of use when there's tears about--'es got such
a feelin' 'eart. So, thanking 'is lordship all the same for the kind
thought, I'd better stop at 'ome."

There was never any questioning Martha's decision; so Aura went back
to the drawing-room doubtfully. It was a glorious day and Ned
Blackborough had come over half-an-hour before, bearing both to
herself and her grandfather notes of invitation from Mrs. Tressilian
to come over to lunch and see the show place. The notes had evidently
been all in order, for though her grandfather had declined brusquely
for himself, he had looked at her as if he had just realised she was
no longer a child, and asked her wistfully if she would like to go.
And she without a thought had told the truth--namely that she would
love it. Then had come doubts. The last three days, filled up as they
had been by the absolute adulation of the two young men had brought
her a curious, innate, but till then dormant, sense that there were
things which girls ought not to do. And having, much against her will,
admitted this to herself, she became sternly scrupulous.

Ought she, or ought she not to go alone with Lord Blackborough in the
motor? She knitted her brows over the problem, telling herself the
while that she hated the world and every one in it. Then Lord
Blackborough--he had an uncomfortable habit of reading her thoughts
which she bitterly resented--had suggested Martha. And now Martha
would not come. It was all such silly nonsense!

Ned Blackborough, watching her troubled face, felt that he could then
and there have put his arms round her, kissed her even against her
will and carried her right away from everything and everybody; from
all conventionalities and princes and powers. She was a perpetual
temptation to him to cast aside what few moorings he had. He was a man
and she the one and only woman in the whole wide world; and he wanted
her.

It was a headlong, purely emotional desire from which--curiously
enough it struck him--passion was almost entirely absent. In a way,
despite his greater reserve, there was more of passion in Ted's
rational, straightforward, more normal love.

The very emotionality of Ned's feeling, however, carried with it
content and certainty; for he felt that nothing in heaven or earth
could dim the halo of flame and fire in which he stood beside her.

So he could afford to be magnanimous. "Then you had better take the
fourth seat, Ted!" he said carelessly, looking to where the latter,
his hands in his pockets, was glooming out of the window at the motor
which could just be seen waiting through the bare branches across the
drawbridge.

He had already had a casual invitation for himself and his cycle
thrown at him, he felt, like a bone to a dog. But he had refused it.
Pleasant work, indeed, riding in the dusty wake of a rival who was
abducting the girl you loved at the rate of five-and-twenty miles an
hour in a Panhard.

From every point of view he had decided it would be wiser to stop at
home, possess his soul in patience, and keep Aura's grandfather in a
good humour. For the more he saw of Aura the more he realised that her
choice was likely to follow the lead of her environment. He was very
clear-sighted, very much in earnest. The unconventionality of the
position irked him, and he heartily wished that he could quarrel with
Ned, or even huff him--as people always did on these occasions. But
that was out of the question; he was bound to be friendly and fight
for the girl fairly. Yet, being what he was, a man with a natural gift
for business, he could not help drawing up his prospectus, as it were,
and counting up all his available assets. His love had nothing of
Ned's impetuosity about it, so with all his real passion for Aura he
soon realised that it was wise not to show it too much.

It frightened her. The brotherly tack ensured quicker confidence. And,
of course, Sylvanus Smith's liking for him was a great point in his
favour. Regarding this, he did not feel in any way mean, for he
himself liked the old fellow, and found his somewhat antiquated talk
interesting.

But this later offer of Ned's was another thing; he looked round and
accepted it heartily, feeling, however, as he often did when he looked
at Ned's face, a trifle of a sneak; for he was fighting impulse with
strategy, and he felt convinced that he was right in doing so.

He was, nevertheless, in danger of forgetting his rôle when Aura made
her appearance dressed for her drive. She had a little conscious flush
in her face, the result of having for the first time in her life tried
on and rejected various articles of attire. So far as the dress and
coat went, she had no choice. Her method of life made washing dresses
a necessity; and for winter white was the only colour which would
survive Martha's vigorous washing. So her serge, toned to a decided
cream by those same efforts after cleanliness, was unalterable, and
the furs she had found in the boxes of outworn apparel, which her
grandfather had handed over to her on her sixteenth birthday, were
also a permanent asset. She had no notion of their worth--she supposed
they were sable; she knew that when the darker longer hairs blew aside
the inner fluff was exactly the bronze hue of her hair. It was her
head-covering which troubled her. She tried a scarlet Tam-o'-Shanter
but flung it aside. The contrast was too great. A white one followed
suit. There was something wrong; she knew not what. Finally a bronze,
brown-specked one made a faint curve come to her lips. It matched the
fur, and somehow, her face. Then she lingered with a half-shamed look
by the chest-of-drawers. Should she? Should she not? She might at any
rate take something in case; so she stuffed a long, fine lace scarf
into her muff and ran hastily downstairs.

Her advent brought a sort of breathlessness to the two young men. Ned
evaded it by saying prosaically, "You'll have to tie on your head with
something, I expect."

"I have got something," replied Aura superbly, and out came the lace
scarf. It was bewildering. All the more so when Mr. Sylvanus Smith,
looking at her with that same wistful affection, said half to himself,
"Your grandmother wore that, my dear, when she was married."

But there was no time for sentimentalities. Here was a young girl,
instinct with vitality to her very finger tips, going out for her
first ride on a motor, going out for her very first experience of the
world.

"I have never been further than this before," she said, heaving a
great sigh of content, as the car, turning almost at right angles,
sped over a bridge and curved towards the further side of the estuary.
"Everything now is new! Everything! I've never even seen the hills
this shape before. And how strange our side of the valley looks. Who
would believe that was Cwmfairnog? I don't believe I belong to it a
bit."

She pointed to a pale blue shadow among the shining hills showing
where the little valley sank to restful, sheltered peace.

"I'm sure you don't," echoed Ned joyously. "Only I don't quite know
where we belong to--unless it is everywhere."

The "we" smote on Ted's ears disagreeably as he leant over from the
back between them, while the _chauffeur_, honest man, sat immovable in
his corner as if he saw and heard nothing.

"You belong to us at present," he said laughing; "so take care you
don't smash us up, Ned--we can't afford to lose her."

She laughed back at him carelessly. That was exactly what she felt.
She was having a splendid time with both of them.

It was a drive never to be forgotten. Down here by the sea the frost
had slackened its hold, and in sheltered corners the grass was as
green as at midsummer. A robin was singing its heart out on a bramble
bough, where one pale flower showed rejoicing in the winter sunshine.
It looked colder in the sky than it was on earth, for overhead a great
white cloud drifted like an iceberg through a sea of palest blue--a
frozen-looking, chilly blue.

"Is that Plas Afon? I'm so sorry!" exclaimed Aura, as a swift turn in
the road brought them to a sheltered bay almost land-locked by a rocky
promontory covered with trees. It needed but one glance at these to
show you that here was art, not nature. But it was art mimicking
Nature in her kindest moods and bringing together from the four
corners of the earth the glories of eastern and western forests, of
the south and of the north. A few gold leaves still lingered on the
Spanish chestnuts, the blue of the noble pine formed a background for
the golden-barked willow, the silver cedar threw out its long arms
across a scarlet oak, and almost to the water's edge grew rare
conifers and blossoming shrubs.

"I believe you are afraid! I am," said Ned, steering for the portico.

"Who's afraid?" laughed Ted from the back seat, his eyes on the girl.
"Not you or I, I'll bet. We sit free of this sort of thing. Keep your
responsibilities to yourself, Ned!"

Once more Aura looked back at him and smiled brilliantly. She was not
afraid, but she felt oppressed. Yet how lovely it was! A velvet lawn
sloping away to the sea. Those unknown beautiful trees, each standing
sentinel over a portion of God's earth, and in the sheltered nooks
groups of tall grasses and hardy palms. Not a dead leaf, every
tuft of herbage in its right place. And the gravel! Aura had never
dreamt of such gravel before! Each pebble round--polished, glowing,
half-translucent in the sunshine, like an uncut gem. She felt she
could scarcely dare to walk upon the pretty things.

And it was a beautiful house too; a real fairy palace. Yes! it was
like a dream--a dream of great, of exceeding beauty. There was not a
discordant note in it. The man of whom Ned had told her, who had built
it, who had lavished a fortune on it, and had then died in faraway
Italy, leaving it to fall into the hands of Philistines, must have
had----. What must he have had! Ah! well, he must have been rather
like Ned Blackborough himself. For Plas Afon fitted Ned somehow in its
fineness, its elusiveness.

She turned her eyes to him, and flushed; for his were on hers,
thinking how Plas Afon fitted her. And in truth it did; fitted her all
the more for the flush, since she held her head higher, and followed
him with a still lighter, freer step.

"I am so glad," said Helen Tressilian coming forward. "This is Miss
Vyvyan; Aunt Em--this is Miss Aura Graham."

"Delighted, I'm sure," murmured a tall, stately, absolutely colourless
lady, who was engaged in making laborious needle-point on a tiny piece
of black lining about two inches square. A tiny reel of almost
invisible thread, a miniature pair of scissors, were also held in her
left hand. They formed her only individuality; for the rest she got up
at the right time, ate her breakfast and made appropriate breakfast
remarks, and so lived through her day doing as the rest of the world
did. But these came down with her in the morning and went to bed with
her at night, held always in her white be-ringed left hand. Perhaps
she slept with them. Anyhow they were an integral part of her waking
life. If any one, thinking to be agreeable, asked her how she was
getting on, she would smile gently, indulgently, and say that of
course such work took time.

Ned used to feel that it annihilated Time altogether, and could he
have happened on it unprotected, would for a certainty have
annihilated it. But it went with her everywhere--even in the motor.

"Something quite terrible has happened, Ned," went on Helen
Tressilian--she had given one look at Aura and been satisfied--"but
it can't be helped. The Smith-Biggs have motored over from
Aberaron--and--and--they have brought Mr. Hirsch. I sent Dr. Ramsay
out with them to show them the garden, but--but they'll have to stop
to lunch."

"They're welcome," retorted Ned with irritation; "I shall lunch in the
garden when they've left it. We"--he looked at Aura--"only eat the
fruits of the earth, you know."

"It was your cousin who asked me to lunch," began Aura gravely,
whereat Ned laughed.

"You have an appalling sense of duty," he replied. "But I give in to
it. Now, as I see Hirsch and Co. coming across the lawn, if we slip
out by the back we shall escape them till lunch-time anyhow."

Aura looked at him doubtfully. His responsibilities, which were
beginning to weigh her down, seemed to affect him not at all.

"Are you going too, Mr. Cruttenden?" asked Helen, noticing a certain
hesitation on Ted's part. In truth he was undecided. He wanted to see
Mr. Hirsch, and, at the same time, he wished to be with Aura. Of
course he could see his chief after lunch; but supposing they did not
stop to lunch?

So Ned Blackborough had the girl to himself. For a moment or two, as
he led her round by the back way through thickets of rhododendrons, he
felt triumphant, as a man does when he sees an opportunity before him.
And then, then he forgot everything in pure delight at her eager face,
in the joy of her enjoyment.

"It is the most beautiful place in the world," she cried at last, "and
this is the most beautiful thing in it."

She was on her knees beside a tuft of red bronze Tyrolean saxifrage,
out of whose close carpet of velvet the tiny silver-green scimitars of
the _iris alata_ curved round guarding its broad, purple-blue
blossoms. For they were in the winter-garden now. Not one of those
crystal palaces of palms and hot-water pipes which answer to that name
in the minds of so many. No! This was a real garden, in full air, but
tucked away from every breeze that blows in a cove giving on the sea.
Among the rocks above the small cleft of sandy beach on which the tide
lapped lazily, grew all the kindly green things innumerable which have
learnt to do without the rest of winter sleep. The winding walks edged
their narrow way through great tinted carpets of saxifrage and sedums,
and many another sturdy-leaved coverer of bare earth. Bronze and sage
and golden, brown and purple and grey, with a few blue blossoms on a
creeping veronica, a few late primroses, a few early winter aconites.
And through it, over all, was the fine scent of the winter heliotrope
that clung to the crannies of the rocks or grew lush by the little
stream, which, falling in tinkling cascades, slid along the sand into
the sea. It was such a garden as every one with patience and care
might have; which none but the very few take the trouble to plant.
There was nothing in it to tell of wealth save an old stone sphinx
jutting out by the steps which led to the tiny wedge of beach, its
plinth forming a sort of jetty, beside which a boat lay moored. That
had the measureless calm of Egypt in its eyes as it stood, backed by
the changeful sky, the changeful sea.

"I believe it sees me," added Aura, looking up from the broad open
face of the flower, her own as open, as beautiful, "and it has never
seen me before. That makes me feel less strange, here where everything
is new--and strange. It seems to me I have seen more to-day than in
all my life before. It is so curious----"

"What? To see new things?" he answered, smiling down at her. "Isn't
that the only thing worth having in life--to be able to think when you
wake, 'To-day something may come to me which never came before'--to
feel a sort of perpetual annunciation----"

She stood up suddenly, measuring him with narrowed eyes.

"I do not understand," she began.

He shook his head. "Oh yes, you do. I'm sure of it. Sit down on the
plinth there and I'll try and tell you what I mean."

So with the sphinx above her she sat and listened. It was not much he
had to say. Only the half-whimsical half-serious thoughts of a man,
who, almost without knowing it, had the seeing eye for the invisible,
the hearing ear for the inarticulate, who felt, vaguely, that the best
part of life lay beyond the boundary set to conscious life by the
majority of men.

In formulated shape it was all new to her, but something in her, she
knew not what, found it familiar, approved, and her face showed her
approval, her interest.

"I see," she said slowly, "and the message is 'fear not' I like that."

"Yes!" he replied absently, clasping his hands over one knee and
leaning back against the plinth to watch a cormorant that was coming
back from fishing beyond the bar, a solitary swift, black speck upon
the blue. "It would be good if one could get at it. We risk life every
day for what we call love or money, but we are in a blue funk about
the truth, because the truth is that neither love nor money--you know,
don't you, that I am awfully, hideously rich?"

"Ted told me you were the richest man in England."

"The devil he did!" laughed Ned. "I beg your pardon, but that wasn't
in the bond. Anyhow I'm beginning to feel as if I could with pleasure
sell all that I have, and follow--something else."

"But you have no right," began Aura, "you can't shirk your
responsibilities."

"_Et tu, Brute_," he murmured pathetically, "My dear creature! You
haven't any idea how I loathe being rich. Money doesn't buy what I
like--freedom. No! confound it, it is always getting in the way.
There!" he added resignedly as he rose, "I told you so. There is that
pampered, powdered beast of a footman whom I'm ruining body and soul
by my ridiculous claims, coming to tell us lunch is ready. And--and we
are enjoying ourselves."

He looked at her as he held out his hand to help her to rise. She gave
him hers frankly enough, but drew it away hastily as if something in
the touch of his gave her offence, and a quick frown came to her face.

"That has nothing to do with it," she replied austerely, "You have no
right to keep your guests waiting."

"If I had your sense of duty, I--I should kill that fellow," he
remarked coolly, as the footman, stopping short at a respectful
distance among the saxifrages, said in the tone of voice in which a
congregation echoes the responses in church.

"If you please, your lordship, luncheon is served."

Aura looked grave for an instant, then she laughed. She was never
quite sure whether to take Ned Blackborough _aux grands sérieux_ or
not. She admired him, however, when, entering the dining-room, the
glitter and clatter of silver, the chatter and laughter of the guests,
and the consciousness that every one was looking at her to see who had
made their host so late, gave her a desire to run away. He was so
easy, so self-possessed, withal so clearly determined not to let any
one interfere with his plan, which was apparently to sit beside her.

"I beg your pardon, Helen," he said cheerfully, "Miss Graham and I
were in the winter garden. Will you sit here, Miss Graham. Ah! Lady
Smith-Biggs, so glad you've come, and how is Sir Joseph? Don't let me
disturb you, Ramsay. You fill the place better than I should. Is there
room for me by you, Aunt Em? Hullo, where's Hirsch?"

This, as he circled the table brought him to a vacant seat beside Aunt
Em; but also next to Aura to whom he said in an undertone, "They'll
hand you things you can eat."

The butler's introduction of an elaborate silver dish with the mystic
whisper, "Brown bread and butter cutlets," emphasised the remark, and
she helped herself decorously with a spoon and fork.

"Mr. Hirsch and Mr. Cruttenden went off smoking somewhere," replied
Helen, "Ah! here they come at last."

"My dear Mrs. Tressilian," exploded Mr. Hirsch in his strident voice,
"I am overwhelmed, but when one gets to talking about money----"

"There is always the devil to pay, Hirsch," put in Ned.

"Ah! my dear Blackborough, _wie gehts_. What an entrancing place. Why
don't you buy it?"

"It is not for sale," replied Ned, "and it's quite enough to hire it,
I assure you, Hirsch."

Mr. Hirsch laughed in his loud unfettered fashion.

"Ah! my dear Blackborough, you always pay too much for everything. You
are the sellers' natural prey."

Aura who had helped herself out of another silver dish to something
which the butler called _fraises a la creme en caisses_, because it
looked to her like strawberries and cream, gave a quick glance at Ned.

Paid for; yes, of course, everything must have been paid for. In an
instant all her pleasure became transmuted to gold. The very
strawberries--strawberries at Christmas! What must they not have cost?
And they had been got for her. She felt, hotly, as if she were being
bribed.

"If you will finish your lunch," came Ned's voice in an undertone, "we
can start back as soon afterwards as you choose. Yes! Hirsch," he
added out loud, "I know I'm done all round. But it amuses people, and
it doesn't hurt me. The only use of money is to get rid of it."

"I never, Mrs. Tressilian," protested Lady Smith-Biggs plaintively,
"quite understand what your cousin means."

"I don't wonder," replied Helen soothingly, then smiled to herself,
for, in truth, the lady in question seldom understood anything, but,
being the wife of a conservative manufacturer who stood for his native
town, thought it her duty to take an interest in social and political
questions. "Ned loves paradoxes, but he really hates being cheated as
much as any one."

"I only meant, Lady Smith-Biggs," put in Lord Blackborough, gravely,
"that I am quite willing to subscribe--as I am sure Sir Joseph does--to
all the great truths which underlie our commercial prosperity. That is
to say, first, that everything is worth what it will fetch, and a
trifle more for underhand percentages. Secondly, that nothing can be
called cheating in an open market. Thirdly, that truth is the affair
of the purchaser, or his creator."

"Bah! my dear Lord Blackborough," laughed Mr. Hirsch, "you would have
a world without money; it would be a pretty paradise."

"But," protested Lady Smith-Biggs again, her diamond ear-rings
twinkling--they were so magnificent that they made one forget the
redness and the fatness of the face against which they shone, "I
really do not understand. If you have no money, how can you pay your
bills?"

"I pay mine by cheque," remarked Ned with a side-glance at Aura. After
her sudden desire to escape which his aside had checked, she had
become amused, then interested, by the conversation. And now his
allusion made her flush up, then smile, for she was beginning to
realise that this curious world, in which money played so important a
part, was really the world in which she had always lived. She had not
seen the token; that was all.

"But, my dear Ned," said Miss Vyvyan placidly, "you can't pay
everything by cheque. The bank doesn't like cashing small sums. I know
when I send for my thread to Honiton--I have to send there, you know,
it is so fine," she explained to Lady Smith-Biggs, laying her hand on
the tiny black roll which, as usual, was beside her plate, "I always
have to send a postal order."

"Exactly so," breathed Lady Smith-Biggs with a sigh of relief; "so you
are wrong, Lord Blackborough. Why! even the very children have
pennies. I used to think it rather dreadful their doing so much
shopping for their mothers, but Sir Joseph says you cannot train them
too early to understand the real value of money. And I am sure he is
right, for it is quite impossible to live without it."

"That is a question which we ought to refer to Miss Graham," remarked
Ned Blackborough coolly, "I believe she has never even seen a
sixpence."

If a bomb had fallen on the lunch-table it could not have produced a
greater effect. Mr. Hirsch sat petrified, his fork halfway to his
mouth. All eyes were turned on Aura, who bore the brunt with smiles,
for there was something of pure mischief in her host's face which was
infectious. Even Ted, over the way, waited, amused.

"I believe she did, once, see a sovereign," continued Ned. "Perhaps
she will tell you what she did with it."

The girl's face dimpled with laughter. "I gave it to the cockatoo."

Dynamite could not possibly have been more disconcerting.

"The cockatoo!" echoed Mr. Hirsch automatically, as, becoming aware
that the _sole au vin blanc_ on his fork was dripping on to his
waistcoat, he dabbed blindly at the spot with his napkin. "And--and
may I ask, my dear young lady, what--what the cockatoo did with it?"

"He wouldn't eat it," said Aura.

"And so," interrupted Ted rather viciously, "it was thrown into the
stream."

Aura turned swiftly on Ned. This was news. "Did you?" she began.

"So there it lies," remarked Ned, "as the beginning of a Welsh
gold-mine. Make a prospectus out of that, Hirsch; it would be as true
as most of them, I expect."

"But I do not quite understand," protested Lady Smith-Biggs once more,
her pale blue eyes fixed vacantly on Aura. "What! you have never seen
a sixpence--how--how dreadful!"

"That is easily remedied," remarked Peter Ramsay; "I believe I have so
much in my pocket, anyhow."

"Stay a bit, Ramsay," said Lord Blackborough; "Miss Graham's ignorance
is not confined to sixpence. She is generally unacquainted with the
coin of the realm."

Mr. Hirsch's eyes were almost starting out of his head, partly in
admiration of the girl whom he now discovered to be exceedingly
beautiful. "Gott in Himmel!" he muttered, "I believe I have half a
crown an' two shillings."

"Capital!" cried Ned. "Simmonds, take the plate round, and then bring
it to Miss Graham."

"Admirable! Admirable! Blackborough, _mon cher!_ You have
imagination!" exploded Mr. Hirsch, fumbling excitedly in his pockets.
"What luck! I have a two-florin bit, and I swore at them when they
gave it me! Ah! young lady! one does not often meet one so old--a
thousand pardons, mademoiselle, but at your age one need not be so
afraid." His good-natured face was brimful of kindliness and honest
enjoyment, and Aura responded to it.

"You needn't be in the least afraid," she smiled, "I shall be
twenty-one on New Year's Day."

The information was welcome to at least two of the party, and the
others, carried away out of the conventional for the time, applauded
the confidence.

"Soh!" exclaimed Mr. Hirsch, who was now busy with coins and a silver
salver, while the butler and two footmen stood behind him sniggering.
"Aha! young lady, you began a new era; ah! we must all send you
a--what do you call _étrennes_ in English to commemorate this
extraordinary--Mein Gott! Has any one a three-penny bit?"

So with much laughter, Lady Smith-Biggs absolutely contributing from a
very small purse a whole five-shilling piece, a complete set of coins
was handed to Aura.

"With the company's compliments, Miss," said the butler.

"That ends your hours of innocence, Miss Graham," remarked Ned
Blackborough gravely, as the ladies left the room.

It did not end Aura's ordeal, however, for, once in the drawing-room,
Lady Smith-Biggs begged to be introduced in form.

"Oh! I am sorry," said Aura innocently, reaching up to the good lady's
outstretched waggling hand; "but I always shake hands lower down. Is
that the right way?"

The question verged on the impossible, since Lady Smith-Biggs lived in
the highest circles. But she ignored it, and all her good breeding did
not prevent her descending on the girl with a perfect cataract of
questions. Where did she live, who was her father, had she any
brothers or sisters?

Aura began to grow restive.

"No!" she replied shortly; then fearing she had been too incisive,
added, "I have often wished I had. I should have liked them."

Helen Tressilian coming to the rescue looked at her with soft
approving eyes. "They would have liked you, I'm sure. I expect you are
very fond of children."

The girl turned to her impulsively. "Yes--very! You don't know how
often I've wished that I had a baby."

It was worse than the sixpence. Lady Smith-Biggs gasped.

Her matronly breast heaved. She cast a nervous glance towards her
daughter, who was providentially occupied in looking at Miss Vyvyan's
lace-work.

"My dear," she said majestically, "you haven't a mother, so you'll
excuse me telling you that we don't say that sort of thing in
society."

Aura blushed a furious red.

"Why not?" she asked, and her voice had a militant ring in it.

"O Ned, Ned!" whispered Helen Tressilian to her cousin, as at that
moment the gentleman entered the room, "for Heaven's sake take her
away from us soon or she will be spoilt!"

He grasped the situation in a moment. "I'm afraid we must be starting,
Miss Graham. We are going to row you across the estuary, and then we
can walk home over the hills. You have never been in a boat, have
you?"

"No!" said poor Aura, suddenly feeling inclined to cry. It seemed to
her as if she knew nothing and had seen nothing.



                             CHAPTER XIV


Peter Ramsay had come down to spend the Christmas holidays at Plas
Afon in a very bad temper, both with himself and his world.

He was perfectly aware that he had been over-hasty in his struggle
with vested interests, but what irritated him most of all was the
knowledge that he had, as it were, cut the ground from under his own
feet, so that further fighting was impossible. He could, of course, go
over to Vienna, and learn a great deal under Pagenheim; but he would
only have to come home again and begin where he had left off; which
was silly--intensely silly! There are few things more annoying than
the knowledge that you have given yourself away needlessly, and that a
very slight application of a drag might have prevented the apple-cart
from being overturned. The whole affair seemed now almost childish in
its crudity. What the deuce did it matter whether a hogshead or a pint
of beer were drunk, or if one patient the more died, instead of living
to die in due time of something worse!

He was glooming out of the window over such thoughts as these when
Helen, after seeing Lady Smith-Biggs start--despite her lunch--in a
terrible fuss lest she should be too late for tea, came back to the
drawing-room. Aunt Em, as always, had discreetly retired to her room,
whether for work or sleep none knew, so they were alone. It was for
the first time, and Helen seized her opportunity, for she had
something she wished to say to him. So she crossed to where he stood,
his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets.

"Ned tells me you have made up your mind to Vienna," she said kindly.
There was a sort of forlornness about this strong, capable man which
always touched her.

"I have, Mrs. Tressilian," he replied somewhat defiantly. "I shall go
to Pagenheim, and find out--things."

She smiled. "And come back, I suppose, to give No. 36 in the Queen's
ward a chance of life?"

"If any one will provide me with a private hospital meanwhile, Mrs.
Tressilian," he answered, "for I don't see my way to it otherwise."

She flushed a little eagerly, as if the conversation were taking the
turn she had desired.

"I am so glad you say that, Dr. Ramsay," she replied, "for it helps me
to say something. You know I have left the hospital--at least I am not
going back. Now I have to live somewhere; where matters little.
And--despite what you thought once--I am quite a decent nurse; a good
one if--if I am keenly interested. If I were to take a small house
outside Blackborough--or anywhere else--and--and make a regular
surgical ward out of one room, would you--would you try that
operation?"

He stared at her. "But why on earth----" he began.

"For many reasons!" she interrupted hastily. "Chiefly because I
confess to feeling a responsibility."

"Or my lack of it!" he put in dryly. "I'm afraid not, Mrs. Tressilian;
it would cost too much. To be frank--you haven't the money, neither
have I."

"Money!" she echoed, a trifle scornfully. "Oh! it isn't a question of
money. Ned would find that. I have spoken to him, and he is quite
ready to help."

Peter Ramsay became very stiff. "That is extremely kind of him, and it
is extremely kind of you also----"

"I am only thinking of No. 36," she interpolated warningly.

"I am perfectly aware of that fact," he replied; "but may I remind you
of another--that No. 36 is only one out of, say, a million who are
very possibly better dead and out of the way? My cutting him about
might be a selfish pleasure; my duty might be--euthanasia!"

She looked at him vexedly. "I do not dictate to you a doctor's duty,"
she said with spirit, "but I know that a nurse's is 'to save life and
defy death at all costs.' Have I got that quite pat?"

He smiled. "You have an excellent memory, Mrs. Tressilian," he
replied, "and--and I am grateful for the suggestion, but it is quite
out of the question. Perhaps when I return from Vienna I may be able
to--to do my duty. At present I ought to be starting for my walk over
the hills. Lord Blackborough has promised to pick me up at Dinas--the
motor is to meet him there--and as this is my last day----"

"Are you leaving us to-morrow?" she asked quickly.

For an instant he felt inclined to confess that he had had no previous
intention of departing before the New Year, but he swallowed his
vexation at his own hasty decision, and said rather lamely, "I am
afraid I must--I ought just to give a look round the London hospitals
before I go abroad."

"I suppose it would be better," she assented sarcastically. "I have
always understood that they are really not bad."

"Except for the beer," he answered coolly, and left her.

But though it was easy enough to dismiss Helen and her suggestions in
this cavalier fashion, he could not dismiss a feeling of irritation at
her implied disapproval. The faintest hint of it always roused
resentment in him and a desire to make that disapproval utterly
unreasonable. So, as he breasted the hills, intending to walk over
their summits, and when time was up drop down on Dinas and the motor,
his thoughts were busy with the possibility of fitting in No. 36 in
the Queen's ward with his plans for the future.

There was always the hidden hundred pounds--if it still existed! He
had a great mind to see if it did, since he was so close to its
hiding-place.

Would he have time? He looked at his watch, and then gave a glance
seaward. The estuary, now at flood tide, lay silver in the winter
sunshine, and not more than halfway across it he could discern a
slowly-moving black speck. The boat, of course. If that were so, he
would have ample time, and for a smoke also. He sat down, and watched
the small black speck, wondering what had delayed those three. It
seemed to be going faster now; but even so, there was time and to
spare. An hour and a half at least ere they could possibly crest those
further hills and drop down into the valley. And then--then, by the
computation of experience, it would be at least an hour ere Ned
Blackborough would tear himself away!

Peter Ramsay had rather a contempt for love. It was to him a
physiological disease, the violence of which argued a lack of
self-control. And the beautiful girl who had never seen a sixpence,
though very charming, appeared to him to be a most unsuitable wife for
any man. For his idea of a wife was distinctly some one who could
comfort and coddle, and--without open words--prevent one from making
an ass of oneself.

Yes! he had made an ass of himself; but, concerning No. 36, there was
no reason why he should not take his own way. After all, there was
nothing but life. The metaphysicians would put thought first, but it
was "_Ergo sum, cogito_," not the converse--at any rate to
common-sense.

Nothing was susceptible to absolute proof except life and death, and
they probably were mere conditions of matter.

As he looked out, the light waves from the faintly declining sun were
turning the invisible vapour about the higher hills into a filmy
mist-veil which seemed to hang between him and the distant view. His
eye seemed to detect in it a ceaseless shimmer, an almost
imperceptible vibration.

That was it, truly! The motes in a sunbeam--even he himself for that
matter--were but transient aggregations of the atoms in their unending
dance of life and death. What would they hive into, like swarming
bees? A man or a mouse--who could tell? Only the master of the
ceremonies in this dance macabre. So the question of life or death was
already settled for No. 36, though, so far as he--Peter Ramsay--was
concerned, it depended on the existence or non-existence of that
miserable pittance of a hundred pounds. But all the sanctions, all the
mental and moral backings of humanity, depended on something which
could not be proved to exist.

He rose with a shrug of the shoulders, put out his pipe, and started
on again. Life or death seemed to him to hang on that hundred pounds.
He did not much care which; the odds were distinctly on death.

As he turned ere dipping down into the valley which lay between him
and the gap, he gave a last look at the silver shield of the estuary.
The boat must have reached the shelter of the further shadow--unless
it had gone down! Life and Death--Death and Life! An even balance,
despite the surgeon's skill; despite even money.

As a matter of fact, the boat had at last reached the opposite shore,
and Ned Blackborough, feeling savage with himself and Fate, was
standing by holding the rope taut, while Ted, visibly triumphant, was
lifting Aura bodily from the boat across the intervening yards of
slush and seaweed.

He set her down gently with a frank "That's all right," and she,
looking up at him, smiled her thanks.

"I'm so sorry you hurt your arm," she said to Ned rather
condescendingly. "It is lucky Ted could row so well, isn't it?"

"Very lucky," replied Ned, feeling aggrieved. He had gone on pulling
against that miscounted tide till he positively could no more, and
even now the pain of his ill-mended arm made him feel almost sick. He
had been forced to give in, and though Ted had been perfectly within
his rights in failing to let Aura know that the disability was--well!
not absolutely blameworthy--he need not have sculled so confoundedly
well.

He had been a picture to look at, bending easily to the long stroke
while Ned was idly steering.

"We had better take the Crudel valley," said the latter as a bye-path
showed up a lonely glen; "it isn't half as pretty as this, but it is
shorter, and we haven't much time. I delayed you horribly."

Aura smiled tolerantly. "But we came along splendidly afterwards,
didn't we?"

"You know this country awfully well," remarked Ted, feeling the urgent
need of generosity. "I haven't an idea where we are."

But Ned was in no humour for patronage.

"I happen to hold the mineral rights of the Crudel valley in rather a
queer, roundabout way," he replied. "They went with a property my
uncle had bought in Shropshire--but that is beside the point.
Naturally, with all the fuss there has been about the slate quarries
lately, I have had to know something as to the lie of the land. When
we first met, I was down to see it, so there is nothing wonderful in
my knowledge."

Ted stared at him. "By George! Then it is you who put a spoke in the
wheel of that new company?"

Aura looked at him also, and with quick disapproval. "Is it you who
have thrown all the people out of work?" she asked. "Do you know some
of the children haven't enough to eat,--at least," she added, her look
having brought her, she scarcely knew why, a vague doubt, "Martha told
me that the people were getting up a subscription for them."

Ned laughed derisively and shrugged his shoulders.

"You won't understand what I mean, but there is a general election due
next year. The men have had other employment offered them; if they
won't accept it, that is their own fault."

"But I don't understand your objection----" began Ted.

"Don't you?" interrupted Lord Blackborough. "I think that must be
because you don't know good slate from bad."

They had passed on by this time into that most desolate of all places
on God's earth, a valley of unworked slate quarries, a valley
desecrated by man's needs, yet needed not by man. Seamed, scarred,
riven until scarcely a blade of gracious grass remained on what had
once been soft, sweet sheep-bite set with heather, shadowed by dense
bracken thickets. Great moraines of débris, not rounded by long æons
of slow yet certain grinding in the mill of God, but fresh, crude,
angled, from the hand of man, usurped the valley now on this side,
now on that, turning the very roadway, bordered by rusty rails,
to their pleasure. A mountain stream, released from long slavery,
sped--exultantly free--past the low congeries of differently pitched
roofs supported by iron pilasters, beneath which cogwheels and bands,
levers and distributors stood immovable, rusted into silence. Hanging
halfway up a stiff incline of shale, an empty truck hung rusted to the
rails. Another, full of split slate squared, holed, ready for
homestead or granary, stood in the wide stacking-yard where thousands
and thousands of these same leaves of slate, looking like huge books,
were ranged in orderly piles. How many homes, how many churches, how
many barns and factories might not have been roofed in by these piles
waiting idly?

For what? For money.

Ned Blackborough stooped down and picked up a slate which had fallen
on the truck-way. It snapped between his fingers, and with a laugh he
flung it aside.

"Bad stuff!" he said, "and that is better than most. I tell you that
this valley, which is a valley of desolation now, has been a valley of
dishonesty from the very beginning."

His eyes seemed to catch fire, and he turned to Ted almost
threateningly, "And you don't understand! Will you understand, I
wonder, when I tell you that these quarries, like many another, have
been in the hands of speculators from the very beginning? Some one who
knew the slate was bad took to himself others who knew it also, and
between them they floated a company. When the money had gone, some
other rascal bought the bankrupt stock and started another company,
and another, and another. And all the time, these workmen whom you
commiserate were hewing and splitting and taking their wages, for
what? For money, only for money! What was it to them that the slate
was bad, that their labour was wasted and vain? They got their money.
And now they wonder because, when the lease of the last company was
up, I stepped in and said 'No.' This sham shan't go on. I claim my
right, and I won't be bribed by anybody." He spoke almost
passionately, then laughed, and, with a brief "I beg your pardon;
these things irritate me," struck up a shady footpath which led over
the hill.

"I don't exactly see how it could have been done," remarked Ted
argumentatively. "If they went bankrupt they must have had a valuator,
and then----"

"I've no doubt they had," broke in Ned impatiently, "but what I tell
you is the long and short of it."

"Besides, I don't consider the workman is to be blamed at all," argued
Ted. "So long as he does his work fairly and gets his pay for doing
that work, no one has a right to find fault with him. Then think of
the women and children."

Aura, whose face had grown keen over the discussion, looked swiftly at
Ned, awaiting his answer. He, in one of his worst moods, gave it
unhesitatingly: "My dear fellow, what is the use of breeding up a race
of thieves and swindlers?"

With that he bent himself to take the hill at a gallop, leaving those
two agreeing as to the women and children, agreeing also in a thousand
superficial likings and dislikings born of youth, high spirits, and no
small lack of thought.

But at a sharp turn amid the tumbled débris, they overtook Lord
Blackborough opposed to a small boy seated disconsolately on the
ground in a puddle of fresh milk, dotted with the remains of a broken
jug, while an ill-looking collie dog yapped from the shelter of a more
than usually large block of worthless slate.

"It wasn't my fault," explained Ned ruefully. "That brute of a dog
upset him, trying to bark and run away at the same time."

The small boy, having now realised his misfortune, was blubbering in
Welsh.

"I don't understand what he is saying," said Aura, looking up at Ted,
after bending over the urchin with English consolation. "Do you?"

He shook his head. "That is the worst of wild Wales; one can't be
compassionate."

Ned looked at them a trifle contemptuously.

"He's afraid. A boy never blubbers like that without cause, and he
isn't hurt. Here, you!" he continued, hauling the child up
incontinently, "don't howl. I go with you home--_catre_--do you
understand?--_catre_--_mam_."

With which Welsh smattering, he dragged up the unwilling boy, still
blubbering, towards a group of slate cottages which showed a few
hundred yards away. Such desolate-looking cottages, only to be
differentiated by their straight lines from the masses of débris about
them.

"You go on," he called back. "It's straight over the brow of the hill,
and then you can see. I'll pick you up in no time."

But when they looked back from the summit, there was no trace of him
on the upward path.

"There is no use waiting," said Ted oracularly. "By George! what a
relief this is."

He spoke in glad confidence as his eye travelled over God's good world
untouched, undefiled, and yet in his heart of hearts he would not have
scrupled at any desecration of Nature, provided it were in pursuit of
gold.

Nevertheless, he responded at once to the fresh, bright breeze on the
wide, undulating hill-tops, and the free, glad joy in life itself as
life, came to him as they passed with springy step over grass-land and
bog-land, all a-crackle with faint frost. What did they talk about?
Not love, certainly--he was too wise for that--though love lay at the
bottom of all his thoughts.

"How your hand trembles," she said laughingly, as he held hers in
crossing a brook.

He flushed a little. "We've been going such a rate," he replied.
"You're the best walker I know, for a girl."

There was something in the qualification which set her at her ease.

"I wonder what has become of Ned?" she said once, as they finally
turned into the home valley and saw beneath them, spread out like a
map, the familiar fields, the sloping lawn, the straight walks of the
garden, the cosy, comfortable-looking chimneys all asmoke.

Ted pointed to the sky-line above them, where for an instant a dark
something, which might have been a sheep, and might have been a man,
showed, then disappeared.

"Up in the clouds, as usual," he laughed. "Ned is an awfully good
chap, but I wish he wasn't quite so balloony."

Aura looked at him distastefully. "I like him best when he is in the
clouds," she said firmly. "Of course," here she became slightly
reflective, "I dare say his being so--so erratic, might put one out a
good deal, and people like you would be more satisfactory to deal
with; still--" here she dimpled all over--"come! let us race down the
hill, and then we can be waiting tea for him when he turns up."

But there was no tea ready when Ned, whose ill humour had passed with
his solitary walk, arrived.

"Thank Heaven!" cried Ted, who met him at the door. "Will you, like a
good fellow, fetch the doctor; he lives beyond the hill? Mr. Smith is
ill, as he was before. You can take the motor, can't you, from Dinas?"

"No need; Ramsay will be there. I'll be back in no time," was the
reply.

So while Ted helped Martha with his experience and comforted Aura as
best he could, thereinafter remaining to give Peter Ramsay a hand in
getting the old man to bed, Ned kicked his heels in the drawing-room.
Sickness, with its possibility of death, always made him a little
disdainful, and he had but a few stereotyped words of regret when, the
crisis having passed, the three came in, Aura looking pale and
troubled.

"Was he as ill before?" she asked, her eyes seeking Ted's almost
reproachfully.

Ted's sought the doctor's. "Not quite," replied the latter. "These
attacks--it is as well to be prepared for them, Miss Graham--tend to
become more serious. He may not, I hope he will not, have another for
a long time, but you must try and avoid any excitement." He held out
his hand to say good-bye. "There's no reason to be alarmed, I assure
you; with care, he may not have another for--for months."

He clasped the girl's hand with strong, steady grip and smiled, but
poor Aura, facing the one great reality for the first time, stood
white and silent. Only when they had gone, she turned to Ted.

"I don't know what I should have done without you," she said
gratefully.

Outside, as the motor disappeared in the darkness, Dr. Ramsay was
saying nearly the same thing.

"It is lucky Cruttenden was there and had an idea of what to do; lucky
too that I didn't give you up and go home."

"Sorry," responded Ned shortly. "Hope you had a good walk."

"Excellent," replied Peter Ramsay with a little laugh. "I satisfied
myself that hills and dales, and the round world generally, were mere
manifestations of matter, and the Providence didn't shape my steps
anyhow."



                              CHAPTER XV


Since the night on which poor Morris Pugh had sought in vain for God's
Providence upon the mountain-top, he had not left his room; for
rheumatic fever--that curse of Wales--had laid hold of him.

The mental shock also militated against recovery. It would be almost
impossible to overestimate what that shock had been, surcharged as he
was by religious exaltation. He had been dashed from high heaven to
earth, and at first he lay stunned, absolutely maimed. Then, as
feeling returned to his numb mind, the desire to slip away and so
avoid the necessity for thought was the despair of his mother, who had
come from the lonely hill-farm, where she still was mistress, to be
his devoted nurse. She was a woman of the true saintly type, full to
the brim of sympathies and sentimentalities; as such, not one to be
burdened with the reality of doubt.

By degrees, however, chaos became order. The fiat, "Let there be
light," went forth, and Morris Pugh, enthusiast by nature, began to
creep towards it. What although the so-called miracles in which he and
many others had believed were unreal, that could not be said of the
effects of the revival. They were everywhere manifest, abundantly
real. Thousands hitherto spiritually blind were now with open eyes
following the straight and narrow way. Oh! there was proof enough to
show what Power was at work. As the Reverend Hwfa Williams had said
(he found such small jests no inconsiderable aid in his rough and
ready missioning), there was proof enough for every Thomas in Wales.

And there was more work to be done; so what mattered it whether he,
Morris Pugh, the man to do it, rose or did not rise to the height of
sublime folly which had been his once? There was work to be done and
he must do it. So on the last day of the old year, after a week's
change at Aberystwith, he returned, eager for the big revival meeting
which was to see the New Year in. It was to be a great occasion, for
Merv, Gwen, and Alicia Edwards were back for a Christmas holiday from
their arduous labour abroad. Their presence in the little village must
surely awaken the few sleepers that remained; these would be gathered
in, their names added to the already long list of the elect. Even
Myfanwy Jones who, as usual, had come down for a long week-end laden
with bandboxes, might follow the example of her father and come into
the ranks of the saved.

That would be great gain, for though Myfanwy, being well-to-do, might
dress as she pleased, the influence of that dress was not benign on
poorer girls. And there were so many points besides drunkenness and
open immorality which the undoubted increase of faith did not seem to
touch. David Morgan had sold his mare at Wrexham for five-and-twenty
pounds. An open market truly, and it was a good-looking beast, for all
that it had the staggers. Then the hole in the hedge, through which
Evan Rees' sheep were in the habit of pushing their way to graze on a
water-meadow belonging to an absentee proprietor, was still unmended.

There were, in fact, many things which to Morris Pugh's sobered sight
seemed ill advised, while some, such as the midnight meetings held by
mere lads and lassies, could not be defended.

All these things must be combated. But on this eve of a new step
towards Eternity (that quaint Eternity which apparently has not yet
begun for the religious) the work must be to rouse every dead soul to
life.

The chapel was packed from floor to ceiling. Taken simply as a sight,
it was marvellous to think of the sordid lives lived from year to
year, begun, continued, and ended in the cult of the ultimate sixpence
(by which alone the struggle for existence could be maintained) that
many of those present were leading; here, before the Lord, they were
at least seeking a higher sanction.

And yet----

Morris Pugh's whole heart and soul went out in one vivid prayer for
true guidance.

Gwen, on the platform, was looking dreadfully ill. She was wasted to a
skeleton, her fever-bright eyes seemed larger than ever, but they were
steadier, and her voice was even sweeter, despite the hollow hacking
cough which assailed her at all times, save when she was singing.

Those same eyes of hers had learned the trick of fastening themselves
on one face; but so had the eyes of all these practised missioners,
and even Abel Parry, who was taking Hwfa Williams' part as bass,
looked out steadily, earnestly.

Myfanwy Jones felt the thrill of this, though she was conscious that
much of her physical sense of strain arose from the presence of Mervyn
Pugh.

How very handsome he was, and what a gentleman he looked after his
three months of touring about the country!

In truth he had changed. He was finer, more complex; for it had been
impossible to lead the old simple village life in the hotels and
boarding-houses where he had lodged. He was different in every way,
and in becoming different he had almost forgotten his past self. Even
the mental emotion of his first association with Gwen in this work of
salvation had passed; he took it now as a matter of course. For the
rest, seeing his way clear, and urged thereto by those who had heard
him speak, he had almost made up his mind to the ministry.

Yet not quite so; and the sight of Myfanwy Jones robed in black
samite, mystic, wonderful, in the very first row, roused
recollections, almost regrets.

For there had been no harm in their holiday junketing at Blackborough;
they had only enjoyed themselves immensely.

A sense of something electrical in the air disturbed him from
recollections of a man in a music hall, who had ventured to comment on
his companion's beauty, and he became conscious that Gwen and Alicia
Edwards were both looking at him. There was a whole world of
difference in the meaning of these looks, but Mervyn lumped them
together as a control to his wandering thoughts.

He need not have felt that sudden sense of guilt so far as poor Gwen
was concerned. Her limited mind had long since relegated the stormy
past to the Devil. She shuddered at the thought of it, as she
shuddered at the thought of Him.

But Mervyn was a soul which, mysteriously, she had saved.

In a measure this was true. All unknown to herself, she was largely
responsible for the outburst of spiritual energy around her. There was
that in her which, given freely as she gave it, without measure and
without stint, was bound to force response. And to-night, wearied
utterly, yet elated, singing against the doctor's orders, racked by a
terrible pain when she drew her breath, she was at the flood-tide of
her potentiality; and she knew it.

Beside this--the joy and rapture of the stigmatic--Alicia Edwards'
jealousy of Myfanwy was trivial indeed. But though much that was
trivial lingered in the minds of many in the chapel, there was a
deadly earnestness in most of the faces which looked up to the
missioners, almost as they might have looked at a veritable
transfiguration of their Lord.

The toilworn, the smug, the rugged, the sensuous, the clever, on all
these lay a supreme desire, yet a supreme content. Briefly, they had
what they wanted, yet they wanted something more. What?

An analysis of the minds of most would, no doubt, have yielded a large
percentage of purely personal sense of salvation, but there was more
than that in the whole atmosphere of the little chapel as Morris Pugh
stood up to give his first address since his vigil upon the mountain.
What it was, who can say? Call it the Spirit of God, call it anything
you please, all explanations resolve themselves into a still further
away, "What is it?"

Now, all those days and nights of mental and physical torture through
which Morris Pugh had passed, had left their unfailing mark on him.
Before he could even creep back into the old straight way, it had been
necessary for him to acknowledge that he had been at fault in seeking
to dictate to the Greater Wisdom, in looking for a sign, when no sign
would be given. It had been a bitter struggle for him to lay down
these, his highest hopes, but he had laid them down, and he stood
before his people humbled, patient, almost wistful.

But they were not attuned to this mood; so as he spoke, the
electricity--the _something_--in the air failed, and silence passed to
faint shiftings, to louder shufflings. Practised speaker as he was, he
realised at once that he was not, as usual, holding his audience. With
an almost convulsive inward prayer for guidance, he modulated his
voice into the bardic "hwl," that marvellous maker of emotion amongst
the Welsh.

A cough? Yes! a distinct cough! followed by another and another!

Mervyn looked anxiously at his brother. This would never do!
Experience told him that the unknown force on which the professional
missioner relies was oozing away, so without more ado, he gave the
signal to Gwen, and straightway a hymn, softly, persuasively, sung in
the perfect harmony of four exquisite voices, arrested the wavering
attention of the crowded chapel.

Emotionally musical to the _n_'th degree, the audience needed no more.
In an instant the atmosphere changed and, as Morris Pugh resumed his
seat, the waves of sweet sound seemed to stun him with a sense of
failure.

Verse after verse, those waves grew to almost tumultuous chorus,
seeming to monopolise with their vibration even the small amount of
stifling air left to each pair of human lungs. So through that human
chorus, half-drowned by the glad summons to Eternity, came the passing
of Time as the church clock struck--

Twelve!!

The sound stilled the singing for a second, and Mervyn, a genius in
emotion, seized on the propitious moment.

"Let us pray!" he cried, falling on his knees, "let us pray for our
brothers and sisters who are still in bondage!"

Without an instant's hesitation the congregation of the elect followed
suit, leaving the few standing, uncertain. Amongst them, Myfanwy
Jones. Her face showed a sudden fear, not unmixed with resentment; but
Mervyn had leapt from the platform and was beside her, his face
brilliant, ere she could decide on either.

"Do not go!" he whispered passionately. "Listen! The door is open--we
wait for you! we want you, Myfanwy!"

The girl turned to him. A faint tremor showed in her full, lithe
figure; her lip trembled. Another moment and she would have given way,
but that moment brought another factor to the equation of assent.

"Yes! We want you, Myfanwy! We wait for you!"

It was a girl's voice, and Myfanwy flashed round on it superbly
self-possessed. "Thank you much, Alicia Edwards," she said in clear
tones, "but there is no need for you to wait at all. I am going!"

And go she did, with her head held high, a sphinxlike calm of malice
in her face, the _frou-frou_ of her silken skirts heard above the
sudden silence which fell upon the chapel.

It had needed but this example to make other hesitants follow. The
congregation, taken aback, looked for guidance and got it from Gwen.

"I will not let thee go!" she chanted in still clearer, higher tones
as she threw out her hands to those retreating souls. "Yea, I will not
let thee go, except thou bless me. Where thou goest I will go. Thy God
shall be my God! Follow! Follow!"

The cry was caught up readily, as all her cries were, when as now, her
nervous equilibrium was disturbed. So on the heels of the retreating
few, the many swept out into the chill, frost-bound moonlit night.

The utter peace of it, its cold indifference, disturbed by no
questionings, struck like a knife to Morris Pugh's heart as he
followed also, uncertain whether to accompany his flock on their
midnight visitations, or go home to pray in secret for the salvation
of sinners.

He chose the latter, and as he closed the door of his room the rousing
chorus of a revival hymn echoed out under the stars of heaven, making
him think sadly, how far away these were, for all their brightness.

They seemed so also to Aura, who at that moment--looking as if she
might have stood as illustration to Keats' "St. Agnes' Eve"--was
standing at her window in the moonlight. Four days had passed since
her grandfather's sudden fainting fit, and he was quite himself again.
He had even been able to see Mr. Hirsch, who had called in his motor;
and Peter Ramsay, after delaying his departure a day or two, had left.
There was nothing more to be feared for the present; and for the
future, a peaceful, unemotional life was all that was required. So
well, in fact, was he that Ted had obeyed an urgent summons from Mr.
Hirsch, and, much against his will on this last night of the Old Year,
had gone over to him at Aberafon. It was a bore, he felt; and yet the
last few days of closer companionship with Aura, of her natural
inevitable reliance on him, had made him leave her with a lighter
heart.

"You will be sure and come home to-morrow," she had said, and the word
"home" had brought a great tenderness in his reply, "Of course, I
shall be sure."

She felt glad of the assurance as she stood there looking out on the
hill-side, where everything in the midnight moonlight seemed as if
carven out of stone; for her grandfather had been captious that
evening, absolutely refusing to give up his annual habit of sitting up
to see the New Year in. And he had been annoyed at Parkinson, the
parlour-maid's, failure to appear, when, as the clock struck twelve,
the personnel of the establishment were expected to wish and be wished
long life and prosperity.

"Gone to a revival meeting," he had echoed querulously, "a singularly
inadequate excuse! She might have read her Bible at home; but I will
speak to her tomorrow."

To which Martha had replied austerely, "It ain't no good speaken',
sir; I've spoke till I'm dumb. And it ain't her Bible she's wantin',
but 'er best 'at; for she's that frivolous at forty in the dry, as
beats me wot she must 'a bin' in the green. An' Bate 'ud a' gone
too--oh yes! yer wu'd Bate, so it ain't no good speakin'--only I
told 'im plain. 'Bate,' says I, 'you know as you're a deal too
light-'earted to go cadgin' about with a 'orse and cart when there's
liquor 'andy, an' that ain't in it for temptation with a midnight
meetin' with the likes o' her for company, as makes me sick to cook
for 'em. An' what is the shine in them hot stuffy revivals beats me. I
wouldn't go to one of 'em. No! Not if I was 'anged for it. I'd just
say to the cart, Drive on!'"

The dramatic finale had made Aura laugh. She smiled at the remembrance
of it now; but then she smiled at the remembrance of many things in
the last four days.

How kind the world had been to her!

A faint clatter in the back premises made her smile again. Martha must
be waiting up till the light had gone from her room in order to play
that ridiculous game with stockings on which Ned had insisted on this
New Year's Day, which was her birthday also.

Oh! How kind they had all been. She could not spare one of them.

She blew out the light, and the pulsing of the stars seemed to find an
echo in the pulsing of her heart. Suddenly she leant out to stretch
her warm young hands into the frosty air, over the flower graves in
the garden, over the whole wide glistening world.

"A Happy New Year to you all, dear people," she whispered. "Such a
Happy New Year!"

Five minutes after, having smiled drowsily at the sound of Martha's
stealthy footsteps outside her door, she was asleep, to wake again,
however, as the birds wake in winter, long before the lingering dawn.

The moon was hanging like a silver shield before the window and sent a
flood of light into the room, but far away in the east on the edge of
the hill there was just that faint paling of the sky which tells that
when the sun rises it will rise there.

Dawn or no dawn she was broad awake, and the next instant stood by her
open door.

There was the stocking, crammed full, as Ned had threatened, with
chocolate creams, and a pile of parcels on the floor. She picked them
up, and putting them in the warm nest she had just left, began to undo
them by the light of the moon. What had they given her, these kind
people?

A white chiffon motor veil! That must be from Mrs. Tressilian, who had
raised an outcry against a scarf of Mechlin being used to such shallow
purpose. A silver ring tray, set round with every conceivable coin of
the realm! She did not need the card slipped into the red morocco case
to tell her this was from Mr. Hirsch. A book--her heart gave an
answering throb to the starshine--was from Ted. He had promised her a
Shelley. And this, what was it? It must be the semi-surgical
instrument for pruning roses, of which Dr. Ramsay had told her.

And that was all, for neither Martha nor her grandfather would give in
to stockings.

Yes, it was all. Another half-ashamed feel over the darkling floor of
the passage assured her of this, and she turned to the Shelley. Even
if Ned had considered the chocolate creams sufficient, she had this.
Now she could read the context to the lines which Ned--yes! it was
Ned--had quoted:


             'Time like a many--coloured glass
              Stains the white radiance of eternity.'


It was lighter at the window, she passed to it, and leaning the heavy
volume on the sill, knelt down to search for the "Adonais."

But she turned no pages. For there, outside on the window-ledge,
broad-faced, clear, open-eyed, an _iris alata_ stared up at her from
its carpet of saxifrage.

"_The most beautiful thing!_"

Yes! that was it--and _he_ had given it to _her_ ...

The poetry which another man had written slipped to the floor
unheeded. She was absorbed in what this man had brought her.

She knelt quite still for a time, her hands slightly clasped, feeling
dazed at something in herself which responded--which gave back--what?

What was the over-mastering desire to crush the unconscious flower to
death with her kisses.

She rose suddenly and began with haste to dress herself. She must
climb the mountain-tops, as she so often did in the dawn light, and
find some answer.

As she slipped silently through the house, she paused once or twice
wondering if she heard something. No! her grandfather's room was quite
quiet; but once in the hall the sound became indubitable.

Some one was singing outside. Singing softly it is true, but
still singing. The village children, no doubt; but they must be
stopped--they must not disturb her grandfather.

The next instant she stood looking with amazed anger at a group of
five people who, kneeling on the ground, were singing under their
breath some wild Welsh hymn which rose and fell plaintively,
persistently. One of these figures she recognised. It was the
parlour-maid, Parkinson; this must, therefore, be the tail-end of the
revival meeting, for she had heard that such visitations were not
uncommon.

"Parkinson!" she called severely, her young blood in arms at the
intrusion. "What are you doing there? Get up at once and go into the
house."

Parkinson, whose prim face was blurred with tears, whose hat was awry,
whose whole appearance betokened a stormy night of emotion, made a
protest that this was an appointed time.

"Yes!" retorted Aura, with a swift stamp of her foot, "the appointed
time for doing your work! Go! and clean the silver--it wants it--you
foolish woman--go!"

The foolish woman rose and sneaked away, leaving Aura to face the
remaining enthusiasts who had combined the seeing of the new convert
home with the singing of a hymn at this stronghold of the Devil.

Until he felt Aura's clear eyes upon him, Mervyn Pugh had not
remembered the possibility of recognition. It may be, indeed, that he
scarcely knew who the girl was whom he had once mistaken for Gwen. But
now at her first glance he knew all too well.

"So it is you!" she said slowly, as he rose, and feeling that his best
chance lay in boldness, faced her. "Why--why have you dared to come
here?"

"To plead--to pray for you," he began, but was stopped by the fire,
the scorn of her.

"You dare to pray for me--you--you coward! Yes! I called it you once.
I call you it again. Coward! And you too, Gwen," she continued, for
warned by something in the youthful accusing voice, Mervyn's fellow in
the past had risen also, and with large fever-bright eyes was eagerly
scanning their faces in the hope of understanding what her limited
knowledge of English did not allow her to follow. Then suddenly the
sight of the poor wasted body, the recognition of the poor distraught
soul, overbore Aura's anger, and she stretched out her hands
passionately, "Oh, Gwen! Gwen, my dear," she cried, "Go home and
forget all this. Go home and lay flowers on your dead child's grave,
and think of it and pray that he, its father, may be forgiven his
cowardice."

A little startled cry came from Alicia Edwards. Abel Parry sang on
ignorant of English.

Gwen looked at Aura, then at Mervyn, giving to each the same slow
patient smile of forgetful forgiveness.

And then in that high piercingly sweet voice of hers, she began in its
Welsh version the hymn which had heralded her spiritual mission:


             'Just as I am, without one plea;
              Save that Thy blood was shed for me'


She paused, arrested by a little soft cough. Then with a strange look
in her wide wistful eyes she sank to her knees and stretched out her
hands blindly, "Merve--Merve--fach--Merve anwl y----" The rest was
lost in the gurgle of the blood which poured from her mouth.

Aura was beside her in a moment. "Don't raise her--her head on my knee
so--Call Martha--you, man--don't stand gaping--And you, woman,
unfasten her dress--that is better."

It seemed an interminable time, though Martha was already up and
dressed, ere Aura saw her running from the back; and all that time,
the stain on Aura's white dress grew larger and larger.

"Lord sakes," muttered Martha. "A blood vessel! This comes of making
free and she not fit--Parkinson"--for the parlour-maid had
followed--"you run for your turpentine, without the bees'-wax, there's
a dear--you sit as you be Miss H'Aura, and you there, what's your
name, them icicles. We must stop it--if we can."

There was an ominous ring in the last words, and it was not long ere
Aura's face blanched almost as white as the one upon her lap, as she
realized that if the life blood was slacking, it was because the tide
of life itself was ebbing.

This was death. She had never stood close to it before. Her young eyes
looked fearfully through the hush of life to the unknown.

So the minutes sped. Alicia Edwards gave a sigh of satisfaction, for
the bleeding had ceased, but Aura, feeling the faint death tremor
which re-unites the vibration of life to the vibration of the
star-shine, looked up, her fear gone in grave wonder.

"I think," she said softly, "she is dead."

"Go you into the house, my darlin', an' change that there poor dress,
I'll manage now," choked Martha, ever ready with her tears.

Aura looked down with a faint shiver at the crimson stain. So that was
the end of love.



                             CHAPTER XVI


It was not more than six hours ago that Aura had looked at Ned's iris,
had sat in the dawn with Gwen's head in her lap, yet it seemed to the
girl who had never seen death before, who had never before realised
what Love meant, as if whole æons had passed over her head. In truth
they had; for Love and Death make up Life, since Birth comes to us
without remembrance.

The morning had passed by in dizzy haste. There had been much to do,
and do quickly, so that her grandfather should not be disturbed by
even knowing of the tragedy. This was the more easy of compass, seeing
that since his last seizure he had not been coming downstairs till
late. So, ere he appeared, there had been time for folk to come and
go, time even for old Adam to rake over the gravel disturbed by so
many feet. There was no trace, in fact, of what had happened when Aura
passed by the spot on her way to the hills. Parkinson's persistent
hysterics had been the most troublesome factor in the problem of
concealment, but Martha had at last, losing patience, locked her away
in one of the cottage bedrooms, and left her there with the callous
remark, "She'll come round by herself, and if she don't, 'oo cares?"

Who, indeed, did care about anything? Martha and Adam went about
their work as usual; her grandfather knew nothing; even Ted was away.

Aura felt terribly lonely for the first time in her life; the more so
because it seemed to her as if part of her very self had rebelled
against that other self which, for one-and-twenty years, had lived
such a frank, clear life. For all those years she had carried no
burden; but now Love and Death claimed to come with her. She could not
separate them even in her thoughts. One seemed to her destruction of
the body, the other destruction of the mind.

So when leisure became hers at last she took up the thread of life
where it had been broken by the intrusion into it of Gwen's death, and
started to climb the hills, as she would have done at dawn. It was her
natural instinct always. Other girls might shut themselves up in their
rooms to think, might sit with their feet on the fender and dream. She
had to go out, to feel the fresh breeze on her face, before her mind
would work at all.

As she sat on the rocky sheep shelter, whither her feet had taken her
almost unconsciously, since it was her favourite outlook, the winter
sun beat down on her fiercely, warming her through to the heart. She
could feel her very veins pulsing; their rhythm seemed almost to sing
in her ears.

How warm it was! but in the shadows behind the big boulders--ay! and
in the tiny shade of each blade of grass, each twig of bracken, the
frost still lingered white, for the air was freeezing.

Sunshine and frost! Fire and ice!

That was exactly what she felt like herself! She was half fire, half
ice; for a fierce virginity of mind fought desperately against the
intrusion of that glad new impulse of self-surrender she had felt when
she saw Ned's iris.

That, she supposed, was Love; but what was that sort of love worth if
it brought death with it to--to herself--to her mind?

She felt indescribably smirched and stained. As she glanced at the
fresh white serge skirt she was wearing she seemed to see on it still
that crimson blood. It was horrible! It would be there always for her,
scarlet as sin, no matter how white as wool it seemed to others.

Poor Gwen! That was the end of it all. She had, no doubt, yielded to
Love. Had she had any terror of it at first? Had she also felt the
degradation of it?

So, as she sat, more dreaming than thinking, a voice called her. She
started to her feet, remembering in a flash that other man's voice
which had called "Gwen" in that very place--the man whom she had
called coward--whom she had smitten with the lily she held.

It was not an opportune moment for Ned Blackborough, who, having come
over to Cwmfaernog with congratulations, had, after hearing from
Martha of the tragedy, followed the girl straight to her favourite
outlook with the sort of instinctive knowledge of what she would do,
which he had always seemed to possess. At the present moment this was
in itself an offence to Aura. What right had he to pry into her mind?

"What is wrong?" he asked, checked in his quick sympathy by the
expression on her face. Another offence, since what right had he to
know anything was wrong.

"Nothing," she answered curtly; "only I came here for quiet and it
seems as if I am not to have it!"

He stared at her for a second; then, with a shrug of the shoulders,
turned to go, thereby bringing to her a pang of remorse; since when
had he not been courteous, not been kind?

His quick return, therefore, and the reckless obstinacy which showed
on his face relieved her.

"A cat may look at a king, Miss Graham," he said coolly. "I came to
say I was sorry. I am. And as I fail to see that your birthday has any
monopoly over New Year's Day, I will wish you many happy returns of
the latter. May your temper never grow worse."

She had to smile. The sudden outburst of truth was so like Ned when
anything occurred to ruffle or disarrange the smooth covering of
convention.

"Thank you," she replied quite frankly, feeling curiously at her ease;
"I did not mean to be rude, but----"

"I know," he said simply, and paused. And she knew so well that he
knew, that, though her lip quivered for a second she said no more.
There was no need to say more.

It was so curious to have him sitting there beside her. Now that he
had come all the trouble had gone; she was once more absolutely at her
ease.

"And thanks also for the iris," she said after a pause, feeling glad
to escape from the tragedies of life. "It is jolly; but I wish you
hadn't dug the poor thing up."

"I did not dig it up," he replied coolly.

"You didn't--then how----"

"I wired to Covent Garden for another, and it came down in charge of
such a superior person that I almost had to ask him to dine; so 'the
most beautiful thing in the most beautiful place in the world' remains
beside the sphinx as----" he paused.

"As what?" she asked.

He had come half-prepared to speak of his love, and there was about
her face to-day a curious half-forlorn puzzled look which made him
feel inclined to take her in his arms and kiss it away--"As a
remembrance of you, naturally," he replied.

She sat down on the nearest stone feeling just a little dizzy, and
clasping her hands across her knees stared out at the pale blue misty
valley, and the pale blue winter sky beyond.

"But why should you want something to remember me by?" she said
slowly. "I shall always remember you without anything."

Her freedom from conventional cloakings in speech was at all times a
trifle disconcerting, and he felt inclined to reply "That is very kind
of you," or make some other banal remark of the sort which might bring
convention back. Then he cursed himself for a low beast, and followed
her unconsciousness as closely as he could.

"Perhaps I wanted to remember the exact words you said," he suggested.

"But you do remember them," she answered aggrievedly; "that is what I
complain of. You remember every little thing I say--and it is most
uncomfortable. I cannot think why you should."

He took his fate in his hand. "Can't you--I can----. It is because I
happen to love you."

She sat still for a second, then turned and looked at him with
narrowing eyes. "I don't see what that has to do with it! You knew
what I was thinking about the very first time we met, and you could
not possibly have been in love with me then."

Her seriousness made him laugh outright. It was the most delicious
piece of comedy to be sitting there talking of his love as if it did
not belong to him, while his pulses--stay! were they bounding, or had
they quieted down to a curious content?

"I am not so sure," he replied gravely. "There is such a thing, you
are doubtless aware, as love at first sight."

"Not for sensible people, and I think we are sensible," she argued
grudgingly. "I know, at any rate, that I was not in love with you for
a long time afterwards."

The whole world seemed to spin round with Ned....

"Then you are--oh! my dear, my dear!" ...

"Please don't!" she cried, hastily drawing back from his outstretched
hands; "I hate being touched. Besides that has nothing to do with what
I want to find out. Why, from the very beginning, did you always
understand? That can have nothing to do with love ... not, at least,
with love like Gwen's"--the last sentence came thoughtfully in a lower
key.

"But our love will be different, dear," he said almost solemnly. "If
you will marry me, Aura, I will try to understand to the very end--so
help me God."

She smiled at him brilliantly. "And you would--you couldn't help it!
But that is no reason why we should marry. It seems to me we have
mixed things up somehow. No! that is no reason at all."

"Perhaps not," he admitted, following her thought. "Then marry me for
some other reason, my dear."

She shook her head. "There is only one reason for marriage," she said,
with a wisdom born of the untrammelled teaching of Nature, "and if I
were to marry you--I should be afraid--yes, Ned! I will tell you the
truth because you are certain to understand--I should be afraid of
loving you too much. I--I don't want to love like that."

He sat bewildered, his passion dying at the hands of truth. Then he
muttered, half to himself, feeling with a rush of shame how far he was
from her, how little he really understood her innocence of evil,
"Heaven knows why you should--I am a miserable beast--but----. Oh! I
hope to God you would, my dear--I hope to God you would!"

"Why?" she asked calmly, and he had no answer ready. So he harked back
after a while to a lower level.

"That is the most original reason for refusing a man I ever heard," he
said whimsically. "Have you any others of the same sort?"

She responded instantly to his mood. "Plenty!" she replied cheerfully.
"To begin with, you are far too rich. I am only just beginning to
realise how I should hate to have money--besides it is wrong, you
know."

"I don't know," he said dryly; "but it is quite easy to divest oneself
of money. I never find the slightest difficulty in getting rid of
it--so don't let that stand in your way."

It was her turn to laugh--a soft, little laugh with a hint of reproof
in it.

"I don't expect you do. Ted is always saying you are reckless. Then
there is grandfather; you know he doesn't like you half so much as he
likes Ted----"

"The deuce he doesn't!" assented Ned, his sudden pang of jealousy
softened by his sense of the comic; "but you are surely not going to
marry Ted in order to please your grandfather?"

She looked at him disapprovingly, "I might marry some one worse; Ted
is a dear."

He felt exasperated. "Yes! he is an uncommonly good fellow; but--you
don't happen to love him. And you do--at least I think you do"--he
felt that certainty might overpower his self-control--"love me."

She took no notice of this, but went on argumentatively.

"Then I don't think I like marriage in your rank of life. With a poor
man, and lots of work and trouble and children, it would be very
interesting; but--look at Lady Smith-Biggs! I don't know what Sir
Joseph is like, of course, but she looks as if she led a dull life."

"Very!" assented Ned, back to smiles once more. "But I wouldn't, if I
were you, take Lady Smith-Biggs' as a test case; there are plenty of
marriages----" he paused, feeling it would be difficult with Aura's
standard to adduce many examples; but then he was prepared to chuck
everything, and go forth with sandal shoon into the wilderness if need
be. Yes! she was right. It was hardly marriage that he wanted after
all.

So for a time they sat and looked out over the pale blue mists behind
which the hills loomed large, seeming to lose themselves in the pale
blue sky.

"There must be something better," said the girl at last. "Oh, Ned!
there is something better!"

"Better than love," he echoed; "perhaps than some loves; not better
than mine!"

"Don't people always say that? Perhaps _he_ said it to Gwen----"

"Child!" he said swiftly, "don't think of that--that was not love."

"And it was not marriage either," she replied softly; "but what you
mean has nothing to do with what is called love, with what is called
marriage--that is what I mean too."

He shook his head. "That is too fine for me, Aura! I want you. I am
not satisfied without you."

He was so close to her that he could lay his hand on hers.

"S--sh!" she said swiftly, laying her other hand on his so as to
detain it. "Listen!"

Just below them, in a sheltered corrie, grew a great holly-tree
covered with berries that glowed scarlet against the distant blue. On
its topmost twig, with flaming breast yellowed by the exceeding
brilliance of those blood-red berries, a robin had settled itself to
sing. And it sang.

Of what? Of the berries beneath its feet? Of its distant mate? Or out
of the gladness of its heart of life because of the Beginning it did
not remember, of the End it did not know?

Who can say? but it sang. And as it sang those two sat hand in hand,
forgetful even of what humanity calls love. Forgetful of all things
except that they also were dreaming the Dream of Life.

"Did I not say so?" she cried exultantly when the song had ceased.
"Did I not tell you there was something better? You had forgotten me
and I had forgotten you, yet we were happy."

"Because we were hand-clasped," he answered swiftly, "because I
touched you, and you touched me."

She drew her hands away and a flush came to her face.

"But don't you feel afraid--as I do? Don't you want to keep what you
love apart--to keep it safe--even from yourself?"

Did he not? Was it not only this which kept him back from taking her
in his arms and kissing her to the knowledge of what a man's love must
be.

"Yes!" he said unsteadily, constrained to truth by hers. "But there is
a love which does not stain. I'll give it you--if I can."

She looked at him with a vain regret in her eyes. "You couldn't if we
were married, and I couldn't anyhow. Ah no, Ned! It would spoil it
all."

"Spoil what?" he asked roughly, for he began to feel himself worsted
for the time.

"The something better," she replied gaily, "let us wait for that. I
really don't want to marry you, Ned. I should hate it. I knew that
when I saw your iris."

"Then I wish I hadn't climbed up to put it on your window-sill and
wricked my bad arm into the bargain," he said sullenly.

Her face grew grave. "Did you climb up; that was very wrong."

"Was it?" he replied shrugging his shoulders; "but I'm afraid I'm a
very wrong person altogether. At the present moment I feel inclined
to--to--but what is the use--you wouldn't understand. Aura! for the
last time, will you marry me?"

"No, Ned, I won't."

"Then that ends it," he said recklessly. "So good-bye."

She paled a little.

"Must you go?"

"One of us must," he replied, caught in fresh hope, "unless you change
your mind."

"That is impossible--but you will come back, won't you?"

He looked at her full of impatience, yet full of tenderness.

"I believe I ought to say that I won't, but----" Then he held out his
hand, "I understand--apart from everything else in the world--what
this love of ours--" her hand trembled in his for a second, "means to
us--both. I will go away for--yes! for two months, and give you time
to think. Then I will come back. Good-bye, my dear. I can only say it
once more--I love you."

For an instant as he left her she stood still, her lip quivering; then
she called to him:

"Come back, please! I want to give you this."

She held out the bunch of winter heliotrope which had been fastened in
her coat; its faint scent had been in the air as he had sat beside her
holding her hand.

It was too much; the passion he had held back, not unwillingly for so
long, mastered him. "This is foolishness," he cried, striding towards
her, "you do love me--why can you not say so--you might at least tell
the truth."

Something in her face arrested him.

"The truth," she echoed, "I have told you the truth. I think I do love
you, and I am sorry, and vexed, and angry." Her clear eyes were
looking through his as if she could see into his innermost thought.
"But I will not marry you. I am afraid. Do you understand what that
means to me? I am afraid of myself, and for you, for you deserve
something better."

Suddenly she stooped, kissed the withering flowers she held, dropped
them at his feet and was off like a mist wreath down the hill.

He did not attempt to follow her. He simply sat down again on the
stone where he had been sitting before, and swore to God that sooner
or later he would marry her.

And then he fell to thinking of how once or twice in his life before
he had caught a glimpse, as he had just now caught one, of that
"something better," beyond the Dream of Life.

Once, when he was a boy watching the trail of silvery bubbles left
behind it in the brown stream by a water-rat as it swam. Once again as
a young man, when he had paid half a crown for a penny bunch of
violets, and something in their sweetness had made him add half a
sovereign to their price and go on his way.

Then the present reasserted itself. He could not possibly take this
for his answer, he must wait till the shock of Gwen's death had faded,
until Aura became accustomed to the idea of her own love for him--for
that she did love him he had little doubt. It was briefly her love
which had frightened her, quaint compound as she was of nature and
culture. He would leave her to think it out for two months. During
that time he also would have time to make up his mind concerning many
things. He was becoming dimly conscious that life was resolving
itself into the spending of money in order to escape from the
responsibilities of having money, into the fighting of money by money.

It would be rather interesting to let the fight go on while he raised
no finger to protect his own personal rights; if indeed he had any,
which he was beginning to doubt. He and Aura would be as happy--nay!
happier without money. Yes! in the one thing worth having, the one
thing without which even life itself was not worth having, money had
no purchasing power whatever.

"I am only just beginning to realise how I should hate to be rich."

Aura's words came back to him. She need not fear. If she would only
consent to marry him, he would chuck everything he possessed!--barring
a modest competence of course!--after the sovereigns he had chucked
that June morning into the little lochan at the gap.

He had never thought of the hidden money since that day. It had gone
clean out of his head. Now, as he stood up to try and locate the exact
dip on the hills where it lay, his own words came back to him.

"Neither I nor the world would suffer if I made ducks and drakes of
these sovereign remedies."

He seemed to hear the soft _whit whitter_ of the skimming gold and to
see the blank look on the faces around him.

There were other ways of getting rid of gold, however, than by
chucking it into a pond. You had in this civilised world but to let
your neighbour know that you had it in your pocket, and it was sure to
go.

So, despite his refusal, with a light laugh he started down the hill.



                             CHAPTER XVII


Aura, however, felt bruised and broken, as with slower, heavier foot
than usual she crossed the drawbridge, and choosing the back way, went
through the cottage to the kitchen.

Her first look at that sanctuary of shiny saucepans showed her that
something in the nature of a domestic cataclysm had occurred during
her absence; for the kitchen-table was littered with cake-tins, and
the materials for making cakes, a savoury smell telling of cakes rose
from the oven, and Martha herself, with a hot flushed face, was
beating viciously at the whites of eggs which were to go towards a
further making of cakes. Now such activity was Martha's invariable
method of showing that she had what she called "a bit o' time" to
herself; therefore her invariable habit when she found herself once
more monarch of all she surveyed and so presumably rather pressed for
time.

"Has Parkinson gone?" asked Aura swiftly.

"Yes! Miss H'Aura," replied Martha, pausing to make a dive into the
oven and come up therefrom still more flushed and still more
determined. "She's gone. Bad barm won't never bake 'ouseholds as my
mother used to say; and glad was I to be rid of her, for I shud a' put
her past afore long, yes! I shud, and a' got 'ung for it I s'ppose--it
ain't any good lookin' shocked, Miss H'Aura, for a body can't 'elp her
feelin's, and put her past I shud, for Bate, he began to pity her shet
up alone! 'If you says much more,' says I, 'it's to the pigstyes
she'll go'--an' the only proper place for 'er, Miss H'Aura, and me
havin' to black my tongue tellin' master it was the sow as was
squealin' so! But there! Them as 'as no 'eads takes it out in 'earts,
and Bate is that soft about wimmin, 'tis all I can do to keep from
kneadin' more flour to him as if he was a silly batch o' bread! But
we'll do all right without 'er caps an' aprons; and _so I told Bate_."

Martha's face, indeed, wore a determination which augured well for
domestic comfort.

"But grandfather--" began Aura anxiously, "he ought not to be
disturbed."

"Who's a disturbing of the good gentleman?" snapped Martha, "Pore
dear, 'e'll have 'is shavin' water 'ot in future. How they can
stand, brazen, an' ask wages beats me! An' she talkin' o' the waste o'
water being a crime against the company--a water company, winter time,
in Wales! Lord sakes!--if she run the cold off, as I bid her do;
though 'er pantry tap was spoutin' into the pail a good 'arf hour
while she was beguilin' Bate. No! Miss H'Aura! I wasn't goin'
to lie for 'er more'n I cud 'elp, so I told master the stric'
truth-an'-no-one-a-penny-the-worse, as the sayin' is."

"What did you tell him?" asked Aura rather wearily, for even Martha
was getting on her nerves.

"I told him as revivals havin' bin too much for her body _an_' soul
she was stoppin' at the inn, where she is, Miss H'Aura, and if she
screech there as she screeched here some one 'll be in Bedlam before
mornin'--_an' so I told Bate_."

This was the invariable epilogue to all Martha's diatribes.

"I suppose Mr. Cruttenden has returned?" asked Aura.

"As nice as nuts, an' is in with Master. I reely don't know, now I
come to think on it, what we shud a-done this last week without 'im!
Not but what 'is lordship----" she shot a quick glance at Aura--"Lord
sakes! deary," she cried, "you do look weary-like. Go up to your bed,
there's a duck, an' have a lie down--one can't never forget the face
o' death till one's asleep."


              'Death, and his brother sleep!...'


The words were in Aura's brain as she went upstairs, wondering why it
was that now Ned was no longer beside her she felt far more disturbed,
far more, in a way, ashamed about him, than she had done when he was
beside her. Yes! even when he had been masterful and told her that it
was all foolishness, that she knew she loved him.

The house seemed so familiarly quiet and peaceful that the turmoil of
her mind became all unreal to her. Surely the least honest effort must
suffice to bring back her old fearlessness of outlook.

Her birthday presents lay on the table, amongst them Ted's Shelley,
open, curiously enough, at the "Adonais." Her eye glanced at the
verses, became fascinated; she stood reading until with a sigh of
infinite satisfaction she closed the book over those words:


             'The One remains, the Many change and pass!'


That was beautiful. That calmed the soul. Gwen's dead face came back
to her now without any terror in it. The Sting of Death was gone.

But Love--the love that Gwen had felt, of which she herself was not
all unconscious, what of that?

Dimly, darkly, as in a glass, the girl saw that to be noble it must be
the antithesis of Death--it must be Birth. But that was not the Love
of the world. What had Mervyn, what had Gwen, thought of Birth?
Nothing. If anything they had hoped to evade it. They had tried to
take the Pleasure without incurring the Pain. They had not thought of
anything but themselves.

She passed on to the window-sill and looked down once more on the
"most beautiful thing in the most beautiful place in the world."

But what was that really?

Was it Love standing between Birth and Death, or was it something
better? Something beyond both. Something of which but a glimpse could
be caught during that journey between the Cradle and the Grave?

So, for one brief moment as she stood looking at the iris she saw that
Something, beyond Birth, beyond Death, beyond even Love. A shimmer
came to the air, her pulses caught the rhythm, and lo! she was no
more, the One was All, and from the uttermost end of Space came back
the ceaseless Wave of Unity.

And then?...

Then the fear of death re-asserted itself. Surely the flags of the
iris showed limp! The dear thing must not stop there without due
foothold on the round world, else would it lose the immortality of new
birth.

So, tired as she was, she lifted it up, saxifrage and all, in both her
hands, went downstairs, and so across the lawn to a place she wotted
of where it might grow undisturbed by fear of old Adam's meddling
fork. There was a certain solemnity about her necessarily slow
movements, and she felt almost as if she were conducting a funeral.
And so in truth it was; a funeral of her careless girlhood. She was a
woman now; she had begun to understand herself. Yet as she laid the
flower on the spot where she intended to plant it and went for her
trowel, the pity of the funeral hit her hard, and when she returned
Ned's blue eyes seemed to look at her appealingly from the iris's
broad face. His were such beautiful eyes!

She dug furiously, forgetful of everything but her desire to bury,
until a step sounded beside her, and she looked up to see another pair
of blue eyes broader, bolder, looking down at her.

"What are you digging," said Ted with a ring of aggrievedness in his
voice; "a grave? Oh! I beg your pardon, dear, I oughtn't to have said
that, I oughtn't to have reminded you--but I've been expecting you to
return for such a long while--and--oh! my poor little girl--I'm so
sorry for it all--it must have been horrible."

His normal sympathy brought her back to normal. She realised as she
had not realised with Ned, that after all she was but a mere girl who
needed cossetting and comforting after the terrible shock of the
morning.

"It was horrible," she replied, with a little shiver; "you can't think
how horrible--somehow, after it all, it is good to see you just--just
yourself."

She felt indeed grateful to him for his size, his solidity, his
undoubted affection: perhaps unconsciously she was grateful to him for
his failure to disturb her inmost soul.

"It must have been awful," he said, his blue eyes showing all the
kindness in the world. "I can't think how you got through with it as
you have; but you are so brave--far braver than I should be--but come,
don't let us talk or think of it any more. Don't let us spoil my last
afternoon."

She stood up startled. "Your last!" she cried, in quick concern. "Oh!
Ted, why is it your last?"

He took a step nearer to her, his face lit up with content. "I'm so
glad you care--I suppose it's selfish--but I am glad. Yes! I have to
go. Hirsch has business for me in Paris--most important business, and
I must leave by the mail to-night."

Even as he spoke, his mind running on ahead, thought with a different
content of what this visit to Paris might mean to them both, if things
turned out as he hoped they might.

"Must you?" she echoed wistfully. It seemed to her as if every friend
she had had was leaving; and Ted had been such a help to her during
the last few anxious days. "How shall we manage without you?" she went
on doubtfully; "grandfather will miss you so much--and I----"

There were almost tears in her voice, and Ted felt a wild desire then
and there to come to explanations. But he knew it was wiser to wait.

"I will come back at once if I am wanted," he replied; "but I hope I
shan't be wanted--at least not in any hurry; for of course I shall
come back again soon--and then--but I really haven't time now. I have
to put up my things you see. I stayed as long as I could with him
thinking you would be sure to come in at once----" there was the
faintest reproach in his tone.

An instant pang of remorse shot through the girl. She had stopped
talking sentimental rubbish to Ned while he--Ted--was doing her duty.

"I will go in to him in a moment," she said hurriedly, "I have only to
plant this flower."

She set to work hurriedly, Ted lingering to look down superciliously
at the iris.

"It's rather pretty," he said; "did you find it in the woods?"

Aura's blush was hidden as she hastily filled in to proper dimensions
the perfect grave she had previously dug.

"No. Ned gave it me as--as a New Year's gift."

Ted half smiled, thinking that if he had had as much money as Lord
Blackborough he would have known better how to spend it on the girl he
loved; but, of course, if Ned chose to be so niggardly in some things,
so lavish in others, it was his own lookout.

"I hope you liked the book; the binding wasn't quite so nice as I
should have wished," he began.

Aura interrupted him heartily.

"I liked it ever so much--thanks so many! And I shall always like it.
That is the best of books--summer and winter they are always the
same"--she became taken with her own thought and pursued it--"they
aren't like flowers--you haven't to watch for their blooming time--you
haven't even to smell their scent--you haven't to think for them of
storms or slugs or frost and field mice"--here she smiled at her own
alliterations--"but if you want them, there they are, ready to make
you happy. Do you know, you've been a regular book to me lately, Ted?"

He flushed up with pleasure. "Have I?" he said frankly; "that's good
hearing. I--I wish I were your whole library----" Once more he paused,
obsessed by that idea of the night-mail to Paris.

As he went off to pack his things he almost wished that she had come
in a little earlier; but then he would not have had such an eminently
satisfactory talk with her grandfather. So far as he, at any rate, was
concerned it was all plain sailing, for the old man, distressed at
hearing of Ted's sudden departure, had for the first time taken him
into his confidence. It was not exactly a pleasing confidence, but it
was only what Ted had expected. Aura would be penniless, since years
before Sylvanus Smith had sunk all his money in an annuity which would
cease with his death. Under the circumstances, Ted had felt that both
the kindest and the wisest thing was to allay anxiety--that tardy
anxiety which was in itself but another form of selfishness--by
speaking of his own love for Aura, and his earnest desire to marry
her, if she would have him.

"Of course she will marry you!" Mr. Sylvanus Smith had said with calm
shrewdness. "Who else is there for her to marry?"

Whereupon Ted, divided as to whether he was doing a magnanimous or a
mean thing, had suggested Lord Blackborough. It had produced a perfect
storm of incredulous irritation. The bare idea was absurd.
Blackborough, like all in his rank, was merely amused by a pretty
face. He, Sylvanus Smith, had only tolerated him as Ted's friend, and
he would forbid him the house in future; no granddaughter of his
should marry a lord!

Briefly, the old man whose life had been spent in preaching socialism
and liberty in the abstract, who denied the existence of social rank,
and proclaimed the right of the individual to independent action, was
ready to forswear both tenets, and pose as a relentless parent of the
good old type.

Ted had forborne to smile, and, feeling really magnanimous this time,
had attempted to smooth over the old man's irritation, which none the
less he knew to be points in his favour.

So, as he packed his portmanteau, he whistled lightheartedly.

Aura, meanwhile having finished her burial, went off to the book-room
where she found her grandfather, as usual, busy with pen and paper,
the writing-table drawn up to the fire, the solitary extra chair in
which Ted had been sitting looking lone and outcast, camped away in
the open beyond the leather screen which in winter always surrounded
Mr. Smith's socialism and the fire.

He was looking a little flushed, and she paused, ere sitting down on
the floor by the hearth to say anxiously, "You haven't been vexing
yourself, I hope, grandfather, while I was away--I--I had rather a
headache--so I went up the hills. Martha----"

"Martha has been excellent, as usual," he replied, "on the whole she
does Parkinson's work fairly well; though I could wish----" here he
sighed--"the absence of a suitable cap and apron is certainly to be
deplored, but she makes an excellent omelette." He turned again to his
work of writing a pamphlet on the Simple Life.

Aura sat watching him, as she had watched him as long as she could
remember. She was very fond, very proud of him. Extremely well read,
curiously quick in mind, he had taught her everything she knew, and
she was but just beginning to find out that this everything was more
than most women are supposed to know. She had found no difficulty in
holding her own with Ned and Ted, and Dr. Ramsay and Mr. Hirsch,
except so far as mere knowledge of the world went, and that was not
worth counting.

To her mind grandfather had had the best of any argument she had ever
heard; but then Ned would never argue with him.

Still he had not taught her all things. He had never mentioned love or
marriage, or birth or death, though these surely were the chief
factors in life--in a woman's life anyhow.

Suddenly, out of the almost bewildering ramifications of her thought,
she put, almost thoughtlessly, a question.

"Grandfather, was my father fond of me?"

Mr. Sylvanus Smith looked up startled, and distinctly pale. "I had not
the honour of your father's acquaintance," he said icily, "therefore I
cannot say." Then he, as it were, pulled himself together. "And you
will oblige me," he continued, "by not asking any more questions of
the sort. I cannot answer them."

He went on writing, but his hand trembled a little. She had heard this
formula more than once, but after a time, moved thereto by the new
stress in her thoughts, the girl rose, and going up behind him stood
looking over his shoulder.

"Grandfather," she said, "I am not going to ask any more questions
about the past. I don't see that it matters at all. I should like to
have known that my father was--was glad of me; my mother must have
been, I think, though she died so soon. But I should like to know what
is in the future. What--what do you expect me to do? Do you wish me to
marry?"

He turned round in his chair, and looked at her helplessly.

"That is rather a peculiar question, my dear," he said feebly, "but,
of course----"

"Don't answer it if it worries you, please," she urged quickly; "but
if you could speak of it--it would be a great help."

Vaguely she felt choky over the last words. It did seem so hard to be
left all alone in the wide world to face these dark problems.

"It--it is not a usual subject for discussion, even between parent and
child, Aura," he replied; "but if you ask me--yes. I am extremely
anxious for you to marry."

"Why?" The question came swiftly.

Mr. Sylvanus Smith put down his pen finally, and turned his feet to
the fire. He thought for a moment of quite a variety of reasons.
Because it was the natural end of woman; ... but for years past he had
laboured in vain to convince the world that marriage was slavery.
Because he wished her to be happy?... but so many marriages were
unhappy. Because he would have liked to see grandchildren about
him?... but in his innermost heart he knew that a few months of life
was all for which he had any right to look.

He decided finally on the real reason.

"Because--because when I die, my child, and that cannot be far
off----"

"Grandfather, don't!"

Her voice became poignant with fond reproof.

He heaved a sigh, and honestly felt himself heroic.

"My dear," he said grandly, "there is no use in deceiving ourselves--I
may live--but on the other hand," he waved his pretty white hand
gracefully. The conversation was beginning to interest him, and though
he had acquiesced in Ted Cruttenden's desire to let the question stand
over for the present, he felt there could be no harm in diagnosing
Aura's attitude. "The fact is, my dear, that when I die you will be
very badly off, in fact, it is a source of the very greatest anxiety
to me, Aura, you will have nothing--I mean no money--and unless you
are married--happily married--I do not see how you can earn your own
livelihood."

"Then I should earn it by being married!" she asked.

"Well! hardly so; but--it would be a great weight off my mind, Aura.
So--if you have the chance----"

She stood still for a moment or two, then once more seating herself on
the floor, this time at his feet, she turned her face to the fire. "I
have the chance," she said at last in a clear voice, "Lord
Blackborough asked me to marry him to-day. I refused--but----" Her
face was still hidden, but a curious expectancy came to her whole
attitude. She seemed on the alert.

Sylvanus Smith who had sat up prepared to curse, sank back in his
chair to bless with a sigh of relief. "You refused him! Thank God! My
dear child, you--you caused me the most painful alarm; though I might
have trusted your good sense to see that it would have been--a--a most
unsuitable marriage."

The alertness had gone. "Would it?" she said indifferently, "Yes! I
suppose it would." She said no more, though all unconsciously the iron
was entering her heart, the young glad animal heart which clamoured
for pleasure. Still, what her grandfather had called her good sense
had shown her this unsuitability at once, though his grounds for his
opinion were most likely very different from hers. At the same time it
was her decision. She had made it of her own free will. There was no
coercion about it. She had made it, and it was as well that others
endorsed her action.

So she essayed a smile and turned towards him. "Then I don't
think I have any other chance of getting married just at present,
grandfather," she said lightly, "but if anybody 'comes along----'" She
paused, joking on the subject being a trifle beyond her.

The old man sat looking at her with real affection overlaid by the
quaint sense of magnanimity which pursued him in every relation of
life, the result no doubt of his unquestioning acceptance of himself
as philanthropic benefactor to the race. Should he or should he not
tell her what he had just heard from Ted?

Something in the slackness of her attitude as she sat crouched by the
fire, something of weariness in the young face which, as a rule, was
so buoyant with the _joie de vivre_, made him decide on telling her.
There could be no harm in finding out how she was prepared to receive
the suggestion. He drew his chair closer.

"But there you are mistaken surely. Has it never occurred to you
that--that perhaps--Mr. Cruttenden----"

"Ted!" echoed Aura. "No! Grandfather, it is you who are mistaken. Ted
and I have always been the best of friends--the very best of friends!
but he has never--Oh! I can assure you he has never been the least--
never the least like Ned--I mean Lord Blackborough."

"Perhaps that stands to his credit," remarked the old man chillily.
"Love is not shown--by--by love-making. But I am sure of what I say,
my dear, because--Ted as you call him--though in my young days--but we
will let that pass for the present--told me himself that the dearest
wish of his heart----"

At this moment the door opened and Ted himself, light-hearted, free,
eager to have what he could of Aura's company, came in.

"I've finished," he cried, "so now for something better----" he
paused, conscious that the air was full of something more important at
any rate. Was it better, or was it worse?

Mr. Sylvanus Smith essayed a discreet innocence by a warning cough to
Aura, and a hasty return to his papers; but the girl was too much in
earnest for silence. Her nerves, overstrung by the strain of the long
day, during which almost everything to be learnt in life seemed to
have been crowded into a few hours, vibrated to this new possibility.
She rose instantly, and advancing a step or two stood facing the young
man with a new recklessness in her expression. "Ted," she said, and
there was a note of appeal in her voice, "Grandfather has been telling
me something I can't believe. Is it true that you also want to marry
me?"

For an instant surprised out of balance, overwhelmed by the utter
unconventionality of the question the young man hesitated. Yes or no
seemed to him equally out of keeping. Then his passion for her came to
the rescue, and something told him that the question would never have
been asked if the girl had not staked herself, body and soul, on the
answer.

He strode across the room and took her by her outstretched hands.

"I have wanted it, Aura," he said, and his voice vibrated as the whole
world seemed to him to be vibrating, "ever since I saw you first--do
you remember--" he was drawing her closer to him unresisting,
though in her eyes there was a certain expectant dread, "you were
standing--surely you remember--" his voice grew softer--"in the garden
room--standing in the sunlight with the flowers behind you--and the
cockatoo----" the sentence ended in the first kiss which had ever
fallen on Aura's lips.

She did not shrink. On the contrary, she gave a little sigh of
satisfaction, and looked gratefully at Ted.

"Yes, I remember," she said softly, "and ever since then you have been
so good to me."

"Then you will marry me, Aura," he said--"you will really marry me?"

"If it makes you happy--if you really mean it, and--" she turned to
her grandfather--"does it make you happy too?"

He was busy with his pocket handkerchief, and blew his nose ere he
replied. "My happiness is assured if--if you--" He said no more, for
his memory was clear, and there are some things which do not grow dim
with years, and one of them is the remembrance of love.

"I am quite happy," she said gravely, "and I think I shall always be
happy with Ted."

Whereupon Ted kissed her again, and tried to realise that he was in
the seventh heaven of delight; as he was indeed, though he felt rather
rushed as he thought of the night mail to Paris.

"We have hardly time to get engaged decently and in order," he said
joyfully. "You will have to wait for your ring, my darling."

"My ring?" she echoed inquiringly, whereupon Ted laughed still more
joyfully at her entrancing ignorance of the world and its ways; but
Sylvanus Smith, who had been looking into the fire, roused himself to
touch a ring which he always wore on his little finger. "I have one
here," he said dreamily; "it holds her mother's hair."

"My mother's!" cried Aura gladly, "Oh! may I have it, grandfather?"

Ted looked with distaste at the little mourning ring; just a plait of
bronze brown hair like Aura's set in a plain gold rim as a background
to "In Memoriam" in black enamel letters.

"It is rather grisly," he whispered fondly as he slipped it on to the
girl's finger, "but it will do to--to keep the place warm! By and by
it shall be diamonds."

She shook her head. "I shall like this best," she said, "it will
remind me of----" And then she lifted her finger to her lips and
kissed the little ring. It would be hers always to remind her of Love
and Death, and Birth that came between the two.



                            CHAPTER XVIII


Poor Gwen's death had caused quite a pleasurable excitement in the
village.

There can be no question that to all save the immediate few whose
natural emotions are involved, most deaths bring a quicker tide of
life to the living.

It has been said, indeed, that funerals are often the preludes to
marriage. Be that as it may, Gwen, despite her gift of grace, had
lived all her short life on such a different plane from the rest of
the village girls that, except in the little shepherd's cottage amid
the hills, few real tears were shed over her dramatic death.

And it was so dramatic! To die in full song--to shed her life-blood in
trying to bring the glad news to other souls. Surely that must avail!
Surely that sacrifice must turn those sinful souls to peace.

Though they did not know it, and for Mr. Sylvanus Smith's prospect of
peace, it was as well he did not, both Aura and her grandfather were
special objects of intercession at many hundreds of chapels the very
next Sunday. For the story naturally grew in the telling.

Meanwhile Gwen, poor soul, was laid with much fervour beside her baby,
the rector duly officiating; for the old shepherd and his wife,
thinking of their own funerals to come, held fast to tradition.
Whatever else you might be in life, death brought you back to the
Church, back to the solemn old service in which dust is reverently
committed to dust, ashes to ashes.

Nearly all the village attended, for, in a way, it was proud of Gwen.
There was but one notable absence. Alicia Edwards was not there to
take her part in singing "Day of Wrath" over her dead friend. She was
in bed or at any rate confined to her room; for the dramatic death on
New Year's morning had apparently been too much for her nerves.

The gossips of the village went in and out, condoling with her, and
applauding her sensibility, and retailing to her all the affecting
particulars of the funeral, the wreaths, the remembrances from souls
saved by the dead girl's singing, the excellence of the mournings
provided by Myfanwy Jones, and the apparently real grief of Mervyn
Pugh, who went about looking like a lost soul himself.

Only over the latter statement did Alicia Edwards commit herself so
far as to say with sphinxlike gravity, "I do not wonder. Mervyn and
Gwen were always friends. Yes, indeed! even at school they were
friends."

Looking back from her new knowledge concerning Gwen's past, Alicia's
only wonder was, indeed, that no one had ever suspected Mervyn. And
yet, who could suspect Mervyn? Mervyn, the pattern of the village;
Mervyn, among whose perfections her own facile heart had been
entangled these many years past. Nor was she alone. Half the village
girls would have given their eyes to secure him for their own.

And now that he had fallen from his high pedestal, it seemed to her,
woman-like, that she desired him more than ever. That desire, in
truth, was the cause of her seclusion. She was not ill--simply she
could not make up her mind what to do. One-half of her asserted that
she ought to denounce Mervyn; that it was wrong for her to allow him
thus to play the hypocrite, that it would be good for his soul's
health to do penance in sackcloth and ashes; the other half found
excuses for him beneath the cloak of consideration for the slur which
would be cast by the unrighteous over the whole revival, could it be
shown that one of the most prominent in starting it was--so to
speak--an unrepentant castaway; for repentance in such a case as this
meant the confession for which the elders of the congregation had
clamoured, the lack of which had sent an unbaptized child to the
happily infinite mercy--seat of God.

Alicia knew all this. She had been well brought up, well drilled by
her father in the catechisms, and in her inmost soul--a very
conventional, placid, harmless soul--she was quite shocked at Mervyn's
stony-heartedness. For all that, she could not make up her mind to
denounce him. She would give him time. He knew that she knew his
secret, and that she was the only person in the world now who knew
it--at least of this world; for the "wild girl of Cwmfairnog," as the
village had dubbed Aura, had not even attended the inquest. Martha had
given her evidence, and Martha had known nothing. So there was no
likelihood of the truth coming out except through her, Alicia. Perhaps
Mervyn, knowing this, would come to her and unburden his soul.
Undoubtedly, if Providence had not intended her to denounce the
sinner--and of this, as the days went on, she became more and more
certain--it must have had some other purpose in making her the sole
recipient of the terrible knowledge.

What purpose?

For to her, as to Morris Pugh, as to nearly all these traffickers in
cheap marvels, the impulse to see some hidden meaning, some direct
dealing of the Creator with His creature man, had become almost an
obsession.

What purpose, then, could Providence have had in thus choosing Alicia
Edwards out of all the village to be this sole recipient?

The answer was easy. That Mervyn might come to her as a sort of
mediator, as he might have come to a father confessor.

So, as the time wore on, Alicia waited for Mervyn; but Mervyn never
appeared, not even after she came down, becomingly dressed in deep
mourning, to sit in the back parlour and receive her friends. Myfanwy
Jones, whose holiday had been extended over the funeral by reason of
the many orders she had successfully placed for it, looked in several
times, but there was not much love lost between the two nowadays. So
when, on the morning after the funeral, Myfanwy came to say good-bye,
Alicia was relieved. She felt the influence of this big, beautiful,
worldly creature to be malign; and, once it was removed, she was sure
that Mervyn would surely return to the holder of his secret.

"You will be going by the midday carrier," said Alicia cheerfully;
"you will have a fine drive to Llanilo whatever."

"A beautiful drive," assented Myfanwy; "I was trying to make Mervyn
Pugh take it with me for a change, but he prefers to mope. I did not
know him such a friend of poor dead Gwen."

She challenged Alicia with her bold black eyes, and Alicia felt
herself flush.

"When people spend their lives together in holy work, Myfanwy dear,"
she replied in a purring voice, "it is very close they grow to each
other, very close indeed."

"If they spend their lives together anyway," retorted Myfanwy
with a superior laugh, "they often grow very close--very close
indeed--sometimes too close."

But Alicia was prepared for her, and smiled sweetly. "You do not
understand religion, Myfanwy. As Mervyn says, it is such a pity--but
we must hope for the best--it will come some day."

"So will Christmas," replied Myfanwy with a sphinxlike smile; "but I
am not fond of waiting, whatever you may be. Well, good-bye, dear. Do
not be frightened when Williams and Edwards send in their bill--it
need not be paid till you are married, remember."

Alicia paled. The memory of that bill was more to her now than the
mere fact that when it came, it would mean a demand for money. That
she might manage; but how about the claim on her character? For it
would be a big bill, a record of much extravagance. One comfort was
that, if she married Mervyn--which seemed not so unlikely now as it
had seemed a short time ago--he would not be so terribly shocked; or
at any rate he would not be in a position to throw so many stones!

It was a lovely afternoon, one of those early January days when earth
and sea and sky combine to play a trick on the world, and cheat it
into the belief that winter is over. The air, too, felt lighter, more
wholesome to Alicia, now that Myfanwy Jones had presumably left the
village; presumably, because, though Alicia had not actually seen her
go, her boxes had certainly been in the carrier's cart.

Alicia had almost made up her mind that if the mountain would not come
to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain. Another Sunday must not
pass without an explanation between her and Mervyn; it would not be
right to allow him to remain without reproof and exhortation.

It required a good deal of courage, for she was by nature timid; but
by making a duty of it, and assuring herself that his soul's good was
her only object, she succeeded in bracing herself up to sufficient
virtue for her task. So, feeling there was no time like the present,
she spent half an hour in making herself look as attractive as she
could in her singing dress--and that had been designed with
considerable care for appearances--and set off on her mission. She did
not go straight to the minister's house, which stood at the further
end of the village--a most incongruous, unhappy-looking villa, such as
one sees by dozens in the suburbs of any large town, all stucco, bow
windows, and gable ends--for that might have provoked attention. She
branched off to the left and so, going up the School Road, was
prepared to make her visit on the return journey by going down a
pathway which led from the school towards the house. She had often
returned from class thus with Mervyn, choosing the longer road for the
sake of the handsome boy's company. The thought made her mind drift
back to those long years during which she had been taught, and had
taught, so many things. What a relief it had been to escape from
living by rule; so much time for this, so much time for that; duty
punctual as the clock, dependent on the machinery, certain to run down
and stop unless it received some continual impetus from without.


                --'That which cometh from without.'--


The words came back to her vaguely. Yes! she had been taught so many
things. What had she herself learnt? How many four shillings' worth of
stamps, for instance, had she not saved up herself, or caused her
pupils to save up. Every child in the village had a post-office
savings' bank book. They had been taught thrift. But every one of the
girls would do as she had done--run into debt over their clothes--or
at least put their money on their backs. She was tired of it all. She
was hungering for her natural work. She wanted to be the wife of some
strong man, bear him children, and live immersed in household details.
That was her _métier_; she felt drawn to that.

So, as she turned in at the back entrance of the minister's house, her
heart was soft; she felt in a sentimental mood. The past was past.
Most men's lives held something that was not quite--well, quite
respectable--but in this case there would be earnest repentance to
make that past more--more presentable.

And then through the window of the dining-room she saw a group of two
people standing, their faces to the fire, their backs towards her; but
there could be no doubt as to the skin--tight black sheen of the waist
round which Mervyn's arm circled in all the security of possession. It
was Myfanwy's--Myfanwy in her best dress also!

In a second all the hot Cymric blood which lay hidden somewhere behind
Alicia's almost phlegmatic calm had leapt up in resentment; and almost
before she realised what she was doing, she had passed the entrance
and stood in the room, challenging those two. The table was laid for
tea; there was an air of placid comfort, of as it were collusion,
which gave the finishing-touch to her anger.

"So you have not gone with the carrier, Myfanwy Jones?" she said.

Mervyn's arm left the black-satin waist hastily, but Myfanwy did not
budge. She simply threw a backward glance over her shoulder.

"Oh! good afternoon, Alicia! No! I did not go. Mervyn and I are to
drive over to Llanilo in Thomas's waggonette, as soon as we have had
our tea."

In an instant it resolved itself into a duel between these two women
for the possession of the man who stood, his beauty somewhat blurred
by anxiety, looking like a fool between them.

"But I have come," replied Alicia firmly, "to have a talk with Mervyn
about--about something; so, perhaps, you will drive alone to Llanilo,
Myfanwy. It might be better." She fixed Mervyn with an eye that held
in it a world of entreaty besides some indignation.

His inward uneasiness felt the threat. "Perhaps it would be better,
Myfanwy," he said helplessly. "We have much to talk over and arrange
before we start again on--on our work."

Myfanwy turned on him like a flash. "Will you hold your tongue, Mervyn
Pugh," she said magnificently. "This is between Alicia Edwards and
me." Then she turned back again to her adversary, "Say what you will
to him now, Alicia. We are engaged to be married, so you can say to me
what you will say to him."

Alicia gave a little cry of real dismay. "Oh Mervyn! Say it is not
true;--think of poor silly Gwen, but just dead!" she pulled herself
up, being in truth still but half-hearted in her desire to denounce.

Myfanwy shot a swift glance at Mervyn; she was really and honestly
fond of him, and the idea, at any rate, which Alicia's words suggested
was not new to her. Still no matter what she said to him about it in
the future, this was the time for defence--quick, ready defence.

"Yes!" she said. "Gwen is dead, so why should you drag her out of the
grave, poor soul! 'Let the dead past bury its dead,' Alicia, you
learnt that in school, I am sure. And, whatever happens, I am going to
marry Mervyn--of that you may be sure."

It was then that Alicia, feeling the inward certainty that this was
true, that her bolt had failed of its mark, gave the rein to
denunciation.

"But I must speak to him! Oh Mervyn! Think," she cried, her voice
ringing with a perfect medley of emotion, "you who have saved so many,
think of your own soul. Think how the soul of your child, think how
the soul of poor Gwen cry out against you!"

A man's step on the gravel outside made Myfanwy start forward with a
muffled exclamation.

"Be quiet, will you! you will be overheard--you--you will ruin him!
Will you hold your tongue?" she cried.

But Alicia was past worldly wisdom; even with Myfanwy's strong hand
threatening her, she stood her ground, and her voice rose--

"Let them hear! Let all the world know that Mervyn Pugh--Mervyn the
good, the righteous, is Gwen's seducer, the father of her child!"

Then, even her anger failed before the knowledge that Morris Pugh
stood at the door listening.

With a muffled cry Mervyn turned and flung himself down on the sofa,
his face crushed into the hard horsehair cushions; vaguely he felt
their hardness to be a shelter.

Myfanwy, looking as if she could have killed Alicia, moved to him and
laid her hand softly, protectingly on his shoulder.

"Do not fret, Mervyn," she said coldly, "it will soon be over."

So for a space there was silence. Then Morris Pugh braced himself to
the task which was his, as pastor of these wandering sheep.

"As you stand before your Maker, Alicia Edwards," he said, bringing
his hand down on the table to grip it with clenched nervous force, "is
this accusation true?"

Her answer was a sudden burst of tears, "Don't--don't ask me," she
sobbed.

"Is it true?"

His voice insistent, almost cold in its very insistence, would take no
denial.

"Yes!" The assent could scarcely be heard for the sobs.

Morris Pugh gave a sigh. It was almost as if all that was human in him
left his body with that long, laboured breath, for an instant
afterwards he was the accuser, the judge.

"And you--Mervyn Pugh--God forgive you for bearing my father's
honoured name--have done this wrong without repentance. You have stood
by your child's grave and said never a word--never a word even to me,
your spiritual guide, although I asked you, remember that! I asked
you; and you have stood before the Lord all these long months, eating
at His Table, drinking of His Blood, with this sin lying unconfessed
in your heart! And you and the partner of your sin have stood together
before the Great White Throne, your voices mingling in God's praise
while your bodies----"

Mervyn started to his feet.

"Morris! Morris! before Heaven, that is not true--no! I am not so bad
as that!"

Checked in the full flow of his superhuman blame, the minister paused,
and something of the man came back to him.

"I will say nothing of myself," he went on, "of--of the shame. But
have you any excuse? Can you show just cause why I should not deal
with you, alas!--a thousand times alas!--my brother--as a minister of
God must deal with the unrepentant sinner, with the hypocrite, with
the man who has defiled the innermost sanctuary of God's temple?"

There was silence. Only round Myfanwy's full lips showed a certain
impatience, a weariness for this necessary fuss to subside, and leave
room for common sense.

"So you have no excuse. Then prepare for the condemnation of the
congregation. Prepare to be humbled to the dust before the Lord."

Myfanwy shifted impatiently. "What good will that do? It will only
humble the congregation," came her clear, full voice; "It will only be
a paragraph in the papers."

Morris Pugh winced. "I thought of that before," he muttered. "God
forgive me, I thought of it before--too much, perhaps. No!" he added
firmly, "the shame must be faced! Yes, Mervyn, it must be faced, even
if our mother----"

And then, with a cry, Morris Pugh himself was on his knees by the
table, his hands clutching at its rim, his head between them sinking
to the very dust.

"Oh, God forgive him! Oh God, for my sake, for her sake, forgive
him!--for the sake of her many prayers and tears, forgive him!"

Mervyn stood pale as death. Alicia, her little part long since played,
sobbed softly in a corner; only Myfanwy looked at them all three
almost with distaste.

"Mervyn is very sorry, I am sure of that--it could not have been worth
all this--this fuss," she said hardly; "but why should shame be faced
when--when every one is dead and buried? Mervyn can go away."

"The living and the dead are one, woman, in the sight of the Lord!"
replied Morris, his righteous wrath re-aroused by her words. "Mervyn
may go if he likes, but I, his brother, will denounce him before the
congregation."

His lips, his hands, were trembling, but his voice was firm.

Mervyn sat down on the sofa again and covered his handsome face with
his hands. His mind was in a whirl, its chief thought being abject
remorse for his brother's sake--for his mother's.

"It is best so, Myfanwy," he muttered hoarsely; "Go--it--it is all I
can do for--for them now."

She took up her cloak and hat without a word. There was no use in
trying to persuade people when they were so exalted.

"Yes, I will go," she said, "but you are very silly, Mervyn. Come,
Alicia! You have done enough mischief for one day, I am sure."

Alicia followed her meekly, feeling not in the least ashamed of the
rôle she had played; for these violent emotions were to her part of
the religious stock-in-trade. By and by they would quiet down, Mervyn
would make a noble confession, and eventually he would rise superior
to all these troubles; above all, rise superior to Myfanwy.

The girls did not say one word to each other as they went back to the
village together. Any one meeting them might have judged them the best
of friends; only as Myfanwy branched off to the smith's cottage she
paused a moment to say with a smile--

"Some day I will pay you out for this, Alicia Edwards--so, mark my
words, you will pay!"

"May you be forgiven, Myfanwy Jones," retorted Alicia with spirit; "I
have but done my duty."

Left alone by themselves the brothers reverted of necessity to more
humble, more homely relations. The righteous wrath gave place to real
grief, the blank, hopeless remorse to real regret.

By the time that the housekeeper came in to clear away the almost
untouched tea, they had both accepted the position in so far as it
could be accepted. There was nothing for it but to face this public
confession, and by so doing make what reparation could be thus tardily
made. Mervyn, indeed, was by far the more cheerful when the time came
to say good-night. He had barely had time to think; the relief of
having touched bottom, as it were, was great; he felt, in fact, as a
repentant criminal might do on his last night on earth, as if the
morrow which was to bring expiation must also bring pardon and peace.

They had spent the evening together on the highest possible plane of
religious exaltation, and it was Mervyn who gripped his brother's hand
and said "Courage!" out of the fulness of his emotion. His face looked
almost saintly as he said it.

An hour later, indeed, when Morris--who had lingered near the dying
fire, beset, now he was alone, by almost unbearable grief--looked in
to see if his brother were asleep, he found him lying like a child,
smiling in his dreams.

Morris gave a faint sob, and Mervyn stirred in his sleep. "Mother," he
said hurriedly, softly--"Mother, dear, dear mother--I must."

Instinctively Morris blew out the light he held, lest it might wake
the dreamer from his dream; so in the moonlight he stood, torn asunder
by love and grief, watching the dim peaceful form upon the bed.

Suddenly he turned and, closing the door silently behind him, went
downstairs once more. Outside the narrow walls of the house, the
moonlight slumbered peacefully upon the everlasting hills. Surely
somewhere beyond the narrow walls of this world's judgment slept
eternal Peace.

An instant afterwards the front door closed softly, and Morris Pugh,
leaving his brother asleep, had gone to find wisdom where he had often
sought it of late in the temple not made with hands.

It must have been an hour later that Mervyn woke, roused by a pebble
at his window. He sat up with blurred consciousness, wondering vaguely
what it was, until another pebble struck the pane, and a voice cried
in a soft whisper, "Mervyn!"

Myfanwy! by all that was strange! Then in a second the whole memory of
what had happened came back to him; but it came back to find him, as
it were, a giant refreshed with sleep. None of us are really the same
for two consecutive hours, and many a man will brave that in the
morning, from which he would shrink at night. And there, as he peered
through the curtain, was Myfanwy, sure enough, beckoning to him to
come down. A sight sufficient to bring combativeness to any young
blood, even without those two hours of blessed rest in sleep.

"Mervyn," she said, when five minutes after, their lips met in a long
kiss; "I have come for you. See how I love you, to do this thing which
might ruin any poor girl's reputation. You have done wrong, my poor
boy, very wrong; but so have many of the others who are so saintly.
And why should you stay to be prayed over by them--by Alicia Edwards
too! I will not have it! There will be no more _me_ if you stop,
Mervyn. Come now with me to Blackborough, the waggonette is waiting up
the road at the bridge; we can catch the three o'clock mail at
Llanilo. If you come, Mervyn, I will marry you in three days at the
registrar's office."

"But," he gasped, half-drunk with her kisses, half-stunned by his
remembrances.

She stamped her foot. "You must decide. I cannot stop here all night,
some one may come. Oh! Mervyn! Mervyn! do you not feel that you were
not made for this narrow life? You--you are no worse than others, and
you have brains. You can make money if you will in the world, but not
here."

Those two hours of blessed sleep! How they had obliterated that stress
of over-wrought emotion, and how his young blood leapt up in assent.
But Morris----

Her instinct was keen--"And see you, Mervyn, it will be better for
Morris, too! If you go, why should he speak? What is confession
without a culprit? Come! you can write to him from Blackborough.
Come--or there is no more me for you from to-night."

When Morris Pugh returned from the temple that is made without hands
an hour later, the house lay very still in the moonlight. He paused at
his brother's door to listen. There was no sound. So he passed on to
his own room, took his father's Bible, his mother's picture, the few
odd pounds he had in the house, and so passed downstairs again to the
writing-table in the study, where he had thought out so many sermons,
so many appeals to his wandering flock. But it was neither a sermon
nor an appeal which he set down on paper and left lying where Mervyn
would see it next morning. Rather was it a confession, for this is how
it ran:--

"Wisdom has come to me among the eternal hills, brother. Go your way.
Be one of the saints in light. I will go mine since I cannot stay and
remain silent. May God in His mercy preserve you always from the
judgment of men, and give you His Grace."

It lay there all night with the moonlight shining on it. Then the
moonbeams faded and the greyness of the false dawn found it lying
there still.

But the breath of the real dawn winning its way through the door
opened by the housekeeper who came to set the room in order, tilted it
into the waste-paper basket, whence swiftly it made its way to the
fire by the hands of tidiness.

Thus Mervyn would have had no chance of seeing it, even if he had been
there.

But he was not.



                             CHAPTER XIX


Peter Ramsay put down the letter with a low whistle and stood staring
at his half-packed portmanteau. Then he took up the letter again and
re-read it.

There was no doubt about it! The governing body of St. Helena's
Hospital for Children offered him the appointment of resident
physician at a salary of £600 a year.

But where the deuce was the hospital?

Egworth. That was one of the suburbs of Blackborough; the most
desirable suburb, for it stood on a hill, and so above the smoke-pall
of the factory city. But he remembered no hospital there. Once upon a
time some speculator had built a huge framework of a place that was to
have been a hotel, or a hydropathic, or something of the sort, on the
site of the old manor house at the very top of the rise. He remembered
Phipp's Folly, as it was called, with its cold deserted look-out of
roughly-glazed windows; but of hospitals--nothing.

It must be some small place. Yet still £600 a year was liberal.

"If you would prefer to see the hospital before making a decision the
authorities will be happy to show you over, and I may mention that the
governing body will be in committee on the 18th of this month, and
could give you an interview."

Thus wrote the secretary.

The 18th? That was to-day. The letter had been delayed, partly because
he had changed his lodgings, partly because he had run out of town
from Saturday to Monday to see a friend before leaving for Vienna. Of
course he could put off his journey for a day or two and still arrive
easily before the date he had originally fixed.

On the other hand, as it was but a two hours' run to Blackborough, why
should he not go down by the 12 o'clock luncheon train, and be back in
time to start, if need be, by the Oriental express in the evening? No
reason at all. He would do this, and he might find time, even if St.
Helena's proved to be a fraud, to look in at St. Peter's into the
bargain.

"St. Helena's Hospital," said the cabman at the station
confidentially, "that'll be the no'o one as the Syndicate 'as bin
makin' out o' Phipp's Folly."

Out of Phipp's Folly! So that was it; quaint certainly. "I suppose
so," he replied; "they must have been pretty nippy about it."

Cabby's face fell. "Nippy," he echoed, "Nippy ain't in it. They've 'ad
workmen over from the States and fitters from Germany, an' a regular
cordon round the place to prevent union men havin' a look in. One
thing is, it must have cost 'em a pot of money--but--but they done it!
And they do say as it is fust class, and the old gardens a sight. So
pop in, sir. I'll have you there in twenty minutes, if you'll give me
three shillin'."

The three shillings were promised and Peter Ramsay spent those twenty
minutes in pleasurable excitement. This was something out of the
common. If it had been well done Phipp's Folly might be an ideal
hospital, and there was something stimulating, something which stirred
the imagination in this sudden development. Of course money could do
everything, but how seldom money was spent in this way; for money in
_esse_ always had that postulate of more money in _posse_ behind it.
There was only one man he knew----

A quick wonder was checked by the swift turn of the cab through the
wide open iron gates, while the new gravel of a broad semicircular
sweep crisped under the wheels. But there was nothing to tell of
recent work in the green lawns with their old spreading cedars, which
lay between the two gates. And the façade itself! What an enormous
improvement those wide balconies were, and how useful they might be.
The whole place had an air of having been in use for years, and as the
cab stopped a hall porter in livery came alertly down the porch steps,
followed by a hall boy. That was a trifle too much for a good thing!
No! there was another cab driving in by the other gate which explained
the boy.

Peter Ramsay paused to give a general look round. Certainly so far as
the outside went, nothing could be more perfect. What a splendid
playground for the children the garden would be sloping away in
varying degrees of wildness to a real dingle at the further foot of
the hill. And that glass palace attached to the left must be a winter
garden. On this warm day the doors were open and Dr. Ramsay could see
swings, see-saws, rocking-horses, tall flowering shrubs, and--yes!
birds, actually birds feeding on the floor or flying about, apparently
content.

Close to the porch against the half-basement story, he could see
through the glazed doors rows of perambulators, invalid carriages, and
advancing to meet him with welcoming wave of the tail was a
magnificent Newfoundland dog, evidently intended to be an important
factor in the establishment.

There was imagination everywhere.

"Dr. Ramsay!" came an astonished voice at his elbow. He turned to see
Mrs. Tresillian pausing in the very act of giving two shillings to her
cabman.

"Mrs. Tresillian," he echoed, "how--how very----"

She stepped forward and looked at him--he stepped forward and looked
at her. Then with one voice they both said:

"Ned! I felt it was Ned!"

Helen Tresillian gave a sigh of relief. "I have been wondering, ever
since I got this," she held out a letter, and Dr. Ramsay mechanically
held out his also, "who it could be who was offering me this place of
matron, and now--dear me! How silly of me not to think of Ned before.
But you see I have been away in Scotland--I only came back to-day--and
I had not heard any Blackborough news since I was here before
Christmas--so I could hardly guess, could I?" She cast a glance around
her. "But this is Ned, of course. It is like a fairy tale. Let us go
in and see it. I expect it is--perfect."

They went up the steps, solemnly followed by the Newfoundland, the
hall porter, and the hall boy; but on the threshold Helen paused.

"Isn't it like a fairy tale?" she repeated. "'And in an instant there
appeared a most beautiful hospital all fitted with cots and medicine
bottles and nurses'--Ah! here comes one of them. How quaint--but oh!
how sensible!"

It was rather a buxom little person who came out from a side-door.
Something both in her fair smiling face and her dress recalled an old
Dutch picture. Her neat white stockings and black rubber-soled,
heelless shoes were well seen below a dark-blue cotton dress, full in
the skirt, loose in the body, just fastened round the throat without
any attempt at a collar, and ending short above the elbow. On her
head, almost completely covering her smooth fair hair, she wore a
white linen cap gathered in to tightness with a narrow tape tied at
the back.

Dr. Ramsay gave a big sigh. "By George!" he murmured, "that's
workmanlike if you like."

"I was to give you these," said the newcomer holding out two notes,
one addressed to "Peter Ramsay, Esq., M.D., F.R.C.S., Medical Officer
(designate)," the other to "Mrs. Tresillian, Matron (designate), St.
Helena's Hospital, Egworth."

"It is from Ned," said Helen softly, handing him hers when she had
read it. "I expect he has written you the same--I think he is certain
to have written just the same."

They were in fact the same, word for word, short, and very much to the
point.


"Dear Ramsay (or Helen),--I have built this hospital for you
and No. 36 in the Queen's Ward. You will find him waiting for
you in No. 7 overlooking the garden. He is at present sole occupant
of the hospital. I hope you will accept the responsibility of
killing or curing him. If you don't I must find someone else as St.
Helena's Hospital--which by the way has a permanent endowment of
£200,000--cannot possibly remain without a doctor or a matron. So
don't say 'No,' unless you really dislike the place. Yours,

                                  "Blackborough."


The tears for some reason or other came into Helen's eyes, and even
Peter Ramsay winked. It was a fairy tale indeed.

"These are your rooms sir," said the little Dutch nurse, "The
Governing body desire me to say they would be pleased to alter them in
any reasonable way you might desire."

Peter Ramsay looked round the wide rooms whose walls were almost all
cupboards, which was heated by a self-feeding stove, where the doors
and drawers shut automatically, and the very wash-hand basin tilted
itself empty, with a distinctly annoyed smile. "I don't believe even I
could be untidy in it," he said grudgingly, "But if you will excuse
me, nurse--who are the Governing Body?"

"Oh! there are several gentlemen, I believe; but I only know the one
name--Lord Blackborough. I have not seen him. He is to be here to-day,
however--it is their first Committee meeting, you know."

"It--it was built by a Syndicate, wasn't it?" asked Helen.

"Yes; by a Syndicate. I don't think Lord Blackborough had anything to
do with it. These are your--that is, the matron's rooms."

Helen gave a little cry. They were the replica of her rooms at the
Keep, even to the row of flower-pots on the window-sills and the
little niche for her _prie-dieu_ chair. What a memory he had--and what
an imagination!

"They must have spent any amount of money over it," continued the
buxom little nurse, "for everything is quite perfect--on a small scale
of course--I mean in comparison with the London hospitals; but none of
them, so far as I know, is half so well equipped for children. It will
be a pleasure to work here."

She threw open the door of a ward and introduced Nurse Mary, an
elderly woman also in the quaintly Dutch dress.

"There are only four cots in each ward," said Sister Ann, "and they
have all a wide balcony on to which the cots can be wheeled, and every
ward in thus part of the house is practically self-supporting." She
threw open another side door in the landing. "The bath-room and the
nurses' room are over there and this is the pantry. There is a lift
from the kitchen."

Everything in truth was perfect, and Peter Ramsay gave a great sigh of
content over the marble operating-room with its glass casing, its
endless silver-plated taps, and tubes, and sprays, and levers.

"I believe," he said suddenly, excitedly, "It is a replica of
Pagenheim's--yes! I am certain that is his new adjustor--" He was deep
in the mechanism in a moment.

"There were German or Austrian workmen at it, I know," said Sister Ann
beaming over with content, "But it is absolutely complete, isn't it?"

Truly it was complete in every detail. A very gem amongst hospitals, a
very pearl of places where disease and death could be faced at close
quarters. Yes! even to the little marble mortuary where carven biers
stood waiting under the shadow of a great white cross.

"We must see number 36," said Helen to Dr. Ramsay, "It was built for
him remember, as well as for us."

The plural pronoun gave Dr. Ramsay a little thrill which he shook off
impatiently.

"That is the worst part of it," he said, "I am by no means sure about
No. 36."

But the first sight of the boy who was playing draughts with his nurse
in a great wide play-room with a lift from it to the winter-garden
below, set him wondering if in very truth he could not set those
crooked things straight.

"The Secretary's compliments, please," said the hall porter when they
found themselves back in the vestibule, "and the Governing Body will
be glad to see you, when you are disengaged."

They looked at one another. They had lingered over their inspection;
it was already close on four o'clock, and if the Oriental mail had to
be caught Peter Ramsay must leave at the half hour.

If?...

It did not take him long to decide. He thought of the appeal in those
words "Don't say 'No,' unless you dislike the place." He would not at
any rate go to Vienna that night.

"I am disengaged now," he said, looking at Helen Tresillian, "if you
are."

So they followed their guide down a passage to the right wing of the
house where he knocked at a door labelled Secretary's Office. A small
man sadly humpbacked, but with a quick, intelligent face and a most
determined chin, rose as they entered and bowed.

"If you would kindly step within," he said, opening an inner door,
"Dr. Ramsay and Mrs. Tresillian, sir."

The door closed behind them and--and----

Ned Blackborough jumped up from a comfortable chair by the fire and
came forward with outstretched hands.

"By George! I was nearly asleep. What a time you've been! I thought
you must have gone away disgusted."

"My dear Ned!" gasped Mrs. Tresillian, "you don't surely mean that
you--you only--are the Governing Body?"

"If you will sit down and pour us out some tea," he said coolly,
pointing to a little table laid out by the fire, "I will tell you what
I am--or rather what I am not--for I have been most things this last
month. I had no idea it would have been such a business."

He might have said he had had no idea it would cost so much money, but
he did not, for to him the only use of money was to spend it. So as
they drank their tea, he told them how the idea had come to him before
Christmas, when Helen had first told him of No. 36 and the discussion
concerning the pot of beer had begun. How he had rushed everybody,
bribing everybody to unheard-of haste. Just a month, he said, from
start to finish; but he had had to get bricklayers, plasterers,
painters over, by wire, from the States, and buy all the fittings in
Germany. It was very unpatriotic, of course, but what could one do
when the Trades' Unions would only allow a man to lay one-half the
number of bricks in a day that the Americans laid, and when English
firms talked of Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the general holiday
dislocation of trade? He never could have done it but for Woods, the
little dumpity who had introduced them. The man was an old watchmaker
who had lost employment through the Swiss competition, and who had had
the pluck to spend his last pound or two in going over to Geneva to
see how it was that the foreigner could work cheaper. He, Ned, had
come across him in the park one night and had lent him--only lent him,
of course, with no hope of ever seeing him or it again--a sovereign!
But the fellow had come back and had repaid the sovereign! He had
written a pamphlet on his views and sold it in the streets. So?--so
they had joined hands, being of the same way of thinking.

"I was awfully afraid when we were down at Plas Afon, Helen," he said,
"that the thing would get blown upon; what with all the telegrams and
the people who came to see me."

"But you told me," she replied reproachfully, "that it was mostly
about that strike at the works."

"So it was--partly," he answered with a smile. Then he looked grave.
"I'll tell you what, I've been busy this last fortnight, and no
mistake."

"With the strike," she asked quickly.

"Yes! with the strike," he answered after a pause. "I went into the
whole thing from the beginning, and I found that those particular
factories had been working at a loss for the last three years. I
showed the accounts to the men, and pointed out that under the
circumstances no master could be expected to accede to a demand for a
rise in wages. They wouldn't listen--I suppose, really, they couldn't
listen, so I closed the works, gave them each a month's pay in their
pockets, and told them I hoped they'd find a better master. I couldn't
do anything else in common fairness. It comes to that in the end."

He walked to the window moodily and looked out, then turned to them
with one of his sudden brilliant smiles.

"And you, good people? What have you decided; but perhaps I had better
give you a short outline of what St. Helena's Hospital is to be."

"In the first place, Woods is to be the Secretary and Treasurer, and
all that sort of thing, with a staff under him. There is to be no
governing body, but the money will be vested in a trust, and the whole
staff of the hospital shall form a general committee. This will ensure
the appointment of really reliable persons all through. Sister
Ann--you saw her--she has every diploma under the sun, and is as hard
as nuts--is, for the present, head under you, Ramsay, of the nursing
department. You are head, for the present, of the medical and
surgical, with help as required, and Helen here is to boss the whole
lot of you in housekeeping--it is really what you are cut out for, you
know, Helen, though you did fuss over the _chauffeur_ dinners."

"But I don't quite see why," began Peter Ramsay argumentatively, "all
this has to be done. If it was to provide me----"

Ned Blackborough interrupted him. "It was to supply you--and the
world," he said almost sarcastically--"with a place in which there
were no vested interests. It was to provide you--and a few other
working men and women--with a place here they could work without let
or hindrance, where they were responsible for the whole show--yes!
even for those who were to come after them. Don't bring in any one,
Ramsay, because he is a brilliant operator; pay him, if you like, to
come in and operate, but keep your staff good men and true, who will
try to secure an apostolic succession of good men and true. Then--then
no one will quarrel over a pint of beer! Do you accept?"

"I accepted from the very beginning, Ned," said Helen quickly; "the
moment I saw the Newfoundland dog, I----"

Ned laughed. "I thought of bringing your father's retriever; but he
wasn't warranted with children--so I got that bumbler."

Peter Ramsay was taking his turn at the window, looking out with eyes
that had a blur in them. Suddenly he wheeled----

"Yes! I accept, Lord Blackborough, and--and may Heaven do so and to me
and more also if----"

He wrung Ned's hand instead of finishing his sentence.

Lord Blackborough threw himself into the armchair and stretched out
his legs in relief.

"_Nunc dimittis_," he said, "and now for a few details. You won't be
able to start, of course, for some time. The place is fairly dry,
having been roofed over, you remember, but some of the partition work
is a bit damp, though we've had it all dried as well as we could, and
your rooms are dog dry. So is Number Seven ward. But for a while you
will have to go slow. Sister Ann, Woods, and the housekeeper--I hope
you will like her, Helen; if you don't give her the sack, for she will
have her vote in the housekeeping committee, though of course the
under servants won't--or, at any rate, only on certain points. You
will find Woods has it all worked out, however, he has a head like an
American roll-top desk. Well! those three can manage, so if you want
any special fit-up Oh! by the way, I've left the instruments to you,
Ramsay, except the ordinary ones. Woods has enough in hand to pay----"

"And what is to become of you, Ned," asked Helen anxiously, noting a
certain jumpiness of insouciance in her cousin's manner, a certain,
almost uncanny, clearness in his eyes. "Are you going back to New
Park?"

"Ye gods and little fishes! No!" he ejaculated. "Do I look, Helen,
like a churchwarden, or any one else who would find comfort in Turkey
carpets? I, my dear child, am going to find rest unto my soul in my
own way. I--I am going to the Grecian Archipelago!"

"My dear Ned!" she laughed, "don't be so ridiculous! What _are_ you
going to do? You look tired!"

"Tired!" he echoed, with a quaint hint of a break in his voice; "I
should think I was tired! So would you be if you had to consort
with--how is it Walt Whitman puts it?--'tinsmiths, locksmiths, and
they who work with the hammer, cabmen and mothers of large families.'
I know now how my uncle must have felt. Excuse me, Helen, but I am a
little bit harassed. You don't know what I've had to do and haven't
had to do over this business; but I've got through it without any one
guessing I was the syndicate. However, since I've started you, I
really am off to Athens to-night. Afraid I shan't have your company on
the Oriental express--ah, Ramsay? Now, as I have to see Ted
Cruttenden--who is just back, I hear, from Paris--before I start, I'll
say good-bye."

"But will you catch the express?" asked Dr. Ramsay incredulously.

"I expect so. I have a special," replied Lord Blackborough carelessly.

They looked at each other after he had left the room.

"I hope he will take a rest," said Helen, still more anxiously. "I've
never seen him look so--so curious--as if he were seeing visions----"

"He is a little fine-drawn," said the doctor shortly; "quiet will set
him all right, I expect."

Meanwhile Ned in his motor was running close up to time-limit on his
way to Ted's office. Even if he missed the express he was not going
away without telling the latter that he had spoken to Aura, that she
had refused him, but that--well! he had some reason for hoping she
might change her mind. He would have written this had he been able to
get Ted's address in Paris, but no one knew it at the office, or at
any rate they professed not to know it. Ted, however, had returned
that morning, and Ned had telephoned down to him warning him to expect
a visit.

So there he was in his private room, looking just a little disturbed,
just a little combative; yet the Paris visit had been successful
beyond his hopes. So successful indeed, that there was a really
magnificent diamond ring in his breast-pocket awaiting leisure for him
to take it down to Cwmfaernog.

"I'm off for six weeks--to be exact, for thirty-nine days--to Athens,"
said Ned, "and I wanted to see you for a moment first, because I have
something to tell you--that, I think, you ought to know. I asked Aura
Graham to marry me--on New Year's Day it was----"

Ted's heart gave a great thump. It made him conscious of the
engagement ring, in its fine blue morocco case, in his breast-pocket.

"Yes----" he said chillily--"and--and----" He could not get his tongue
to say "she accepted you," although, the instant he heard Ned's
confession, he made up his mind that it must not force his hand in any
way. The engagement was not yet made public; they had a perfect right
to keep it secret if they chose.

"She refused me--but----" Here Ned found some little difficulty in
going on, "but I am not so sure if--if she would refuse me again. That
really is all I've come to say."

He looked frankly at his companion.

Ted stooped down and stirred the fire.

"Thanks. Of course that is your opinion--I--I don't agree with it; but
anyhow a man can but take his chance. You take yours and I'll take
mine."

"Done!" said Ned with a laugh, and they parted.



                              CHAPTER XX


Little blue wavelets were lapping on the pure white coral dust at his
feet; above his head little white cloudlets were sailing upon the pure
blue of the sky as Ned Blackborough lay on the flat of his back
looking out over the soft southern sea. He had edged himself away from
the turf beyond the sand for fear of crushing the great drifts of tiny
iris which everywhere grew encircled by their bodyguard of grey-green
scimitar-shaped leaves. Whether they were actually of the same sort as
the one which Aura had dubbed "the most beautiful thing in the most
beautiful place in the world," Ned was not botanist enough to know;
but his heart warmed to them because of their likeness to it.

But then his heart went out to almost everything in this wonder island
of the Sporades group, which he had purchased for a mere song from the
Turkish Government. A mere song indeed! It filled him with awe to
think of becoming the possessor of so much pure loveliness, when he
had spent hundreds--nay! thousands of times as much--in trying to make
one house fit for children to die in!

Even as it stood, it was an earthly paradise. When he had finished
spending a little more money and a good deal more leisure on it, when
the white marble ruins on it were restored, when books and music came
to its pleasant pavilions, above all when Love came to take up her
abode there, it would be a veritable fragment of the heavenly
Jerusalem chipped off and dropped here by chance in the still, deep
blue sea.

Yes! it was extraordinarily beautiful! It satisfied the soul!

Straight away from the water's edge, save where here and there a
coral-sanded creek broke the clear cut of the cliff, the land rose
steadily, cleft by sharp ravines, to a central peak, not high, yet
high enough to hold, on this early morning in February, a dusting of
frosty dew upon its summit, which shone evanescently, like snow, then
disappeared before the rising sunbeams as they fell.

The ilex woods were already green and bronze in their new, soft, yet
spike-set shoots; the olives grew sturdily amongst the burnished
leafage of the wild lemon and the wild orange, and down the ravines,
where trickled scantily among the stones tiny streams of water, the
oleanders were already preparing their blaze of red and white.

And the flowers! Ye gods! what flowers! It would take Aura a lifetime
simply to find out their names! Every thicket showed them aburst with
coming blossom; and, the open spaces, even thus early, were carpeted
with fritillaries and narcissus.

And the birds! A pair of tiny sun-birds flitted past him twittering,
playful, a flash of scarlet wheeling wings and ruby throats. On the
rock yonder, an emerald and sapphire kingfisher sat silent, looking
with large, piercing eyes out to sea.

So indeed might Halcyon have sat looking for her Ceyx! And as he
watched the bird, immobile, mournful, the full beauty of the far-way
Greek legend struck Ned Blackborough's mind with new force.

Ay! So must all those who love the Something they know not what, which
they find, or seem to find, in some woman's beauty, some man's
strength--so must they watch and wait, flitting ever over the waves of
life seeking the Beloved. Not even the halcyon days when Zeus gives
the wisdom of calm, could end that ceaseless quest. Aura had been
right. Behind love was the "Something better" which he had felt, in
which both he and she had been lost, as they had sat together, hand in
hand, listening to the robin as it sang on the holly-tree.

The sun-birds flitted past again less playfully, more lovingly, and
Ned Blackborough started up remembering that it was the 14th of
February--St. Valentine's day! Naturally the birds were pairing.
Naturally there was spring in the air. Naturally his blood seemed to
race through his veins; he also could have made love!

_Fautes de mieux_, why should he not send Aura a valentine? He
had not written to her, he had virtually said he would not; but a
valentine--especially a valentine by wire as this must be--was a very
impersonal affair.

He strolled over to the rocky point, behind which, in a natural
harbour, lay a fair-sized English sailing-boat. Beyond, at anchor,
rode a steam yacht; but its fires were out--its crew had gone off
that morning in a double lateen-sailed felucca to Rhodes for some
festival--St. Valentine's day, no doubt.

But for this it would have been easy to steam over to the telegraph
office.

There was the sailing-boat, however, and the weather was perfect. He
looked out seawards critically. There was a certain hardness of
outline in that deep blue horizon; otherwise the calm of fourteen days
might well be beginning.

It would be a lovely sail. Twenty miles or so over these ripples, with
just enough warm southerly wind behind one to blow the boat straight
to the telegraph office without a tack! As for the return journey the
felucca's crew would have to make that, and bring the yacht for him
next morning. He liked Rhodes; it was a quaint old town full of
memories, pagan and Christian.

Five minutes afterwards he was afloat, the sheet looped within reach,
the tiller set steady towards a pale-blue cloud which lay upon the
north-west horizon.

It was the most perfect of mornings. The boat lay over a trifle to the
wind, which was stronger beyond the lee of the island, and sent a
little half-apologetic tinkling, bubbling laugh of water along the
side as it slid through the waving lines of ripple.

"Let me pass! good people," it seemed to say. "Let me laugh! I have a
purpose--you have none. Ha--ha--ha!"

So, unheeding of the ripples, might the unchanging Purpose behind all
things break through the little waves of the world and laugh at their
disturbance.

Ned Blackborough lit a cigarette--a good sound, opium-soddened
Egyptian cigarette such as his soul loved--and set himself
deliberately to day-dreams. It was becoming more and more a temptation
for him to do this, for he was only just beginning to realise the
intense pleasure he derived from it! A sensual, purely Esthetic
pleasure for the most part, though every now and again.... Yes! every
now and again he left even the super-sensual part of him behind, and
lost himself utterly. In what, he did not know. He only knew that _It_
was there, and _He_ was forgotten.

To-day, however, he was in no mood for the infinite; the finite was
quite sufficient for him, so he amused himself by looking steadily at
the shining dark surface of some bilge water which lay by the tarred
keel of the boat, and trying to imagine that he would see visions in
it, as the little Cairo boys see them in a drop of ink.

He had tested this often, and knew that they did see strange things,
just as Helen apparently had seen the fire on Cam's point in the
crystal. Truly there were many mysteries!

It was, of course, not hard to conjure up Aura's face, or see her
seated in the sheep shelter listening to the bird, or standing in the
moonlight among the cedar shadows on the lawn holding out the
sovereign, or on her knees beside the little purple iris while the
sphinx looked down on her.

But beyond all these tricks of memory, what could he see? Nothing. Yet
what was this? A wide stretch of blue--blue everywhere. Bah! it was
only the reflection of the sky; it was the floor of heaven!

His eyes narrowed themselves from dreaminess to thought. It was
strange that that inner eye, which could produce things from the past
with such absolute accuracy, should be so helpless in regard to the
present except in negation. It could make one forget that altogether.

As for the future? Truly the mind of man dreamt idly when it sought to
discover what lay beyond; possibly because it sought to recognise
itself in conditions in which Self should have been merged in
something beyond Self.

So as he sat idly looking at the drop of dark water, he felt for a
moment--aided, no doubt, by the opium in his cigarette!--as if he were
sailing on over a sea that vibrated ceaselessly with a soft quiver
which brought no sensation of light to his eyes, no sense of feeling
to his touch, no sense of sound to his ears.

And the old Indian definition recurred to him--"A bubble upon the
Ocean of Bliss."

The sharp rug of a running rope recalled him to the present; the loop
of the sheet was slipping as the breeze freshened.

It was freshening indeed. Behind him lay quite a squall, crisping the
ripples to little indignant waves, and over in the south-east a cloud,
pale-grey but threatening, already showed as a widening arch from the
horizon. One of the swift spring storms was coming up apace, and he
must run for it for all he was worth. There was no more time for
dreams; every ounce of the squall that goes before the storm must be
made use of if he was to send his valentine.

But he would send it safe enough, unless the wind shifted. After a
while, during which the boat, hard held, flew through the waves, and
the blue cloud to the northward rose higher and higher on the horizon,
the wind did shift just at a point or two towards the south, and
he in his turn had to shift his tiller so as to keep that extreme
north-eastern headland before him. So it became a harder tussle than
ever between him and the wind to keep full way on the boat. She was
carrying more sail than was safe, but he could not afford to lose a
moment of time; although, all things being equal, he had still a fair
chance of making the land.

Another slight shift! and now before him--a gleam of light on the land
that was already shadowed by the coming storm--he saw a creek of white
sand slightly to westward of him, where he could at least have a
chance of beaching his boat, where, for the matter of that, if the
worst came to worst, he would at least have a better chance of not
being dashed to pieces if he tried to swim. Beyond, the coast was
cliff-bound, rock-bound.

Would she take so much? He let the sheet slip through his fingers half
inch by half inch, gauging the wind's pressure on the sail cautiously.
Yes! she would take it. He could make the creek if all went well.

But he had reckoned without the current which here, close to the land,
began to gather itself for a headlong race round that eastern cliff;
so inch by inch the boat's prow slid from the white streak of safety
to the rocks.

Would she stand another inch of rope?

She stood it, and leapt forward like a greyhound, giving to the full
sweep of the storm which at that moment, with a crash of thunder,
broke over them; then righting herself and careering before it like
some mad thing, her way redoubled by the fierce wind which sang in
Ned's ears, as, clinging to one taffrail with his hand, he stood
almost on the other. There was no time now even for thought; the
feeling of fight came in its place, since to steady the tiller for the
creek one moment, and give to the huge rollers the next, was enough
for soul, and brain, and body.

Then on the crest of a wave he saw the creek in front of him, but saw
also that a giant roller just behind him must swamp the boat unless he
steered straight towards the rocks on the north-east. They were sharp,
jagged rocks, like teeth just showing above the boil of the waves. How
far out did the reef run? What length was that ravening jaw?

Who could say? The next instant, with his boots kicked off, and the
thwart, on which he had kept an eye this while past, held under his
arm-pits by his outstretched arms, as a buoy, he had leapt into the
roller as it lifted the boat. The water felt warm to him, spray and
wind-chilled as he was; warm, but rough, as it seized him, ducked him,
cuffed him, bruised him; all but broke him, ere with a mighty rush it
flung him forwards. Ye gods! what it was not to be quite sound--to
have an arm that could not stand a strain! Still that awful something
against which he had struck in the downdraw had been warded off
somehow and ...

Then once more the following roller, stronger of the giant twins which
hunt the wide wastes of water in couples, overtook him, caught him,
buffeted him, knocked him senseless, so, with a wild shrieking
scramble of pebbles and coral sand, swept him up to the very last
corner of the creek. His head, as he lay stunned, was within an inch
of a jagged needle-point of rock which would have crashed into his
skull as if it had been an egg-shell.

It was full five minutes ere another giant wave reached out for him
and felt him about the feet. But by this time that was enough to rouse
him. He stirred, sat up, and half-mechanically withdrew himself
stiffly beyond any further touch. He was bleeding from cuts in the
hands and on his knees; but that seemed to be all the damage done.

Except for the boat, of course ... What of the boat? It was matchwood
already amongst those devilish rocks to the eastward.

"That was a nearish squeak," he murmured softly as he rose, and
limping a little, sought shelter among the clefts of the cliff from
the blinding torrents of rain.

An hour or so afterwards, however, having with easy grace and some
small knowledge of Turkish and modern Greek hired a gaily caparisoned
mule from a neighbouring farmer, he rode up the Knights' Street quite
cheerfully, dried and warmed by the sun, which, after the brief storm,
had shone out again radiantly, carelessly.

He had settled what the valentine was to be from the very moment that
the idea of it had entered his head, but it took him fully half an
hour to see it safely through the hands of the Turkish officials, and
then they charged him for a message in cipher.

Yet it was only a very simple quotation:--


             'Haply I think on thee, and then my state;
              Like to the lark at break of day uprising
              From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate.'


He did not even put his name to it, for it seemed impossible to him
that she should not know who sent it.

By this time it was close on four o'clock, and he computed the
difference in longitude by his watch.

"She ought to get it at latest by four," he said to himself as he
strolled off to the old church to live awhile amongst the ghosts of
the Crusaders and the Knights Hospitalliers of St. John.

As a matter of fact it was a quarter to four when the brick-dust
coloured envelope was put into Aura's hands, but she was still looking
at it with a certain scare in her eyes and a certain flutter at her
heart when Ted came down from her grandfather's room at four o'clock.
Of course she knew who had sent it. No one but Ned would have thought
of anything at once so consoling and so disturbing. To rise from earth
and "sing hymns at heaven's gate" was quite in order; but how about
the "Haply I think on thee"?

"What's that?" asked Ted kindly, as he sat down beside her on the
sofa, which had been imported into the bare, empty room for the
invalid's use. "Anything I can do?"

That again was so like him; always thinking of material help in
everything.

"Nothing," she replied, hurriedly crumpling up the paper, and
thrusting it under the sofa cushion. "Nothing, at least of any
consequence." She was wearing the diamonds now, and they flashed on
her finger, bringing the sunburn brown of her hand into greater
prominence. "You look worried, Ted," she went on. "You don't think
grandfather is worse, do you? He was very disturbed, I know, but----"

Ted shook his head. "Not worse, certainly. I left him asleep. Besides,
the doctor says there is no immediate danger of any sort. But I am
worried. The fact is, my darling"--his arm was round her, but not too
aggressively, for, in truth, though he loved her dearly, his world
held many other interests besides love--"this sort of thing cannot go
on. This is the third time I have been sent for since the New Year. I
don't grudge it, dearest, one bit. There is always the joy of seeing
you; but if Hirsch hadn't been kindness itself I couldn't have managed
it. And it doesn't really do the dear old man any good. Here he is
to-day fretting himself ill about my having to go away, about our
being married. So I was wondering, dearest----"

"Yes, Ted," she put in calmly.

Ted took his arm away, and sat resting his head in his hands and
looking vexedly into the fire. "It is a good deal to ask of
us--especially to ask of you," he went on; "but you see I must go off
this evening, so it wouldn't make any real difference, since we are
bound indissolubly to each other as it is--aren't we?"

He took her left hand and kissed the diamond ring as he spoke.

"Of course we are," she assented. "Go on, Ted."

"So--if you will consent--I could fetch the rector--he is a
surrogate, I find; but, as a matter of fact, I got the license at
Blackborough--and we could be married before I go. Don't look so
startled, my dearest! It shan't be if you don't wish it. And I hate
asking for it, only I believe it would really quiet the dear old man,
and give him a better chance--and me too, of course, for this sort of
thing is a little--just a little--well! limiting. And, as I say, it
would make no difference--except perhaps that I should find it harder
than ever to leave my wife."

His voice sank to almost playful tenderness, his arm stole round her
waist again, and she rose hurriedly.

"But--but is this possible?" she asked incredulously. "I thought there
was so much formality----"

He smiled tolerantly. "Not at all! a special license is all that's
required, and I have that; so if you--you dear, solemn thing!--will
really consent to do without a wedding----"

She looked at him, startled. "But surely we are going to be married?"

He laughed loudly. "Of course we are. I meant the bridesmaids and the
cake and the orange-blossoms and all that. I don't want them, darling,
if you don't. It's enough for me to have you."

She set the question and his kiss aside as of no value whatever. "Then
I think you had better get the rector if you can, Ted," she said
thoughtfully. "I expect it will make a great difference to him--to
grandfather, I mean--and to you also. And you've been so awfully good!
Will you tell grandfather?" she added with a little blush as she
released herself from her lover's thanks.

"Well, you see," he confessed, "I've half-promised him already--that
is why he went to sleep. You are always so reasonable, Aura, I felt I
might count on you----"

And then the sight of her standing there so sweet, so kind, so
absolutely unconscious, seemed to overwhelm him, and he cried
passionately, "Oh, my dear, my dear! I hope I shall make you
happy--but you are a thousand times too good for me."

He told himself so over and over again as he hurried on his bicycle to
the rectory, and he swore to himself almost incoherently that although
the rush of mere moneymaking had absorbed much of his waking life, it
should never invade the corner that was sacred to his love. And as he
said this he turned his head suddenly towards the winter woods, for in
his ears that mellow blackbird call to the wilds seemed to sound, as
it had sounded that evening when, all unwitting, he had sold his soul
to Mr. Hirsch.

When he had gone on his mission Aura drew out Ned's valentine again,
smoothed it over, and looked at it once more. For the first time in
her life she felt the need of some one--some woman to whom she could
talk. Finally she folded up the telegram, put it on the mantelpiece,
and went into the kitchen. There was always Martha, and Martha's sound
common-sense was a byword.

"Martha," she said, after standing for a few moments watching the deft
hands dab butter over paste, and roll it in with swift decision--it
was almost like watching the mill which grinds small! "I want to ask
you something; but you must promise not to mention it even to Adam."

"Even to Bate!" echoed Martha with a sniff. "If I'd my choice, Miss
H'Aura, I'd as lief mention it to the town-crier. Not that Bate
doesn't mean well. It ain't his fault being born so; but there, one
must just take holt of men as they're made, and be thankful they is no
worse."

Why this should have heartened Aura up it is hard to say, but it did.
She actually smiled. "What I wanted to ask was this, Martha. In your
experience--do you think it hurts a man very much to be in love--I
mean, of course, to be in love with some one who doesn't want--I mean
who won't marry him?"

Martha poised the rolling-pin on one hip, her hand on the other.

"Hurt 'em!" she echoed. "Lord sakes, no! It's the makin' o' them. Bate
wouldn't be 'alf so spry at his years if he 'adn't bin wantin' to
marry me any time this fourteen year back. That's why I won't 'ave him
even now, Miss H'Aura. 'Bate,' says I, 'if I was to take you now,
you'd get fat an' lazy. You wouldn't rise no more. You'd be like
whipped eggs as is let stand, all gone to froth an' water.' No! Miss
H'Aura, men is like heggs, they want beatin' 'ard all the time, else
they'll never rise to better things."

The rolling-pin came down on the pastry with more decision than ever,
and Aura laughed out loud. Something in the very phrasing of the last
words comforted her.

Yet she was not quite content as she changed her day-dress for the
white cambric one she wore in the evening; after all, it was but
putting it on an hour or so before her usual time, and the Mechlin
lace about her throat was a concession which would please her
grandfather.

"Aura!--my dearest, you look quite bridal," exclaimed Ted, as he came
in to find her sitting by the firelight. "It seems too good to be
true--but the rector will be here in half an hour." He knelt down
beside her, and laid his head in her lap. "My dear, my dear!" he said
almost with a sob. "I don't seem able to say anything but _that_,
somehow," he added almost pathetically. Far away, dimly, he saw a
vision of something better, unattainable, incompatible with his
sensuous life. It was beautiful but--what would you? Man is but man;
and he must have money wherewith to live.

"Then there is something which I must tell you--before," she said; "it
is something which I think you ought to know. Ned asked me to marry
him on New Year's Day--and I refused."

Ted's heart gave a great throb as it had done when Ned Blackborough
had used much the same words nearly a month before.

"I--I am sorry for Ned," he said softly, "but I don't see----"

For answer she held out the telegram. "He sent me this to-day," she
said, "and I wonder--if he is waiting."

"Waiting!" echoed Ted hotly. "Waiting for what? You say you refused
him?"

"Yes! I told him I would not marry him--because I was afraid of loving
him too much; that was the truth."

For one instant the whole room seemed to spin round with Ted; he had
to steady himself by holding to the back of a chair.

"I don't understand what you mean," he said thickly.

"I don't think he did either," she replied with a lingering regret in
her voice, "for he said he would ask me again in two months, as if
that would alter anything."

Ted caught swiftly at the ray of light. "Then if he asked you
again--you--you would refuse him?"

The firelight had died down so that he could not see the flush which
surged into her face, but he could hear her voice as she replied,
"Yes! I should refuse him--more than ever."

"Then," he said slowly after a pause, "I don't see why you need
bother----"

"Oh! it was not that," she put in quickly. "I was only wondering--you
see I know so little, and I have no mother--if he would expect me to
wait."

The firelight flared up again, and he saw her with the lace about her
throat. "Let him wait!" he exclaimed passionately; "he had his fair
chance and I have mine. I am sorry, but one of us had to win. You
can't help that, you poor little dear--that is fate."

He told himself it was indeed fate: he swore to himself that he would
be the best husband ever woman had.

But for all that the ceremony damped even his joy. To begin with,
Martha wept copiously in a corner, as she had wept ever since Ted had
gone in to the kitchen and taken her away unceremoniously from her
pastry-making as a witness. At first she had sunk into a chair, and
steadfastly refused to budge (on the ground that she couldn't "'ave
sech things going on in the 'ouse,") but after a time the importance of
being in possession of a dead secret, and her perception that if his
lordship was not going to come forward--and he seemed, indeed,
inclined to play the back step--this was decidedly the next best thing
for her darling, induced her to yield.

"And if you loves 'im and 'e loves you, there ain't no fear, same as
there ain't no fear but what good barm and good flour'll make a good
batch o' bread--no fear at all my deary dear," she had sobbed
consolingly to Aura, who stood quite composed, but very white. Ted,
strong and kindly, clasped her hand, and what soul was left over and
above his bargain was in his eyes.

The rector, in biretta and cope, read the service unabridged, while
Sylvanus Smith, propped comfortably in his arm-chair, averted his face
from the sacerdotal symbols, even while he added an unctious "Amen" of
his own to "let no man put asunder."

He even essayed a burst of hilarity as he kissed Mrs. Cruttenden, but
Ted scarcely availed himself of his privileges. He only stood beside
Aura, holding her hand, divided in his heart of hearts whether he
should go or whether he should stay.

But in the end prudence triumphed and a sense of duty; for the last
month of constant interruptions had not been favourable to business,
and if Aura--if his wife--were ever to appear in that pink satin and
diamonds, it behooved him to bestir himself.

So Adam Bate, coming in after milking the cows at eight o'clock, found
the house silent, curiously silent, with Martha seated on a chair, her
feet on the fender, her eyes on the fire.

He cast a glance at the table. It was bare, so after a while he
coughed.

"Beant there no supper, Martha, woman?" he asked apologetically.

Martha rose in an instant, aflame.

"There's bin that, Adam Bate, a-goin' on in this 'ouse this day, as no
one didn't want to 'ave no supper--not if they was Christian--but
bein' a man--there's bread and cheese in the cupboard."



                             CHAPTER XXI


March had come in like a lion. Even in the village of Dinas, sheltered
as it was, the east wind swept down the funnel of the valley and
through the very houses, as only an east wind in Wales can sweep,
bitter, absolutely unsparing of man or beast.

Alicia Edwards gathered her cross-over shawl closer to her as she
stood in her father's shop and listened for the click of the telegraph
instrument. It was almost the only amusement she had now, and any
moment might bring the wire for which Adam Bate and the housekeeper at
Cwmfaernog had been calling in vain these two days past.

It was becoming serious. They would have to bury the poor, dead
gentleman after all, if some one did not come to help them to
arrange--the other thing. For in this far away Welsh village, where
every boy and girl had been educated up to the standard set by the
most advanced progressivists of the day, the very idea of cremation
was absolute damnation. It could be nothing else, since how could the
Creator resurrect a body that did not exist? So half the village
thought it only right that such an atheist as Mr. Sylvanus Smith had
been in life should meet the fire without delay, and the other half,
more mercifully inclined, explained the difficulty in getting hold of
Mr. Cruttenden, the dead man's executor, as symptomatic of pity on the
part of Providence.

Alicia Edwards, thinking over this, sighed. It was only one more case
in which the teaching of school ran counter to the knowledge that was
necessary in daily life. For what would her father, the elder, what
would she herself say, if she was to allow even elementary science to
interfere with her belief? The world was a very confusing place. There
was but one certain thing in it for a woman, and that was love; but
every one could not get love. She thought of her own struggle for it
and her failure. Myfanwy had beaten her. She had reft Mervyn away even
from his great vocation, and rumour had it that, after a little longer
service in Williams and Edwards's shop, those two would be married and
set up in a small business of their own. In face of this, what did all
the rest matter? Despite all the talk in the village concerning
Mervyn's sudden departure and Morris Pugh's equally sudden resignation
of the pastorship of Dinas, she had held her tongue with fair
discretion, only allowing a few mysterious surmises to leak out. To
begin with, Myfanwy's last words had alarmed her, and then the
offenders had passed altogether from her control. What would it matter
to Mervyn, now employee in Williams and Edwards, if it was found out
that he had ruined half the girls in Dinas?

Besides, something new and stern in her father's attitude towards her
in regard to the revival made her suspect that he was not without his
suspicions. The less said about morals the better, especially since
the effect of those midnight meetings was already making itself felt
in the immediate neighbourhood. For Isaac Edwards was relentless on
this point. He had downright refused to let her go on with her sweet
singing now that all her companions had died or disappeared; so
having, of course, lost her post as pupil teacher, there was nothing
for it but to stop at home and prepare, so her father said, for a
normal college. The girl herself stiffened a sullen lip and looked
down the lane which led to the minister's house now occupied by the
Reverend Hwfa Williams; for he admired her. Of that there could be no
question. The possibility of marrying him, indeed, had become quite a
factor in her life, and she decided most points with a view to this
possibility. Small wonder then if Alicia Edwards's amicability and her
general desirability as a minister's wife had begun to strike Hwfa
Williams himself, while even Isaac Edwards was beginning to waver in
his insistance on Logarithms and the Science of Tuition.

"Put on your hat, Alicia," he said from his ledger, "and run down the
road. It will warm you up before you have to go to the Bible class."

And Alicia went, nothing loth. It was better battling with the wind
than watching for telegrams which never came, especially when there
was the chance of coming back with the wind and with a man whose pale,
heavy, dark-browed face was beginning to become to you, by diligent
care and concentration, the handsomest in the world.

So she fought her ground steadily against the swirling clouds of dust.

Had she only gone up the hill over the short, springy grass and the
broken brown bracken she would have enjoyed the wind, as Ned
Blackborough was enjoying it on his way to Cwmfaernog. For it was the
1st of March, the day on which he had promised Aura he would return
and ask her once more to marry him. He had come back from the East but
the day before, and being, so to speak, made up of impulses, moods,
fancies, in the indulgence of which he had of late sought his chief
pleasures, he had determined to find his way to her, as he had found
it that very first night, over the summit of Llwydd y Bryn, the "Eye
of the World."

Such fancies hurt no one, but he was beginning to realise that in them
lay all the salt of life. What was it to the world, absorbed
conventionally in the sordid sleep which follows perforce on sordid
money grubbing, if he found the highest rhythm of life in the quiver
of the moonlit woods? Nothing. Let those see who had the eyes to see.

So when, a bit wearied with his climb, he sat down where he had
carelessly put out his hand to catch the flying footsteps of day, it
struck him now, thoughtfully, that, in truth, it was all a man's life,
all he could do towards gaining happiness. He must just catch at the
flying footsteps of something unseen. Ever since the day when death
had so nearly overtaken him while he was studying life in a black drop
of water, he had been haunted at times by that feeling of
sightlessness, touchlessness, soundlessness which had come to him
then.

It came to him now on the top of Llwydd y Bryn, though before his
bodily eyes lay half the principality of Wales, spread out as if it
were a map. Surpassingly beautiful too. In its way as beautiful as
that island in the Ægean, now waiting ready for its mistress, for he
was quite prepared to follow Aura into the wilderness if needs be. He
had thought much concerning her and concerning himself during the last
six weeks, and he had begun to recognise that in some ways she was
right in shrinking from what she called love, as a desecration of
herself and of him. The feeling, however, was due to the absolutely
unnatural association in marriage of the MIND with the body. An
association which was simply an attempt to find a mental fig-leaf for
what either required none, or was beyond decent cover. One thing,
however, seemed to him certain. Aura must both love him and also
desire to marry him. Yes, she loved him, or thought she did, which to
her was the same thing.

He sprang to his feet, that thought being enough to start him on any
path, and, ere leaving the summit, cast one look round it, remembering
gladly that it might be the last time he should see it.

All was as his recollection held it. Just a brown, peaty, stone-strewn
rise, and beyond, on all sides, an immensity of sea and sky and land.
Only the placard on the shieling had been damaged by the winter
storms. The ultimate 6d. was gone and "ginger beer" stood alone,
vaunting itself free like the nectar of the gods.

Ginger beer! That was about what it came to for the million.

With an amused shrug of the shoulders he began the descent, every step
of which was beautiful, every sight in which brought to him the
feeling as if he trod on air, as if nothing in heaven or earth could
trammel him again.

As he crossed the stream above the farm buildings, where on that night
nine months ago they had stood and shouted, the whole steading struck
him as looking forlorn and deserted, but, being sure of finding Martha
in the kitchen, he went boldly through the cottage and passed through
the door that was like a coal cellar's to the garden room. But this
time there was no flash of blinding sunlight to dazzle him. It was
almost dark, for the green sun-blinds on either side were drawn down;
that, however, was surely a figure by the window.

"At last!" came Aura's voice, full of infinite relief. "I am so glad."

Swept away by the whole-heartedness of his welcome he went forward
swiftly and had her in his arms, but his first touch was enough; she
shrank back with a half-articulate cry of surprise and thrust him from
her by force.

"Aura!" he said almost incredulously, "and you sounded--so--so glad."

"I thought--I thought you were Ted," she explained with a little sob.
"I've been expecting him so long, you see."

"Ted!" he echoed, "you have been expecting him? I don't understand."

"No," she replied hurriedly in a low voice. "Of course, I forgot you
couldn't." There was a faint pause, then she collected herself.
"We--we were married----" This time the pause remained unbroken until
coolly, almost sarcastically, the question came.

"You were married! May I ask--when?"

The darkness of those drawn down blinds was in a way a godsend to them
both. It hid all expression, and it seemed to Ned Blackborough in his
incredulous dismay as if he were speaking to a disembodied spirit; was
he also, by some chance, a disembodied spirit?

"I--I don't remember," came her voice, all strained and curiously
weary. "Oh, yes; of course I do. It was on the 14th of February." She
was just beginning to remember dates, and to recollect that this must
be the 1st of March. Everything seemed to have been blotted out by her
grandfather's sudden death two days before, and the impossibility of
getting any answer to her telegram from Ted, Ted on whom she had
learnt to rely.

Ned laughed suddenly. "St. Valentine's Day," he echoed. "So I sent you
my valentine as a wedding present. If I had only known, I mightn't
have taken so much--trouble--to send it off. I expect I was pretty
near death when you were getting married, young lady, and I compliment
you on the quickness----"

"But we were engaged, quite a long time before," she said in idle
protest, for something in her seemed hammering at her head, beating
into it the knowledge that she had been mean.

Once more he laughed. "May I ask how long?"

"On--on New Year's Day." He could scarcely hear what she said.

"On New Year's Day," he echoed incredulously, "impossible!" Then the
conviction that, if this were so, Ted Cruttenden had--well! almost
lied to him came to rouse his anger to the uttermost, and he strode
towards her shadow. "But this is foolishness," he exclaimed, "You know
you love me--you know you do----"

"Hush!" she cried, interrupting his swift rise in tone, "Remember,
please, that my grandfather lies dead upstairs."

"Dead!" he said stupidly after a pause, "Dead! I--I didn't know. I--I
am very sorry." The conventional words of sympathy came slowly as he
stood, feeling baulked indescribably, done out, as it were, of his
just claim to anger.

"Are there any more terrors to tell?" he asked at last recklessly. "Do
you happen to be dead yourself, or has the 'coo' been killed? I beg
your pardon--you won't understand the allusion----" he added hastily,
"but I must be excused; there are limits! So, I see; you took me for
Ted--for your husband, save the mark! Why isn't he here?--where he
ought to be?"

The sudden blame, following her own thought so closely, took Aura all
unprepared. The dull grievance which had been hers all those long
hours of vain waiting became suddenly acute. She dissolved into young
self-pitying tears.

"I don't know," she murmured, strangling her sobs, "and I don't in the
least know what to do."

For an instant Ned Blackborough felt inclined to arraign high heaven
for thus robbing him of righteous wrath.

But he was a gentleman, his heart was soft, so there was nothing for
it save to accept the situation with the best grace he could. And the
grace came, to his surprise, with such exceeding ease, despite his
ill-usage, that he had to drive himself not towards patience, but to
impatience, as he listened to Aura's tale of ignorance and loneliness.

A man with money behind him, or rather money with a man behind it, can
do all things save avoid vulgarity, ensure happiness, or escape death.

By the evening, therefore, Ned Blackborough was able to give Aura a
most sympathetic and affectionate telegram from her husband.

"We ran him to earth in Vienna, where he had gone on business," said
Ned, refraining, why he scarcely knew, from saying also that Ted had
been found in a Biergarten, and that he had left strict orders that
telegrams were not to be forwarded. "I got him through Hirsch, but he
again was unfortunately in Paris; they have some big scoop on hand.
But it is all right now, and he should be home to-morrow. As for the
rest, you need not bother. It is all settled, and I will tell Martha
what to expect. So I will say good-bye."

She could not stifle down the quick appeal, "Must you go?"

"Of course, I must go," he replied roughly, "I ought never to have
come, and I am sorry I did, even though I have helped you. Good-bye."

She watched him put on his greatcoat without another word, almost
angry with herself for feeling so inexpressibly mean. She would have
liked to tell him that she had been unable to wait, that even if she
had waited her answer would have been the same; but she felt that all
this must come afterwards when he had had time.

And then suddenly he turned to her again.

"I'll leave this here, I think," he said, putting a flat parcel he had
taken out from his pocket on the piano, "you might while an hour or so
by looking at them. It--it isn't all cussedness, Mrs. Cruttenden; I
should like you to see them. I should like you to know _something_ of
it, once! Good-bye; throw them into the fire when you have done with
them. I shall not want them again."

When he had gone she went over to the piano, and taking the packet
crouched down with it beside the fading fire-light, which she stirred
into a blaze. To other eyes the room might have looked inexpressibly
dreary, large, bare, empty, even the very sofa, imported into it for
the old man's invalid use, taken away for him when the stairs became
too much for his strength. But Aura was accustomed to the bareness; it
had been part of her life always.

They were sketches evidently, and on the fold of white paper, which
was their last covering, Ned had written one word.

"Avilion."

She sat looking at them all, these plans and sketches of the island in
the southern sea, that was to have been that Island of the Blessed, of
which a glimpse only can be seen by mortals, when at sunset time the
golden sea fades into the golden sky, and far away--is it land or is
it cloud?--a purple shadow, tipped with rosy light into distant peaks,
fades with the sky into the grey of night.

How beautiful they were! And in every one of them, in front, even of
the foreground, looking out, as the painter himself must have looked
out, over the blue ripples, down into the pellucid cave depths where
strange fish showed in flashes of colour, towards the leafy contours
of the ilex woods, along the flower-decked lawns, or through the
fluted columns of marble pavilions, stood the filmy diaphanous figure
of a woman, white, immobile, mist-like with averted face.

But she knew who it was, and a lump rose in her throat as she
recognised it as his dream of her.

She was not worth it! No! Behind his dream of her stood a reality that
had nothing to do with her. He was seeking, and she was seeking
something that had nothing to do with manhood or womanhood.

The fire blazed up fiercely, fitfully, as one by one in obedience to
his request, those dreamful figures caught, flared up for a space, and
then died down into little trembling sparks.

Behind them all lay Darkness and Peace. So to her as she sat holding
the Dream of a Man's Love in her hands, came for the first time a
glimpse of the sightlessness and soundlessness, and touchlessness,
which lie beyond all earthly things.

Ned meanwhile was giving his orders to Martha in the kitchen. She was
taking them, as usual, with many subservient bobs, but with a certain
waveringness of voice, and an unsteadiness of eye which augured ill
for her calm of mind.

"I'll do my best, your lordship," she said finally with an odd little
sniff, half tears, half anger. "But what with folks going away as shud
'ave stayed, an' them as might a-gone away an' welcome stoppin' on,
an' both together comin' back an' staying away, I'm like a o-ven with
the door bein' open constant--not fit to bake a penny-piece."

Ned looked at her, for a wonder, distastefully.

"Do you mean," he said, "that you didn't expect to see me again?"

Martha grew red, then white. "So sure as my name's Martha Higgins,"
she began tearfully, "If I'd expected your lordship wasn't playin' the
back-step----"

He interrupted her calmly. "I'm sorry to say it, Martha, but I think
you are a fool," he said calmly, and left her collapsed in a chair
crying silently, not so much for herself as for him; since she had
seen the tragedy of his face.

Adam Bate, coming in ten minutes later, found her so, and being
diffident of his power to console, crept away again to administer
comfort to a newly calved cow who was lowing for her young one.

"Coo-up, Coo-ep, m'dear," he said, wisping its back with a handful of
straw, "th' shallt 'ave it for sure when th' bags full, so set th'
mind to the makin' o' milk. See! there's a bit o' mangle fur 'ee, but
mind 'ee 'to whom much is given of them shall much be requir-ed,' as
passon says. So--'pail-full, cauf-full.' Think o' that an' dinnot
squander God's strength on booin'."

He felt inclined to read some such moral lesson to Martha when he
returned to find her in no better case, the fire dwindling and no sign
of tea; but, as has been said, he felt diffident. So he contented
himself with laying the tea, poking up the fire and putting on the
kettle, accompanying these unwonted actions with the hissing noise
which grooms use, apparently as an encouragement to their own ardour.
Perhaps this aided him to courage; perhaps the presence of death in
the house taking him back to fundamentals roused in him a revolt of
vitality, a desire to secure safety in equilibrium; anyhow, after a
time, he sat himself down in a kitchen chair, and scrooped it by
excruciating half-inches towards Martha's, until they almost touched.

"Martha, woman!" he said tentatively, "If this sort o' thing's goin'
on--If you 'urns goin' to be taken, this no supper, no tea way, as you
'urn bin doin' o' late--why there ain't nothin' for it but ter marry
me, as doan't forgit them things."

Martha shook her head forlornly. "It--it'll have to come to that in
the end, I sippose," she sobbed.

You might have knocked Adam down with a feather. After all these
fourteen years to be even so grudgingly accepted as this, made him
feel that the round world was no longer sure. He sat with his mouth
wide open, wondering what topic of conversation would in the future
take the place of unending proposal and refusal. Then the sense that
he must leave such dark things to Providence, and do his duty in the
present by himself, and Martha made him ask tremulously--

"Will you name the yappy day, my darlin'? Will you, my darlin', name
the yappy day?"

Martha wiped her eyes and became more composed. "Some time afore we
dies, I suppose," she said with a disconsolate whimper, "I can't
promise more'n that, Adam Bate--an' don't ee see the kettle bilin'."



                             CHAPTER XXII


When Ned Blackborough left Cwmfairnog he left behind him also the very
desire for dreams. He remained simply a rich man with no wants save
for what wealth can bring. All the rest--the capacity for imagination
inclusive--was mere moonshine. For the first time in his life the
pompous luxury of New Park did not offend him, he drank a bottle of
ludicrously high-priced champagne for supper, he smoked a good many
ludicrously highly-drugged cigarettes, not as he generally did almost
unconsciously, but of set purpose, taking a solid joy in the fuddled
state to which they reduced him.

He woke, of course, with a headache next morning, and having had
breakfast he looked at his bank-book, a thing he had not done for
months. It was not exactly exhilarating to a man who had just made up
his mind to enjoy what he could as a millionaire!

But, even as he looked at the balance, something in him rose up and
mocked at him. How long would this phase last? How long could this
pompous acquiescence in wealth as a means of pleasure last? How could
eyes that had once seen, ears that had once heard, remain blind and
deaf to the only realities, the only pleasures of life?

He put the question aside in an attempt to find anything but party in
the politics of the morning paper, and coming to the conclusion that
they were synonymous terms, he ordered the motor and went round to
Egworth to St. Helena's Hospital. Woods, the little secretary, always
had a tonic effect on him, and he really wanted to see how things had
been going on in his absence. He found the secretary's office full up
with business, and little Wood's face keener than ever.

"It is going on all right, sir, and I have kept strictly to the lines
you laid down; but it involves a good deal of--of tact and
correspondence"--he pulled a file towards him and fingered it. "This,
for instance, contains nothing but applications to me personally for
fairly fair contracts of sorts, based on secret commission. These I
answer myself, as the firms sending the suggestions are really quite
respectable. The minor tradesmen, and all applications made through
the servants I leave to the clerks."

"You leave to the clerks," echoed Ned thoughtfully, "and some, no
doubt, never come into the office at all."

Woods shrugged his high shoulders, "One can expect nothing else. It is
impossible to gauge the extent to which dislike to what they call
'splitting' obtains amongst domestic servants. They will never tell on
another. A great many of them, of course, refuse these monstrous
suggestions for taking toll, but they would never dream of speaking to
their employers about them, as they should." He sighed impatiently.
"But what can you expect? Where are the fundamental principles of fair
dealing taught in England? Nowhere!"

"Hullo, Woods!" remarked Ned with a laugh, "Don't throw over '_caveat
emptor_.' It is the foundation stone of England's power." Then he
frowned. "By the way, how are the men down at Biggie getting on--you
gave them their wage every week for a month, I suppose?"

"I did," replied Woods gravely, "There is a lot of distress down
there. You see it is not like a strike; you have definitely closed the
works and paid forfeit on contracts. So the unions won't help. Some of
these men have drifted away; but the trade is slack all over England.
I won't say because of dumping; but the fact remains. It is slack."

Lord Blackborough looked at his secretary narrowly. "Woods!" he said,
"what would you do?"

The keen face lit up. "Do," he echoed, "I know what I should dearly
like to do--try an experiment. There are a lot of clever men in that
factory, your lordship; I should lend them the capital to run the
concern at one and a half per cent. interest, and--and await the
result. Either way it would be an object-lesson."

"It would pay me," said Lord Blackborough, "if the state of affairs is
to remain as bad as it has been. I'll--I'll see about it, Woods. Then
I may take it that the hospital is really working on the lines I laid
down?"

Woods coughed. "We are all very much on the lookout for fraud, your
lordship," he said meekly, "but there must always be a percentage of
error, so long as every one wishes to coin his neighbour into golden
sovereigns."

"And that will be always, Woods," remarked Lord Blackborough with a
laugh, "I believe it to be an entrancing occupation, and I mean to try
it myself."

He sought out Helen after this, and found her also up to the ears in
business.

"It is a terrible responsibility, Ned," she remarked, "and I am afraid
I have to deluge poor Mr. Woods with references; but really I cannot
trust to any one--I mean outside the hospital. Within it we are a
picked lot and we do--fairly well."

The doubtful praise fell almost wearily from her lips.

"And how is No. 36?" he asked.

She brightened up. "Going on, Sister Ann says, splendidly. Dr. Ramsay
operated on him a fortnight after we started, and it was a complete
success. The doctors from St. Peter's were over seeing him yesterday,
and even they allowed it was splendid."

"And how about the expenses; will the parents pay anything reasonable
for board?"

She shook her head. "Mr. Woods says you cannot expect it. You see the
children get their education free, very often their dinners free; so
why shouldn't they get cured by charity? There isn't much
responsibility left to poor parents now-a-days. It--it doesn't pay."

"And Ramsay?" asked Ned with a smile. "I hope his shirts are in decent
order."

She flushed up a brilliant carmine. "Has Dr. Ramsay been complaining?"
she asked.

"Great heavens above! No!" exclaimed Ned aghast. "Has it come to
that?--no--I haven't seen him yet."

"Perhaps you had better ask him yourself," she said coldly. Then she
looked at him. "And about yourself, Ned. You've told me nothing."

"Because, dear," he replied lightly, "there is nothing to tell. By the
way, have you heard that Aura Graham married my friend Ted Cruttenden
on Valentine's Day? You hadn't? Well, it's a fact anyhow; and she has
just lost her grandfather."

"Ned!" she cried rising in swift sympathy, "I--I am so sorry."

"Yes! it is rather sad," he remarked coolly. "Of course it breaks up
that jolly little unconventional home. By Jove! I daresay it will have
to be sold; and in that case I shouldn't mind buying it. It would
remind me of rather a jolly time."

His insouciance silenced her, and he went off on his tour of
inspection to Sister Ann, whom he found in the convalescent ward, very
spic and span, very precise and satisfied.

"He has not had a single drawback," she said glancing complacently at
No. 36, who lay looking like an angel for virtue on a wheeled bed. "If
he goes on like this, he will be discharged in a month at most. Of
course he will not be quite sound; he is too radically disease-sodden
for that, but he will be able to make his own living and----"

"And marry," put in Lord Blackborough calmly. "It is altogether a most
satisfactory business."

Sister Ann looked at him doubtfully. "So far as I am concerned it is
so, certainly. I disclaim responsibility after a patient leaves my
hospital."

"My dear Sister Ann," laughed Lord Blackborough, "I disclaim all
responsibility for anything. It is the only possible way of feeling
moral."

He found Dr. Ramsay looking a trifle _egaré_ in a room of surpassing
tidiness. Helen's hand was visible also in the doctor's dress. He had
nothing but good to report in every way except that he had found it
extremely difficult to ensure a supply of absolutely undeniable drugs.

"It is not that any one deliberately means to cheat, but that the real
thing is so difficult to get," he remarked ruefully. "You see, if a
fellow sells wine or spirits that isn't genuine he can be run in; but
you may kill half a dozen babies by selling stale ipecacuhana wine or
any other filth and no one asks questions."

He was loud in praise of his assistants, the secretary, Sister Ann.
Each and all were first-class.

"And Helen--Mrs. Tresillian, I mean?" asked Ned drily, "I hope she is
satisfactory as matron."

Peter Ramsay's face showed a trifle more colour. "Satisfactory," he
echoed, "she is more than satisfactory! Do you know--" his voice sank
to an almost awed tone--"I believe she looks after my--my underclothes
herself."

Ned Blackborough burst into a roar of laughter.

"My poor Peter!" he said, "vested interests again! It's too bad!" Then
he sobered down and looked quite gravely at the doctor, who was
laughing too.

"Ramsay," he said, "why don't you ask my cousin to marry you?"

"I asked her yesterday," replied the doctor gloomily.

"The devil you did!" ejaculated Ned. Vaguely all this interested him,
made him forget himself. "What did she say?"

Peter Ramsay got up and walked about the room. "What did she say? It
is an odd thing, Blackborough, what different ideas people have about
love. I used to think it was a kind of fever that would yield to
strict diet, and a saline treatment. It isn't. At least something
which has got mixed up in it may be so; but--now on the other hand
your cousin, who is a sensible woman, mind you, seems to me somehow to
have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. She thinks--oh! hang it
all I can't go vivisecting what she thinks--it's bad enough to do it
for oneself--but because she can't at nine-and-twenty feel the
same--yes! I'll say it--purely physical attraction for me that she
felt for that poor sick man at nineteen, she says that it is a
desecration for any one even to speak of marriage to her. I often wish
the good women of the world could be made to understand how purely
evanescent that sort of thing is, for how little it counts in the
aggregate sum of life. Here is Helen--Mrs. Tressilian--giving it first
place, while other good women relegate it to the nethermost hell; and
all the while they prate about love with a big L."

"My dear Ramsay," remarked Ned, "I'll give you ten thousand a year to
go about the country and preach your views--and I'll give you a
thousand extra for every woman you convert to them."

"Quite safe," assented Dr. Ramsay with a growl. "I should be lynched
before my first quarter's salary was due."

"Meanwhile you will stick to it--and manage?"

"Oh! I'll manage all right. I have an A1 prescription for the febrile
part of the disease--I--I should like to give it to you----"

The red brown eyes looked into the blue ones. "Yes!" replied Ned
coolly, "she has married the other fellow because, no doubt, love
seemed to her to be the devil. You are about right, Ramsay. Women are
_impayable_ in that connection. Good-bye."

He tried to amuse himself in a thousand ways that afternoon, but they
all failed, so he took to business the next day, and went back to New
Park in the evening and drank another bottle of champagne and smoked
still more cigarettes.

The next day brought him a letter in an unknown hand. Was it a man's
or a woman's, he wondered. A woman's surely, since the black-edged
envelope smelt horribly of scent as he opened it.

Aura Cruttenden! The signature gave him quite a shock. The idea of her
using either black-edged paper or scent revolted him, but the letter
was--passable.


"Dear Ned," it ran, "I suppose I ought to call you Lord Blackborough,
but I can't. I shall never forget you. You have taught me, I think,
everything I know that's worth knowing. Perhaps ever so long age you
and I were the same Am[oe]ba. What are we going to be in the end. That
is the question. Don't--don't quarrel with us, please.--Yours,

                                         "Aura Cruttenden."


"Don't quarrel!" That was all very well; but what else was there to
do? It was impossible for him to go on drinking champagne and smoking
cigarettes till he died.

Finally, he tried London and a round of the theatres and music-halls.
He amused himself immensely and was never for one instant content. He
played bridge at the club, and went no trumps until a choleric old
gentleman remarked that it was no wonder he had such a dislike to the
Day of Judgment. Whereupon he laughed and played no more. Then he
sought out Mr. Hirsch, and went gold-bugging in the city, but after
dining _en petit comité_ with many Jews, Turks, Infidels and Heretics
at every smart set restaurant in London, at every one of which Mr.
Hirsch called the waiters by their names as if they were his own
servants, he gave it up in sheer disgust, and tried to feel an
interest in the Grand National, even to the extent of allowing himself
to bet freely with his friends. He did everything in fact that a man
can do to please himself, short of buying cheap or dear kisses; and
even that he might have done, being for the time quite reckless, but
for the fact he was soul-weary of womanhood, her ways and works.
Finally he went back to Blackborough and felt the first really keen
and natural emotion of which he had been capable for a month, when he
met Ted Cruttenden by chance in the street.

"I hope your wife is quite well," he said sedately, feeling then and
there a desire to throttle his successful rival. It was a most
wholesome feeling, he recognised, for it sent the blood coursing
through his veins once more in honest antagonism to something of which
he disapproved. Ted seemed to feel this antagonism pierce through him,
decorously dressed in a black business suit though he was, for he said
hurriedly--"Oh! all right. Won't you come into the office for a
moment. I--I should like to speak to you."

Ned, regarding himself once more from the outside, felt vaguely
amused, and acquiesced.

"Of course," began Ted, for his part feeling absolutely a somewhat
ill-used and thoroughly misunderstood man, "I know the whole affair
must seem, as it were underhand; but--" he looked doubtfully at his
companion as if uncertain how much he knew, before resolving on the
whole truth as safest. "I suppose you know now, or guess, that when
you came here last Aura and I were engaged. Well! it was so. Your
coming and telling me you had asked her, put me in an awful hole for I
had no right, on my part, to tell you--anything. The whole affair was
strictly private, I hope you understand."

"I understand that you wished it to be private," remarked Ned clearly.

"It had to be, my dear fellow," replied Ted eagerly. "To begin
with, we were engaged rather hurriedly in order to please her
grandfather--chiefly; and I--I felt I had no right to presume on it;
it might never have come to anything. It couldn't for a long time, for
I wasn't in a position to marry." Here his face fell, and he threw
down the pen with which he had been fiddling in sudden impatience.
"For the matter of that, I'm not in it now. These confounded
interruptions have played the dickens, and we shall have to begin in a
small way; for she hasn't a penny. The place is over-mortgaged and
even the furniture has to be sold. In fact, if it doesn't realise a
decent price, I might be let in. Where was I? Oh! yes. Then in
February, just as I was in the throes of a really good thing, I was
telegraphed for again. I had been down twice before, and really, only
because the old man was not satisfied, that we would keep to our
engagement. So----" he paused.

"Well?" remarked Ned.

"I took down a marriage license with me--it was absolutely necessary,
you see, that I should get away again as soon as I could, and I
thought, if the worst came to the worst, it would calm the old man to
feel that we were married. So you see there was no time to give any
one any notice."

"And you were married," remarked Ned again in the same clear, hard
voice.

"Yes! The rector married us in the old man's room, with Martha and him
as witnesses, half an hour before I started. That is really the whole
story--exactly how it came about."

"And you went back, when?" asked Ned Blackborough quickly.

"I never went back. It was awfully important that I should have a free
hand, and that is how it came--about the telegrams, I mean--I had
purposely left no address----"

The tapping of Ned's stick on the floor, which had been going on as he
sat, his elbow on his knees, listening, ceased. "Then you mean to
say," he said slowly, rising as he spoke, "that when I saw--Aura--the
other day--she----" Suddenly he laughed--"Good-bye, Ted; you're not a
bad sort of a chap on the whole--but you have the devil's own luck! If
I had only known--if I had guessed that she----" His voice rose in
sudden anger, then paused. What was the good?

"Are you going to finish your sentence, Lord Blackborough?" flared up
Ted in anger also.

"Yes!" replied Ned without an instant's hesitation, reverting to his
usual tone, "I am going to finish it. I am going to tell you the
truth--though you haven't told it to me. There is no use in your not
facing it, man. Aura doesn't by right belong to you--she belongs to
me. If I'd known then--when I was at Cwnfairnog, I mean--what I know
now, I--I should have tried to take her away from all your cursed
money-getting even then. It's different now ... if you make her happy.
And if you don't--I--I won't be such a fool again! That's fair and
square and above board. So--good-bye!"

As he walked through the streets once more, he felt that this was the
last straw. Why had he not made her understand herself? Why had he not
carried her off then and there to Avilion? Truly, he was cursed as a
fool. He ought to have known, he ought to have guessed, he ought to
have understood.

So, as he wandered aimlessly through the city, looking with a
lack-lustre eye upon all its hideous sights and sounds, having in his
ears the silly giggles of girls as they crowded round the shop
windows, having in his eyes an endless procession in those windows, of
hats and garments, and flowers and frocks, and fal-lals set there by
men as a bait to the only barter which is allowed to womanhood without
restraint, he told himself that he would have done right if he had
carried her away from contamination to that island in the southern
seas, where she would have lived to rear his children and be....

Ye Gods! What should she not have been?

For an instant he caught a glimpse of reality, and then the Dream of
Life was his again; but though the Dancer of the World had on all the
charms of money and civilisation and culture, her dancing did not hold
his eyes.

That evening he went over to the hospital and found Helen, darning
away busily at something which she hastily thrust into her work-basket
as he came in. Vested interests, of course!

"I am going away, Helen," he said.

"Going away," she echoed. "Why, Ned! you have only just come back. My
dear! I do wish you--you would settle down."

"That was exactly what I came to say to you," he replied. "Helen! why
won't you marry Ramsay? You--you are not likely to find a better
fellow, or one whom--you like better. Why not marry him, instead of
darning his underclothes on the sly?" He pointed to the workbasket.

"My duty as a matron," she began, flushing gloriously.

"That will be cold comfort by--and--by," he replied kindly. "Your duty
as _mater_ would be more satisfying."

Helen held her breath for a moment, then it exhaled in a little
childless sigh.

"That is true, Ned," she said quietly, "but when a woman knows what
Love is, she cannot give herself without it. And Love comes but once
to a woman; at any rate it will only come once to me."

"I wonder," said Ned reflectively, "what womanhood would be like if
one were to pound down every one who possessed it in a mortar and
fashioned them afresh. Well! I am off--for six months."

"Where?"

"I will say India this time," he replied cheerfully. "Then my letters
can be forwarded to Algiers--but----" this he added, seeing her
remonstrant face--"I will leave my address with my agents, so you can
write through them if anything is wanted--but it won't be wanted. The
world gets on as well without me, as I get on without the world."

He went round afterwards to the secretary's office.

"How much capital do you think they would require to run that factory
on co-operative lines?" he asked.

Woods shook his head.

"More--more than you ought to afford, Lord Blackborough," he replied
evasively; "I can't keep the expenses down as I should wish, even
here."

"Have you enough to go on with?"

"Plenty--but----"

"Then work out a scheme, please, for the other and have it ready
against my return. And--and stop a bit! There is a place in
Wales--I'll write it down--coming in to the market before long. Buy it
in, furniture and all. And if the woman who is in charge--Martha's her
name--wants to stop on--let her stop. I am off to--to India--for six
months."



                            CHAPTER XXIII


Did Ned Blackborough go to India, seeking dreams at the feet of some
entranced immobile ascetic, hidden away even from the sunshine of the
world under the shade of the bo-tree? Did he go to Algiers and seek
for them in the desert among the pathless dunes, where every step is
covered by the eternally-restless, eternally-recurring wind-writing of
the sand ripples? Or remaining closer at hand did he, in some remote
Cornish village seek to hear the secret of dreams that is told
unceasingly in the roar and the hush of the sea? Or on the eternal
snows, which dominate all Europe in its hurry and its hunt for gold,
which look out with cold eyes on its civilisation, its culture, its
crime, did he find what he sought hemmed in by calm glaciers, frozen,
ice-bound?

The one would have served his purpose quite as well as another; that
being the putting in of time in a manner which did not offend his
sensibilities; for, as he told himself often, he was fast becoming a
crank.

The world, as it was, did not amuse him very much; it seemed to him
hopelessly vulgar, even in its highest ideals for individual success
and individual culture.

Wherever he went, and as to that none but himself knew, he returned as
usual, punctual to a day. It was early October therefore, when, a
little thinner, considerably browner, he found himself walking down
Accacia Road West, Blackborough, looking for No. 10, that being the
address where he was told the Cruttendens lived.

He was going to see if Aura was happy. Viewed from the outside this
appeared unlikely, for Accacia Road was not, so to speak,
exhilarating, though it was broad and open enough, with the usual
wide asphalt pavement at either side, and a rather new-looking
well-swept road, all too large apparently for the requirements of the
sparse-wheeled traffic, in the middle. Possibly the inhabitants of the
desirable residences, many of which were still to let, had
contemplated being carriage people and had failed of their intention.

As it was, it had a distinctly desolate air. At intervals of some
thirty feet upon the pavement stood little pollarded lime-trees, each
apparently glued to and supported by yard-wide gratings of cast iron,
encircled by the mystic legend "Blackborough Municipal Board." The
trees stood on their iron bases firmly, just as the green-shaving
ones in the boxes of Dutch toys do on their wooden roundels, and
Ned felt impelled by a desire to lift one up and set it down again
skew-fashion, just out of the straight line, so as to break the
interminable regularity which made him feel as if he must go on and on
to the very end. And where that might be only Heaven knew; beyond
mortal sight anyhow.

Then, mercifully, the very quaintness of that iron prison-window of a
grating, between root and leaf, drew his thoughts away at a tangent,
and he became immersed in an imaginary argument between them.

Between the white-feeling fibrelet, down in the darkness of Earth
mother's breast, the small sightless seeker supplying the leaves with
all things, and clamouring in return for the whisper of blue skies,
fresh breezes, singing birds, and the smoke-dimmed foliage which had
no tale to tell save of smuts, tradesmen's carts, electric trams, and
babies' perambulators.

It was the number on one of the gates, uniform in size, structure, and
colour--which occurred, like the gratings, at regular intervals--that
made him pause at last, and look curiously at the house beyond it.

Impossible!

It was frankly impossible that Aura, living there, could be happy;
although, no doubt, it was what is called by auctioneers a "most
superior and desirable family residence." Semi-detached, it had a
carriage sweep belonging to both houses, which trended away from a
gate with "No. 10, Fernlea" upon it, past one bow-window, one front
door, two bow windows, another front door, and a final bow-window to
the further gate with its "No. 11, Heatherdale." Which was
superfluous; the number or the name?

There was a butcher's trundle, with Hogg upon it in gold letters,
standing at one gate, a butcher's trundle with Slogg upon it at the
other; and as Ned Blackborough turned in, two butcher boys, each with
flat baskets on their blue linen arms, passed out from the little
narrow green lattice-work doors, which filled up the space between
Fernlea on the one side and Heatherdale on the other, and the high
garden walls which separated each couple of superior residences from
their neighbouring couples. The boys took no notice of each other,
being dignified rivals.

How could Aura be happy, thought Ned, in an environment where the only
possibility of differentiating yourself from your neighbour was by
employing Slogg instead of Hogg?

The door was opened to him by what is called a superior
house-parlourmaid, a young person of lofty manners, frizzed hair, and
much starch.

"Wot nyme?" she asked, superciliously.

"Lord Blackborough."

Sudden awe left her hardly any voice for the necessary announcement,
and she fled back precipitately to the kitchen. "Cookie!" she
exclaimed, sinking into a chair. "Did you ever! Lord Blackborough, 'im
as owns half the town an' is as rich as Crees' is--whoever Crees may
be!--is in the parlor--such a real gent to look at too. And that ain't
all. Missus called 'im 'Ned!' It's for all the world like that lovely
tale in the _Penny Cupid_ I was reading last night in bed, only he was
a h'earl." Her pert eyes grew tender; she sighed.

"Did she now," said Cookie, a lazy-looking, fat lump of a girl, much
of the same type. "Poor master! an' he, if you like, is a good-lookin'
fellar; but I always did say she wasn't no lady. She haven't any lace
on her underclothes--at least none to speak of."

Meanwhile, after her first glad incredulous cry of "Ned," Aura had
hastily thrust away her work and risen.

As she came forward, a world of welcome in her face, in her
outstretched hands, Ned Blackborough realised by his swift sense of
disappointment how much--despite his own asseverations to the
contrary--he had counted on unhappiness.

Truly women were kittle cattle. Truly it was ill prophesying for the
feminine sex!

She was happy, radiantly happy. Her face, if thinner, was infinitely
more vivid; if less beautiful in a way it was far more alive. It was
this which struck him--the vitality of it--its firm grip on life--its
almost exuberant power. It seemed to him as if two souls, two minds,
two hearts looked out at him from her eyes.

He was no fool. He understood the position in a moment; he knew that
love was worsted.

"So you are quite happy," he said, still holding her hand.

"Happy?" she echoed. "Oh, Ned! I have never been so happy in all my
life--everything seems so new, everything seems to go on and on for
ever, as if there was no end to interest and pleasure."

"I am glad," he said lamely, then added, "I shouldn't have
thought----"

She followed his eyes, which had wandered to an electric blue paper
covered with gigantic poppies of a deeper hue, with a frieze in which
positively Brobdingnagian flowers, presumably of the same species,
curled themselves in contortions terribly suggestive of a bad pain in
their insides.

"Yea! isn't it awful?" she admitted with a laugh; "but I have taken
all the furniture you see out of this room and stuffed it away in
another empty one for the present"--an odd shy smile showed on her
face, and seating herself on a stool once more she took up her work
again and recommenced tucking a piece of muslin with new-born skill;
for in the old days she had never touched a needle. "And it isn't
quite so bad here at the back where one can't see people. But I wish
my poor primroses would grow. I got them in a wood not so very far
away, but the cats won't give them a chance--they scratch them up at
night, poor things!" Her eyes were sorrowfully on the parallelogram of
grass, gravel, and smut-blackened stems below the flight of grimy
steps, which was described in the house-agent's list as a charming
garden. "If it happens again I shall take them back. It is never fair
to keep anything where it can't grow properly."

"Exactly so," he thought; but her face showed absolute
unconsciousness.

"What do you find to do with yourself?" he asked suddenly. He felt he
would go mad in a week.

"Do!"--she smiled. "Why, I never have half enough time! You see we
can't afford to keep experienced servants, as yet. This house is
really beyond our income, but my husband--Ted, I mean--was afraid I
should not thrive in the town. It is very good of him, isn't it? to go
to such expense for me."

"Very," assented Lord Blackborough, recognising Ted's phraseology and
feeling bored.

"So I have to do most of the cooking," she went on quite eagerly. "It
is rather fun, though Ted is quite awfully particular about his food.
But he says I am getting quite a--a _cordon bleue_--that's right,
isn't it?"

"Quite right," assented Ned gravely. He was beginning to wonder how he
should get away from this atmosphere of satisfaction.

"And then," she went on, and whether she smiled or was grave he could
not tell, for her face was bent over her work, "I have so much to
think of--you cannot know how much. Sometimes I feel as if, somehow,
the whole world was bound up in me."

For the life of him he could not help a thrill in answer to the thrill
of her voice. So he sat looking at her sewing garments for another
man's child, until his heart waxed hot, and he said--

"Has it never struck you, Aura, that all this is--just a little rough
on me?"

She looked up at him, her beautiful eyes, twin stars of mysterious
double life, brimming with swift tears.

"You--you shall be its godfather," she said softly.

He could have cursed, he could have laughed, he could have cried over
the pure ridiculousness of the reply; but the pure motherhood in her
eyes was too much for him.

"The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." The phrase came
back to his memory, reproving his individualism, setting aside all
other claims as trivial.

"Well!" he said, rising as he spoke, "there is nothing more to be
said. So--having found you happy--I must be going."

"Going," she echoed incredulously. "Oh, no! You must stop and see Ted.
It is Saturday and he is always home by three. You might stop and come
with us to Chorley Hill; we go there every week because I like it. You
can see the Welsh mountains quite distinctly if it is clear."

Her eyes were clear anyhow. She was her old self again in her
eagerness; the girl free, unfettered in every way, who had tramped
those Welsh mountains with him so often. He could see her with the
wind blowing amongst her bronze, uncovered curls, billowing amongst
the folds of her white linen overall. Why did she wear black now? To
save the washing bills he expected. And she spent her life chiefly, no
doubt, in buying a herring and a half for three halfpence! She, who
had never seen a sixpence! A flood of annoyed pity swept through him
at the needlessness of the desecration, rousing his antagonism once
more.

"As it is just on three now," he replied, "I'll stop and see him
anyhow."

It might be wiser, he felt. It would be a thing got over, which, after
the abruptness of their last parting, was desirable; though, on the
whole, he was inclined to have done with it all, to congratulate Ted
on his success, and renounce all claim on a woman who had evidently
forgotten love in motherhood--and housekeeping.

He felt very bitter; though the question as to whether she could be
more content forced itself upon him rudely.

"There he is!" cried Aura joyfully, as in the jerry-built house the
grating noise of a latch-key in the front lock became distinctly
audible at the back. "I'll run and tell him you are here, and then I
can change my dress before we start."

It was on the whole a relief that they two--men who were
rivals--should meet without the cause of the rivalry being present
also. Though magnanimity was the only card to play. What else was
possible when you could distinctly hear the cause of rivalry being
kissed in the hall?

Ned Blackborough, therefore, was frankness itself. "How are you,
Ted? I won't say I'm glad, but I do find Aura very well, and very
happy--so--so that ends it, I suppose."

Ted, who was also looking the picture of health and happiness, flushed
up with pleasure, and gripped Lord Blackborough's hand effusively.
"Upon my soul, Ned," he cried, "you are just an awfully good sort--one
of the best fellows living; and I feel I've been a bit of a beast.
Only you don't know how the thought that we should have fallen out
over this thing has worried me. It is real good to have you back
again. And she is happy, isn't she?--bless her heart! though why she
should have kept you in this horrid bare room at the back, I can't
think. Come into the drawing-room, old man, it is something like. But
it isn't a bad house, is it? Far too expensive, of course, but----"

Afloat on finance, Ted's conscious virtue overflowed like a cold
douche on Ned's patience, which had almost succumbed under
explanations that, after all, he "was getting along, but that it was
safer--especially with expenses ahead--to have a wide margin," when
Aura reappeared. She was wearing the white coat and skirt, the brown
Tam-o'-Shanter in which she had gone to Plas Afon. Ned used often to
say that in his last incarnation he must either have been a woman or a
man milliner; now he recognised without effort, that not only had Aura
knotted the Mechlin scarf about her neck but that she also carried the
sables over her arm. So she also remembered.

The fact decided him in an instant. "Let me take those," he said
coolly. She looked conscious as she gave up the furs, and remarked
hurriedly, "We can walk there, Ted; but we might return by the
five-thirty train from Elsham."

"Then I'll wire for the motor to meet me there," replied Ned. "It is
only six miles to New Park and there is no object in my going round by
Blackborough again; besides there is always a wait at the junction."

It seemed to him an interminable time before they left the lingering
outskirts of the town behind them, and even when the last bow-window
and gable tailed down into the original four-square cottage, the
country about was still grime-clad, smut-bound. But Aura did not
appear to notice it. In her eyes sat eternal hope, eternal spring,
which finds the old world good.

Even when they sat finally on the sand-set bit of common, interspersed
with straggly heath and unkempt gorse which was all the nature that
Chorley Hill boasted, she did not seem to see the copious orange peel,
the screws of sandwich paper which, to Ned's fastidiousness made the
place horrible. Her eyes were on the distances where the Welsh hills
showed blue.

"How I would love to see Cwmfaernog again!" she said suddenly, "you
know, of course, the poor place had to be sold. Ted very nearly had to
pay----"

Lord Blackborough cut short her repetition. "But he didn't," he
remarked, "for I bought it."

"You bought it," she echoed incredulously; "Ted never told me that."
She glanced to her husband, who, flat on the sand with his hat over
his eyes, was apparently asleep in the sunshine. The attitude
discovered the fact that six months of happy married life--and, no
doubt, Aura's cooking--had made him perceptibly larger in the waist.
He was evidently following Mr. Hirsch's example, thought Ned; though
he might, like other folk, have grown leaner upon grief; for Ned,
happily, had not lost the faculty of mocking at his own troubles.

"I wonder why he never told me," said Aura, vaguely vexed, making
Ned--like the fool that he was, he told himself--instant in excuse.

"He didn't know, I expect; my agent bought it for me. Yes! there it is
with Martha and Adam--you know they are married?"

Aura laughed. "Yes! I had a letter from Martha saying she was
agreeably disappointed with her lot. That is what I am, too;" she
paused. "I should love to go there again. Will you take me some day?"

"Perhaps," he replied soberly, while his pulses bounded.

"May would be the best month for me," she said dreamily. "Besides
there are the wild hyacinths--they are like the floor of heaven!"

The floor of heaven! What vague memory was it that woke with those
words? A blue sea, a ripple on a boat's side----

Then Ted woke also, clamouring for tea. They had it at a little inn,
and were very merry; only after a time the conversation always seemed
to drift away towards something to eat, or something to buy. It is
always the herring or the penny which had to be paid for it. That was
Ted's fault. The sum of his life seemed to be made up of duodecimal
fractions.

"We shall have to foot it a bit if we are to catch the train," said
Ted gaily as they started; "hold on to me, Aura, it's a bit slippery
down the hill."

So with his arm tucked into hers, and Ned on the other side, they made
their way talking and laughing. Before long, however, the talk
resolved itself into an argument between the two men, Ted defending
the action of a certain company, Ned stigmatising it as a swindle.

"The short cut over the water-meadow, Aura," said Ted, interrupting
himself. "She is signalled, and it will save time." He drew back as he
spoke to let her cross the plank-bridge which spanned the ditch and to
clinch his point. "I maintain," he went on, "that the prospectus
was as fair as any prospectus can be, for one is bound to put on
rose-coloured spectacles in writing one, or the thing won't catch on.
Men who have money to invest ought to know----"

"Take care," cried Ned, who was watching Aura; but he was an instant
too late. There was a tiny piece of orange peel on the plank--the rest
of it lay amongst the water-cresses in the ditch--her foot slipped on
it, and she caught at the hand-railing to steady herself, so wrenching
herself round by a strong effort to avoid dropping feet foremost into
the mud.

It was quite a small affair, but the shock of it left her colourless,
half on, half off the plank.

"My dearest!" cried Ted in a fearful fuss, "you aren't----"

"Not a bit," she interrupted gaily, "Give me your hand up, please."
But there was a scared, frightened look in her eyes, and five minutes
afterwards, as they were hurrying on, she slackened speed.

"We haven't over much time, my dear," said Ted grudgingly.

She looked at him almost with reproach. "I suppose it is falling so,
so suddenly," she began.

"Ted," interrupted Lord Blackborough, "I believe I'd better take your
wife back in the motor. Sorry I can't take you, but it is only the
little De Dion. If you run for it you'll just get it. We shall be home
before you will, with that wait at the junction."

"You don't mind, do you, darling?" asked Ted, solicitously.

Five minutes afterwards he waved his handkerchief from the train at
them as they made their way leisurely across the water-meadow.

"You will be home in half an hour, and have a good rest," said Ned
consolingly, as those beautiful eyes with the eternal hope in them
looked into his with that vague dread growing to them.

"Yes," she said cheerfully, "it was only the start."

But ten minutes later in the car, she laid her hand suddenly on Ned's
as it held the steering gear.

"Oh, Ned!" she said, "I'm--I'm so afraid!" Her voice was an appeal,
and he bent hastily to kiss the hand which clung to his, as it would
have clung to any human being.

"Cheer up!" he said huskily, "Nothing's going to go wrong! I'll have
you home in no time; so let me steer straight, will you?"

The little car swept along at top speed. She sat still, her face drawn
and pale, her hands holding hard to the white folds of her dress.

Twelve miles at least, allowing for speed limits through the town, and
New Park close at hand; just in fact, round the corner. He made the
calculation rapidly, and began to sound the hooter.

"I shall take you in here," he said decisively, "and telephone to Ted.
Then when you've had a good rest you can go home."

The gates, set wide open at his signalling, slipped past in the
growing dusk, a rabbit or two showed nimble across the smooth surface
of the drive.

"It will be best, perhaps," said Aura, with a catch in her breath.

"Of course it will be best," he replied cheerfully, as he drew up in
the wide portico.

"The housekeeper, please!" he called, glad for once of the decorous
hurry of obedience. "Take Mrs. Cruttenden, if you please, Mrs. Adgers,
and let her rest for a little," he said to the dignified lady who
appeared as if by magic. Then, only waiting to add in a lower voice,
"and look after her; you understand," he was in the car again before
it had had time to run down, and was off over a short cut to St.
Helena's Hospital, which lay on the hill about three miles off.

Thence he returned in twenty minutes with Sister Ann, leaving Dr.
Ramsay to follow more leisurely.

Finally, having sent the car in charge of a _chauffeur_ to bring Ted
along, he sat in the library and smoked, feeling half derisive at the
irony of fate. If he had indeed been Aura's husband, and the father of
this coming child, what more could he have done?

Dr. Ramsay arrived cool and collected and went upstairs. Ted
arrived in a terrible state of fuss and also went upstairs. Then the
house reverted to its usual staid routine. The gong sounded at
dressing-time, and, clad in due decorum, Ned dined alone in the huge
red dining-room which looked like a big mouth ready to swallow him up.
The footman, overlooked by the butler, handed him the courses gravely,
the butler filled his glass with '98 Pomeroy. Ned had not asked for it
this time, but it was considered the proper thing with sudden and
serious illness in the house. And all the while he was thinking how
little life and death would affect him, if all these things could be
swept away, and he be indeed nothing more than Carlyle's forked radish
with a consciousness.

Then he smoked and read again till ten o'clock, when the footman,
overlooked by the butler, brought the whisky and water into the
library, and Dr. Ramsay came with it.

"I shall want help," he said, "but I don't want to alarm him--her
husband. She is as brave as possible, but he--so I thought you----"

"Whom do you want?" asked Ned, going to the telephone.

Dr. Ramsay named a London specialist, and Ned looked up quickly.

"As bad as that?" he asked.

"As bad as it can be, I'm afraid," replied the doctor.

After the specialist had been summoned and duly bribed, there was
nothing to do but sit and smoke again, since the memory of those
beautiful eyes with the eternal hope of the world's immortality in
them, haunted him beyond the cure of sleep. If he had been her
husband, could he have done more, could he have felt more?

The London man arrived about one o'clock, and Ned, after the slight
bustle of his coming and going upstairs, heard no more noise. The
house seemed to settle down into the usual silence of night.

What was going on upstairs? Would she pass into the Unseen? Would she
settle the question once and for all?

It was just as the red October sunrise was beginning to glow through
the trees of the park, that Ned, standing at the window to watch it,
heard the click of the door handle behind him, and turned to see the
London doctor, a tall man with eyeglasses and a stoop.

"Well!" he said eagerly. "How is she?"

"As well as can--ah--ah--be expected," said the specialist, who
appeared to be afflicted with a stammer, "after such a very
serious--ah--ah--operation as--ah--ah--was necessary to save
the--the--the interesting patient's life. But--ah--ah--D.V. it is
saved, and--and I need hardly say we--we have every reason to be
thankful, even though the future is, or may be--of course----"

Here Dr. Ramsay entered the room, and he turned to him. "I was just
preparing Mr. Cruttenden for the--ah--possibility----"

"This is Lord Blackborough, sir," interrupted Peter Ramsay
impatiently. "I told you I had given Mr. Cruttenden a sleeping draught
after the immediate danger to life was over. Mrs. Cruttenden was
brought to Lord Blackborough's house just after the accident. Now,
sir, if you are in a hurry they are ready to take you to the station."

"Just so--ah!" murmured the great man, a trifle confused. "Very
pleased to make your acquaintance, my lord. Thanks, Doctor--ah----"

"Ramsay," said the latter, carrying him off still blandly stuttering.

When Peter Ramsay returned he found Ned looking at the sunrise once
more. The whole sky was growing red, the daylight was outpaling the
lamp beside which Ned had watched for this dawn.

Suddenly he spoke. "Is it worth while, I wonder, saving
life--sometimes? Considering what motherhood means to some women, I
doubt it."

And then without another word he turned from the window, and sitting
down at the writing-table rested his head on his hand, and stared out
vacantly into the room, seeing nothing but those beautiful eyes, twin
stars of two souls.

Those eyes that were never to be satisfied! No, it was not worth it.

Then he glanced round at the doctor who stood professionally silent.
"I'll give you a piece of advice," he said, "and then we'll drop the
subject. If you have anything to say, tell her, not him. You will make
it easier for her, I expect, than he will."



                             CHAPTER XXIV


"We refuse your terms, your lordship," said the leader of the
deputation.

Outside the manager's office where the meeting of delegates was being
held, the works of the Biggie factory lay deserted in the autumn
sunlight. There was no sign of harvest there for man or beast. The
huge engines seemed asleep, the tall factory chimney showed a cenotaph
proclaiming a dead life. Here and there among the rows of workmen's
houses were knots of men despondently expectant, a shrill woman or two
voiced her wrongs aggressively, the children in the gutter looked
dirty, unkempt, pale.

Lord Blackborough stared steadily at the speaker. "Then you hold that
I am bound to start these works again, despite the fact that they have
been running at a loss for some years; and you hold also that I am
bound to give you a rise in wages?"

"The men in these works cannot accept a less wage than that
received in others which, excuse me, being better managed, pay their
owners well--far too well," replied Mr. Green. He was a singularly
able-looking man, curiously taut and trim in words, speech, manner,
apparently in soul.

"Then I am not only to receive no return on my capital, but I am to
spend other capital in paying you, until Germany ceases to make our
goods cheaper than we can. Is this fair?" asked Lord Blackborough.

"Quite fair, your lordship," replied the leader; "if only because the
capital you own has been wrung unjustly from us--from labour."

"All capital must be, as you call it, 'wrung' from labour. It does not
create itself. I offer you this capital at a very low rate of
interest, one and a half per cent. If labour cannot hope to make even
so much, over and above livelihood, that seems an end to any
enlargement of trade."

There was a pause; then Lord Blackborough smiled. "I cannot complain
if the figures before you make you hesitate; for to me they are
convincing. Let us, therefore, pass over that offer. My next is one to
re-open the works, but on a different system. An eight-hours' day,
piecework, and no limitations of trades-unions or any other
organisation regarding the out-run of any individual."

A faint stir could be heard amongst some of the older men; but Mr.
Green still stood spokesman.

"That is absolutely out of the question, your lordship," he said
decisively; "we are all of us trades-union men. Labour must reserve to
itself the right to legislate for the general good of the labourer; if
it does not, who will? No one!" His tone grew bitter. "We have no
right to accept a form of payment which will not give a living wage
to----"

"To the weakest, to the bad workmen, the laziest, the most drunken,"
put in Lord Blackborough. "Personally, I do not see any reason at all
why that class of worker should continue to live. You only have to
level down to them. But I am not here to combat your views, only to
receive your ultimatum. You refuse?"

Mr. Green brought his hand down on the table with dramatic force.

"In the name of Labour we refuse the unjust, iniquitous----"

"Thank you," said Lord Blackborough urbanely, then turned to the
secretary. "Mr. Woods! Have you those documents ready?"

"They are here, your lordship." Ned Blackborough threw off his
gravity, and holding the papers given him in his hand, smiled round
the company, which, as if moved thereto by some magic in his manner,
rose also. Mr. Green looked from one to the other. "What had this
tyrannical employer of labour up his sleeve?

"Men," said the employer of labour frankly, "I am going to pay you
with these," he waved the papers, "for listening to me for five
minutes. Labour, they say, is dissociating itself from Capital,
Capital from Labour. That may be so. I have nothing to do with that.
Personally I have money. I have no work. I don't want money and I do
want work. That is my position.

"But what I do see here in this England of ours is that labour is
dissociating itself from work. It is labouring all day, and bringing
forth--as little as it can! It claims the right to do this little.
Well! let it if it likes! But why should it deny to any man the right
to work at the rate of which he was born physically capable? Why
should it make a swift worker take eight hours to do what he can do in
four? If I were to put any one of you on oath, you would admit that it
is far harder work to dawdle through eight hours than to work through
eight hours. I've seen many bricklayers, painters, plasterers lately
hard put to it how to eke out the time, and yet preserve an air of
occupation, and I have no doubt you have most of you felt this. Now,
think what this means. It is labour, _hard labour!_ this, the
enslavement of free work. Neither body nor mind gain full exercise,
muscles and brain decay, the type goes down. But this is the system of
the day; we begin it in school, where we let children dawdle eleven
years over what they ought to learn in half the time. It greets the
boy in his first workshop--it dogs his footsteps everywhere, turning
work into labour. Work is--is play! Labour is--is the Devil! What
beats me is this. Why, instead of slaving and dawdling, shouldn't the
good workman, classed together, of course, be allowed to work, say,
four hours, and then go their way? It would give us some chance of
breeding a type of Englishman that is now fast dying out, that soon
must pass away altogether. Men! don't be fools! Men! don't be slaves.

"That is all I have to say. Now for the payment. This is a free deed
of gift of these works, made out, with a few necessary legal
restrictions, in the name of you delegates, to be held in trust for
the workers therein, and this is a cheque for the capital necessary to
work it for six months. I have already signed both. I was so certain,
you see, that your friend and leader, Mr. Green, would reject my other
very reasonable proposals that I came prepared. Will you take them,
Mr. Green? My solicitor is here, and you can arrange with him: my part
is done!"

"Am I to understand----" almost gasped Mr. Green.

Lord Blackborough's face sharpened to the keenest edge of contempt.
"Yes! You are to understand, sir, that, tired of being abused up hill
and down dale in your organs for behaving like a sensible man, I am
behaving like a fool. Well, men! Labour and Capital have for once met
and kissed each other. See that they don't fall out again!"

Mr. Green stood with the papers in his hand for a second then he flung
them on the table.

"You fling our own money to us as if we were dogs!" he began hotly.

"Dogs!" echoed Ned Blackborough in the same tone. "I would far liefer
give it to the dogs than to you--you men who will have the handling of
it. It is you who starved those poor children, not I. Their fathers
could keep them in comfort for five-and-twenty shillings a week; you
made them stand for out six-and-twenty--as if it mattered--as if
money, physical comfort, even freedom, counted for anything in a man's
search for happiness. That----." He pulled himself up quivering,
feeling the uselessness of speech. "Come, Woods!" he said, "it is time
I left this Temple of Mammon! Good-day, gentlemen."

"That is a clear waste of a hundred thousand pounds," mourned Mr.
Woods as they crossed the courtyard; "you can't get beyond human
nature, my lord. Each man will naturally go for that gold, the
cleverest of them will get it, and so capital will re-arise out of its
own ashes. You must begin further down--with the children."

"Set up a school, eh? Woods, in which they would be taught the
truth--that work and play are merely interchangeable terms for
occupation. Hullo! What's up?"

A small crowd of women, mostly carrying babies, but a few of them
carrying baskets, stood at the gates blocking the way. Beyond them
waited the motor-car, the chauffeur standing at the crank ready to
start.

Ned Blackborough walked on until he nearly touched the first woman.
She was better dressed than the rest, but who for all that had a
coarse, violent face.

"Do you want anything?" he asked quietly. "If you don't, you might let
me pass."

"Do we want!" she began in a rhetorical voice. "Yes! we want the bread
you have stole from our children."

"Why not give them some of your husband's dinner?" he replied,
pointing to her basket, on the top of which lay several knives and
forks. There was a titter, for she was, in truth, carrying refreshment
for Mr. Green and his colleagues. She flushed scarlet.

"My husband!" she echoed. "Yes! where is the money you have stole from
our husbands? But you'll find that we aren't slaves like the ones you
drove in the Indies before you were kicked out! The British workpeople
are not to be treated like black niggers or Chinese coolies."

"Good God! woman," cried Ned, losing patience, "if you have nothing
better to say than to trump up the last scurrilous article in the
_Taskmaster_--Here! Woods, follow on--I'm not going to be stopped."

In an instant they were the centre of a band of excited women, the
next they were in the car, and the _chauffeur_ was running back to
take his seat.

"I don't want to hurt you," called Ned as he turned on power, "but if
some of you don't stand back there will be an accident!"

"Cowards! Fools! Don't let him go without an answer," shrieked the
woman with the basket, who was entangled two deep in the backward
rush. The next moment there very nearly was an accident, since,
failing of all else, the angry orator flung the first thing she could
lay her hands upon--the handful of knives and forks--at the car with
her full force, and one of the missiles, a three-pronged iron fork,
buried itself in the fleshy part of Ned's right hand, as it held the
steerer, making him and it swerve.

The fork quivered as he steadied the wheel. Then he turned and raised
his hat with his other hand.

"Thank you!" he said, and the word fell on a half-awed, half-alarmed
silence.

"She didn't mean to do it," began Woods hurriedly. "Shall I pull it
out, my lord?"

"Of course she didn't," replied Ned coolly. "If she had meant to do
it, she would have killed a baby. That sort of woman is built that
way. Wait a bit, Woods, till we are through the works. I look like a
blessed St. Sebastian with it quivering in my flesh!"

"You ought to have that seen to," said little Woods when the surgical
operation was over, and they had had to call on the _chauffeur's_
handkerchief as well as their own. "It has gone very deep."

"I'll get Ramsay to tie it up properly. We can go back by Egworth,"
replied Lord Blackborough.

They met Peter Ramsay on the steps, carrying a leathern
instrument-bag.

"Come along to my room," he said cheerfully. "I've everything I want
in here."

As they opened the door a woman's figure rose hurriedly from an
evidently searching inquiry into the contents of a bottom drawer, for
under-vests and stockings lay strewn about.

Both Helen Tressilian and Dr. Ramsay blushed scarlet, but Ned's eyes
twinkled. "Caught in the act, my dear! Caught in the act!" he said
amusedly.

"I thought--I hoped--he had gone out for a long while on an urgent
call," retorted Mrs. Tressilian, looking quite viciously at the
doctor, who, to hide his vexation, was searching in his bag.

"I am sorry I disappointed your expectations, Mrs. Tressilian," he
said stiffly, "but when I arrived I was not wanted. The man was dead."

Helen looked as if she had received a blow in the face. Her lip
quivered.

"Undo these rags, will you?" said Ned to her kindly, wishing in his
heart that he could take them and shake them together once and for
all. "I haven't much time to lose."

She had forgotten her annoyance in sympathy when Dr. Ramsay looked up
from his task.

"I'm afraid I shall have to hurt you a bit. I don't like those very
deep holes, possibly from a dirty fork----"

"It wasn't very clean," admitted Ned.

"Perhaps I had better call Sister Ann----" began the doctor
doubtfully, and Helen flushed up in a second.

"I have done some work of the kind, Dr. Ramsay," she said; "but if you
prefer----"

The challenge was too direct. "If you do not mind, I shall be glad,"
he replied, bending over a little array of instruments on the table.
"Will you stand here, Lord Blackborough. Hold the hand so, Nurse
Helen, and be ready, please, with the carbolised gauze."

Half-way through Ned winced; and the doctor said sharply, "That was my
fault. Move your hand a little, Nurse Helen; it gets in my way."

"There! that's done!" he continued at last. "Now for the bandages."

Was it only fancy, or was Ned Blackborough right in thinking that the
supple, skilful hands were not quite so skilful as usual, that there
was an unwonted nervousness about them?

He pondered over this as, being hurried, he went downstairs, leaving
Helen tidying up, Peter Ramsay sterilising his instruments before
putting them away. He left behind him also a sense of stress in the
air, a feeling on the part of both those busy people that things could
no longer go on as they had been going on. Suddenly Peter Ramsay flung
aside a probe, and walked up to Helen decisively.

"Helen!" he said. "I shall have to go away if you won't marry me.
Think me as much a fool as you like--the fact remains. You saw--you
must have seen how disgracefully I did that simple little thing. Why?
Because you were there--because your hand touched mine."

"I will never offer to interfere with your work again!" she said
coldly.

"Interfere!" he echoed with a bitter little laugh. "You always
interfere! I feel the very touch of your hands upon my clothes."

A slow crimson stained her very forehead. "I am sorry, I will never
touch them again."

"That will do no good," he replied gloomily. "Can you not see that
your influence touches my life at every point? When I go through the
wards I hear you have just passed, I almost see the flutter of your
dress. I am always reminded, I am always thinking of you. If you will
not marry me, I must go away."

"I cannot marry you, and I have told you why. It is not as though I
did not know what love meant. I have known it, and--and I do not know
it now. But you need not go away. I will go."

"That, you shall not do," he replied, his chin setting itself long
and stern. "Besides it would be no good. This place is redolent of
you--your goodness, your sweetness. Oh! Helen, Helen! If you will only
marry me, love will come--for you like me--I don't believe there is
any one you like better--except perhaps Ned Blackborough."

"Ned!" she echoed, glad of evasion, "poor Ned! I have had such a
curious feeling lately that he is in some way maimed; and yet not
maimed. I don't know how to express it, but he seems to me to be using
his soul more and his body less."

"I wish I could get rid of my body," muttered Dr. Ramsay so quaintly
that Helen perforce had to smile; whereat, he said aggrievedly, "It
isn't all that either, Mrs. Tressilian; love----"

She checked him with a soft sympathising hand. "Do I not know what
love is? Dr. Ramsay! I cannot pity you."

"Then I shall have to go," he said obstinately. "I will not have my
work spoiled by any woman."

She felt small somehow; a trifle remorseful perhaps as she left the
room. He certainly had been rather dejected of late and it was such a
pity.

And Ned also! He was not dejected, but he was changed, curiously
changed.

In truth the past six weeks, since the night when he had outwatched
the stars, to be met in the dawn by the mischance of a confidence not
intended for his ears, had changed him a great deal. He had not seen
Aura since. He had purposely left New Park, before she was well enough
to receive visitors, and had only returned to it after she had been
moved for a freshening up at the seaside. But he had heard of her
constantly from Ted, who, after two or three days of intense anxiety,
had gone back to business with renewed zest. This time interruption
had apparently been beneficial; at least the first few days of Aura's
convalescence and disappointment had been cheered by him with the most
sanguine of outlooks on the future. He even went so far as to say
that, perhaps after all, things were best as they were. They would
move into a still better house, and be able to set up properly before
taking upon themselves the responsibilities of life.

Aura had said "Perhaps," and after he had gone had lain and cried
softly to herself. There is nothing in the wide world so sacred to a
woman as her grief for the child which has died to save her life. It
is grief of the most inward type, unknown, unrecognised by others,
which lasts through the years and grows no slighter than it was when
in the dim, between life and death, she first learns that her child
has paid the ransom for her.

In a way, therefore, the doubt, which by degrees grew into a
certainty, that Fate had denied motherhood to her, had at first almost
brought her comfort.

If there was no probability of her being more fortunate in the future,
happiness neither awaited her, nor could there be any rivalry between
the dead child and a living one. There was a tragedy in both lives,
not only in the one.

Such thoughts as these, aided by the very intensity of her grief, kept
her going until she began to face the world again at the sea-side.
Then came one of those fiery furnaces of the soul through which so few
pass unscathed. She used to wander down at the ebb low tide, past the
groups of children building castles in the sand, past the uttermost
outermost little waving fringe of sea-spoil left, but for a brief half
hour, by the regretful retreat of the waves, and gaze out over the
long, low sand-banks, claimed as their own by clouds of fluttering,
settling, fluttering seagulls.

The tide had truly ebbed--the mud-flats of life lay bare. Her thoughts
were like the gulls, never still for a second. Only in the slack tide
of the estuary there was rest for a moment, and the long, brown arms
of the seaweed waved sleepily, seeming to call her to rest with them.

So she would go back again to her lodgings, but in the night time she
would rise and draw up her blind and look out.

And lo! the tide was up again, the sea lay like a sheet of silver and
there was no more land, neither was there any sound of tears.

Thus, after a time, she came back to the new house on which Ted,
during her absence, had been lavishing enough money, he felt, to prove
his undying affection twice over. He was quite full of its many
advantages when she finally arrived there. For one thing, they would
be able to entertain in it; and entertainments would be a great
feature in his coming life. One of the chief reasons for Mr. Hirsch's
enormous success had been his genius for giving _recherché_ dinners.
Ted could not hope to rival him; still with the _cordon bleue's_
help--here he became exceedingly affectionate--much was possible. They
must certainly entertain Mr. Hirsch and his daughter. Oh yes! had not
Aura heard of the daughter? Mr. Hirsch had imported her ready-made,
grown-up--really a very nice-looking girl--from Berlin? She was about
twenty, and no one had had any idea Hirsch was a widower; but he
seemed devoted to the girl, and to have given up the search for a wife
which had been his pursuit for years.

The fact of the matter being, though Ted did not know it, that, having
failed once more in his endeavours to marry a well-connected
Englishwoman, Mr. Hirsch had fallen back on a less legal establishment
of his youth for which he had always paid with scrupulous honour.
Hence Miss Hirsch who, being a goodnatured creature like her father,
bid fair to fill up his affections and give him the home for which, as
he grew older, he was beginning to yearn.

Anyhow Mr. and Miss Hirsch would have to be entertained when they came
to Blackborough, and Aura should have the long talked-of pink satin
gown in which to receive them. It might even be possible to put them
up. There were two good rooms on the first floor which would not be
wanted yet awhile. Aura might see them after she had had her tea.

"Thanks, Ted," she replied hurriedly, "but--but perhaps I've done
enough for to-day. I can see them tomorrow."

Just those few minutes of facing the new house, the new life had
wearied her absolutely. And she had other things to face in the near
future. Sooner or later she felt that she ought to tell her husband
that those rooms would never in all human probability be wanted.

But she could not tell him now. That was beyond her strength.



                             CHAPTER XXV


"Mrs. Edward Cruttenden requests the pleasure of Lord Blackborough's
company at dinner."

It was a printed card, and Ned Blackborough laid it down on the table,
feeling that the world was getting beyond him.

This was about a week or so after Aura's return, and he had intended
to call on her that very afternoon. Now he refrained.

"I am so sorry we had to give you such short notice," said Ted, whom
he met in the street next day, "but the Hirschs were coming down
unexpectedly and it had to be hurried. I hope you can come."

"Oh! I am coming all right," said Ned a trifle surlily. "I hope it
won't be too much for Aura."

Ted looked at him with immense surprise. "My dear fellow! Aura is as
well as she can be, and awfully interested in it. Well! I'm glad you
can come. You'll like Miss Hirsch, she's charming, so fresh and gay."

It was a real parlourmaid who announced Lord Blackborough this time,
and he saw a furtive green-grocer in the background; otherwise the
house seemed to him much the same, only larger, more pretentious. The
drawing-room was distinctly more--what was the word? chaste. Yes!
distinctly more chaste. It was white and gold, and was that Aura in a
pink satin dress--ye heavens above! in pink satin! She did not look
ill, but as their eyes met he was conscious of a distinct shock. There
was something wanting in them, the best part of her was not there.

Where was it?

The question absorbed him even while he was being presented to Miss
Hirsch, a jolly, handsome, rather stout girl, also--as the fates would
have it--in pink satin. But she was literally ablaze with diamonds.

"Aha! my old friend Blackborough!" laughed Mr. Hirsch explosively,
"this is good sight for sore eyes. Make me your compliments for my
daughter, sir."

"I prefer to make them to Miss Hirsch herself," replied Ned gallantly,
and then they went in to dinner.

It was an excellent repast. Ted had evidently pursued the only course
consonant with success. He had ordered it direct from Benoist's and
kept the minions of the great caterer out of evidence. Iced mellon
gave place to _consommé biscuit_, _truite a l'aurore_ to _filets
financieres_, _poularde casserole_ to something else, until at the end
the conversation became interspersed with cigarettes and coffee.

It was an enormous success; and all the time Ned Blackborough was
wondering what had become of Aura, whither she had gone. Only once did
he get a glimpse of what he had known in the past, and that was when,
after Miss Hirsch had sung like a second-class professional (in other
words like her mother) to his accompaniment, he had asked Aura if he
might not accompany her also.

"My dear Blackborough," Ted had exclaimed, "after such singing as Miss
Hirsch has just given us, I'm sure my wife would hardly like----"

"But _I_ should like," he had interrupted imperturbably.

Then it was that Aura had said swiftly in an undertone--

"Please don't."

He had obeyed, as he had obeyed the same order once before. But
that night he sat up again and drank whisky and water and smoked
opium-sodden cigarettes, and the next day he went down to call, for he
did not intend that sort of thing should go on.

She did not intend it should either. He found her in the back garden,
which was really quite of a decent size, busy planting something
between the prim privets, and eunonyms and variegated hollies which,
even in this late autumn, gave the wall-surrounding shrubbery a
semblance of green.

"Do you know what I am planting?" she asked frankly. "I am planting
some _iris alata_."

He narrowed his eyes and looked at her.

"Hardly in the most beautiful place in the world," he said cynically.

"That won't make them any the less beautiful," she replied and then
suddenly her whole face melted, her eyes shone with tears, with
smiles, with happiness, regrets, with fair passions and bountiful
pities and love without stain. "Oh, Ned! Ned!" she cried, holding out
her hand to him again. "I have to beg your pardon for so much--I have
to thank you for so much--which shall I do first?"

What could he do save take her hand as frankly as it was given and say
"Neither." Since between them he knew there was no possibility of
gratitude, no possibility of forgiveness.

So they began to talk, not of her illness or of these later days at
all, but of Cwmfaernog, and Plas Afon, and how she had found the
snake-stone under the old yew-tree.

"I always wear it, you know, at least I do nowadays," she said, and
drawing up her loose sleeve showed it to him worn as an amulet, warm
against the fair whiteness of her skin. His heart gave a throb. For
all her courage then, she was not happy. Such trifles tell of a search
for support.

Then Ted came in, breezy and full of life. It had been a success last
night, had it not? The pink satin had not suited Aura quite so well as
he had hoped; not so well as it had suited Miss Hirsch, who had looked
ripping. Perhaps it ought to have been blue. Or perhaps it was the
diamonds that did the trick. Had any one ever seen better diamonds
than Miss Hirsch's?

Anyhow, it had been a great success, and they must give some more
dinner-parties and get into the way of entertaining.

Aura might ask Mrs. Tressilian and Dr. Ramsay as a beginning.

"You won't get Ramsay," remarked Ned Blackborough; "he is away in
Vienna. He has taken three months' leave, but he put in a very good
man for the time."

In truth, St. Helena's Hospital was, as Peter Ramsay had declared it
would, getting on quite as well without him as it did with him. The
only person who was dissatisfied with the new state of affairs was
Helen Tressilian, and she was frankly in a very bad temper both with
him and with herself. It was so foolish of him. Had she not known it
would be absolutely useless she would have sent in her own
resignation, but what good would it have done? It would only have made
matters worse, since he would never return if she went. All she could
do was to hope very sincerely that the three months' change would
effect its object, and that he would forget her.

And yet even this did not quite soothe her irritation, even this was
not quite what she wanted.

What did she want? She was taking herself severely to task one
afternoon when Sister Ann came in looking grave.

"I have just had a letter with some rather bad news in it," she said.
"I hope it isn't true, but it sounds serious. It is from my friend who
I told you had gone to study at Vienna."

Helen's heart leapt to her mouth. "Well?" she said impatiently,
wondering the while with a sudden feeling of dread why she should feel
so disturbed.

"I'll read you what he says. 'We are all a bit downhearted just now
because Ramsay, who is one of the nicest fellows who ever lived, is
ill with pyæmia. It would be a thousand pities if he were to go out,
for he is quite the best operator here. Of course he is being well
looked after, but it must be awful away from all one's friends.'"

Helen went deadly white. "Do you think it is true?" she asked almost
helplessly.

Sister Ann re-folded the letter methodically. "It must be _true_, of
course, and it is not unlikely. You know he was always a trifle
reckless when there was anything to be done even here. One can only
hope he is not so very bad. You will send a wire, I suppose?"

"Yes," replied Helen. "Of course we will send a wire--and--yes. I will
send a wire, I think."

"It is terribly sad," said Sister Ann, for all her invariable
cheerfulness, quite mournfully. "Apart from his immense value to the
world, he was such a dear soul in so many ways. I have often thought
what an excellent husband and father he would have made."

After she had gone, to tell the news presumably in that even tone of
voice, Helen thought with a rush of resentment, the latter sat in a
perfect tumult of emotion. Anger, pity, regret all fought for first
place. What right, for instance, had Sister Ann to use the past tense
in speaking of Dr. Ramsay? He was not dead.

Dead?

Impossible, incredible! It could not, it must not be true!

But what good would a wire be to a man lying perhaps unconscious, at
any rate alone?

She stood up pushing her hair back from her forehead. A great wave of
pity for him, but more for herself, overcame her; she stared out of
the room scarcely seeing what was before her.

Just on the opposite side of the room a long pier glass filled up the
space between the two tall windows. It was growing dusk, and the
mirror showed dark and empty looking against the light. No, not quite
empty, there was a figure in it going away from her into the darkness.
It was the figure of a man making haste. It hurried on, its back
towards her, down an interminable pathway that was lost in the
shadows. It was going, oh, so fast! And she recognized it. It was
Peter Ramsay as she had last seen him hurrying away to catch his
train. It grew smaller and smaller, it overtook the shadows, they
gathered it in.

"No! no!" she cried aloud. "Don't go--don t go!"

Was there a pause? She could not tell. The vision vanished, and she
was left to the knowledge that she had once more almost over-stepped
the bounds of the unseen, and to a dim sense of something unsuspected
in herself.

One thing was certain. He must not go, thinking she cared not at all.
How many hours was it to Vienna? That mattered very little if she
started as quickly as she could. She must get there sooner or later.

Half an hour afterwards she was at the station, and by midnight she
was standing looking out at the stars from the deck of a Channel
steamer with the lights of Calais ahead of her. She did not regret her
impulse, all she thought of was that somehow that figure she had seen
losing itself in the shadows must be stopped, must be brought back to
the light.

It was a wearisome journey. She had left without due preparation, she
was all unused to foreign travelling, and she did not care to forage
for food for fear she might be left behind.

So it was rather a dejected Helen Tressilian who got out in the
struggling daylight of a November day at the Haupt Bahnhof, and, after
a while, found herself driving, she literally knew not whither,
through wide streets and narrow streets to the public hospital. It was
there, she knew, that Peter Ramsay was working, so there she hoped to
have news of him at once. But she had reckoned without the formalism
of German institutions. At first she could hardly elicit the fact that
there was such a person as a Scotch physician by name Ramsay in
Vienna, for she had called him English, and that error, a grave one to
the foreigner, had seemed to discredit her altogether.

Then who was she? Sister or mother? If not, what claim had she to be
admitted to the bedside of the "dangerously-sick un-friend-recognising
patient?" She had better see the Chief-Head-Over-Superintendent, and
if he consented, perhaps!

So she drove off again disheartened. The
Chief-Head-Over-Superintendent was out, and after waiting for
him till she grew sick and cold she determined to follow him to the
Medical College. Here she was met by more formalities, to which was
added a suggestion that, not being a relation, she should go to the
British consulate and get a certificate that she was of the
"due-respectable-and-to-be-admitted-friends."

And then, suddenly, to her despair at the delay, came the memory of
Pagenheim. It was silly of her not to have thought of him before. Yes.
She would go to Pagenheim; he was her only hope.

She was shown into a room stuffed full of furniture, where a florid,
bearded man had evidently just been smoking.

He sat looking with immense interest at the card she had sent in.

"Mein Gott!" he said, going on in fairly idiomatic English. "But your
names! T r e s--s i l----"

"Tressilian," said Helen impatiently.

"Tres--silian! Now, Miss, what does that mean? Tre--three--sil-i-an.
Does it mean three fools? Wass fur ein--Gott in Himmel! you are
crying--Gnädige Fraulein, pardon."

It was the truth. Helen, worn out by her long and hungry journey,
disappointed, driven from pillar to post, had found it too much that
her last hope should waste precious time in philological studies.

"I beg your pardon," she said, stifling her tears, "but I have come
all the way from England to see Dr. Ramsay, and now I cannot get at
him. Do help me if you can."

Dr. Pagenheim blew out his cheeks as if a pipe might have been a
consolation to him. "Soh! You--you cannot be his mother--you--you are
his sister, doubtless?"

Helen, behind her handkerchief, shook her head. "I--I am a nurse," she
said faintly, "and I have come on purpose----"

"But, gnädige Fraulein," interposed the great man, becoming
professional, "he is already nursed, nursed devotedly. There is no
place for you I fear. It is against the rules. If you were a relation
it were different."

Helen looked up at him, goaded to desperation.

"But--but I am more than that, Dr. Pagenheim," she said. "I--I am
engaged to be married to him."

The blond, florid face melted into instant sentiment, the tongue into
German.

"Soh! Oh Love! Love! What dost thou not? So he is betrothed and we
knew it not? Stay! is your name Helen?"

"Yes. Helen Tressilian," she replied.

"_Liebes Kind!_" cried the great professsor. "He has in his delirium
called for you by name. Dry your tears, we will mend him for you
surely. Helen! Ach! that is an all-powerful, love-compelling
name-of-uttermost victory, so have no fear. You shall to him go so
soon as I can get on my boots." He stuck out a big slippered foot in
explanation and encouragement as he beamed on her.

"If I might have a glass of milk," Helen felt emboldened to say. "I
haven't had time, somehow----"

"Gott in Himmel! She is hungry," roared the professor. "Oh, Love!
Love! what dost thou not? Greta," this to the elderly servant who
answered his furious ringing. "Milk, food, drink, everything for this
gracious-betrothed-one while I put on my boots."

Fortified by hot coffee and a roll, Helen, being whirled through the
streets of Vienna in the doctor's _coupé_, felt that, come what might,
she did not repent her hasty impulse. Even if Peter Ramsay lived.

"Thou must remember, _liebes kind_," came the professor's jovial voice
all softened to warning, "he is very ill; only the good God knows how
ill. But we are doing our best for him. The high fever has gone, but
the weakness remains. You must be very quiet."

"I am a nurse," she said, "I know." In a way it was only as a nurse
that she had come, only because she could not bear to think of him
dying alone.

It seemed an interminable age that she sat in the _coupé_ while Dr.
Pagenheim was preparing the hospital authorities. It was quite a small
place, almost private: a place reserved by the doctors for their most
serious cases. It had a conventional air, and Helen as she sat could
see a sister of charity or two, with large white-winged caps, moving
about. Would they let her in? Surely Dr. Pagenheim was powerful enough
for that. He came back after a time with the matron, a severe looking
sister, with a weary face. He was much graver. "You can see him, and,
if you are quiet, you can remain; but he will not know you."

Did he not? As she entered the wide, white ward, empty save for the
bed set in the middle, the low, hurried muttering from the figure
which lay on it ceased for a moment. It almost seemed as if the
mutterer was listening. Then he began again, too low to be
intelligible even to the English ears which bent over to listen. The
nurses, two fair, simple-faced sisters, looked at her with kindly
compassion and curiosity.

"He is so restless," said one, speaking in the low, even sing-song
which so many nurses acquire as a kind of whisper. "If he could only
sleep; but we dare not give drugs, his heart is so weak."

His right hand, all bandaged up to the elbow, lay slung in a shifting
cradle just above the bed-clothes, his left, the fingers closing and
unclosing with a terrible regularity, hung half over the bedside. She
slipped hers into it and it closed on hers tightly, so tightly that
after a time the blood seemed to seek a way through her fingertips.
The muttering became more distinct.

"Number 36. I am not sure about number 36."

"He is doing very well," she replied softly. "Sister Ann is quite
pleased with him. The dressings were not in the least disturbed, and
he slept all night without drugs. He is to have beef-tea to-day," the
muttering had ceased, the sick man lay quite still, the grip of his
hand was slackening, "and to-morrow he will have chicken, and then, if
he will only sleep, sleep, sleep quite quietly, sleep--sleep--sleep."

"Gnädige Fraulein," came the nurse's whisper, "seat yourself so, there
must be no movement if possible."

How long she sat there, her hand in his, she did not know, long enough
anyhow to feel that, when, or how, or why she knew not, the very touch
of him had become dear to her, for it was not only the tingling of the
veins after the almost benumbing pressure of his fingers which sent
the thrill to her heart and her brain. He had told her the truth: the
past was in the present.

After a time he stirred, swallowed a spoonful of nourishment, and
slept again. Another nurse stole into the room and whispered with the
two in a corner. Helen could not see their calm, fair, untroubled
faces, but she could hear one word, a word they had renounced for
themselves, which for all that sent a thrill through their woman
hearts.

"Love--true love!"

Was it that? Or had she merely wrecked herself and him for something
evanescent, worth little? Helen was half asleep herself, all she
realised was that something had brought rest to him for the time.

So when the bad turn came again he was stronger, but so long as she
was in the room the painful restlessness never returned. And day by
day the dressers were more satisfied.

"Helen of Troy is sufficient to bring any man back from the grave,
_lich du liebe Gott_, what will not the true love do?" beamed Herr
Pagenheim, and the nurses sighed and smiled. Finally, there came a day
when Peter Ramsay really opened his eyes, found Helen beside him, and
closed them again contentedly. After this came cogitation, so by
degrees a puzzled look grew to his eyes.

"It was awfully good of you to come and help nurse me," he said weakly
at last. "How did you find out I was ill?"

"Sister Ann had a letter, so I came. I knew you must be alone," she
replied sedately.

"It must have been an awful journey for you. I feel so sorry about
it," he continued almost impatiently. "You must have had a lot of
trouble. And then, when you got here--what beats me is, why did they
let you in? They are so strict."

She felt the colour rising to her face. "Oh! I managed," she said
evasively. "Now, you really must take your Valentine's extract and go
to sleep."

He shifted restlessly. "How can I go to sleep when I am worried?" he
said pitifully, fretfully as a child. "I tell you it must have given
you a lot of trouble, and I'm so vexed."

Her face grew tender as she bent over him. "I assure you I had no
trouble at all. It was quite easy. Will you--will you promise me to go
to sleep if I tell you how--how I managed?"

"Do," he said with a little sigh. "I really want to know."

"They asked me if I were your mother or your sister," she said,
scarcely able to speak for her trembling lips. "So I said no--but--but
that I was engaged to be married to you."

He lay quite still. He did not even put out his hand to hers, but the
swift tears ran down his hollow cheeks and wetted the pillow.

"You promised you would go to sleep, dear," she said softly, and he
closed his eyes, once more like a child.



                             CHAPTER XXVI


"If Madam will leave it to us," said Myfanwy Jones, "we will give her
satisfaction."

She took in all Aura's grace and beauty as she spoke. Full of shrewd
sense, appreciative by virtue of her race, of all that makes for
beauty, knowledgeable in all that enhances beauty, her bold dark eyes
realised that here was some one worth dressing.

"We will--yes! we will make it of white _velours-panne_ and dead white
velvet. It will become Madam, I am sure. I will consult the buyer
regarding the price."

She swept away over the Turkey carpets of Williams and Edwards' shop,
her shiny, undulating black satin train rippling behind her, towards a
tall, most immaculate figure in a long frock coat, who was busy
comparing scraps of silk with another tall, broad-shouldered young
man. Both might have entered a grenadier company and looked all too
big and strong for their task.

"Excuse me, Mr. Morris," said Myfanwy, with the most superb courtesy,
"but I should like to speak to Mr. Pugh for an instant." Having got
him to herself, her manner changed.

"Merve!" she said sharply. "What price order costume, _panne_ and
velvet, my wedding-dress design--you know. I want to make it."

"For that lady?" he said, looking across to where Aura stood, feeling
as she still felt in shops, utterly shy and miserable. In an instant a
hot flush overspread his face, and he turned back to the silk
patterns.

"Thirty guineas."

Myfanwy sniffed scornfully. "You will oblige me, Mervyn Pugh, by
having some sense. Look at her! will she give more than fifteen
guineas for a dress? Never! and I want to make it."

"Five-and-twenty," he said, refraining from the look. He would gladly
have stuck to the thirty, and so have driven Aura from the shop, had
he dared. But he did not dare. He was under Myfanwy's orders, and, so
far, he had had no reason to regret the fact. He had climbed like
Jonah's gourd, and was now Williams and Edwards' first buyer. And next
year when, after his marriage with Myfanwy (who was now head of the
costume department) the additional interest of making money for
himself instead of for others had come in his life, and there could be
no doubt of their success. He had all the Cymric's fine feelings for
feminine fal-lals (which is shown indubitably by the names over the
drapers' shops in London) and Myfanwy had a perfect genius for dress.
Considering, therefore, the crowds of women absolutely without any
taste at all who desire to dress well, the result was assured. He
began to wonder how he had ever thought seriously of being a
pedagogue, a demagogue, or a minister.

"I shall say twenty," remarked Myfanwy reflectively, "it can be made
for fifteen, and she shall have it for that in the end. But I want to
make it. She is lovely--and I want to know how I shall look in my
wedding-dress."

"Twenty!" said Mervyn wavering.

"I hope it may buy her all she desires as my dress will buy me,"
contended Myfanwy, with a challenge of lip and eyes. "I will say
eighteen, Mervyn, to begin with."

With that she swept back to Aura. "It will be eighteen guineas,
Madam," she said sweetly; "but if Madam will give us the Mechlin scarf
she is wearing to utilise, it will be fifteen."

Fifteen! It seemed enormous to Aura's ignorance. Yet Ted had given
twelve, she knew, for the pink satin, and he had bidden her--since he
was too busy to shop--be sure and get something very nice indeed for
Ned Blackborough's dance on New Year's Eve. Fifteen whole sovereign
remedies and fifteen shillings over! What an immense amount to spend
upon herself, she who at best was but a poor maimed thing. Every now
and again this feeling of being, as it were, a castaway, a derelict on
Life's sea, would come to her, though she knew that millions of women,
many from choice, went through the world and left their mark on it
with never a child to call them mother. Still the sense of being, as
it were, out of the fighting-line was at times oppressive. So few
things seemed to matter; certainly not the spending of money.

"It will have to be ready by the 31st," she stipulated, and then she
smiled as she invariably did when she remembered Ned Blackborough.

Myfanwy Jones took in the smile with critical shrewdness. Had she been
asked, she would have said it was not exactly the smile of a married
woman, although Aura had given her name as Mrs. Cruttenden.

What of that? Myfanwy's notions were decidedly broad, and if she could
compass a good time, as she herself counted a good time, for this
lovely girl, the lovely girl should have one.

"Miss Moore! Madam's measure!" she called in queenly fashion, and
searched in her beaded-satchel--pockets would have disturbed the
elegant set of her dress--for a pencil. It had slipped inside a folded
paper, and as Myfanwy removed it, she smiled in her turn. For she had
caught a glimpse of the writing and printing inside the paper.

"Miss Alicia Edwards," "Messrs. Williams and Edward," "per M. Jones."

Only that morning Myfanwy had paid the bill and received her
commission on the sales; so there it was awaiting developments.

"If Madam will come for one fitting," suggested Myfanwy superbly. She
was going to stake her reputation on this dress, and she meant not to
lose it.

The result exceeded even her expectations.

Aura looked at herself in the long glass and then at Myfanwy, who,
with infinite condescension, had insisted on seeing Madam dressed.

"What have you done to me?" she asked, "I don't know myself."

Was it the long, straight, brilliant, moonshiny folds that made her
look so tall and slim? Was it the tiny, scarcely-seen silver threads
outlining the flowing curves of dead-white velvet about the hem which
made one think of moonlit clouds? Was it the cunningly devised drapery
of lace which made the bodice seem a loose sheath to loveliness?

Myfanwy Jones looked at Aura with undisguised pity. "It is only that
Madam is so seldom dressed; she is only clothed; but to-night she will
be the best-dressed person in the rooms." She looked at her doll with
a sphynx-like expression not without some malice in it. "If Madam will
allow me," she said, and her deft fingers were in the bronze hair:
"so--the shape of Madam's head is heavenly--and--and not the diamond
brooch--the dress requires nothing but Madam's self. That is right! I
trust Madam will enjoy herself."

Aura went downstairs to show herself to her husband, with a queer new
feeling of power tingling in every vein. Why at two-and-twenty should
she hold herself derelict? A ship need not always steer straight to
the pole.

Ted had been extremely busy and rather irritable ever since she had
returned; not irritable with her--he never was that--but _distrait_
and careless. In a way it had been a relief, since it had given her
time to try and adjust herself to her new outlook. She had not even
spoken to him regarding that new outlook; she was almost doubting if
she should. Her silence would, no doubt, be a bar to perfect
confidence; but was such a thing as perfect confidence possible
between two people so dissimilar as she and Ted? Perhaps it was better
to drift on. Whither?

The question would come with a pang, sometimes bringing the thought
that it might have been better if she and the little one--the little
daughter they told her--had gone out hand in hand to wander in the
"groves of asphodel." That was Ned's phrase; and with that would come
another pang.

What would she do without Ned? He had been so kind. He had lent her
books to read, he had taken her out in the motor, he had even talked
of the dead baby almost as if he understood how dear a memory it had
to be.

Ted looked at her from head to foot, and a slow smile crept over his
good-looking sensible face.

"That is something like," he said. "By Jove! you look most awfully
fetching! A little ice-bergy," he continued, bending to kiss the white
shoulder above the Mechlin lace: "but--but that's your style. Only I
wish you had more colour. If this 'biz' of mine comes off, we'll take
a holiday somewhere--Monte Carlo, perhaps--the Hirsches are going
there. Now we ought to be starting. You don't mind my dancing, do you
dearest? I do wish you'd learn. It looks so odd your sitting out with
the old fogies."

"I shall sit out with Ned," she replied lightly.

For the first time in her life Ted frowned at her. "It seems to me,"
he said quite nastily, "that you have done a lot of sitting-out with
Ned lately. I don't half like it."

She stared at him, and all the way to New Park sat thinking of what he
had said. Was it possible he was going to be jealous of her? Of her
who had married him to get rid of the very possibility.

A ray of light from a gas-lamp lit up her face, and she found Ted's
eyes fastened on her.

"You are most awfully fetching to-night--you look so jolly mysterious
somehow," he said joyously, putting his cheek against hers. "Give me a
kiss, wifelet."

She gave him one. She would have given him a dozen of the trivial
things had he asked for them! Then she laid her hand on his.

"You weren't serious about Ned, were you?" she asked.

"Not--not altogether," he admitted with a smile; "but you can't be too
careful, my child. People are the devil to talk. And you mustn't
forget that he did want to marry you."

She must not forget! And all her efforts had been to forget it
utterly. What a queer world it was!

"Here we are," said Ted cheerfully. "By Jove! Blackborough is doing it
well!"

For once, indeed, New Park looked habitable. Ned, remembering the
East, had had it illuminated in Indian fashion, and even the
heavy-browed architraves and the stucco columns looked passable
outlined by rows of little lamps. Great cressets blazed following the
ground plan of the huge pile, the balustrades of the formal terraces
shone in lines of light. The wide portico, carefully enclosed, was
full of palms, and festooned with vines from which hung great clusters
of grapes. Within, it was impossible to recognise the formal suites of
rooms. They seemed to have vanished, taking with them all the stiff
furniture, the gorgeous clogging carpets. In their places were airy
pavilions, orange gardens, great groves of tall lilies. Money had been
spent lavishly in getting rid of all traces of money. And in the
centre of it all stood Ned Blackborough with Helen Tressilian, looking
years younger, beside him, as she received congratulations on her
approaching marriage, all the time keeping a watchful eye lest Peter
Ramsay should weary after his recent illness; but he looked alert and
keen as ever.

"A small and early, and you come at a quarter past nine!" said Ned,
then paused, absolutely dazzled by the shiny folds, the moonlit
clouds, the parted sheath of the bodice concealing surely the most
beautiful thing in the world. His vagrant mind reverted on the instant
with a quaint admixture of regret and exultation to the adornment he
had ordered for the select supper-table at which Aura was to be
entertained. This woman was beyond such simplicities as a little
purple iris. For her, white roses, tuberoses, gardenias, stephanotis;
all the deadly sweet white things in the world, even the poisonous
_dhatura!_

"I have put my name down for some dances later on," he said, handing
her a programme; "I shall be busy at first, but--let me see--Lord
Scudamore, I am going to give you the honour of being presented to
Mrs. Cruttenden. Remember, you are engaged to me for supper."

"Is that wise? What will _they_ say?" asked Helen doubtfully, as Aura
and her cavalier--a diplomatic-looking wearer of an immaculate
dress-suit, with some sort of a ribbon across the shirt--moved off.

"_They_, my dear Helen, will by that time be envying me my good luck,
at least all the men will, and I will tell the cavilling women she is
a bride. Did you ever see such a fairly bewildering dress? She is the
whole Dream of Fair Women rolled into one."

"Let us go into the Winter Palace. Have you seen it?" said Aura's
diplomat, and she went with him nothing loth. Ten minutes afterwards,
however, she complained of a draught, and left it somewhat hurriedly,
she with fine flaming cheeks and he somewhat sulkily. That was the
worse of rustics; they could not understand the most ordinary
_persiflage_.

"Where would you like to sit? I am afraid I am engaged for this
dance," he said icily.

"Oh I anywhere, I like to be alone," replied Aura.

It was not long her fate. Mr. Hirsch spied her out and bore down upon
her, white waistcoat and all. His open admiration was almost a relief,
mixed up as it was with still more boundless adoration of his
daughter, who came flitting past in Ted's arms. They were too much
absorbed in their waltz and their enjoyment of it to notice the
sitters out, but Mr. Hirsch waxed enthusiastic over their appearance.
They were a couple to be proud of, and he really _was_ becoming quite
proud of Ted, who promised to be a very rich man. He felt quite like a
father towards him; he had indeed fathered him into the world of
speculation, and--ha--ha--ha--then he waxed exceedingly hilarious--if
Mr. Cruttenden hadn't been in such a terrible hurry to get married,
who knows but what a family arrangement--she must excuse him, but
really if she would look so superlatively beautiful she must expect
the world to go crazy.

"What are you laughing at so loudly, papa?" asked Miss Hirsch, pulled
up in the next round by her parent's laughter. "I'm sure he must be
boring you terribly, Mrs. Cruttenden. And there is Mr. Leveson, papa,
just dying to be introduced--he told me so just now--do go and fetch
him. You'll find him awfully amusing, Mrs. Cruttenden, he has seen so
much life."

He had seen too much for Aura. She came out from the conservatory
white with anger. By this time half the men in the room were looking
at her, and it was no longer any question of being alone. She was
beginning to feel frightened, she looked vainly for Ted, but he having
seen her, as he phrased it self-complacently, "well-started," was
amusing himself. So, in the crush of smiling, flattering faces, she
saw Ned Blackborough's, and caught almost convulsively at his arm, and
his quiet decorous claim.

"Our dance, I think."

"Oh! Ned!" she said hurriedly, "do let us go to some quiet place where
we can get away from everybody."

The suggestion was but too welcome. Free for a time from his duties as
host, he cast all prudence to the winds. The sort of thing that had
been going on was all very well, but it must end in the inevitable
way. When she was happy, he might have been a fool. Now, he would not
be one. It was not as if he would be doing Ted any real harm. If he
was free of her he would be free to marry and have sons to inherit his
money, he could even marry Miss Hirsch!

The library whither they escaped looked snug and comfortable, all
untouched by the babel without. The reading lamp by the blazing fire;
Ned's book as he had left it.

"This is nice," she said with a little shiver of satisfaction, and
taking up the book crouched down in her usual fashion by the fire to
see what it was.

Ned's pulses were bounding. It was all he could do to keep his voice
steady.

"You oughtn't to do Cinderella in that lovely gown!" he said.

Aura looked at him critically. "I feel like Cinderella," she said. "I
believe I want to go home before twelve; and I don't think I like the
gown; it makes me something I never was before."

There was a silence. Ned Blackborough was telling himself he was a
fool.

"I shall put out the light if you insist on trying to read a bad
French novel instead of speaking to me," he said. "There!--" the click
of the electric button sounded clear. "It's much nicer with the
firelight. Give that thing to me."

"Bad French novel," she echoed. "Why do you read it if it is bad? I
wouldn't."

"All people are not perfect," he said recklessly. "Most of us--except
you--have a bad side. I often wonder what you would say if I were to
show you mine?"

"You couldn't," she said softly.

He had literally to harden his heart before he could go on, and then
he had to double back. "It--it isn't a bad book after all," he went on
turning the leaves idly, "it is only real life. I'll tell you the
story if you like. Of course it is about a woman, and a man, and--and
a husband--the old story that is always cropping up in the world, so
the book's no good." He threw it aside in sudden impulse upon the
table, and knelt down beside her. "Aura," he said passionately, "you
and I know the beginning of the story well. Why should we try and
escape from the ending of it? Oh! for God's sake, child, don't look
like that!"

She had sprung up and was glancing down at the white shimmering folds
of her gown in absolute horror.

"It is the dress," she muttered. "It is not me--it is not you, Ned--oh
Ned, it can't be you--it is the dress--I will go home--I must go
home----"

"Aura!" he cried, but she eluded him and was out in the wide lit
corridor ere he could even ask her to be calm--to forgive him--to
forget. He glanced after her for a moment; then with a curse at
himself closed the door and sat down moodily before the fire. What was
the good?

Between the palms, the roses, the endless flowers and curtains of the
corridor were many a cosy corner, many a prepared nook where men and
women in the intervals between the dances sought seclusion and
love-making, more or less casual according to the taste of the
makers--and where passion, doubtless, had gone further than Ned's
brief outburst.

"Hullo, Aura!" came her husband's voice as he issued from one of these
corners with Miss Hirsch on his arm. "All alone! Why, what's up?"

The necessity for calm came to her. "I was looking for you," she
said. "I want you to order the carriage for me. I'm feeling--not very
well--and I shall be better at home--you see, as I don't dance." She
looked helplessly at him wondering if she would be allowed to go.

"I'll take you home, of course, if you want to go," he said
gloomily--"that is, if Miss Hirsch will excuse me." His regret for
three more dances with the jolliest girl he had met for years was in
his voice.

"Then I won't go," she began, "I couldn't spoil----"

"You are not looking a bit well," said Miss Hirsch kindly. "See! I'll
take you to the ladies' room. Mr. Cruttenden, you might send her in a
glass of champagne. Then you can have a quiet rest there, and go home
later if you want to, but I expect you'll be all right by supper
time."

She nodded knowingly to Ted and went off with Aura, bursting over with
friendliness.

But, left alone in charge of a bevy of prim maids, with the untouched
champagne before her, Aura's courage rose. She would do what she
wanted to do. So, on her programme card she wrote a note to her
husband using all the most consoling phrases she could think
of--"Feeling a little bilious," was in itself sufficient to allay any
anxiety--ended up with a cheerful--"I shall be asleep long ere you
come home, please enjoy yourself," and leaving this to be given to him
when he came to inquire, slipped away. The clocks were just striking
half-past eleven when she paid the cabman at the gate. She had
forgotten the latch-key, but, thank heaven, the servants were still
up. It was New Year's Eve. Her thoughts flew back to Cwmfaernog, to
the last New Year's Day when she had learnt so many things.

She was going to learn more now. She could not understand. She did not
know what the world meant. She was going to see for herself once and
for all.

As she thought this she was stripping off Myfanwy's creation.

"Enjoy herself!" She flung it into a corner almost with a cry, and the
next minute stood in her white serge and the brown Tam-o'-Shanter.
Mercifully some faint instinct of self-preservation made her muffle up
the bronze beauty of her hair and hide some of the perfection of her
face under a thick veil. The next instant she had carefully closed the
front door again, and was hurrying away down the road towards the
electric tram. They went till midnight; that would take her quickest
to the heart of the great city. She had Ted's duplicate latch-key with
her; she would try and be back before he returned.

Hitherto she had sought for the uttermost wisdom of nature amongst the
everlasting hills--now she was going to seek the uttermost wisdom of
man in his haunts.

"Hullo! Polly, my dear, ain't you comin' my side?" came a voice from
the shadows over the way, but she was close to the tram lines now, and
a car was coming along. It was full of holiday-makers singing,
shouting, harmless enough, but over hilarious. Here there were more
appeals to Polly (why perpetually Polly rather puzzled her) as she
clung to a strap, until a jovial elderly man pulled her down on his
knee. Whereat the whole car roared as if it were some exquisite joke.
But they meant no harm; they were only just a little convivial.

The car stopped at the Cross, the centre of the great city, and she
got out. It was a fine old Cross, weather-beaten, worn, bearing on its
four sides beneath the soaring quaintly floreated Symbol of Salvation,
four bas-reliefs of the Passion of the Master, the Scourging, the
Mocking, the Cross-carrying, the Crucifying.

Beneath the latter Aura stood looking out with clear eyes at the
conduct of Christendom. The radiating streets were all thronged; the
late music-halls were belching out their crowds, the supper-rooms were
preparing to close by turning out their guests. But the streets were
not ready for bed.

What a crowd! Gaily dressed women of almost all types. Some painted,
bedizened, unmistakable, others apeing them amused, uncertain, even
faintly repelled. Men with every expression on their faces, from evil
passion, through vulgarity, to contemptuous tolerance. Half-grown
girls more outrageous than their elders, half-grown lads jostling,
leering, raiding the pavement-walkers into the very street. The
electric light danced and quivered, the moistened mud of a thousand
footsteps sparkled and shone.

Where in all her midnight walks upon the hills had she seen a sight
like to this?

As she stood, more than one offer of a drink fell on her ears; but she
took no notice.

"If you ain't goin'," said a policeman familiarly, "you must move on.
I can't 'ave you standin' doing nothin'."

So she quitted the shadow of the Crucifixion; but at the corner of the
street also, it was still "move on," when she herself had failed to
move on; so the next time the offer of a drink came she accepted it.

"Bully for you, my girl; come along," said the offerer, and they went
across to a gin shop, the doors of which had never once been still;
the flashing of their backwards and forward swing beating out the
seconds with the regularity of a clock.

How bright it was! How full these last few minutes before twelve.

The offerer appraised his guest critically, "Sherry!" he ordered, "and
the usual--now! my girl, drink it up sharp. The night's young for
pleasure yet, but we shall have to turn out and find some other
place."

Aura looked at him clearly; at the face, not bad in itself, but
overlaid with sensuality.

"I am not going to drink," she said coldly. "I only came in to
see--and I have seen."

She turned to go. Luckily for her, his torrent of obscene abuse was
interrupted by a general exodus; for suddenly the Town Hall clock
boomed, the church bells rang out, the old year passed, the new year
began; began with shouts and curses and kisses and laughter. Some one
struck up "Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot," and a band of perfect
strangers to each other, hand-clasped and feeling wildly at each end
for further friendship, lurched across the street.

A Salvation lass, her face vivid with intent, clutched at Aura's arm.
"Don't go with him, my girl--don't--he is the Devil--he is Sin
incarnate--he is----"

"I am not going," answered Aura in a queer strained voice. "I am in
school. I am learning. I want to see for myself."

"That was Eve's sin--you are lost--come--come with me."

The crowd jostled them apart, jostled Aura into the shadow of a narrow
archway. More than one man's face looked into the shadow, spoke, then
passed on with a jibe. The streets were beginning to empty; the crowd
was dissolving into couples; men and women were hurrying away into the
side streets. She must be going also.

"Hullo! you young devil! I have got you again, have I?" came a hoarse
voice, and a hand clutched at her arm.

She wrenched it away, and looked for escape. Beside the low archway
rose a flight of steps, above the steps a wider archway. A small door
in it stood open. Scarcely thinking what she did, she sprang towards
it, set aside a leathern curtain, and for the first time in her life
found herself in a church. At least the man would not follow her here.

What a quaint little place! It was almost dark, but lights were
burning, small twinkling lights set in the form of a star at the
further end, and she went forward curiously. The chapel, for it was no
more than that, was not quite empty. Here and there among the shadowy
chairs some figure--generally two figures together--showed dimly.

It must be a Roman Catholic chapel, for that gracious woman's figure
crowned with stars uplifted above the sanctuary doors with a child in
her arms, must be the Blessed Mother.

Aura's heart leapt up to her. That she understood. And what was this
at her gracious feet, beneath the five-pointed star of light?

That was the mother again kneeling in adoration before her new-born
child, while the ox and the ass worshipped with wide, soft eyes, and
the shepherds and the wise men thronged the door.

Aura knelt down before the _crêche_, her eyes wide, soft as those of
the beasts that perish. Here was peace. Here was perfection! No! not
perfection, but the road to it. This was the solution of the horrors
of human life outside, but beyond human life lay the life that was not
human, the something better of her dreams.

A touch on her shoulder roused her. One of the Sisters of the
Immaculate Conception, engaged in this rescue work, was beside her.

"Courage!" she said. "Courage! my sister! Our Blessed Lady will help
you. Give up your sinful life."

Aura rose and looked at her simply. "I am not a bad woman," she said.
"I--I don't think I ever could have been one. Now I know I couldn't."
Then she flushed up. "I--I should like to give something," she
continued, and thrusting her purse into the sister's hand, she turned
and passed rapidly into the street again.

She had seen enough; she had learnt enough. Now to get home.

She would have taken one of the cabs, of which two or three still
stood by the Cross, but she had no money. There were two pennies, it
is true, in the pocket of her jacket, but the trams had ceased running
for the night. There was nothing for it but to walk, and she had no
idea of the way. Her two first experiences of asking it, one entailing
immediate flight from insult, were not encouraging. So the clocks were
chiming half-past three ere, utterly worn out, draggled beyond belief,
she stood in the hall of her own house again, thankful to find from
the darkness that Ted had not yet returned. He might be back any
moment, however, so she must make haste and remove her garments. She
flung them all soiled and stained with the grime of the city, on the
top of Myfanwy Jones' creation, the beginning and the end together.

Then, as she stood in her white dressing-gown, she paused to listen.
Was that a sound in Ted's study? Could he have come in already? come
in without seeing how she was?

She went downstairs. There was a light beneath the door; she opened
it.

The room seemed to her to be full of smoke, making all things in it
unreal, almost fantastic. And was that her husband looming large,
jovial, content through this new atmosphere? She shrank back from it.

"Hullo, little woman! Aura! I've such news for you. I've turned up
trumps with a vengeance. I'm a hundred thousand pounds richer than I
was yesterday. I found the telegram when I came home half an hour ago,
and I've been dreaming ever since. Such dreams! You shall have the
best time a woman ever had--frocks, jewels, everything--and by and
by----"

"There may be no by and by," she said quickly. "Ted--oh Ted! be good
to me."



                            CHAPTER XXVII


"It is May," said Ned Blackborough in rather a strained voice, "and
you promised to come to Cwmfaernog in May. You look as if you needed a
holiday. Come!"

Yes, it was May. Four whole months had passed since Myfanwy Jones'
dress had upset Aura's cosmogony, and she had fled to find some
foothold in the slums of the city. She had found a faith there, and
had spent four months in trying to put that faith into practice.

It had been up-hill work, but her courage had not wavered.

Her eyes were clear as she looked back at Ned, who had come in to find
her, as she so often was nowadays, alone. For Ted's first great
success had been but a preliminary to months of daily excitement spent
in gaining, losing, gaining again, in the midst of which he seemed to
have lost sight of the future altogether. And for the present he was
too busy to care. Then underlying all things was his consciousness of
youth. The outlook before him was long; he could not but see that
chance might come into it. Why! in five years time he would be just
reaching the age at which it was prudent for a business man to marry;
for, of course, his marriage to poor dear Aura had been grossly
imprudent, though, but for this one disappointment,--which naturally
meant more to her than to him--it had turned out very well. If only
she would have condescended to amuse herself like other girls--like
Rosa Hirsch, for instance--they might have had a jolly time together
in the various European capitals whither his business took him. But
what was the use of taking her when the only places in which Aura was
not shy and ill at ease were musty fusty old picture galleries and
dreary botanical gardens. And "the Zoo," of course; she had always
been at home in "the Zoo"; but then there was that beastly smell of
smaller mammals all over the shop. So he had gone his way, kindly,
quite affectionately, wholly without sympathy. To Aura it was rather a
relief; it gave her time to rearrange her world.

She was looking a little weary over a pile of household accounts.
There was no need nowadays for heartburnings as to expense; but none
the less Ted expected a properly-balanced book, and the items were
terribly numerous. It was the herring-and-a-half problem expressed in
pounds instead of pence, and there was quite a wrinkle of thought
between Aura's eyebrows, for she was no arithmetician.

To Ned that wrinkle was a tragedy; but then it is always a tragedy for
a man to watch from a distance the woman he loves trying to
reconstruct her life, and reconcile herself to the lack of what he
knows he could give her; and the greater her success the greater--in a
way--is the tragedy.

Ned had felt this every instant of those four months during which the
memory of that pitiful protest, "Not you Ned. Ah! Ned, not you!" had
come between him and even apology. When he had gone back that evening
to fling himself into a chair and gloom over the fire for a few
minutes, he had told himself he was a fool. He had told himself so
hundreds of times since that evening, until there had grown up in him
the conviction that this sort of thing could not possibly last for
ever. Why should it? Why should three human beings be sacrificed? And
in heaven's name to what? Not to a marriage of either soul or body.
They all needed something which they had not got. Ted needed, or would
need, a wife and children. These might be his if Aura were taken away.
She needed the old, free, natural life. This Ned could give her in
that island on the southern seas. And how much more? Ye gods! how much
more of love--true love, and tenderness and truth! As for his own
needs, they were simple, being summed up in that one word--Aura. He
needed her every instant of the day and night. He could not be content
without her. Love had left his body; it had invaded his mind; it had
not yet touched his soul. The personal element was still too strong
for him, so by degrees he had brought himself to believe that perhaps
the best way out of the _impasse_ for all the three actors in the
tragedy would be for him to beguile her away--if he could.

"You know you promised me last year," he reiterated.

"Yes! I promised," she said sadly, and he knew where her thoughts had
fled. He used to see her so often in his dreams, wandering through
great drifts of purple iris, the flower which brings the messages of
the gods, leading a little child by the hand. She was there now, and a
sudden dread came over him again lest nothing short of that would ever
make her really happy. But the next moment he had roused himself. "I
should love to go, of course," she went on. "Fancy seeing Cwmfaernog
and the floor of heaven! Only I can't, can I? till Ted returns, and
that may be----"

"Never, perhaps!" interrupted Ned sarcastically. "He hasn't been much
at home lately, has he?"

She flushed up hastily. "Why should he be? he is not like you--you are
an idle man; besides----" she paused, her pride refusing to justify
her husband even to Ned. "It may not be for a fortnight," she went on
coldly, "he never can tell. And by that time the hyacinths will be
over, and it would be no good. So--so it is no use thinking of it."

But her very readiness in the self-defence of this refusal to blame
her husband, decided him. If that went on much longer, the tragedy
would become permanent. A sudden weariness of the whole foolish muddle
seized on him. He was not going to have Aura spend her days in
saintliness and martyrdom, growing more and more dignified and
gracious, more and more motherly in the look of brimming affection she
never failed to give to him--to him her lover!

It was beyond bearing. He would break down the prison walls at all
costs. He was tired to death himself of civilisation; they would go
into the wilderness and be happy.

"I will ask Mrs. Ramsay to come with us," he said, knowing that he had
not the slightest intention of so doing; but if he was to take the law
into his own hands, he would require a few days to mature his plans.

"She can't come," he said two days afterwards; "she isn't quite up to
it."

Aura looked for a moment as if she were back in the iris fields. "I'm
sorry," she began.

"But," went on Ned coolly, "I believe I could take you there and back
by the four-cylinder Panhard in a day--if you don't mind starting
rather early. Do come. I--I want a holiday too--badly."

He looked like it.

"Poor Ned," she said softly, for she had begun to realise her
responsibilities towards him also. That was the worst of life; the
great hidden tie between all creatures could so seldom be felt or seen
until some wound stripped the quivering flesh, and left the ligaments
bare. "Yes! I will come," she said after a pause, making up her mind
that there, standing on the floor of heaven, she would try and make
him understand that she was worth no man's passionate love. "When
shall we go?"

Something seemed to rise in his throat and choke him. "The first fine
day. Shall we say to-morrow? But we must start at five; and breakfast
by the way."

"At five!" she echoed joyously, looking more like herself than she had
done for months. "Oh Ned! how jolly! I haven't been up at five for
ages and ages. It disturbs Ted so--and then," she hurried on--"the
servants loathe it. They hate you to know how late they are."

She was ready waiting for him, with quite a colour in her cheeks when
he drove up. It was a delicious morning, cool, clear, full of shafted
lights and shadows from the rising sun. Aura tilted back her head
triumphantly and gazed up at the little white fleecy clouds that were
drifting steadily overhead before the westerly breeze.

"I'm not going to look at anything grimy to-day," she said with a
laugh; "and even Blackborough can't soil those! They are too gladly
far away. Do you know that often when I've nothing else to comfort me,
I lie on my back in the garden and dream they are just feathers out of
a great, soft pillow where I am finding rest!"

He felt a pang for her innocent self-betrayal, but he retorted
gravely, "That is your fault for not being contented with a good
civilised wire-mattress."

She laughed out loud. "How nice of you to talk nonsense! It is exactly
like old times; exactly!" she cried. "Ned! do you think we were made
to forget? I don't."

"Some things," he said soberly, "are best forgotten."

"Not many," she replied cheerfully. "Sometimes, Ned, I seem to get at
the meaning of so much by remembering, and then I see how all these
little lives of ours work into one big whole; and then--and then." She
was silent, her eyes still upon the clouds.

"If her Majesty will deign to look upon this poor world," said Ned
Blackborough after quite a long while, "she will see primroses."

They were beyond the grime. The skies were blue, the trees, the grass
were green, and far away the distant hills showed purple through the
blossoming apple orchards.

What need was there for more?

Not once, not twice, but many times that day, as the car sped almost
noiselessly through lanes and past homesteads and fields where the
lambs lay white like little clouds dropped from heaven, Ned told
himself joyfully that this was but the beginning of an end which would
never come.

"Why are you putting on your goggles?" she asked, as, by the low road
round the coast--for the straight hilly pitch over the head of the
valley was too bad for the motor--they came within measurable distance
of Dinas.

"There are a lot of slate spiculæ on the road," he replied coolly,
"and one got into my eye once. You had better put on a veil too. I
brought one on purpose."

"You think of everything, Ned," she replied gaily. "I never knew any
one like you."

Except Guy Fawkes, or some arch traitor of that sort, he felt with a
pang; but one had to take precautions, and if you set yourself up as a
_Deus ex machine_ to get people out of a muddle--why, some mud was
likely to stick.

So, disguised out of all recognition, they swept through the village
of Dinas, and, passing the staring schoolhouse, took the turn towards
Cwmfaernog.

The villagers looked after them with slack curiosity, for Dinas was,
as it had always been, immersed in its own trivialities. The revival
had passed away, leaving its traces physical and mental no doubt, but
ceasing to bring any new interest into life. At the present moment,
however, the village had an absorbing interest of its own; for in two
days time the Reverend Hwfa Williams was to marry Alicia Edwards, and
all the other young women in the place were in that curious state of
mingled spitefulness and vicarious nervous excitability which a
wedding so often provokes in the feminine sex.

"They will not find any one at Cwmfaernog, whatever," said Isaac
Edwards at his door, "for Martha Bate and her husband went for a jaunt
the day before yesterday. It is only old Evans from the shepherd's hut
that is to milk the cows and feed the cocks."

Meanwhile the motor sped on, curving round the rocks.

"There is no more slate here, anyhow," cried Aura joyfully, tearing
off her veil. "Oh Ned! look, look! The floor of heaven? Ah! do stop
and let us look."

He did not answer. The engine slowed, quivered, sunk to silence. Now,
at last, he understood. Now he knew what he had seen in the boat so
long ago, when the swift southern storm was sweeping up unseen behind
him. This was the blue mist which had enveloped him and held him. A
blue mist hiding the earth, hiding even every green thing from sight
as it lay in wreaths in the hollows or crept up and up and up, leaving
itself in clouds to cover all things until it met the sky.

The floor of heaven indeed!

Not quite so blue perhaps as that distant roof of heaven over which
the heat of the day had spread a faintly violet haze; but still--the
floor of heaven!

No other words expressed it. Here, surely the angels of God might
tread with unsoiled feet.

"Does not everything of earth seem to fall away," came Aura's voice
all hushed and quiet, "and leave one ... free at last!"

She was out of the car standing, her sandalled feet just touching the
carpet of hyacinths, her hands stretched out towards them, her face
full of absolute undimmed joy. "See!" she continued, "the dear things
grow on to our very path--we won't hurt them, will we? Let us walk on
to the house and see Martha, then I will take you through a path in
the woods to the best place of all." She paused and looked at him
curiously. "Ned--what is it? Something is wrong! What is it?"

"There is nothing wrong," he answered quietly, "and I may as well tell
you here as elsewhere. Martha is not at the house."

She paled a very little. "She is not there," she echoed; "why?"

"Because I sent her away."

"You sent her away?"

"Yes! because I wanted to be alone with you--and--we are alone--alone
with nothing but our love between us--for you do love me? Aura!" he
cried, his quiet giving way as he seized her hands and drew her
towards him. "Why should we go back to all the grime--to the dull,
useless, foolish life? Come with me! No one wants us, no one will miss
us, not even Ted! It has all been a mistake from the beginning. There
is but one way to set things straight--to leave him free to do as he
chooses--come----"

"My poor Ned!"

She stood unresisting before him, with all the motherhood that was in
her, looking at him through eyes that brimmed over with tears, and her
voice, full of an overwhelming pity, smote on his ears, a knell to all
his hopes. He knew it, he felt it to be so even as he listened. He let
her hands fall with a sense of impotence to hold her.

"It is my fault, dear," she said softly, "I ought to have told you--I
ought to have made you understand. Ned! I am worth no man's love. I
shall never----"

He interrupted her with an angry impatient laugh. "But I do
understand. It is you who cannot understand that love lives
untrammelled by such trivialities. Aura! were I your husband now, you
would be a thousand times more dear--the tie between us would be a
thousand times more strong----"

"Hush!" she said, with a world of mysterious solemnity in her voice.
"If that is true, Ned; if love really can live untrammelled by the
body, why should it not live untrammelled by the mind? You want to see
me, to hear me, to--to touch me--perhaps! But Ned! There is something
that is beyond all this--that is beyond everything--beyond you and me,
and yet it is you and I--that is ours now----" Suddenly her tone rose
swift and sharp--"Come, Ned! let us forget the rest----is _this_ not
enough?"

He looked around him and, even amid such transcendental beauty as was
there, shook his head. "I cannot live on air, Aura," he said bitterly.
"No man can."

Her face melted into gentle smiles. "There is the lunch-basket," she
said.

He turned aside almost with a curse. "It is easy to laugh," he began.

"Is it so easy?" she asked, and once again her voice brought to him
that sense of infinite pity, infinite denial. "Then let us laugh, Ned,
while we can. Come, let us lose ourselves. Oh Ned! give me one day
unspotted by the world, untouched by trivialities, just this one day!"

And as she took his hand, the glamour, not of this world, but of that
which lies hidden beyond it, above it, claimed possession of his soul.
The blue mist closed in on them. They stood on the floor of heaven
with the sky above them.


                          *   *   *   *   *


Down in the hollows with the silken fans of the half-opened
beech-leaves overhead, a saffron-coloured azalea dropping its gold
upon the blue, the pink campion struggling for a place amongst the
blossoms, a tuft of white poet's-narcissus looking up from the pool of
water into which a scarce-seen runlet dripped and dropped. What
colour! What almost unimaginable beauty.


                          *   *   *   *   *


Out in the open, in a cup in the hills where the carpet of heaven-blue
hyacinths dwarfed into closer growth showed like a shadowy cloud
against the clearer blue of the sky. What dreamfulness! What peace!


                          *   *   *   *   *


Away on the springing heather on the mountain-top, with half Wales
spread before you, and the westering sun obscured by just such a
shadowy cloud, sending a great sloping corona of light rays to nestle
in the dimples of the hills, and shine in shafted reflections on the
distant sea.

What visions of unending space, of ceaseless life!


                          *   *   *   *   *


"Is it not time?" she said at last as they sat in the sheep-shelter.

The sun was beginning to sink in the west calmly, serenely. The light
shone round them, purest gold. Down in the valley, the blue hyacinth
mist grew darker, colder.

"Yes! It is time," he said quietly.

"It has been quite perfect," she said again.

"Almost perfect," he assented; after all he was but human, and
humanity does not live by sight alone. It craves to touch also.

The motor was awaiting them where they had left it.

She laid her hand on his for a second ere he started it.

"Say it has been quite perfect, Ned," she pleaded.

He looked at her and smiled. "I will not say it--you can say it for
me."

She was silent for a moment and then she spoke.

"It has been quite perfect!"


The motor sped on, the mist wreaths of the hyacinths grew dulled by
young green sprouting ferns, and the rocks closed in for the swift
turn by the school. The children were already out, and a group of them
were playing on the road. They scattered, leaving it clear. And then,
suddenly, from the shadow of the parapet-wall a little toddling child,
escaping from the hand of its wide-eyed curiosity-struck elder,
lurched out into the open.

"Oh Ned! Take care--the child--the child!"

Aura stood up, and in Ned's sudden swerve inwards, an overhanging root
from the high rocky bank above struck her full upon the temple.

The child, shrieking more from joyous excitement than fear, lurched
back with outstretched arms to the shadow; but Aura sank back, her
head resting on Ned's shoulder.

"My God! Aura!" he cried. There was no answer. He did not stop the
car, but sweeping it round the open space by the school, raced back to
Cwmfaernog. There, he knew, all was ready for her reception, there
everything would be to hand. As he sped through the misty blue cloud
once more, he saw nothing of it. His eyes were on her whitening face.

Dear God! How limp she felt, as he lifted her in his arms and carried
her across the drawbridge, and so through the garden to the house. A
scent of violets and primroses, of lilies of the valley, of all things
sweet assailed him as he entered the door that was only latched. He
had brought the flowers when he had come down secretly to see that all
things were prepared. He had brought them _for her!_ And the table set
out with flowers and fruit--that was _for her_ also.

He stumbled up the stairs with his heavy burden to her room. He had
not entered that. He had only climbed once more to her window-sill to
set it abloom with white and purple iris--the messengers of the gods.
How they mocked him now with their tale of immortality. His mind went
back to many a Kashmir grave which he had seen, long and narrow like
the sill set as thick with irises, high upon the hills, low amongst
the dales.

But she could not be dead!

Yet her head lay on the pillow just as it had touched it, her arm
slipping from his support sank, till it could sink no more.

"Aura!" he muttered faintly "Aura!"

He knelt and laid his ear to her heart--oh! sweetest resting--place in
all the world!

There was no sound, no beat. Yes! she was dead!

He turned his face round into the soft pillow of her breast and
whispered "Aura." It seemed to him as on that midsummer night when he
had first met her, as if all the world were wailing "Aura! Aura!"

How long he knelt there he scarcely knew; a faint sense of sound in
the house roused him to the remembrance that something must be done.

He must call for help. But if he did that, every one must know that
she was here with him alone. The world would judge, and what would
that judgment reck of her spotlessness or his forbearance? No! that
must not be, if he could compass otherwise.

His mind, almost unhinged by the terrible shock, chased possibility
through a thousand impossibilities, the least grotesque of these being
a grave of his own digging amongst the hyacinths; his subsequent
flight being easy, since he had made all arrangements for a sudden
disappearance.

Was that a noise below--a faint creak on the stairs? The possibility
troubled him. He crossed to the door, and opened it to find himself
confronted by Ted Cruttenden, his face distorted by passion.

"You scoundrel!" he cried. "You--you infernal scoundrel--where is
Aura--my wife?"

His very vehemence, his very lack of self restraint, brought back Ned
Blackborough's wandering wits. He closed the door behind him, and
stood with his back to it.

"She is--not there," he said slowly. "Ted! listen for one moment. I
brought her here----"

"Do you think I don't know that, you damned villain," burst out
Ted--"when I came home this morning and found you had taken her--there
was some cock-and-bull story the servants had about not sitting up for
her, and a latch-key and all that rot--do you think I was fool enough
not to understand--I've never really trusted you. And now--and
now--let me pass in, I say, or there'll be murder done."

"Listen one moment----" the voice was inexorable. "You never trusted me. I
know that. Have you not trusted her? Are you fool enough to have lived
day and night with her, to have lain with your head upon her
breast--and not known--No! it is impossible. You know what she is--you
must--you do know it----"

Even to Ted Cruttenden's mad jealousy, memory could bring no fuel to
feed the flame; his very anger sank for the moment to self-pity.

"I come home," he muttered, "I find her gone. I follow. I have walked
over the hill to----"

"To--spy upon us----" interrupted Ned sternly, "go on."

"To spy upon you if you will," cried Ted, his passion rising
again--"and I find you here, in her room----"

Ned opened the door behind him quietly. "Because she is dead," he
said, and leaning against the lintel, his head upon his arm, waited.

"Dead!"

The whisper reached him from within full almost of fear; and there was
a long empty silence.

"You will not say I killed her, I suppose," said Ned bitterly at last.
"It was an accident. We were going back--back to you----" The very
wonder of that fact stayed speech; but he knew he must go on. "I am
quite ready to let you shoot me, by and by, but at present--I--I want
you to think of her--of yourself. I don't count. I need count any
more. But we must be quick about it. As I stand before--before
Something that is mightier than I, I swear to you that I have done you
no harm. We won't go into the other question as to what harm you have
done me. And for her--you know. But--but even if we had, what use is
there now, in making a fuss in letting the world know that you have
found her there--with me. Not a soul knows I am here. You can take my
place, as you have taken it before. I can go, as I have gone before."

From within, where Ted Cruttenden stood beside the bed, vaguely
remorseful at his own lack of anything save anger, horror, regret, no
answer came.

"Ted," went on Lord Blackborough, "you must decide. I can go the way
you came, and you can call for help. It must be done at once. I'll
tell you how it happened so that you may know. We got here about noon.
We didn't go into the house. We were--we were in the woods and on the
hills----" his voice failed a little, then grew monotonous. "She said
it was time to go, and I--I was a fool! I said so too. Just at the
corner by the school, a child, a little child, ran in front of the
car. She--she called out--and rose. There was a root--oh! Curse the
damned thing--it struck her as I swerved. It has left a little blue
mark--you can see it on her temple if you look. She never spoke. I
brought her back. She was dead."

"You say you didn't kill her," burst out Ted, his voice now full of
crude anger, grief, hate, "but you did. You brought her here."

"Is there any use in recriminations," asked Ned wearily, "you have to
decide. And, after all, she--she was no wife for you--you are young
yet----" Ted listening, cursed him for repeating the inward thought
that had forced itself into his mind. "You have all the world before
you--and----" for an instant the voice hesitated as if ashamed,
uncertain, then went on. "I had made out a deed of gift to you of a
hundred and fifty thousand pounds. It is about all I have left, and
the works and all that must go to the heir, you know. You see I meant
to disappear, and I meant to take your wife,--so this was just
payment. It can be just payment still. I shall not trouble you again.
But--but you must decide at once."

He stood waiting for a moment or two, his head resting as before upon
his upraised arm upon the lintel; then he heard a step, and lifted his
eyes to check what he knew all too well would come from Ted's lips.
Did he not know it? Was it not the answer of the world where
everything even honour had its price? And was it not far better, far
wiser? Was it not what he himself desired?

"You will find the motor by the bridge," he said quietly. "You had
better call some one from the village first, and then the doctor. The
children will give evidence, some of them were quite big, and no one
at New Park knows anything. Good-bye? I shan't see you again."

When Ted had gone, he closed the door, went downstairs, gathered up
the tell-tale flowers and fruits which he had brought, climbed to the
window-sill and removed the iris, so, putting them all into a basket,
went back to the woods.

Before the car returned with its first consignment of help, the
misty-blue wreaths of the hyacinths, darkening with the dusk, had
hidden him.



                            CHAPTER XXVIII


He roused himself, for the night was passing. The last twinkling
lights--the lights which he had been almost--unconsciously watching in
the valley below him--had gone.

But one steady star remained. That came from the room where she lay
dead. It seemed incredible. Such sudden endings to all things came
into life sometimes, of course; still why should they come into his?
It was unfair. He risked everything on this one stake. Bit by bit he
had given up everything else. He had chased love to the outside edge
of the world, and now--it had gone over the verge.

He stood up and stretched himself, wondering vaguely how he had passed
the last few hours. He had slept for a while, he knew. That was at the
beginning, after he had gone down to the hollow where they had sat
together, and where he had planted the iris by the side of the
narcissus which was too proud to look for its fellow in the
earth-bounded pool at its feet. It had amused him--yes! positively
amused him--to dig holes for the bulbs with his pen-knife, and make a
grave--long and narrow like the window-sill--just such a grave as he
remembered on hill and dale at Kashmir. And it was not an empty grave
either; for he had buried in it the violets and the primroses, the
lilies of the valley and all things sweet.

In that first hour he must have been almost crazy with grief.

But then, he remembered, he had lain down half-hidden by the
hyacinths, dog-tired in mind and body to sleep a dreamless sleep. Then
he had come and watched the lights until it should be dark enough for
the night to bring disguise.

Now it had come, and it was time to be going.

Whither?

As if that mattered! He had come prepared for a secret journey, and
there was a hundred pounds odd in his pocket. The thought made him
smile bitterly. So far as outward circumstances stood, he was in
exactly the same position as he had been two years ago when he and Ted
had first met in a bicycle smash. In exactly the same position since
what was there to prevent his turning up at New Park in a few days,
and resuming his life as Lord Blackborough? There was nothing to
prevent it since the deed of gift could stand, of course; nothing but
his utter weariness. It would be better to start afresh.

He looked at his watch. Yes! it was time he was off. He would walk
down the coast road to Pot-âfon; thence take the cargo steamer to
Liverpool. All roads meet there. He would go off to the wilds
somewhere, and after a year if--if nothing changed--he could easily
fabricate his own death, and let the heir come into what he did not
want.

He set off for his night walk cheerfully enough. The glamour of that
past day was upon him still, he seemed to hear her voice saying for
him "It has been quite perfect." In reality those had been her last
words, since the cry "the child! the child!" had been wrung from her
by chance--by one of the unhappy chances and changes of this most
unhappy world.

"It has been quite perfect." Ay! perhaps, but in the past tense. What
of the present?

He paused at the bridge below the village where the mountain stream
joined the river Afon, to look down to the still pool below the arch.

In the moonlight it looked very quiet. One might sleep there without
dreams if people would only leave one alone, but they would not. He
leant over the parapet and smiled at the oddness of one hive of
swarming atoms, objecting to another hive of atoms choosing the hollow
of a pool wherein to rest, interfering to fish it up and put it
somewhere else in order to disintegrate into atoms again.

And after the atoms? There lay the question. The atom and the human
consciousness? Were not both an equal mystery born of the unity
beyond?

As he stood there absorbed in thought the sound of rapid footsteps
echoed down the steep road from Dinas and, not wishing to be seen, he
stepped back at once into the shadow of a tree that overhung the
bridge. Looking up the roadway he saw a woman's figure. She was
running swiftly with a curious unevenness, a curious uncertainty, yet
evidently with some set purpose. As she passed him he caught a glimpse
of her face, and--mere hive of atoms though he was--he started after
her in a second.

None too soon either! He had just had hold of her in time, as she
wavered for an instant on the parapet.

"You young fool!" he said roughly. "What's the matter? What are you
doing that for?"

The girl--she did not look more than twenty--stared at him vacantly as
if she did not understand what he meant, then with a little cry of
horror apparently at herself, covered her face with her hands, and
crouched down beneath his touch in a perfect storm of sobs.

"Don't cry!" he said more kindly, "What is it all about? What were you
going to do?"

"I--I don't know," she wept. "It--it came upon me suddenly that it was
the only way--it swept me off my feet--oh! wicked, wicked girl that I
am--if--if it hadn't been for you--Oh! what shall I do? What shall I
do?"

"What's wrong?" he asked, impatient at her helpless emotion. "Anything
I can help? Come! it's no use crying. Of course you're a wicked girl,
but as you evidently don't really want to kill yourself you'll have to
live. So you had better make a clean breast of it. I daresay I can
help--if it isn't----" Her face looked innocent and pure, still one
never could tell. "Come--out with it"--he went on--"If it's anything
about money----"

She caught at the word. "Money! Oh! if I could only get the money,"
she wailed.

"Come!" he said with a smile, "if it is only money----"

So by degrees she told him her name was Alicia Edwards. She was the
happiest, luckiest girl in the world, who was to be married in two
days to the man she loved--to a saint upon earth. And she bore an
unblemished character. And her father was also a saint upon earth. But
that very evening by the post had come--not a bolt from the blue--for
she had had an awful prescience that it would come, though who would
have thought that Myfanwy would be so cruel, and she just married to
the man she loved! Oh! it was wicked! A bill, and such a bill too! A
hundred and three pounds; and if it was not paid for at once it would
be sent. Oh! she would go mad with shame.

"What was it for?" asked Ned, wearily good-natured.

"That is it," wailed poor Alicia, "it is for hats and dresses. And I
ought to have paid. And what am I, a minister's wife, to ask him to
pay such bills. And my father will not. What am I to do? If I was a
bad girl it would be nothing; but I am good, so very good! I cannot
face them saying I am bad."

"They would have said you were mad, I suppose, if you had jumped from
the bridge just now," said Ned grimly.

Alicia looked at him furtively and wept again.

What a world it was, thought Ned bitterly. Here was a well-educated,
deeply-religious girl occupied entirely in thinking what her
neighbours would say of her; those neighbours who, in a way, were as
responsible as she. For was not humanity, as a whole, responsible for
all the deeds of humanity. Was he not, in a way, responsible for his
own birth, being as he was, but the outcome of his forefathers? Virtue
and vice, honour and dishonour, were they not all hidden in that first
Step of dancing Prakrit? So there came to him for once a great
humility, a patient acceptance of all the evil in the world as being
part of himself.

"I will give you the money, child," he said; "you shall marry the
saint and be a saint yourself--why not?"

"I can't--I can't take it," she muttered, for all that holding fast to
the purse he gave her; "I can't take it from a stranger."

"A stranger?" he echoed. "Bah! In the beginning, little girl, you and
I were one. Remember that in all your little life. As it was in the
beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end--Amen!"

He stooped and kissed her as he left her at her father's door, and she
stood looking after him, wondering if he were indeed a man or a
vision. But the money was there. A hundred pounds in notes and three
sovereigns. She would send them by the morning's post to Myfanwy Pugh,
and then----

Alicia Edwards fell on her knees beside her bed and thanked God for
the money.

Meanwhile Ned Blackborough had paused to re-make his plans in his new
condition of pennilessness; for he had but a few shillings left for
the immediate present. Afterwards there was money and to spare
awaiting him at various points on the route which he had carefully
prepared for flight. Still he must first get to a point.

Then the remembrance of the hundred pounds he had hidden away in the
cleft of the rock up on the hills came to him, making him laugh;
because there was no question now as to who needed it. He came back to
it a beggar; beggared, indeed, of all save life. Yet life was all. The
words of the Indian sage came back to him:--


      "Indestructible the life is, spreading life thro' all.
       I say to Thee weapons reach not the life.
       Flame burns it not, waters cannot overwhelm
       Nor dry winds wither it. Impenetrable,
       Unentered, unassailed, unharmed, untouched,
       Immortal, all arriving, stable, sure,
         Thus is the Life declared."


Vaguely he felt comforted. The sense of Unity lay around him in the
air. He saw the Golden Gateway. He knew that its Door was open. But
his love kept him from entering. He could yield himself without one
sigh to the Beginning that was the End, but he could not yield her,
for he had not yet realised that she also was the Beginning, the End.

The dawn was just breaking as he reached the gap, and searching in the
cleft found nothing.

Was he glad, or was he sorry? He was not sure. In a way he felt more
free, since he need now have no plans for the future. He could sit
down and watch the sun rise. After that he could walk over
Llwydd-y-Bryd to the coastline by the country town, and so--anywhere!

This was sufficient, surely, for the moment.

The sun rose in a panoply of purple and red with, low down above the
hills, a band or two of torquoise blue to hint of the vast fields of
calm ether beyond the storm clouds of the world.

"Aura! Aura! Aura!"

Even there, to the far, unending depths, the cry echoed. A cry apart,
poignant with individual anguish.

He started up and moved on. The staghorn moss trailed clinging to the
soil beneath his feet, a hawk hovering in the air was held to its
place also by the same force which sent the world on which he stood,
spinning on its way. But still that love, that grief of his, would not
be made one with Nature.

"Aura! Aura! Aura!"

He stood on the summit of Llydd-y-Bryd once more. Even the
"gingerbeer" had gone from the shieling now; but it would not be long
before humanity returned once more with placard and paste-pot to
appropriate the spot to base uses.

Down in the blue hollow yonder lay Cwmfaernog, and in Cwmfaernog
lay--no! not Aura! Aura was of the woods and hills. He could feel her
in them separate, distinct from himself. He would not give her up; he
could not. He would give one more look at the peaceful little valley
from the crag yonder, and then take her with him; something he would
not yield, not even to the Force which held the round world sure.

The round world perhaps--but--ye Gods!

His foot slipped, he caught at a root to save himself, it gave way--he
fell.

The hot noon-tide sun was beating down on him when he woke to
consciousness again. He tried to move, and could not. After a time his
mind returned clearly; he pinched himself upon the thigh and felt
nothing. That, then, was the reason why he felt no pain, for one of
his legs was evidently broken. He had injured his spine, and it was
paralysed below the waist. This, then, was the end.

"Aura! Aura!"

His heart leapt up in him. It could not be long now.

He was lying in the corrie into which he and Ted had vainly tried to
get that first night of the storm, and as he lay he could watch the
sun tilt from its high glory in the heavens, to touch the world in the
west then disappear. It would be a beautiful sunset. How many more
would he see, he wondered. How long would it last? Some days perhaps.

How idle all things--money, happiness, even love itself seemed beside
this certainty of leaving them all. The only thing that money had
brought to him was the death of a wild animal--thank God!--alone!
Except for Aura.

Aura! Aura! Aura!

Yes! she had been right. Love like his needed nothing. It could
exist--nay! grow to greater strength without trivialities. They were
beyond the Shadow of the Night now; nothing could touch them again.
They would go on and on....

That night he slept a little under the stars, and in his dreams he saw
her walking amid the drifts of iris leading a little child by the
hand. Her face was sad, and as he tried to comfort her, his eyes
opened; and lo! it was dawn once more.

A primrose dawn, with little faint, far grey clouds just flecking the
wide waste of gold.

"It was quite perfect."

Her words came back to him. She was wrong. The part could not be
perfect, and what were they, their griefs, their joys, their loves,
but part of the great whole.

His mind was beginning to wander a little, and in the high noon tide
he slept to dream that he saw the little child alone. Her head was
crowned with iris flowers, her feet were among them, her eyes were
violet and white as they were. They looked into his. "Mother says you
have no right," came her childish voice. "I am the immortality of the
race. Die and forget her. Die and forget all things."

When he awoke, a raven, perched on a rock hard by, cawed hoarsely, and
flapped lazily away to watch from a greater distance.

A few drops of water trickled from the rock close beside him. He had
hollowed out a little cup for it with his hand and drank of it from
time to time. Now he poured some of it on his head which had begun to
ache. What use was there in prolonging the agony? The sooner it was
over the better. He searched in his pockets for any scrap of paper
which might betray him, and, tearing them up, dug them toilfully into
the ground, almost amusing himself in restoring the spot to perfect
homogeneity with its surroundings.

His gold signet ring he flung away into the little pool, which,
collecting the surface drainage of the very summit, brimmed up below
the rock to overflow in a tiny stream. He tried to make a duck and
drake of it as his last contribution to the sovereign remedy, but he
failed, and he smiled at his failure.

He was becoming very much detached, even from himself, and the one
thing to which he clung was the memory of his love.

Aura! Aura! Aura!

He must find her somewhere; and she seemed so close! Sometimes he
wondered if she were not there, in his eyes, in his heart.

"Aura," he murmured to himself; "Aura!"

That night he slept dreamlessly. And when he opened his eyes, lo!
there was a Sea of Light. The great shining arch of the sky seemed to
him the golden gate; the open door lay behind him. He was on the other
side. He had found himself and her as they had been always, not as a
part but as the whole.

"_Tad ek am_," he thought, realising with a rush that He was All
Things, and that All Things were in Him. So, as he lay gazing, the
round sun rose gloriously, and he sank into unconsciousness.


                          *   *   *   *   *


When he awoke it was to find himself in a work-house infirmary; a
long, bare room set in a straight row with beds. Some hive of atoms
must have found him on the mountain-top and brought him to die here.
Well! it could not be for long. There was a black screen folded up,
ready for use, at the foot of the bed. He knew what that meant; but
nothing seemed to matter now that he had passed the open door to lose
and find Himself.

"Only those who lose can find." His mind, blurred, confused, lingered
over this certainty.

"He is conscious," said a voice beside him, and a face, dark,
curiously eager, bent over him. It was Morris Pugh's. Walking over the
hills that morning on his way to Cæron, the county town, he had come
upon Ned Blackborough, had summoned help, and brought him to the
infirmary. And now, although having seen him but once in his life, he
had failed to recognise the light-hearted maker of ducks-and-drakes in
the worn, unconscious man, so close to death, he longed with all the
eagerness that was in him, that, ere he had to leave him to death, he
might have the chance of saying some word for the Master. For these
eighteen months of hard, practical work in the slums of London while
they had sobered Morris Pugh, had left him still ardent.

"Hullo!" said Ned weakly. "I've seen you before somewhere--haven't I?"
He paused, and some one gave him another spoonful of stimulant. He
wondered vaguely why he took it, since death must come; but it was as
well to please people--if you could. "I remember now," he went on, as
if he were recalling it from very far away. "It was when we hid the
hundred pounds. You were the parson who said, 'Money was the root of
all evil.'" He gave a ghost of a smile, then looked into the dark eyes
curiously. "I suppose you took it?"

Morris Pugh flushed at the very memory of that never-to-be-forgotten
search for God's providence on the mountain-top.

"So it was you who made the ducks and drakes--I remember," he said
slowly. "No! I did not take it; but--but I looked for it, and it was
gone."

"Gone," echoed Ned, and lay thinking.

"Then it must have been Ted who took it," he murmured, going back
into the past. "He must have gone that midsummer night--why, yes! of
course----" Then suddenly his dulled mind grasped the whole sequence of
events. "He--and Hirsch--that is how he got Aura--my money--damn him!"

"Hush!" came Morris Pugh's voice sternly. "You stand too close to the
judgment yourself for curses----"

"I--I will say bless him, if that suits you better," murmured Ned
wearily. "And if you don't mind--I prefer to stand alone."

"No man can stand alone before the judgment seat of God," pleaded
Morris Pugh earnestly. "I do not know what your life has been, but the
best of us need an advocate; and there is One."

"My life?" echoed Ned dreamily. "I want to forget my life--not to talk
about it--if you would go--and leave me." Then he opened his eyes
again. "Did you bring me here?"

"Yes! I brought you--I found you unconscious. But there is One who
will bring you safe into the fold."

"I wonder if you would--be kind enough to let me--die alone."

"Alone!" echoed Morris Pugh. "You can never be alone. And even for
this world, would you not like us to call your friends--to let them
know?"

"I--I have my friends," he answered; "I want--nothing."

So after whispering about him regretfully, they left him for a while,
and he lay staring at a ray of sunlight which slanted through the
window at the further end of the ward, and fell, in a golden glory,
upon an empty bed. If it had only fallen upon his!

Gold! Yes! everything was gold in this world. How people fought for
it, selling their souls, their bodies for it! yet how little it meant.
A hideous mockery, indeed, was this Christian greed of gold. And yet
money meant much--Ted--damn him!

"Mate," came a voice from the next bed, where a tramp, hollow-eyed,
unshaven, who was recovering from an attack of pneumonia, had lain
listening, coughing. "'Tain't no business o' mine in a way, but there
ain't no good your lyin' an' damnin' a man as ain't done you no 'arm.
'Tain't in a way fair on you for me ter let you go to 'ell over a lie.
It's the rumm'est start as I sh'ud be 'ere, but--ye see, Ted--'ooever
'e may be--didn't take that 'undred--I took it."

"You!" he said faintly.

"Me!" echoed the tramp. "It's--it's the rumm'est start; but--you
see I was on the lay atwixt Blackborough an' Liverpool.
Outer-work-an'-emigration lay it 'twas, an' not a bad one in the
summer time, for them Welsh is generous. I was asleep in the gorse
close by when you two come by an' smashed. Then you begun shieing the
shiners about, an' I waited thinkin' to get some of 'em out after
you'd gone. An' I did too, what with bein' able to dive. But there!
The 'ole thing wasn't much worth; not more than one good drunk, an'
then it was over. But don't you go a-lyin' an' damnin' the wrong
fellar. It was me, not 'im; so curse me an' welcome if it do you any
good."

He rolled over on his pillow, and said no more.

Ned lay still, and smiled inwardly. His mind was clouding fast. He
felt vaguely glad that Ted had not taken the money. But, then, how
could he have taken it, seeing that it had never existed? They had all
thought of it, and relied on it, and gone to look for it; and there
was nothing. It never had been anything but a dream.

The gold sun-ray had crept down the ward. It lay now closer to him. If
he could only die in the sunlight! That was the only gold worth
having.

How the atoms danced in it! unceasing, endless. He felt their
vibration in himself, but beyond the dancer lay sightlessness, and
touchlessness, and soundlessness.

Faint voices came to him from around his bed.

"There is time yet! Repent and be saved. Put your trust in Him! Keep
your eyes fixed on Him--remember that you are bought with a price."

There was just the flicker of a faint courteous smile.

"_Caveat Emptor_," murmured the dying man, and turned his face to the
sun-ray. "Aura!" he murmured. "_Tad ek am_."

The sun--ray shifted, crept to his bed, and lay there, golden.





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