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Title: The House of the White Shadows
Author: Farjeon, B. L. (Benjamin Leopold)
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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         (Harvard University)



                             THE HOUSE OF
                          THE WHITE SHADOWS


                                  By

                            B. L. FARJEON

                             _Author of_
                   Samuel Boyd of Catchpole Square
                    Grif, Toilers of Babylon, etc.



                        R. F. FENNO & COMPANY
                      PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK: 1904



[Illustration]



                         Copyright, 1903, by
                        New Amsterdam Book Co.



                  _The House of the White Shadows_.



                       BENJAMIN LEOPOLD FARJEON


We regret to learn that since this book was sent to press in this
country, its gifted author has passed away in London at the ripe age
of 70 years. It seems appropriate and indeed necessary to preface "The
House of the White Shadows," on its appearance in America, with a
brief account of Mr. Farjeon's life and literary career. Considering
his popularity it is astonishing how very little is generally known
regarding this author's personality. The ordinary reference books, if
not altogether silent respecting him, have but a line or two, giving
the date of his birth with perhaps a list of two or three of his
principal novels. It is sincerely to be hoped that a competent
biography will ultimately appear, affording to his very many admirers
some satisfactory account of a man who has given the world more than
twenty-five remarkable works of fiction.

Mr. Farjeon was an Englishman, having been born in London in 1833. At
an early age he went to Australia and from thence to New Zealand. It
would be exceedingly interesting to learn how he employed himself in
those colonies. We know that he engaged in a journalistic venture in
Dunedin, but how long it continued or how he fed his intellectual life
during the years which intervened, until he published his first novel
in London, we know little or nothing. At all events he returned home
and launched his first literary venture in London in 1870. It was
called "Grif, a Story of Australian Life." This story proved to be
eminently successful, and probably determined its author's future
career. He produced "Joshua Marvel" in 1871; "London's Heart" in 1873;
"Jessie Trim" in 1874, and a long list of powerful novels ending with
"Samuel Boyd of Catchpole Square," published only two or three years
ago. Some of these works, like "Blade o' Grass," "Bread and Cheese and
Kisses," "Great Porter Square," etc., have been very popular both in
England and the United States, passing through many editions.

Mr. Farjeon's style is remarkable for its vivid realism. The London
"Athenæum" in a long and appreciative review styles him "a master of
realistic fiction." On account of his sentiment and minute
characterization he is regarded as a follower of the method of
Dickens. No writer since that master can picture like Farjeon the
touching and pathetic type of innocent childhood, pure in spite of
miserable and squalid surroundings. He can paint, too, a scene of
sombre horror so vividly that even Dickens himself could scarcely
emulate its realism.

Mr. Farjeon visited the United States several times during his long
life. Americans have always regarded him with kindly feelings. Perhaps
this kindliness was somewhat increased when it became generally known
that he had married a daughter of America's genial actor, Joseph
Jefferson.

"The House of the White Shadows" is published in this country by
arrangement with Messrs. Hutchinson & Co., of London, who have been
Mr. Farjeon's publishers in Great Britain for many years.

                                                  THE PUBLISHERS.



                               CONTENTS

     CHAPTER


                    Book I.--The Trial of Gautran.


          I.--Only a Flower-girl,

         II.--The Arrival of the Advocate,

        III.--The Advocate's Wife Insists upon Having her Way,

         IV.--Jacob Hartrich, the Baker, Gives his Reasons for
                Believing Gautran the Woodman Guilty of the Murder of
                Madeline,

          V.--Fritz the Fool,

         VI.--Mistress and Maid,

        VII.--A Visit from Pierre Lamont--Dreams of Love,

       VIII.--The Interview in Prison,

         IX.--The Advocate Undertakes a Strange Case,

          X.--Two Letters--From Friend to Friend, from Lover to Lover,

         XI.--Fire and Snow--Fool Fritz Informs Pierre Lamont, where
                Actual Love Commences,

        XII.--The Struggle of Love and Duty,

       XIII.--The Trial of Gautran,

        XIV.--The Evidence of Witnesses,

         XV.--The Widow Joseph Gives Evidence Respecting a Mysterious
                Visitor,

        XVI.--The Conclusion of the Prosecution,

       XVII.--The Advocate's Defense--The Verdict,


                      Book II.--The Confession.


          I.--A Letter from John Vanbrugh,

         II.--A Startling Interruption,

        III.--In the Dead of Night,

         IV.--The Confession,


                    Book III.--The Grave of Honour.


          I.--Preparations for a Visitor,

         II.--A Love Story of the Past,

        III.--A Mother's Treachery,

         IV.--Husband and Wife,

          V.--The Gathering of the Storm,

         VI.--The Grave of Honour,

        VII.--Husband and Wife,

       VIII.--The Compact,

         IX.--Mother Denise Has Strange Fancies in the Night,

          X.--Christian Almer's Child-life,

         XI.--Beatrice Almer Gives a Promise to Her Son,

        XII.--The Last Meeting between Husband and Wife,

       XIII.--The Arrival of Christian Almer,


                Book IV.--The Battle with Conscience.


          I.--Lawyer and Priest,

         II.--The White Shadow,

        III.--The Watch on the Hill,

         IV.--The Silent Voice,

          V.--Gautran Finds a Refuge,

         VI.--Pierre Lamont Reads Love-verses to Fritz the Fool,

        VII.--Mistress and Maid,

       VIII.--In the Home of His Childhood,

         IX.--Christian Almer Receives Two Visitors,

          X.--A Brief Survey of the Web,

         XI.--A Crisis,

        XII.--Self-justification,

       XIII.--Shadows,

        XIV.--The Advocate Fears he has Created a Monster,

         XV.--Gautran and the Advocate,

        XVI.--Pierre Lamont Seeks the Hospitality of the House of
                White Shadows,

       XVII.--Fritz the Fool Relates a Strange Dream to Pierre Lamont,


                    Book V.--The Doom Of Gautran.


          I.--Adelaide Strives to Propitiate Pierre Lamont,

         II.--Gautran Seeks John Vanbrugh,

        III.--Gautran Resolves on a Plan of Escape,

         IV.--Heaven's Judgment,

          V.--Father Capel Discovers Gautran in His Peril,

         VI.--The Written Confession,


                   Book VI.--A Record Of The Past.


          I.--The Discovery of the Manuscript,

         II.--Christian Almer's Father,

        III.--A Dishonourable Concealment,

         IV.--M. Gabriel is Dismissed,

          V.--The Thief in the Night,

         VI.--The Hidden Crime,

        VII.--False Wife, False Friend,


                       Book VII.--Retribution.


          I.--John Vanbrugh and the Advocate,

         II.--A Terrible Revelation,

        III.--Pauline,

         IV.--Onward--to Death,

          V.--The Doom of the House of White Shadows,



                     THE HOUSE OF WHITE SHADOWS.



                   _BOOK I.--THE TRIAL OF GAUTRAN_.



                              CHAPTER I

                         ONLY A FLOWER-GIRL.


The feverish state of excitement into which Geneva was thrown was not
caused by a proclamation of war, a royal visit, a social revolution, a
religious wave, or an avalanche. It was simply that a man was on his
trial for murder.

There is generally in Geneva a rational if not a philosophic
foundation for a social upheaving; unlike the people of most other
countries, the population do not care to play a blind game of follow
my leader. They prefer to think for themselves, and their leaders must
be men of mark. Intellect is passionately welcomed; pretenders find
their proper level.

What, then, in a simple trial for murder, had caused the excitement?
Had the accused moved in a high station, was he a poet, a renowned
soldier, a philanthropist, a philosopher, or a priest loved for his
charities, and the purity of his life? None of these; he was Gautran,
a woodman, and a vagabond of the lowest type. It would be natural,
therefore, to seek for an explanation in the social standing of his
victim. A princess, probably, or at least a lady of quality? On the
contrary. A common flower-girl, who had not two pair of shoes to her
feet.

Seldom had a trial taken place in which the interest manifested had
been so absorbing. While it was proceeding, the questions which men
and women asked freely of each other were:

"What news from the court-house?"

"How many days longer is it likely to last?"

"Has the monster confessed?"

"What will the verdict be?"

"Do you think it possible he can escape?"

"Why did the famous Advocate undertake the defence?"

In fashionable assemblies, and in _cafés_ where the people drank their
lager and red wine; in clubs and workshops; on steamboats and
diligences; in the fields and vineyards; on high-roads and
bye-roads--the trial of Gautran formed the principal topic of
conversation and debate, to the almost utter exclusion of trade, and
science, and politics, and of a new fashion in hats which was setting
the women of adjacent countries crazy. So animated were the
discussions that the girl lying in her grave might have been supposed
to be closely related to half the inhabitants of Geneva, instead of
having been, as she was, a comparative stranger in the town, with no
claim upon any living Genevese on the score of kinship. The evidence
against the prisoner was overwhelming, and it appeared as though a
spirit of personal hatred had guided its preparation. With deadly
patience and skill the prosecution had blocked every loophole of
escape. Gautran was fast in the meshes, and it was observed that his
counsel, the Advocate, in the line he adopted, elicited precisely the
kind of evidence which--in the judgment of those who listened to him
now for the first time-strengthened the case against the man he was
defending.

"Ah," said those observers, "this great Advocate shares the horror of
the murderer and his crime, and has undertaken the defence for the
purpose of ensuring a conviction."

A conclusion which could only occur to uninformed minds.

There were others--among them the prosecuting counsel, the judge, and
the members of the legal profession who thronged the court who, with a
better knowledge of the Advocate's marvellous resources, and the
subtle quality of his intellect, were inspired with the gravest doubts
as to the result of the trial. This remarkable man, who gazed before
him with calm, thoughtful eyes, whose face was a mask upon which no
trace of inward emotion could be detected, was to them at once a
source of perplexity and admiration. Instances were cited of trials in
which he had been engaged, in the course of which he had seemed to
play so directly into the hands of his antagonists that defeat was not
dreamt of until they were startled by the discovery that he had led
them into an ambush where, at the supreme moment, victory was snatched
from their grasp. And, when it was too late to repair their error,
they were galled by the reflection that the Advocate had so blinded
their judgment, and so cloaked his designs, that he had compelled them
to contribute largely to their own discomfiture.

It was in the acknowledgment of these extraordinary powers that the
doubt arose whether Gautran would not slip through the hands of
justice. Every feature of the case and the proceedings, whether
picturesque or horrible, that afforded scope for illustration by pen
and pencil was pressed into the service of the public--whose appetite
for such fare is regarded as immoderate and not over-nice--by special
correspondents and artists. Descriptions and sketches of the river and
its banks, of the poor home of the unfortunate flower-girl, of the
room in which she had slept, of her habits and demeanour, of her
dress, of her appearance alive and dead; and, as a contrast, of
Gautran and his vile surroundings--not a detail was allowed to escape.
It was impossible, without favour or influence, to obtain admission to
the court in which the trial was held, and, could seats have been
purchased, a higher price would willingly have been paid for them than
the most celebrated actress or prima donna could have commanded.
Murders are common enough, but this crime had feverishly stirred the
heart of the community, and its strangest feature was that the
excitement was caused, not so much by the murder itself, as by an
accidental connection which imparted to it its unparalleled interest.

The victim was a young girl seventeen years of age, who, until a few
months before her cruel and untimely death, had been a stranger in the
neighbourhood. Nothing was known of the story of her life. When she
first appeared in the suburbs of Geneva she was accompanied by a woman
much older than herself, and two facts made themselves immediately
apparent. That a strong attachment existed between the new-comers, and
that they were very poor. The last circumstance was regarded as a
sufficient indication that they belonged to the lower classes. The
name of the younger of the women was Madeline, the name of the elder
Pauline.

That they became known simply by these names, Madeline and Pauline,
was not considered singular by those with whom they consorted; as they
presented themselves, so they were accepted. Some said they came from
the mountains, some from the plains, but this was guess-work. Their
dress did not proclaim their canton, and they brought nothing with
them to betray them.

To the question asked of them, "What are you?" Pauline replied,
"Cannot you see? We are common working people."

They hired a room in a small cottage for three francs a month, and
paid the first month's rent in advance, and their landlady was correct
in her surmise that these three francs constituted nearly the whole of
their wealth. She was curious to know how they were going to live, for
although they called themselves working people, the younger of the two
did not seem to be fitted for hard work, or to be accustomed to it.

For a few days they did nothing, and then their choice of avocation
was made. They sold flowers in the streets and _cafés_ of Geneva, and
gained no more than a scanty living thereby.

The woman in whose cottage they lived said she was surprised that they
did not make a deal of money, as much because of Madeline's beauty as
of their exquisite skill in arranging their posies.

Had Pauline traded alone it is likely that failure would have attended
her, for notwithstanding that she was both comely and straight-made,
there was always in her eyes the watchful look of one who mistrusts
honeyed words from strangers, and sees a snare in complimentary
phrases.

It was otherwise with Madeline, in whose young life Nature's fairest
season was opening, and it would have been strange indeed if her
smiling face and winning manners had not attracted custom. This
smiling face and these winning manners were not an intentional part of
the trade she followed; they were natural gifts.

Admiration pursued her, not only from those in her own station in
life, but from some who occupied a higher, and many an insidious
proposal was whispered in her ear whose poisonous flattery would have
beguiled her to her ruin. If she had not had in Pauline a staunch and
devoted protector, it is hard to say whether she could have resisted
temptation, for her nature was singularly gentle and confiding; but
her faithful companion was ever on the alert, and no false wooer could
hope to win his way to Madeline's heart while Pauline was near.

One gave gold for flowers, and was about to depart with a smile at the
success of his first move, when Pauline, with her hand on his sleeve,
stopped his way.

"You have made a mistake," she said, tendering the gold; "the flowers
you have taken are worth but half-a-franc."

"There is no mistake," he said airily; "the gold is yours for beauty's
sake."

"I prefer silver," she said, gazing steadily at him, "for fair
dealing's sake."

He took back his gold and gave her silver, with a taunting remark that
she was a poor hand at her trade. She made no reply to this, but there
was a world of meaning in her eyes as she turned to Madeline with a
look of mingled anxiety and tenderness. And yet she desired money,
yearningly desired it, for the sake of her young charge; but she would
only earn it honestly, or receive it from those of whom she had a
right to ask.

She guarded Madeline as a mother guards her young, and their affection
for each other grew into a proverb. Certainly no harm could befall the
young flower-girl while Pauline was by her side. Unhappily a day
arrived when the elder of the women was called away for a while. They
parted with tears and kisses, never to meet again!



                              CHAPTER II

                     THE ARRIVAL OF THE ADVOCATE


Among those whom Madeline's beauty had attracted was a man in a common
way of life, Gautran, a woodman, who followed her with dogged
persistence. That his company was distasteful to this bright young
creature could not be doubted, but he was not to be shaken off, and
his ferocity of character deterred others from approaching the girl
when he was present. Many times had he been heard to say, "Madeline
belongs to me; let me see who is bold enough to dispute it." And again
and again that it would go hard with the man who stepped between him
and the girl he loved. Even Pauline was loth to anger him, and seemed
to stand in fear of him. This was singular enough, for when he and
Madeline were seen together, people would say, "There go the wolf and
the lamb."

This wretch it was who stood accused of the murder of the pretty
flower-girl.

Her body had been found in the River Rhone, with marks of violence
upon it, and a handkerchief tightly twisted round its neck. The proofs
of a cruel murder were incontestable, and suspicion fell immediately
upon Gautran, who was the last person known to be in Madeline's
company. Evidence of his guilt was soon forthcoming. He was madly,
brutally in love with her, and madly, brutally jealous of her. On the
night of the murder they had been seen walking together on the bank of
the river; Gautran had been heard to speak in a high tone, and his
exclamation, "I will kill you! I will kill you!" was sworn to by
witnesses; and the handkerchief round her neck belonged to him. A
thousand damning details were swiftly accumulated, all pointing to the
wretch's guilt, and it was well for him that he did not fall into the
hands of the populace. So incensed were they against him that they
would have torn him to pieces.

Not in all Geneva could there be found a man or a woman who, by the
holding up of a finger, would have besought mercy for him. Regret was
openly expressed that the death punishment for murder was not lawful,
some satisfaction, however, being derived from the reflection that in
times gone by certain heinous crimes had brought upon the criminals a
punishment more terrible than death.

"They should chain the monster by the waist," said a man, "so that he
cannot lie down, and can only move one step from the stake. Gautran
deserves worse than that."

But while he lay in prison, awaiting the day of trial, there arrived
in Geneva an Advocate of renown, who had travelled thither with his
wife in search of much needed repose from years of continuous mental
toil. This man was famous in many countries; he was an indefatigable
and earnest worker, and so important were his services deemed
that phenomenal fees were frequently paid to secure them. But
notwithstanding the exceeding value of his time he had been known to
refuse large sums of money in cases offered to him, in order to devote
himself to others which held out no prospect of pecuniary reward.

Wealthy, and held in almost exaggerated esteem, both for his abilities
and the cold purity of his life, it was confidently predicted that the
highest honours of the state were in store for him, and it was
ungrudgingly admitted--so far above his peers did he stand--that the
loftiest office would be dignified by association with his name. The
position he had attained was due as much to his intense enthusiasm in
the cause he championed as to his wondrous capacity for guiding it to
victory. As leader of a forlorn hope he was unrivalled. He had an
insatiable appetite for obstacles; criminal cases of great moment, in
which life and liberty were in imminent peril, and in which there was
a dark mystery to be solved, possessed an irresistible fascination for
him. Labour such as this was a labour of love, and afforded him the
keenest pleasure. The more intricate the task the closer his study of
it; the deeper the mystery the greater his patience in the unravelling
of it; the more powerful the odds against him the more determined his
exertions to win the battle. His microscopic, penetrating mind
detected the minutest flaw, seized the smallest detail likely to be of
advantage to him, and frequently from the most trivial thread he spun
a strand so strong as to drag the ship that was falling to pieces to a
safe and secure haven. His satisfaction at these achievements was
unbounded, but he rarely allowed an expression of exultation to escape
him. His outward tranquillity, even in supreme crises, was little less
than marvellous. His nerve was of iron, and to his most intimate
associates his inner life was a sealed book.

Accompanied by his wife, the Advocate entered Geneva, and alighted at
one of the principal hotels, four days before that on which the trial
of Gautran was to commence.



                             CHAPTER III

           THE ADVOCATE'S WIFE INSISTS UPON HAVING HER WAY


Their arrival was expected. The moment they were shown into a private
room the proprietor of the hotel waited upon them, and with obsequious
bows welcomed them to Geneva.

"A letter has been awaiting my lord," said this magnate, the whiteness
of whose linen was dazzling; he had been considering all the morning
whether he should address the great Advocate as "your lordship," or
"your eminence," or "your highness," and had decided upon the first,
"since yesterday evening."

The Advocate in silence received the letter, in silence read it, then
handed it to his wife, who also read it, with a careless and
supercilious air which deeply impressed the landlord.

"Will my lord and my lady," said this official, "honour us by
remaining long in our town? The best rooms in the establishment are at
their disposal."

The Advocate glanced at his wife, who answered for him:

"We shall remain for a few hours only."

Despair was expressed in the landlord's face as he left the room,
overwhelmed with the desolation caused by this announcement.

The letter which he had delivered to the Advocate ran as follows:


"Comrade, whom I have never seen, but intimately know, Welcome.
Were it not that I am a cripple, and physically but half a
man--represented, fortunately, by the upper moiety of my body--I
should come in person to shake you by the hand. As it is, I must wait
till you take up your quarters in Christian Almer's villa in our quiet
village, where I spend my days and nights, extracting what amusement I
can from the foibles and weaknesses of my neighbours. My father was
steward to Christian Almer's father, and I succeeded him, for the
reason that the office, during the latter years and after the death of
the elder Almer, was a sinecure. Otherwise, another steward would have
had to be found, for my labours lay elsewhere. But since the day on
which I became a mere bit of animated lumber, unable of my own will to
move about, and confined within the narrow limits of this sleepy
valley, I have regarded the sinecure as an important slice of good
fortune, albeit there was nothing whatever to do except to cause
myself to be wheeled past Christian Almer's villa on fine days, for
the purpose of satisfying myself that no thief had run away with its
rusty gates. Then came an urgent letter from young Almer, whom I have
not beheld since he was a lad of nine or ten, begging of me to put the
house in order for you and your lady, to whom I, as an old gallant, am
already in spirit devoted. And when I heard that it was for you the
work was to be done, doubly did I deem myself fortunate in not having
thrown up the stewardship in my years of active life. All, then, is
ready in the old house, which will be the more interesting to you from
the fact of its not having been inhabited for nearly a generation.
Comedies and tragedies have been enacted within its walls, as you
doubtless know. Does Christian Almer come with you, and has he grown
into the likeness of his father?--Your servant and brother,

                                        "Pierre Lamont."


"Who is this Pierre Lamont?" asked his wife.

"Once a famous lawyer," replied the Advocate; "compelled some years
ago to relinquish the pursuit of his profession by reason of an
accident which crippled him for life. You do not wish to stop in
Geneva, then?"

"No," said the beautiful woman who stood before him, his junior by
five-and-twenty years; "there is nothing new to be seen here, and I am
dying with impatience to take possession of Mr. Almer's villa. I have
been thinking of nothing else for the last week."

"Captivated by the name it bears."

"Perhaps. The House of White Shadows! Could anything be more enticing?
Why was it so called?"

"I cannot tell you. Until lately, indeed when this holiday was decided
upon"--he sighed as he uttered the word "holiday"; an indication that
he was not accepting it in a glad spirit--"I was not aware that Almer
owned a villa hereabouts. Do not forget, Adelaide, that he cautioned
you against accepting an offer made in a rash moment."

"What more was needed to set me longing for it? 'Here is a very
beautiful book,' said Mr. Almer, 'full of wonderful pictures; it is
yours, if you like--but, beware, you must not open it.' Think of
saying that to a woman!"

"You are a true daughter of Eve. Almer's offer was unwise; his caution
still more unwise."

"The moment he warned me against the villa, I fell in love with it. I
shall discover a romance there."

"I, too, would warn you against it----"

"You are but whetting my curiosity," she interrupted playfully.

"Seriously, though. Master Lamont, in his letter, says that the house
has not been inhabited for nearly a generation----"

"There must be ghosts there," she said, again interrupting him. "It
will be delightful."

"And Master Lamont's remark," continued the Advocate, "that there have
been comedies and tragedies enacted within its walls is not a
recommendation."

"I have heard you say, Edward, that they are enacted within the walls
of the commonest houses."

"But this particular house has been for so long a time deserted! I am
in ignorance of the stories attached to it; that they are in some
sense unpleasant is proved by Almer's avoidance of the place. What
occurs to me is that, were it entirely desirable, Almer would not have
made it a point to shun it."

"Christian Almer is different from other men; that is your own opinion
of him."

"True; he is a man dominated by sentiment; yet there appears to be
something deeper than mere sentiment in his consistent avoidance of
the singularly named House of White Shadows."

"According to Master Lamont's letter he has been to some trouble to
make it agreeable to us. Indeed, Edward, you cannot argue me out of
having my own way."

"If the house is gloomy, Adelaide----"

"I will brighten it. Can I not?" she asked in a tone so winning that
it brought a light into his grave face.

"You can, for me, Adelaide," he replied; "but I am not thinking of
myself. I would not willingly sadden a heart as joyous as yours. You
must promise, if you are not happy there, to seek with me a more
cheerful retreat."

"You can dismiss your fears, Edward. I shall be happy there. All last
night I was dreaming of white shadows. Did they sadden me? No. I woke
up this morning in delightful spirits. Is that an answer to your
forebodings?"

"When did you not contrive to have your own way? I have some banking
business to do in Geneva, and I must leave you for an hour." She
nodded and smiled at him. Before he reached the door he turned and
said: "Are you still resolved to send your maid away? She knows your
wants so well, and you are so accustomed to her, that her absence
might put you to inconvenience. Had you not better keep her with you
till you see whether you are likely to be suited at Almer's house?"

"Edward," she said gaily, "have I not told you a hundred times, and
have you not found out for yourself a hundred and a hundred times
again, that your wife is a very wilful woman? I shall love to be
inconvenienced; it will set my wits to work. But indeed I happen to
know that there is a pretty girl in the villa, the old housekeeper's
granddaughter, who was born to do everything I wish done in just the
way I wish it done."

"Child of impulse and fancy," he said, kissing her hand, and then her
lips, in response to a pouting invitation, "it is well for you that
you have a husband as serious as myself to keep guard and watch over
you. What is the thought that has suddenly entered your head?"

"Can you read a woman's thoughts?" she asked in her lightest manner.

"I can judge by signs. What was your thought, Adelaide?"

"A foolish thought. To keep guard and watch over me, you said. The
things are so different. The first is a proof of love, the second of
suspicion."

"A logician, too," he said with a pleased smile; "the air here agrees
with you." So saying he left her, and the moment he was beyond the
reach of her personal influence his native manner asserted itself, and
his features assumed their usual grave expression. As he was
descending the stairs of the hotel he was accosted by a woman, the
maid he had advised his wife to keep.

"I beg your pardon, sir," she said; "but may I ask why I am
discharged?"

"Certainly not of me," he replied stiffly; "you are my wife's servant.
She has her reasons."

"She has not made me acquainted with them," said the woman
discontentedly. "Will you?"

He saw that she was in an ill-temper, and although he was not a man to
tolerate insolence, he was attentive to trifles.

"I do not interfere with my wife's domestics. She engages whom she
pleases, and discharges whom she pleases."

"But to do right, sir, that is everyone's affair. I am discharged
suddenly, without notice, and without having committed a fault. Until
this morning I am perfection; no one can dress my lady like me, no one
can arrange her hair so admirably. That is what she says to me
continually. Why, then, am I discharged? I ask my lady why, and she
says, for her convenience."

"She has paid you, has she not?"

"Oh yes, and has given me money to return home. But it is not that. It
is that it hurts me to be suddenly discharged. It is to my injury when
I seek another situation. I shall be asked why I left my last. To
speak the truth, I must say that I did not leave, that I was
discharged. I shall be asked why, and I shall not be able to say."

"Has she not given you a character?"

"Yes; it is not that I complain of; it is being suddenly discharged."

"I cannot interfere, mistress. You have no reasonable cause for
complaint. You have a character, and you are well paid; that should
content you."

He turned from her, and she sent her parting words after him:

"My lady has her reasons! I hope they will be found to be good ones,
and that you will find them so. Do you hear?--that you will find them
so!"

He paid no further heed to her, and entering his carriage drove to the
Rue de la Corraterie, to the business house of Jacob Hartrich, and was
at once admitted to the banker's private room.



                              CHAPTER IV

     JACOB HARTRICH, THE BANKER, GIVES HIS REASONS FOR BELIEVING
         GAUTRAN THE WOODMAN GUILTY OF THE MURDER OF MADELINE


Jacob Hartrich, by birth a Jew, had reached his sixtieth year, and
was as hale and strong as a man of forty. His face was bland and
full-fleshed, his eyes bright and, at times, joyous, his voice mellow,
his hands fat and finely-shaped, and given to a caressing petting of
each other, denoting satisfaction with themselves and the world in
general. His manners were easy and self-possessed--a characteristic of
his race. He was a gentleman and a man of education.

He gazed at the Advocate with admiration; he had an intense respect
for men who had achieved fame by force of intellect.

"Mr. Almer," he said, "prepared me for your arrival, and is anxious
that I should forward your views in every possible way. I shall be
happy to do so, and, if it is in my power, to contribute to the
pleasure of your visit."

"I thank you," said the Advocate, with a courteous inclination of his
head. "When did you last see Mr. Almer?"

"He called upon me this day three weeks--for a few minutes only, and
only concerning your business."

"He is always thoughtful and considerate. I suppose he was on his road
to Paris when he called upon you."

"No; he had no intention of going to Paris. I believe he had been for
some time in the neighbourhood of Geneva before he favoured me with a
visit. He is still here."

"Here!" exclaimed the Advocate, in a tone of pleasure and surprise.

"At least in Switzerland."

"In what part?"

"I cannot inform you, but from the remarks he let fall, I should say
in the mountains, where tourists are not likely to penetrate." He
paused a moment before he continued: "Mr. Almer spoke of you, in terms
it was pleasant to hear, as his closest, dearest friend."

"We are friends in the truest sense of the word."

"Then I may speak freely to you. During the time he was with me I was
impressed by an unusual strangeness in him. He was restless and ill at
ease; his manner denoted that he was either dissatisfied with himself
or was under some evil influence. I expressed my surprise to him that
he had been for some time in this neighbourhood without calling upon
me, but he did not offer any explanation of his neglect. He told me,
however, that he was tired of the light, the gaiety, and the bustle of
cities, and that it was his intention to seek some solitude to
endeavour to rid himself of a terror which had taken possession of
him. No sooner had he made this strange declaration than he strove, in
hurried words, to make light of it, evidently anxious that it should
leave no impression upon my mind. I need scarcely say he did not
succeed. I have frequently thought of that declaration and of
Christian Almer in connection with it."

The Advocate smiled and shook his head.

"Mr. Almer is given to fantastic expression. If you knew him as well
as I do you would be aware that he is prone to magnify trifles, and
likely to raise ghosts of the conscience for the mere pleasure of
laying them. His nature is of that order which suffers keenly, but I
am not disposed on that account to pity him. There are men who would
be most unhappy unless they suffered."

"My dear sir," said Jacob Hartrich, "I have known Christian Almer
since he was a child. I knew his father, a gentleman of great
attainments, and his mother, a refined and exquisitely beautiful
woman. His child-life probably made a sad impression upon him, but he
has mixed with the world, and there is a bridge of twenty years
between then and now. A great change has taken place in him, and not
for the better. There is certainly something on his mind."

"There is something on most men's minds. I have remarked no change in
Mr. Almer to cause me uneasiness. He is the same high-minded gentleman
I have ever known him to be. He is exquisitely sensitive, responsive
to the lightest touch; those who are imbued with such qualities suffer
keenly and enjoy keenly."

"The thought occurred to me that he might have sustained a monetary
loss, but I dismissed it."

"A monetary loss would rather exalt than depress him. He is rich--it
would have been a great happiness for him if he had been poor. What
are termed misfortunes are sometimes real blessings; many fine natures
are made to halt on their way by worldly prosperity. Had Christian
Almer been born in the lower classes he would have found a worthy
occupation; he would have made a name for himself, and in all
probability would have won a wife--who would have idolised him. He is
a man whom a woman might worship."

"You have given me a clue," said Jacob Hartrich; "he has met with a
disappointment in love."

"I think not; had he met with such a disappointment I should most
surely have heard of it from his own lips."

Interesting as this conversation was to both the speakers it had now
come to a natural break, and Jacob Hartrich, diverging from it,
inquired whether the Advocate's visit was likely to be a long one.

"I have pledged myself," said the Advocate somewhat wearily, "to
remain here for at least three months."

"Rest is a necessary medicine." The Advocate nodded absently. "Pray
excuse me while I attend to your affairs. Here are the local and other
papers."

He left the room, and returning soon afterwards found the Advocate
engaged in the perusal of a newspaper in which he appeared to be
deeply interested.

"Your business," said Jacob Hartrich, "will occupy about twenty
minutes. There are some trifling formalities to be gone through with
respect to signatures and stamps. If you are pressed for time I will
send to you at your hotel."

"With your permission I will wait," said the Advocate, laying aside
the paper with a thoughtful air.

Jacob Hartrich glanced at the paper, and saw the heading of the
column which the Advocate had perused, "The Murder of Madeline the
Flower-girl."

"You have been reading the particulars of this shocking deed."

"I have read what is there written."

"But you are familiar with the particulars; everybody has read them."

"I am the exception, then. I have seen very few newspapers lately."

"It was a foul and wicked murder."

"It appears so, from this bare recital."

"The foulest and most horrible within my remembrance. Ah! where will
not the passions of men lead them?"

"A wide contemplation. Were men to measure the consequences of their
acts before they committed them, certain channels of human events
which are now exceedingly wide and turbulent would become narrow and
peaceful. It was a girl who was murdered?"

"Yes."

"Young?"

"Barely seventeen."

"Pretty?"

"Very pretty."

"Had she no father to protect her?"

"No."

"Nor mother?"

"No--as far as is known."

"A flower-girl, I gather from the account."

"Yes. I have occasionally bought a posy of her--poor child!"

"Did she trade alone?"

"She had a companion, an elderly woman, who, unhappily, left her a few
days before the murder."

"Deserted her?"

"No; it was an amicable parting, intended to last but a short time, I
believe. It is not known what called her away."

"This young flower-girl--was she virtuous?"

"Undoubtedly, in my belief. She was most modest and child-like."

"But susceptible to flattery. You hesitate. Why? Do you not judge
human passions by human standards? She was young, pretty, in humble
circumstances; her very opposite would be susceptible to flattery;
therefore, she."

"Why, yes, of course; I hesitated because it would pain me to say
anything concerning her which might be construed into a reproach."

"In such matters there is but one goal to steer for--the truth. I
perceive that a man, Gautran, is in prison, charged with the murder."

"A man?" exclaimed Jacob Hartrich, with indignant warmth. "A monster,
rather! Some refined punishment should be devised to punish him for
his crime."

"His crime! I have, then, been reading an old paper." The Advocate
referred to the date. "No--it is this morning's."

"I see your point, but the proofs of the monster's guilt are
irrefragable."

"What proofs? The statements of newspaper reporters--the idle and
mischievous tattle of persons who cannot be put into the witness-box?"

"It is well that you express yourself to me privately on this matter.
In public it would not be credited that you were in earnest."

"Then the facts are lost sight of that the man has to be tried, that
his guilt or innocence has yet to be established."

"The law cannot destroy facts."

"The law establishes facts, which are often in danger of being
perverted by man's sympathies and prejudices. Are you acquainted with
this Gautran?"

"I have no knowledge of him except from report."

"And having no knowledge of him, except from report, you form an
opinion upon hearsay, and condemn him offhand. It is justice itself,
therefore, that is on its trial, not a man accused of a frightful
deed. _He_ is already judged. It is stated in the newspaper that the
man's appearance is repulsive."

"He is hideous."

"Then you _have_ seen him."

"No."

"Calmly consider what value can be placed upon your judgment under the
circumstances. You say the girl was pretty. Her engaging manners have
tempted you to buy posies of her, not always when you needed them. In
making this statement of a fact which, trivial as it appears to be, is
of importance, I judge a human action by a human standard. Thus,
beauty on one side, and a forbidding countenance on the other, may be
the means of contributing--nay, of leading--to a direct miscarriage of
justice. This should be prevented; justice must have a clear course,
which must not be blocked and choked up by passion and prejudice. The
opinion you express of Gautran's guilt may be entertained by others to
whom he is also a stranger."

"My opinion is universal."

"The man, therefore, is universally condemned before he is called upon
to answer the charge brought against him. Amidst this storm, in the
wild fury of which reason has lost its proper functions, where shall a
jury be found to calmly weigh the evidence on either side, and to
judge, with ordinary fairness, a miserable wretch accused of a foul
crime?"

"Gautran is a vagabond," said Jacob Hartrich feebly, feeling as though
the ground were giving way under his feet, "of the lowest type."

"He is poor."

"Necessarily."

"And cannot afford to pay for independent legal aid."

"It is fortunate. He will meet with his deserts more surely and
swiftly."

"You can doubtless call to mind instances of innocent persons being
accused of crimes they did not commit, and being made to suffer."

"There is no fear in the case of Gautran."

"Let us hope not," said the Advocate, whose voice during the
conversation had been perfectly passionless, "and in the meantime, do
not lose sight of this principle. Were Gautran the meanest creature
that breathes, were he the most repulsive being on earth, he is an
innocent man until he is declared guilty by the law. Equally so were
he a man gifted with exceeding beauty of person, and bearing an
honoured name. And of those two extremes, supposing both were found
guilty of equal crimes, it is worthy of consideration, whether he who
walks the gutters be not better entitled to a merciful sentence than
he who lives on the heights."

At this moment a clerk brought some papers into the room. Jacob
Hartrich looked over them, and handed them, with a roll of notes, to
the Advocate, who rose and prepared to go.

"Have you a permanent address?" asked the banker. "We take up our
quarters at once," replied the Advocate, "at the House of White
Shadows."

Jacob Hartrich gazed at him in consternation. "Christian Almer's
villa! He made no mention of it to me."

"It was an arrangement entered into some time since. I have a letter
from Master Pierre Lamont informing me that the villa is ready for
us."

"It has been uninhabited for years, except by servants who have been
kept there to preserve it from falling into decay. There are strange
stories connected with that house."

"I have heard as much, but have not inquired into them. The
probability is that they arise from credulity or ignorance, the
foundation of all superstition."

With that remark the Advocate took his leave.



                              CHAPTER V

                            FRITZ THE FOOL


As the little wooden clock in the parlour of the inn of The Seven
Liars struck the hour of five, Fritz the Fool ran through the open
door, from which an array of bottles and glasses could be seen, and
cried:

"They are coming--they are coming--the great Advocate and his
lady--and will arrive before the cook can toss me up an omelette!"

And having thus delivered himself, Fritz ran out of the inn to the
House of White Shadows, and swinging open the gates, cried still more
loudly:

"Mother Denise! Dionetta, my pearl of pearls! Haste--haste! They are
on the road, and will be here a lifetime before old Martin can
straighten his crooked back!"

Within five minutes of this summons, there stood at the door of the
inn of The Seven Liars, the customers who had been tippling therein,
the host and hostess and their three children; and ten yards off, at
the gates of the villa. Mother Denise, her pretty granddaughter,
Dionetta, and old Martin, whose breathing came short and quick at the
haste he had made to be in time to welcome the Advocate and his lady.
The refrain of the breaking-up song sung in the little village school
was dying away, and the children trooped out, and waited to witness
the arrival. The schoolmaster was also there, with a look of relief on
his face, and stood with his hand on the head of his favourite pupil.
The news had spread quickly, and when the carriage made its appearance
at the end of the lane, which shelved downward to the House of White
Shadows, a number of villagers had assembled, curious to see the great
lord and lady who intended to reside in the haunted house.

As the carriage drove up at the gates, the courier jumped down from
his seat next to the driver, and opened the carriage door. The
villagers pressed forward, and gazed in admiration at the beautiful
lady, and in awe at the stern-faced gentleman who had selected the
House of White Shadows for a holiday residence. There were those among
them who, poor as they were, would not have undertaken to sleep in any
one of the rooms in the villa for the value of all the watches in
Geneva. There were, however, three persons in the small concourse of
people who had no fears of the house. These were Mother Denise, the
old housekeeper, her husband Martin, and Fritz the Fool.

Mother Denise, the oldest servant of the house, had been born there,
and was ghost and shadow proof; so was her husband, now in his
eighty-fifth year, whose body was like a bent bow stretched for the
flight of the arrow, his soul. Not for a single night in sixty-eight
years had Mother Denise slept outside the walls of the House of White
Shadows; nothing did she know of the great world beyond, and nothing
did she care; a staunch, faithful servant of the Almer family,
conversant with its secret history, her duty was sufficient for her,
and she had no desire to travel beyond the space which encompassed it.
For forty-three years her husband had kept her company, and to
neither, as they had frequently declared, had a supernatural visitant
ever appeared. They had no belief whatever in the ghostly gossip.

Fool Fritz, on the contrary, averred that there was no mistake about
the spiritual visitants; they appeared to him frequently, but he had
no fear of them; indeed, he appeared to rather enjoy them. "They may
come, and welcome," he said. "They don't strike, they don't bite, they
don't burn. They reveal secrets which you would like nobody to find
out. If it had not been for them, how should I have known about Karl
and Mina kissing and courting at the back of the schoolhouse when
everybody was asleep, or about Dame Walther and her sly bottle, or
about Wolf Constans coming home at three in the morning with a dead
lamb on his back--ah, and about many things you try and keep to
yourselves? I don't mind the shadows, not I." There was little in the
village that Fritz did not know; all the scandal, all the love-making,
all the family quarrels, all the secret doings--it was hard to keep
anything from him; and the mystery was how he came to the knowledge of
these matters. "He is in affinity with the spirits," said the village
schoolmaster; "he is himself a ghost, with a fleshly embodiment. That
is why the fool is not afraid." Truly Fritz the Fool was ghostlike in
appearance, for his skin was singularly white, and his head was
covered with shaggy white hair which hung low down upon his shoulders.
From a distance he looked like an old man, but he had not reached his
thirtieth year, and so clear were his eyes and complexion that, on a
closer observance, he might have passed for a lad of half the years he
bore. A shrewd knave, despite his title of fool.

Pretty Dionetta did not share his defiance of ghostly visitors. The
House of White Shadows was her home, and many a night had she awoke in
terror and listened with a beating heart to soft footsteps in the
passage outside her room, and buried her head in the sheets to shut
out the light of the moon which shone in at her window. Fritz alone
sympathised with her. "Two hours before midnight," he would say to
her; "then it was you heard them creeping past your door. You were
afraid, of course--when one is all alone; I can prescribe a remedy for
that--not yet, Dionetta, by-and-by. Till then, keep all men at a
distance; avoid them; there is danger in them. If they look at you,
frown, and lower your eyes. And to-night, when you go to bed, lock
your door tight, and listen. If the spirits come again, I will charm
them away; shortly after you hear their footsteps, I will sing a stave
outside to trick them from your door. Then sleep in peace, and rely on
Fritz the Fool."

Very timid and fearful of the supernatural was this country beauty,
whom all the louts in the neighbourhood wanted to marry, and she
alone, of those who lived in the House of White Shadows, welcomed the
Advocate and his wife with genuine delight. Fool Fritz thought of
secretly-enjoyed pleasures which might now be disturbed, Martin was
too old not to dislike change, and Mother Denise was by no means
prepared to rejoice at the arrival of strangers; she would have been
better pleased had they never shown their faces at the gates.

The Advocate and his wife stood looking around them, he with observant
eyes and in silence, she with undisguised pleasure and admiration. She
began to speak the moment she alighted.

"Charming! beautiful! I am positively in love with it. This morning it
was but a fancy picture, now it is real. Could anything be more
perfect? So peaceful, and quaint, and sweet! Look at those children
peeping from behind their mother's gown--she can be no other than
their mother--dirty, but how picturesque!--and the woman herself, how
original! It is worth while being a woman like that, to stand as she
does, with her children clinging to her. Why does Mr. Almer not like
to live here? It is inexplicable, quite inexplicable. I could be happy
here for ever--yes, for ever! Do you catch the perfume of the limes?
It is delicious--delicious! It comes from the grounds; there must be a
lime-tree walk there. And you," she said to the pretty girl at the
gates, "you are Dionetta."

"Yes, my lady," said Dionetta, and marvelled how her name could have
become known to the beautiful woman, whose face was more lovely than
the face of the Madonna over the altar of the tiny chapel in which she
daily prayed. It was not difficult to divine her thought, for Dionetta
was Nature's child.

"You wonder who told me your name," said the Advocate's wife, smiling,
and patting the girl's cheek with her gloved hand.

"Yes, my lady."

"It was a little bird, Dionetta."

"A little bird, my lady!" exclaimed Dionetta, her wonderment and
admiration growing fast into worship. The lady's graceful figure, her
pink and white face, her pearly teeth, her lovely laughing mouth, her
eyes, blue as the most beautiful summer's cloud--Dionetta had never
seen the like before.

"You," said the Advocate's wife, turning to the grandmother, "are
Mother Denise."

"Yes, my lady," said the old woman; "this is my husband, Martin. Come
forward, Martin, come forward. He is not as young as he was, my lady."

"I know, I know; my little bird was very communicative. You are
Fritz."

"The Fool," said the white-haired young man, approaching closer to the
lady, and consequently closer to Dionetta, "Fritz the Fool. But that
needn't tell against me, unless you please. I can be useful, if I care
to be, and faithful, too, if I care to be."

"It depends upon yourself, then," said the lady, accepting the
independent speech in good part, "not upon others."

"Mainly upon myself; but I have springs that can be set in motion, if
one can only find out how to play upon them. I was told you were
coming."

"Indeed!" with an air of pleasant surprise. "By whom, and when?"

"By whom? The white shadows. When? In my dreams."

"The white shadows! They exist then! Edward, do you hear?"

"It is not so, my lady," interposed Mother Denise, in ill-humour at
the turn the conversation was taking; "the shadows do not exist,
despite what people say. Fritz is over-fond of fooling."

"It is my trade," retorted Fritz. "I know what I know, grandmother."

"Is Fritz your grandson, then?" asked the Advocate's wife, of Mother
Denise.

"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed Mother Denise.

"What is not," remarked Fritz sententiously, "may be. Bear that in
mind, grandmother; I may remind you of it one day."

The Advocate, upon whom not a word that had passed had been lost,
fixed his eyes upon Fritz, and said:

"A delusion can be turned to profit. You make use of these shadows."

"The saints forbid! They would burn me in brimstone. Yet," with a look
both sly and vacant, "it would be a pity to waste them."

"You like to be called a fool. It pleases you."

"Why not?"

"Why, rather?"

"I might answer in your own words, that it can be turned to profit.
But I am too great a fool to see in what way."

"You answer wisely. Why do you close your eyes?"

"I can see in the dark what I choose to see. When my eyes are open, I
am their slave. When they are closed, they are mine--unless I dream."

The Advocate gazed for a moment or two in silence upon the white face
with its closed eyes raised to his, and then said to his wife:

"Come, Adelaide, we will look at the house."

They passed into the grounds, accompanied by Mother Denise, Martin,
and Dionetta. Fritz remained outside the gate, with his eyes still
closed, and a smile upon his lips.

"Fritz," said the host of the inn of The Seven Liars, "do you know
anything of the great man?"

Fritz rubbed his brows softly and opened his eyes.

"Take the advice of a fool, Peter Schelt. Speak low when you speak of
him."

"You think he can hear us. Why, he is a hundred yards off by this
time!"

Fritz pointed with a waving finger to the air above him.

"There are magnetic lines, neighbours, connecting him with everything
he once sets eyes on. He can see without seeing, and hear without
hearing."

"You speak in riddles, Fritz."

"Put it down to your own dulness, Peter Schelt, that you cannot
understand me. Master Lamont, now--what would you say about him? That
he lacks brains?"

"A long way from it. Master Lamont is the cleverest man in the
valley."

"Not now," said Fritz, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder in
the direction taken by the Advocate; "his master has come. Master
Lamont is a great lawyer, but we have now a greater, one who is a more
skilful cobbler with his tongue than Hans here is with his awl; he can
so patch an old boot as to make it better than a new one, and look as
close as you may, you will not see the seams. Listen, Master Schelt.
When I stood there with my eyes shut I had a dream of a stranger who
was found murdered in your house. An awful dream, Peter. Gather round,
neighbours, gather round. There lay the stranger dead on his bed, and
over him stood you, Peter Schelt, with a bloody knife in your hand.
People say you murdered him for his money, and it really seemed so,
for a purse stuffed with gold and notes was found in your possession;
you had the stranger's silver watch, too. Suspicious, was it not? It
was looking so black against you that you begged the great man who has
come among us to plead for you at your trial. You were safe enough,
then. He told a rare tale. Forty years ago the stranger robbed your
father; suddenly he was struck with remorse, and seeking you out, gave
you back the money, and his silver watch in the bargain. He proved to
everybody's satisfaction that, though you committed the murder, it was
impossible you could be guilty. Don't be alarmed, Madame Schelt, it
was only a dream."

"But are you sure I did it?" asked Peter Schelt, in no way disturbed
by the bad light in which he was placed by Fritz's fancies.

"What matters? The great man got you off, and that is all you cared
for. Look here, neighbours; if any of you have black goats that you
wish changed into white, go to him; he can do it for you. Or an old
hen that cackles and won't lay, go to him; she will cackle less, and
lay you six eggs a day. He is, of all, the greatest."

"Ah," said a neighbour, "and what do you know of his lady wife?"

"What all of you should know, but cannot see, though it stares you in
the face."

"Let us have it, Fritz."

"She is too fair. Christine," to a stout young woman close to him,
"give thanks to the Virgin to-night that you were sent into the world
with a cast in your eye, and that your legs grow thicker and crookeder
every day. _You_ will never drive a man out of his senses with your
beauty."

Fritz was compelled to beat a swift retreat, for Christine's arms were
as thick as her legs, and they were raised to smite. Up the lane flew
the fool, and Christine after him, amid the laughter of the villagers.



                              CHAPTER VI

                          MISTRESS AND MAID


In the meantime the Advocate and his wife strolled through the
grounds. Although it was evident that much labour had been bestowed
upon them, there were signs of decay here and there which showed the
need of a master mind; but as these traces were only to be met with at
some distance from the villa itself, it was clear that they would not
interfere with the comfort of the new arrivals. The house lay low, and
the immediate grounds surrounding it were in good condition. There
were orchards stocked with fruit-trees, and gardens bright with
flowers. At a short distance from the house was an old châlet which
had been built with great taste; it was newly painted, and much care
had been bestowed upon a covered pathway which led to it from a side
entrance to the House of White Shadows. The principal room in this
châlet was a large studio, the walls of which were black. On the left
wall--in letters which once were white, but which had grown yellow
with age--was inscribed the legend, "The Grave of Honour."

"How singular!" exclaimed the Advocate's wife. "'The Grave of Honour!'
What can be the meaning of it?"

But Mother Denise did not volunteer an explanation.

Near the end of the studio was an alcove, the space beyond being
screened by a dead crimson curtain. Holding back the curtain, a large
number of pictures were seen piled against the walls.

"Family pictures?" asked the Advocate's wife, of Mother Denise.

"No, my lady," was the reply; "they were painted by an artist, who
resided and worked here for a year or so in the lifetime of the old
master."

By the desire of the lady the housekeeper brought a few of the
pictures into the light. One represented a pleasure party of ladies
and gentlemen dallying in summer woods; another, a lady lying in a
hammock and reaching out her arm to pluck some roses; two were
companion pictures, the first subject being two persons who might have
been lovers, standing among strewn flowers in the sunshine--the second
subject showing the same figures in a different aspect; a cold grey
sea divided them, on the near shore of which the man stood in an
attitude of despair gazing across the waters to the opposite shore, on
which stood the woman with a pale, grief-stricken face.

"The sentiment is strained," observed the Advocate, "but the artist
had talent."

"A story could be woven out of them," said his wife; "I feel as if
they were connected with the house."

Upon leaving the châlet they continued their tour through the grounds.
Already the Advocate felt the beneficial effects of a healthy change.
His eyes were clearer, his back straighter, he moved with a brisker
step. Mother Denise walked in front, pointing out this and that,
Martin hobbled behind, and Dionetta, encouraged thereto, walked by her
new mistress's side.

"Dionetta," said the Advocate's wife, "do you know that you have the
prettiest name in the world?"

"Have I, my lady? I have never thought of it, but it is, if you say
so."

"But perhaps," said the Advocate's wife, with a glance at the girl's
bright face, "a man would not think of your name when he looked at
you."

"I am sure I cannot say, my lady; he would not think of me at all."

"You little simpleton! I wish I had such a name; they ought to wait
till we grow up, so that we might choose our own names. I should not
have chosen Adelaide for myself."

"Is that your name, my lady?"

"Yes--they could not have given me an uglier."

"Nay," said Dionetta, raising her eyes in mute appeal for forgiveness
for the contradiction, "it is very sweet."

"Repeat it, then. Adelaide."

"May I, my lady?"

"Of course you may, if I wish you to. Let me hear you speak it."

"Adelaide! Adelaide!" murmured Dionetta softly. The permission was as
precious as the gift of a silver chain would have been. "My lady, it
is pretty."

"Shall we change?" asked the Advocate's wife gaily.

"Can we?" inquired Dionetta in a solemn tone. "I would not mind if you
wish it, and if it is right. I will ask the priest."

"No, do not trouble. Would you really like to change?"

"It would be so strange--and it might be a sin! If we cannot, it is of
no use thinking of it."

"There is no sin in thinking of things; if there were, the world would
be full of sin, and I--dear me, how much I should have to answer for!
I should not like everyone to know my thoughts. What a quiet life you
must live here, Dionetta!"

"Yes, my lady, it is quiet."

"Would you not prefer to live in a city?"

"I should be frightened, my lady. I have been only twice to Geneva,
and there was no room in the streets to move about. I was glad to get
back."

"No room to move about, simplicity! That is the delight of it. There
are theatres, and music, and light, and life. You would not be
frightened if you were with me?"

"Oh, no, my lady; that would be happiness."

"Are you not happy here?"

"Oh, yes, very happy."

"But you wish for something?"

"No, my lady; I have everything I want."

"Everything--positively everything?"

"Yes, my lady."

"There is one thing you must want, Dionetta, if you have it not
already."

"May I know what it is?"

"Yes, child. Love."

Dionetta blushed crimson from forehead to throat, and the Advocate's
wife laughed, and tapped her cheek.

"You are very pretty, Dionetta; it is right you should have a pretty
name. Do you mean to tell me you have not a lover?"

"I have been asked, my lady," said the girl, in a tone so low that it
could only just be heard.

"And you said 'yes'? Little one, I have caught you."

"My lady, I did not say 'yes.'"

"And the men were contented? They must be dolts. Really and truly, you
have not a lover?"

"What can I say, my lady?" murmured Dionetta, her head bent down.
"There are some who say they--love me."

"But you do not love them?"

"No, my lady."

"You would like to have one you could love?"

"One day, my lady, if I am so fortunate."

"I promise you," said the Advocate's wife with a blithe laugh, "that
one day you will be so fortunate. Women were made for love--and men,
too, or where would be the use? It is the only thing in life worth
living for. Blushing again! I would give my jewel-case to be able to
blush like you."

"I cannot help it, my lady. My face often grows red when I am quite
alone."

"And thinking of love," added the Advocate's wife; "for what else
should make it red? So you do think of things! I can see, Dionetta,
that you and I are going to be great friends."

"You are very good, my lady, but I am only a poor peasant. I will
serve you as well as I can."

"You knew, before I came, that you were to be my maid?"

"Yes, my lady. Master Lamont said it was likely. Grandmother did not
seem to care that it should be so, but I wished for it, and now that
she has seen you she must be glad for me to serve you."

"Why should she be glad, Dionetta?"

"My lady, it could not be otherwise," said Dionetta very earnestly;
"you are so good and beautiful."

"Flatterer! Master Lamont--he is an old man?"

"Yes, my lady."

"There are some old men who are very handsome."

"He is not. He is small, and thin, and shrivelled up."

"Those are not the men for us, are they, little one?"

"But he has a voice like honey. I have heard many say so."

"That is something in his favour--or would be, if women were blind. So
from this day you are my maid. You will be faithful, I am sure, and
will keep my secrets. Mind that, Dionetta. You must keep my secrets."

"Have you any?" said Dionetta, "and shall you tell them to me?"

"Every woman in the world has secrets, and every woman in the world
must have someone to whom she can whisper them. You will find that out
for yourself in time. Yes, child, I have secrets--one, a very precious
one. If ever you guess it without my telling you, keep it buried in
your heart, and do not speak of it to a living soul."

"I would not dare, my lady."

They walked a little apart from the others during this dialogue. The
concluding words brought them to the steps of the House of White
Shadows.

"Edward," said the Advocate's wife to him, as they entered the house,
"I have found a treasure. My new maid is charming."

"I am pleased to hear it. She has an ingenuous face, but you will be
able to judge better when you know more of her."

"You do not trust many persons, Edward."

"Not many, Adelaide."

"Me?" she asked archly.

"Implicitly."

"And another, I think."

"Certainly, one other."

"I should not be far out if I were to name Christian Almer."

"It is to him I refer."

"I have sometimes wondered," she said, with an artless look, "why you
should be so partial to him. He is so unlike you."

"We are frequently drawn to our unlikes; but Almer and I have one
quality in common with each other."

"What quality, Edward?"

"The quality of the dog--faithfulness. Almer's friendship is precious
to me, and mine to him, because we are each to the other faithful."

"The quality of the dog! How odd that sounds! Though when one thinks
of it there is really something noble in it. And friendship--it is
almost as if you placed it higher than love."

"It is far higher. Love too frequently changes, as the seasons change.
Friendship is, of the two, the more likely to endure, being less
liable to storms. But even a faithful friendship is rare."

"And faithful love much rarer, according to your ideas. Yet, Mr.
Almer, having this quality of the dog, would be certain, you believe,
to be faithful both in love and friendship."

"To the death."

"You are thorough in your opinions, Edward."

"I do not believe in half-heartedness, Adelaide."

The arrangements within the house were complete and admirable. For the
Advocate's wife, a boudoir and reception-rooms into which new fashions
had been introduced with judgment so good as not to jar with the old
furnishings which had adorned them for many generations. For the
Advocate a study, with a library which won from him cordial approval;
a spacious and commodious apartment, neither overloaded with furniture
nor oppressive with bare spaces; with an outlook from one window to
the snow regions of Mont Blanc, from another to the city of Geneva,
which was now bathed in a soft, mellow light. This tender evidence of
departing day was creeping slowly downwards into the valleys from
mount and city, a moving picture of infinite beauty.

They visited the study last; Adelaide had been loud in her praises of
the house and its arrangement, commending this and that, and declaring
that everything was perfect. While she was examining the furniture in
the study the Advocate turned to the principal writing-table, upon
which lay a pile of newspapers. He took up the first of these, and
instinctively searched for the subject which had not left his mind
since his visit to the banker, Jacob Hartrich--the murder of Madeline
the flower-girl. He was deep in the perusal of fresh details,
confirmatory of Gautran's guilt, when he was aroused by a stifled cry
of alarm from Adelaide. With the newspaper still in his hand, he
looked up and asked what had alarmed her. She laughed nervously, and
pointed to an old sideboard upon which a number of hideous faces were
carved. To some of the faces bodies were attached, and the whole of
this ancient work of art was extravagant enough to have had for its
inspiration the imaginings of a madman's brain.

"I thought I saw them moving," said Adelaide. The Advocate smiled, and
said:

"It is the play of light over the figures that created the delusion;
they are harmless, Adelaide."

The glow of sunset shone through a painted window upon the faces,
which to a nervous mind might have seemed to be animated with living
colour.

"Look at that frightful head," said Adelaide; "it is really stained
with blood."

"And now," observed the Advocate, "the blood-stain fades away, and in
the darker light the expression grows sad and solemn."

"I should be frightened of this room at night," said Adelaide, with a
slight shiver; "I should fancy those hideous beings were only waiting
an opportunity to steal out upon me for an evil purpose."

A noise in the passage outside diverted their attention.

"Gently, Fritz, gently," cried a voice, "unless you wish to make holes
in the sound part of me."

The Advocate moved to the door, and opened it. A strange sight came
into view.



                             CHAPTER VII

              A VISIT FROM PIERRE LAMONT--DREAMS OF LOVE


At the door stood Fritz the Fool, carrying in his arms what in the
gathering dusk looked like a bundle. This bundle was human--a man who
was but half a man. Embracing Fritz, with one arm tightly clutching
the Fool's neck, the figure commenced to speak the moment the door was
opened.

"I only am to blame; learning that you were in the study, I insisted
upon being brought here immediately; carry me in gently, Fool, and set
me in that chair."

The chair indicated was close to the writing-table, by which the
Advocate was standing.

"Fritz made me acquainted with your arrival," continued the intruder,
"and I hastened here without delay. When I tell you that I live two
miles off, eight hundred feet above the level of this valley, you will
realise the jolting I have had in my wheeled chair. Fritz, you can
leave us; but be within call, as you must help to get me home again.
Is there any need for me to introduce myself?" he asked.

"Master Lamont," said the Advocate.

"As much as is left of me; but I manage to exist. I have proved that a
man can live without legs. You received my letter?"

"Yes; and I thank you for your attention. My wife," said the Advocate,
introducing Adelaide. Attracted by the dulcet voice of Pierre Lamont,
she had come out of the deeper shadows of the room. Dionetta had
spoken truly; this thin, shrivelled wreck of mortality had a voice as
sweet as honey.

"I cannot rise to pay my respects to you," said Pierre Lamont, his
lynx eyes resting with profound admiration upon the beautiful woman,
"but I beg you to believe that I am your devoted slave." Adelaide bent
her head gracefully, and smiled upon the old lawyer. "One of my great
anxieties is to know whether I have arranged the villa to your
satisfaction. Christian Almer was most desirous that the place should
be made pleasant and attractive, and I have endeavoured to carry out
his instructions."

"We owe you a debt of gratitude," said Adelaide; "everything has been
charmingly done."

"I am repaid for my labour," said Pierre Lamont gallantly. "You must
be fatigued after your journey. Do not let me detain you. I shall
remain with the Advocate but a very few minutes, and I trust you will
allow me to make another and a longer visit."

"We shall always be happy to see you," said Adelaide, as she bowed and
left the room.

"You are fortunate, comrade," said Pierre Lamont, "both in love and
war. Your lady is the most beautiful I have ever beheld. I am
selfishly in hopes that you will make a long stay with us; it will put
some life into this sleepy valley. Is Christian Almer with you?"

"No; but I may induce him to come. It is to you," said the Advocate,
pointing to the pile of newspapers, "that I am indebted for these."

"I thought you would find something in them to interest you. I see you
have one of the papers in your hand, and that you were reading it
before I intruded upon you. May I look at it? Ah! you have caught up
the scent. It was the murder of the flower-girl I meant."

"Have you formed an opinion upon the case?"

"Scarcely yet; it is so surrounded with mystery. In my enforced
retirement I amuse myself by taking up any important criminal case
that occurs; and trying it in my solitude, acting at once the parts of
judge and counsel for the prosecution and defence. A poor substitute
for the reality; but I make it serve--not to my satisfaction, I
confess, although I may show ingenuity in some of my conclusions. But
I miss the cream, which lies in the personality of the persons
concerned. This case of Gautran interests and perplexes me; were I
able to take an active part, it is not unlikely I should move in it. I
envy you, brother; I should feel proud if I could break a lance with
you; but we do not live in an age of miracles, so I must be content,
perforce, with my hermit life. What I read does not always please me;
points are missed--almost wilfully missed, as it seems to me--strong
links allowed to fall, disused, false inferences drawn, and, in the
end, a verdict and sentence which half make me believe that justice
limps on crutches. 'Fools, fools, fools!' I cry; 'if I were among you
this should not be.' But what can an old cripple do? Grumble? Yes; and
extract a morsel of satisfaction from his discontent--which tickles
his vanity. That men's deserts are not meted out to them troubles me
more now than it used to do. The times are too lenient of folly and
crime. I would have the old law revived. 'To the doer as he hath
done'--thus saith the thrice ancient word--so runs the 'Agamemnon.' If
my neighbour kill my ass, I would knock his on the head. And this
Gautran, if he be guilty, deserves the death; if he be innocent,
deserves to live and be set free. But to allow a poor wretch to be
judged by public passions--Heaven send us a beneficent change!"

The voice of the speaker was so sweet, and the arguments so palatable
to the Advocate, and so much in accordance with his own views, that he
listened with pleasure to this outburst. He recognised in the cripple
huddled up in the chair one whose pre-eminence in his craft had been
worthily attained.

"I am pleased we have met," he said, and the eyes of Pierre Lamont
glistened.

He soon brought his visit to a close, and while Fritz the Fool was
being summoned, he said that in the morning he would send the Advocate
all the papers he could gather which might help to throw a light on
the case of Gautran.

"You have spoken with Fritz, he tells me."

"I have; he appears to me worth studying."

"There is salt in the knave; he has occasionally managed to overreach
me. Fool as he is, he has a head with brains in it. Farewell."

Now, although the old lawyer, while he was with the Advocate, seemed
to think of nothing but his more celebrated legal brother, it was far
different as he was carried in his wheeled chair to his home on the
heights. He had his own servant to propel him; Fritz walked by his
side.

"You were right, Fritz, you were right," said Pierre Lamont, and he
smacked his lips, and his eyes kindled with the fire of youth, "she is
a rare piece of flesh and blood--as fair as a lily, as ripe as a peach
ready to drop from the wall. With passions of her own, Fritz; her
veins are warm. To live in the heart of such a woman would be to live
a perpetual summer. What say you, Fritz?"

"Nothing."

"That is a fool's answer."

"Then the fools are the real wise men, for there is wisdom in silence.
But I say nothing because I am thinking."

"A mouse in labour. Beware of bringing forth a mountain; it will rend
you to pieces."

Fritz softly hummed a tune as they climbed the hills. Only once did he
speak till they arrived at Pierre Lamont's house; it was in reply to
the old lawyer, who said:

"It is easier going up the hills than coming down."

"That depends," said Fritz, "upon whether it is the mule or the man on
his back."

Pierre Lamont laughed quietly; he had a full enjoyment of Fritz's
humour.

"I have been thinking," said Fritz when the journey was completed----

"Ah, ah!" interrupted Pierre Lamont; "now for the mountain."

"--Upon the reason that made so fair a lady--young, and warm, and
ripe--marry an icicle."

"There is hidden fire, Fritz; you may get it from a stone."

"I forgot," said Fritz, with a sly chuckle, "that I was speaking to an
old man."

"Rogue!" cried Pierre Lamont, raising his stick.

"Never stretch out your hand," said Fritz, darting away, "for what you
cannot reach."

"Fritz, Fritz, come here!"

"You will not strike?"

"No."

"I will trust you. There are lawyers I would not, though every word
they uttered was framed in gold."

"So, you have been thinking of the reason that made so fair a lady
marry an icicle?"

"Yes."

"The icicle is celebrated."

"That is of no account."

"He is rich."

"That is good."

"He is much older than she. He may die, and leave her a young widow."

"That is better."

"Then she may marry again--a younger man."

"That is best Master Lamont, you have a head."

"And your own love-affair, Fritz, is that flourishing, eh? Have the
pretty red lips kissed a 'Yes' yet?"

"The pretty red lips have not been asked. I bide my time. My peach is
not as ripe as the icicle's. I'll go and look after it, Master Lamont.
It needs careful watching; there are poachers about."

Fritz departed to look after his peach, and Pierre Lamont was carried
into his study, where he sat until late in the night, surrounded by
books and papers.

The Advocate was also in his study until two hours past midnight,
searching newspaper after newspaper for particulars and details of the
murder of the unfortunate girl whose body had been found in the wildly
rushing Rhone. And while he pondered and mused, and ofttimes paced the
room with thoughtful face, his wife lay sleeping in her holiday home,
with smiles on her lips, and joy in her heart, for she was dreaming of
one far away. And her dream was of love.

And Dionetta, the pretty maid, also slept, with her hands clasped at
the back of her head; and her lady was saying to her: "Really and
truly, Dionetta, you have not a lover? Women are made for love. It is
the only thing in life worth living for." And a blush, even in her
sleep, stole over her fair face and bosom. For her dream was of love.

And Pierre Lamont lived over again the days of his youth, and smirked
and languished, and made fine speeches, and moved amidst a paradise of
fair faces, all of which bore the likeness of one whom he had but just
seen for the first time. And, old as he was, his dream was of love.

And Fritz the Fool tossed in his bed, and muttered:

"Too fair! too fair! If I were rich she might tempt me to be false to
one, and make me vow I would lay down my life for her. It is a good
thing for me that I am a fool."

And Gautran in his prison cell writhed upon his hard bed in the midst
of the darkness; for by his side lay the phantom of the murdered girl,
and his despair was deep and awful.

And in the mountains, two hundred miles distant from the House of
White Shadows, roamed Christian Almer in the moonlight, struggling
with all his mental might with a terror which possessed him. The spot
he had flown to was ten thousand feet above the level of the sea, and
his sleeping-room was in the hut of a peasant, mountain-born and
mountain-reared, who lived a life of dull contentment with his goats,
and wife, and children. Far away in the heights immense forests of
fir-trees were grouped in dark, solemn masses. Not a branch stirred; a
profound repose reigned within their depths, while the sleepless
waterfalls in the lower heights, leaping, and creeping, and dashing
over chasm and precipice, proclaimed the eternal wakefulness of
Nature. The solitary man gazed upon these majestic signs in awe and
despair.

"There is no such thing as oblivion," he muttered; "there is no such
thing as forgetfulness. These solitudes, upon which no living creature
but myself is to be seen, are full of accusing voices. My God! to die
and be blotted out for ever and ever were better than this agony! I
strive and strive, and cannot rid myself of the sin. I will conquer
it--I will--I will--I will!"

But even as he spoke there gleamed upon him from a laughing cascade
the vision of a face so beautiful as to force a groan from his lips.
He turned from the vision, and it shone upon him with a tender wooing
in every waterfall that met his sight. Trembling with the force of a
passion he found it impossible to resist, he walked to his mountain
home, and threw himself upon his couch. He was exhausted with
sleepless nights, and in a short time he fell into a deep slumber. And
a calm stole over his troubled soul, for his dreams were of love!



                             CHAPTER VIII

                     THE INTERVIEW IN THE PRISON


"Arise, Gautran."

At this command Gautran rose slowly from the floor of his prison-cell,
upon which he had been lying at full length, and shaking himself like
a dog, stood before the gaoler.

"Can't you let me alone?" he asked, in a coarse, savage voice.

"Scum of the gutter!" replied the gaoler. "Speak civilly while you
have the power, and be thankful your tongue is not dragged out by the
roots."

"You would do it if you dared."

"Ay--and a thousand honest men would rejoice to help me."

"Is it to tell me this you disturbed me?"

"No, murderer!"

"What do you want of me?"

The gaoler laughed at him in mockery. "You look more like beast than
man."

"That's how I've been treated," growled Gautran.

"Better than you deserve. So, you have influential friends, it seems."

"Have I?" with a venomous flash at the taunt.

"One will be here to see you directly."

"Let him keep from me. I care to see no one."

"That may be, but the choice is not yours. This gentleman is not to be
denied."

"A gentleman, eh?" exclaimed Gautran, with some slight show of
interest.

"Yes, a gentleman."

"Who is he, and what is his business with me?"

"He is a great lawyer, who has sent murderers to their doom----"

"Ah!" and Gautran drew a long vindictive breath through closed teeth.

"And has set some free, I've heard."

"Is he going to do that for me?" asked Gautran, and a light of fierce
hope shone in his eyes.

"He will earn Heaven's curse if he does, and man's as well. Here he
is. Silence."

The door was opened, and the Advocate entered the cell.

"This is Gautran?" he asked of the gaoler.

"This is he," replied the gaoler.

"Leave me alone with him."

"It is against my orders, sir."

"Here is your authority."

He handed to the gaoler a paper, which gave him permission to hold
free and uninterrupted converse with Gautran, accused of the murder of
Madeline the flower-girl. The interview not to last longer than an
hour.

The gaoler prepared to depart, but before he left the cell he said in
an undertone:

"Be careful of the man; he is a savage, and not to be trusted."

"There is nothing to fear," said the Advocate.

The gaoler lingered a moment, and then retired.

The cell was but dimly lighted, and the Advocate, coming into it from
the full sunlight of a bright day, could not see clearly for a little
while. On the other hand. Gautran, whose eyes were accustomed to the
gloom, had a distinct view of the Advocate, and in a furtive, hangdog
fashion he closely inspected the features of his visitor. The man who
stood before him could obtain his condemnation or his acquittal.
Dull-witted as he was, this conviction was as much an intuition as an
impression gained from the gaoler's remarks.

"You are a woodman?" said the Advocate.

"Aye, a woodman. It is well known."

"Have you parents?"

"They are dead."

"Any brothers or sisters?"

"None. I was the only one."

"Friends?"

"No."

"Have you wife or children?"

"Neither."

"How much money have you?"

"Not a sou."

"What about this murder?" asked the Advocate abruptly.

"What about it, then?" demanded Gautran. The questions asked by the
Advocate were more judicial than friendly, and he assumed an air of
defiance.

"Speak in a different tone. I am here to assist you, if I see my way.
You have no lawyer to defend you?"

"How should I get one? What lawyer works without pay, and where should
I find the money to pay him?"

"Heed what I say. I do not ask you if you are innocent or guilty of
the crime of which you stand charged, for that is a formula and,
guilty or not guilty, you would return but one answer. Have you
anything to tell me?"

"I can't think of anything."

"You have led an evil life."

"Not my fault. Can a man choose his own parents and his country? The
life I have led I was born into; and that is to stand against me."

"Are there any witnesses who would come forward and speak in your
favour?"

"None that I know of."

"Is it true that you were walking with the girl on the night she was
murdered?"

"No man has heard me deny it," said Gautran, shuddering.

"Why do you shudder?"

"Master, you asked me just now whether I had a wife, and I told you I
had none. This girl was to have been my wife. I loved her, and we were
to have been married."

"That is disputed."

"Everything is disputed that would tell in my favour. The truth is of
no use to a poor devil caught in a trap as I am. Have you heard any
good of me, master?"

"Not any; all that I have heard is against you."

"That is the way of it. Well, then, judge for yourself."

"Can you indicate anyone who would be likely to murder the girl? You
shudder again."

"I cannot help it. Master, put yourself in this cell, as I am put,
without light, without hope, without money, without a friend. You
would need a strong nerve to stand it. You want to know if I can point
out anyone who could have done the deed but me? Well, if I were free,
and came face to face with him, I might. Not that I could say
anything, or swear to anything for certain, for I did not see it done.
No, master, I will not lie to you. Where would be the use? You are
clever enough to find me out. But I had good reason to suspect, aye,
to know, that the girl had other lovers, who pressed her hard, I dare
say; some who were rich, while I was poor; some who were almost mad
for her. She was followed by a dozen and more. She told me so herself,
and used to laugh about it; but she never mentioned a name to me. You
know something of women, master; they like the men to follow them--the
best of them do--ladies as well as peasants. They were sent into the
world to drive us to perdition. I was jealous of her, yes, I was
jealous. Am I guilty because of that? How could I help being jealous
when I loved her? It is in a man's blood. Well, then, what more can I
say?"

In his intent observance of Gautran's manner the Advocate seemed to
weigh every word that fell from the man's lips.

"At what time did you leave the girl on the last night you saw her
alive?"

"At ten o'clock."

"She was alone at that hour?"

"Yes."

"Did you see her again after that?"

"No."

"Did you have reason to suspect that she was to meet any other man on
that night?"

"If I had thought it, I should have stopped with her."

"For what purpose?"

"To see the man she had appointed to meet."

"And having seen him?"

"He would have had to answer to me. I am hot-blooded, master, and can
stand up for my rights."

"Would you have harmed the girl?"

"No, unless she had driven me out of my senses."

"Were you in that state on the night of her death?"

"No--I knew what I was about."

"You were heard to quarrel with her."

"I don't deny it."

"You were heard to say you would kill her."

"True enough. I told her if ever I found out that she was false to me,
I would kill her."

"Had she bound herself to marry you?"

"She had sworn to marry me."

"The handkerchief round her neck, when her body was discovered in the
river, is proved to have been yours."

"It was mine; I gave it to her. I had not much to give."

"When you were arrested you were searched?"

"Yes."

"Was anything taken from you?"

"My knife."

"Had you and the girl's secret lover--supposing she had one--met on
that night, you might have used your knife."

"That is speaking beforehand. I can't say what might have happened."

"Come here into the light. Let me look at your hands."

"What trick are you going to play me, master?" asked Gautran, in a
suspicious tone.

"No trick," replied the Advocate sternly. "Obey me, or I leave you."

Gautran debated with himself in silence for a full minute; then, with
an impatient movement, as though it could not matter one way or
another, he moved into the light, and held out his hands.

The Advocate, taking a powerful glass from his pocket, examined the
prisoner's fingers and nails and wrists with the utmost minuteness,
Gautran, the while, wrapped in wonder at the strange proceeding.

"Now," said the Advocate, "hold your head back, so that the light may
shine on your face."

Gautran obeyed, warily holding himself in readiness to spring upon the
Advocate in case of an attack. By the aid of his glass the Advocate
examined Gautran's face and neck with as much care as he had bestowed
upon the hands, and then said:

"That will do."

"What is it all for, master?" asked Gautran.

"I am here to ask questions, not to answer them. Since your arrest,
have you been examined as I have examined you?"

"No, master."

"Has any examination whatever been made of you by doctors or gaolers
or lawyers?"

"None at all."

"How long had you known the girl?"

"Ever since she came into the neighbourhood."

"Were you not acquainted with her before?"

"No."

"From what part of the country did she come?"

"I can't say."

"Not knowing?"

"Not knowing."

"But being intimate with her, you could scarcely avoid asking her the
question."

"I did ask her, and I was curious to find out. She would not satisfy
me; and when I pressed her, she said the other one--Pauline--had made
her promise not to tell."

"You don't know, then, where she was born?"

"No."

"Her refusal to tell you--was it lightly or seriously uttered?"

"Seriously."

"As though there was a secret in her life she wished to conceal?"

"I never thought of it in that way, but I can see now it must have
been so."

"Something discreditable, then?"

"Most likely. Master, you go deeper than I do."

"What relationship existed between Pauline and Madeline?"

"Some said they were sisters, but there was a big difference in their
ages. Others said that Pauline was her mother, but I don't believe it,
for they never spoke together in that way. Master, I don't know what
to say about it; it used to puzzle me; but it was no business of
mine."

"Did you never hear Pauline address Madeline as her child?"

"Never."

"They addressed each other by their Christian names?"

"Yes."

"Did they resemble each other in feature?"

"There was something of a likeness between them."

"Why did Pauline leave the girl?"

"No one knew."

"That is all you can tell me?"

"That is all."

Then after a slight pause, the Advocate asked:

"Do you value your liberty?"

"Yes, master," replied Gautran excitedly.

"Let no person know what has passed between us, and do not repeat one
word I have said to you."

"I understand; you may depend upon me. But master, will you not tell
me something more? Am I to be set free or not?"

"You are to be tried; what is brought against you at your trial will
establish either your innocence or your guilt."

He knocked at the door of the prison cell, and the gaoler opened it
for him and let him out.

"Well, Gautran?" said the gaoler, but Gautran, wrapped in
contemplation of the door through which the Advocate had taken his
departure, paid no attention to him. "Do you hear me?" cried the
gaoler, shaking his prisoner with no gentle hand.

"What now?"

"Is the great lawyer going to defend you?"

"You want to know too much," said Gautran, and refused to speak
another word on the subject.

During the whole of the day there were but two figures in his
mind--those of the Advocate and the murdered girl. The latter
presented itself in various accusing aspects, and he vainly strove to
rid himself of the spectre. Its hair hung in wild disorder over neck
and bosom, its white lips moved, its mournful eyes struck terror to
his soul. The figure of the Advocate presented itself in far different
aspects; it was always terrible, Satanic, and damning in its
suggestions.

"What matter," muttered Gautran, "if he gets me off? I can do as I
please then."

In the evening, when the small window in his cell was dark, the gaoler
heard him crying out loudly. He entered, and demanded what ailed the
wretch.

"Light--light!" implored Gautran; "give me light!"

"Beast in human shape," said the gaoler; "you have light enough.
You'll get no more. Stop your howling, or I'll stop it for you!"

"Light! light! light!" moaned Gautran, clasping his hands over his
eyes. But he could not shut out the phantom of the murdered girl,
which from that moment never left him. So he lay and writhed during
the night, and would have dashed his head against the wall to put an
end to his misery had he not been afraid of death.



                              CHAPTER IX

               THE ADVOCATE UNDERTAKES A STRANGE TASK.


It was on the evening of this day, the third since the arrival of the
Advocate in Geneva, that he said to his wife over the dinner-table:

"I shall in all likelihood be up the whole of to-night in my study. Do
not let me be disturbed."

"Who should disturb you?" asked Adelaide languidly. "There are only
you and I in the villa; of course I would not venture to intrude upon
you without permission."

"You misunderstand me, Adelaide; it is because we are in a strange
house that I thought it best to tell you."

"As if there were anything unusual in your shutting yourself up all
night in your study! Our notions of the way to lead an agreeable life
are so different! Take your own course, Edward; you are older and
wiser than I; but you must not wonder that I think it strange. You
come to the country for rest, and you are as hard at work as ever."

"I cannot live without work; aimless days would send me to my grave.
If you are lonely, Adelaide----"

"Oh, no, I am not," she cried vivaciously, "at least, not yet. There
is so much in the neighbourhood that is interesting. Dionetta and I
have been out all day seeing the sights. On the road to Master
Lamont's house there is the loveliest rustic bridge. And the wild
flowers are the most beautiful I have ever seen. We met a priest,
Father Capel, a gentle-looking man, with the kindest face! He said he
intended to call upon you, and hoped to be permitted. I said, of
course, you would be charmed. I had a good mind to visit Master
Lamont, but his house was too far up the hills. Fool Fritz joined us;
he is very amusing, with his efforts to be wise. I was delighted
everywhere with the people. I went into some of their cottages, and
the women were very respectful; and the children--upon my word,
Edward, they stare at me as if I were a picture."

The Advocate looked up at this, and regarded his wife with fond
admiration. In his private life two influences were dominant--love for
his wife, and friendship for Christian Almer. He had love for no other
woman, and friendship for no other man, and his trust in both was a
perfect trust.

"I do not wonder that the children stare at you," he said; "you must
be a new and pleasant experience to them."

"I believe they take me for a saint," she said, laughing gaily; "and I
need not tell _you_ that I am very far from being one."

"You are, as we all are, human; and very beautiful, Adelaide."

She gazed at him in surprise.

"It is not often you pay me compliments."

"Do you need them from me? To be sure of my affection--is not that
sufficient?"

"But I am fond of compliments."

"I must commence a new study, then," he said gravely; it was difficult
for him to indulge in light themes for many minutes together. "So you
are making yourself acquainted with the neighbours. I hope you will
not soon tire of them."

"When I do I must seek out some other amusement. You have also
discovered something since you came here in which you appear to be
wonderfully interested."

"Yes; a criminal case----"

"A criminal case!" she echoed pettishly.

"In which there is a great mystery. I do not trouble you with these
law matters; long ago you expressed weariness of such themes."

Her humour changed again.

"A mystery!" she exclaimed with child-like vivacity, "in a place where
news is so scarce! It must be delightful. What is it about? There is a
woman in it, of course. There always is."

"Yes; a young woman, whose body was found in the Rhone."

"Murdered?"

"Murdered, as it at present seems."

"The wretch! Have they caught him? For of course it is a man who
committed the dreadful deed."

"One is in prison, charged with the crime. I visited him to-day."

"Surely you are not going to defend him?"

"It is probable. I shall decide to-night."

"But why, Edward, why? If the man is guilty, should he not be
punished?"

"Undoubtedly he should. And if he is innocent, he should not be made
to suffer. He is poor and friendless; it will be a relief for me to
take up the case, should I believe him to be unjustly accused."

"Is he young--handsome--and was it done through jealousy?"

"I have told you the case is shrouded in mystery. As for the man
charged with the crime, he is very common and repulsive-looking."

"And you intend to defend such a creature?"

"Most likely."

She shrugged her shoulders with a slight gesture of contempt. She had
no understanding of his motives, no sympathy in his labours, no pride
in his victories.

When he retired to his study he did not immediately proceed to the
investigation of the case of Gautran, as it was set forth in the
numerous papers which lay on the table. These papers, in accordance
with the given promise, had been sent to him by Pierre Lamont, and it
was his intention to employ the hours of the night in a careful study
of the details of the affair, and of the conjectures and opinions of
editors and correspondents.

But he held his purpose back for a while, and for nearly half-an-hour
paced the floor slowly in deep thought. Suddenly he went out, and
sought his wife's private room.

"It did not occur to me before," he said, "to tell you that a friend
of Christian Almer's--Mr. Hartrich, the banker--in a conversation I
had with him, expressed his belief that Almer was suffering."

"Ill!" she cried in an agitated tone.

"In mind, not in body. You have received letters from him lately, I
believe?"

"Yes, three or four--the last a fortnight ago."

"Does he say he is unwell?"

"No; but now I think of it, he does not write in his usual good
spirits."

"You have his address?"

"Yes; he is in Switzerland, you know."

"So Mr. Hartrich informed me--somewhere in the mountains, endeavouring
to extract peace of mind from silence and solitude. That is well
enough for a few days, and intellectual men are always grateful for
such a change; but, if it is prolonged, there is danger of its
bringing a mental disease of a serious and enduring nature upon a man
brooding upon unhealthy fancies. I value Almer too highly to lose
sight of him, or to allow him to drift. He has no family ties, and is
in a certain sense a lonely man. Why should he not come and remain
with us during our stay in the village? I had an idea that he himself
would have proposed doing so."

"He might have considered it indelicate," said Adelaide with a bright
colour in her face, "the house being his. As if he had a right to be
here."

"It is by no means likely," said the Advocate, shaking his head, "that
Almer would ever be swayed by other than generous and large-minded
considerations. Write to him to-night, and ask him to leave his
solitude, and make his home with us. He will be company for you, and
your bright and cheerful ways will do him good. The prospect of his
visit has already excited you, I see. I am afraid," he said, with a
regretful pathos in his voice, "that my society affords you but poor
enjoyment; yet I never thought otherwise, when you honoured me by
accepting my proposal of marriage, than that you loved me."

"I hope you do not think otherwise now," she said in a low tone.

"Why, no," he said with a sigh of relief; "what reason have I to think
otherwise? We had time to study each other's characters, and I did not
present myself in a false light. But we are forgetting Almer. Can you
divine any cause for unusual melancholy in him?"

She seemed to consider, and answered:

"No, she could not imagine why he should be melancholy."

"Mr. Hartrich," continued the Advocate, "suggested that he might have
experienced a disappointment in love, but I could not entertain the
suggestion. Almer and I have for years exchanged confidences in which
much of men's inner natures is revealed, and had he met with such a
disappointment, he would have confided in me. I may be mistaken,
however; your opinion would be valuable here; in these delicate
matters, women are keen observers."

"Mr. Hartrich's suggestion is absurd; I am convinced Mr. Almer has not
met with a disappointment in love. He is so bright and attractive----"

"That any woman," said the Advocate, taking up the thread, for
Adelaide seemed somewhat at a loss for words, "might be proud to win
him. That is your thought, Adelaide."

"Yes."

"I agree with you. I have never in my life known a man more likely to
inspire love in a woman's heart than Christian Almer, and I have
sometimes wondered that he had not met with one to whom he was drawn;
it would be a powerful influence over him for good. Of an impure
passion I believe him incapable. Write to him to-night, and urge him
to come to us."

"If you wrote to him, also, it would be as well."

"I will do so; you can enclose my letter in yours. How does your new
maid suit you?"

"Admirably. She is perfection."

"Which does not exist."

"If I could induce her grandmother to part with her, I should like to
keep her with me always."

"Do not tempt her, Adelaide. For a simple maid a country life is the
happiest and best--indeed, for any maid, or any man, young or old."

"How seldom practice and precept agree! Why do you not adopt a country
life?"

"Too late. A man must follow his star. I should die of inaction in the
country; and you--I smile when I think what would become of you were I
to condemn you to it."

"You are not always right. I adore the country!"

"For an hour and a day. Adelaide, you could not exist out of society."

Until the Alpine peaks were tipped with the fire of the rising sun,
the Advocate remained in his study, investigating and considering the
case of Gautran. Only once did he leave it to give his wife the letter
he wrote to Christian Almer. Newspaper after newspaper was read and
laid aside, until the long labour came to its end. Then the Advocate
rose, with no trace of fatigue on his countenance, and according to
his wont, walked slowly up and down in deep thought. His eyes rested
occasionally upon the grotesque and hideous figures carved on the old
sideboard, which, had they been sentient and endowed with the power of
speech, might have warned him that he had already, within the past few
hours, woven one tragic link in his life, and have held him back from
weaving another. But he saw no warning in their fantastic faces, and
before he retired to rest he had formed his resolve. On the following
day all Geneva was startled by the news that the celebrated Advocate,
who had travelled thither for rest from years of arduous toil, had
undertaken the defence of a wretch upon whose soul, in the opinion of
nearly every thinking man and woman, the guilt of blood lay heavily.
The trial of Gautran was instantly invested with an importance which
elevated it into an absorbing theme with every class of society.



                              CHAPTER X

       TWO LETTERS--FROM FRIEND TO FRIEND, FROM LOVER TO LOVER



                                  I


"My Dear Almer,--We have been here three days, and are comfortably
established in your singularly-named villa, the House of White
Shadows. It is a perfect country residence, and the scenery around it
is, I am told, charming. As you are aware, I have no eyes for the
beauties of Nature; human nature and human motive alone interest me,
and my impressions of the neighbourhood are derived from the
descriptions of my wife, who enjoys novelty with the impulsive
enjoyment of a child. It appears that she was enchanted when she heard
from your lips that your house was supposed to be haunted by shadows,
and although you cautioned her immediately afterwards, she was not to
be deterred from accepting your invitation. Up to this time, no ghost
has appeared to her, nor has my composure been disturbed by
supernatural visions. I am a non-believer in visions from the
spiritual world; she is only too ready to believe. It is the human
interest attached to such fancies--for which, of course, there must be
some foundation--which fascinates and arrests the general attention.
There, for me, the interest ends; I do not travel beyond reality.

"I am supposed to have come for rest and repose. The physicians who
laid this burden upon me know little of my nature; idleness is more
irksome, and I believe more injurious, to me than the severest labour;
and it is a relief, therefore, to me to find myself interested in a
startling criminal case which is shortly coming on for trial in
Geneva. It is a case of murder, and a man is in prison, charged with
its commission. He has no friends, he has no means, he is a vicious
creature of the commonest and lowest type. There is nothing in him to
recommend him to favour; he is a being to be avoided--but these are
not the points to be considered. Is the man guilty or not guilty? He
is pronounced guilty by universal public opinion, and the jury which
will be empannelled to try him will be ready to convict upon the
slightest evidence, or, indeed, without evidence. The trial will be a
mockery of justice unless the accused is defended by one who is not
influenced by passion and prejudice. There is a feature in the case
which has taken powerful possession of me, and which, as far as I can
judge, has not occurred to others. I intend to devote the whole of
to-night to a study of the details of the crime, and it is likely that
I shall undertake the defence of this repulsive creature--no doubt
much to his astonishment. I have, with this object in view, already
had an interview with him in his prison-cell, and the trouble I had to
obtain permission to see him is a sufficient indication of the popular
temper. When, therefore, you hear--if in the mountain fastness in
which you are intrenched, you have the opportunity of hearing any news
at all from the world at your feet--that I have undertaken the defence
of a man named Gautran, accused of the murder of a flower-girl named
Madeline, do not be surprised.

"What is most troubling me at the present moment is--what is my wife
to do, how is she to occupy her time, during our stay in the House of
White Shadows? At present she is full of animation and delight; the
new faces and scenery by which she is surrounded are very attractive
to her; but the novelty will wear off and then she will grow dull.
Save me from self-reproach and uneasiness by taking up your residence
with us, if not for the whole of the time we remain here, which I
should much prefer, at least for a few weeks. By so doing you will
confer a service upon us all. My wife enjoys your society; you know
the feeling I entertain for you; and personal association with sincere
friends will be of real benefit to you. I urge it earnestly upon you,
for I have an impression that you are brooding over unhealthy fancies,
and that you have sought solitude for the purpose of battling with one
of those ordinary maladies of the mind to which sensitive natures are
prone. If it be so, Christian, you are committing a grave error; the
battle is unequal; silence and seclusion will not help you to a
victory over yourself. Come and unbosom yourself to me, if you have
anything to unbosom, and do not fear that I shall intrude either
myself or my advice upon you against your inclination. If you have a
grief, meet it in the society of those who love you. There is a
medicine in a friendly smile, in a friendly word, which you cannot
find in solitude. One needs sometimes, not the sunshine of fair
weather, but the sunshine of the soul. Here it awaits you, and should
you bring dark vapours with you I promise you they will soon be
dispelled. I am disposed--out of purest friendliness--to insist upon
your coming, and to be so uncharitable as to accept it as an act of
weakness if you refuse me. When the case of Gautran is at an end I
shall be an idle man; you, and only you, can avert the injurious
effect idleness will have upon me. We will find occupation together,
and create reminiscences for future pleasant thought. It may be a long
time, if ever, before another opportunity so favourable occurs for
passing a few weeks in each other's society, undisturbed by
professional cares and duties. You see I am taking a selfish view of
the matter. Add an inestimable value to your hospitality by coming
here at once and sweetening my leisure.

                                  "Your friend,

                                       "Edward."



                                  II


"My Own,--My husband is uneasy about you, and has imposed a task upon
me. You shall judge for yourself whether it is a disagreeable one. I
am to write to you immediately, to insist upon your coming to us
without an hour's delay. You have not the option of refusal. The
Advocate insists upon it, and I also insist upon it. You must come.
Upon the receipt of this letter you will pack up your portmanteau, and
travel hither in the swiftest possible way, by the shortest possible
route. Be sure that you do not disobey me. You are to come instantly,
without an hour's--nay, without a moment's delay. If you fail I will
not answer for the consequences, and upon you will rest the
responsibility of all that follows. For what reason, do you suppose,
did I accept the offer of your villa in this strangely quiet valley,
unless it was in the hope and the belief that we should be near each
other? And now that I _am_ here, pledged to remain, unable to leave
without an exhibition of the most dreadful vacillation--which would
not matter were I to have my own way, and were everything to be
exactly as I wish it--you are bound to fly swiftly to the side of one
who entertains for you the very sincerest affection. Do not be angry
with me for my disregard of your caution to be careful in my manner of
writing to you. I cannot help it. I think of you continually, and if
you wish me not to write what you fear other eyes than ours might see,
you must come and talk to me. I shall count the minutes till you are
here. The Advocate is uneasy about you, and is, indeed and indeed,
most anxious that you should be with us. He seems to have an idea that
you have some cause for melancholy, and that you are brooding over it.
Could anything be more absurd? Cause for melancholy! Just as if you
were alone in the world! You do not need to be told that there is one
being who will care for you till she is an old, old woman. Think of me
as I shall be then. An old woman, with white hair, walking with a
crutch-stick, as they do on the stage. If you _are_ sad, it is a just
punishment upon you. There was nothing in the world to prevent your
travelling with us. What do you think a friend of yours, a banker in
Geneva, suggested to the Advocate? He said that it was probable that
you had experienced a disappointment in love. Now, this sets me
thinking. Why have you chosen to hide yourself in the mountains, a
hundred and a hundred miles away? Have you been there before? Is there
some pretty girl to attract you, from whom you find it impossible to
tear yourself? If it is so, let her beware of me. You have no idea of
what I should be capable if you gave me cause for jealousy. What is
her disposition--pensive or gay? She is younger than I am, I
suppose--though I am not so old, sir!--with hands---- Ah, I am easier
in my mind; her hands must be coarse, for she is a peasant. I am
almost reconciled; you could never fall in love with a peasant. They
may be pretty and fresh for a month or two, but they cannot help
being coarse, and I know how anything coarse grates upon you. But a
peasant-girl might fall in love with you--there are more unlikely
things than that. Shall I tell you what the Advocate said of you this
evening? It will make you vain, but never mind. 'I have never in my
life known a man more likely to inspire love in a woman's heart than
Christian Almer.' There, sir, his very words. How true they are! Ah,
how cruel was the chance that separated us from each other, and
brought us together again when I was another man's wife! Oh, if I had
only known! If some kind fairy had told me that the man who, when I
was a child, enthralled me with his beautiful fancies, and won my
heart, and who then, as it seemed, passed out of my life--if I had
suspected that, after many years, he would return home from his
wanderings with the resolve to seek out the child and make her his
wife, do you for one moment suppose I would not have waited for him?
Do you think it possible I could ever have accepted the hand of
another man? No, it could not have been, for even as a child I used to
dream of you, and held you in my heart above all other human beings.
But you were gone--I never thought of seeing you again--and I was so
young that I could have had no foreshadowing of what was to come.

"Have you ever considered how utterly different my life might have
been had you not crossed it? Not that I reproach you--do not think
that; but how strangely things turn out, without the principal actor
having anything to do with them! It is exactly like sitting down
quietly by yourself, and seeing all sorts of wonderful things happen
in which you have no hand, though if you were not in existence they
could never have occurred. Just think for a moment. If it had not
happened that you knew me when I was a child, and was fond of me then,
as you have told me I don't know how many times--if it had not
happened that your restless spirit drove you abroad where you remained
for years and years and years--if it had not happened that, tired of
leading a wandering life, you resolved to come home and seek out the
child you used to pet and make love to (but she did not know the
meaning of love then)--if it had not happened that, entirely ignorant
of what was passing in your mind, the child, grown into a pretty woman
(I think I may say that, without vanity), was persuaded by her friends
that to refuse an offer of marriage made to her by a great lawyer,
famous and rich, was something too shocking to contemplate--if it had
not happened that she, knowing nothing of her own heart, knowing
nothing of the world, allowed herself to be guided by these cold
calculating friends to accept a man utterly unsuited to her, and with
whom she has never had an hour's real happiness--if it had not
happened by the strangest chance, that this man and you were
friends---- There, my dear, follow it out for yourself, and
reflect how different our lives might have been if everything
had happened in the way it ought to have done. I was cheated and
tricked into a marriage with a man whose heart has room for only one
sentiment--ambition. I am bound to him for life, but I am yours till
death--although the bond which unites us is, as you have taught me,
but a spiritual bond.

"Are you angry with me for putting all this on paper? You must not be,
for I cannot help it if I am not wise. Wisdom belongs to men. Come,
then, and give me wise counsel, and prevent me from committing
indiscretions. For I declare to you, upon my heart and honour, if you
do not very soon present yourself at the House of White Shadows, I
will steal from it in the night and make my way to the mountains to
see what wonderful attraction it is that separates us. What food for
scandal! What wagging and shaking of heads! How the women's tongues
would run! I can imagine it all. Save me from exposure as you are a
true man.

"You have made the villa beautiful. As I walk about the house and
grounds I am filled with delight to think that you have effected such
a magic change for my sake. Master Lamont has shown really exquisite
taste. What a singular old man he is. I can't decide whether I like
him or not. But how strange that you should have had it all done by
deputy, and that you have not set foot in the house since you were a
child. You see I know a great deal. Who tells me? My new maid
Dionetta. Do you remember, in one of the letters you showed me from
your steward, that he spoke about the old housekeeper, Mother Denise,
and a pretty granddaughter? I made up my mind at the time that the
pretty granddaughter should be my maid. And she is, and her name is
Dionetta. Is it not pretty?--but not prettier than the owner. Will
that tempt you? I have sent my town maid away, much to her
displeasure; she spoke to the Advocate in complaint, but he did not
mention it to me; I found it out for myself. He is as close as the
grave. So I am here absolutely alone, with none but strangers around
me.

"I am very much interested in the pictures in the studio of the old
châlet, especially in a pair which represents, the first, two lovers
with the sun shining on them; the second, the lovers parted by a cold
grey sea. They stand on opposite shores, gazing despairingly at each
other. He must have been a weak-minded man indeed; he should have
taken a boat, and rowed across to her; and if he was afraid to do
that, she should have gone to him. That would have been the most
sensible thing.

"I could continue my gossip till daylight breaks, but I have already
lost an hour of my beauty sleep, and I want you, upon your arrival, to
see me at my best.

"My heart goes with this letter; bring it swiftly back to me."

                                  "Yours for ever,

                                           "Adelaide."



                              CHAPTER XI

           FIRE AND SNOW--FOOL FRITZ INFORMS PIERRE LAMONT
                     WHERE ACTUAL LOVE COMMENCES


"News, Master Lamont, news!"

"Of what nature, Fritz?"

"Of a diabolical nature. Satan is busy."

"He is never idle--for which the priests, if they have any gratitude
in them, should be thankful."

"You are not fond of the priests, Master Lamont."

"I do not hate them."

"Still you are not fond of them."

"I do not love them. Your news, fool--concerning whom?"

"A greater than you, or you do not speak the truth."

"The Advocate, then?"

"The same. You are a good guesser."

"Fritz, your news is stale."

"I am unlucky; I thought to be the first. You have heard the news?"

"Not I."

"You have read a letter, informing you of it."

"You are a bad guesser. I have neither received nor read a letter
to-day."

"You have heard nothing, you have read nothing; and yet you know."

"As surely as you stand before me. Fritz, you are not a scholar, but I
will give you a sum any fool can do. Add one to one--what do you make
of it?"

"Why, that is easy enough, Master Lamont."

"The answer then, fool?"

"One."

"Good. You shall smart for it, in the most vulnerable part of man. You
receive from me, every week, one franc. I owe you, for last week, one
franc; I owe you, for this, one."

"That is so."

"Last week, one; this week, one. I discharge the liability." And
Pierre Lamont handed a franc to Fritz.

Fritz weighed the coin in the palm of his hand, spun it in the air and
smiled.

"Master Lamont, here is a fair challenge. If I prove to you that one
and one are one, this franc you have given me shall not count off what
you owe me."

"I agree."

"When one man and one woman are joined in matrimony, they become one
flesh. Therefore, one and one are one.

"You have earned the franc, fool. Here are the two I owe you."

"Now, perhaps, you will tell _me_ what I came here to tell you."

"The Advocate intends to defend Gautran, who stands charged with the
murder of the flower-girl."

"You are a master worth serving. I have half a mind to give you back
your franc."

"Make it a whole mind, Fritz."

"No; second thoughts are best. My pockets are not as warm as yours.
They are not so well lined. How did you guess, Master Lamont?"

"By means of a golden rule, an infallible rule, by the Rule of
One--which, intelligibly interpreted to shallow minds--no offence,
Fritz, I hope----"

"Don't mind me, Master Lamont; I am a fool and used to hard knocks."

"Then by the Rule of One, which means the rule of human nature--as,
for example, that makes the drunkard stagger to the wine-shop and the
sluggard to his bed--I guessed that the Advocate could not withstand
so tempting a chance to prove the truth of the scriptural words that
all men are liars. What will be palatable information to me is the
manner in which the news has been received."

"Heaven keep me from ever being so received! The Advocate has not
added to the number of his friends. People are gazing at each other in
amazement, and asking for reasons which none are able to give."

"And his wife, Fritz, his wife?"

"Takes as much interest in his doings as a bee does in the crawling of
a snail."

"Rogue, you have cheated me! How about one and one being one?"

"There are marriages and marriages. This was not made in Heaven; when
it came about there was a confusion in the pairing, and another couple
are as badly off. There will be a natural end to both."

"How brought about, fool?"

"By your own rule, the rule of human nature."

"When a jumper jumps, he first measures his distance with his eye. Do
they quarrel?"

"No."

"Does she look coldly upon him, or he upon her?"

"No."

"Is there silence between them?"

"No."

"You are a bad jumper, Fritz. You have not measured your distance."

"See, Master Lamont, I will prove it to you by a figure of speech.
There travels from the south a flame of fire. There travels from the
north a lump of snow. They meet. What happens? Either that the snow
extinguishes the fire and it dies, or that the fire puts an end to the
snow."

"Fairly illustrated, Fritz. Fire and snow! Truly a most unfortunate
conjunction."

"She was in the mood to visit you yesterday had you lived a mile
nearer the valley."

"You were out together."

"She and Dionetta were walking, and I met them and accompanied them.
She spoke graciously to the villagers, and went into the cottages, and
drank more than one cup of milk. She was sweeter than sugar, Master
Lamont, and won the hearts of some of the women and of all the men. As
for the children, they would have followed her to the world's end, I
do believe, out of pure admiration. They carry now in their little
heads the vision of the beautiful lady. Even Father Capel was struck
by her beauty."

"Priests are mortals, Fritz. On which side did you walk--next to my
lady or Dionetta?"

"I should be wrecked in a tempest. I sail only in quiet lakes."

"And the maid--did she object to your walking close to her?--for you
are other than I take you to be if you did not walk close."

"Why should she object? Am I not a man? Women rather like fools."

"How stands the pretty maid with her new mistress?"

"In high favour, if one can judge from fingers."

"Fritz, your wit resembles a tide that is for ever flowing. Favour me
with your parable."

"It is a delicate point to decide where actual love commences. Have
you ever considered it, Master Lamont?"

"Not deeply, fool. In my young days I was a mad-brain; you are a
philosopher. Like a bee, I took what fell in my way, and did not
puzzle myself or the flower with questions. Where love commences? In
the heart."

"No."

"In the brain."

"No."

"In the eye."

"No."

"Where, then?"

"In the finger-tips. Dionetta and I, walking side by side, shoulder to
shoulder, our arms hanging down, brought into close contact our
finger-tips. What wonder that they touched!"

"Natural magnetism, Fritz."

"With our finger-tips touching, we walked along, and if her heart
palpitated as mine did, she must have experienced an inward commotion.
Master Lamont, this is a confession for your ears only. I should be
base and ungrateful to hide it from you."

"Your confidence shall be respected."

"It leads to an answer to your question as to how Dionetta stands with
her new mistress. First the finger-tips, then the fingers, and her
little hand was clasped in mine. It was then I felt the ring upon her
finger."

"Ah!"

"Now, Dionetta never till yesterday owned a ring. I felt it, as a man
who is curious would do, and suddenly her hand was snatched from mine.
A moment or two afterwards, her hand was in mine again, but the ring
was gone. A fine piece of conjuring. A man is no match for a woman in
these small ways. To-day I saw her for about as long as I could count
three. 'Who gave you the ring?' I asked. 'My lady,' she answered.
'Don't tell grandmother that I have got a ring.' Therefore, Master
Lamont, Dionetta stands well with her mistress."

"Logically carried out, Fritz. The saints prosper your wooing."



                             CHAPTER XII

                    THE STRUGGLE OF LOVE AND DUTY


In his lonely room in the mountain hut in which he had taken up his
quarters, Christian Almer sat writing. It was early morning; he had
risen before the sun. During the past week he had struggled earnestly
with the terror which oppressed him; his suffering had been great, but
he believed he was conquering. The task he had imposed upon himself of
setting his duty before him in clear terms afforded him consolation.
The book in which he was writing contained the record of a love which
had filled him with unrest, and threatened to bring dishonor into his
life.


                           *  *  *  *  *  *


"I thank Heaven," he wrote, "that I am calmer than I have been for
several days. Separation has proved an inestimable blessing. The day
may come when I shall look upon my love as dead, and shall be able to
think of it as one thinks of a beloved being whom death has snatched
away.

"Even now, as I think of her, there is no fever in the thought. I have
not betrayed my friend.

"How would he regard me if he were acquainted with my mad passion--if
he knew that the woman he adored looked upon him with aversion, and
gave her love to the friend whom he trusted as a brother?

"There was the error. To listen to her confession of love, and to make
confession of my own.

"That a man should so forget himself--should be so completely the
slave of his passions!

"How came it about? When were the first words spoken?

"She sat by my side, radiant and beautiful. Admiring glances from
every part of the theatre were cast upon her. In a corner of the box
sat her husband, silent and thoughtful, heedless of the brilliant
scene before him, heedless of her, as it seemed, heedless of the music
and the singers.

"Royalty was there, immediately facing us, and princes levelled their
opera-glasses at her.

"There are moments of intoxication when reason and conscience desert
us.

"We were stepping into the carriage when a note was delivered to him.
He read it, and said, 'I cannot go with you; I am called away. You
will not miss me, as I do not dance. I will join you in a couple of
hours."

"So we went alone, we two together, and her hand rested lightly upon
mine. And in the dance the words were spoken--words never to be
recalled.

"What demon prompted them? Why did not an angel whisper to me,
'Remember. There is a to-morrow.'

"But in the present the morrow is forgotten. A false sense of security
shuts out all thoughts of the consequences of our actions. A selfish
delight enthrals us, and we do not see the figure of Retribution
hovering above us.

"It is only when we are alone with our conscience that this figure is
visible. Then it is that we tremble; then it is that we hear words
which appal us.

"Again and again has this occurred to me, and I have vowed to myself
that I would tear myself from her--a vow as worthless as the gambler's
resolve to play no more. Drawn irresistibly forward, and finding in
every meeting a shameful justification in the delusion that I was
seeing her for the last time; and leaving her with a promise to come
again soon. Incredible infatuation! But to listen to the recital of
her sorrows and unhappiness without sympathising with her--it was not
possible; and to hear her whisper, 'I love you, and only you,' without
being thrilled by the confession--a man would need to be made of
stone.

"How often has she said to me, when speaking of her husband, 'He has
no heart!'

"Can I then, aver with any semblance of honesty that I have not
betrayed my friend? Basely have I betrayed him.

"If I were sure that she would not suffer--if I were sure that she
would forget me! Coldness, neglect, indifference--they are sharp
weapons, but I deserve to bleed.

"Still, I cry out against my fate. I have committed no crime. Love
came to me and tortured me. But a man must perform a man's duty. I
will strive to perform mine. Then in years to come I may be able to
think of the past without shame, even with pride at having conquered.

"I have destroyed her portrait. I could not look upon her face and
forget her."


                           *  *  *  *  *  *


A voice from an adjoining room caused him to lay aside his pen. It was
the peasant, the master of the hut, calling to him, and asking if he
was ready. He went out to the man.

"I heard you stirring," said the peasant, "and my young ones are
waiting to show you where the edelweiss can be found."

The children, a boy and a girl, looked eagerly at Christian Almer. It
had been arranged on the previous day that the three should go for a
mountain excursion in search of the flower that brings good luck and
good fortune to the finder. The children were sturdy-limbed and
ruddy-faced, and were impatient to be off.

"Breakfast first," said Christian Almer, pinching the little girl's
cheek.

Brown bread, honey, goat's milk, and an omelette were on the table,
and the stranger, who had been as a godsend to the poor family,
enjoyed the homely fare. The peasant had already calculated that if
his lodger lived a year in the hut, they could save five hundred
francs--a fortune. Christian Almer had been generous to the children,
in whose eyes he was something more than mortal. Money is a magic
power.

"Will the day be fine?" asked Christian.

"Yes," said the peasant; "but there will be a change in the evening.
The little ones will know--you can trust to them."

Young as they were, they could read the signs on Nature's face, and
could teach their gentleman friend wise things, great and rich as he
was.

The father accompanied them for a couple of miles; he was a goat-herd,
and, unlike others of his class, was by no means a silent man.

"You live a happy life here," said Christian Almer.

"Why, yes," said the peasant; "it is happy enough. We have to eat, but
not to spare; there is the trouble. Still, God be thanked. The
children are strong and healthy; that is another reason for
thankfulness."

"Is your wife, as you are, mountain born?"

"Yes; and could tell you stories. And there," said the peasant,
pointing upwards afar off, "as though it knew my wife were being
talked of, there is the lämmergeier."

An enormous vulture, which seemed to have suddenly grown out of the
air, was suspended in the clouds. So motionless was it that it might
have been likened to a sculptured work, wrought by an angel's hand,
and fixed in heaven as a sign. It could not have measured less than
ten feet from wing to wing. Its colour was brown, with bright edges
and white quills, and its fiery eyes were encircled by broad
orange-shaded rings.

"My wife," said the peasant, "has reason to remember the lämmergeier.
When she was three years old her father took her to a part of the
mountains where they were hay-making, and not being able to work and
attend to her at the same time, he set her down by the side of a hut.
It was a fine sunny day, and Anna fell asleep. Her father, seeing her
sleeping calmly, covered her face with a straw hat, and continued his
work. Two hours afterwards he went to the spot, and Anna was gone. He
searched for her everywhere, and all the haymakers assisted in the
search, but Anna was nowhere to be found. My father and I--I was a
mere lad at the time, five years older than Anna--were walking towards
a mountain stream, three miles from where Anna had been sleeping, when
I heard the cry of a child. It came from a precipice, and above this
precipice a vulture was flying. We went in the direction of the cry,
and found Anna lying on the edge of the precipice, clinging to the
roots with her little hand. She was slipping down, and would have
slipped to certain death had we been three minutes later. It was a
difficult task to rescue her as it was, but we managed it, and carried
her to her father. She had no cap to her head, and no shoes or
stockings on her feet; she had lost them in her flight through the air
in the vulture's beak. She has a scar on her left arm to this day as a
remembrance of her acquaintance with the lämmergeier. So it fell out
afterwards, when she was a young woman, that I married her."

Ever and again, as they walked onwards, Christian Almer turned to look
upon the vulture, which remained perfectly still, with its wings
outstretched, until it was hid from his sight by the peculiar
formation of the valleys they were traversing.

Hitherto their course had lain amidst masses of the most beautiful
flowers; gentians with purple bells, others spotted and yellow, with
brilliant whorls of bloom, the lilac-flowered campanula, the anemone,
the blue columbine and starwort, the lovely forget-me-not--which
Christian Almer mentally likened to bits of heaven dropped down--and
the Alpine rose, the queen of Alpine flowers. Now all was changed. The
track was bare of foliage; not a blade of grass peeped up from the
barren rocks.

"There is good reason for it," said the peasant; "here, long years
ago, a man killed his brother in cold blood. Since that day no flowers
will grow upon the spot. There are nights on which the spirit of the
murderer wanders mournfully about these rocks; a black dog accompanies
him, whose bark you can sometimes hear. This valley is accursed."

Soon afterwards the peasant left Christian Almer to the guidance of
the children, and with them the young man spent the day, sharing
contentedly with them the black bread and hard sausage they had
brought for dinner. This mid-day meal was eaten as they sat beside a
lake, in the waters of which there was not a sign of life, and
Christian Almer noticed that, as the children ate, they watched the
bosom of this lake with a strange and singular interest.

"What are you gazing at?" he asked, curious to learn.

"For the dead white trout," answered the boy. "Whenever a priest dies
it floats upon the lake."

In the lower heights, where the fir-trees stretched their feathery
tips to the clouds, they found the flower they were in search of, and
the children were wild with delight. The sun was setting when they
returned to the hut, tired and gratified with their day's wanderings.
The peasant's wife smiled as she saw the edelweiss.

"A lucky love-flower," she said to Christian Almer.

These simple words proved to him how hard was the lesson of
forgetfulness he was striving to learn; he was profoundly agitated by
them.

Night fell, and the clouds grew black.

"The wind is rising," said the peasant; "an ill night for travellers.
Here is one coming towards us."

It proved to be a guide who lived in the nearest post village, and
who, duly commissioned for the service, brought to Christian Almer the
letters of the Advocate and his wife.

"A storm is gathering," said the guide; "I must find shelter on the
heights to-night."

In his lonely room Christian Almer broke the seals, and by the dull
light of a single candle read the lines written by friend to friend,
by lover to lover.

The thunder rolled over the mountains; the lightning flashed through
the small window; the storm was upon him.

He read the letters once only, but every word was impressed clearly
upon his brain. For an hour he sat in silence, gazing vacantly at the
edelweiss on the table, the lucky love-flower.

The peasant's wife called to him, and asked if he wanted anything.

"Nothing," he replied, in a voice that sounded strange to him.

"I will leave the bread and milk on the table," she said.
"Good-night."

He did not answer her, nor did he respond to the children's
good-night. Their voices, the children's especially, seemed to his
ears to come from a great distance.

A drop of rain fell from the roof upon the candle, and extinguished
the light. For a long while he remained in darkness, until all in the
hut were sleeping; then he went out into the wild night, clutching the
letters tight in his hand.

He staggered almost blindly onwards, and in the course of half an hour
found himself standing on a narrow and perilous bridge, from which the
few travellers who passed that way could obtain a view of a torrent
which dashed with sublime and terrific force over a precipice upon the
rocks below, a thousand feet down.

"If I were to grow dizzy now!" he muttered, with a reckless laugh; and
he tempted fate by leaning over the narrow bridge, and gazing
downwards into the dark depths.

Indistinct shapes grew out of the mighty and eternal waterfall. Of
hosts of angry men battling with each other; of rushing horses; of
armies of vultures swooping down for prey; of accusing and beautiful
faces; of smiling mouths and white teeth flashing; and, amidst the
whirl, sounds of shrieks and laughter.

Suddenly he straightened himself, and tearing Adelaide's letter into a
thousand pieces, flung the evidence of a treacherous love into the
furious torrent of waters; and as he did so he thought that there were
times in a man's life when death were the best blessing which Heaven
could bestow upon him!



                             CHAPTER XIII

                         THE TRIAL OF GAUTRAN


The trial of Gautran was proceeding, and the court was thronged with
an excited gathering of men and women, upon whom not a word in the
story of the tragic drama was thrown away. Impressed by the great
powers of the Advocate who had undertaken to appear for the accused,
the most effective measures had been adopted to prove Gautran's guilt,
and obtain a conviction.

It was a legal battle, fought with all the subtle weapons at the
disposal of the law.

Gautran's prosecutors fought with faces unmasked, and with their hands
displayed; the Advocate, on the contrary, was pursuing a course which
none could fathom; nor did he give a clue to it. Long before the case
was closed the jury were ready to deliver their verdict; but, calm and
unmoved, the Advocate, with amazing patience, followed out his secret
theory, the revelation of which was awaited, by those who knew him
best and feared him most, with intense and painful curiosity.

Every disreputable circumstance in Gautran's life was raked up to
display the odiousness of his character; his infamous career was
tracked from his childhood to the hour of his arrest. A creature more
debased, with features more hideous, it would have been difficult to
drag forward from the worst haunts of crime and shame. Degraded he was
born, degraded he had lived, degraded he stood before his judges. It
was a horror to gaze upon his face as he stood in the dock,
convulsively clutching the rails.

For eight days had he so stood, execrated and condemned by all. For
eight days he had endured the anguish of a thousand deaths, of a
myriad agonising fears. His soul had been harrowed by the most awful
visions--visions of which none but himself had any conception. In his
cell with the gaolers watching his every movement; in the court with
the glare of daylight upon him; in the dusky corridors he traversed
morning and evening he saw the phantom of the girl with whose murder
he was charged, and by her side the phantom of himself standing on the
threshold of a future in which there was no mercy or pity.

No communication passed between him and the lawyer who was fighting
for him; not once did the Advocate turn to the prisoner or address a
word to him; it was as though he were battling for a victory in which
Gautran was in no wise concerned. But if indeed he desired to win, he
adopted the strangest tactics to accomplish his desire. Not a question
he asked the witnesses, not an observation he made to the judge, but
tended to fix more surely the prisoner's degradation, and gradually
there stole into Gautran's heart a deadly hatred and animosity against
his defender.

"He defends me to ruin me," this was Gautran's thought; "he is seeking
to destroy me, body and soul."

His own replies to the questions put to him by the judge were
sufficient to convict him. He equivocated and lied in the most
barefaced manner, and when he was exposed and reproved, evinced no
shame--preserving either a dogged silence, or obstinately exclaiming
that the whole world was leagued against him. Apart from the question
whether he was lying or speaking the truth, there was a certain
consistency in his method which would have been of service to him had
his cause been good. This was especially noticeable when he was being
interrogated with respect to his relations with the murdered girl.

"You insist," said the judge, "that Madeline accepted you as her
lover?"

"Yes," replied Gautran, "I insist upon it."

"Evidence will be brought forward to prove that it was not so. What,
then, will you answer?"

"That whoever denies it is a liar."

"And if a dozen or twenty deny it?"

"They lie, the lot of them."

"What should make them speak falsely instead of truly?"

"Because they are all against me."

"There is no other evidence except your bare statement that Madeline
and you were affianced."

"That is my misfortune. If she were alive she could speak for me."

"It is a safe remark, the poor child being in her grave. It is the
rule for young girls to love men whose appearance is not repulsive."

"Is this," cried Gautran, smiting his face with his fist, "to stand as
a witness against me, too?"

"No; but a girl has generally a cause for falling in love. If the man
be not attractive in appearance, it is almost certain he will possess
some other quality to attract her. He may be clever, and this may win
her."

"I do not pretend to be clever."

"His manners may be engaging. His nature may be kind and affectionate,
and she may have had proof of it."

"_My_ nature is kind and affectionate. It may have been that, if you
are determined upon having a reason for her fondness for me."

"She was fond of you?"

"Aye."

"Did she tell you so, and when?"

"Always when we were alone."

"We cannot have Madeline's evidence as to the feelings she entertained
for you; but we can have the evidence of others who knew you both. Are
you acquainted with Katherine Scherrer?"

"Not too well; we were never very intimate."

"She is a young woman a few years older than Madeline, and she warned
Madeline against you. She herself had received instances of your
brutality. Before you saw Madeline you made advances towards Katherine
Scherrer."

"False. She made advances towards me. She asked me to be her lover,
and now she speaks against me out of revenge."

"She has not spoken yet, but she will. Madeline told her that she
trembled at the sight of you, and had entreated you not to follow her;
but that you would not be shaken off."

"It is my way; I will never be baulked."

"It is true, therefore; you paid no attention to this poor girl's
entreaties because it is your way not to allow yourself to be
baulked."

"I did not mean that; I was thinking of other matters."

"Katherine Scherrer has a mother."

"Yes; a woman of no account."

"Some time ago this mother informed you, if you did not cease to
pester Katherine with your insulting proposals, that she would have
you beaten."

"I should like to see the man who would have attempted it."

"That is savagely spoken for one whose nature is kind and
affectionate."

"May not a man defend himself? I don't say I am kind and affectionate
to men; but I am to women."

"The murdered girl found you so. Hearing from her daughter that
Madeline was frightened of you, and did not wish you to follow her,
Katherine's mother desired you to let the girl alone."

"She lies."

"They all lie who utter a word against you?"

"Every one of them."

"You never courted Katherine Scherrer?"

"Never."

"Her mother never spoke to you about either her daughter or Madeline?"

"Never."

"Do you know the Widow Joseph?"

"No."

"Madeline lodged in her house."

"What is that to me?"

"Did she never speak to you concerning Madeline?"

"Never."

"Attend. Four nights before Madeline met her death you were seen
prowling outside Widow Joseph's house."

"I was not there."

"The Widow Joseph came out and asked you what you wanted."

"She did not."

"You said you must see Madeline. The Widow Joseph went into the house,
and returned with the message that Madeline would not see you. Upon
that you tried to force your way into the house, and struck the woman
because she prevented you. Madeline came down, alarmed at the sounds
of the struggle, and begged you to go away, and you said you would,
now that you had seen her, as you had made up your mind to. What have
you to say to this?"

"A batch of lies. Twenty women could not have prevented me getting
into the house."

"You think yourself a match for twenty women?"

"Aye."

"And for as many men?"

"For one man, whoever he may be. Give me the chance of proving it."

"Do you know Heinrich Heitz?"

"No."

"He is, like yourself, a woodcutter."

"There are thousands of woodcutters."

"Did you and he not work together as partners?"

"We did not."

"Were you not continually quarrelling, and did he not wish to break
the partnership?"

"No."

"In consequence of this, did you not threaten to murder him?"

"No."

"Did you not strike him with a weapon, and cut his forehead open?"

"No."

"How many women have you loved?"

"One."

"Her name?"

"Madeline."

"You never loved another?"

"Never."

"Have you been married?"

"No."

"Have you ever lived with a woman who should have been your wife?"

"Never."

"Did you not continually beat this poor woman until her life became a
burden to her, and she was compelled to fly from you to another part
of the country?"

"No."

"Do you expect to be believed in the answers you have given?"

"No."

"It is said that you possess great strength."

"It has served me in good stead."

"That you are a man of violent passions."

"I have my feelings. I would never submit to be trampled on."

"You were always kind to Madeline?"

"Always."

"On the night of her murder?"

"Yes."

"Witnesses will prove that you were heard to say, 'I will kill you! I
will kill you!' Do you deny saying so?"

"No."

"How does that cruel threat accord with a mild and affectionate
nature?"

"I was asking her whether she had another lover, and I said if she
had, and encouraged him, that I would kill her."

"The handkerchief found round her neck was yours."

"I gave it to her as a love-gift."

"A terrible love-gift. It was not wound loosely round her neck; it was
tight, almost to strangulation."

"She must have made it so in her struggles, or----"

"Or?"

"The man who killed her must have attempted to strangle her with it."

"That is your explanation?"

"Yes."

"Your face is bathed in perspiration; your eyes glare wildly."

"Change places with me, and see how you would feel."

"Such signs, then, are the signs of innocence?"

"What else should they be?"

During this long examination, Gautran's limbs trembled violently, and
there passed over his face the most frightful expressions.



                             CHAPTER XIV.

                      THE EVIDENCE OF WITNESSES


Among the first witnesses called was Heinrich Heitz, a wood-cutter,
who had been for some time in partnership with Gautran, and of whom
Gautran had denied any knowledge whatever.

On his forehead was the red scar of a wound inflicted some time
before.

"Look at the prisoner. Do you know him?"

"I have reason to."

"His name?"

"Gautran."

"How did he get his living?"

"By wood-cutting."

"You and he were comrades for a time?"

"We were."

"For how long?"

"For three years; we were partners."

"During the time you worked with him, did he know you as Heinrich
Heitz?"

"By no other name. I never bore another."

"Was the partnership an agreeable one?"

"Not to me; it was infernally disagreeable. I never want another
partner like him."

"Why?"

"Because I don't want another savage beast for a partner."

"You did not get along well with him?"

"Quite the reverse."

"For what reasons?"

"Well, for one, I am a hard-working man; he is an indolent bully. The
master he works for once does not want to employ him again. When we
worked together on a task, the profits of which were to be equally
divided between us, he shirked his share of the work, and left me to
do the lot."

"Did you endeavour to separate from him?"

"I did; and he swore he would murder me; and once, when I was more
than usually determined, he marked me on my forehead. You can see the
scar; I shall never get rid of it."

"Did he use a weapon against you?"

"Yes; a knife."

"His temper is ungovernable?"

"He has not the slightest control over it."

"He is a man of great strength?"

"He is very powerful."

"Possessed with an idea which he was determined to carry out, is it
likely that anything would soften him?"

"Nothing could soften him."

"How would opposition affect him?"

"It would infuriate him. I have seen him, when crossed, behave as if
he were a mad tiger instead of a human being."

"At such times, would it be likely that he would show any coolness or
cunning?"

"He would have no time to think; he would be carried away by his
passion."

"You were acquainted with him when he was a lad?"

"I was."

"Was he noted for his cruel disposition in his childhood?"

"He was; it was the common talk."

"Did he take a pleasure in inflicting physical pain upon those weaker
than himself?"

"He did."

"And in prolonging that pain?"

"Yes."

"In his paroxysms of fury would not an appeal to his humanity have a
softening effect upon him?"

"He has no humanity."

"You were acquainted with Madeline?"

"I was."

"Was she an amiable girl?"

"Most amiable."

"She was very gentle?"

"As gentle as a child."

"But she was capable of being aroused?"

"Of course she was."

"She had many admirers?"

"I have heard so."

"You yourself admired her?"

"I did."

"You made love to her?"

"I suppose I did."

"Did she encourage you?"

"I cannot say she did."

"Did you ever attempt to embrace her?"

The witness did not reply to this question, and upon its being
repeated, still preserved silence. Admonished by the judge, and
ordered to reply, he said:

"Yes, I have attempted to embrace her."

"On more than one occasion."

"Only on one occasion."

"Did she permit the embrace?"

"No."

"She resisted you?"

"Yes."

"There must have been a struggle. Did she strike you?"

"She scratched my face."

"She resisted you successfully?"

"Yes."

"Gentle as she was, she possessed strength?"

"Oh yes, more than one would have supposed."

"Strength which she would exert to protect herself from insult?"

"Yes."

"Her disposition was a happy one?"

"That was easy to see. She was always singing to herself, and
smiling."

"You believe she was fond of life?"

"Why yes--who is not?"

"And would not have welcomed a violent and sudden death?"

"Certainly not. What a question!"

"Threatened with such a fate, she would have resisted?"

"Aye, with all her strength. It would be but natural."

"Knowing Madeline somewhat intimately, you must have known Pauline?"

"Yes, I knew her."

"It is unfortunate and inexplicable that we cannot call her as a
witness, and are ignorant of the reason why she left Madeline alone.
Can you furnish any clue, even the slightest, which might enable us to
find her?"

"I cannot; I do not know where she has gone."

"Were they sisters, or mother and daughter?"

"I cannot say."

"Do you know where they came from?"

"I do not."

"Reflect. During your intimacy, was any chance word or remark made by
either of the women which, followed up, might furnish the
information?"

"I can remember none. But something was said, a few days before
Pauline left, which surprised me."

"Relate it, and do not fear to weary the court. Omit nothing."

"I made love to Madeline, as I have said, and she did not encourage
me. Then, for perhaps a month or two, I said nothing more to her than
good-morning or good-evening. But afterwards, when I was told that
Gautran was following her up, I thought to myself, 'I am better than
he; why should I be discouraged because she said "No" to me once?'
Well, then it was that I mustered up courage to speak to Pauline,
thinking to win her to my side. I did not, though. Pauline was angry
and impatient with me, and as much as told me that when Madeline
married it would be to a better man than I was. I was angry, also,
because it seemed as if she looked down on me. 'You think she will
marry a gentleman,' said I. 'It might be so,' she answered. 'A fine
idea that,' said I, 'for a peasant. But perhaps she isn't a peasant:
perhaps she is a lady in disguise.' I suppose I spoke scornfully, for
Pauline fired up, and asked whether Madeline was not good enough, and
pretty enough, and gentle enough for a lady; and said, too, that those
who believed her to be a peasant might one day find out their mistake.
And then all at once she stopped suddenly, with red fire in her face,
and I saw she had said that which she had rather left unspoken."

This last piece of evidence supplied a new feature of interest in the
case. It furnished a clue to a tempting mystery as to the social
position of Pauline and Madeline; but it was a clue which could not be
followed to a satisfactory result, although another unexpected
revelation was made in the course of the trial which appeared to have
some connection with it. Much of the evidence given by Heinrich Heitz
was elicited by the Advocate--especially those particulars which
related to Gautran's strength and ferocity, and to Madeline's love of
life and the way in which she met an insult. It was not easy to see
what good could be done for Gautran by the stress which the Advocate
laid upon these points.

Katherine Scherrer was called and examined. She testified that Gautran
had made advances towards her, and had pressed her to become his wife;
that she refused him, and that he threatened her; that as he persisted
in following her, her mother had spoken to him, and had warned him, if
he did not cease persecuting her daughter, that she would have him
beaten. This evidence was corroborated by Katherine's mother, who
testified that she had cautioned Gautran not to persecute Madeline
with his attentions and proposals. Madeline had expressed to both
these women her abhorrence of Gautran and her fear of him, but nothing
could induce him to relinquish his pursuit of her. The only evidence
elicited from these witnesses by the Advocate related to Gautran's
strength and ferocity.

Following Katherine Scherrer and her mother came a witness whose
appearance provoked murmurs of compassion. It was a poor, wretched
woman, half demented, who had lived with Gautran in another part of
the country, and who had been so brutally treated by him that her
reason had become impaired. If her appearance provoked compassion, the
story of her wrongs, as it was skilfully drawn from her by kindly
examination, stirred the court into strong indignation, and threw a
lurid light upon the character of the man arraigned at the bar of
justice. In the presence of this poor creature the judge interrogated
Gautran.

"You denied having ever lived with a woman who should have been your
wife. Do you still deny it?"

"Yes."

"Shameless obstinacy! Look at this poor woman, whom your cruelty has
reduced to a state of imbecility. Do you not know her?"

"I know nothing of her."

"You never lived with her?"

"Never."

"You will even go so far as to declare that you never saw her before
to-day?"

"Yes; I never saw her before to-day."

"To question you farther would be useless. You have shown yourself in
your true colours."

To which Gautran made answer: "I can't help my colours. They're not of
my choosing."

The Widow Joseph was next called.



                              CHAPTER XV

              THE WIDOW JOSEPH GIVES EVIDENCE RESPECTING
                         A MYSTERIOUS VISITOR


The appearance of this woman was looked forward to by the spectators
with lively curiosity, and her evidence was listened to with deep
attention.

"Your name is Joseph?"

"That was my husband's first name. While he lived I was known as
Mistress Joseph; since his death I have been called the Widow Joseph."

"The poor child, Madeline, and her companion, Pauline, lived in your
house?"

"Yes, from the first day they came into this part of the country. 'We
have come a great distance,' said Pauline to me, 'and want a room to
sleep in.' I showed her the room, and said it would be twelve francs a
month. She paid me twelve francs, and remained with me till she left
to go on a journey."

"Did you ask her where she came from?"

"Yes; and she answered that it was of no consequence."

"Did she pay the rent regularly?"

"Yes; and always without being asked for it."

"Did she tell you she was poor?"

"She said she had but little money."

"Did they have any settled plan of gaining a livelihood?"

"I do not think they had at first. Pauline asked me whether I thought
it likely they could earn a living by selling flowers. I looked at
Madeline, and said that I thought they were certain to do well."

"You looked at Madeline. Why?"

"She was a very pretty girl."

"And you thought, because she was very pretty, that she would have a
greater chance of disposing of her flowers."

"Yes. Gentlemen like to buy of pretty girls."

"That is not said to Madeline's disparagement?"

"No. Madeline was a good girl. She was full of gaiety, but it was
innocent gaiety."

"What were your impressions of them? As to their social position? Did
you believe them to be humbly born?"

"Pauline certainly; she was a peasant the same as myself. But there
was something superior about Madeline which puzzled me."

"How? In what way?"

"It was only an impression. Yet there were signs. Pauline's hands were
hard and coarse; and from remarks she made from time to time I knew
that she was peasant-born. Madeline's hands were soft and delicate,
and she had not been accustomed to toil, which all peasants are, from
their infancy almost."

"From this do you infer that they were not related to each other?"

"I am sure they were related to each other. Perhaps few had the
opportunities of judging as well as I could. When they were in a quiet
mood I have seen expressions upon their faces so exactly alike as to
leave no doubt that they were closely related."

"Sisters?"

"I cannot say."

"Or mother and daughter?"

"I wish to tell everything I know, but to say nothing that might be
turned into a reproach against them."

"We have every confidence in you. Judgment can be formed from the
bearing of persons towards each other. Pauline loved Madeline?"

"Devotedly."

"There is a distinctive quality in the attachment of a loving mother
for her child which can scarcely be mistaken; it is far different, in
certain visible manifestations--especially on occasions where there is
any slight disagreement--between sisters. Distinctive, also, is the
tenderness which accompanies the exercise of a mother's authority.
Bearing this in mind, and recalling to the best of your ability those
particulars of their intercourse which came within your cognisance,
which hypothesis would you be the more ready to believe--that they
were sisters or mother and child?"

"That they were mother and child."

"We recognise your anxiety to assist us. Pauline's hands, you say,
were coarse, while Madeline's were soft and delicate. Ordinarily, a
peasant woman brings up her child as a peasant, with no false notions;
in this instance, however, Pauline brought Madeline up with some idea
that the young girl was superior to her own station in life. Else why
the unusual care of the child? Supposing this line of argument to be
correct, it appears not to be likely that the attentions of a man like
Gautran would be encouraged."

"They were not encouraged."

"Do you know that they were not encouraged from statements made to you
by Pauline and Madeline?"

"Yes."

"Then Gautran's declaration that he was Madeline's accepted lover is
false?"

"Quite false."

"He speaks falsely when he says that Madeline promised to marry him?"

"It is impossible."

"Four nights before Madeline met her death, was Gautran outside your
house?"

"Yes; he was prowling about there with his evil face, for a long
time."

"Did you go to him, and ask him what he wanted?"

"Yes."

"Did he tell you that he must see Madeline?"

"Yes, and I went into the house, and informed the girl. She said she
would not see him, and I went down to Gautran and told him so. He then
tried to force himself into the house, and I stood in his way. He
struck me, and Madeline, frightened by my cries, ran to the door, and
begged him to go away."

"It is a fact that he was often seen in Madeline's company?"

"Yes; do what they would, they could not get rid of him; and they were
frightened, if they angered him too much, that he would commit an act
of violence."

"As he did?"

"As he did. It is written on Madeline's grave."

"Had the poor girl any other lovers?"

"None that I should call lovers. But she was greatly admired."

"Was any one of these lovers especially favoured?"

"Not that I knew of."

"Did any of them visit the house?"

"No--but may I speak?"

"Certainly."

"It was not what I should call a visit. A gentleman came once to the
door, and before I could get there, Pauline was with him. All that I
heard was this: 'It is useless,' Pauline said to him; 'I will not
allow you to see her, and if you persecute us with your attentions I
will appeal for help to those who will teach you a lesson.' 'What is
your objection to me?' he asked, and he was smiling all the time he
spoke. 'Am I not a gentleman?' 'Yes,' she answered; 'and it is because
of that, that I will not permit you to address her. Gentlemen! I have
had enough of gentlemen!' 'You are a foolish woman,' he said, and he
went away. That is all, and that is the only time--except when I saw
Pauline in conversation with a man. He might have been a gentleman,
but his clothes were not the clothes of one; neither were they the
clothes of a peasant. They were conversing at a little distance from
the house. I did not hear what they said, not a word, and half an hour
afterwards Pauline came home. There was a look on her face such as I
had never observed--a look of triumph and doubt. But she made no
remark to me, nor I to her."

"Where was Madeline at this time?"

"In the house."

"Did you see this man again?"

"A second time, two evenings after. A third time, within the same
week. He and Pauline spoke together very earnestly, and when anyone
approached them always moved out of hearing. During the second week he
came to the house, and inquired for Pauline. She ran downstairs and
accompanied him into the open road. This occurred to my knowledge five
or six times, until Pauline said to me, 'To-morrow I am going on a
journey. Before long I may be able to reward you well for the kindness
you have shown us.' The following day she left, and I have not seen
her since."

"Did she say how long she would be likely to be away?"

"I understood not longer than three weeks."

"That time has passed, and still she does not appear. Since she left,
have you seen the man who was so frequently with her?"

"No."

"He has not been to the house to make inquiries?"

"No."

"Is it not possible that he may have been Pauline's lover?"

"There was nothing of the lover in his manner towards her."

"There was, however, some secret between them?"

"Evidently."

"And Madeline--was she acquainted with it?"

"It is impossible to say."

"You have no reason to suppose, when Pauline went away, that she had
no intention of returning?"

"I am positive she intended to return."

"And with good news, for she promised to reward you for your
kindness?"

"Yes, she did so."

"Is it not probable that she, also, may have met with foul play?"

"It is probable; but Heaven alone knows!"



                             CHAPTER XVI

                  THE CONCLUSION OF THE PROSECUTION


It length the case for the prosecution was concluded, with an
expression of regret on the part of counsel at the absence of Pauline,
who might have been able to supply additional evidence, if any were
needed, of the guilt of the prisoner.

"Every effort has been made," said counsel, "to trace and produce this
woman, but when she parted from the murdered girl no person knew
whither she was directing her steps; even the Widow Joseph, the one
living person besides the mysterious male visitor who was in frequent
consultation with her, can furnish us with no clue. The victim of this
foul and horrible crime could most likely have told us, but her lips
are sealed by the murderer's hand, the murderous wretch who stands
before you.

"It has been suggested that Pauline has met with foul play. It may be
so; otherwise, it is humanly impossible to divine the cause that could
keep her from this trial.

"Neither have we been able to trace the man who was in her confidence,
and between whom and herself a secret of a strange nature existed.

"In my own mind I do not doubt that this secret related to Madeline,
but whether it did do so or not cannot affect the issue of this trial;
neither can the absence of Pauline and her mysterious friend affect
it. The proofs of the cruel, ruthless murder are complete and
irrefragable, and nothing is wanting, not a link, in the chain of
evidence to enable you to return a verdict which will deprive
of the opportunity of committing further crime a wretch as infamous
as ever walked the earth. He declares his innocence; if the value
of that declaration is to be gauged by the tissue of falsehoods
he has uttered, by his shameless effrontery and denials, by his
revolting revelations of the degradation of his nature, he stands
self-convicted.

"But it needs not that; had he not spoken, the issue would be the
same; for painful and shocking as is the spectacle, you have but to
glance at him to assure yourself of his guilt. If that is not
sufficient to move you unhesitatingly to your duty, cast him from your
thoughts and weigh only the evidence of truth which has been laid
unfolded to you.

"As I speak, a picture of that terrible night, in the darkness of
which the fearful deed was committed, rises before me.

"I see the river's bank in a mist of shadows; I see two forms moving
onward, one a monster in human shape, the other that of a child who
had never wronged a fellow creature, a child whose spirit was joyous
and whose amiable disposition won every heart.

"It is not with her willing consent that this monster is in her
company. He has followed her stealthily until he finds an opportunity
to be alone with her, at a time when she is least likely to have
friends near her; and in a place where she is entirely at his mercy.
He forces his attentions upon her; she repulses him. She turns towards
her home; he thrusts her roughly back. Enraged at her obstinacy, he
threatens to kill her; his threats are heard by persons returning home
along the river's bank, and, until the sound of their footsteps has
died away and they are out of hearing, he keeps his victim silent by
force.

"Being alone with her once more, he renews his infamous suit. She
still repulses him, and then commences a struggle which must have made
the angels weep to witness.

"In vain his victim pleads, in vain she struggles; she clings to him
and begs for her life in tones that might melt the stoniest heart; but
this demon has no heart. He winds his handkerchief round her neck, he
beats and tears her, as is proved by the bruises on her poor body. The
frightful struggle ends, and the deed is accomplished which condemns
the wretch to life-long torture in this world and to perdition in the
next.

"Do not lose sight of this picture and of the evidence which
establishes it; and let me warn you not to be diverted by sophistry or
specious reasoning from the duty which you are here to perform.

"A most vile and horrible crime has been committed; the life of a
child has been cruelly, remorselessly, wickedly sacrificed; her blood
calls for justice on her murderer; and upon you rests the solemn
responsibility of not permitting the escape of a wretch whose guilt
has been proven by evidence so convincing as to leave no room for
doubt in the mind of any human being who reasons in accordance with
facts.

"I cannot refrain from impressing upon you the stern necessity of
allowing no other considerations than those supplied by a calm
judgment to guide you in the delivery of your verdict. I should be
wanting in my duty if I did not warn you that there have been cases in
which the guilty have unfortunately escaped by the raising of side
issues which had but the remotest bearing upon the crimes of which
they stood accused. It is not by specious logic that a guilty man can
be proved innocent. Innocence can only be established by facts, and
the facts laid before you are fatal in the conclusion to be deduced
from them. Bear these facts in mind, and do not allow your judgment to
be clouded even by the highest triumphs of eloquence. I know of no
greater reproach from which men of sensibility can suffer than that
which proceeds from the consciousness that, in an unguarded moment,
they have allowed themselves to be turned aside from the performance
of a solemn duty. May you have no cause for such a reproach! May you
have no cause to lament that you have allowed your judgment to be
warped by a display of passionate and fevered oratory! Let a sense of
justice alone be your guide. Justice we all desire, nothing more and
nothing less. The law demands it of you; society demands it of you.
The safety of your fellow citizens, the honour of young girls, of your
sisters, your daughters, and others dear to you, depend upon your
verdict. For if wretches like the prisoner are permitted to walk in
our midst, to pursue their savage courses, to live their evil lives,
unchecked, life and honour are in fatal peril. The duty you have to
perform is a sacred duty--see that you perform it righteously and
conscientiously, and bear in mind that the eyes of the Eternal are
upon you."

This appeal, delivered with intense earnestness, produced a profound
impression. In the faces of the jury was written the fate of Gautran.
They looked at each other with stern resolution. Under these
circumstances, when the result of the trial appeared to be a foregone
conclusion, it might have been expected, the climax of interest having
apparently been reached, that the rising of the Advocate to speak for
the defence would have attracted but slight attention. It was not so.
At that moment the excitement reached a painful pitch, and every
person in the court, with the exception of the jury and the judges,
leant forward with eager and absorbed expectation.



                             CHAPTER XVII

                  THE ADVOCATES DEFENCE--THE VERDICT


He spoke in a calm and passionless voice, the clear tones of which
had an effect resembling that of a current of cold air through an
over-heated atmosphere. The audience had been led to expect a display
of fevered and passionate oratory; but neither in the Advocate's
speech nor in his manner of delivering it was there any fire or
passion; it was chiefly remarkable for earnestness and simplicity.

His first words were a panegyric of justice, the right of dispensing
which had been placed in mortal hands by a Supreme Power which watched
its dispensation with a jealous eye. He claimed for himself that the
leading principle of his life, not only in his judicial, but in his
private career, had been a desire for justice, in small matters as
well as in great, for the lowliest equally with the loftiest of human
beings. Before the bar of justice, prince and peasant, the most
ignorant and the most highly cultured, the meanest and the most noble
in form and feature, were equal. They had been told that justice was
demanded from them by law and by society. He would supply a strange
omission in this appeal, and he would tell them that, primarily and
before every other consideration, the prisoner it was who demanded
justice from them.

"That an innocent girl has been done to death," said the Advocate, "is
most unfortunately true, and as true that a man who inspires horror is
charged with her murder. You have been told that you have but to
glance at him to assure yourself of his guilt. These are lamentable
words to be used in an argument of accusation. The facts that the
victim was of attractive, and that the accused is of repulsive
appearance, should not weigh with you, even by a hair's weight, to the
prejudice of the prisoner. If it does, I call upon you to remember
that justice is blind to external impressions. And moreover, if in
your minds you harbour a feeling such as exists outside this court
against the degraded creature who stands before you, I charge you to
dismiss it.

"All the evidence presented to you which bears directly upon the crime
is circumstantial. A murder has been committed--no person saw it
committed. The last person proved to have been in the murdered girl's
company, is Gautran, her lover, as he declares himself to have been.

"And here I would say that I do not expect you to place the slightest
credence upon the statements of this man. His unblushing, astonishing
falsehoods prove that in him the moral sense is deadened, if indeed it
ever existed. But his own statement that, after the manner of his
brutal nature, he loved the girl, may be accepted as probable. It has
been sufficiently proved that the girl had other lovers, who were
passionately enamoured of her. She was left to herself, deprived of
the protection and counsel of a devoted woman, who, unhappily, was
absent at the fatal crisis in her life. She was easily persuaded and
easily led. Who can divine by what influences she was surrounded, by
what temptations she was beset, temptations and influences which may
have brought upon her an untimely death?

"Gautran was hear to say, 'I will kill you--I will kill you!' He had
threatened her before, and she lived to speak of it to her companions,
and to permit him, without break or interruption in their intimacy, to
continue to associate with her. What more probable than that this was
one of his usual threats in his moments of passion, when he jealously
believed that a rival was endeavouring to supplant him in her
affections?

"The handkerchief found about her neck belonged to Gautran. The gift
of a handkerchief among the lower classes is not uncommon, and it is
frequently worn round the neck. Easy, then, for any murderer to pull
it tight during the commission of the crime. But apart from this, the
handkerchief does not fix the crime of murder upon Gautran or any
other accused, for you have had it proved that the girl did not die by
strangulation, but by drowning. These are bare facts, and I present
them to you in bare form, without needless comment. I do not base my
defence upon them, but upon what I am now about to say.

"If in a case of circumstantial evidence there is reasonable cause to
believe that the evidence furnished is of insufficient weight to
convict; and if on the other side, on the side of the accused,
evidence is adduced which directly proves, according to the best
judgment we are enabled to form of human action in supreme moments--as
to the course it would take and the manner in which it would be
displayed--that it is almost beyond the bounds of possibility and
nature that the person can have committed the deed, you have no
option, unless you yourselves are bent upon judicial murder, than to
acquit that person, however vile his character may be, however
degraded his career and antecedents. It is evidence of this
description which I intend to submit to you at the conclusion of my
remarks.

"The character of Gautran has been exposed and laid bare in all its
vileness; the minuteness of the evidence is surprising; not the
smallest detail has been overlooked or omitted to complete the picture
of a ferocious, ignorant, and infamous being. Guilty, he deserves no
mercy; innocent, he is not to be condemned because he is vile.

"In the world's history there are records of countries and times in
which it was the brutal fashion to bring four-footed animals to the
bar of justice, there solemnly to try them for witchcraft and evil
deeds; and you will find upon examination of those records of man's
incredible folly and ignorance, that occasionally even these beasts of
the earth--pigs and such-like--have been declared innocent of the
crimes of which they have been charged. I ask no more for Gautran than
the principle involved in these trials. Judge him, if you will, as you
would an animal, but judge him in accordance with the principles of
justice, which neither extenuates nor maliciously and unreasonably
condemns.

"The single accusation of the murder of Madeline, a flower-girl, is
the point to be determined, and you must not travel beyond it to other
crimes and other misdeeds of which Gautran may have been guilty.

"It has been proved that the prisoner is possessed of great strength,
that he is violent in his actions, uncontrollable in his passions, and
fond of inflicting pain and prolonging it. He has not a redeeming
feature in his coarse, animal nature. Thwarted, he makes the person
who thwarts him suffer without mercy. An appeal to his humanity would
be useless--he has no humanity; when crossed, he has been seen to
behave like a wild beast. All this is in evidence, and has been
strongly dwelt upon as proof of guilt. Most important is this
evidence, and I charge you not for one moment to lose sight of it.

"I come now to the depiction of the murdered girl, as it has been
presented to you. Pretty, admired, gentle in her manners, and poor.
Although the fact of a person being poor is no proof of morality, we
may accept it in this instance as a proof of the girl's virtue. She
was fond of life: her disposition was a happy one; she was in the
habit of singing to herself.

"Thus we have the presentment of a young girl whose nature was joyous,
and to whom life was sweet.

"Another important piece of evidence must be borne in mind. She
possessed strength, greater strength than would have been supposed in
a form so slight. This strength she would use to protect herself from
injury: it has been proved that she used it successfully to protect
herself from insult. In the whole of this case nothing has been more
forcibly insisted upon than that she resisted her murder, and that
there was a long and horrible struggle in which she received many
injuries, wounds, bruises, and scratches, and in which her clothes
were rent and torn.

"This struggle, in the natural order of things, could not have been a
silent one; accompanying the conflict there must have been outcries,
frenzied appeals for mercy, screams of terror and anguish. No witness
has been called who heard such sounds, and therefore it must be a fact
that the murder must have been committed some time after Gautran's
threat, 'I will kill you, I will kill you!' was heard by persons who
passed along the bank of the river in the darkness of that fatal
night. Time enough for Gautran to have left her; time enough for
another--lover or stranger--to meet her; time enough for murder by
another hand than that of the prisoner who stands charged with the
commission of the crime.

"I assert, with all the force of my experience of human nature, that
it is impossible that Gautran could have committed the deed. There was
a long and terrible struggle--a struggle in which the murdered girl's
clothes were torn, in which her face, her hands, her arms, her neck,
her sides were bruised and wounded in a hundred cruel ways. Can you
for one moment entertain the belief that, in this desperate fight in
which two persons were engaged, only one should bear the marks of a
contest so horrible? If you bring yourselves to this belief it must be
by the aid of prejudice, not of reason. Attend to what follows.

"On the very morning after the murder, within four hours of the body
being discovered in the river, Gautran was arrested. He wore the same
clothes he had worn for months past, the only clothes he possessed. In
these clothes there was not a rent or tear, nor any indication of a
recent rent having been mended. How, then, could this man have been
engaged in a violent and prolonged hand-to-hand conflict? It is
manifestly impossible, opposed to all reasonable conjecture, that his
garments could have escaped some injury, however slight, at the hands
of a girl to whom life was very sweet, who was strong and capable of
resistance, and who saw before her the shadow of an awful fate.

"Picture to yourselves this struggle already so vividly painted, so
graphically portrayed. The unhappy girl clung to her destroyer, she
clutched his dress, his hands, his body in her wild despair--a despair
which inspired her with strength beyond her ordinary capacity. And of
still greater weight is the fact that there was not to be found on any
part of Gautran's body a scratch, a wound, or a bruise of any
description.

"What, then, becomes of the evidence of a terrible life and death
struggle in which it is said he was engaged? Upon this point alone the
entire theory of the prosecution breaks down. The absence from
Gautran's clothes and person of any mark or identification of a
physical contest is the strongest testimony of his innocence of this
ruthless, diabolical crime; and, wretched and degraded as is the
spectacle he presents, justice demands from you his acquittal.

"Still one other proof of his innocence remains to be spoken of; I
will touch upon it lightly, but it bears a very strange aspect, as
though the prosecution were fearful that its introduction would
fatally injure their case.

"When Gautran was searched a knife was found upon him--the knife,
without doubt, with which he inflicted upon the face of a comrade a
wound which he will bear to the grave. Throughout the whole of the
evidence for the prosecution I waited and looked for the production of
that knife; I expected to see upon it a blood proof of guilt. But it
was not produced; no mention has been made of it. Why? Because there
is upon its blade no mark of blood.

"Do you believe that a ruffian like Gautran would have refrained from
using his knife upon the body of his victim, to shorten the terrible
struggle? Even in light quarrels men in his condition of life threaten
freely with their knives, and use them recklessly. To suppose that
with so swift and sure a means at hand to put an end to the horrible
affair, Gautran, in the heat and fury of the time, refrained from
availing himself of it, is to suppose a thing contrary and opposed to
reason.

"Remember the answer given by one of the witnesses who knows the
nature of the man well, when I asked him whether in his passionate
moods Gautran would be likely to show coolness or cunning. 'He would
have no time to think; he would be carried away by his passion.' His
is the nature of a brute, governed by brute laws. You are here to try,
not the prisoner's general character, not his repulsive appearance,
not his brutish nature, but a charge of murder of which he is accused,
and of which, in the clear light of human motive and action, it is
impossible he can be guilty."

The Advocate's speech, of which this is but a brief and imperfect
summary, occupied seven hours, and was delivered throughout with a
cold impressive earnestness and with an absence of passion which
gradually and effectually turned the current which had set so fatally
against the prisoner. The disgust and abhorrence he inspired were in
no wise modified, but the Advocate had instilled into the minds of his
auditors the strongest doubts of Gautran's guilt.

Two witnesses were called, one a surgeon of eminence, the other a
nurse in an hospital. They deposed that there were no marks of an
encounter upon the prisoner's person, that upon his skin was no
abrasion, that his clothes exhibited no traces of recent tear or
repair, and that it was scarcely possible he could have been engaged
in a violent personal struggle.

Upon the conclusion of this evidence, which cross-examination did not
shake, the jury asked that Gautran should be examined by independent
experts. This was done by thoroughly qualified men, whose evidence
strengthened that of the witnesses for the defence. The jury asked,
also, that the knife found upon Gautran should be produced. It was
brought into court, and carefully examined, and it was found that its
blade was entirely free from blood-stain.

The jury, astounded at the turn the affair had taken, listened
attentively to the speech of the judge, who dwelt with great care upon
every feature in the case. The court sat late to give its decision,
and when the verdict was pronounced, Gautran was a free man.

Free, to enjoy the sunlight, and the seasons as they passed; free, to
continue his life of crime and shame; free, to murder again!



                      BOOK II.--THE CONFESSION.



                              CHAPTER I

                     A LETTER FROM JOHN VANBRUGH


For a little while Gautran scarcely comprehended that he was at
liberty to wander forth. He had so completely given himself up as lost
that he was stupefied by the announcement that his liberty was
restored to him. He gazed vacantly before him, and the announcement
had to be twice repeated before he arrived at an understanding of its
purport; then his attitude changed. A spasm of joy passed into his
face, followed immediately by a spasm of fear; those who observed him
would indeed have been amazed had they known what was passing through
his mind.

"Free, am I?" he asked.

"You have been told so twice," a warder answered. "It astonishes you.
Well, you are not the only one."

As the warders fell from his side he watched them warily, fearing they
were setting a trap which might prove his destruction.

From where he stood he could not see the Advocate, who was preparing
to depart. Distasteful as the verdict was to every person in court,
with the exception of Gautran and his counsel, those members of the
legal profession who had not taken an active part in the trial were
filled with professional admiration at the skill the Advocate had
displayed. An eminent member of the bar remarked to him:

"It is a veritable triumph, the greatest and most surprising I have
ever witnessed. None but yourself could have accomplished it. Yet I
cannot believe in the man's innocence."

This lawyer held too high and honourable a position for the Advocate
to remain silent. "The man is innocent," he said.

"You know him to be so?"

"I know him to be so. I stake my reputation upon it."

"You almost convince me. It would be fatal to any reputation were
Gautran, after what has passed, to be proved guilty. But that, of
course, is impossible."

"Quite impossible," said the Advocate somewhat haughtily.

"Exactly so. There can be no room for doubt, after your statement that
you know the man to be innocent."

With no wish to continue the conversation, the Advocate turned to
leave the court when an officer presented himself.

"He wishes to speak to you, sir."

"He! Who?" asked the Advocate. He was impatient to be gone, his
interest at the trial being at an end. The victory was gained; there
was nothing more to be done.

"The prisoner, sir. He desired me to tell you."

"The prisoner!" said the Advocate. "You forget. The man is free."

He walked towards Gautran, and for the first time during the long days
of the trial gazed directly in his client's face. The magnetism in the
Advocate's eyes arrested Gautran's speech. His own dilated, and he
appeared to forget what he had intended to say. They looked at each
other in silence for a few moments, the expression on the face of the
Advocate cold, keen, and searching, that on the face of Gautran as of
a man entranced; and then the Advocate turned sternly away, without a
word having been spoken between them. When Gautran looked again for
his defender he was gone.

Gautran still lingered; the court was nearly empty.

"Be off," said the warder, who had been his chief attendant in his
cell; "we have done with you for the present."

But Gautran made no effort to leave. The warder laid his hand upon the
ruffian's shoulder, with the intention of expelling him from the
court.

Gautran shook him off with the snarl of a wild beast.

"Touch me again," he cried, "and I'll strangle you! I can do it easily
enough--two of you at a time!"

And, indeed, so ferocious was his manner that it seemed as if he were
disposed to carry his threat into execution.

"Women are more in your way," said the warder tauntingly. "Look you,
Gautran; if Madeline had been my daughter, your life would not be
worth an hour's purchase, despite the verdict gained by your clever
Advocate."

"You would not dare to say that to me if you and I were alone,"
retorted Gautran, scowling at the sullen faces of the officers about
him.

"Away with you!" exclaimed the warder, "at once, or we will throw you
into the streets!"

"I will go when I get my property."

"What property?"

"The knife you took from me when you dragged me to prison. I don't
move without it."

They deemed it best to comply with this demand, the right being on his
side, and his knife was restored to him. It was an old knife, with a
keen blade and a stout handle, and it opened and closed with a sharp
click. Gautran tried it three or four times with savage satisfaction
and then, with another interchange of threatening glances, he slunk
from the court.

The Advocate's carriage was at the door, ready to convey him to
Christian Almer's villa. But after his long confinement in the close
court, he felt the need of physical exercise, and he dismissed his
coachman, saying he intended to walk home. As the carriage drove off,
a person plucked him by the sleeve, and pressed a letter into his
hand. It was dusk, and the Advocate, although he looked quickly
around, could not discover the giver. His sight was short and strong,
and standing beneath the light of a street-lamp he opened and read the
letter.


"Old Friend,

"It will doubtless surprise you to see my handwriting, it is so long
since we met. The sight of it may displease you, but that is of small
consequence to me. When a man is in a desperate strait, he is
occasionally driven to desperate courses. When needs must, as you are
aware, the devil drives. I have been but an hour in Geneva, and
I have heard of your victory; I congratulate you upon it. I must see
you--soon. I know the House of White Shadows in the pretty valley
yonder. At a short distance from the gates--but far enough off, and so
situated as to enable a man to hide with safety if he desires--is a
hill upon which I will wait for your signal to come to you, which
shall be the waving of a white handkerchief from your study window.
At midnight and alone will be best. You see how ready I am to oblige
you. I shall wait till sunrise for the signal. If you are too busy
to-night, let it be tomorrow night, or the next, or any night this
week.

                        "I am, as ever, your friend,

                                       "John Vanbrugh."


The Advocate placed the letter in his pocket, and murmured as he
walked through the streets of Geneva:

"John Vanbrugh! Has he risen from his grave? He would see me at
midnight and alone! He must be mad, or drunk, to make such a request.
He may keep his vigil, undisturbed. Of such a friendship there can be
no renewal. The gulf that separates us is too wide to be bridged over
by sentimental memories. John Vanbrugh, the vagabond! I can imagine
him, and the depth to which he has sunk. Every man must bear the
consequences of his actions. Let him bear his, and make the best, or
the worst, of them."



                              CHAPTER II

                       A STARTLING INTERRUPTION


The news of the acquittal of Gautran spread swiftly through the town,
and the people gathered in front of the _cafés_ and lingered in the
streets, to gaze upon the celebrated Advocate who had worked the
marvel.

"He has a face like the Sphynx," said one.

"With just as much feeling," said another.

"Do you believe Gautran was innocent?"

"Not I--though he made it appear so."

"Neither do I believe it, but I confess I am puzzled."

"If Gautran did not murder the girl, who did?" asked one, a waverer,
who formed an exception to the general rule.

"That is for the law to find out."

"It was found out, and the murderer has been set loose. We shall have
to take care of ourselves on dark nights."

"Would you condemn a man upon insufficient evidence?"

"I would condemn such as Gautran on any evidence. When you want to get
rid of vermin it does not do to be over particular."

"The law must be respected."

"Life must be protected. That is the first law."

"Hush! Here he is. Best not let him overhear you."

There was but little diversity of opinion. Even in the inn of The
Seven Liars, to which Fritz the Fool--who had attended the court every
day of the trial, and who had the fleetest foot of any man for a dozen
miles round--had already conveyed the news of Gautran's acquittal, the
discussion was loud and animated; the women regarding the result as an
outrage on their sex, the men more disposed to put Gautran out of the
question, and to throw upon the Advocate the opprobrium of the
verdict.

"Did I not tell you," said Fritz, "that he could turn black into
white? A great man--a great man! If we had more like him, murdering
would be a fine trade."

There were, doubtless, among those who thronged the streets to see the
Advocate pass, some sinners whose consciences tormented them, and who
secretly hoped, if exposure ever overtook them, that Heaven would send
them such a defender. His reception, indeed, partook of the character
of an ovation. These tributes to his powers made no impression upon
him; he pursued his way steadily onward, looking neither to the right
nor to the left, and soon the gaily-lighted shops and _cafés_ of
Geneva were far behind him.

His thoughts were upon John Vanbrugh, who had been one of his boy
friends, and whom for many years he had believed to be dead. In his
lonely walk to the House of White Shadows he recalled the image of
Vanbrugh, and dwelt, with idle curiosity, upon the recollection of
their youthful lives. He had determined not to see Vanbrugh, and was
resolved not to renew a friendship which, during its existence, had
been lacking in those sterling qualities necessary for endurance. That
it was pleasant while it lasted was the best that could be said of it.
When he and Vanbrugh grew to manhood there was a wide divergence in
their paths.

One walked with firm unfaltering step the road which leads to honour
and renown, sparing no labour, throwing aside seductive temptation
when it presented itself to him, as it did in its most alluring forms,
giving all his mental might to the cause to which he had devoted
himself, studying by day and night so earnestly that his bright and
strong intellect became stronger and clearer, and he could scarcely
miss success. Only once in his younger days had he allowed himself,
for a brief period, to be seduced from this path, and it was John
Vanbrugh who had tempted him.

The other threw himself upon pleasure's tide, and, blind to earnest
duty, drank the sunshine of life's springtime in draughts so
intemperate that he became intoxicated with poisonous fire, and,
falling into the arms of the knaves who thrive on human weakness and
depravity, his moral sense, like theirs, grew warped, and he ripened
into a knave himself.

Something of this, but not in its fulness, had reached the Advocate's
ears, making but small impression upon him, and exciting no surprise,
for by that time his judgment was matured, and human character was an
open book to him; and when, some little while afterwards, he heard
that John Vanbrugh was dead, he said, "He is better dead," and
scarcely gave his once friend another thought.

He was a man who had no pity for the weak, and no forgiveness for the
erring.

He walked slowly, with a calm enjoyment of the solitude and the quiet
night, and presently entered a narrow lane, dotted with orchards.

It was now dark, and he could not see a dozen yards before him. He was
fond of darkness; it contained mysterious possibilities, he had been
heard to say. There was an ineffable charm in the stillness which
encompassed him, and he enjoyed it to its full. There were cottages
here and there, lying back from the road, but no light or movement in
them; the inmates were asleep. Soft sighs proceeded from the drowsy
trees, and slender boughs waved solemnly, while the only sounds from
the farmyards were, at intervals, a muffled shaking of wings, and the
barking of dogs whom his footsteps had aroused. As he passed a high
wooden gate, through the bars of which he could dimly discern a line
of tall trees standing like sentinels of the night, the perfume of
limes was wafted towards him, and he softly breathed the words:

"My wife!"

He yielded up his senses to the thralldom of a delicious languor, in
which the only image was that of the fair and beautiful woman who was
waiting for him in their holiday home. Had any person seen the tender
light in his eyes, and heard the tone in which the words were
whispered, he could not have doubted that the woman they referred to
was passionately adored.

Not for long was he permitted to muse upon the image of a being the
thought of whom appeared to transform a passionless man into an ardent
lover; a harsher interruption than sweet perfume floating on a breeze
recalled him to his sterner self.

"Stop!"

"For what reason?"

"The best. Money!"

The summons proceeded from one in whom, as his voice betrayed, the
worst passions were dominant.



                             CHAPTER III

                         IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT


There lived not in the world a man more fearless than the Advocate. At
this threatening demand, which meant violence, perhaps murder, he
exhibited as little trepidation as he would have done at an
acquaintance asking him, in broad daylight, for a pinch of snuff.
Indeed, he was so perfectly unembarrassed that his voice assumed a
lightness foreign to its usual serious tones. "Money, my friend! How
much?"

"All you've got."

"Terse, and to the point. If I refuse?"

"I am desperate. Look to yourself."

The Advocate smiled, and purposely deepened the airiness of his tones.

"This is a serious business, then?"

"You'll find it so, if you trifle with me."

"Are you hungry?"

"I am starving."

"You have a powerful voice for a starving man."

"Don't play with me, master. I mean to have what I ask for."

"How can you, if I do not possess it? How will you if, possessing it,
I refuse to give it you?"

The reply was a crashing blow at an overhanging branch, which broke it
to the ground. It was evident that the man carried a stout weapon, and
that he meant to use it, with murderous effect, if driven to extremes.
They spoke at arm's-length; neither was quite within the other's
grasp.

"A strong argument," said the Advocate, without blenching, "and a
savage one. You have a staff in your hand, and, probably, a knife in
your pocket."

"Ah, I have, and a sharp blade to it."

"I thought as much. Would not that do your business more effectually?"

"Perhaps. But I've learnt a lesson to-day about knives, which teaches
me not to use mine too freely."

The Advocate frowned.

"Other scoundrels would run less risk of the gaol if their
proceeding's were as logical. Do you know me?"

"How should I?"

"It might be, then," continued the Advocate, secretly taking a box of
matches from his pocket, "that, like yourself, I am both a thief and a
would-be murderer."

As he uttered the last words he flung a lighted match straight at the
man's face, and for a moment the glare revealed the ruffian's
features. He staggered back, repeating the word "Murderer!" in a
hoarse startled whisper. The Advocate strode swiftly to his side, and
striking another match, held it up to his own face.

"Look at me, Gautran," he said.

The man looked up, and recognising the Advocate, recoiled, muttering:

"Aye, aye--I see who it is."

"And you would rob me, wretch!"

"Not now, master, not now. Your voice--it was the voice of another
man. I crave your pardon, humbly."

"So--you recommence work early, Gautran. Have you not had enough of
the gaol?"

"More than enough. Don't be hard on me, master; call me mad if you
like."

"Mad or sane, Gautran, every man is properly made accountable for his
acts. Take this to heart."

"It won't do me any good. What is a poor wretch to do with nothing but
empty pockets?"

"You are a dull-witted knave, or you would be aware it is useless to
lie to me. Gautran, I can read your soul. You wished to speak to me in
the court. Here is your opportunity. Say what you had to say."

"Give me breathing time. You've the knack of driving the thoughts
clean out of a man's head. Have you got a bit of something that a poor
fellow can chew--the end of a cigar, or a nip of tobacco?"

"I have nothing about me but money, which you can't chew, and should
not have if you could. Hearken, my friend. When you said you were
starving, you lied to me."

"How do you know it?"

"Fool! Are there not fruit-trees here, laden with wholesome food,
within any thief's grasp? Your pockets at this moment are filled with
fruit."

"You have a gift," said Gautran with a cringing movement of his body.
"It would be an act of charity to put me in the way of it."

"What would you purchase?" asked the advocate ironically. "Gold, for
wine, and pleasure, and fine clothes?"

"Aye, master," replied Gautran with eager voice.

"Power, to crush those you hate, and make them smart and bleed?"

"Aye, master. That would be fine."

"Gautran, these things are precious, and have their price. What are
you ready to pay for them?"

"Anything--anything but money!"

"Something of less worth--your soul?"

Gautran shuddered and crossed himself.

"No, no," he muttered; "not that--not that!"

"Strange," said the Advocate with a contemptuous smile, "the value we
place upon an unknown quantity! We cannot bargain, friend. Say now
what you desire to say, and as briefly as you can."

But it was some time before Gautran could sufficiently recover himself
to speak with composure.

"I want to know," he said at length, with a clicking in his throat,
"whether you've been paid for what you did for me?"

"At your trial?"

"Aye, master."

"I have not been paid for what I did for you."

"When they told me yonder," said Gautran after another pause, pointing
in the direction of Geneva, where the prison lay, "that you were to
appear for me, they asked me how I managed it, but I couldn't tell
them, and I'm beating my head now to find out, without getting any
nearer to it. There must be a reason."

"You strike a key-note, my friend."

"Someone has promised to pay you."

"No one has promised to pay me."

"You puzzle and confuse me, master. You're a stranger in Geneva, I'm
told."

"It is true."

"I've lived about here half my life. I was born in Sierre. My father
worked in the foundry, my mother in the fields. You are not a stranger
in Sierre."

"I am a stranger there; I never visited the town."

"My father was born in Martigny. You knew my father."

"I did not know your father."

"My mother--her father once owned a vineyard. You knew her."

"I did not know her."

Once more was Gautran silent. What he desired now to say raised up
images so terrifying that he had not the courage to give it utterance.

"You are in deep shadow, my friend," said the Advocate, "body and
soul. Shall I tell you what is in your mind?"

"You can do that?"

"You wish to know if I was acquainted with the unhappy girl with whose
murder you were charged."

"Is there another in the world like you?" asked Gautran, with fear in
his voice. "Yes, that is what I want to know."

"I was not acquainted with her."

Gautran retreated a step or two, in positive terror. "Then what," he
exclaimed, "in the fiend's name made you come forward?"

"At length," said the Advocate, "we arrive at an interesting point in
our conversation. I thank you for the opportunity you afford me in
questioning my inner self. What made me come forward to the assistance
of such a scoundrel? Humanity? No. Sympathy? No. What, then, was my
motive? Indeed, friend, you strike home. Shall I say I was prompted by
a desire to assist the course of justice--or by a contemptible feeling
of vanity to engage in a contest for the simple purpose of proving
myself the victor? It was something of both, mayhap. Do you know,
Gautran, a kind of self-despisal stirs within me at the present
moment? You do not understand me? I will give you a close
illustration. You are a thief."

"Yes, master."

"You steal sometimes from habit, to keep your hand in as it were, and
you feel a certain satisfaction at having accomplished your theft in a
workmanlike manner. We are all of us but gross and earthly patches. It
is simply a question of degree, and it is because I am in an idle
mood--indeed, I am grateful to you for this playful hour--that I make
a confession to you which would not elevate me in the eyes of better
men. You were anxious to know whether I have been paid for my
services. I now acknowledge payment. I accept as my fee the recreation
you have afforded me."

"I shall be obliged to you, master," said Gautran, "if you will leave
your mysteries, and come back to my trial."

"I will oblige you. I read the particulars of the case for the first
time on my arrival here, and it appeared to me almost impossible you
could escape conviction. It was simply that. I examined you, and saw
the legal point which, villain as you are, proclaimed your innocence.
That laugh of yours, Gautran, has no mirth in it. I am beginning to be
dangerously shaken. I will do, I said then, for this wretch what I
believe no other man can do. I will perform a miracle."

"You have done it!" cried Gautran, falling on his knees in a paroxysm
of fear, and kissing the Advocate's hand, which was instantly snatched
away. "You are great--you are the greatest! You knew the truth!"

"The truth!" echoed the Advocate, and his face grew ashen white.

"Aye, the truth--and you were sent to save me. You can read the soul;
nothing is hidden from you. But you have not finished your work. You
can save me entirely--you can, you can! Oh, master, finish your work,
and I will be your slave to the last hour of my life!"

"Save you! From what?" demanded the Advocate. He was compelled to
exercise great control over himself, for a horror was stealing upon
him.

The trembling wretch rose, and pointed to the opposite roadside.

"From shadows--from dreams--from the wild eyes of Madeline! Look
there--look there!"

The Advocate turned in the direction of Gautran's outstretched
trembling hand. A pale light was coining into the sky, and weird
shadows were on the earth.

"What are you gazing on?"

"You ask me to torture me," moaned Gautran. "She dogs me like my
shadow--I cannot shake her off! I have threatened her, but she does
not heed me. She is waiting--there--there--to follow me when I am
alone--to put her arms about me--to breathe upon my face, and turn my
heart to ice! If I could hold her, I would tear her piecemeal! You
_must_ have known her, you who can read what passes in a man's
soul--you who knew the truth when you came to me in my cell! She will
not obey me, but she will you. Command her, compel her to leave me, or
she will drive me mad!"

With amazing strength the Advocate placed his hands on Gautran's
shoulders, and twisted the man's face so close to his own that not an
inch of space divided them. Their eyes met, Gautran's wavering and
dilating with fear, the Advocate's fixed and stern, and with a fire in
them terrible to behold.

"Recall," said the Advocate, in a clear voice that rang through the
night like a bell, "what passed between you and Madeline on the last
night of her life. Speak!"



                              CHAPTER IV

                            THE CONFESSION


"I sought her in the Quartier St. Gervais," said I Gautran, speaking
like a man in a dream, "and found her at eight o'clock in the company
of a man. I watched them, and kept out of their sight.

"He was speaking to her softly, and some things he said to her made
her smile; and every time she showed her white teeth I swore that she
should be mine and mine alone. They remained together for an hour, and
then they parted, he going one way, Madeline another.

"I followed her along the banks of the river, and when no one was near
us I spoke to her. She was not pleased with my company, and bade me
leave her, but I replied that I had something particular to say to
her, and did not intend to go till it was spoken.

"It was a dark night; there was no moon.

"I told her I had been watching her, and that I knew she had another
lover. 'Do you mean to give me up?' I said, and she answered that she
had never accepted me, and that after that night she would never see
me again. I said it might happen, and that it might be the last night
we should ever see each other. She asked me if I was going away, and I
said no, it might be her that was going away on the longest journey
she had ever taken. 'What journey?' she asked, and I answered, a
journey with Death for the coachman, for I had sworn a dozen times
that night that if she would not swear upon her cross to be true and
faithful to me, I would kill her.

"I said it twice, and some persons passed and turned to look at us,
but there was not light enough to see us clearly.

"Madeline would have cried to them for help, but I held my hand over
her mouth, and whispered that if she uttered a word it would be her
last, and that she need not be frightened, for I loved her too well to
do her any harm.

"But when we were alone again, and no soul was near us, I told her
again that as sure as there was a sky above us I would kill her,
unless she swore to give up her other lover, and be true to me. She
said she would promise, and she put her little hand in mine and
pressed it, and said:

"'Gautran, I will be only yours; now let us go back.'

"But I told her it was not enough; that she must kneel, and swear upon
the holy cross that she would have nothing to do with any man but me.
I forced her upon her knees, and knelt by her side, and put the cross
to her lips; and then she began to sob and tremble. She dared not put
her soul in peril, she said; she did not love me--how could she swear
to be true to me?

"I said it was that or death, and that it would be the blackest hour
of my life to kill her, but that I meant to do it if she would not
give in to me. I asked her for the last time whether she would take
the oath, and she said she daren't. Then I told her to say a prayer,
for she had not five minutes to live. She started to her feet and ran
along the bank. I ran after her, and she stumbled and fell to the
ground, and before she could escape me again I had her in my arms to
fling her into the river.

"She did not scratch or bite me, but clung to me, and her tears fell
all about my face. I said to her:

"'You love me, kissing me so; swear then; it is not too late!'

"But she cried:

"No, no! I kiss you so that you may not have the heart to kill me!'

"Soon she got weak, and her arms had no power in them, and I lifted
her high in the air, and flung her far from me into the river.

"I waited a minute or two, and thought she was dead, but then I heard
a bubbling and a scratching, and, looking down, saw that by a miracle
she had got back to the river's brink, and that there was yet life in
her. I pulled her out, and she clung to me in a weak way, and
whispered, nearly choked the while, that the Virgin Mary would not let
me kill her.

"Will you take the oath?' I asked, and she shook her head from side to
side.

"'No! no! no!'

"I took my handkerchief, and tied it tight round her neck, and she
smiled in my face. Then I lifted her up, and threw her into the river
again.

"I saw her no more that night!"


                             *  *  *  *  *  *


The Advocate removed his eyes, with a shudder, from the eyes of the
wretch who had made this horrible confession, and who now sank to the
ground, quivering in every limb, crying:

"Save me, master, save me!"

"Monster!" exclaimed the Advocate. "Live and die accursed!"

But the terror-stricken man did not hear the words, and the Advocate,
upon whose features, during Gautran's narration, a deep gloom had
settled, strode swiftly from him through the peaceful narrow lane,
fragrant with the perfume of limes, at the end of which the lights in
the House of White Shadows were shining a welcome to him.



                   BOOK III.--THE GRAVE OF HONOUR.



                              CHAPTER I

                      PREPARATIONS FOR A VISITOR


At noon the same day the old housekeeper, Mother Denise, and her
pretty granddaughter Dionetta were busily employed setting in order
and arranging the furniture in a suite of rooms intended for an
expected visitor. There were but two floors in the House of White
Shadows, and the rooms in which Mother Denise and Dionetta were busy
were situated on the upper floor.

"I think they will do now," said Mother Denise, wiping imaginary dust
away with her apron.

"All but the flowers." said Dionetta. "No, grandmother, that desk is
wrong; it is my lady's own desk, and is to be placed exactly in this
corner, by the window. There--it is right now. Be sure that everything
is in its proper place, and that the rooms are sweet and bright--be
sure--be sure! She has said that twenty times this week."

"Ah," said Mother Denise testily, "as if butterflies could teach bees
how to work! My lady is turning your head, Dionetta, it is easy to see
that; she has bewitched half the people in the village. Here is
father, with the flowers. Haste, Martin, haste!"

"Easy to say, hard to do," grumbled Martin, entering slowly with a
basket of cut flowers. "My bones get more obstinate every day. Here's
my lady been teasing me out of my life to cut every flower worth
looking at. She would have made the garden a wilderness, and spoilt
every bed, if I had not argued with her."

"And what did she say," asked Mother Denise, "when you argued with
her?"

"Say? Smiled, and showed all her white teeth at once. I never saw
such teeth in my young days, nor such eyes, nor such hair, nor such
hands--enough to drive a young man crazy."

"Or an old one either," interrupted Mother Denise. "She smiled as
sweet as honey--you silly old man--and wheedled you, and wheedled you,
till she got what she wanted."

"Pretty well, pretty well. You see, Dionetta, there are two ways of
getting a thing done, a soft way and a hard way."

"There, there, there!" cried Mother Denise impatiently. "Do your work
with a still tongue, and let us do ours. Get back to the garden, and
repair the mischief my lady has caused you to do. What does a man want
with a room full of roses?" she muttered, when Martin, quick to obey
his domestic tyrant, had gone.

"It is a welcome home," said Dionetta. "If I were absent from my place
a long, long while, it would make me feel glad when I returned, to see
my rooms as bright as this. It is as though the very roses remembered
you."

"You are young," said Mother Denise, "and your thoughts go the way of
roses. I can't blame you, Dionetta."

"It was ten years since the master was here, you have told me,
grandmother."

"Yes, Dionetta, yes, ten years ago this summer, and even then he did
not sleep in the house. Christian Almer hates the place, and of all
the rooms in the villa, this is the room he would be most anxious to
avoid."

"But why, grandmother?" asked Dionetta, her eyes growing larger and
rounder with wonder; "and does my lady know it?"

"My lady is a headstrong woman; she would not listen to me when I
advised her to select other rooms for the young master, and she
declares--in a light way to be sure, but these are not things to make
light of--that she is very disappointed to find that the villa is not
haunted. Haunted! I have never seen anything, nor has Martin, nor you,
Dionetta."

"Oh, grandmother!" said the girl, in a timid voice, "I don't know
whether I have or not. Sometimes I have fancied----"

"Of course you have fancied, and that is all; and you have woke up in
the night, and been frightened by nothing. Mark me, Dionetta, if you
do no wrong, and think no wrong, you will never see anything of the
White Shadows of this house."

"I am certain," said Dionetta, more positively, "when I have been
almost falling asleep, that I have heard them creeping, creeping past
the door. I have listened to them over and over again, without daring
to move in bed. Indeed I have."

"I am certain," retorted Mother Denise, "that you have heard nothing
of the kind. You are a foolish, silly girl to speak of such things.
You put me quite out of patience, child."

"But Fritz says----"

"Fritz is a fool, a cunning, lazy fool. If I were the owner of this
property I would pack him off. There's no telling which master he
serves--Christian Almer or Master Pierre Lamont. He likes his bread
buttered on both sides, and accepts money from both gentlemen. That is
not the conduct of a faithful servant. If I acted in such a manner I
should consider myself disgraced."

"I am sure," murmured Dionetta, "that Fritz has done nothing to
disgrace himself."

"Let those who are older than you," said Mother Denise, in a sharp
tone, "be judges of that. Fritz is good for nothing but to chatter
like a magpie and idle round the place from morning to night. When
there's work to do, as there has been this week, carrying furniture
and moving heavy things about, he must run away to the city, to the
court-house where that murderer is being tried. Dionetta, I am not in
love with the Advocate or his lady. The Advocate is trying to get a
murderer off; it may be the work of a clever man, but it is not the
work of a good man. If I had a son, I would sooner have him good than
clever; and I would sooner you married a good man than a clever one, I
hope you are not thinking of marrying a fool."

"Oh, grandmother, whoever thinks of marrying?"

"Not you, of course, child--would you have me believe that? When I was
your age I thought of nothing else, and when you are my age you will
see the folly of it. No, I am not in love with the Advocate. He is
performing unholy work down there in Geneva. The priest says as much.
If that murderer escapes from justice, the guilt of blood will weigh
upon the Advocate's soul."

"Oh, grandmother! If my lady heard you she would never forgive you."

"If she hears it, it will not be from my tongue. Dionetta, it was a
young girl who was murdered, about the same age as yourself. It might
have been you--ah, you may well turn white--and this clever lawyer,
this stranger it is, who comes among us to prevent justice being done
upon a murderous wretch. He will be punished for it, mark my words."

Dionetta, who knew how useless it was to oppose her grandmother's
opinions, endeavoured to change the subject by saying:

"Tell me, grandmother, why Mr. Almer should be more anxious to avoid
this room than any other room in the house? I think it is the
prettiest of all."

Mother Denise did not reply. She looked round her with the air of a
woman recalling a picture of long ago.

"The story connected with this part of the house," she presently said,
"gave to the villa the name of the House of White Shadows. You are old
enough to hear it. Let me see, let me see. Christian Almer is now
thirty-one years old--yes, thirty-one on his last birthday. How time
passes! I remember well the day he was born----"

"Hush, grandmother," said Dionetta, holding up her hand. "My lady."

The Advocate's wife had entered the room quietly, and was regarding
the arrangements with approval.

"It is excellently done," she said, "exactly as I wished. Dionetta, it
was you who arranged the flowers?"

"Yes, my lady."

"You have exquisite taste, really exquisite. Mother Denise, I am
really obliged to you."

"I have done nothing," said Mother Denise, "that it was not my duty to
do."

"Such an unpleasant way of putting it; for there is a way of doing
things----"

"Just what grandfather said," cried Dionetta, gleefully, "a hard way
and a soft way." And then becoming suddenly aware of her rudeness in
interrupting her mistress, she curtsied, and with a bright colour in
her face, said, "I beg your pardon, my lady."

"There's no occasion, child," said Adelaide graciously. "Grandfather
is quite right, and everything in this room has been done
beautifully." She held a framed picture in her hand, a coloured
cabinet photograph of herself, and she looked round the walls to find
a place for it. "This will do," she said, and she took down the
picture of a child which hung immediately above her desk, and put her
own in its stead. "It is nice," she said to Mother Denise, smiling,
"to see the faces of old friends about us. Mr. Almer and I are very
old friends."

"The picture you have taken down," said Mother Denise, "is of
Christian Almer when he was a child."

"Indeed! How old was he then?"

"Five years, my lady."

"He was a handsome boy. His hair and eyes are darker now. You were
speaking of him, Mother Denise, as I entered. You were saying he was
thirty-one last birthday, and that you remember the day he was born."

"Yes, my lady."

"And you were about to tell Dionetta why this villa was called the
House of White Shadows. Give me the privilege of hearing the story."

"I would rather not relate it, my lady."

"Nonsense, nonsense! If Dionetta may hear it, there can be no
objection to me. Mr. Almer would be quite angry if he knew you refused
me so simple a thing. Listen to what he says in his last letter," and
Adelaide took a letter from her pocket, and read: "'Mother Denise, the
housekeeper, and the most faithful servant of the house, will do
everything in her power to make you comfortable and happy. She will
carry out your wishes to the letter--tell her, if necessary, that it
is my desire, and that she is to refuse you nothing.' Now, you dear
old soul, are you satisfied?"

"Well, my lady, if you insist----"

"Of course I insist, you dear creature. I am sure there is no one in
the village who can tell a story half as well as you. Come and stand
by me, Dionetta, for fear of ghosts."

She seated herself before the desk, upon which she laid the picture of
the lad, and Mother Denise, who was really by no means loth to recall
old reminiscences, and who, as she proceeded, derived great enjoyment
herself from her narration, thus commenced:



                              CHAPTER II

                       A LOVE STORY OF THE PAST


"I was born in this house, my lady; my mother was housekeeper here
before me. I am sixty-eight years old, and I have never slept a night
away from the villa; I hope to die here. Until your arrival the house
has not been inhabited for more than twenty years. I dare say if Mr.
Christian Almer, the present master, had the power to sell the estate,
he would have done so long ago, but he is bound by his father's will
not to dispose of it while he lives. So it has been left to our care
all these years.

"Christian Almer's father lived here, and courted his young wife here;
a very beautiful lady. That is her portrait hanging on the wall. It
was painted by M. Gabriel, and is a faithful likeness of Mr. Christian
Almer's mother. His father, perhaps he may have told you, was a
distinguished author; there are books upon the library shelves written
by him. I will speak of him, if you please, as Mr. Almer, and my
present master I will call Master Christian; it will make the story
easier to tell.

"When Mr. Almer came into his property, which consisted of this villa
and many houses and much land in other parts, all of which have been
sold--this is the only portion of the old estates which remains in the
family--there were at least twenty servants employed here. He was fond
of passing days and nights shut up with his books and papers, but he
liked to see company about him. He had numerous friends and
acquaintances, and money was freely spent; he would invite a dozen,
twenty at a time, who used to come and go as they pleased, living in
the house as if it were their own. Mr. Almer and his friends
understood each other, and the master was seldom intruded upon. In his
solitude he was very, very quiet, but when he came among his guests he
was full of life and spirits. He seemed to forget his books, and his
studies, and it was hard to believe he was the same gentleman who
appeared to be so happy when he was in solitude. He was a good master,
and although he appeared to pay no attention to what was passing
around him, there was really very little that escaped his notice.

"At the time I speak of he was not a young man; he was forty-five
years of age, and everybody wondered why he did not marry. He laughed,
and shook his head when it was mentioned, and said sometimes that he
was too old, sometimes that he was happy enough with his books,
sometimes that if a man married without loving and being loved he
deserved every kind of misfortune that could happen to him; and then
he would say that, cold as he might appear, he worshipped beauty, and
that it was not possible he could marry any but a young and beautiful
woman. I have heard the remark made to him that the world was full of
young and beautiful women, and have heard him reply that it was not
likely one would fall at the feet of a man of his age.

"My mother and I were privileged servants--my mother had been his
nurse, and he had an affection for her--so that we had opportunities
of hearing and knowing more than the others.

"One summer there came to the villa, among the visitors, an old
gentleman and his wife, and their daughter. The young lady's name was
Beatrice.

"She was one of the brightest beings I have ever beheld, with the
happiest face and the happiest laugh, and a step as light as a
fairy's. I do not know how many people fell in love with her--I think
all who saw her. My master, Mr. Almer, was one of these, but, unlike
her other admirers, he shunned rather than followed her. He shut
himself up with his books for longer periods, and took less part than
ever in the gaieties and excursions which were going on day after day.
No one would have supposed that her beauty and her winning ways had
made any impression upon him.

"It is not for me to say whether the young lady, observing this, as
she could scarcely help doing, resolved to attract him to her. When
we are young we act from impulse, and do not stop to consider
consequences. It happened, however, and she succeeded in wooing him
from his books. But there was no love-making on his part, as far as
anybody could see, and his conduct gave occasion for no remarks; but I
remember it was spoken of among the guests that the young lady was in
love with our master, and we all wondered what would come of it.

"Soon afterwards a dreadful accident occurred.

"The gentlemen were out riding, and were not expected home till
evening, but they had not been away more than two hours before Mr.
Almer galloped back in a state of great agitation. He sought Mdlle.
Beatrice's mother, and communicated the news to her, in a gentle
manner you may be sure. Her husband had been thrown from his horse,
and was being carried to the villa dreadfully hurt and in a state of
insensibility. Mr. Almer's great anxiety was to keep the news from
Mdlle. Beatrice, but he did not succeed. She rushed into the room and
heard all.

"She was like one distracted. She flew out of the villa in her white
dress, and ran along the road the horsemen had taken. Her movements
were so quick that they could not stop her, but Mr. Almer ran after
her, and brought her back to the house in a fainting condition. A few
minutes afterwards the old gentleman was brought in, and the house was
a house of mourning. No dancing, no music, no singing; all was
changed; we spoke in whispers, and moved about slowly, just as if a
funeral was about to take place. The doctors gave no hopes; they said
he might linger in a helpless state for weeks, but that it was
impossible he could recover.

"Of course this put an end to all the festivities, and one after
another the guests took their departure, until in a little while the
only visitors remaining were the family upon whom such a heavy blow
had fallen.

"Mr. Almer no longer locked himself up in his study, but devoted the
whole of his time to Mdlle. Beatrice and her parents. He asked me to
wait upon Mdlle. Beatrice, and to see that her slightest wish was
gratified. I found her very quiet and very gentle; she spoke but
little, and the only thing she showed any obstinacy in was in
insisting upon sitting by her father's bedside a few hours every day.
I had occasion, not very long afterwards, to learn that when she set
her mind upon a thing, it was not easy to turn her from it. These
gentle, delicate creatures, sometimes, are capable of as great
determination as the strongest man.

"'Denise,' said Mr. Almer to me, 'the doctors say that if Mdlle.
Beatrice does not take exercise she will herself become seriously ill.
Prevail upon her to enjoy fresh air: walk with her in the garden an
hour or so every day, and amuse her with light talk; a nature like
hers requires sunshine.'

"I did my best to please Mr. Almer; the weather was fine, and not a
day passed that Mdlle. Beatrice did not walk with me in the grounds.
And here Mr. Almer was in the habit of joining us. When he came, I
fell back, and he and Mdlle. Beatrice walked side by side, sometimes
arm in arm, and I a few yards behind.

"I could not help noticing the wonderful kindness of his manner
towards her; it was such as a father might show for a daughter he
loved very dearly. 'Well, well!' I thought. I seemed to see how it
would all end, and I believed it would be a good ending, although
there were such a number of years between them--he forty-five, and she
seventeen.

"A month passed in this way, and the old gentleman's condition became
so critical that we expected every moment to hear of his death. The
accident had deprived him of his senses, and it was only two days
before his death that his mind became clear. Then a long private
interview took place between him and Mr. Almer, which left my master
more than ever serious, and more than ever gentle towards Mdlle.
Beatrice.

"I was present when the old gentleman died. He had lost the power of
speech; his wife was sitting by his bedside holding his hand; his
daughter was on her knees with her face buried in the bed-clothes; Mr.
Almer was standing close, looking down upon them; I was at the end of
the room waiting to attend upon Mdlle. Beatrice. She was overwhelmed
with grief, but her mother's trouble, it appeared to me, was purely
selfish. She seemed to be thinking of what would become of her when
her husband was gone. The dying gentleman suddenly looked into my
master's face, and then turned his eyes upon his daughter, and my
master inclined his head gravely, as though he was answering a
question. A peaceful expression came upon the sufferer's face, and in
a very little while he breathed his last."

Here Mother Denise paused and broke off in her story, saying:

"I did not know it would take so long a-telling; I have wearied you,
my lady."

"Indeed not," said the Advocate's wife; "I don't know when I have been
so much interested. It is just like reading a novel. I am sure there
is something startling to come. You must go on to the end, Mother
Denise, if you please."

"With your permission, my lady," said Mother Denise, and smoothing
down her apron, she continued the narrative.



                             CHAPTER III

                      A MOTHER'S TREACHERY


"Two days after Mdlle. Beatrice's father was buried, Mr. Almer said to
me:

"'Denise, I am compelled to go away on business, and I shall be absent
a fortnight at least. I leave Mdlle. Beatrice in your care. As a mark
of faithful service to me, be sure that nothing is left undone to
comfort both her and her mother in their great trouble.'

"I understood without his telling me that it was really Mdlle.
Beatrice he was anxious about; everyone who had any experience of the
old lady knew that she was very well able to take care of herself.

"On the same day a long conversation took place between my master and
the widow, and before sundown he departed.

"It got to be known that he had gone to look after the affairs of the
gentleman who died here, and that the ladies, instead of being rich,
as we had supposed them to be, were in reality very poor, and likely
to be thrown upon the world in a state of poverty, unless they
accepted assistance from Mr. Almer. They were much worse off than poor
people; having been brought up as ladies, they could do nothing to
help themselves.

"While Mr. Almer was away, Mdlle. Beatrice and I became almost
friends, I may say. She took great notice of me, and appeared to be
glad to have me with her. The poor young lady had no one else, for
there was not much love lost between her and her mother. The selfish
old lady did nothing but bewail her own hard fate, and spoke to her
daughter as if the young lady could have nothing to grieve at in being
deprived of a father's love.

"But sorrow does not last forever, my lady, even with the old, and the
young shake it off much more readily. So it was, to my mind, quite
natural, when Mr. Almer returned, which he did after an absence of
fifteen days, that he should find Mdlle. Beatrice much more cheerful
than when he left. He was pleased to say that it was my doing, and
that I should have no cause to regret it to the last day of my life. I
had done so little that the great store he set upon it made me think
more and more of the ending to it all. There could be but one natural
ending, a marriage, and yet never for one moment had I seen him
conduct himself toward Mdlle. Beatrice as a lover. He brought bad news
back with him, and when he communicated it to the old lady she walked
about the grounds like a distracted person, moaning and wringing her
hands.

"I got to know about it, through my young lady. We were out walking in
the lanes when we overtook two wretched-looking women, one old and one
young. They were in rags, and their white faces and slow, painful
steps, as they dragged one foot after another, would have led anybody
to suppose that they had not eaten a meal for days. They were truly
misery's children.

"Mdlle. Beatrice asked in a whisper, as they turned and looked
pitifully at her:

"'Who are they, Denise?'

"'They are beggars,' I answered.

"She took out her purse, and spoke to them, and gave them some money.
They thanked her gratefully, and crawled away, Mdlle. Beatrice looking
after them with an expression of thoughtfulness and curiosity in her
lovely face.

"Denise,' she said presently, 'Mr. Almer, who, before my father's
death, promised to look after his affairs, has told us we are
beggars.'

"I was very, very sorry to hear it, but I could not reconcile the
appearance of the bright young creature standing before me with that
of the wretched beings who had just left us; and although she spoke
gravely, and said the news was shocking, she did not seem to feel it
as much as her words would have led one to believe. It was a singular
thing, my lady, that Mdlle. Beatrice wore black for her father for
only one day. There was quite a scene between her and her mother on
the subject, but the young lady had her way, and only wore her black
dress for a few hours.

"'I hate it,' she said; 'it makes me feel as if I were dead.'

"I am sure it was not because she did not love her father that she
refused to put on mourning for him. Never, except on that one day, did
I see her wear any dress but white, and the only bits of colour she
put on were sometimes a light pink or a light blue ribbon. That is how
it got to be said, when she was seen from a distance walking in the
grounds:

"'She looks like a white shadow.'

"So when she told me she was a beggar, and stood before me, fair and
beautiful, dressed in soft white, with a pink ribbon at her throat,
and long coral earrings in her ears, I could not understand how it was
possible she could be what she said. It was true, though; she and her
mother had not a franc, and Mr. Almer, who brought the news, did not
seem to be sorry for it. The widow cried for days and days--did
nothing but cry and cry, but that, of course, could not go on forever,
and in time she became, to all appearance, consoled. No guests were
invited to the villa, and my master was alone with Mdlle. Beatrice and
her mother.

"It seemed to me, after a time, that he made many attempts to get back
into his old groove; but he was not his own master, and could not do
as he pleased. Now it was Mdlle. Beatrice who wanted him, now it was
her mother, and as they were in a measure dependent upon him he could
not deny himself to them. He might have done so had they been rich; he
could not do so as they were poor. I soon saw that when Mdlle.
Beatrice intruded herself upon him it was at the instigation of her
mother, and that, had she consulted her own inclination, she would
have retired as far into the background as he himself desired to be.
The old lady, however, had set her heart upon a scheme, and she left
no stone unturned to bring it about. Oh, she was cunning and clever,
and they were not a match for her, neither her daughter, who knew
nothing of the world, nor Mr. Almer, who, deeply read as he was, and
clever, and wise in many things, knew as little of worldly ways as the
young lady he loved and was holding aloof from. For this was clear to
me and to others, though I dare say our master had no idea that his
secret was known--indeed, that it was common talk.

"One morning I had occasion to go into Geneva to purchase things for
the house, which I was to bring back with me in the afternoon. As I
was stepping into the waggon, Mdlle. Beatrice came out of the gates
and said:

"'Denise, will you pass the post-office in Geneva?'

"'Yes, mademoiselle,' I replied.

"'Here is a letter,' she then said, 'I have just written, and I want
it posted there at once. Will you do it for me?'

"'Certainly I will,' I said, and I took the letter.

"'Be sure you do not forget, Denise,' she said, as she turned away.

"'I will not forget, mademoiselle,' I said.

"There was no harm in looking at the envelope; it was addressed to a
M. Gabriel. I was not half a mile on the road to Geneva before I heard
coming on behind me very fast the wheels of a carriage. We drove aside
to let it pass; it was one of our own carriages, and the old lady was
in it.

"'Ah, Denise,' she said, are you going to Geneva?'

"'Yes, my lady.'

"'I shall be there an hour before you; I am going to the post-office
to get some letters.' As she said that I could not help glancing at
the letter Mdlle. Beatrice had given me, which I held in my hand for
safety. 'It is a letter my daughter has given you to post,' she said.

"'Yes, my lady,' I could say nothing else.

"'Give it to me,' she said, 'I know she wants it posted immediately.
It does not matter who posts a letter.'

"She said this impatiently and haughtily, for I think I was
hesitating. However, I could do nothing but give her the letter, and
as I did not suspect anything wrong I said nothing of the adventure to
Mdlle. Beatrice, especially as she did not speak of the letter to me.
Had she done so, I might have explained that her mother had taken it
from me to post, and quite likely--although I hope I am mistaken--the
strange and dreadful events that occurred before three years passed by
might have been avoided.

"'The old lady was very civil to me after this, and would continually
question me about my master.

"'He has a great deal of property?' she asked.

"'Yes, madame.'

"'He is very rich, Denise?'

"'Yes, madame.'

"'And comes from an old family?'

"'Yes, madame.'

"'It is a pity he writes books; but he is highly respected, is he not,
Denise?'

"'No gentleman stands higher, madame.'

"'His nature, Denise--though it is exceedingly wrong in me to ask, for
I have had experience of it--his nature is very kind?'

"'Very kind, madame, and very noble.'

"A hundred questions of this kind were put to me, sometimes when the
young lady was present, sometimes when the mother and I were alone.
While this was going on, I often noticed that Mdlle. Beatrice came
from her mother's room in great agitation. From a man these signs can
be hidden; from a woman, no; man is too often blind to the ways of
women. I am sure Mr. Almer knew nothing of what was passing between
mother and daughter; but even if he had known he would not have
understood the meaning of it--I did not at the time.

"Well, all at once the old lady made her appearance among us with a
face in which the greatest delight was expressed. She talked to the
servants quite graciously, and nodded and smiled, and didn't know what
to do to show how amiable she was. 'What a change in the weather!' we
all said. The reason was soon forthcoming. Our master and her daughter
were engaged to be married.

"We were none of us sorry; we all liked Mdlle. Beatrice, and it was
sad to think that a good old race would die out if Mr. Almer remained
single all the days of his life. Yes, we talked over the approaching
marriage, as did everybody in the village, with real pleasure, and if
good feeling and sincere wishes could bring happiness, Mr. Almer and
his young and beautiful wife that was to be could not have failed to
enjoy it.

"'It is true, mademoiselle, is it not?' I asked of her. 'I may
congratulate you?'

"'I am engaged to be married to Mr. Almer,' she said, 'if that is what
you mean.'

"'You will have a good man for your husband, mademoiselle,' I said;
'you will be very happy.'

"But here was something in her manner that made me hope the
approaching change in her condition would not make her proud. It was
cold and distant--different from the way she had hitherto behaved to
me.

"So the old house was gay again; improvements and alterations were
made, and very soon we were thronged with visitors, who came and went,
and laughed and danced, as though life were a perpetual holiday.

"But Mdlle. Beatrice was not as light-hearted as before; she moved
about more slowly, and with a certain sadness. It was noticed by many.
I thought, perhaps, that the contemplation of the change in her life
made her more serious, or that she had not yet recovered the shock of
her father's death. The old lady was in her glory, ordering here and
ordering there, and giving herself such airs that one might have
supposed it was she who was going to get married, and not her
daughter.

"Mr. Almer gave Mdlle. Beatrice no cause for disquiet; he was entirely
and most completely devoted to her, and I am sure that no other woman
in the world ever had a more faithful lover. He watched her every
step, and followed her about with his eyes in a way that would have
made any ordinary woman proud. As for presents, he did not know how to
do enough for the beautiful girl who was soon to be his wife. I never
saw such beautiful jewelry as he had made for her, and he seemed to be
continually studying what to do to give her pleasure. If ever a woman
ought to have been happy, she ought to have been."



                              CHAPTER IV

                           HUSBAND AND WIFE


"Well, they were married, and the day was never forgotten in the
village. Mr. Almer made everybody merry, the children, the grown-up
people, the poor, and the well-to-do. New dresses, ribbons, flags,
flowers, music and feasting from morning to night--there was never
seen anything like it. The bride, in her white dress and veil, was as
beautiful as an angel, and Mr. Almer's face had a light in it such as
I had never seen before--it shone with pride, and joy, and happiness.

"In the afternoon they departed on their honeymoon tour, and the
old lady was left mistress of the villa during the absence of the
newly-married pair. She exercised her authority in a way that was not
pleasing to us. No wonder, therefore, that we looked upon her with
dislike, and spoke of it as an evil day when she came among us; but
that did not lessen our horror at an accident which befell her, and
which led to her death.

"Mr. and Mrs. Almer had been absent barely three weeks when the old
lady going into a distant part of the grounds where workmen were
employed in building up some rocks to serve as an artificial
waterfall, fell into a pit, and was so frightfully bruised and shaken
that, when she was taken up, the doctors declared she could not live
another twenty-four hours. Letters were immediately sent off to Mr.
Almer, but there was no chance of his receiving them before the
unfortunate old lady breathed her last. We did everything we could for
her, and she took it into her head that she would have no one to
attend to her but me.

"'My daughter is fond of you,' she said on her deathbed, 'and will be
pleased that I have chosen you before the other servants. Keep them
all away from me.'

"It was many hours before she could be made to believe that there was
no hope for her, and when the conviction was forced upon her, she
cried, in a tone of great bitterness:

"'This is a fatal house! First my husband--now me! Will Beatrice be
the next?'

"And then she bemoaned her hard fate that she should have to die just
at the time that a life of pleasure was spread before her. Yes, she
spoke in that way, just as if she was a young girl, instead of an old
woman with white hair. A life of pleasure! Do some people never think
of another life, a life of rewards and punishments, according to their
actions in this world? The old lady was one of these, I am afraid.
Three or four hours before she died she said she must speak to me
quite alone, and the doctors accordingly left the room.

"'I want you to tell me the truth, Denise,' she said; I had to place
my ear quite close to her lips to hear her.

"'I will tell you,' I said.

"'It would be a terrible sin to deceive a dying woman,' she said.

"I answered I knew it was, and I would not deceive her.

"'Beatrice ought to be happy,' she said; 'I have done my best to make
her so--against her own wishes! But is it likely she should know
better than her mother? You believe she will be happy, do you not,
Denise?'

"I replied that I could not doubt it; that she had married a good man,
against whom no person could breathe a word, a man who commanded
respect, and who was looked upon by the poor as a benefactor--as
indeed he was.

"'That is what I thought,' said the dying woman; 'that is what I told
her over and over again. A good man, a kind man, a rich man, very rich
man! And then we were under obligations to him; had Beatrice refused
him he might have humiliated us. There was no other way to repay him.'

"I could not help saying to her then that when Mr. Almer rendered a
service to anyone he did not look for repayment.

"'Ah,' she said impatiently, 'but we are of noble descent, and we
never receive a favour without returning it. All I thought of was my
daughter's happiness. And there was the future--hers as well as
mine--it was dreadful to look forward to. Denise, did my daughter ever
complain to you?'

"'Never!' I answered.

"'Did she ever say I was a hard mother to her--that I was leading her
wrong--that I was selfish, and thought only of myself? Did she? Answer
me truly.'

"'Never,' I said, and I wondered very much to hear her speak in that
way. 'She never spoke a single word against you. If she had any such
thoughts it would not have been proper for her to have confided them
to me. I am only a servant.'

"'That is true,' she muttered. 'Beatrice has pride--yes, thank God,
she has pride, and if she suffers can suffer in silence. But why
should she suffer? She has everything--everything! I torment myself
without cause. You remember the letter my daughter gave you to
post--the one to M. Gabriel?'

"'Yes, madame; you took it from me on the road. I hope I did not do
wrong in parting with it. Mademoiselle Beatrice desired me to post it
with my own hands.'

"'You did right,' she said. 'It does not matter who posts a letter.
You did not tell my daughter I took it from you?'

"'No, madame.'

"'You are faithful and judicious,' she said, but her praise gave me no
pleasure. 'If I had lived I would have rewarded you. You must not
repeat to my daughter or to Mr. Almer what I have been saying to you.
Promise me.'

"I gave her the promise, and then she said that perhaps she would give
me a message to deliver to her daughter, her last message; but she
must think of it first, and if she forgot it I was to ask her for it.
After that she was quiet, and spoke to no one. A couple of hours
passed, and I asked the doctors whether she had long to live. They
said she could not live another hour. I then told them that she had
asked me to remind her of a message she wished me to give to her
daughter, and whether it was right I should disturb her. They said
that the wishes of the dying should be respected, and that I should
try to make her understand that death was very near. I put my face
again very close to hers.

"'Can you hear me?' I asked.

"'Who are you?' she said.

"Her words were but a breath, and I could only understand them by
watching the movements of her lips.

"'I am Denise.'

"'Ah, yes,' she replied. 'Denise, that my daughter is fond of.'

"'You wished to give me a message to your daughter.'

"'I don't know what it was. I have done everything for the best--yes,
everything. And she was foolish enough to rebel, and to tell me that I
might live to repent my work; but see how wrong she was. And presently
she said: 'Denise, when my daughter comes home ask her to forgive me.'

"These were her last words. Before the sun rose the next morning she
was dead.

"Mr. and Mrs. Almer arrived at the villa before she was buried. It was
a shocking interruption to their honeymoon, and their appearance
showed how much they suffered. It was as if the whole course of their
lives had been turned; tears took the place of smiles, sorrow of joy.
And how different was the appearance of the village! No feasting, no
music and dancing; everybody was serious and sad.

"And all within one short month!

"I gave Mrs. Almer her mother's dying message. When she heard the
words such a smile came upon her lips as I hope never again to see
upon a human face, it was so bitterly scornful and despairing.

"'It is too late for forgiveness,' she said, and not another word
passed between us on the subject.

"Mrs. Almer did not wear mourning for her mother, nor did her husband
wish her to do so. I remember his saying to her:

"With some races, white is the emblem of mourning; not for that
reason, Beatrice, but because it so well becomes you, I like you best
in white.'

"Now, as time went on, we all thought that the sadness which weighed
upon Mrs. Almer's heart, and which seemed to put lead into her feet,
would naturally pass away, but weeks and months elapsed, and she
remained the same. There used to be colour in her cheeks; it was all
gone now--her face was as white as milk. Her eyes used to sparkle and
brighten, but now there was never to be seen any gladness in them; and
she, who used to smile so often, now smiled no more. She moved about
like one who was walking slowly to her grave.

"Mr. Almer made great efforts to arouse her, but she met him with
coldness, and when he spoke to her she simply answered 'yes' or 'no,'
and she did nothing whatever to make his home cheerful and happy.

"This weighed upon his spirits, as it would upon the spirits of any
man, and during those times I often saw him gazing upon her from a
distance, when she was walking in the grounds, with a look in his eyes
which denoted how troubled he was. Then, as if some thought had
suddenly occurred to him, he would join her, and endeavour to entice
her into conversation; but she answered him only when she was
compelled, and he became so chilled by her manner that soon he would
himself grow silent, and they would pace the garden round and round
for an hour together in the most complete silence. It hurt one to see
it. They were never heard to quarrel, and the little they said to each
other was said in a gentle way; but that seemed to make matters worse.
Much better to have spoken outright, so that they might have known
what was in each other's minds. A storm now and then is naturally
good; it clears the air, and the sun always shines when it is over;
but here a silent storm was brooding which never burst, and the only
signs of it were seen in the sad faces of those who were suffering,
and who did not deserve to suffer.

"Imagine what the house was, my lady, and how we all felt, who loved
our master, and would have loved our lady too, if she had allowed us.
Cold as she was to us, we could not help pitying her. For my own part
I used to think I would rather live in a hut with a quarrelsome
husband who would beat and starve me, than lead such a life as my
master and mistress were leading.

"Once more, after many months has passed in this dreadful way, my
master suddenly resolved to make another attempt to alter things for
the better. He locked up his study, and courted his wife with the
perseverance and the love of a lover. It was really so, my lady.
He gathered posies for her, and placed them on her desk and
dressing-table; he spoke cheerfully to her, taking no apparent notice
of her silence and reserve; he strove in a thousand little delicate
ways to bring pleasure into her life.

"'We will ride out to-day,' he would say.

"'Very well,' she would answer.

"He would assist her into the saddle, and they would ride away, they
two alone, he animated by but one desire--to make her happy; and they
would return after some hours, the master with an expression of
suffering in his face which he would strive in vain to hide, and she,
sad, resigned, and uncomplaining. But that silence of hers! That voice
so seldom heard, and, when heard, so gentle, and soft, and pathetic! I
would rather have been beaten with an oak stick every day of my life
than have been compelled to endure it, as he was compelled. For there
was no relief or escape for him except in the doing of what it was not
in his nature to do--to be downright cruel to her, or to find another
woman to love him. He would have had no difficulty in this, had he
been so minded.

"Still he did not relax his efforts to alter things for the better. He
bought beautiful books, and pictures, and dresses, and pet animals for
her; he forgot nothing that a man could possibly thing of to please a
woman. He had frequently spoken to her of inviting friends to the
villa, but she had never encouraged him to do so. Now, however,
without consulting her, he called friends and acquaintances around
him, and in a short time we were again overrun with company. She was
the mistress of the house, and it would have been sinful in her to
have neglected her duties as Mr. Almer's wife. Many young people came
to the villa, and among them one day appeared M. Gabriel, the artist
who painted the picture."



                              CHAPTER V

                      THE GATHERING OF THE STORM


"At about this time it was generally known that Mr. Almer expected to
become a father within three or four months, and some people
considered it strange that he should have selected the eve of an event
so important for the celebration of social festivities. For my own
part I thought it a proof of his wisdom that he should desire his wife
to be surrounded by an atmosphere of cheerfulness on such an occasion.
Innocent laughter, music, pleasant society--what better kind of
medicine is there in the world? But it did not do my lady good. She
moved about listlessly, without heart and without spirit, and not
until M. Gabriel appeared was any change observable in her. The manner
in which she received him was sufficiently remarkable. My lady was
giving me some instructions as Mr. Almer and a strange gentleman came
towards us.

"'Beatrice,' said Mr. Almer, 'let me introduce M. Gabriel to you. A
friend whom I have not seen for years.'

"She looked at M. Gabriel, and bowed, and when she raised her head,
her face and neck were crimson; her eyes, too, had an angry light in
them. M. Gabriel, also, whose natural complexion was florid, turned
deathly white as his eyes fell upon her.

"Whether Mr. Almer observed these signs I cannot say; they were plain
enough to me, and I did not need anyone to tell me that those two had
met before.

"My lady turned from her husband and M. Gabriel in silence, and taking
my arm walked into a retired part of the grounds. She could not have
walked without assistance, for she was trembling violently; the moment
we were alone her strength failed her, and she swooned dead away. I
thought it prudent not to call or run for assistance, and I attended
to her myself. Presently she recovered, and looking around with a
frightened air, asked if any person but myself had seen her swoon. I
answered 'No,' and for a moment I thought she had some intention of
confiding in me, but she said nothing more than 'Thank you, Denise; do
not speak of my fainting to any person; it is only that I am weak, and
that the least thing overcomes me. Be sure that no one hears of it.'
'No one shall from me, my lady,' I said. She thanked me again, and
pressed my hand, and then we went into the house.

"After that, there was no perceptible difference in her manner toward
M. Gabriel than towards her other guests, but I, whose eyes were in a
certain way opened, could not help observing that M. Gabriel watched
with anxiety her every movement and every expression. The summer-house
in which all those pictures are stored away was given to M. Gabriel
for a studio, and there he painted and passed a great deal of his
time. Mr. Almer often joined him there, and if appearances went for
anything, they spent many happy hours together. About three weeks
after M. Gabriel came to the villa my master took his wife into the
studio, and they remained there for some time. It was understood that
my lady had been prevailed upon to allow M. Gabriel to paint her
portrait. From that time my lady's visits to the summer-house were
frequent, at first always in her husband's company, but afterwards
occasionally alone. One day she said to me:

"'Denise, I have often wished to ask you a question, but till lately
have not thought it worth while.'

"'I am ready to answer anything, my lady,' I said.

"'One morning,' she said, after a pause, 'shortly after my dear father
died, I gave you a letter to post for me in Geneva.'

"'Yes, my lady,' I said, and it flashed upon me like a stroke of
lightning that the letter she referred to was addressed to M. Gabriel.
Never till that moment had I thought of it.

"'Did you post the letter for me, Denise, as I desired you? Did you do
so with your own hands? Do not tremble. Mistakes often happen without
our being able to prevent them--even fatal mistakes sometimes. I saw
you drive away with the letter in your hand. You did not lose it?'

"'No, my lady; but before I had gone a mile on the road to Geneva,
your mother overtook me, and said she knew you had given it to
me to post immediately in Geneva, and that as she would be at the
post-office a good hour before me--which was true--she would put it
into the post with other letters.'

"'And you gave her the letter, Denise?'

"'Yes, my lady.'

"'Did my mother desire you not to mention to me that she had taken the
letter from you?'

"'No, my lady, but on her deathbed----'

"I hesitated, and my mistress said. 'Do not fear, Denise; you did no
wrong. How should you know that a mother would conspire against her
daughter's happiness? On her deathbed my mother spoke to you of that
letter?'

"'Yes, my lady, and asked me if I had told you that she had taken it
from me. I answered no, and she said I had done right. My lady, in
telling you this. I am breaking the promise I gave her; I hope to be
forgiven.'

"'It is right that you should tell me the truth, when I desire you,
about an affair I entrusted to you. Had you told me of your own
account, it might have been a sin.'

"'I can see, my lady, that I should not have parted with the letter. I
am truly sorry.'

"'The fault was not yours, Denise: the wrong-doing was not yours. I
should have instructed you not to part with the letter to anyone;
although even then it could not have been prevented; you could not
have refused my mother. The past is lost to us forever.' Her eyes
filled with tears, and she said, 'We will not speak of this again,
Denise.'

"And it was never mentioned again by either of us, though we both
thought of it often enough.

"It was easy for me to arrive at an understanding of it. M. Gabriel
and my mistress had been lovers, and had been parted and kept apart by
my lady's mother. The old lady had played a false and treacherous part
towards her daughter, and by so doing had destroyed the happiness of
her life.

"Whether my young lady thought that Mr. Almer had joined in the plot
against her--that was what puzzled me a great deal at the time; but I
was certain that he was innocent in the matter, as much a victim to
the arts and wiles of a scheming old woman as the unfortunate lady he
had married.

"The motive of the treachery was plain enough. M. Gabriel was poor, a
struggling artist, with his place to make in the world. My master was
rich; money and estates were his, and the old woman believed she would
live to enjoy them if she could bring about a marriage between him and
her daughter.

"She succeeded--too well did she succeed, and she met with her
punishment. Though she was dead in her grave I had no pity for her,
and her daughter, also, thought of her with bitterness. What misery is
brought about by the mad worship of money which fills some persons'
souls! As though hearts count for nothing!

"I understood it all now--my lady's unhappiness, her silence, the
estrangement between her and her husband. How often did I repeat the
sad words she had uttered! 'The past is lost to us forever.' Yes, it
was indeed true. Sunshine had fled; a gloomy future was before her.
Which was the most to be pitied--my lady, or her innocent, devoted
husband, who lived in ignorance of the wrong which had been done?

"After the conversation I have just related, the behaviour of my
mistress toward M. Gabriel underwent a change; she was gracious and
familiar with him, and sometimes, as I noticed with grief, even
tender. They walked frequently together; she was often in his studio
when her husband was absent. Following out in my mind the course of
events, I felt sure that explanations had passed between them, and
that they were satisfied that neither had been intentionally false to
the other. It was natural that this should have happened; but what
good could come of this better understanding? Mischief was in the air,
and no one saw it but myself.

"My lady recovered her cheerfulness; the colour came back to her face;
her eyes were brighter, life once more appeared enjoyable to her. Mr.
Almer was delighted and unsuspicious; but behind these fair clouds I
seemed to hear the muttering of the thunder, and I dreaded the moment
when my master's suspicions should be aroused.

"As my lady's time to become a mother drew near, many of the guests
took their departure; but M. Gabriel remained. He and Mr. Almer were
the closest friends, and they would talk with the greatest animation
about pictures and books. M. Gabriel was very clever; the rapidity
with which he would paint used to surprise us; his sketches were
beautiful, and were hung everywhere about the house. Everybody sang
his praises. He had a very sweet voice, he was a fine musician, there
was not a subject he was not ready to converse upon. If it came to
deep scholarship and learning I have no doubt that Mr. Almer held the
first place, but my master was never eager, as M. Gabriel was, to
display his gifts, and to show off his brilliant qualities in society.
Certainly he could not win ladies' hearts as easily as M. Gabriel.
These things are in the nature of a man, and one will play for the
mere pleasure of winning, while another does not consider it worth his
while to try. Of two such men I know which is the better and more
deserving of love.

"Rapid worker as M. Gabriel was with his paintings and sketches, my
lady's portrait hung upon his hands; he did not seem to be able to
satisfy himself, and he was continually making alterations. When
Master Christian was born, his mother's picture was still unfinished
in M. Gabriel's studio."



                              CHAPTER VI

                         THE GRAVE OF HONOUR


"The birth of the heir was now the most important event; everything
gave way to it. Congratulations poured in from all quarters, and it
really seemed as if a better era had dawned. I believe I was the only
one who mistrusted appearances; I should have been easier in my mind
had M. Gabriel left the villa. But he remained, and as long as he and
my lady were near each other I knew that the storm-clouds were not far
off.

"In a few weeks my lady got about again; she was never strong, and now
she was so delicate and weak that the doctors would not allow her to
nurse her child. I was very sorry for this; had her baby drawn life
from her breast it might have diverted her attention from M. Gabriel.

"It is hard to believe that so joyful an event as the birth of her
first child should not have softened her heart towards her husband. It
is the truth, however; they were no nearer to each other than they had
been before. Mr. Almer was not to blame; he did all in his power to
win his wife to more affectionate ways, but he might as well have
hoped for a miracle as to hope to win a love that was given to
another.

"The child throve, and it was not till he was a year old that the
portrait of his mother was finished--the picture that is hanging on
the wall before me. It was greatly admired, and my master set great
store upon it.

"'It is in every way your finest work,' he said to M. Gabriel. 'Were
it not that I object to my wife's beauty being made a subject of
criticism, I should persuade you to exhibit the portrait.'

"Not long afterwards, M. Gabriel was called away. I thanked God for
it. The danger I feared was removed; but he returned in the course of
a few weeks, and began to paint again in the summer-house. While he
was absent my lady fell into her former habits of listlessness; when
he returned she became animated and joyous. Truly he was to her as the
sun is to the flower. This change in her mood, from sadness to gaiety,
was so sudden that it frightened me, for I felt that Mr. Almer must be
the blindest of the blind if it did not force itself upon his
attention. It did not escape his notice; I saw that, from a certain
alteration in his manner toward his wife and his friend. It was not
that he was colder or less friendly; but when he looked at them he
seemed to be pondering upon something which perplexed him. He said
nothing to them, however, to express disapproval of their intimacy. He
was not an impulsive man, and I never knew him to commit himself to an
important act without deliberation.

"In the midst of his perplexity the storm burst. I was an accidental
witness of the occurrence which led to the tragic events of which I
have yet to speak.

"There was at this time among our guests an old dowager, who did
nothing but tittle-tattle from morning till night about her friends
and acquaintances, and who seemed to be always hunting for an
opportunity to make ill-natured remarks. A piece of scandal was a
great delight to her. Heaven save me from ever meeting with another
such a lady.

"I was in one of the wooded walks at some distance from the house,
gathering balsam for a fellow-servant whose hand had been wounded,
when the voice of this old dowager reached my ears. She was speaking
to a lady companion, and I should not have stopped to listen had not
Mrs. Almer's name been mentioned in a tone which set my blood
tingling.

"'It is scandalous, my dear,' the old dowager was saying, 'the way she
goes on with M. Gabriel. Of course, I wouldn't mention it to another
soul in the world but you, for it is not my affair. Not that it is not
natural, for she is young, and he is young, and Mr. Almer is old
enough to be their father; but they really should be more discreet. I
can't make up my mind whether Mr. Almer sees it, and considers it best
to take no notice, or whether he is really blind to what is going on.
Anyway, that does not alter the affair, so far as his wife and M.
Gabriel are concerned. Such looks at each other, my dear!--such
pressing of hands!--such sighs! One can almost hear them. It is easy
to see they are in love with each other.'

"And a great deal more to the same effect until they walked away from
the spot and were out of hearing.

"I was all of a tremble, and I was worrying myself as to what it was
best to do when I heard another step close to me.

"It was my master, who must also have been within hearing. His face
was stern and white, and there was blood on his lips as though he had
bitten them through.

"He walked my way and saw me.

"'How long have you been here, Denise?' he asked.

"I could not tell him a falsehood, and I had not the courage to answer
him.

"'It is enough,' he said; 'you have heard what I have heard. Not to a
living being must a word of what you have heard pass your lips. I have
always believed that you had a regard for the honour of my house and
name, and it is for that reason I have placed confidence in you. I
shall continue to trust you until you give me cause to doubt your good
faith. Hasten after that lady and her companion who have been
conversing here, and ask them to favour me with an interview. While I
speak to them, remain out of hearing.'

"I obeyed him in silence, and conducted the ladies to my master's
presence. I am in ignorance of what he said to them, but that evening
an excuse was made for their sudden departure from the villa. They
left, and did not appear again.

"Grateful as I was at the removal of this source of danger, I soon saw
that the time I dreaded had arrived. My master was in doubt whether
his wife was faithful to him.

"A more cruel suspicion never entered the mind of man, and as false as
it was cruel. Mrs. Almer was a pure woman; basely wronged as she had
been, she was a virtuous wife. As I hope for salvation this is my firm
belief.

"But how can I blame my master? Smarting with a grief which had sucked
all the light out of his days, which had poisoned his life and his
hopes, trusting as he had trusted, deceived as he had been deceived,
with every offer of love refused and despised, and with, as he
believed, dishonour staring him in the face--he might well be pardoned
for the doubt which now took possession of him.

"He planned out a course, and steadily followed it. Without betraying
himself, he watched his wife and his friend, and he could not fail to
see that the feelings they entertained for each other were stronger
than the ordinary feelings of friendship which may properly be allowed
between a man and a woman. I know, also, that he discovered that my
lady, before she married him, had accepted M. Gabriel as her lover.
This in itself was sufficient for him.

"Under such circumstances it was, in his opinion, a sin for any woman
to plight her faith and duty to another. To my master the words used
at the altar were, in the meaning they conveyed, most sacred, solemn
and binding. For a woman to utter them, with the image of another man
in her heart, was a fearful and unpardonable crime.

"These perjuries are common enough, I believe, in the great world
which moves at a distance from this quiet spot, but that they are
common does not excuse them. Mr. Almer had strict and stern views of
the duties of life, and roused as he was roused, he carried them out
with cruel effect.

"Gradually he got rid of all his guests, with the exception of M.
Gabriel; and then, one fatal morning, he surprised my lady and M.
Gabriel as they sat together in the summer-house. There was no guilt
between them; they were conversing innocently enough, but my lady was
in tears, and M. Gabriel was endeavouring to console her. Sufficient,
certainly, to work a husband into a furious state.

"None of us knew what passed or what words were spoken; something
terrible must have been uttered, for my lady, with a face like the
face of death, tottered from the summer-house to this very room, where
she lay in a fainting condition for hours. Her husband did not come
near her, nor did he make any inquiries after her, but in the course
of an hour he gave me instructions to have every sketch and painting
made by M. Gabriel taken from the walls of the villa, and conveyed to
the summer-house. I obeyed him, and all were removed except this
portrait of my lady; it seemed to me that I ought not to allow it to
be touched without her permission, and she was not in a fit condition
to be disturbed.

"While this work was being accomplished no servant but myself was
allowed to enter the studio. Two strange men carried the pictures into
the summer-house, and these men, who had paint-pots and brushes with
them, remained with Mr. Almer the whole of the afternoon.

"Dinner was served, but no one sat down to it. My lady was in her
chamber, her husband was still in the summer-house, and M. Gabriel was
wandering restlessly about. In the evening he addressed me.

"'Where is Mr. Almer?' he asked.

"'In the summer-house,' I replied.

"'Go to him,' he said, 'and say I desire to have a few words with
him.'

"In a few minutes they confronted each other on the steps which led to
the studio.

"'Enter,' said my master; 'you also, Denise, so that you may hear what
I have to say to M. Gabriel, and what he has to say to me.'

"I entered with them, and could scarcely believe my eyes. The walls of
the studio had been painted a deep black. Not only the walls, but the
woodwork of the windows which gave light to the room. The place
resembled a tomb.

"M. Gabriel's face was like the face of a corpse as he gazed around.

"'This is your doing,' he said to my master, pointing to the black
walls.

"'Pardon me,' said my master; 'it is none of my work. _You_ are the
artist here, and this is the picture you have painted on my heart and
life. Denise, are all M. Gabriel's sketches and paintings in this
studio?'

"'They are all here, sir,' I replied.

"There was a sense of guilt at my heart, for I thought of my lady's
portrait. Fortunately for me my master did not refer to it.

"'M. Gabriel,' said my master to the artist, 'these paintings are your
property, and are at your disposal for one week from this day. Within
that time remove them from my house. You will have no other
opportunity. At the end of the week this summer-house will be securely
locked and fastened, and thereafter, during my lifetime, no person
will be allowed to enter it. For yourself a carriage is now waiting
for you at the gates. I cannot permit you to sleep another night under
my roof.'

"'I had no intention of doing so,' said M. Gabriel, 'nor should I have
remained here so long had it not been that I was determined not to
leave without an interview with you.'

"'What do you require of me?'

"'Satisfaction.'

"'Satisfaction!' exclaimed my master, with a scornful smile. 'Is it
not I rather should demand it?'

"'Demand it, then,' cried M. Gabriel. 'I am ready to give it to you.'

"'I am afraid,' said my master coldly, 'that it is out of your power
to afford me satisfaction. Were you a man of honour events might take
a different course. It is only lately that I have seen you in your
true colours; to afford you the satisfaction you demand would be, on
my part, an admission that you are my equal. You are not; you are the
basest of cowards. Depart at once, and do not compel me to call my
servants to force you from my gates.'

"'Endeavour to evade me,' said M. Gabriel, as he walked to the door,
'in every way you can, you shall not escape the consequences of your
conduct.'

"He carried it with a high hand, this fine gentleman who had brought
misery into this house; had I been a man I should have had a
difficulty in preventing myself from striking him.

"When he was gone my master said:

"'You are at liberty to repeat to your lady what has passed between me
and M. Gabriel.'

"I did not repeat it: there was such a dreadful significance in the
black walls, and in my master's words, that that was the picture M.
Gabriel had painted on his heart and life, that I could not be so
cruel to my lady as to tell her what had passed between the two
gentlemen who held her fate in their hands.

"But she herself, on the following day, questioned me:

"'You were present yesterday,' she said, 'at an interview between M.
Gabriel and my husband?'

"'Yes, my lady,' I answered.

"'Did they meet in anger, Denise?'

"'M. Gabriel was angry, my lady,' I said.

"'And my husband?' she asked.

"'Appeared to be suffering, my lady.'

"'Did they part in anger?'

"'On M. Gabriel's side, my lady, yes.'

"'Is M. Gabriel in the villa?'

"'No, my lady. He departed last night.

"'Of his own accord?'

"'My master bade him go, and M. Gabriel said he intended to leave
without being bidden.'

"'It could not be otherwise. My husband is here?'

"'Yes, my lady.'

"That was all that was said on that day. The next day my lady asked me
again if her husband was in the villa and I answered 'Yes.' The next
day she asked me the same question, and I gave the same reply. The
fourth day and the fifth she repeated the question, and my reply that
my master had not been outside the gates afforded her relief. The fear
in her mind was that my master and M. Gabriel would fight a duel, and
that one would be killed.

"During these days my lady did not leave her chamber, nor did her
husband visit her.

"From the window of this room the summer-house can be seen, and my
lady for an hour or two each day sat at the window, gazing vacantly
out.

"On the evening of the fifth day my lady said:

"'Denise, there have been workmen busily engaged about the
summer-house. What are they doing?'

"I bore in mind my master's remark to me that I was at liberty to
repeat to my lady what had been said by him and M. Gabriel in their
last interview. It was evident that he wished her to be made
acquainted with it, and it was my duty to be faithful to him as well
as to my lady. I informed her of my master's resolve to fasten the
doors of the summer-house and never to allow them to be opened during
his lifetime.

"'There are only two more days,' she said, 'to-morrow and the next.'

"I prayed silently that she would not take the fancy in her head to
visit the summer-house before it was fastened up, knowing the shock
that the sight of the black walls would cause her.

"The next day she did not refer to the subject, but the next, which
was the last, she sat at the window watching the workmen bring their
tools and bars and bolts to complete the work for which they had been
engaged.

"'Come with me, Denise,' she said. 'A voice whispers to me that there
is something concealed in the summer-house which I must see before it
is too late.'

"'My lady,' I said, trembling, 'I would not go if I were in your
place.'

"I could not have chosen worse words.

"'You would not go if you were in my place!' she repeated. 'Then there
_is_ something concealed there which it is necessary for me to see.
Unless,' she added, looking at me for an answer, 'my husband prohibits
it.'

"'He has not prohibited it, my lady.'

"'And yet you would not go if you were in my place! Cannot you see
that I should be false to myself if I allowed that place to be sealed
forever against me, before making myself acquainted with something
that has taken place therein? You need not accompany me, Denise,
unless you choose.'

"'I will go with you, my lady,' I said, and we went out of the villa
together.

"We entered the summer-house, my lady first, I a few steps behind her.

"She placed her hands upon her eyes and shuddered, the moment she saw
the black walls. She understood what was meant by this sign.

"But there was more to come, of which, up to that day, I had been
ignorant. On one of the walls was painted in white, the words,


                          "'The Grave Of Honour.'


"It was like an inscription on a tomb.

"When my lady opened her eyes they fell upon these cruel words. For
many minutes she stood in silence, with eyes fixed on the wall, and
then she turned towards me, and by a motion of her hand, ordered me to
leave the place with her. Never, never, had I seen such an expression
of anguish on a face as rested on hers. It was as though her own
heart, her own good name, her own honour, were lying dead in that
room! There are deeds which can never be atoned for. This deed of my
master's was one."



                             CHAPTER VII

                           HUSBAND AND WIFE


"Remain with me, Denise,' said my lady, as we walked back to the
house. 'I am weak, and may need you."

"Then, for the first time, I noticed what gave me hope. She took her
baby boy in her arms, and pressed him passionately to her bosom,
murmuring:

"'I have only you--I have only you!'

"It was not that hitherto she had been wanting in tenderness, but that
in my presence she had never so yearningly displayed it. It gladdened
me also to think that her child was a comfort to her in this grave
crisis.

"But the hope I indulged in was doomed to disappointment. In the
evening my lady bade me ascertain whether her husband was in the
villa.

"I went to him, and made the inquiry.

"'Tell my wife,' he said, in a gentle tone, 'that I am ready to wait
upon her whenever she desires it.'

"It was late in the night when my lady called me to assist her to
dress. I did so, wondering at the strange proceeding. She chose her
prettiest dress, one which she had worn in her maiden days. She wore
no ornaments, or flowers or ribbons of any colour. Simply a white
dress, with white lace for her head and shoulders.

"'Now go to your master,' she said, 'and say I desire to see him.'

"I gave him the message, and he accompanied me to this room, where my
lady was waiting to receive him, with as much ceremony as if he had
been a stranger guest.

"I am here at your bidding,' he said, and turning to me, 'You can go,
Denise.'

"'You will stay, Denise,' said my lady.

"The manner of both was stern, but there was more decision in my
lady's voice than in his. I hesitated, not knowing which of them to
obey.

"'Stay, then, Denise,' said my master, 'as your mistress desires it.'

"I retreated to a corner of the room, as far away from them as I could
get. I was really afraid of what was coming. Within the hearts of
husband and wife a storm was raging, all the more terrible because of
the outward calm with which they confronted each other.

"'You know,' said my lady, 'for what reason I desired to see you.'

"'I know,' he replied,' that I expected you would send for me. If you
had not, I should not have presented myself.'

"'You have in your mind,' she said, 'matters which concern us both, of
which it is necessary you should speak.'

"'It is more than necessary--it is imperative that I should speak of
the matters you refer to.'

"'The opportunity is yours. I also have something to say when you have
finished. The sooner our minds are unburdened the better it will
be--for you and me.'

"'It were preferable,' he added, 'that what we say to each other
should be said without witnesses. Consider whether it will not be best
that Denise should retire.'

"'There is no best or worst for me,' she rejoined; 'my course is
decided, and no arguments of yours can alter it. Denise will remain,
as I bade her, and what you have to say must be spoken in her
presence.'

"'Be it so. Denise is the most trusted servant of my house; I have
every confidence in her. Otherwise, I should insist upon her leaving
the room.'

"'It is right,' said my lady, 'that you should be made acquainted with
a resolution I have come to within the last few hours. After this
night I will never open my lips to you, nor, willingly, will I ever
listen to your voice. I swear most solemnly that I am in earnest--as
truly in earnest as if I were on my death-bed!'

"I shuddered; her voice and manner carried conviction with them. My
master turned to me, and said:

"'What you hear must never pass your lips while your mistress and I
are alive.'

"'It never shall,' I said, shaking like a leaf.

"'When we are dead, Denise, you can please yourself.' He stood again
face to face with his wife. 'Madame, it is necessary that I should
recall the past. When I spoke to your lady mother on the subject of my
love for you--being encouraged and in a measure urged to do so by
herself--I was frank and open with her. There was nothing in my life
which I concealed, which I had occasion to conceal. I had grave doubts
as to the suitability of a marriage with you, doubts which did not
place you at a disadvantage. I had not the grace of youth to recommend
me; there was a serious difference in our ages; my habits of life were
staid and serious. You were fit to be the wife of a prince; your
youth, your beauty, your accomplishments, entitled you to more than I
could offer--which was simply a life of ease and the homage of a
faithful heart. Only in one respect were we equal--in respect of
birth. Had I not been encouraged by your mother, I should not have had
the temerity to give expression to my feelings; but I spoke, and for
me there was no retreating. I begged your lady mother not to encourage
me with false hopes, but to be as frank with me as I was with her. Of
the doubts which disturbed me, one was paramount. You had moved in the
world--you had been idolised in society--and it scarcely seemed
possible that your heart could be disengaged. In that case, I informed
your lady mother that no earthly consideration could induce me to step
between you and your affections; nay, with all the force which
earnestness could convey, I offered to do all in my power--if it were
possible that my services could avail-- to aid in bringing your life
to its happiest pass. At such a moment as this, a solemn one, madame,
which shall never be forgotten by you or by me, I may throw aside
false delicacy, and may explain the meaning of these last words to
your mother. Having had in my hands the settlement of your father's
affairs, I knew that you were poor, and my meaning was, that if any
money of mine could assist in bringing about a union between you and
the object of your affections--did any such exist--it was ready,
cheerfully offered and cheerfully given for such a purpose. I made but
one stipulation in the matter--that it should never, directly or
indirectly, be brought to your knowledge.'

"He paused, in the expectation that his wife would speak, and she said
coldly:

"'You are doubtless stating the truth.'

"'The simple truth, madame, neither more nor less; and believe it or
not, as you will, it was your welfare, not mine, that was uppermost in
my mind. Your lady mother assured me that before you came to the villa
your heart was entirely free, but that since you honoured me by
becoming my guest, you had fixed your affections upon myself. My
astonishment was great; I could scarcely believe the evidence of my
senses. I entreated your lady mother not to mislead me, and she proved
to me--to me, to whom the workings of a woman's heart were as a sealed
book--in a hundred different ways, which she said I might have
discovered for myself if I had had the wit--that you most truly loved
me. She professed to be honoured by my proposal, which she accepted
for you, and which she said you would joyfully accept for yourself.
But she warned me not to be disappointed in the manner in which you
would receive me; that your pride and shame might impel you to
appear reluctant instead of joyful, and that it behoved me, as a wise
man--Heaven help me!--to put a right and sensible construction on the
natural maidenly reserve of a young girl. The rest you know. The wise
man, madame, has been sadly at fault; it has been fatally proved to
him that he knows little of the workings of the human heart.'

"She held up her hand as a sign that she wished to speak, and he
paused. A little thing struck me at the time, which has never passed
out of my mind. She held up her hand in front of the lamp, and the
light shone through the thin, delicate fingers. Seldom do I think of
my lady without seeing that slight, beautiful hand, with the pink
light shining through it.

"'My mother,' she said, 'did not speak the truth. M. Gabriel and I
were affianced before I became your guest.'

"'Your information comes too late,' said my master; 'you should have
told me so much when I offered you my name. It would have been
sufficient. I should not have forced myself upon you, and shame and
sin would have been avoided.'

"'There has been no sin,' said my lady, 'and who links me with shame
brings shame upon himself. I have been wronged beyond the hope of
reparation in this life. Before you spoke to me of marriage I
wrote to M. Gabriel frequently from this villa. My letters were
intercepted----'

"He interrupted her. 'To my knowledge no letters were intercepted; I
had no suspicion of such a proceeding.'

"I do not say you had; I am making you acquainted with a fact. Hurt
and vexed at receiving no reply to my letters, and being able to
account for it only on the supposition that they had not come into his
possession, I wrote one and gave it to Denise to post for me. That
also, as I learnt after my mother's death, was intercepted, and never
reached its destination. In the meantime, false information was given
to me respecting M. Gabriel; shameful stories were related to me, in
which he was the principal actor. He was vile and false, as I was led
to believe; and you were held up to me as his very opposite, as noble,
chivalrous, generous, disinterested----'

"'In all of which you will bear in mind, I was in no way inculpated,
being entirely ignorant of what was going on under my roof.'

"'And I was, besides, led to believe by my mother that you had laid us
under such obligations that there was but one repayment of them----'

"'Plainly speaking,' he interposed, 'that, in any kindness I had
shown, I was deliberately making a purchase, that in every friendly
office I performed, I had but one cowardly end in view. It needed this
to complete the story.'

"'My heart was almost broken,' she continued, making no comment on his
bitter interruption; 'but it was pointed out to me that I could at
least answer the call of gratitude and duty. Doubly did my mother
deceive me.'

"'And doubly,' said my master, 'did you deceive me.'

"'When, some time after our unhappy marriage, you introduced M.
Gabriel into this house, I was both angry and humiliated. It
looked as though you intended to insult me, and Denise was a witness
of my agitation. It was not unnatural that, remaining here, your
guest--bidden by you, not by me--for so long a time explanations
should pass between M. Gabriel and myself. Then it was that my eyes
were really opened to the pit into which I had been deliberately
dragged.'

"'Not by me were you dragged into this pit.'

"'Let it pass for a moment,' she said, in a disdainful voice. 'When my
eyes were opened to the truth, how was I to know that you had not
shared in the plot against me? How am I to know it now?'

"'By my denial. Doubt me if you will, and believe that I tricked to
obtain you. I shall not attempt to undeceive you. No good purpose
would be served by a successful endeavour to soften your feelings
towards me; I do not, indeed, desire that they should be softened, for
no link of love can ever unite us. It never did, and never can, and I
am not a man to live upon shams. If I tricked to obtain you, you will
not deny that I have my reward--a rich reward, the rank fruit of which
will cling to me and abide with me till the last moment of my life.'

"'I went into the summer-house this afternoon,' she said.

"'I know it.'

"'It was your intention that I should visit it.'

"'It was not exactly my intention; I left it to chance.'

"'You have made it a memorial of shame, of a cruel declaration against
me!'

"'I have made it a memorial of my own deep unhappiness. That studio
will never again be opened during your life and mine. Madame, in all
that you have said--and I have followed you attentively--you have not
succeeded in making me believe that I have anything to reproach myself
for. My blindness was deplorable, but it is not a reproach. My actions
were distinguished at least by absolute candour and frankness. Can you
assert the same? You loved M. Gabriel before you met me--was I to
blame for that? You were made to believe he was false to you--was I to
blame for that? You revenged yourself upon him by accepting my hand,
and I, unversed in woman's ways, believed that no pure-minded woman
would marry a man unless she loved him. I still believe so. When we
stood before the altar, I was happy in the belief that your heart was
mine; and certainly from that moment, your faith, your honour, were
pledged to me, as mine was pledged to you. M. Gabriel was my friend. I
was a man when he was a boy, and I became interested in him, and
assisted him in his career. We had not met for years: he knew that I
had married----'

"'But he did not know,' interrupted my lady, 'that you had married
_me!_'

"'Granted. Was I to blame for that? After our marriage you fell into
melancholy moods, which I at first ascribed to the tragic fate of your
parents. Most sincerely did I sympathise with you. Day after day,
night after night, did I ponder and consider how I could bring the
smile to your lips, how I could gladden your young heart. Reflect upon
this, madame, in the days that are before you, and reflect upon the
manner in which you received my attentions. At one time, when I had
invited to the villa a number of joyous spirits in the hope that their
liveliness and gaiety would have a beneficial effect upon you, I
received a letter from M. Gabriel with reference to a picture he was
painting. I invited him here, and he came. What was his duty, what was
yours, when you and he met in my presence, when I introduced you to
each other, for the first time as I thought? Madame, if not before
him, at least before you, there was but one honest course. Did you
pursue it? No; you received M. Gabriel as a stranger, and you
permitted me to rest in the belief that until that day you had been
unconscious of his existence. Without referring to my previous
sufferings--which, madame, were very great--in what position did I,
the husband, stand in relation to my wife and friend, who, in that
moment of introduction, tacitly conspired against my honour, and who,
after explanations had passed between them, met and conversed as
lovers? Their guilt was the more heinous because of its secrecy--and
utterly, utterly unpardonable because of their treachery towards him
who trusted in them both. A double betrayal! But at length the
husband's suspicions were aroused. In a conversation which he
accidentally overheard between two ladies who were visiting him--the
name of his wife--your name, madame--was mentioned in connection with
that of M. Gabriel; and from their conversation he learnt that their
too friendly intimacy had become a subject for common talk. Jealous of
his honour, and of his name, upon which there had hitherto been no
blot, he silenced the scandal-mongers; but from that day he more
carefully observed his wife and his friend, until the truth was
revealed. Then came retribution, and a black chapter in the lives of
three human beings was closed--though the book itself is not yet
completed.'

"He paused, a long time as it seemed to me, before he spoke again. The
silence was awful, and in the faces of the husband and the wife there
were no signs of relenting. They bore themselves as two persons might
have done who had inflicted upon each other a mortal wrong for which
there was no earthly forgiveness. From my heart I pitied them both."



                             CHAPTER VIII

                             THE COMPACT


"You sent for me, madame,' he said presently, 'because it was
necessary that some explanation should be given of the occurrences
that have taken place in my family, of which you are a member. Each of
us has reason to regret an alliance which has caused us so much
suffering. Unfortunately for our happiness and our peace of mind the
truth has been spoken too late; but it were idle now to waste time in
lamentations. There are in life certain bitter trials which must be
accepted; in that light I accept the calamity which has fallen upon
us, and which, had I known before our marriage what I know now, would
most surely have been averted. It was in your power to avert it; you
did not do so, but led me blindly into the whirlpool. You have
informed me that, after this night, you will never open your lips to
me, nor ever again listen to my voice.'

"'Nor will I,' she said, 'from the rising of to-morrow's sun.'

"'I shall do nothing to woo you from that resolve. But you bear my
name, and to some extent my honour is still in your keeping.'

"'Have you, then,' she asked, 'any commands to give me?'

"'It will depend,' he replied, 'upon what I hear from you. So far as
my honour is concerned I intend to exercise control over you; no
farther.'

"'Your honour is safe with me, as it has always been."

"'I will not debate the point with you. You say that you have decided
on your course, and that no arguments of mine will turn you from it.'

"'Yes; my course is decided. Am I free to go from your house?'

"'You are not free to go. Only one thing shall part us--death!'

"'We have a child,' she said, and her voice, for that moment,
insensibly softened.

"'Is he asleep?'

"'Yes.'

"He went into the inner room, and remained there for several minutes,
and my lady, with a white and tearless face, waited for his return.

"I thought I heard the sound of kisses in the bedroom, but I could not
be sure. There was, however, a tender light in my master's eyes when
he came back, a light which showed that his heart was touched.

"'Our child shall remain with you,' he said to my lady, 'if you wish.'

"'I do wish it," she said.

"'I will not take him from you, only that I must sometimes see him.'

"'He shall be brought to you every day.'

"'I am content. Let him grow up to love me or hate me, as the
prompting of his nature and your teaching shall direct. From my lips
he shall never hear a disparaging word of his mother.'

"'Nor shall he, from my lips, of his father.'

"He bowed to her as he would have bowed to a princess, and said:

"'I thank you. But little, then, remains to be said. We are bound to
each other irrevocably, and we cannot part without disgrace. We have
brought our griefs upon ourselves, and we must bear them in silence.
The currents of my life are changed, and these gates shall never again
be opened to friends. I have done with friendship as I have done with
love. I ask you what course you have determined upon?'

"'I propose,' said my lady, 'to make these rooms my home, if you will
give them to me to live in.'

"'They are yours,' he replied. 'Unless I am compelled by duty, or by
circumstances which I do not at present foresee, I will never enter
them during your lifetime.'

"'It is as I would have it,' she said. 'In daylight I shall not leave
them. If I walk in the grounds it shall be at nightfall. Outside your
gates I will never more be seen, nor will I allow a friend or an
acquaintance to visit me. Will you allow Denise to wait upon me?'

"'She is your servant, and yours only, from this moment. I am pleased
that you have selected her.'

"'Denise,' said my lady to me, 'are you willing to serve me?'

"'Yes, my lady,' I answered. I was almost choked with sobs, while they
were outwardly calm and unmoved.

"'Then there is nothing more to be said--except farewell.' And my lady
looked towards the door.

"He did not linger a moment. He bowed to her ceremoniously, and left
the room.

"When he was gone I felt as if some sudden and fearful shock must
surely take place, as if a thunderbolt would fall and destroy us, or
as if my lady would fall dead at my feet, the silence that ensued was
so unearthly. But nothing occurred, and when I had courage to look up
I saw my lady sitting in a chair, white and still, with a resigned and
determined expression on her face. It would have been a great relief
to me if she had cried, but there was not a tear in her eyes.

"'Do you believe me guilty, Denise?' she asked.

"'The saints forbid,' I cried, 'that such a wicked thought should
enter my mind! I know you to be an innocent, suffering lady.'

"'You will do as you have been bidden to do, Denise. While my husband
and I are living you will not speak of what has passed within this
room.'

"'I will not, my lady.'

"And never again was the subject referred to by either of us. She did
not make the slightest allusion to it, and I did not dare to do so."



                              CHAPTER IX

            MOTHER DENISE HAS STRANGE FANCIES IN THE NIGHT


"A new life now commenced for us--a new and dreadful life. Mr. Almer
gave orders that no person was to be admitted to the villa without his
express permission. He denied himself to every chance visitor, and
from that time until you came, my lady, no friend of the family,
except a great banker, and occasionally Master Pierre Lamont, both of
whom came upon business, ever entered the gates. The doctor, of
course, when he was needed; but no one else.

"Mr. Almer passed most of his time in his study, writing and reading,
and pacing to and fro as he used to do in times gone by. He did not
make any enquiries about my lady, nor did she about him. She lived in
these rooms, and, in my remembrance, did not stir out of them during
the day. Master Christian slept in the inner room there, and was free
to roam about as he pleased.

"Every morning I took the child to his father, who sometimes would
kiss him and send him back to my lady, and sometimes would say:

"'You can leave him with me, Denise, for an hour.'

"Then he would take the child into the study, and lock the door, and
nurse and sing to him. I was in the habit of seeing him thus engaged
as I walked backwards and forwards in the grounds in front of the
study, waiting for his summons to carry master Christian to his
mother.

"His was not a happy childhood, for when he began ta speak and think,
the estrangement between his parents puzzled him deeply, and made him
sad. He was continually asking questions to which he received replies
which perplexed him more and more. With childlike, innocent cunning he
strove to draw them to each other. When he was with my lady, it was:

"'Mamma, why do you not go and speak to papa? There he is walking in
the garden. Come out with me, mamma--come quickly, or papa will be
gone.'

"And when he was with his father he would say:

"'Papa, I have a message for you.'

"'Yes, Christian,' my master would say.

"'You are to take hold of my hand, and come with me immediately to
mamma. Yes, papa, indeed, immediately! She wants to speak to you.'

"Mr. Almer knew that this was nothing but invention on the child's
part.

"What they learnt of each other's health and doings came through
Master Christian; it is very hard, my lady, to stop a child's innocent
prattle.

"'Papa, I wish to tell you something.'

"'Tell me, Christian.'

"'Mamma has a bad headache--such a bad, bad headache! I have been
smoothing her forehead with my hand, but it will not go away for me.
You cured my headache last week; come and cure mamma.'

"And at another time:

"'Papa, is not this beautiful?'

"'Yes, Christian, it is very pretty.'

"'Mamma painted it for me. Do you know, papa, she has painted me--yes,
my portrait, and has put it in a book. It is exactly like--you could
not tell it from me myself. Shall I ask her to give it to you--or will
you come and ask for it yourself?'

"With my lady it was the same.

"'Mamma, papa has been writing all day long. I peeped through the
window, and he looked so tired--just as you look sometimes. Now,
mamma, tell me--do you think papa is happy?'

"'Mamma, see what papa has given me--a musical-box! Only because I
said to him I should like a musical-box! Is he not good?'

"And so it went on day after day, week after week, but the child's
eager, anxious love brought them no nearer to each other.

"In the dark nights when the weather permitted, my lady walked in the
grounds. At first I offered to accompany her, but she refused my
company.

"'I will walk alone, Denise.'

"The servants used to say, as the moonlight fell on her white dress:

"'She looks like a white ghost.'

"And at other times:

"'She is like a white shadow moving in the moon's light.'

"Her husband was careful to keep out of her sight when she indulged in
these lonely rambles. They would not make the slightest advance to
each other.

"I must not forget to tell you what occurred about a month after this
estrangement. The duties of my attendance on my lady did not keep me
with her during the night unless she was ill, and was likely to
require my services. Generally I waited till I saw her abed and
asleep. She retired early, and this afforded me an opportunity of
looking after the room occupied by my husband and myself.

"I remember that on this night I drew the blind aside after I was
undressed, and looked toward my master's study. There were lights in
the windows, as usual. I was not surprised, for Mr. Almer frequently
sat up the whole night through.

"I went to bed, and soon fell asleep.

"Quite contrary to my usual habit, I woke up while it was dark, and
heard the sound of the clock striking the hour. I counted the strokes,
from one to twelve. It was midnight.

"I was such a good sleeper--seldom waking till the morning, when it
was time to get up--that I wondered to myself what it was that awoke
me. The striking of the clock? Hardly--for that was no new sound.
What, then? Gusts of wind were sweeping round the walls of the villa.
'Ah,' I thought, 'it was the wind that disturbed me;' and I settled
myself for sleep again, when suddenly another sound--an unusual one
this time--made me jump up in bed. The sound was like that of a heavy
object jumping, or falling, from a height within the grounds.

"'Can it be robbers,' I thought, 'who have climbed the gates, and
missed their footing?'

"The thought alarmed me, and I woke my husband, and told him what I
had heard. He rose, and looked out of the window.

"'Mr. Almer is up and awake,' said he. 'If there were any cause for
alarm he would not be sitting quietly in his study, poring over his
books. What you heard is the wind. Robbers, indeed! I pity the thief
who tries to pass our dogs; he would be torn to pieces. There! let me
get to sleep, and don't disturb me again with your foolish fancies;
and get to sleep yourself as quick as you can. Now your head is
stirring, you'll be imagining all sorts of things.'

"That was all the satisfaction I could get out of him; the next moment
he was fast asleep again.

"It was no easy thing for me to follow his example. I lay thinking and
thinking for an hour or more. I was glad my husband had mentioned the
dogs; in my alarm I had forgotten them. Martin was quite right. Any
stranger who attempted to pass them would have been torn to pieces.

"Well, but there _was_ somebody walking on the gravelpaths! I heard
soft footsteps crunching the stones, stepping cautiously, as though
fearful of disturbing the people in the house. These sounds came to my
ears between the gusts of wind, which were growing stronger and
stronger.

"I was on the point of rousing my husband again when it occurred to me
that it might be my master, who, restless as usual, was walking about
the grounds.

"This explanation quieted me, and I was soon asleep. For how long I
cannot say, for suddenly I found myself sitting up in bed, wide awake,
listening to the wind, which was shaking the house to its foundations.
And yet the impression was so strong upon me that it was not the storm
that had frightened me, that I went to the window and looked out,
expecting to see Heaven only knows what. Nothing was to be seen, and
presently I reasoned myself out of my fears, and was not again
disturbed during the night.

"In the morning a strange discovery was made. A servant came running
to me before I was dressed, with the information that our two dogs
were dead. I hurried to the kennel and saw their bodies stretched out,
cold and stiff.

"Mr. Almer was very fond of these dogs, and I went to him and told him
what had occurred. There was a strange, wild look in his eyes which I
attributed to want of sleep. But stranger than this weary, wild
expression was the smile on his lips when he heard the news.

"He followed me to the kennel, and stooped down.

"'They are quite dead, Denise,' he said.

"'Yes, sir,' I said, 'but who could have done such a cruel thing?'

"'The dogs have been poisoned,' he said, 'here is the meat that was
thrown to them. There is still some white powder upon it.'

"'Poisoned!' I cried. 'The wretches.'

"'Whoever did this deed,' said my master, 'deserved to die. It is as
bad as killing a human creature in cold blood.'

"'Are you sure, sir,' I said, 'there has been nothing stolen from the
house?'

"'You can go and see, Denise.'

"I made an examination of the rooms. Nothing had been taken from them.
I tried the door of my master's study to examine that room also, but
it was locked. When I returned my master was still kneeling by the
dogs.

"'It does not appear that anything has been taken,' I said, 'but the
sounds I heard in the night prove that there have been robbers here.'

"'What sounds did you hear?' asked my master, looking up.

"I told him of my alarm, and of my waking my husband, and of my
fancies.

"'Fancies!' he said; 'yes--it could have been nothing but imagination.
I have been up the whole night, and had there been an attempt at
robbery, I must surely have known it. Were any of the other servants
disturbed?"

"'No, sir.'

"I had already questioned them, but they had all slept soundly and had
heard nothing. I had been also with my lady for a few moments, but she
had not been disturbed during the night by anything but the howling of
the wind.

"'Let the matter rest,' said my master; 'it will be best. It is my
wish that you do not speak of it. The dogs are dead, and nothing can
restore them to life. Evil deeds carry their own punishment with them!
The next time you are frightened by fancies in the night, and see a
light in my study, you may be satisfied that all is well.'

"So the dogs were buried, and no action was taken to punish their
murderers; and in a little while the whole affair was forgotten."



                              CHAPTER X

                     CHRISTIAN ALMER'S CHILD-LIFE


"The years went by in the lonely villa without any change, except that
my lady grew into the habit of taking her walks in the grounds later
in the night. Not a word was exchanged between her and her husband;
had seas divided them they could not have been further apart from each
other.

"A dreadful, dreary monotony of days. The direction and control of the
house was left entirely to me; my master took not the slightest
interest in what was going on. I should have asked to be relieved from
the service, had it not been for my affection for my mistress. To live
with her--as I did for years, attending upon her daily--without loving
her was not possible. Her gentleness, her resignation, her resolution,
her patience, were almost beyond belief with those who were not
constant witnesses of her lonely, blameless, suffering life.

"She never wrote or received a letter. She severed herself entirely
from the world, and these rooms were her living grave.

"She loved her child, but she did not give way to any violent
demonstration of feeling. I observed, as the lad grew up, that he
became more and more perplexed by the relations which existed between
his parents. Had one or the other been unkind to him, he might have
been able to put a reasonable construction upon the estrangement, but
they were equally affectionate, equally tender towards him. He
continued to exercise the prettiest cunning to bring them together,
but without avail. Without avail, also, the entreaties he used.

"'Mamma, the sun is shining beautifully. Do come out with me and speak
to papa. Do, mamma, do! See, he is walking in the garden.'

"'Mamma, may I bring papa into your room? Say yes. I am sure he would
be glad.'

"'Papa, mamma is really very ill. I do so wish you would see her and
speak to her! There, papa, I have hold of your hand. Come, papa,
come!'

"It was heart-breaking to hear the lad, who loved both, who received
love from both.

"'Mamma,' he said, 'are you rich?'

"'In what way, dear child?' she asked, I have no doubt wondering at
his question; 'in money? Do you mean that?'

"'Yes, mamma, I mean that.'

"'We are not in want of money, Christian.'

"'Then you can buy whatever you want, mamma.'

"'I want very little, Christian.'

"'But if you wanted a great deal,' he persisted, 'you have money to
pay for it?'

"'Yes, Christian.'

"'And papa, too?'

"'Yes, and papa too.'

"'I can't make it out,' he said. 'Yesterday, I saw a poor little girl
crying. I asked her what she was crying for, and she said her mamma
was in great trouble because they had no money. I asked her if money
would make her mamma happy, and she said yes. Then why does it not
make you happy?'

"'Would you like some money, Christian,' said my lady, 'to give to
this poor girl's mamma?'

"'Yes, mamma.'

"Here is my purse. Denise will go with you at once.'

"We went to the cottage, and found that the family were in deep
distress. The father was in arrears with his rent, having been unable
to work, through illness, for a good many weeks; he was now strong
enough to return to his employment, but he was plunged into such
difficulties that all his courage had deserted him. The mother was
weak with overpowering anxiety, and the children were in want of food.

"I saw that the family were deserving of assistance, and I directed
Master Christian what to give them. He visited them daily for a week
and more, and the roses came back to the children's cheeks, and the
hearts of the father and mother were filled with hope and gladness.

"'Mamma,' said Master Christian, 'you have no idea how happy they
are--and all because I gave them a little money. They play and sing
together--yes, mamma, all of them; it is beautiful to see them. They
call me their good angel.'

"'I am very glad you have made them happy, my dear,' said my lady.

"'Mamma, they are happy because they love each other, and because they
laugh and sing together. Let me be your good angel, mamma, and papa's.
Tell me what to do, so that we may live like those poor people!'

"These were hard things for parents to hear, and harder because no
answers could be given to them.

"We went out for a stroll every fine day for an hour or so, and when
Master Christian saw a child walking between father and mother, who
smiled at each other and their little one, and spoke pleasantly and
kindly one to the other, his eyes would fill with tears. He would peep
through cottage windows--nay, he would go into the cottages, where he
was always welcome, and would furnish himself with proofs of domestic
happiness which never gladdened his heart in his own home. With scanty
food, with ragged clothes, the common peasant children were enjoying
what was denied to him.

"He had one especial friend, a delicate child, who at length was laid
on a bed of sickness from which he never rose. Master Christian, for a
few weeks before this child died, visited him daily in my company, and
took the poor little fellow many comforting things, for which the
humble family were very grateful. My young master would stand by the
bedside of the sick child, and witness, in silent pain, the evidences
of paternal love which lightened the load of the little sufferer.

"The day before the child died we approached the cottage, and Master
Christian peeped through the window. The child was dying, and by his
bedside sat the sorrowing parents. The man's arm was round the woman's
waist, and her head was resting on her husband's shoulder. We entered
the cottage, and remained an hour, and as we walked home Master
Christian said:

"'If I were dying, would my mamma and papa sit like that?'

"I could find no words to answer this question, which showed what was
passing in Master Christian's mind.

"'Cannot you tell me,' said Master Christian, 'whether my rich parents
would do for me what that little boy's poor parents are doing for him?
It is so very much, Denise--so very, very much! It is more than money,
for money is no use in Heaven, where he is going to. I wish my mamma
and papa had been poor; then they would have lived together and have
loved each other. Denise, tell me what it all means.'

"'Hush, Master Christian,' I said, trying to soothe him, for his
little bosom was swelling with grief. 'When you are a man you will
understand.'

"'I want to understand now--I want to understand now!' he cried.
'There is something very wicked about our house. I hate it--I hate
it!'

"And he stamped his foot, and broke into a fit of sobbing so charged
with sorrow that I could not help sobbing with him.

"Something of this must have reached his parents' ears, and how they
suffered only themselves could have known. My master grew thin and
wan; dark circles came round his eyes, and they often had a wild look
in them which made me fear he was losing his senses. And my lady
drooped and drooped, like a flower planted in unwholesome soil. Paler
and quieter she grew every day; sweeter and more resigned, if that
were possible, with every setting of the sun; so weak at last that she
could not take her walk in the grounds.

"Sitting by the window, looking at the lovely sky, she said to me one
peaceful evening:

"'I shall soon be there, Denise.'

"'Oh, my lady!' was all I could say.

"'It rejoices me to think,' she said, 'that this long agony is coming
to an end. I pray that the dear child I shall leave behind me will not
suffer as I have suffered, that his life may be happy, and his end be
peaceful. Denise, my mother is in that invisible spirit-land to which
I am going. When she sees me coming, will she not be frightened to
meet me? for, if it had not been for her, all this misery would have
been averted.'

"'My lady,' I said--so saint-like was her appearance that I could have
knelt to her, 'let me go to my master and bring him to you.'

"'He would not come,' she said, 'at your bidding, Denise. Has he not
been often entreated by our child?'

"Believing that this was a sign of relenting on her part, I said:

"'He knows that I dare not deceive him. He will come if I say you sent
for him.'

"'Perhaps, perhaps,' she said; 'but I would not have him come yet.
When I summon him here he will not refuse me.'

"'You will send for him one day, my lady?'

"'Yes, Denise, unless I die suddenly in my sleep--an end I have often
prayed for. But this great blessing may be denied to me.'

"Ah, how sad were the days! It fills me with grief, even now, to speak
of them. All kinds of strange notions entered my head during that
time. I used to think it would be a mercy if a terrible flood were to
come, or if someone would set fire to the villa. It would bring these
two unhappy beings together for a few minutes at least. But nothing
happened; the days were all alike, except that I saw very plainly that
my lady could not live through another summer. She was fading away
before my eyes.

"The end came at last, when Master Christian was nearly nine years
old."



                              CHAPTER XI

              BEATRICE ALMER GIVES A PROMISE TO HER SON


"It was a spring morning, and my lady was alone. Master Christian was
in the woods with his father; he was to be home at noon, and my lady
was watching for him at her window.

"Exactly at noon the lad returned, beaming with delight; the hours he
spent with his father were memorable hours in his life.

"'You have enjoyed yourself, Christian,' said my lady, drawing her boy
to her side, and smoothing his hair. 'It does you good to go out with
papa.'

"'Yes, mamma,' said the lad, in his eager, excited voice. 'There is no
one in the world like papa--no man, I mean. He knows everything--yes,
mamma, everything! There isn't a thing you ask him that he can't tell
you all about it. We have had such a beautiful walk; the forests are
full of birds and squirrels. Papa knows the name of every bird and
flower. See, mamma, all these are wild flowers--papa helped me to
gather them, and showed me where some of the prettiest are to be
found. You should hear him talk about the flowers! He has told me such
wonderful, wonderful things about them! I believe they live, as we do,
and that they have a language of their own. Papa smiled when I said I
thought the flowers were alive, and he told me that the world was full
of the loveliest mysteries, and that, although men thought themselves
very wise, they really knew very little. Perhaps it is so--with all
men but papa. It is because he isn't vain and proud that he doesn't
set himself above other men. In the middle of the woods papa stopped
and said, as he waved his hand around, "This, Christian, is Nature's
book. Not all the wisdom of all the men in all the world could write
one line of it. That little bird flying in the air to the nest which
it has built for its young, and which is so small that I could hold it
in the palm of my hand, is in itself a greater and more marvellous
work than the united wisdom of all mankind shall ever be able to
produce." There, mamma, you would hardly believe that I should
remember papa's words; but I repeated them to myself over and over
again as we walked along--they sounded so wonderful! Mamma, are there
flowers in heaven?'

"'Yes, my dear,' she answered, gazing upwards, 'forever blooming.'

"'Then it is always summer there, mamma?'

"'Yes, dear child--it is the better land on which we dwell in hope.
Peace is there, and love.'

"'We shall all go there, mamma?'

"'Yes, dear child--one day.'

"'And shall live there in peace and love?'

"'Yes, Christian.'

"'Mamma,' said the child solemnly, 'I shall be glad when the day comes
on which you and papa and I shall be together there, in peace and
love. Mamma, you are crying. I have not hurt you, have I?'

"'No, dear child, no. To hear you speak gives me great joy.'

"'Ah, but I can't speak like papa. He has told me of that better
world, and though I can't understand all he says, I know it must be
very beautiful. Papa is a good man. I love him more than any other
man--and I love you, mamma, better than any other woman. Papa is a
good man, is he not, mamma?'

"'Yes, my child,' said my lady, 'your father is a good and a just
man.'

"My heart leapt into my throat as I heard her speak these words of her
husband. Was it possible that this dreadful estrangement was to end,
and that my master and his wife would at length be reconciled, after
all these weary years?

"My lady was lying back in her chair, gazing now at her boy, now at
the bright clouds which were floating in the heavens. Ah, my lady, if
we were but to follow God's teaching, and learn the lessons He sends
us every day and every hour, how much unhappiness should we be spared!
But it seems as if there was a wicked spirit within us which is
continually dropping poison into the fairest things, for the mere
pleasure of destroying their beauty and making us wretched.

"There was an angelic expression on my lady's face as she encouraged
her boy to speak of his father.

"'I have often wished to tell you,' said Master Christian, 'that papa
is not strong--not as strong as I am. He soon gets tired, while I can
run about all day. This morning he often stopped to rest, and once he
threw himself upon the ground, and fell fast asleep. I sat by his side
and listened to the birds, who were all so happy, while papa's face
was filled with pain. Yes, mamma, he was in great pain, and he sighed,
oh, so heavily! as though sleep was hurting him instead of doing him
good. And he spoke in his sleep, and his words made me tremble. "I
call God to witness"--that was what he said, mamma--"I call God to
witness that there was in my mind no design to do wrong." And then he
said something about sin and sorrow springing from the flower of
innocence. A bird was flying near us, stopping to look at us, and not
at all frightened, because I was so very, very quiet. "Little bird," I
whispered, "that my father could hold in the palm of his hand, do you
know what he is dreaming of, and will you, because he is my father and
a good man, do something to make him happy?" Oh, mamma, the bird at
that very moment began to sing, and papa smiled in his sleep, and all
the pain in his face disappeared. That bird, mamma, was a fairy-bird,
and knew that papa ought not to suffer. And presently papa awoke, and
folded me tight in his arms, and we sat there quite still, for a long,
long time, listening to the singing of the bird. Oh, mamma, mamma! why
will you not love papa as I do?'

"Who could resist such pleading? My lady could not.

"'My child,' she said, 'I will send for papa to-morrow.'

"'You will--you will!' cried the child. 'Oh, how glad I am! Papa will
be here to-morrow, and we shall live together as poor people do, and
be happy, as they are!' He sprang from her side, ready to fly out of
the room. 'Shall I go and tell papa now? Yes, I may, I may--say that I
may, mamma!'

"'Not till to-morrow, Christian. Come and sit quietly by me, and talk
to me.'

"He obeyed her, though it was difficult for him to control himself,
his joy was so great. He devised numberless schemes in which he and
his parents were to take part. They were to go here, and to go
there--always together. His friends were to be their friends, and they
were to share each other's pleasures. Rambles in the woods, hunting
for wild flowers, visits to poor cottages--he planned all these things
in the delight of his heart.

"So they passed the day, the mother and child, and when night came he
begged again to be allowed to go to his father and tell him what was
in store for him. But my lady was firm.

"'No, Christian,' she said, 'you must wait yet for a few hours. They
will soon pass away. You are tired, dear child. Go to bed and sleep
well.'

"Good mamma! beautiful mamma!' said the lad, caressing his mother and
stroking her face. 'I shall dream all night long of to-morrow!'

"She never kissed her child with deeper tenderness than she did on
this night. He knelt at her knees and said his prayers, and of his own
accord ended with the words: 'And make my papa and my mamma love each
other to-morrow!'

"'Good-night, dear child.'

"'Good-night, dear mamma. I want to-morrow to come quickly.
Good-night, Denise.'

"'Good-night, Master Christian.'

"In a few minutes he was asleep. Then my lady called me to her, and
spoke gratefully of the manner in which I had performed my services to
her.

"'You have been a good and faithful servant to me,' she said, 'and you
have helped to comfort me. Your duties have been difficult, and you
have performed them well.'

"'My lady,' I said sobbing; I could not keep back my tears, she was so
gracious and sweet. 'I have done nothing to deserve such thanks. If
what you have said to Master Christian comes true I shall be very
happy. Forgive me for asking, but is it really true that you will send
for my master to-morrow?'

"'It will be so, Denise, unless God in His mercy takes me to-night. We
are in His hands, and I wait for His summons. His will be done!
Denise, wear this cross in remembrance of me. I kiss it before I give
it to you--and I kiss you, Denise!'

"And as she put the cross round my neck, which she took from her own,
she kissed me on the lips. Her touch was like an angel's touch.

"Then she said, pointing to the posy which had been gathered in the
woods by her husband and her child:

"'Give me those flowers, you faithful woman.'

"Do not think me vain or proud for repeating the words she spoke to
me. They were very, very precious to me, and the sweetness has not
died out of them, though she who uttered them is dust.

"I gave her the flowers, and she held them to her heart, and
encouraged me to sit with her later than usual. Two or three times in
the midst of our conversation, she asked me to go to Master
Christian's room to see if he was asleep, and when I told her he was
sleeping beautifully, and that he looked like an angel, she smiled,
and thanked me.

"'He will grow into a noble man,' she said, 'and will, I trust, think
of me with tenderness. I often look forward and wonder what his life
will be.'

"'A happy one, I am sure,' I said.

"'I pray that it may be so, and that he will meet with a woman who
will truly and faithfully love him.'

"Then she asked me if there was a light in her husband's study, and
going out into the balcony to look, I said there was, and said,
moreover, that my master often sat up the whole night through, reading
and studying.

"'You have been in his service a long time, Denise,' said my lady.

"'Yes, my lady. I was born in this house, and my mother lived and died
here.'

"'Was your master always a student, Denise?'

"Always, my lady. Even when he was a boy he would shut himself up with
his books. He is not like other men. From his youngest days we used to
speak of him with wonder.'

"'He is very learned,' said my lady. 'How shall one be forgiven for
breaking up his life?'

"'Ah, my lady,' I said, 'if I dared to speak!'

"'Speak freely, Denise!'

"And then I described to her what a favourite my master was when he
was a lad, and how everybody admired him, although he held himself
aloof from people. I spoke of his gentleness, of his kindness, of his
goodness to the poor, whom he used to visit and help in secret. I told
her that never did woman have a more faithful and devoted lover than
my master was to her, nor a man with a nobler heart, nor one who stood
more highly in the world's esteem.

"She listened in silence, and did not chide me for my boldness, and
when I was done, she said she would retire to rest. But she was so
weak that she could scarcely rise from her chair.

"'I had best remain with you to-night, my lady,' I said; 'you may need
my services.'

"'It is not necessary," she said; 'I shall require nothing, and I
shall be better to-morrow.'

"I considered it my duty to make my master acquainted with his wife's
condition, but I did not tell him of her intention to ask him to come
to her to-morrow for fear that she should alter her mind. There had
been disappointment and vexation enough in the house, and I would not
add to it.

"I could not rest, I was so anxious about my lady, and an hour after I
was abed, I rose and dressed myself and went to her room. She was on
her knees, praying by the bedside of her child, and I stole softly
away without disturbing her.

"Again, later in the night, I went to her room. She was sleeping
calmly, but her breathing was so light that I could scarcely hear it.
In the morning I helped her to dress, and afterwards assisted her to
her favourite seat by the window.

"Master Christian was already up and about, and shortly after his
mother was dressed he came in loaded with flowers, to make the room
look beautiful, he said, on this happy day.

"It was a day he was never to forget."



                             CHAPTER XII

                 THE LAST MEETING BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE


"The morning passed, and my lady made no sign. Master Christian,
flitting restlessly in and out and about the room, waited impatiently
for his mother's instructions to bring her husband to her. I offered
her food, but she could not eat it. On the previous day the doctor,
who regularly attended her, had said that his services were required
at a great distance from the villa, and that he should not be able to
visit my lady on the morrow. She had replied:

"'Do not trouble, doctor; you can do nothing for me.'

"And, indeed, there appeared to be no special necessity for his
presence. My lady was not in pain; she looked happy and contented. But
she was so quiet, so very, very quiet! Not a word of complaint or
suffering, not a moan, not a sigh. Why, therefore, did my heart sink
as I gazed at her?

"At length Master Christian was compelled to speak; he could no longer
control his impatience.

"'Mamma, do you like the way I have arranged the flowers? The room looks
pretty, does it not?'

"'Yes, my child.'

"'I wanted it to look very bright to-day. So did you, did you not,
mamma? Papa will be pleased when he comes.'

"'I hope so, my dear.'

"'And I shall tell him that it is not so every day, and that it is done
for him. Shall I go for him now?'

"'Presently, my dear. Wait yet a little while.'

"'But, mamma, it was to be to-day, you know, and it is nearly afternoon.
Just look at the clock, mamma, it is nearly two---- Ah, but you are
tired, and I am worrying you! Now I will sit quite still, and when the
clock strikes two, you shall tell me to go for papa. Say yes, or look
it, mamma.'

"'Yes, my dear, at two o'clock you shall go. Denise will accompany
you, for perhaps, Christian, your papa will think that the message
comes from your affectionate heart, and not from me.'

"'That,' said Master Christian,' is because I have tried to bring papa
to you before. But I did it out of love, mamma.'

"'I know, my dear, I know. If, when you were a little baby, and could
not speak or think of things, I had reflected, it might all have been
different. Perhaps I have been to blame.'

"'No, mamma, you shall not say that; I will not let you say that. You
can't do anything wrong, and papa can't do anything wrong. Now I shall
be quite still, and watch the clock, and I will not say another word
till it strikes.'

"He sat, as he had promised, quite still, with his eyes fixed on the
clock, and I saw by the motion of his lips that he was counting the
seconds. Slowly, oh, so slowly, the hands moved round till they
reached the hour, and then the silver chimes were heard. First, the
four divisions of the hour, then the hour itself. One, Two. In my ears
it was like the chapel bell calling the people to prayer.

"'Now, mamma!' cried Master Christian, starting up.

"She took his pretty face between her hands, and drew it close to
hers. She kissed his lips and his forehead, and then her hands fell to
her side.

"'May I go now, mamma?'

"He saw in her eyes that she was willing he should bring his father,
and he embraced her joyfully, and ran out of the room crying:

"'Come, Denise, come! Papa, papa!'

"He did not wait for me, and when I arrived at the study door, the
father and son were standing together, and Master Christian was trying
to pull my master along.

"'This little fellow here,' said my master, striving to speak
cheerfully, but his lips trembled, and his voice was husky, 'has a
strong imagination, and his heart is so full of love that it runs away
with his tongue.'

"'It does not, papa, it does not,' cried Master Christian very
earnestly. 'And it is not imagination. Mamma wants you to come and
love her.'

"My master turned his enquiring eyes to my face.

"'My lady wishes you to come to her, sir,' I said simply.

"I knew that the fewer words I spoke at such a time the better it
would be.

"He did not question me. He was satisfied that I spoke the truth.

"His agitation was great, and he walked a few steps from me, holding
Master Christian by the hand, and then stood still for quite a minute.
Then he stooped and kissed his son, and suffered himself to be led to
my lady's room.

"I followed them at a little distance, and remained outside my lady's
room, while they entered and closed the door behind them. It was not
right that any eyes but theirs should witness so sacred a meeting; but
though I denied myself the pleasure of being present, my heart was in
my ears. It was proper that I should be within call. In my lady's weak
state, my services might be required.

"From where I stood, I heard Master Christian's eager, happy voice:

"'Mamma, mamma--here is papa! He is come at last, mamma! Speak to him,
and love him, as I do! Papa, put your arms around mamma's neck, and
kiss her.'

"Then all was quiet--so quiet, so quiet! Not a sound, not a breath.
Ah, Holy Mother! I can _hear_ the silence now:--I can _feel_ it about
me! It was in this very room, and my lady was sitting in the chair in
which you are seated.

"Suddenly the silence was broken. My master was calling loudly for me.

"'Denise--Denise! Where are you? Come quickly, for God's sake!'

"Before the words were out of his lips, I was in the room. My master
was looking wildly upon his wife and child. The lad, with his arms
about his mother, was kissing her passionately, and crying over her.

"'Mamma, mamma! why do you not speak? Here is papa waiting for you.
Oh, mamma, say only one word!'

"'Is it true,' my master whispered to me, 'that your lady sent you for
me?'

"'It is true, sir,' I replied in a low tone.

"'What, then, is the meaning of this?' he asked, still in the same
unnatural whisper. 'I have spoken to her--she will not answer me. She
will not even look at me!'

"A sudden fear smote my heart. I stepped softly to my lady's side. I
gently unwound Master Christian's arms from his mother's neck. I took
her hand in mine, and pressed it. The pressure was not returned. Her
fingers, though still warm, were motionless.

"'What is it, Denise?' my master asked hoarsely. 'The truth--the
truth!'

"He read the answer in my eyes. We were gazing on the face of a dead
woman!

"Yes, she was dead, and no word had been exchanged between them--no
look of affection--no token of forgiveness. How truly, how
prophetically, had she spoken to her husband in their last interview
on this spot, eight years before! 'After this night I will never open
my lips to you, nor, willingly, will I ever again listen to your
voice!'

"From that hour to this he had never heard the sound of her voice, and
now that, after their long agony--for there is no doubt that his
sufferings were as great as hers--she had summoned him to her, she was
dead! Ah, if she had only lived to say:

"'Mine was the fault; it was not only I who was betrayed; let there be
peace and forgiveness between us!'

"Did she know, when she called him to her, that he would look upon her
dead face? Could she so measure her moments upon earth as to be
certain that her heart would cease to beat as he entered the room at
her bidding? No, it could not have been, for this premeditation would
have proclaimed her capable of vindictive passion. She was full of
tender feeling and sweet compassion, and the influence of her child
_must_ have softened her heart towards the man who had loved and
married her, and had done her no wrong.

"That she knew she was dying was certain, and she was willing--nay
more than willing, wishful to forgive and to ask forgiveness as she
stood upon the brink of another world. The sight of his worn and
wasted face may have shocked her and caused her sudden death. But it
remained a mystery whether she had seen him--whether her spirit had
not taken flight before her husband presented himself to her. It was a
question none could answer.

"I am aware that there are people who would say that my lady
deliberately designed this last bitter blow to her husband. My master
did not think so. When the first shock of his grief was spent, his
face expressed nothing but sorrow and compassion. He kissed her
once--on her forehead, not on her lips--and after her eyes were closed
and she lay, white and beautiful, upon her bed, he sat by her side the
whole of the day and night--for a great part of the time with Master
Christian in his arms.

"There were those in the villa who declared that on the night of her
death the white shadow of my lady was seen gliding about the grounds,
and from that day the place was supposed to be haunted. For my own
part I knew that these were foolish fancies, but you cannot reason
people out of them.

"The next day my master made preparations for the funeral. His strange
manner of conducting it strengthened the superstition. He would not
have any of his old friends at the funeral, although many wrote to
him. Only himself and Master Christian and the servants followed my
lady to her grave. He would not allow any black crape to be worn, and
all the female servants of the house were dressed in white.

"It caused a great deal of talk, a good many people saying that it was
a sinful proceeding on the part of my master, and that it was a sign
of joy at his wife's death. They must have been blind to the grief in
his face--so plainly written there that the tears came to my eyes as I
looked at it--when they uttered this slander. And yet, if the truth
were told, if it were deeply searched for among the ashes in his
heart, it is not unlikely that my master was sorrowfully grateful that
his wife's martyrdom was at an end. For her sake, not for his own, did
he experience this sad feeling of gratitude. It was entirely in
accordance with his stern sense of justice--in the exercise of which
he was least likely to spare himself of all people in the world--that,
while he was bowed down to the earth in grief, he should be glad that
his wife was dead.

"All kinds of rumours were afloat concerning the house and the family.
The gossips declared that on certain nights the grounds were filled
with white shadows, mournfully following each other in a long funeral
train. That is how the villa grew to be called The House of Shadows.

"It was like a tomb. Not a person was permitted to pass the gates. Not
a servant could be prevailed upon to stop. All of them left, with the
exception of Martin and myself, and my daughter, Dionetta's mother.
Dionetta was not born at the time. We were glad to take Fritz the Fool
into the place, to run of errands and do odd jobs. He was a young lad
then, an orphan, and has been hanging about ever since. But for all
the good he is, he might as well be at the other end of the world.

"The rumours spread into distant quarters, and one day a priest, who
had travelled scores of miles for the purpose of seeing my master,
presented himself at the gates, which were always kept locked by my
master's orders. I asked the priest what he wanted, and he said he
must speak to Mr. Almer. I told him that no person was admitted, and
that my master would see none, but he insisted that I should give his
errand. I did so, and my master accompanied me to the gates.

"'You have received your answer from my servant,' said my master. 'Why
do you persist in your attempts to force yourself upon me?'

"'My errand is a solemn one,' said the priest; 'I am bidden by Heaven
to come to you.'

"My master smiled scornfully. 'What deeds in my life,' he said, 'I
shall be called upon to answer for before a divine tribunal, concern
me, and me only. Were you an officer of justice you should be
admitted; but you are a priest, and I do not need you. I am my own
priest. Begone.'

"He was importunate, and was not so easily got rid of. Day after day,
for two weeks, he made his appearance at the gates, but he could not
obtain admittance, and at length he was compelled to forego his
mission, whatever it might have been, and to leave without having any
further speech with my master.

"Soon after he left, my master took Master Christian to school, at a
great distance from the village, and returning alone, resumed his
solitary habits.

"How well do I remember the evening on which he desired me not to
disturb him on any account whatever, and to come to his study at four
o'clock on the afternoon of the following day. At that hour, I knocked
at the door, and received no answer. I knocked several times, and,
becoming alarmed, tried the handle of the door. It was unlocked, and I
stepped into the study, and said:

"'It is I, sir, Denise; you bade me come at this hour.'

"I spoke to deaf ears. On the floor lay my master stone dead!

"He had not killed himself; he died a natural death, and must have
been forewarned that his moments on earth were numbered.

"That is all I have to tell, my lady."



                             CHAPTER XIII

                    THE ARRIVAL OF CHRISTIAN ALMER


"And you have really told it very well, Mother Denise," said the
Advocate's wife; "with such sentiment, and in such beautiful language!
It is a great talent: I don't know when I have been so interested.
Why, in some parts you actually gave me the creeps! And here is
Dionetta, as white as a lily. What a comfort it must have been to the
poor lady to have had a good soul like you about her! If such a
misfortune happened to me, I should like to have just such a servant
as you were to her."

"Heaven forbid, my lady," said Mother Denise, raising her hands, "that
such an unhappy lot should be yours!"

"Well, to tell you the truth," said Adelaide, with a bright
smile, "I do not think it at all likely to happen. Of course,
there is no telling what one might have to go through. Men are
such strange creatures, and lead such strange lives! They may do
anything--absolutely anything!--fight, gamble, make love without the
least sincerity, deceive poor women and forsake them--yes, they may do
all that, and the world will smile indulgently upon them. But if one
of us, Mother Denise, makes the slightest trip, dear me! what a fuss
is made about it--how shocked everybody is! A perfect carnival for the
scandal-mongers! 'Isn't it altogether too dreadful.' 'Did you ever
hear of such a thing?' 'Would you have believed it of her?' That is
what is said by all sorts of people. But if _I_ happened to be treated
badly I should not submit to it tamely--nor between you and me, Mother
Denise, in my opinion, did the lady whose story you have just
related."

"Everything occurred," said Mother Denise stiffly, "exactly as I have
described it."

"With a small allowance," said Adelaide archly, "for exaggeration, and
with here and there a chapter left out. Come, you must admit that!"

"I have omitted nothing, my lady. I am angry with myself for having
told so much. I doubt whether I have not done wrong."

"Mr. Christian Almer, whom I expect every minute"--and Adelaide looked
at her watch--"would have been seriously annoyed with you if you had
not satisfied my curiosity. Where is the harm? To be living here, with
such an interesting tale untold, would have been inexcusable,
perfectly inexcusable. But I am certain that you have purposely passed
over more than one chapter, and I admire you for it. It is highly to
your credit not to have told all you know, though it could hurt no one
at this distance of time."

"What do you think I have concealed, my lady?"

"There was a certain M. Gabriel," said Adelaide, "who played a most
important part in the story--a good many people would say, the most
important part. If it had not been for him, there would have been no
story to tell worth the hearing; there would have been no quarrel
between husband and wife, and the foolish young lady would not have
died, and I should not be here, listening to her story, and ready to
cry my eyes out in pity for her. M. Gabriel must have been a very
handsome young fellow, or there would not have been such a fuss made
about him. There! I declare you have never even given me a description
of him. Of course he was handsome."

She was full of vivacity, and as she leaned forward towards the old
housekeeper, it appeared as if, in her estimation, nothing connected
with the story she had heard was of so much importance as this
question, which she repeated anxiously, "Tell me, Mother Denise, was
he handsome?"

"He was exceedingly good-looking," Mother Denise was constrained to
reply, "but not so distinguished in his bearing as my unhappy master."

"Tall?"

"Yes, tall, my lady."

"Dark or fair? But I think you gave me the impression that he was
dark."

"Yes, my lady, he was dark," replied Mother Denise, coldly, more and
more displeased at the frivolity of the questions.

"And young, of course--much younger than Mr. Almer?"

"Much younger, my lady."

"There would be no sense in the matter otherwise; anyone might guess
that he was young and handsome and fascinating. Well, as I was about
to say--I hope you will forgive me for flying off as I do; my head
gets so full of ideas that they tumble over one another--all at once
this M. Gabriel drops clean out of the story, and we hear nothing more
of him. If there is one thing more inexplicable than another in the
affair, it is that nothing more should be heard of M. Gabriel."

"We live out of the gay world, my lady; far removed from it, I am
happy to think. It is not at all strange that in this quiet village we
should not know what became of him."

"That is assuming that M. Gabriel went back into the gay world, as you
call it, which is not such a bad place, I assure you, Mother Denise."

"He could not have stopped in the village, my lady, without its being
known."

"Probably not; but, you dear old soul!" said Adelaide, her manner
becoming more animated as that of Mother Denise became more frigid,
"you dear old soul, they always come back! When lovers are dismissed,
as M. Gabriel was, they always come back. They think they never
will--they vow they never will--but they cannot help themselves. They
are not their own masters. It is the story of the moth and the candle
over again."

"You mean, my lady," said Mother Denise, very gravely, "that M.
Gabriel returned to the villa."

"That is my meaning exactly. What else could he do?"

"I will not say whether I am glad or sorry to disappoint you, my lady,
but M. Gabriel, after the summer-house was barred up, never made his
appearance again in the village."

"Of course, under the circumstances, he could not show himself to
everybody. It was necessary that he should be cautious. He had to come
quietly--secretly, if you like."

"He never came, my lady," said Mother Denise, with determination.

"But he wrote, and sent his letters by a confidential messenger; he
did that at least."

"I told you, my lady, that while my poor mistress lived in these rooms
she never received or wrote a letter."

"If that is so, his letters to her must have been intercepted."

"There were no letters," said Mother Denise, stubbornly.

"There were," said Adelaide, smiling a reproof to Mother Denise. "I
know the ways of men better than you do."

"By whom, my lady, do you suppose these imaginary letters were
intercepted?"

"By her husband, of course, you dear, simple soul!"

"Mr. Almer could not have been guilty of such an act."

The Advocate's wife gazed admiringly at the housekeeper. "Dionetta,"
she exclaimed, "never be tempted to betray your mistress's secrets;
take pattern by your grandmother."

"She might do worse, my lady," said Mother Denise, still unbending.

"Indeed she might. I am thinking of something. On the night you were
aroused from your sleep, and heard the sound of a man falling to the
ground----"

"I only fancied it was a man, my lady; we never learnt the truth."

"It was a man, and he climbed the wall. And he chose a dark and stormy
night for his adventure. He was a brave fellow. I quite admire him."

"Admire a thief!" exclaimed Mother Denise, in horror.

"My dear old soul, you _must_ know it was not a thief. The house was
not robbed, was it?"

"No, my lady, nothing was taken; but what is the use of speaking of
it?"

"When once I get an idea into my head," said Adelaide, "it carries me
along, whether I like it or not. So, then--some time after you heard a
man falling or jumping from the wall, you heard the sound of someone
walking in the paths outside. He was fearful of disturbing anyone in
the house, and he trod very, very softly. I should have done just the
same. Now can't you guess the name of that man?"

"No, my lady, it was never discovered. He was a villain, whoever he
was, to poison our dogs."

"That was a small matter. What is the life of a dog--of a thousand
dogs--when a man is in love?"

"My lady!" cried Mother Denise. "What is it you are saying?"

"Nothing will deter him," continued Adelaide, with an intense
enjoyment of the old woman's uneasiness, "nothing will frighten him,
if he is brave and earnest, as M. Gabriel was. You dear old soul, the
man you heard in the grounds that night was M. Gabriel, and he came to
see your mistress--perhaps to carry her off! This window is not very
high; I could almost jump from it myself."

Mother Denise pressed her hand to her side, as though to relieve a
sudden pain; her face was white with a newly born apprehension.

"Do you really believe, my lady," she asked in trembling tones, "that
M. Gabriel would have dared to enter the grounds in the dead of night,
like a thief, after what had occurred?"

"I certainly believe it; it was the daring of a lover, not of a thief.
Were any traces of blood discovered in the grounds?"

"None were discovered; but if blood was spilt, the rain would have
washed it away."

"Or it could have been wiped away in the dark night!"

"Is it possible," said Mother Denise under her breath, "that you can
be right, and that my master and M. Gabriel met on that night!"

"The most probable occurrence in the world," said Adelaide, with a
pleasant smile. "What should have made your old master so anxious that
you should not speak of the sounds you heard? He had a motive, depend
upon it."

Mother Denise, who had sunk into a chair in great agitation, suddenly
rose, and said abruptly:

"My lady, this is very painful to me. Will you allow me to go?"

"Certainly; do not let me detain you a moment. I cannot express to you
the obligations you have laid me under by relating the history of this
house and family. There is nothing more to do in these rooms, I
believe. How very, very pretty they look! We must do everything in our
power to make the place pleasant to the young master who is coming.
But I think I can promise he will be happy here."

Not even Adelaide's smiles and good-humour could smooth Mother
Denise's temper for the rest of the day.

"Mark my words, Martin," she said to her husband, "something wrong
will happen before the Advocate and his fine lady leave the villa. She
has put such horrible ideas into my head! Ah, but I will not think of
them; it is treason, rank treason! We shall rue the day she came among
us."

"Ha, ha!" chuckled the old man slyly. "You're jealous, Denise, you're
jealous! She is the pleasantest lady, and the sweetest spoken, and the
most generous, and the handsomest, for twenty miles round. The whole
village is in love with her."

"And you as well as the rest, I suppose," snapped Mother Denise.

"I don't say that--I don't say that," piped Martin, with a childish
laugh. "Never kiss and tell, Denise, never kiss and tell! If I was
young and straight----"

"But you're old and crooked," retorted Mother Denise, "and your mind's
going, if it hasn't gone already. You grow sillier and sillier every
day."

A reproach the old man received with gleeful laughs and tiresome
coughs. His worship of the beautiful lady was not to be lightly
disturbed.

"The sweetest and the handsomest!" he chuckled, as he hobbled away,
at the rate of half a mile an hour. "I'd walk twenty mile to serve
her--twenty mile--twenty mile!"

"And this is actually the room," said Adelaide, walking about it, "in
which that poor lady spent so many unhappy years! Her prison! Her
grave! Dionetta, my pretty one, when the chance of happiness is
offered to you, do not throw it away. Life is short. Enjoy it. A great
many people moralise and preach, but if you were to see what they do,
and put it in by the side of what they say, you would understand what
fools those people must be who believe in their moralising and
preaching. The persecuted lady whose story your grandmother has told
us--what happiness did she enjoy in her life? None. Do you know why,
Dionetta? Because it was life without love. Love is life's sunshine.
Better to be dead than to live without it! Hark! Is not that a
carriage driving up at the gates?"

She ran swiftly from the room, down the stairs, into the grounds. The
gates were thrown open. A young man, just alighted, came towards her.
She ran forward to meet him, with outstretched hands, with face
beaming with joy. He took her hands in his.

"Welcome, Mr. Almer," she said aloud, so that those around her could
hear her. "You have had a pleasant journey, I hope." And then, in a
whisper, "Christian!"

"Adelaide!" he said, in a tone as low as hers.

"Now I am the happiest woman!" she murmured. "It is an eternity since
I saw you. How could you have kept away from me so long?"



                _BOOK IV.--THE BATTLE WITH CONSCIENCE_



                              CHAPTER I

                          LAWYER AND PRIEST


It happened that certain persons had selected this evening as a
suitable occasion for a friendly visit to the House of White Shadows;
Jacob Hartrich, the banker, was one of these. The banker was
accompanied by his wife, a handsome and dignified woman, and by his
two daughters, whose personal attractions, enhanced by their father's
wealth and their consequent expectations, would have created a
sensation in fashionable circles. Although in his religious
observances Jacob Hartrich was by no means orthodox, he did not
consider himself less a true Jew on that account. It is recognised by
the most intelligent and liberal-minded of his race in the civilised
countries of the world that the carrying-out of the Mosaic law in its
integrity would not only debar them from social relations, but would
check their social advancement. It is a consequence of the recognition
of this undoubted fact that the severe ordinances of the Jewish
religion should become relaxed in their fulfilment. Jacob Hartrich was
a member of this band of reformers, and though his conscience
occasionally gave him a twinge, he was none the less devoted, in a
curiously jealous and illogical spirit, to the faith of his
forefathers, to which he clung with the greater tenacity because his
daily habits compelled him to act, to some extent, in antagonism with
the decrees they had laid down.

Master Pierre Lamont was also at the villa. His bodily ailments were
more severe than usual, and the jolting over the rough roads, as he
was drawn from his house in his hand-carriage, had caused him
excruciating suffering. He bore it with grins and grimaces, scorning
to give pain an open triumph over him. Fritz was not by his side to
amuse him with his humour; the Fool was at the court, on this last day
of Gautran's trial, as he had been on every previous day, hastening
thence every evening to Pierre Lamont, to give him an account of the
day's proceedings.

Father Capel was there--a simple and learned ecclesiastic, with a
smile and a pleasant greeting for old and young, for rich and poor
alike. A benevolent, sweet-natured man, who, when trouble came to his
door, received it with cheerful resignation; universally beloved; a
man whose course through life was strewn with flowers of charity and
kindness.

The visit of these and other guests was unexpected by Adelaide, and
she inwardly resented the interruption to a contemplated quiet evening
with Christian Almer; but outwardly she was all affability.

The principal topic of conversation was the trial of Gautran, and
Pierre Lamont was enthusiastic on the theme.

"The trial will end this evening," he said, "and intellect will
triumph."

"Truth, I trust, will triumph," said Jacob Hartrich, gravely.

"Intellect is truth's best champion," said Pierre Lamont. "But some
mortals believe themselves to be omniscient, and set up a standard of
truth which is independent of proof. I understood that you were to
have been on the jury at the trial."

"I was excused," said Jacob Hartrich, "on the ground that I had
already formed so strong a view of the guilt of the prisoner that no
testimony could affect it."

"Decidedly," observed Pierre Lamont, "an unfit frame of mind to take
part in a judicial inquiry of great difficulty. For my own part, I
would willingly have given a year of my life, which cannot have too
many years to run, to have been able to be in Geneva these last few
days. It will be long before another trial so celebrated will take
place in our courts."

"I am happy to think so."

"It has always been a puzzle to me," said Adelaide, whose feelings
towards Pierre Lamont were of the most contradictory character--now
inclining her to be exceedingly partial to him, now to detest
him--"how such vulgar cases can excite the interest they do."

"It is surprising," was Pierre Lamont's comment, "that the wife of an
Advocate so celebrated should express such an opinion."

"There are stranger things than that in the world, Master Lamont."

"Truly, truly," said Pierre Lamont, regarding her with curiosity; "but
cannot you understand how even these vulgar cases become, at least for
a time, great and grand when the highest qualities of the mind are
engaged in unravelling the threads which bind them?"

"No, I cannot understand it," she replied with an amiable smile. "I
believe that you lawyers are only happy when people are murdering and
robbing each other."

"My friend the Advocate," said Pierre Lamont, bending gallantly, an
exertion which sent a twinge of pain through his body, "is at least
happy in one other respect--that of being the husband of a lady whom
none can see without admiring--if I were a younger man I should say
without loving."

"Pierre Lamont," said Jacob Hartrich, "gives us here a proof that love
and law can go hand in hand."

"Nay," said Pierre Lamont, whose eyes and mind were industriously
studying the face of his beautiful hostess, "such proof from me is not
needed. The Advocate has supplied it, and words cannot strengthen the
case."

And he waved his hand courteously towards Adelaide.

These compliments were not wasted upon her, and Pierre Lamont laughed
secretly as he observed their effect.

"You are worth studying, fair dame," he thought, "with your smiling
face, and your heart of vanity, and your lack of sympathy with your
husband's triumphs. If not with his triumphs, then not with him!
Feeling you _must_ have, though it is born of selfishness. Ah! the
curtain is drawn aside. Which one, which one, you beautiful animal?"
His eyes travelled from one to the other in the room, until they fell
upon Christian Almer, whose eyes at that moment met those of Adelaide.
"Ah!" and he drew a deep breath of enjoyment. "Are you the favoured
one, my master of this House of Shadows! Then we must take you into
the game, for it cannot be played without you."

The old lawyer was in his element, probing character and motive, and
submitting them to mental analysis. Physically he was helpless amidst
the animated life around him; curled up in his invalid chair he was
dependent for every movement upon his fellow-creatures; despite his
intellect, he was at the mercy of a hind; but he was nevertheless the
strongest man in all that throng, the man most to be feared by those
who had anything to conceal, any secret which it behoved them to hide
from the knowledge of men.

"How such vulgar cases," he said aloud, to the astonishment of the
Advocate's wife, who deemed the subject dismissed, "can excite the
interest they do! It surprises you. But there is not one of these
cases which does not contain elements of human sympathy and affinity
with ourselves. This very case of Gautran--what is its leading
feature? Love--the theme of minstrel and poet, the sentiment without
which human and divine affairs would be plunged into darkness. Crimes
for which Gautran is being tried are caused by the human passions and
emotions which direct our own movements. The balance in our favour is
so heavy when our desires and wishes clash with the desires and wishes
of other men, that we easily find justification for our misdeeds.
Father Capel is listening to me with more than ordinary attention. He
perceives the justice of my argument."

"We travel by different roads," said Father Capel. "You do not take
into account the prompting of evil spirits, ever on the alert to
promote discord and instigate to crime. It is that consideration which
makes me tolerant of human error, which makes me pity it, which makes
me forgive it."

"I dispute your spiritual basis. All motive for crime springs from
within ourselves."

"Nay, nay," gently remonstrated Father Capel.

"Pardon me for restraining you. I was about to say that not only does
all motive for human crime spring from within ourselves, but all
motive for human goodness as well. If your thesis that evil spirits
prompt us to crime is correct, it must be equally correct that good
spirits prompt us to deeds of mercy, and charity, and kindness. Then
there is no merit in performing a good action. You rob life of its
grace, and you virtually declare that it is an injustice to punish a
man for murdering his fellow-creature. Plainly stated, you establish
the doctrine of irresponsibility. I will not do you the injustice of
believing that you are in earnest. Your tolerance of human error, and
your pity and forgiveness for it, spring from natural kindliness, as
my tolerance of it, and my lack of pity and forgiveness for it, spring
from a natural hardness of heart, begot of much study of the weakness,
perverseness, and selfishness of my species. In the rank soil of these
imperfections grows that wondrous, necessary tree known by the name of
Law, whose wide-spreading branches at once smite and protect. You may
thank this tree for preserving to some extent the decencies of
society."

"Well expressed, Pierre Lamont," said Jacob Hartrich approvingly. "I
regret that the Advocate is not present to listen to your eloquence."

"Ah," said Pierre Lamont, with a scarcely perceptible sneer, "does
your endorsement spring from judgment or self-interest?"

"You strike both friend and foe," said Father Capel, with much
gentleness. "It is as dangerous to agree with you as to dissent from
you. But in your extravagant laudation of the profession of which you
are a representative you lose sight of a mightier engine than Law,
towering far above it in usefulness, and as a protection, no less than
a solace to mankind. Without Religion, Law would be powerless, and the
world a world of wild beasts. It softens, humanizes----"

"Invents," sneered Pierre Lamont, with undisguised contempt, "fables
which sober reason rejects."

"If you will have it so, yes. Fables to divert men's minds from sordid
materialism into purer channels. Be thankful for Religion if you
practise it not. In the Sabbath's holy peace, in the hush and calm of
one day out of the turbulent seven, in the influences which touch you
closely, though you do not acknowledge them, in the restraint imposed
by fear, in the charitable feelings inspired by love, in the unseen
spirit which softens and subdues, in the yearning hope which chastens
grief when one dear to you is lost, lie the safeguard of your days and
much of the happiness you enjoy. So much for your body. For your soul,
I will pray to-night."

"Father Capel," said Pierre Lamont in a voice of honey, "if all
priests were like you, I would wear a hair-shirt to-morrow."

"What need, my son," asked Father Capel, "if you have a conscience?"

"Let me pay for my sins," said Pierre Lamont, handing his purse to the
priest.

Father Capel took a few francs from the purse. "For the poor," he
said. "In their name I bless you!"

"The priest has the best of it," said Adelaide to Christian Almer. "I
hate these dry arguments! It is altogether too bad that I should be
called upon to entertain a set of musty old men. How much happier we
should be, we two alone, even in the mountains where you have been
hiding yourself from me!"

"You are in better health and spirits," said Jacob Hartrich, drawing
Almer aside, "than when I last saw you. The mountain air has done you
good. It is strange to see you in the old house; I thought it would
never be opened again to receive guests."

"It is many years since we were together under this roof," said
Christian Almer thoughtfully.

"You were so young at the time," rejoined the banker, "that you can
scarcely have a remembrance of it."

"My remembrance is very keen. I could have been scarcely six years of
age, and we had no visitors. I remember that my curiosity was excited
because you were admitted."

"I came on business," said Jacob Hartrich, and then, unwilling to
revive the sad reminiscences of the young man's childhood, he said
abruptly: "Almer, you should marry." His eyes wandered to his two
comely daughters.

"What is that you are saying?" interposed the Advocate's wife; "that
Mr. Almer should marry? If I were a man--how I wish I were!--nothing,
nothing in the world would tempt me to marry. I would live a life
without chain or shackle."

"So, so, my fair dame," thought Pierre Lamont, who had overheard this
remark. "Bright as you appear, there is a skeleton in your cupboard.
Chains and shackles! But you are sufficiently self-willed to throw
these off." And he said aloud: "Can you ascertain for me if Fritz the
Fool has returned from Geneva?"

"Certainly," replied Adelaide, and Dionetta being in the room, she
sent her out to inquire.

"If he has returned," said Pierre Lamont, "the trial is over. I miss
the fool's nightly report of the proceedings, which he has given me
regularly since the commencement of the inquiry."

"If the trial is over," said Christian Almer, "the Advocate should be
here."

"You need not expect him so soon," said Pierre Lamont; "after such
exertion as he has gone through, an hour's solitude is imperative.
Besides, Fritz can travel faster than our slow-going horses; he is as
fleet as a hare."

"A favourite of yours, evidently."

"I have the highest respect for him. This particular fool is the
wisest fool in my acquaintance."

Dionetta entered the room with Fritz at her heels.

"Well, Fritz," called out Pierre Lamont, "is the trial over?"

"Yes, Master Lamont, and we're ready for the next."

"The verdict, Fritz, the verdict?" eagerly inquired Pierre Lamont, and
everybody in the room listened anxiously for the reply.

"If I were a bandy-legged man," said Fritz, ignoring the question, "I
would hire some scoundrel to do a deed, so that you might be on one
side and my lord the Advocate on the other. Then we should witness a
fine battle of brains."

"Come, Fritz--the verdict!" repeated Pierre Lamont impatiently.

"On second thoughts," said Fritz quietly, "you would be no match for
the greatest lawyer living. I would not have you on my side. It is as
well that your pleading days are ended."

"No fooling, Fritz. The verdict; Acquitted?"

"What else? Washed white as driven snow."

"I knew it would be so," cried the old lawyer triumphantly. "How was
it received?"

"The town is mad about it. The women are furious, and the men
thunderstruck. You should have heard the speech! Such a thing was
never known. Men's minds were twisted inside out, and the jury were
convinced against their convictions. Why, Master Lamont, even Gautran
himself for a few minutes believed himself to be innocent!"

"Enough," said Christian Almer sternly. "Leave the room."

Fritz darted a sharp look at the newly returned master, and with a low
bow quitted the apartment. The next moment the Advocate made his
appearance, and all eyes were turned towards him.



                              CHAPTER II

                           THE WHITE SHADOW


He entered the room with a cloud upon his face. Gautran's horrible
confession had deeply moved him, and, almost for the first time in his
life, he found himself at fault. His heart was heavy, and his mind was
troubled; but he had never yet lost his power of self-control, and the
moment he saw his guests the mask fell over his features, and they
assumed their usual tranquil expression. He greeted one and another
with calmness and courtesy, leaving his wife and Christian Almer to
the last.

"I am happy to tell you, Adelaide," he said, "that the trial is over."

"Oh, we have already had the news," she said coldly. "Fool Fritz has
given us a glowing account of it, and the excitement the verdict
created."

"Did it create excitement?" he asked. "I was not aware of it."

"I take no interest in such cases, as you are aware," she rejoined.
"You knew the man was innocent, or you would not have defended him. It
is a pity the monster is set free."

"Last, but not least," said the Advocate, turning to Christian Almer,
and cordially pressing his hand. "Welcome, and again welcome! You have
come to stay?"

Adelaide answered for him:

"Certainly he has: I have his promise."

"That is well," said the Advocate. "I am glad to see you looking so
bright, Christian."

"You have not derived much benefit from your holiday," said Christian
Almer, gazing at the Advocate's pale face. "Was it wise to take upon
yourself the weight of so harassing a trial?"

"Do we always do what is wise?" asked the Advocate, with a smile in
which there was no light.

"But seldom, I should say," replied Almer. "I once had great faith in
the power of Will; but I am beginning to believe that we are as
completely slaves to independent forces as feathers in a fierce wind:
driven this way or that in spite of ourselves. Not inward, but outward
magnetism rules us. Perhaps the best plan is to submit without a
struggle."

"Of course it is," said Adelaide with a bright look, "if it is
pleasant to submit. It is ridiculous to make one's head ache over
things. I can teach you, in a word, a wiser lesson than either of you
have ever learnt."

"What is that word, Adelaide?" asked the Advocate.

"Enjoy," she replied.

"A butterfly's philosophy. What say you, Christian? Shall we follow
the teaching of this Solon in petticoats?"

"May I join you?" said Pierre Lamont, who had caused himself to be
drawn to this group. "My infirmities make me a privileged person, and
unless I thrust myself forward, I might be left to languish like a
decrepit spider in a ruined web."

"Ill-natured people," remarked Adelaide, "might say that your figure
of speech is a dangerous one for a lawyer to employ."

"Fairest of dames," said Pierre Lamont, "your arrows are sugar-tipped;
there is no poison in them. Use me as your target, I beg. You put new
life into this old frame."

"The old school can teach the new," said Christian Almer. "You should
open a class of gallantry, Master Lamont."

"I! with my useless limbs! You mock me!"

"He will not allow me to be angry with him," said Adelaide, smiling on
the lawyer.

Then Pierre Lamont drew the Advocate into a conversation on the trial
which the Advocate would gladly have avoided, could he have done so
without being considered guilty of a breach of courtesy. But Pierre
Lamont was not a man to be denied, and the Advocate was fain to answer
the questions put to him until the old lawyer was acquainted with
every detail of the line of defence.

"Excellent--excellent!" he exclaimed. "A masterstroke! You do not
share my enthusiasm," he said, addressing Jacob Hartrich, who had
stood silently by, listening to the conversation. "You have no
understanding of the intense, the fierce delight of such a battle and
such a victory."

"The last word is not spoken here on earth," said Jacob Hartrich.
"There is a higher tribunal."

"Well said, my son," said Father Capel.

"Son!" said Pierre Lamont to the banker, with a little scornful laugh.
"Resent the familiarity, man of another faith."

"Better any faith than none," warmly remarked Jacob Hartrich,
cordially taking the hand which Father Capel held out to him.

"Good! good! good!" cried Pierre Lamont. "I stand renounced by church
and synagogue."

"You are uncharitable only to yourself," said Father Capel. "I, for
one, will not take you at your word."

Pierre Lamont lowered his eyes. "You teach me humility," he said.

"Profit by it," rejoined Father Capel.

"You formed the opinion that Gautran was guilty," said Pierre Lamont
to the banker. "Upon what evidence?"

"Inward conviction," briefly replied Jacob Hartrich.

"You, at least," said Pierre Lamont, turning his wily face to Father
Capel, "although you look at human affairs through Divine light, have
a respect for the law."

"Undoubtedly," was the reply.

"But this man of finance," said Pierre Lamont, "would destroy its very
fabric when it clashes with his inward conviction. Argue with him, and
your words fall against a steel wall, impenetrable to logic, reason,
natural deduction, and even common sense--and behind this wall lurks a
self-sufficient imp which he calls Inward Conviction. Useful enough,
nay, necessary, in religion, for it needs no proof. Faith answers for
all. Accept, and rest content. I congratulate you, Jacob Hartrich. But
does it not occur to you that others, besides yourself, may have
inward convictions antagonistic to yours, and that occasionally theirs
may be the true conviction and yours the false? Our friend the
Advocate, for instance. Do you think it barely possible that he would
have undertaken the defence of Gautran unless he had an inward
conviction, formed upon a sure foundation, that the man was innocent
of the crime imputed to him?"

It was with some indignation that Jacob Hartrich replied, "That a man
of honour would voluntarily come forward as a defender under any
conditions than that of the firmest belief in the prisoner's innocence
is incredible."

"We agree upon this point I am happy to know, and upon another--that
in the profession to which I have the honour to belong, there are men
whose actions are guided by the highest and finest principles, and
whose motives spring from what I conceive to be the most ennobling of
all impulse, a desire for justice."

"Who can doubt it?"

"How, then, stands the case as between you and my brother the
Advocate? You have an inward conviction of Gautran's guilt--he an
inward conviction of Gautran's innocence. Up to a certain time you and
he are on an equality; your knowledge of the crime is derived from
hearsay and newspaper reports. Upon that evidence you rest; you have
your business to attend to--the value of money, the fluctuations of
the Exchanges, the public movements which affect securities, in
addition to the anxieties springing from your private transactions.
The Advocate cannot afford to depend upon hearsay and the newspapers.
It is his business to investigate, to unearth, to bring together the
scattered bones and fit them one with another, to reason, to argue, to
deduce. As all the powers of your mind are brought to bear upon your
business, which is money, so all the powers of his mind are brought to
bear upon his, which is Gautran, in connection with the crime of which
he stands accused. His inward conviction of the man's innocence is
strengthened no less by the facts which come to light than by the
presumptive evidence he is enabled by his patience and application to
bring forward in favour of his client. You and he are no longer on an
equality. He is a man informed, you remain in ignorance. He has
dissected the body, and all the arteries of the crime are exposed to
his sight and judgment. You merely raise up a picture--a dark night, a
river, a girl vainly struggling with her fate, a murderer (with veiled
face) flying from the spot, or looking with brutal calmness upon his
victim. That is the entire extent of your knowledge. You seize a
brush--you throw light upon the darkness--you paint the river and the
girl--you paint the portrait of the murderer, Gautran. All is clear to
you. You have formed your own court of justice, imagination affords
the proof, and prejudice is the judge. It is an easy and agreeable
task to find the prisoner guilty. You are satisfied. You believe you
have fulfilled a duty, whereas you have been but a stumbling-block in
the path of justice."

"Notwithstanding which," said Jacob Hartrich, who had thoroughly
recovered his good humour, "I have as firm a conviction as ever in the
guilt of Gautran the woodman."

"Admonish this member of a stiff-necked race, Father Capel," said
Pierre Lamont, "and tell him why reason was given to man."

Earnest as the old lawyer was in the discussion, and apparently
engaged in it to the exclusion of all other subjects, he had eyes and
ears for everything that passed in the room. Retirement from the
active practice of his profession had by no means rusted his powers;
on the contrary, indeed, for it had developed in him a finer and more
subtle capacity of observation. It gave him time, also, to devote
himself to matters which, at an earlier period of his life, he would
have considered trivial. Thus, when he moved in private circles, freed
from larger duties, there lurked in him always a possible danger, and
although he would not do mischief for mischief's sake, he was
irresistibly drawn in its direction. The quality of his mind was such
as to seek out for itself, and unerringly detect, human blemish. He
was ready, when it was presented to him, to recognise personal
goodness, but while he recognised he did not admire it. The good man
was in his eyes a negative character, pithless, uninteresting; his
dominant qualities, being on the surface, presented no field for
study. He himself, as has already been seen, was not loth to bestow
money in charity, but he was destitute of benevolence; his soul never
glowed with pity, nor did the sight of suffering touch his heart.
While goodness did not attract him, he took no interest in the
profligate or dissolute. His magnet was of the Machiavellian type.
Cunning, craft, duplicity, guile--here he was at home in his glory. As
easy to throw him off the scent as a bloodhound.

Chiefly on this occasion was his attention given to the Advocate's
wife. Not a movement, not a gesture, not a varying shade of expression
escaped him. Any person, noting his observance of her, would have
detected in it nothing but admiration; and to this conclusion Adelaide
herself--she knew when she was admired--was by no means averse. But
his eye was upon her when she was not aware of it.

"Have I not heard of a case," asked a guest of Pierre Lamont, "in
which a lawyer defended a murderer, knowing him to be guilty?"

"Yes," said Pierre Lamont, "there was such a case. The murder was a
ruthless murder; the lawyer a man of great attainments. His speech to
the court was eloquent and thrilling, and in it he declared his solemn
belief in the prisoner's innocence, and made an appeal to God to
strengthen the declaration. It created a profound impression. But the
evidence was conclusive, and the prisoner was found guilty. It then
transpired that the accused, in his cell, had confessed to his
advocate that he had perpetrated the murder."

"Confessed before his trial?"

"Yes, before the trial."

"What became of the lawyer?"

"He was ruined, socially and professionally. A great career was
blighted."

"A deserved punishment," remarked Father Capel.

"Yet it is an open question," said Pierre Lamont, "whether the secrets
of the prison-cell should not be held as sacred as those of the
confessional."

"Nothing can justify," said Father Capel, "the employment of such an
appeal, used to frustrate the ends of justice."

"Then," said Pierre Lamont with malicious emphasis, "you admit the
doctrine of responsibility. Your prompting of evil spirits, what
becomes of it?"

Father Capel did not have time to reply, for a cry of terror from a
visitor gave an unexpected turn to the gossip of the evening, and
diverted it into a common channel. The person who had uttered this cry
was the youngest daughter of Jacob Hartrich. She had been standing at
a window, the heavy curtains of which she had held aside, in an idle
moment, to look out upon the grounds, which were wrapped in a pall of
deep darkness. Upon the utterance of her terrified scream she had
retreated into the room, and was now gazing with affrighted eyes at
the curtains, which her loosened hold had allowed to fall over the
window. Her mother and sister hurried to her side, and most of the
other guests clustered around her. What had occasioned her alarm? When
she had sufficiently recovered she gave an explanation of it. She was
looking out, without any purpose in her mind, "thinking of nothing,"
as she expressed it, when, in a distant part of the grounds, there
suddenly appeared a bright light, which moved slowly onward, and
within the radius of this light, of which it seemed to form a part,
she saw distinctly a white figure, like a spirit. The curtains of the
window were drawn aside, and all within the room, with the exception
of Pierre Lamont, who was left without an audience, peered into the
grounds below.

Nothing was to be seen; no glimpse of light or white shadow; no
movement but the slight stir of leaf and branch, but the young lady
vehemently persisted in her statement, and, questioned more closely,
declared that the figure was that of a woman; she had seen her face,
her hair, her white robe.

The three persons whom her story most deeply impressed were the
Advocate's wife, Christian Almer, and Father Capel. With the Advocate
it was a simple delusion of the senses; with Jacob Hartrich, "nerves."
Christian Almer and Father Capel went out to search the grounds, and
when they returned reported that nothing was to be seen.

During this excitement Pierre Lamont was absolutely unnoticed, and it
was not till a groan proceeded from the part of the room where he sat
huddled up in the wheeled chair in which he was imprisoned that
attention was directed to him. He was evidently in great pain; his
features were contracted with the spasms which darted through his
limbs.

"It almost masters me," he said to the Advocate, as he laughed and
winced, "this physical anguish. I will not allow it to conquer me, but
I must humour it. I am tempted to ask you to give me a bed to-night."

"Stop with us by all means," said the Advocate; "the night is too
dark, and your house too far, for you to leave while you are
suffering."

So it was arranged, and within half an hour all the other guests had
taken their departure.



                             CHAPTER III

                        THE WATCH ON THE HILL


For more than twenty years the House of White Shadows may be said to
have been without a history. Its last eventful chapter ended with the
death of Christian Almer's father, the tragic story of whose life has
been related by Mother Denise. Then followed a blank--a dull
uniformity of days and months and years, without the occurrence of a
single event worthy of record in the annals of the family who had held
the estate for four generations. The doors and windows of the villa
were but seldom opened, and on those rare occasions only by Mother
Denise, who had too strict a regard for the faithful discharge of her
duties to allow the costly furniture to fall into decay. Suddenly all
this was altered. Light and life reigned again. Startling was the
transformation. Within a few short weeks the House of White Shadows
had become the centre of a chain of events, in which the affections
which sway and the passions which dominate mankind were displayed in
all their strangest variety.

At a short distance from the gate, on this dark night, upon the rise
of a hill which commanded a view of the villa, sometimes stood and
sometimes lay a man in the prime of life. Not a well-looking man, nor
a desirable man, and yet one who in his better days might have passed
for a gentleman. Even now, with the aid of fine feathers, he might
have reached such a height in the judgment of those who were not given
to close observation. His feathers at the present time were anything
but fine--a sad fall, for they have been once such as fine birds wear;
no barn-door fowl's, but of the partridge's quality. So that, between
the man and his garments, there was something of an affinity. He was
tall and fairly presentable, and he bore himself with a certain air
which, in the eyes of the vulgar, would have passed for grace. But his
swagger spoilt him; and his sensual mouth, which had begot a
coarseness from long and unrestrained indulgence, spoilt him; and the
blotches on his face spoilt him. His hands were white, and rings would
have looked well on them, if rings ever looked well on the hands of a
man--which may be doubted.

As he stood, or lay, his eyes were for the chief part of his time
fixed on the House of White Shadows. Following with precision his line
of sight, it would have been discovered that the point which claimed
his attention were the windows of the Advocate's study. There was a
light in them, but no movement.

"Yet he is there," muttered the man, whose name was John Vanbrugh,
"for I see his shadow."

His sight unassisted would not have enabled him to speak with
authority upon this, but he held in his hand a field-glass, and he saw
by its aid what would otherwise have been hidden from him.

"His guests have gone," continued John Vanbrugh, "and he has time to
attend to me. I have that to sell, Edward, which it is worth your
while to purchase--nay, which it is vital you should purchase. Every
hour's delay increases its price. It must be near midnight, and still
no sign. Well, I can wait--I can wait."

He had no watch to take count of the time, which passed slowly; but he
waited patiently nevertheless, until the sound of footsteps,
approaching in his direction, diverted his attention. They came
nearer, nearer, until this other wanderer of the night was close upon
him.

"Who," he thought, "has taken it into his head to come my way? This is
no time for honest men to be about."

And then he said aloud--for the intruder had paused within a yard of
him:

"What particular business brings you here, friend, and why do you not
pass on?"

A sigh of intense relief escaped the breast of the newcomer, who was
none other than Gautran. With the cuff of his shirt he wiped the
perspiration from his forehead, and muttered in a grateful tone:

"A man's voice! That is something to be thankful for."

The sound of this muttering, but not the words, reached Vanbrugh's
ears.

"Well, friend?" said Vanbrugh, who, being unarmed, felt himself at a
disadvantage.

"Well?" repeated Gautran.

"Are you meditating an attack upon me? I am not worth the risk, upon
my honour. If you are poor, behold in me a brother in misfortune. Go
to a more profitable market."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"I'll take your word for it. Pass on, then. The way is clear for you."

He stepped aside, and observed that Gautran took step with him instead
of from him.

"Are _you_ going to pass on?" asked Gautran.

"Upon my soul this is getting amusing, and I should enjoy it if I were
not angry. Am I going to pass on? No, I am not going to pass on."

"Neither am I."

"In the name of all that is mischievous," cried Vanbrugh, "what is it
you want?"

"Company," was the answer, "till daylight. That is all. You need not
be afraid of me."

"Company!" exclaimed Vanbrugh. "My company?"

"Yours or any man's. Something human--something living. And you must
talk to me. I'm not going to be driven mad by silence."

"You are a cool customer, with your this and that. Are you aware that
you are robbing me?"

"I don't want to rob you."

"But you are--of solitude. And you appropriate it! No further fooling.
Leave me."

"Not till daylight."

"There is something strange in your resolve. Let me have a better look
at you."

He laid his hand upon Gautran's shoulder, and the man did not resent
the movement. In the evening, when he had arrived in Geneva, he had
made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the court-house; therefore,
Gautran being otherwise a stranger to him, he did not recognise in the
face of the man he was now looking into, and which he could but dimly
see in consequence of the darkness of the night, the prisoner whose
trial for murder had caused so great an excitement.

"If I am any judge of human nature," he said, "you are in a bad way. I
can see sufficient of you to discern that from a social point of view
you are a ruin, a very wreck of respectability, if your lines ever
crossed in that direction. In which respect I, who was once a
gentleman, and am still, cannot deny that there is something of moral
kinship between us. This confers distinction upon you--upon me, a
touch of obloquy. But I am old enough not to be squeamish. We must
take the world as we find it--a villainous world! What say you?"

"A villainous world! Go on talking."

Vanbrugh stood with his face towards the House of White Shadows,
watching for the signal he had asked the Advocate to give him.
Gautran, facing the man upon whom he had forced his company, stood,
therefore, with his back to the villa, the lights in which he had not
yet seen.

"Our condition may be borne," continued Vanbrugh, "with greater or
lesser equanimity, so long as we feed the body--the quality of our
food being really of no great importance, so far as the tissues are
concerned; but when the mind is thrown off its balance, as I see by
your eyes is the case with you, the condition of the man becomes
serious. What is it you fear?"

"Nothing human."

"Yet you are at war with society."

"I was; but I am a free man now."

"You have been in peril, then--plainly speaking, a gaol-bird. What
matters? The world is apt to be too censorious; I find no fault with
you for your misfortune. Such things happen to the best of us. But you
are free now, you say, and you fear nothing in human shape. What is
it, then, you do fear?"

"Were you ever followed by a spirit?" asked Gautran, in a hoarse
whisper.

"A moment," said Vanbrugh. "Your question startles me. I have about me
two mouthfuls of an elixir without which life would not be worth the
living. Share and share alike."

He produced a bottle containing about a quarter of a pint of brandy,
and saying, "Your health, friend," put it to his lips.

Gautran watched him greedily, and, when he received the bottle,
drained it with a gasp of savage satisfaction.

"That is fine, that is fine!" he said; "I wish there were more of it."

"To echo your wish is the extent of my power in the direction of
fulfilment. Now we can continue. Was I ever followed by a spirit? Of
what kind?"

"Of a woman," replied Gautran with a shudder.

"Being a spirit, necessarily a dead woman!"

"Aye, a dead woman--one who was murdered."

A look of sudden and newly-awakened intelligence flashed into
Vanbrugh's face. He placed his hand again upon Gautran's shoulder.

"A young woman?" he said.

"Aye," responded Gautran.

"Fair and beautiful?"

"Yes."

"Who met her death in the river Rhone?'

"Aye--it is known to all the world."

"One who sold flowers in the streets of Geneva--whose name was
Madeline?"

The utterance of the name conjured up the phantom of the murdered
girl, and Gautran, with violent shudders, gazed upon the spectre.

"She is there--she is there!" he muttered, in a voice of agony. "Will
she never, never leave me?"

These words confirmed Vanbrugh's suspicion. It was Gautran who stood
before him.

"Another winning card," he said, in a tone of triumph, and with a
strange smile. "The man is guilty, else why should he fear? Vanbrugh,
a life of ease is yours once more. Away with these rags, this
money-pinch which has nipped you for years. Days of pleasure, of
luxury, are yours to enjoy. You step once more into the ranks of
gentlemen. What would the great Advocate in yonder study think of this
chance encounter, knowing--what he has yet to learn--that I hold in my
hands what he prizes most--his fame and honour?"

Gautran heard the words; he turned, and followed the direction of
Vanbrugh's gaze.

"There is but one great Advocate, the man who set me free. He lives
yonder, then?"

"You know it, rogue," replied Vanbrugh. "There are the lights in his
study window. Gautran, you and I must be better acquainted."

But he was compelled to submit to a postponement of his wish, for the
next moment he was alone. Gautran had disappeared.



                              CHAPTER IV

                           THE SILENT VOICE


Alone in his study the Advocate had time to review his position. His
first feeling, when he listened to Gautran's confession, had been one
of unutterable horror, and this feeling was upon him when he entered
the villa.

From his outward demeanour no person could have guessed how terrible
was his inward agitation. Self-repression was in him a second nature.
The habit of concealing his thoughts had been of incalculable value in
his profession, and had materially assisted in many of his great
victories.

But now he was alone, and when he had locked the study-door, he threw
off the mask.

He had been proud of this victory; it was the greatest he had ever
achieved. He knew that it would increase his fame, and that it was an
important step in the ladder it had been the delight of his life to
climb. Cold as he appeared, and apparently indifferent to success, his
ambition was vast, overpowering. His one great aim had been not only
to achieve the highest distinction while he lived, but to leave behind
him a name which should be placed at the head of all his class--a
clear and unsullied name which men in after times would quote as a
symbol of the triumph of intellect.

It was the sublimity of egoism, contemptible when allied with
intellectual inferiority and weakness of character, but justifiable in
his case because it was in association with a force of mental gifts
little short of marvellous.

In the exercise of his public duties he had been careful never to take
a false step. Before he committed himself to a task he invariably made
a study of its minutest detail; conned it over and over, stripped it
of its outward coverings, probed it to its very heart, added facets to
it which lay not only within the region of probability, but
possibility; and the result had been that his triumphs were spoken of
with wonderment, as something almost higher than human, and within the
capacity of no other man.

It had sometimes occurred that the public voice was against a prisoner
whose defence he had undertaken, but it was never raised against
himself, and perhaps the sweetest reward which was ever bestowed upon
him was when, in an unpopular cause which he had conducted to victory,
it was afterwards proved that the man he had championed--whose very
name was an offence--was in honest truth a victim instead of a
wronger. It had grown into a fashion to say, "He must have right on
his side, or the Advocate would not defend him."

Here, then, was a triple alliance of justice, truth, and humanity--and
he, their champion and the vindicator and upholder of right. In
another sphere of life, and in times when the dragon of oppression was
weighing heavily upon a people's liberties, such achievements as his
would have caused the champion to be worshipped as a saint--certainly
as a hero imbued with kingly qualities.

No man really deserves this altitude, though it be sometimes reached.
Human nature is too imperfect, its undercurrents are not sufficiently
translucent for truth's face to be reflected as in a crystal. But we
judge the deed, not the doer, and the man is frequently crowned, the
working of whose inner life, were it laid bare, would shock and
disgust.

It was when he was at the height of his fame that the Advocate met
Adelaide.

Hitherto he had seen but little of women, or, seeing them, had passed
them lightly by, but there comes a time in the lives of most men, even
of the greatest, when they are abruptly arrested by an influence which
insensibly masters them.

Only once in his life had the Advocate wandered from the path he had
formed for himself; but it was an idle wandering, partly prompted by a
small and unworthy desire to prove himself of two men, the superior,
and he had swiftly and effectually thrown the folly aside, never again
to be indulged in or renewed. That was many years ago, and had been
long forgotten, when Adelaide appeared to him, a star of loveliness,
which proved, what few would have believed, that he had a heart.

The new revelation was to him at first a source of infinite gladness,
and he yielded to the enchantment. But after a time he questioned
himself as to the wisdom of this infatuation. It was then, however,
too late. The spell was upon him, and it did not lay in his power to
remove it. And when he found that this sweet pleasure did not--as it
would have done with most men--interfere with his active duties, nay,
that it seemed to infuse a keener relish into their fulfilment, he
asked himself the question, "Why not?" In the simple prompting of the
question lay the answer.

He possessed an immense power of concentration. With many subjects
claiming close attention he could dismiss them all but the one to
which it was necessary he should devote himself, and after much
self-communing he satisfied himself that love would be no block to
ambition.

And indeed so it proved. Adelaide, dazzled by the attentions of a man
who stood so high, accepted his worship, and, warned by friends not to
be exigent, made no demands upon his time which interfered with his
duties.

He was a devoted but not a passionate lover. On all sides she was
congratulated--it gratified her. By many she was envied--it delighted
her; and she took pleasure in showing how easily she could lead this
man, who to all other women was cold as ice.

In those days it was out of her own vanity and thirst for conquest
that she evolved pleasure from the association of her name with his.
After their marriage he strove to interest her in the cases upon which
he was engaged, but, discovering that her taste did not lie in that
direction, he did not persist in his endeavour. It did not lessen his
love for her, nor her hold upon him. She was to him on this night as
she had ever been, a sweet, affectionate, pure woman, who gave him as
much love and honour as a man so much older than herself could
reasonably expect.

Something of what has been here expressed passed through his mind as
he reflected upon the events of the day. How should he deal with
Gautran's confession? That was the point he debated.

When he undertook the defence he had a firm belief in the man's
innocence. He had drawn the picture of Gautran exactly as he had
conceived it. Vile, degraded, brutal, without a redeeming feature--but
not the murderer of Madeline the flower-girl.

He reviewed the case again carefully, to see whether he could have
arrived at any other conclusion. He could not perceive a single defect
in his theory. He was justified in his own eyes. He knew that the
entire public sentiment was against him, and that he had convinced men
against their will. He knew that there was imported into this matter a
feeling of resentment at his successful efforts to set Gautran free.
What, then, had induced him to come forward voluntarily in defence of
this monster? He asked the question of himself aloud, and he answered
it aloud: A reverence for justice.

He had not indulged in self-deception when he declared to Gautran's
judges that the leading principle of his life had been a desire for
justice in small matters as well as great, for the meanest equally
with the loftiest of his fellow-creatures. That it did not clash with
his ambition was his good fortune. It was not tainted because of this
human coincidence. So far, then, he was justified in his own
estimation.

Rut he must be justified also in the eyes of the world. And here
intruded the torturing doubt whether this were possible. If he made it
known to the world that Gautran was guilty, the answer would be:

"We know it, and knew it, as we believe you yourself did while you
were working to set him free. Why did you prevent justice being done
upon a murderer?"

"But I believed him innocent," he would say. "Only now do I know him
to be guilty!"

"Upon what grounds?" would be asked.

"Upon Gautran's own confession, given to me, alone, on a lonely road,
within an hour after the delivery of the verdict."

He saw the incredulous looks with which this would be received. He put
himself in the place of the public, and he asked:

"Why, at such a time, in such a spot, did Gautran confess to you? What
motive had he? You are not a priest, and the high road is not a
confessional."

He could supply to this question no answer which common-sense would
accept.

And say that Gautran were questioned, as he would assuredly be. He
would deny the statement point-blank. Liberty is sweet to all men.

Then it would be one man's statement against another's; he would be on
an equality with Gautran, reduced to his level; and in the judgment of
numbers of people Gautran would have the advantage over him. Sides
would be taken; he himself, in a certain sense, would be placed upon
his trial, and public resentment, which now was smothered and would
soon be quite hushed, would break out against him.

Was he strong enough to withstand this? Could he arrest the furious
torrent and stand unwounded on the shore, pure and scatheless in the
eyes of men?

He doubted. He was too profound a student of human nature not to know
that his fair fame would be blotted, and that there would be a stain
upon his reputation which would cling to him to the last day of his
life.

Still he questioned himself. Should he dare it, and brave it, and bow
his head? Who humbles himself lays himself open to the blow--and men
are not merciful when the chance is offered to them. But he would
stand clear in his own eyes; his conscience would approve. To none but
himself would this be known. Inward approval would be his sole reward,
his sole compensation. A hero's work, however.

For a moment or two he glowed at the contemplation. He soon cooled
down, and with a smile, partly of self-pity, partly of self-contempt,
proceeded to the calmer consideration of the matter.

The meaner qualities came into play. The world did not know; what
reason was there that it should be enlightened--that he should
enlighten it, to his own injury? The secret belonged to two men--to
himself and Gautran. It was not likely that Gautran would blurt it out
to others; he valued his liberty too highly. So that it was as safe as
though it were buried in a deep grave. As for the wrong done, it was a
silent wrong. To ruin one's self for a sentiment would be madness; no
one really suffered.

The unfortunate girl was at rest. She was a stranger; no person knew
her, or was interested in her except for her beauty; she left no
family, no father, mother, or sisters, to mourn her cruel death.

There was certainly the woman spoken of as Pauline, but she had
disappeared, and was probably in no way related to Madeline. What more
likely than that the elder woman's association with the younger arose
out of a desire to trade upon the girl's beauty, and appropriate the
profits to her own use? A base view of the matter, but natural, human.
And having reaped a certain profit out of their trade in flowers,
larger than was suspected, the crafty woman of the world had
deliberately deserted Madeline and left her to her fate.

Why, then, should he step forward as her avenger, to the destruction
of the great name he had spent the best fruits of his mind and the
best years of his life to build up? To think of such a thing was
Quixotism run mad.

One of the threads of these reflections--that which forced itself upon
him as the toughest and the most prominent--was contempt of himself
for permitting his thoughts to wander into currents so base. But that
was his concern; it affected no other person, so long as he chose to
hold his own counsel. The difficulty into which he was plunged was not
of his seeking. Fate had dealt him a hard stroke; he received it on
his shield instead of on his body. Who would say that that was not
wise? What other man, having the option, would not have done as he was
about to do?

"Cunning sophist, cunning sophist!" his conscience whispered to him;
"think not that, wandering in these crooked paths of reasoning, you
can find the talisman which will transform wrong into right, or remove
the stain which will rest upon your soul."

He answered his conscience: "To none but myself is my soul visible.
Who, then, can see the stain?"

His conscience replied: "God!"

"I will confess to Him." he said, "but not to man."

"There is but one right course," his conscience said; "juggle as you
may, you know that there is but one right course."

"I know it," he said boldly, "but I am cast in human mould, and am not
heroic enough for the sacrifice you would impose upon me."

"Listen," said his conscience, "a voice from the grave is calling to
you."

He heard the voice: "Blood for Blood."

He stood transfixed. The images raised by that, silent voice were
appalling. They culminated in the impalpable shape of a girl, with
pallid face, gazing sadly at him, over whose form seemed to be traced
in the air the lurid words, "Blood For Blood!"

Heaven's decree.

The vision lasted but for a brief space. In the light of his strong
will such airy terrors could not long exist.

Blood for blood! It once held undisputed sway, but there are great and
good men who look upon the fulfilment of the stern decree as a crime.
Mercy, humanity, and all the higher laws of civilisation were on their
side. But he could not quite stifle the voice.

He took another view. Say that he yielded to the whisperings of his
conscience--say that, braving all the consequences of his action, he
denounced Gautran. The man had already been tried for murder, and
could not be tried again. Set this aside. Say that a way was
discovered to bring Gautran again to the bar of earthly justice, of
what value was the new evidence that could be brought against him? His
own bare word--his recital of an interview of which he held no proof,
and which Gautran's simple denial would be sufficient to destroy.
Place this new evidence against the evidence he himself had
established in proof of Gautran's innocence, and it became a
feather-weight. A lawyer of mediocre attainments would blow away such
evidence with a breath. It would injure only him who brought it
forward.

He decided. The matter must rest where it was. In silence lay safety.

There was still another argument in favour of this conclusion. The
time for making public the horrible knowledge of which he had become
possessed was passed. After he had received Gautran's confession he
should not have lost a moment in communicating with the authorities.
Not only had he allowed the hours to slip by without taking action,
but in the conversation initiated that evening by Pierre Lamont, in
which he had joined, he had tacitly committed himself to the
continuance of a belief in Gautran's innocence. He saw no way out of
the fatal construction which all who knew him, as well as all who knew
him not, would place upon this line of conduct. He had been caught in
a trap of his own setting, but he could hide his wounds. Yes; the
question was answered. He must preserve silence.

This long self-communing had exhausted him. He could not sleep; he
could neither read nor study. His mind required relief and solace in
companionship. His wife was doubtless asleep; he would not disturb
her. He would go to his friend's chamber; Christian Almer would be
awake, and they would pass an hour in sympathising converse. Almer had
asked him, when they bade each other good-night, whether he intended
immediately to retire to rest, and he had answered that he had much to
do in his study, and should probably be up till late in the night.

"I will not disturb you," Almer had said, "but I, too, am in no mood
for sleep. I have letters to write, and if you happen to need society,
come to my room, and we will have one of our old chats."

As he quitted the study to seek his friend the soft silvery chimes of
a clock on the mantel proclaimed the hour. He counted the strokes. It
was midnight.



                              CHAPTER V

                        GAUTRAN FINDS A REFUGE


When John Vanbrugh found himself alone he cried:

"What! Tired of my company already? That is a fine compliment to pay
to a gentleman of my breeding. Gautran! Gautran!"

He listened; no answer came.

"A capital disappearance," he continued; "in its way dramatic. The
scene, the time, all agreeing. It does not please me. Do you hear me,
Gautran," he shouted. "It does not please me. If I were not tied to
this spot in the execution of a most important mission, I would after
you, my friend, and teach you better manners. He drank my brandy, too,
the ungrateful rogue. A waste of good liquor--a sheer waste! He gets
no more without paying its equivalent."

Vanbrugh indulged in this soliloquy without allowing his wrath to
interfere with his watch; not for a single moment did he shift his
gaze from the windows of the Advocate's study.

"Now what induced him," he said after a pause, "to spirit himself away
so mysteriously? From the violent fancy he expressed for my company I
regarded him as a fixture; one would have supposed he intended to
stick to me like a limpet to a rock. Suddenly, without rhyme or
reason, and just as the conversation was getting interesting, he takes
French leave, and makes himself scarce.

"I hope he has not left his ghost behind him--the ghost of pretty
Madeline. Not likely, though. When a partnership such as that is
entered into--uncommonly unpleasant and inconvenient it must be--it is
not dissolved so easily.

"Perhaps he was spirited away--wanted, after the fashion of our dear
Lothario, Don Giovanni. There was no blue fire about, however, and I
smell no brimstone. No--he disappeared of his own prompting; it will
repay thinking over. He saw his phantom--even my presence could not
keep her from him. He murdered her--not a doubt of it--and the
Advocate has proved his innocence.

"Were it not a double tragedy I should feel disposed to laugh.

"We were speaking of the Advocate when he darted off. But you cannot
escape me, Gautran; we shall meet again. An acquaintanceship so
happily commenced must not be allowed to drop--nor shall it, while it
suits my purpose.

"At length, John Vanbrugh, you are learning to be wise. You allowed
yourself to be fleeced, sucked dry, and being thrown upon the rocks,
stripped of fortune and the means to woo it, you strove to live as
knaves live, upon the folly of others like yourself. But you were a
poor hand at the trade; you were never cut out for a knave, and you
passed through a succession of reverses so hard as almost to break an
honest man's heart. It is all over now. I see the sun; bright days are
before you, John, the old days over again; but you will spend your
money more prudently, my lad; no squandering; exact its value; be
wise, bold, determined, and you shall not go down with sorrow to the
grave. Edward, my friend, if I had the liquor I would drink to you. As
it is----"

As it was, he wafted a mocking kiss towards the House of White
Shadows, and patiently continued his watch.

Meanwhile Gautran had not been idle.

Upon quitting Vanbrugh, the direction he took was from the House of
White Shadows, but when he was at a safe distance from Vanbrugh, out
of sight and hearing, he paused, and deliberately set his face towards
the villa.

He skirted the hill at its base, and walking with great caution,
pausing frequently to assure himself that he was alone and was not
being followed, arrived at the gates of the villa. He tried the
gates--they were locked. Could he climb over them? He would have
risked the danger--they were set with sharp spikes--had he not known
that it would take some time, and feared that some person passing
along the high road might detect him.

He made his way to the back of the villa, and carefully examined the
walls. His eyes were accustomed to darkness, and he could see pretty
clearly; it was a long time before he discovered a means of ingress,
afforded by an old elm which grew within a few yards of the wall, and
the far-spreading branches of which stretched over the grounds.

He climbed the tree, and crept like a cat along the stoutest branch he
could find. It bent beneath his weight as he hung suspended from it.
It was a fall of twenty feet, but he risked it. He unloosed his hands,
and dropped to the earth. He was shaken, but not bruised. His purpose,
thus far, was accomplished. He was within the grounds of the villa.

All was quiet. When he had recovered from the shock of the fall, he
stepped warily towards the house. Now and then he was startled and
alarmed at the shadows of the trees which moved athwart his path, but
he mastered these terrors, and crept on and on till he heard the soft
sound of a clock striking the hour.

He paused, as the Advocate had done, and counted the strokes.
Midnight. When the sound had quite died away, he stepped forward, and
saw the lights in the study windows.

Was anybody there? He guessed shrewdly enough that if the room was
occupied it would be by no other person than the Advocate. Well, it
was the Advocate he came to see; he had no design of robbery in his
mind.

He stealthily approached a window, and blessed his good fortune to
find that it was partly open. He peered into the study; it was empty.
He climbed the sill, and dropped safely into the room.

What a grand apartment! What costly pictures and vases, what an array
of books and papers! Beautiful objects met his eyes whichever way he
turned. There was the Advocate's chair, there the table at which he
wrote. The Advocate had left the room for a while--this was Gautran's
correct surmise--and intended to return. The lamps fully turned up
were proof of this. He looked at the papers on the table. Could he
have read, he would have seen that many of them bore his own name. On
a massive sideboard there were bottles filled with liquor, and
glasses. He drank three or four glasses rapidly, and then, coiling
himself up in a corner of the room, in a few moments was fast asleep.



                              CHAPTER VI

          PIERRE LAMONT READS LOVE-VERSES TO FRITZ THE FOOL

The bedroom allotted to Pierre Lamont by Mother Denise was situated on
the first floor, and adjoined the apartments prepared for Christian
Almer. As he was unable to walk a step it was necessary that the old
lawyer should be carried upstairs. His body-servant, expressly engaged
to wheel him about and attend to his wants, was ready to perform his
duties, but into Pierre Lamont's head had entered the whim that he
would be assisted to his room by no person but Fritz the Fool. The
servant was sent in search of Fritz, who could not easily be found. It
was quite half an hour before the fool made his appearance, and by
that time all the guests, with the exception of Pierre Lamont, had
left the House of White Shadows.

Out of sympathy with Pierre Lamont's sufferings Father Capel had
remained to chat with him until Fritz arrived. But the priest was
suddenly called away. Mother Denise, entering the room, informed him
that a peasant who lived ten miles from the House of White Shadows
urgently desired to see him. Father Capel was about to go out to the
man, when Adelaide suggested that he should be brought in, and the
peasant accordingly disclosed his errand in the presence of the
Advocate and his wife, Pierre Lamont, and Christian Almer.

"I have been to your house," said the peasant, standing, cap in hand,
in humble admiration of the grandeur by which he was surrounded, "and
was directed here. There is a woman dying in my hut."

"What is her name, and where does she come from?"

"I know not. She has been with us for over three weeks, and it is a
sore burden upon us. It happened in this way, reverend father. My hut,
you know, is in the cleft of a rock, at the foot of the Burger Pass, a
dangerous spot for those who are not familiar with the track. Some
twenty-four days ago it was that my wife in the night roused me with
the tale of a frightful scream, which, proceeding from one in agony
near my hut, pierced her very marrow, and woke her from sleep. I
sprang from my bed, and went into the open, and a few yards down I
found a woman who had fallen from a height, and was lying in delirious
pain upon the sharp stones. I raised her in my arms; she was bleeding
terribly, and I feared she was hurt to death. I did the best I could,
and carried her into my hut, where my wife nursed and tended her. But
from that night to this we have been unable to get one sensible word
from her, and she is now at death's door. She needs your priestly
offices, reverend father, and therefore I have come for you."

"How interesting!" exclaimed Adelaide. "Who will pay you for your
goodness to this poor creature?"

"God," said Father Capel, replying for the peasant. "It is the poor
who help the poor, and in the Kingdom of Heaven our Gracious Lord
rewards them."

"I am content," said the peasant.

"But in the contemplation of the Hereafter," said Pierre Lamont,
"let us not forget the present. There are many whose loads are too
heavy--for instance, asses. There are a few whose loads are too
light--scoffers, like myself. You have had occasion to rebuke me, this
night, Father Capel, and were I not a hardened sinner I should be
groaning in tribulation. That to the last hour of my life I shall
deserve your rebukes, proves me, I fear, beyond hope of redemption.
Still I bear in mind the asses' burden. You have used my purse once,
in penance; use it again, and pay this man for the loss inflicted upon
him by his endeavours to earn the great spiritual reward--which, in
all humility I say it, does not put bread into human stomachs."

Father Capel accepted Pierre Lamont's purse, and said: "I judge not by
words, but by works; your offering shall be justly administered. Come,
let us hasten to this unfortunate woman."

When he and the peasant had departed, Pierre Lamont said, with mock
enthusiasm:

"A good man! a good man! Virtue such as his is a severe burden,
but I doubt not he enjoys it. I prefer to earn my seat in heaven
vicariously, to which end my gold will materially assist. It is as
though paradise can be bought by weight or measure; the longer the
purse the greater the chance of salvation. Ah, here is Fritz.
Good-night, good-night. Bright dreams to all. Gently, Fritz, gently,"
continued the old lawyer, as he was being carried up the stairs, "my
bones are brittle."

"Brittle enough I should say," rejoined Fritz; "chicken bones they
might be from the weight of you."

"Are diamonds heavy, fool?"

"Ha, ha!" laughed Fritz, "if I had the selling of you, Master Lamont,
I should like to make you the valuer. I should get a rare good price
for you at that rate."

In the bedroom Pierre Lamont retained Fritz to prepare him for bed.
The old lawyer, undressed, was a veritable skeleton; there was not an
ounce of superfluous flesh on his shrivelled bones.

"What would you have done in the age of giants?" asked Fritz, making
merry over Pierre Lamont's attenuated form.

"This would have served," replied Pierre Lamont, tapping his forehead
with his forefinger. "I should have contrived so as to be a match for
them. Bring that small table close to the bedside. Now place the lamp
on it. Put your hand into the tail-pocket of my coat; you will find a
silk handkerchief there."

He tied the handkerchief--the colour of which was yellow--about his
head; and as the small, thin face peeped out of it, brown-skinned and
hairless, it looked like the face of a mummy.

Fritz gazed at him, and laughed immoderately, and Pierre Lamont nodded
and nodded at the fool, with a smile of much humour on his lips.

"Enjoy yourself, fool, enjoy yourself," he said kindly; "but don't
pass your life in laughter; it is destructive of brain power. What do
you think of the spirit, Fritz, the appearance of which so alarmed one
of the young ladies in our merry party to-night?"

"What do you think of it?" asked Fritz in return, with a quivering of
his right eyelid, which suspiciously resembled a wink.

"Ah, ah, knave!" cried Pierre Lamont, chuckling. "I half suspected
you."

"You will not tell on me, Master Lamont?"

"Not I, fool. How did you contrive it?"

"With a white sheet and a lantern. I thought it a pity that my lady
should be disappointed. Should she leave the place without some
warranty that spirits are here, the house would lose its character.
Then there is the young master, your Christian Almer. He spoke to me
very much as if I were a beast of the field instead of a--fool. So I
thought I would give him food for thought."

"A dangerous trick, Fritz. Your secret is safe with me, but I would
not try it too often. Are there any books in the room? Look about,
Fritz, look about."

"For books!" exclaimed Fritz. "People go to bed to sleep."

"I go to bed to think," retorted Pierre Lamont, "and read. People are
idiots--they don't know how to use the nights."

"Men are not owls," said Fritz. "There are no books in the room."

"How shall I pass the night?" grumbled Pierre Lamont. "Open that
drawer; there may be something to read in it."

Fritz opened the drawer; it was filled with books. Pierre Lamont
uttered a cry of delight.

"Bring half-a-dozen of them--quick. Now I am happy."

He opened the books which Fritz handed to him, and placed them by his
side on the bed. They were in various languages. Lavater, Zimmermann,
a Latin book on Demonology, poems of Lope da Vega, Klingemann's
tragedies, Italian poems by Zappi, Filicaja, Cassiani, and others.

"You understand all these books, Master Lamont?"

"Of course, fool."

"What language is this?"

"Latin."

"And this?"

"Spanish."

"And this?"

"Italian. No common mind collected these books, Fritz."

"The master that's dead--father of him who sleeps in the next room."

"Ha, ha!" interposed Pierre Lamont, turning over the pages as he
spoke. "He sleeps there, does he?

"Yes. His father was a great scholar, I've heard."

"A various scholar, Fritz, if these books are an epitome of his mind.
Love, philosophy, gloomy wanderings in dark paths--here we have them
all. The lights and shadows of life. Which way runs your taste, fool?"

"I love the light, of course. What use in being a fool if you don't
know how to take advantage of your opportunities?"

"Well said. Let us indulge a little. These poets are sly rascals. They
take unconscionable liberties, and play with women's beauty as other
men dare not do."

Fritz's eyes twinkled.

"It does not escape even you, Master Lamont."

"What does not escape me, fool?"

"Woman's beauty, Master Lamont."

"Have I not eyes in my head and blood in my veins?" asked Pierre
Lamont. "It warms me like wine to know that I and the loveliest woman
for a hundred miles round are caged within the same roof."

Fritz indulged in another fit of laughter, and then exclaimed:

"She has caught you too, eh? Now, who would have thought it? Two of
the cleverest lawyers in the world fixed with one arrow! Beauty is a
divine gift, Master Lamont. To possess it is almost as good as being
born a fool."

"I shall lie awake and read love-verses. Listen to Zappi, fool."

And in a voice really tender, Pierre Lamont read from the book:


         "A hundred pretty little loves, in fun,
          Were romping; laughing, rioting one day."


"A hundred!" cried Fritz, chuckling and rubbing his hands. "A
hundred--pretty--little loves! If Father Capel were to hear you, his
face would grow as long as my arm.

"Wrong, Fritz, wrong. His face would beam, and he would listen for the
continuation of the poem."

And Pierre Lamont resumed:


         "'Let's fly a little now,' said one, 'I pray.'
          'Whither?' 'To beauty's face.' 'Agreed--'tis done.'

         "Faster than bees to flowers they wing their way
            To lovely maids--to mine, the sweetest one;
            And to her hair and panting lips they run--
          Now here, now there, now everywhere they stray.

         "My love so full of loves--delightful sight!
            Two with their torches in her eyes, and two
          Upon her eyelids with their bows alight."


"You read rarely, Master Lamont," said Fritz. "It is true, is it not,
that, when you were in practice, you were called the lawyer with the
silver tongue?"

"It has been said of me, Fritz."

The picture of this withered, dried-up old lawyer, sitting up in bed,
with a yellow handkerchief for a night-cap tied round his head,
reading languishing verses in a tender voice, and striving to bring
into his weazened features an expression in harmony with them, was
truly a comical one.

"Why, Master Lamont," said Fritz in admiration, "you were cut out for
a gallant. Had you recited those lines in the drawing-room, you would
have had all the ladies at your feet--supposing," he added, with a
broad grin, "they had all been blind."

"Ah me!" said Pierre Lamont, throwing aside the book with a mocking
sigh. "Too old--too old!"

"And shrunken," said Fritz.

"It is not to be denied, Fritz. And shrunken."

"And ugly."

"You stick daggers into me. Yes--and ugly. Ah!" and with simulated
wrath he shook his fist in the air, "if I were but like my brother the
Advocate! Eh, Fritz--eh?"

Fritz shook his head slowly.

"If I were not a fool, I should say I would much rather be as you are,
old, and withered, and ugly, and a cripple, than be standing in the
place of your brother the Advocate. And so would you, Master Lamont,
for all your love-songs."

"I can teach you nothing, fool. Push the lamp a little nearer to me.
Give me my waistcoat. Here is a gold piece for you. I owe you as much,
I think. We will keep our own counsel, Fritz. Good-night."

"Good--night, Master Lamont. I am sorry that trial is over. It was
rare fun!"



                             CHAPTER VII

                          MISTRESS AND MAID


"Dionetta?"

"Yes, my lady."

The maid and her mistress were in Adelaide's dressing-room, and
Dionetta was brushing her lady's hair, which hung down in rich, heavy
waves.

She smiled at herself in the glass before which she was sitting, and
her mood became more joyous as she noted the whiteness of her teeth
and the beautiful expression of her mouth when she smiled. There was
an irresistible fascination in her smile; it flashed into all her
features, like a laughing sunrise.

She was never tired of admiring her beauty; it was to her a most
precious possession of which nothing but time could rob her. "To-day
is mine," she frequently said to herself, and she wished with all her
heart that there were no to-morrow.

Yes, to-day was hers, and she was beautiful, and, gazing at the
reflection of her fair self, she thought that she did not look more
than eighteen.

"Do you think I do, child?" she asked of Dionetta.

"Think you do what, my lady?" inquired Dionetta.

Adelaide laughed, a musical, child-like laugh which any man, hearing,
would have judged to be an expression of pure innocent delight. She
derived pleasure even from this pleasant sound.

"I was thinking to myself, and I believed I was speaking aloud. Do you
think I look twenty-five?"

"No, indeed, my lady, not by many years. You look younger than I do."

"And you are not eighteen, Dionetta."

"Not yet, my lady."

Adelaide's eyes sparkled. It was indeed true that she looked younger
than her maid, who was in herself a beauty and young-looking.

"Dionetta," she said, presently, after a pause, "I have had a curious
dream."

"I saw you close your eyes for a moment, my lady."

"I dreamt I was the most beautiful woman in all this wide world."

"You are, my lady."

The words were uttered in perfect honesty and simplicity. Her mistress
was truly the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.

"Nonsense, child, nonsense--there are others as fair, although I
should not fear to stand beside them. It was only a dream, and this
but the commencement of it. I was the most beautiful woman in the
world. I had the handsomest features, the loveliest figure, and a
shape that sculptors would have called perfection. I had the most
exquisite dresses that ever were worn, and everything in that way a
woman's heart could desire."

"A happy dream, my lady!"

"Wait. I had a palace to live in, in a land where it was summer the
whole year through. Such gardens, Dionetta, and such flowers as one
only sees in dreams. I had rings enough to cover my fingers a dozen
times over; diamonds in profusion for my hair, and neck, and
arms,--trunks full of them, and of old lace, and of the most wonderful
jewels the mind can conceive. Would you believe it, child, in spite of
all this, I was the most miserable woman in the universe?"

"It is hard to believe, my lady."

"Not when I tell you the reason. Dionetta, I was absolutely alone.
There was not a single person near me, old or young--not one to look
at me, to envy me, to admire me, to love me. What was the use of
beauty, diamonds, flowers, dresses? The brightest eyes, the loveliest
complexion, the whitest skin--all were thrown away. It would have been
just as well if I had been dressed in rags, and were old and wrinkled
as Pierre Lamont. Now, what I learn from my dream is this--that beauty
is not worth having unless it is admired and loved, and unless other
people can see it as well as yourself."

"Everybody sees that you are beautiful, my lady; it is spoken of
everywhere."

"Is it, Dionetta, really, now, is it?"

"Yes, my lady. And you are admired and loved."

"I think I am, child; I know I am. So that my dream goes for nothing.
A foolish fancy, was it not, Dionetta?--but women are never satisfied.
I should never be tired--never, never, of hearing the man I love say,
'I love you, I love you! You are the most beautiful, the dearest, the
sweetest!'"

She leant forward and looked closely at herself in the glass, and then
sank back in her chair and smiled, and half-closed her eyes.

"Dionetta," she said presently, "what makes you so pale?"

"It is the Shadow, my lady, that was seen to-night," replied Dionetta
in a whisper; "I cannot get it out of my mind."

"But you did not see it?"

"No, my lady; but it was there."

"You believe in ghosts?"

"Yes, my lady."

"You would not have the courage to go where one was to be seen?"

"Not for all the gold in the world, my lady."

"But the other servants are more courageous?"

"They may be, but they would not dare to go; they said so to-night,
all of them."

"They have been speaking of it, then?"

"Oh, yes; of scarcely anything else. Grandmother said to-night that if
you had not come to the villa, the belief in the shadows would have
died away altogether."

"That is too ridiculous," interrupted Adelaide. "What can I have to do
with them?"

"If you had not come," said Dionetta, "grandmother said our young
master would not be here. It is because he is in the house, sleeping
here for the first night for so many, many years, that the spirit of
his mother appeared to him."

"But your grandmother has told me she did not believe in the shadows."

"My lady, I think she is changing her opinion--else she would never
have said what she did. It is long since I have seen her so
disturbed."

Adelaide rose from her chair, the fairest picture of womanhood eyes
ever gazed upon. A picture an artist would have contemplated with
delight. She stood still for a few moments, her hand resting on her
writing-desk.

"Your grandmother does not like me, Dionetta."

"She has not said so, my lady," said Dionetta after an awkward pause.

"Not directly, child," said Adelaide, "and I have no reason to
complain of want of respect in her. But one always knows whether one
is really liked or not."

"She is growing old," murmured Dionetta apologetically, "and has seen
very little of ladies."

"Neither have you, child. Yet you do not dislike me."

"My lady, if I dare to say it, I love you."

"There is no daring in it, child. I love to be loved--and I would
sooner be loved by the young than the old. Come here, pretty one. Your
ears are like little pink shells, and deserve something better than
those common rings in them. Put these in their place."

She took from a jewel-case a pair of earrings, turquoise and small
diamonds, and with her own hands made the exchange.

"Oh, my lady," sighed Dionetta with a rose-light in her face. "They
are too grand for me! What shall I say when people see them?"

The girl's heart was beating quick with ecstasy. She looked at herself
in the glass, and uttered a cry of joy.

"Say that I gave them to you because I love you. I never had a maid
who pleased me half as much. Does this prove it?" and she put her lips
to Dionetta's face. The girl's eyes filled with tears, and she kissed
Adelaide's hand in a passion of gratitude.

"I love you, Dionetta, because you love me, and because I can trust
you."

"You can, my lady. I will serve you with all my heart and soul. But I
have done nothing for you that any other girl could not have done."

"Would you like to do something for me that I would trust no other to
do?"

"Yes, my lady," eagerly answered Dionetta. "I should be proud."

"And you will tell no one?'

"Not a soul, my lady, if you command me."

"I do command you. It is easy to do--merely to deliver a note, and to
say: 'This is from my mistress.'"

"Oh, my lady, that is no task at all. It is so simple."

"Simple as it is, I do not wish even your grandmother to hear of it."

"She shall not--nor any person. I swear it."

In the extravagance of her gratitude and joy, she kissed a little
cross that hung from her neck.

"You have made me your friend for life," said Adelaide, "the best
friend you ever had, or ever will have."

She sat down to her desk, and on a sheet of note-paper wrote these
words:


"Dear Christian:

"I cannot sleep until I wish you good-night, with no horrid people
around us. Let me see you for one minute only.

                                       "Adelaide."


Placing the sheet of note-paper in an envelope, she gave it to
Dionetta, saying:

"Take this to Mr. Almer's room, and give it to him. It is nothing of
any importance, but he will be pleased to receive it."

Dionetta, marvelling why her lady should place any value upon so
slight a service, went upstairs with the note, and returned with the
information that Christian Almer was not in his room.

"But his door is open, my lady," she said, "and the lamps are
burning."

"Go then, again," said Adelaide, "and place the note on his desk.
There is no harm, child; he cannot see you, as he is not there, and if
he were, he would not be angry."

Dionetta obeyed without fear, and when she told her mistress that the
note was placed where Christian Almer was sure to see it, Adelaide
kissed her again, and wished her "Good-night."



                             CHAPTER VIII

                     IN THE HOME OF HIS CHILDHOOD

Upon no person had the supposed appearance of a phantom in the grounds
of the House of White Shadows produced so profound an impression as
upon Christian Almer. This was but natural. Even supposing him not to
have been a man of susceptibility, the young lady's terror, as she
gazed at the shadow, could not have failed to make an impression upon
him.

It was the first night of his return, after an absence of many years,
to the house in which he had been born and had passed his unhappy
childhood's life: and the origin of the belief in these white shadows
which were said to haunt his estate was so closely woven into his
personal history as almost to form a part of himself. He had never
submitted his mind to a rigid test of belief or disbelief in these
signs; one of the principal aims of his life had been, not only to
avoid the villa, but to shut out all thought of the tragic events
which had led to the death of his parents.

He loved them both with an equal love. When he thought of his mother
he saw a woman patient in suffering, of a temper exquisitely sweet,
whose every word and act towards her child was fraught with
tenderness. When he thought of his father he saw a man high-principled
and just, inflexible in matters of right and conscience, patient also
in suffering, and bearing in silence, as his mother did, a grief which
had poisoned his life and hers.

Neither of his parents had ever spoken a word against the other;
the mystery which kept this tender, loving woman, and this just,
high-principled man, apart, was never disclosed to their child. On
this subject they entrenched themselves behind a barrier of silence
which the child's love and winning ways could not penetrate. Only when
his mother's eyes were closed and her lips sealed by death was he
privileged to witness how deeply his father had loved her.

Much of what had been disclosed to the Advocate's wife by Mother
Denise was absolutely unknown to him. Doubtless he could have learned
every particular of the circumstances which had led to the separation
of his parents, had his wish lain in that direction; but a delicate
instinct whispered to him not to lift the veil, and he would permit no
person to approach the subject in his presence.

The bright appearance of his sitting-room cheered him when he entered
it, after bidding the Advocate good-night. But this pleasurable sense
was not unalloyed. His heart and his conscience were disturbed, and as
he took up a handful of roses which had been thrown loose into a bowl
and inhaled their fragrance, a guilty thrill shot through his veins.

With the roses in his hand he stood before the picture of Adelaide,
which she had hung above his desk. How bright and beautiful was the
face, how lovely the smile with which she greeted him! It was almost
as if she were speaking to him, telling him that she loved him, and
asking him to assure her once more that her love was returned.

For a moment the fancy came upon him that Adelaide and he were like
two stars wandering through a dark and dangerous path, and that before
them lay death, and worse than death--dishonour and irretrievable
ruin; and that she, the brighter star, holding him tightly by the
hand, was whispering:

"I will guide you safely; only love me!"

There was one means of escape--death! A coward's refuge, which might
not even afford him a release from dishonour, for Adelaide in her
despair might let their secret escape her.

Why, then, should he torture himself unnecessarily? It was not in his
power to avert the inevitable. He had not deliberately chosen his
course. Fate had driven him into it. Was it not best, after all, to do
as he had said to the Advocate that night, to submit without a
struggle? Men were not masters, but slaves.

When the image of the Advocate, of his friend, presented itself to
him, he thrust it sadly from him. But it came again and again, like
the ghost of Banquo; conscience refused to be tricked.

Crumbling the roses in his hand, and strewing the floor with the
leaves, he turned, and saw, gazing wistfully at him, the eyes of his
mother.

The artist who had painted her picture had not chosen to depict her in
her most joyous mood. In _his_ heart also, as she sat before him,
love's fever was burning, and he knew, while his brush was fixing her
beauty on the canvas, that his love was returned, though treachery had
parted them. He had striven, not unsuccessfully, to portray in her
features the expression of one who loved and to whom love was denied.
The look in her eyes was wistful rather than hopeless, and conveyed,
to those who knew her history, the idea of one who hoped to find in
another world the happiness she had lost in this.

Sad and tender reminiscences of the years he had lived with his mother
in these very rooms stole into Christian Almer's mind, and he allowed
his thoughts to dwell upon the question, "Why had she been unhappy?"
She was young, beautiful, amiable, rich; her husband was a man
honoured and esteemed, with a character above reproach. What secret
would be revealed if the heart of this mystery were laid bare to his
sight? If it were in his power to ascertain the truth, might not the
revelation cause him additional sorrow? Better, then, to let the
matter rest. No good purpose could be served by raking up the ashes of
a melancholy past. His parents were dead----

And here occurred a sudden revulsion. His mother was dead--and, but a
few short minutes since, her spirit was supposed to have appeared in
the grounds of the villa. Almost upon the thought, he hurriedly left
the room, and made his way into the gardens.


                           *  *  *  *  *  *


"My neighbour, and master of this house," said Pierre Lamont, who was
lying wide awake in the adjoining room, "does not seem inclined to
rest. Something disturbs him."

Pierre Lamont was alone; Fritz the Fool had left him for the night,
and the old lawyer, himself in no mood for sleep, was reading and
listening to the movements around him. There was little to hear, only
an occasional muffled sound which the listener interpreted as best
he could; but Christian Almer, when he left his room, had to pass
Pierre Lamont's door in his progress to the grounds, and it was the
clearer sound of his footsteps which led Pierre Lamont to his correct
conclusion.

"He is going out of the house," continued Pierre Lamont. "For what? To
look for his mother's ghost, perhaps. Fool Fritz, in raising this
particular ghost, did not foresee what it might lead to. Ghosts! And
fools still live who believe in them! Well, well, but for the world's
delusions there would be little work for busy minds to accomplish. As
a fantastic piece of imagery I might conjure up an army of men
sweeping the world with brooms made of brains--of knavery, folly,
trickery, and delusion. What is that? A footstep! Human? No. Too light
for any but the feet of a cat!"

But here Pierre Lamont was at fault. It was Dionetta who passed his
door in the passage, conveying to Christian Almer's room the note
written by the Advocate's wife. Before the arrival of her new
mistress, Dionetta had always worn thick boots, and the sound of her
footstep was plain to hear; but Adelaide's nerves could not endure the
creaking and clattering, and she had supplied her maid with shoes.
Besides, Dionetta had naturally a light step.


                           *  *  *  *  *  *


Christian Almer met with nothing in the grounds to disturb him. No
airy shadow appeared to warn him of the danger which threatened him.
Were it possible for the spirits of the dead to make themselves seen
and heard, assuredly the spirit of his mother would have appeared and
implored him to fly from the house without delay. Happy for him would
it have been were he one of the credulous fools Pierre Lamont held in
despisal--happy for him could he have formed, out of the shadows which
moved around him, a spirit in which he would have believed, and could
he have heard, in the sighing of the breeze, a voice which would have
impressed him with a true sense of the peril in which he stood.

But he heard and saw nothing for which he could not naturally account,
and within a few minutes of midnight he re-entered his room.


                           *  *  *  *  *  *


"My neighbour has returned," said Pierre Lamont, "after his nocturnal
ramble in search of the spirit of his dead mother. Hark! That sound
again! As of some living thing stepping cautiously on the boards. If I
were not a cripple I would satisfy myself whether this villa is
tormented by restless cats as well as haunted by unholy spirits. When
will science supply mankind with the means of seeing, as well as
hearing, what is transpiring on the other side of stone and wooden
walls?

"Ah, that door of his is creaking. It opens--shuts. I hear a murmur of
voices, but cannot catch a word. Almer's voice of course--and the
Advocate's. No--the other voice and the soft footsteps are in
partnership. Not the Advocate's, nor any man's. Men don't tread like
cats. It was a woman who passed my door, and who has been admitted
into that room. Being a woman, what woman? If Fool Fritz were here, we
would ferret it out between us before we were five minutes older.

"Still talking--talking--like the soft murmur of peaceful waves. Ah! a
laugh! By all that's natural, a woman's laugh! It is a woman! And I
should know that silvery sound. There is a special music in a laugh
which cannot be mistaken. It is distinctive--characteristic.

"Ah, my lady, my lady! Fair face, false heart--but woman, woman all
over!"

And Pierre Lamont rubbed his hands, and also laughed--but his laugh
was like his speech, silent, voiceless.



                              CHAPTER IX

                CHRISTIAN ALMER RECEIVES TWO VISITORS


Upon Christian Almer's desk lay the note written by Adelaide. He saw
it the moment he entered the room, and knew, therefore, that some
person had called during his absence. At first he thought it must have
been the Advocate, who, not finding him in his room, had left the note
for him; but as he opened the envelope a faint perfume floated from
it.

"It is from Adelaide," he murmured. "How often and how vainly have I
warned her!"

He read the note:


"Dear Christian:

"I cannot sleep until I wish you good-night, with no horrid people
around us. Let me see you for one minute only.

                                            "Adelaide."


To comply with her request at such an hour would be simple folly;
infatuated as he was he would not deliberately commit himself to such
an act.

"Surely she cannot have been here," he thought. "But if another hand
placed this note upon my desk, another person must share the secret
which it is imperative should never be revealed. I must be firm with
her. There must be an end to this imprudence. Fortunately there is no
place in Edward's nature for suspicion."

He blushed with shame at the unworthy thought. Five years ago, could
he have seen--he who up to that time never had stooped to meanness and
deceit--the position in which he now stood, he would have rejected the
mere suspicion of its possibility with indignation. But by what
fatally easy steps had he reached it!

In the midst of these reflections his heart almost stopped beating at
the sound of a light footstep without. He listened, and heard a soft
tapping on the door, not with the knuckles, but with the finger-tips;
he opened the door, and Adelaide stood smiling before him.

With her finger at her lips she stepped into the room, and closed the
door behind her.

"It would not do for me to be seen," she whispered. "Do not be
alarmed; I shall not be here longer than one little minute. I have
only come to wish you good-night. Give me a chair, or I shall sink to
the ground. I am really very, very frightened. Quick; bring me a
chair. Do you not see how weak I am?"

He drew a chair towards Her, and she sank languidly into it.

"As you would not come to me," she said, "I was compelled to come to
you."

"Compelled!" he said.

They spoke in low tones, fearful lest their voices should travel
beyond the room.

"Yes, compelled. I was urged by a spirit."

His face grew white. "A spirit!"

"How you echo me, Christian. Yes, by a spirit, to which you yourself
shall give a name. Shall we call it a spirit of restlessness, or
jealousy, or love?" She gazed at him with an arch smile.

"Adelaide," he said, "your imprudence will ruin us."

"Nonsense, Christian, nonsense," she said lightly; "ruined because I
happened to utter one little word! To be sure I ought, so as to prove
myself an apt pupil, to put a longer word before it, and call it
platonic love. How unreasonable you are! What harm is there in our
having a moment's chat? We are old friends, are we not? No, I will not
let you interrupt me; I know what you are going to say. You are going
to say, Think of the hour! I decline to think of the hour. I think of
nothing but you. And instead of looking delighted, as you should do,
as any other man would do, there you stand as serious as an owl. Now,
answer me, sir. Why did you not come to me the moment you received my
note?"

"I had but just read it when you tapped at my door."

"I forgive you. Where have you been? With the Advocate?"

"No; I have been walking in the grounds."

"You saw nothing, Christian?" she asked with a little shiver.

"Nothing to alarm or disturb me."

"There was a light in the Advocate's study, was there not?"

"Yes."

"He will remain up late, and then he will retire to his room. My life
is a very bright and beautiful life with him. He is so tender in his
ways--so fond of pleasure--pays me so much attention, and _such_
compliments--is so light--hearted and joyous--sings to me, dances with
me! Oh, you don't know him, you don't indeed. I remember asking him to
join in a cotillon; you should have seen the look he gave me!" She
laughed out loud, and clapped her hand on her mouth to stifle the
sound. "I wonder whether he was ever young, like you and me. What a
wonderful child he must have been--with scientific toys, and books
always under his arm--yes, a wonderful child, holding in disdain
little girls who wished him to join in their innocent games. What is
your real opinion of him, Christian?"

"It pains me to hear you speak of him in that way."

"It should please you; but men are never satisfied. I speak lightly,
do I not, but there are moments when I shudder at my fate. Confess, it
is not a happy one."

"It is not," he replied, after a pause, "but if I had not crossed your
path, life would be full of joy for you."

It was not this he intended to say, but there was such compelling
power in her lightest words that his very thoughts seemed to be under
her dominion.

"There would have been no joy in my life," she said, "without you. We
will not discuss it. What is, is. Sometimes when I think of things
they make my head ache. Then I say, I will think of them no longer. If
everybody did the same, would not this world be a great deal
pleasanter than it is? Oh, you must not forget what the Advocate
called me to-night in your presence--a philosopher in petticoats.
Don't you see that even he is on my side, though it is against
himself? Of course one can't help respecting him. He is a very learned
man. He should have married a very learned woman. What a pity it is
that I am not wise! But that is not my fault. I hate learning, I hate
science, I hate theories. What is the good of them? They say, this is
not right, that is not right. And all we poor creatures can do is to
look on in a state of bewilderment, and wonder what they mean. If
people would only let the world alone, they would find it a very
beautiful world. But they will _not_ let it alone; they _will_ meddle.
A flower, now--is it not sweet--is it not enough that it is sent to
give us pleasure? But these disagreeable people say, 'Of what is this
flower composed--is it as good as other flowers--has it qualities, and
what qualities?' What do I care? I put it in my hair, and I am happy
because it becomes me, because it is pretty, because Nature sent it to
me to enjoy. Why, I have actually made you smile!"

"Because there is a great deal of natural wisdom in what you are
saying----"

"Natural wisdom! There now, does it not prove I am right? Thank you,
Christian. It comes to you to say exactly the right thing exactly at
the right time. I shall begin to feel proud."

"And," continued Almer, "if you were only to talk to me like that in
the middle of the day instead of the middle of the night----"

She interrupted him again:

"You have undone it all with your 'ifs.' What does it matter if it is
in the middle of the day or the middle of the night? What is right, is
right, is it not, without thinking of the time? Don't get
disagreeable; but indeed I will not allow you to be anything but nice
to me. You have made me forget everything I was going to say."

"Except one thing," he said gravely, "which you came to say,
'Good-night.'"

"The minute is not gone yet," she said with a silvery laugh.

"Many minutes, many minutes," he said helplessly, "and every minute is
fraught with danger."

"I will protect you," she said with supreme assurance. "Do not fear. I
see quite plainly that if there is a dragon to kill I shall have to be
the St. George. Well, I am ready. Danger is sweet when you are with
me."

He was powerless against her; he resigned himself to his fate.

"Who brought your letter to my room?" he asked. "Dionetta."

"Have you confided in her?"

"She knows nothing, and she is devoted to me. If the simple maid
thought of the letter at all--as to what was in it, I mean--she
thought, of course, that it was something I wanted you to do for me
to-morrow, and had forgotten to tell you. But even here I was prudent,
although you do not give me credit for prudence. I made her promise
not to tell a soul, not even her grandmother, that queer, good old
Mother Denise, that she had taken a letter from me to you. She did
more than promise--she swore she would not tell. I bribed her,
Christian--I gave her things, and to-night I gave her a pair of
earrings. You should have witnessed her delight! I would wager that
she is at this moment no more asleep than I am. She is looking at
herself in the glass, shaking her pretty little head to make the
diamonds glisten."

"Diamonds, Adelaide! A simple maid like Dionetta with diamond
earrings! What will the folks say?"

"Oh, they all know I am fond of her----"

They started to their feet with a simultaneous movement.

"Footsteps!" whispered Almer.

"The Advocate's," said Adelaide, and she glided to the door, and
turned the key as softly as if it were made of velvet.

"He will see a light in the room," said Christian. "He has come to
talk with me. What shall we do?"

She gazed at him with a bright smile. His face was white with
apprehension; hers, red with excitement and exaltation.

"I am St. George," she whispered; "but really there is no dragon to
kill; we have only to send him to sleep. Of course you must see him. I
will conceal myself in the inner room, and you will lock me in, and
put the key in your pocket, so that I shall be quite safe. Do not be
uneasy about me; I can amuse myself with books and pictures, and I
will turn over the leaves so quietly that even a butterfly would not
be disturbed. And when the dragon is gone I will run away immediately.
I am almost sorry I came, it has distressed you so."

She kissed the tips of her fingers to him, and entered the adjoining
room. Then, turning the key in the door Christian Almer admitted the
Advocate.



                              CHAPTER X

                      A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE WEB


Pause we here a moment, and contemplate the threads of the web which
Chance, Fate, or Retribution was weaving round this man.

With the exception of a few idle weeks in his youth, his life had been
a life of honour and renown. His ambition was a worthy one, and
success had not been attained without unwearying labour and devotion.
Close study and application, zeal, earnestness, unflagging industry,
these were the steps in the ladder he had climbed. Had it not been for
his keen intellect these qualities would not have been sufficient to
conduct him to the goal he had in view. Good luck is not to be
despised, but unless it is allied with brain power of a high order
only an ephemeral success can be achieved.

Never, to outward appearance, was a great reputation more stable or
better deserved. His wonderful talents, and the victories he had
gained in the face of formidable odds, had destroyed all the petty
jealousies with which he had to cope in the outset of his career, and
he stood now upon a lofty pinnacle, acknowledged by all as a master in
his craft. Wealth and distinction were his, and higher honours lay
within his grasp; and, in addition, he had won for his wife one of the
most beautiful of women. It seemed as if the world had nothing to add
to his happiness.

And yet destruction stared him in the face. The fabric he had raised,
on a foundation so secure that it appeared as if nothing could shake
it, was tottering, and might fall, destroying him and all he had
worked for in the ruins.

He stood at the door of the only man in the world to whom he had given
the full measure of his friendship. With all the strength of his
nature he believed in Christian Almer. In the gravest crisis of his
life he would have called this friend to his side, and would have
placed in his hands, without hesitation, his life, his reputation, and
his honour. To Almer, in their conversation, he had revealed what may
be termed his inner life, that life the workings of which were
concealed from all other men. And in this friend's chamber his wife
was concealed; and dishonour hung over him by the slenderest thread.
Not only dishonour, but unutterable grief, for he loved this woman
with a most complete undoubting love. Little time had he for
dalliance; but he believed in his wife implicitly. His trust in her
was a perfect trust.

Within the room at the door of which he was waiting, stood his one
friend, with white face and guilty conscience, about to admit him and
grasp his hand. Had the heart of this friend been laid bare to him, he
would have shrunk from it in horror and loathing, and from that moment
to the last moment of his life the sentiment of friendship would have
been to him the bitterest mockery and delusion with which man could be
cursed.

Not five yards from where he stood lay Pierre Lamont, listening and
watching for proofs of the perfidy which would bring disgrace upon
him--which would cause men and women to speak of him in terms of
derision for his blindness and scorn for his weakness--which would
make a byeword of him--of him, the great Advocate, who had played his
part in many celebrated cases in which woman's faithlessness and
disloyalty were the prominent features--and which would cause him to
regard the sentiment of love as the falsest delusion with which
mankind was ever afflicted.

In the study he had left but a few minutes since slept a man who, in a
certain sense, claimed comradeship with him, a man whom he had
championed and set free, a self-confessed murderer, a wretch so vile
that he had fled from him in horror at the act he had himself
accomplished.

And in the open air, upon a hill, a hundred yards from the House of
White Shadows, lay John Vanbrugh, a friend of his youth, a man
disgraced by his career, watching for the signal which would warrant
him in coming forward and divulging what was in his mind. If what John
Vanbrugh had disclosed in his mutterings during his lonely watch was
true, he held in his hands the key to a mystery, which, revealed,
would overwhelm the Advocate with shame and infamy.

Thus was he threatened on all sides by friend and foe alike.



                              CHAPTER XI

                               A CRISIS


"Have I disturbed you, Christian?" asked the Advocate, entering the
room. "I hesitated a moment or two, hearing no sound, but seeing your
lamp was lighted, I thought you were up, and might be expecting me."

"I had an idea you would come," said Almer, with a feeling of relief
at the Advocate's statement that he had heard no sound; and then he
said, so that he might be certain of his ground, "You have not been to
my room before to-night?"

"No; for the last two hours I have not left my study. Half an hour's
converse with you will do me good. I am terribly jaded."

"The reaction of the excitement of the long trial in which you have
been engaged."

"Probably; though I have endured fatigue as great without feeling as
jaded as I do now."

"You must take rest. Your doctors who prescribed repose for you would
be angry if they were aware of the strain you have put upon your
mind."

"They do know. The physician I place the greatest faith in writes to
me that I must have been mad to have undertaken Gautran's defence. It
might have been better if I had not entered into that trial."

"You have one consolation. Defended by a lawyer less eminent than
yourself, an unfortunate man might have been convicted of a crime he
did not commit."

"Yes," said the Advocate slowly, "that is true."

"You compel admiration, Edward. With frightful odds against you, with
the public voice against you, you voluntarily engage in a contest from
which nothing is to be gained, and come out triumphant. I do not envy
the feelings of the lawyers on the other side."

"At least, Christian, as you have said, they have the public voice
with them."

"And you, Edward, have justice on your side, and the consciousness of
right. The higher height is yours; you must regard these narrower
minds with a feeling of pity."

"I have no feeling whatever for them; they do not trouble me.
Christian, we will quit the subject of Gautran; you can well
understand that I have had enough of him. Let us speak of yourself. I
am an older man than you, and there is something of a fatherly
interest in the friendship I entertain for you. Since my marriage I
have sometimes thought if I had a son I should have been pleased if
his nature resembled yours, and if I had a daughter it would be in the
hands of such a man as yourself I should wish to place her happiness."

"You esteem me too highly," said Almer, in a tone of sadness.

"I esteem you as you deserve, friend. Within your nature are
possibilities you do not recognise. It is needful to be bold in this
world, Christian; not arrogant, or over-confident, or vain-glorious,
but modestly bold. Unless a man assert himself his powers will lie
dormant; and not to use the gifts with which we are endowed is a
distinct reproach upon us. I have heard able men say it is a crime to
neglect our powers, for great gifts are bestowed upon us for others'
good as well as for our own. Besides, it is healthy in every way to
lead a busy life, to set our minds upon the accomplishment of certain
tasks. If we fail--well, failure is very often more honourable than
success. We have at least striven to mount the hill which rises above
the pettiness and selfishness of our everyday life; we have at least
proved ourselves worthy of the spiritual influences which prompt the
execution of noble deeds. You did not reply to the letter I sent you
in the mountains; but Adelaide heard from you, and that is sufficient.
Sufficient, also, that you are here with us, and that we know we have
a true friend in the house. You were many weeks in the mountains."

"Yes."

"Were you engaged on any work? Did you paint or write?"

"I made a few sketches, which pleased me one day and displeased me the
next, so I tore them up and threw them away. There is enough
indifferent work in the world."

"Nothing short of perfection will satisfy you," said the Advocate with
a serious smile; "but some men must march in the ranks."

"I am not worthy even of that position," said Almer moodily.

The Advocate regarded him with thoughtful eyes.

"If your mind is not deeply reflective, if your power of observation
applies only to the surface of things, you are capable of imparting
what some call tenderness and I call soul, to every subject which
presents itself to you. I have detected this in your letters and
conversation. It is a valuable quality. I grant that you may be unfit
to cope with practical matters, but in your study you would be able to
produce works which would charm if they did not instruct. There is in
you a heart instinct which, as it forms part of your nature, would
display itself in everything you wrote."

"Useless, Edward, useless! My father was an author; it brought him no
happiness."

"How do you know? It may have afforded him consolation, and that is
happiness. But I was not speaking of happiness. The true artist does
not look to results. He has only one aim and one desire--to produce a
perfect work. His task being done--not that he produces a perfect
work, but the ennoblement lies in the aspiration and the earnest
application--that being done, he has accomplished something worthy,
whatever its degree of excellence. The day upon which a man first
devotes himself to such labour he awakes within his being a new and
delightful life, the life of creative thought. Fresh wonders
continually reveal themselves--quaint suggestions, exquisite fancies,
and he makes use of them according to the strength of his intellect.
He enriches the world."

"And if he is a poor man, starves."

"Maybe; but he wears the crown. You, however, are rich."

"Nothing to be grateful for. I had no incentive to effort, therefore I
stand to-day an idle, aimless man. You have spoken of books. When I
looked at crowded bookshelves, I should blush at the thought of adding
to them any rubbish of my own creation."

"I find no fault with you for that. Blush if you like--but work,
produce."

"And let the world call me vain and presumptuous."

"Give it the chance of judging; it may be the other way. Perhaps the
greatest difficulty we have to encounter in life is in the discovery
of that kind of work for which we are best fitted. Fortunate the man
who gravitates to it naturally, and who, having the capacity to become
a fine shoemaker, is not clapped upon a watchmaker's bench instead of
a cobbler's stool. Being fitted, he is certain to acquire some kind of
distinction. Believe me, Christian, it is not out of idleness, or for
the mere purpose of making conversation that I open up this subject.
It would afford me great pleasure if you were in a more settled frame
of mind. You cannot disguise from me that you are uneasy, perhaps
unhappy. I see it this very moment in your wandering glances, and in
the difficulty you experience in fixing your attention upon what I am
saying. You are not satisfied with yourself. You have probably arrived
at that stage when a man questions himself as to what is before
him--when he reviews the past, and discovers that he has allowed the
years to slip by without having made an effort to use them to a worthy
end. You ask yourself, 'Is it for this I am here? Are there not
certain duties which I ought to perform? If I allow the future to slip
away as the past has done, without having accomplished a man's work in
the world, I shall find myself one day an old man, of whom it may be
said, "He lived only for himself; he had no thought, no desire beyond
himself; the struggles of humanity, the advance of civilisation, the
progress and development of thought which have effected such
marvellous changes in the aspects of society, the exposing of
error--these things touched him not; he bore no part in them, but
stood idly by, a careless observer, whose only ambition it was to
utilise the hours to his own selfish pleasures."' A heavy charge,
Christian. What you want is occupation. Politics--your inclinations do
not lead that way; trade is abhorrent to you. You are not sufficiently
frivolous to develop into a butterfly leader of fashion. Law is
distasteful to you. Science demands qualities which you do not
possess. For a literary life you are specially adapted. I say to you,
turn your attention to it for a while. If it disappoint you, it is
easy to relinquish it. It will be but an attempt made in the right
direction. But understand, Christian, without earnestness, without
devotion, without application, it will be useless to make the
attempt."

"And that is precisely the reason why I hesitate to make it. I am
wanting in firmness of purpose. I doubt myself; I should have begun
earlier."

"But you will think over what I have said?"

"Yes, I will think of it, and I cordially thank you."

"And now tell me how you enjoyed yourself in the mountains."

"Passably well. It was a negative sort of life. There was no pleasure
in it, and no pain. One day was so exactly like another, that I should
scarcely have been surprised if I had awoke one morning and discovered
that in the dull uniformity of the hours my hair had grown white and I
into an old man. The principal subject of interest was the weather,
and that palled so soon that sunshine or storm became a matter of
indifference to me."

"Look at me a moment, Christian."

They sat gazing at each other in silence for a little while. There was
an unusual tenderness in the Advocate's eyes which pierced Christian
Almer to the heart. During the whole of this interview the thought
never left his mind:

"If he knew the part I am playing towards him--if he suspected that
simply by listening at this inner door he could hear his wife's soft
breathing--in what way would he call me to account for my treachery?"

He dreaded every moment that something would occur to betray him.

Adelaide was careless, reckless. If she made a movement to attract
attention, if she overturned a chair, if she let a book fall, what was
he to say in answer to the Advocate's questioning look?

But all was quiet within; he was tortured only by the whisperings of
his conscience.

"You are suffering, Christian," said the Advocate.

Almer knew intuitively that on this point, as on many others, it would
be useless to attempt to deceive the Advocate. To return an evasive
answer might arouse suspicion. He said simply:

"Yes, I am suffering."

"It is not bodily suffering, though your pulse is feverish." He had
taken Almer's wrist, and his fingers were on the pulse. "Your disease
is mental." He paused, but Almer did not speak. "It is no breach of
confidence," continued the Advocate, "to tell you that on the first
day of my entering Geneva, Jacob Hartrich and I had a conversation
about you. There was nothing said that need be kept private. We
conversed as two men might converse concerning an absent friend in
whom both took an affectionate interest. He had noticed a change in
you which I have noticed since I entered this room. When you visited
him he was impressed by an unusual strangeness in your manner. That
strangeness of manner, without your being aware of it, is upon you
now. He said that you were restless and ill at ease. You are at this
moment restless and ill at ease. The muscles of your face, your eyes,
your hands, are not under your control. They respond to the mental
disease which causes you to suffer. You will forgive me for saying
that you convey to me the impression that you would be more at ease at
the present time if I were not with you."

"I entreat you," said Almer eagerly, "not to think so."

"I accept your assurance, which, nevertheless, does not convince me
that I am wrong in my impression. The friendship which exists between
us is too close and binding--I may even go so far as to say, too
sacred--for me, a colder and more experienced man than yourself, to
allow it to be affected by any matter outside its boundary. Deprive it
of sympathy, and friendship is an unmeaning word. I sympathise with
you deeply, sincerely, without knowing how to relieve you. I ask you
frankly, however, one question which you may freely answer. Have you
fixed your affections upon a woman who does not reciprocate your
love?"

The Advocate was seated by the desk upon which Almer had, after
reading it, carelessly thrown the note written to him by Adelaide, and
as he put the question to his friend, he involuntarily laid his hand
upon this damning evidence of his wife's disloyalty.



                             CHAPTER XII

                          SELF-JUSTIFICATION


The slight action and the significant question presented a coincidence
so startling that Christian Almer was fascinated by it. That there was
premeditation or design in the coincidence, or that the Advocate had
cunningly led the conversation to this point for the purpose of
confounding him and bringing him face to face with his treachery, did
not suggest itself to his mind. He was, indeed, incapable of reasoning
coherently. All that he was momentarily conscious of was, that
discovery was imminent, that the sword hung over him, suspended by a
hair. Would it fall, and in its fall compel into a definite course the
conflicting passions by which he was tortured?

It would, perhaps, be better so. Already did he experience a feeling
of relief at this suggestion, and it appeared to him as if he were
bending his head for the welcome blow.

But all was still and quiet, and through the dim mist before his eyes
he saw the Advocate gazing kindly upon him.

Then there stole upon him a wild prompting, a mad impulse, to expedite
discovery by his own voluntary act--to say to the Advocate:

"I have betrayed you. Read that note beneath your hand; take this key,
and open yonder door; find there your wife. What do you propose to
do?"

The words did actually shape themselves in his mind, and he half
believed that he had uttered them. They did not, however, escape his
lips. He was instinctively restrained by the consideration that in his
punishment Adelaide would be involved. What right had he deliberately
to ruin and expose her? A cowardly act thus to sacrifice a woman who
in this crisis relied upon him for protection. In a humiliating,
shameful sense it is true, but none the less was she under his direct
protection at this moment. Self-tortured as he was he could still show
that he had some spark of manliness left in him. To recklessly dispose
of the fate of the woman whose only crime was that she loved him--this
he dared not do.

His mood changed. Arrived at this conclusion, his fear now was that he
had betrayed himself--that in some indefinite way he had given the
Advocate the key to his thoughts, or that he had, by look or
expression, conveyed to his friend a sense of the terrible importance
of the perfumed note which lay upon the desk.

"You do not answer me, Christian," said the Advocate.

But Almer could not speak. His eyes were fixed upon Adelaide's note,
and he found it impossible to divert his attention from the idle
movements of the Advocate's fingers. His unreasoning impulse to hasten
discovery was gone, and he was afflicted now by a feeling of
apprehension. It was his imperative duty to protect Adelaide; while
the Advocate's hand rested upon the envelope which contained her
secret she was not safe. At all risks, even at the hazard of his life,
must she be held blameless. Had the Advocate lifted the envelope from
the desk, Almer would have torn it from him.

"Why do you not speak?" asked the Advocate. "Surely there is nothing
offensive in such a question between friends like ourselves."

"I can offer you no explanation of what I am about to say," replied
Almer: "it may sound childish, trivial, pitiful, but my thoughts are
not under my own control while your hand is upon that letter."

With the slightest expression of surprise the Advocate handed Almer
the envelope, scarcely looking at it as it passed from his possession.

"Why did you not speak of it before?" he said. "But when a mind is
unbalanced, trifling matters are magnified into importance."

"I can only ask you to forgive me," said Almer, placing the envelope
in his pocket-book. "I have no doubt in the course of your career you
have met with many small incidents quite as inexplicable." Then an
excuse which would surely be accepted occurred to him. "It may be
sufficient for me to say that this is the first night of my return to
the house in which I was born and passed a not too happy boyhood, and
that in this room my mother died."

The Advocate pressed Almer's hand.

"There is no need for another word. You have been looking over some
old family papers, and they have aroused melancholy reminiscences. I
should have been more thoughtful; I was wrong in coming to you. It
will be best to say good-night."

But Almer, anxious to avoid the slightest cause for suspicion in the
right direction, said:

"Nay, stay with me a few minutes longer, or I shall reproach myself
for having behaved unreasonably. You were asking----"

"A delicate question. Whether you love without being loved in return?"

"No, Edward, that is not the case with me."

"You have no intention of marrying?"

"No."

"Then your heart is still free. You reassure me. You are not suffering
from what has been described as the most exquisite of all human
sufferings--unrequited love. Neither have you experienced a
disappointment in friendship?"

"No. I have scarcely a friend with the exception of yourself."

"And my wife. You must not forget her. She takes a cordial interest in
you."

"Yes, and your wife."

"It was Jacob Hartrich who suggested that you might have met with a
disappointment in love or friendship. I disputed it, in the belief
that had it been unhappily so you would have confided in me. I am glad
that I was right. Shall I continue?"

"Yes."

"The banker, who entertains the most kindly sentiments towards you,
based all his conjectures upon a certain remark which made a strong
impression upon him. You told him you were weary of the gaiety and the
light and bustle of cities, and that it was your intention to seek
some solitude where, by a happy chance, you might rid yourself of a
terror which possessed you. I can understand your weariness of the
false glare of fashionable city life; it can never for any long period
satisfy the intellect. But neither can it instil a terror into a man's
soul. That would spring from another and a deeper cause."

"The words were hastily spoken. Look upon them as an exaggeration."

"I certainly regard them in that light, but they were not an
invention, and there must have been a serious motive for them. It is
not in vain that I have studied your character, although I feel that I
did not master the study. I am subjecting you, Christian, to a kind of
mental analysis, in an endeavour to arrive at a conclusion which will
enable me to be of assistance to you. And I do not disguise from you
that, were it in my power, I would assist you even against your will.
Our friendship, and my age and more varied experience, would justify
me. I do not seek to force your confidence, but I ask you in the
spirit of true friendship to consider--not at present, but in a few
days, when your mind is in a calmer state--whether such counsel and
guidance as it may be in my power to offer will not be a real help to
you. Do not lightly reject my assistance in probing a painful wound. I
will use my knife gently. There was a time when I believed there was
nothing that could happen to either of us which we should be unwilling
to confide each to the other, freely and without restraint. I find I
am not too old to learn the lesson that the strongest beliefs, the
firmest convictions, may be seriously weakened by the occurrence of
circumstances for which the wisest foresight could not have provided.
Keep, then, your secret, if you are so resolved, and bear in mind that
on the day you come to me and say, 'Edward, help me, guide me,' you
will find me ready. I shall not fail you, Christian, in any crisis."

Almer rose and slowly paced the room, while the Advocate sat back in
his chair, and watched his friend with affectionate solicitude.

"Does this lesson," presently said Almer, "which you are not too old
to learn, spring entirely from the newer impressions you are receiving
of my character, or has something in your mind which you have not
disclosed helped to lead you to it?"

It was a chance shot, but it strangely hit the mark. The question
brought forcibly to the Advocate's mind the position in which he
himself was placed by Gautran's confession, and by his subsequent
resolve to conceal the knowledge of Gautran's crime.

"What a web is the world!" he thought. "How the lines which here are
widely apart, but a short space beyond cross and are linked in closest
companionship!" Both Christian and himself had something to conceal,
and it would be acting in bad faith to his friend were he to return an
evasive answer.

"It is not entirely from the newer impressions you speak of that I
learn the lesson. It springs partly from a matter which disturbs my
mind."

"Referring to me?"

"No, to myself. You are not concerned in it."

In his turn Almer now became the questioner.

"A new experience of your own, Edward?"

"Yes."

"Which must have occurred to you since we were last together?"

"It originated during your absence."

"Which came upon you unaware--for which your foresight could not have
provided?"

"At all events it did not."

"You speak seriously, Edward, and your face is clouded."

"It is a very serious matter."

"Can I help you? Is it likely that my advice would be of assistance?"

"I can speak of it to no one."

"You also have a secret then?"

"Yes, I also have a secret."

Christian Almer appeared to gather strength--a warranty, as it were,
for his own wrong-doing--from the singular direction the conversation
had taken. It was as though part of a burden was lifted from him. He
was not the only one who was suffering--he was not the only one who
was standing on a dangerous brink--he was not the only one who had
drifted into dangerous waters. Even this strong-brained man, this
Advocate who had seemingly held aloof from pleasure, whose days and
nights had been given up to study, whose powerful intellect could
pierce dark mysteries and bring them into clear light, who was the
last man in the world who could be suspected of yielding to a
prompting of which his judgment and conscience could not approve--even
he had a secret which he was guarding with jealous care. Was it likely
then, that he, the younger and the more impressionable of the two,
could escape snares into which the Advocate had fallen? The fatalist's
creed recurred to him. All these matters of life were preordained.
What folly--what worse than folly, what presumption, for one weak man
to attempt to stem the irresistible current! It was delivering himself
up to destruction. Better to yield and float upon the smooth tide and
accept what good or ill fate has in store for him. What use to infuse
into the sunlight, and the balmy air, and into all the sweets of life,
the poison of self-torture? The confession he had extracted from the
Advocate was in a certain sense a justification of himself. He would
pursue the subject still further. As he had been questioned, so he
would question. It was but just.

"To judge from your manner, Edward, your secret is no light one."

"It is of most serious import."

"I almost fear to ask a question which occurs to me."

"Ask freely. I have been candid with you, in my desire to ascertain
how I could help you in your trouble. Be equally candid with me."

"But it may be misconstrued. I am ashamed that it should have
suggested itself--for which, of course, the worser part of me is
responsible. No--it shall remain unspoken."

"I should prefer that you asked it--nay, I desire you to do so. There
is no fear of misconstruction. Do you think I wish to stand in your
eyes as a perfect man? That would be arrogant, indeed. Or that I do
not know that you and I and all men are possessed of contradictions
which, viewed in certain aspects, may degrade the most noble? The
purest of us--men and women alike--have undignified thoughts, unworthy
imaginings, to which we would be loth to give utterance. But
sometimes, as in this instance, it becomes a duty. I have had occasion
quite lately to question myself closely, and I have fallen in my own
estimation. There is more baseness in me than I imagined. Hesitate no
longer. Ask your question, and as many more as may arise from it;
these things are frequently hydra-headed. I shall know how far to
answer without disclosing what I desire shall remain buried."

Almer put his question boldly.

"Is the fate of a woman involved in your secret?"

An almost imperceptible start revealed to Almer's eyes that another
chance arrow had hit the mark. Truly, a woman's fate formed the kernel
of the Advocate's secret--a virtuous, innocent woman who had been most
foully murdered. He answered in set words, without any attempt at
evasion.

"Yes, a woman's fate is involved in it."

"Your wife's?" Had his life depended upon it, Almer could not have
kept back the words.

"No, not my wife's."

"In that case," said Almer slowly, "a man's honour is concerned."

"You guess aright--a man's honour is concerned."

"Yours?"

"Mine."

For a few moments neither of them spoke, and then the Advocate said:

"To men suspicious of each other--as most men naturally are, and
generally with reason--such a turn in our conversation, and indeed the
entire conversation in which we have indulged, might be twisted to
fatal disadvantage. In the way of conjecture I mean--as to what is the
essence of the secret which I do not reveal to my dearest friend, and
the essence of that which my dearest friend does not reveal to me. It
is fortunate, Christian, that you and I stand higher than most. We
have rarely hesitated to speak heart to heart and soul to soul; and
if, by some strange course of events, there has arisen in each of our
inner lives a mystery which we have decided not to reveal, it will not
weaken the feeling of affection we entertain for each other. Is that
so, Christian?"

"Yes, it is so, Edward."

"Men of action, of deep thought, of strong passion, of sensitive
natures, are less their own masters than peasants who take no part in
the turmoil of the world. An uneventful life presents fewer
temptations, and there is therefore more freedom in it. We live in an
atmosphere of wine, and often miss our way. Well, we must be indulgent
to each other, and be sometimes ready to say, 'The position of
difficulty into which you have been thrust, the error you have
committed, the sin--yes, even the sin--of which you have been guilty,
may have fallen to my lot had I been placed in similar circumstances.
It is not I who will be the first to condemn you.'"

"Even," said Almer, "if that error or that sin may be a grievous wrong
inflicted against yourself. Even then you would be ready to excuse and
forgive?"

"Yes, even in that case. I should be taking a narrow view of an
argument if I applied to all the world what I hesitated to apply to
myself."

"So that the committal of a great wrong may be justified by
circumstances?"

"Yes, I will go as far as that. The fault of the child or the fault of
the man, is but a question of degree. Some err deliberately, some are
hurried into error by passions which master them."

"By natural passions?"

"All such passions are natural, although it is the fashion to condemn
them when they clash with the conditions of social life. The workings
of the moral and sympathetic affections are beyond our own control."

"Of those who have erred with deliberate intention and those who have
been hurried blindly into error, which should you be most ready to
forgive?"

"The latter," replied the Advocate, conscious that in his answer he
was condemning himself; "they are comparatively innocent, having less
power over, and being less able to retrace their steps."

"You pause," said Almer, a sudden thrill agitating his veins. "Why?"

"I thought I heard a sound--like a suppressed laugh! Did you not hear
it?"

"No. I heard nothing."

Almer's teeth met in scorn of himself as he uttered this falsehood.
The sound of the laugh was low but distinct, and it proceeded from the
room in which Adelaide was concealed.

The Advocate stepped to the door by which he had entered, and looked
up and down the passage, to which two lamps gave light. It was quiet
and deserted.

"My fancy," he said, standing within the half-open door. "My
physicians know more of the state of my nerves than I do myself. It is
interesting, however, to observe one's own mental delusions. But I was
wrong in mixing myself up with that trial."

Still that trial. Always that trial. It seemed to him as if he could
never forget it, as if it would forever abide with him. It coloured
his thoughts, it gave form to his arguments. Would it end by changing
his very nature?

"You are over-wrought, Edward," said Almer. "If you were to seek what
I have sought, solitude, it might be more beneficial to you than it
has been to me."

"There is solitude enough for me in this retired village," said the
Advocate, "and had I not undertaken the defence of Gautran, my health
by this time might have been completely established. We are here
sufficiently removed from the fierce passions of the world--they
cannot touch us in this primitive birthplace of yours. Do you
recognise how truly I spoke when I said that men like ourselves are
the slaves, and peasants the free men? Besides, Christian, there is a
medicine in friendship such as yours which I defy the doctors to
rival. Even though there has been a veil over our confidences
to-night, I feel that this last hour has been of benefit to me. You
know that I am much given to thinking to myself. As a rule, at those
times, one walks in a narrow groove; if he argues, the contradiction
he receives is of that mild character that it can be easily proved
wrong. No wonder, when the thinker creates it for the purpose of
proving himself right. It is seldom healthy, this solitary
communionship--it leads rarely to just conclusions. But in
conversation new byeroads reveal themselves, in which we wander
pleasantly--new vistas appear--new suggestions arise, to give variety
to the argument and to show that it has more than one selfish side. He
who leads entirely a life of thought lives a dead life. Good-night,
Christian. I have kept you from your rest. Good-night. Sleep well."



                             CHAPTER XIII

                               SHADOWS


Christian Almer stood at the door, gazing at the retreating figure of
the Advocate. It passed through the clear light of the lamps, became
blurred, was merged in the darkness. The corridor was long, and before
the Advocate reached the end he was a shadow among shadows.

In Almer's excited mood the slightest impressions became the medium
for distorted reflection. The dim form of the Advocate was pregnant
with meaning, and when it was finally lost to sight, Almer's eyes
followed an invisible figure moving, not through space, but through
events in which he and his friend and Adelaide were the principal
actors. A wild whirl of images crowded to his mind, presenting
in the midst of their confusion defined and distinct pictures, the
leading features of which were the consequences arising from the
double betrayal of love and friendship. Violent struggles, deadly
embraces--in houses, in forests, on the brinks of precipices, in the
torrents of furious rivers. The proportions of these images were vast,
titanic. The forests were interminable, the trees rose to an immense
height, the rivers resembled raging seas, the presentments of animated
life were of unnatural magnitude. Even when he and Adelaide were
flying through a trackless wood, and were overtaken by the Advocate,
this impression of gigantic growth prevailed, as though there were
room in the world for naught but themselves and the passions by which
they were swayed.

He was recalled to himself by a soft tapping at the door of the inner
room. He instantly unlocked it, and released Adelaide, who raised her
eyes, beaming with animation, to his.

He was overcome with astonishment. He thought to see her pale,
frightened, trembling. Never had he beheld her more radiant.

"He is gone," she said in a gay tone.

"Hush!" whispered Almer, "he may return."

"He will not," she said. "You will see him no more to-night."

"Thank Heaven the danger is averted! I feel as if I had been guilty of
some horrible crime."

"Whereas you have simply indulged poor innocent me in a harmless
fancy. Christian, I heard every word."

"I thought you would have fallen asleep. How could you have been so
imprudent, so reckless, as to laugh?"

"How can I help being a woman of impulse? Were you very much
frightened? I was not--I rather enjoyed it. Christian, there is not a
single thing my immaculate husband does which does not convince me he
has no heart. Just think what might have happened if he had come to
the right door and thrown it open and seen me! There! You look so
horrified that I feel I have said something wrong again. Christian,
what did you mean by saying to him, 'My thoughts are not under my
control while you have your hand on that letter'? What letter was it?"

"Your note, which Dionetta left in the room. He was sitting by the
desk upon which I had laid it, and his hand was upon it."

"And it made you nervous? To think that he had but to open that
innocent bit of paper! What a scene there would have been! I should
have gloried in the situation--yes, indeed. There is no pleasure in
life like the excitement of danger. Those who say women are weak know
nothing of us. We are braver than men, a thousand, thousand times
braver. I tried to peep through the door, but there wasn't a single
friendly crevice. What a shock it would have given him if I had
suddenly called out as he held the letter: 'Open it, my love, open it
and read it!'"

"That is what you call being prudent?" said Almer in despair.

"Tyrant! I cannot promise you not to think. I have a good mind to be
angry with you. You are positively ungrateful. You shut me up in a
room all by myself, where I quietly remain, the very soul of
discretion--you did not so much as hear me breathe--only forgetting
myself once when my feelings overcame me, and you don't give me one
word of praise. Tell me instantly, sir, that I am a brave little
woman."

"You are the personification of rashness."

"How ungrateful! Did you think of me, Christian, while I was locked up
there?"

"My thoughts did not wander from you for a moment."

"If you had only given me a handful of these roseleaves so that I
might have buried my face in them and imagined I was not tied to a man
who loves another woman than his wife! You seem amazed. Do you forget
already what has passed between you? If it had happened that I loved
him, after his confession to-night I should hate him. But it is
indifferent to me upon whom he has set his affections--with all my
heart I pity the unfortunate creature he loves. She need not fear me;
I shall not harm her. You got at the heart of his secret when you
asked him if a woman was involved in it; and you compelled him to
confess that his honour--and of course hers; mine does not matter--was
at stake in his miserable love-affair. He loves a woman who is not his
wife; with all his evasions he could not help admitting it. And this
is the man who holds his head so high above all other men--the man who
was never known to commit an indiscretion! Of course he must keep his
secret close--of course he could not speak of it to his friend, whom
he tries to hoodwink with professions and twisted words! He married
me, I suppose, to satisfy his vanity; he wanted the world to see that
old as he was, grave as he was, no woman could resist him. And I
allowed myself to be persuaded by worldly friends! Is it not a proof
of my never having loved him, that, instead of hating him when in my
hearing he confesses he loves another, I simply laugh at him and
despise him? I should not shed a tear over him if he died to-night. He
has insulted me--and what woman ever forgets or forgives an insult?
But he has done me a good service, too, and I thank him. How sleepy I
am! Good-night. My minute is up, and I cannot stay longer; I must
think of my complexion. Goodnight, Christian; that is all I came to
say."



                             CHAPTER XIV

             THE ADVOCATE FEARS HE HAS CREATED A MONSTER


The Advocate did not immediately return to his study. Darkness was
more congenial to his mood, and he spent a few minutes in the gardens
of the villa. Although he had stated to Christian Almer that the
conversation which had passed between them had been of benefit to him,
he felt, now that he was alone, that there was much in it to give rise
to disturbing thought and conjecture. He had not foreseen the
difficulty, in social intercourse, of avoiding the subject uppermost
in his mind. A morbid self-consciousness, at present in its germ, and
from which he had hitherto been entirely free, seemed to unlock all
roads in its direction. It was, as it were, the converging-point of
all matters, even the most trivial, affecting himself. Having put the
seal upon his resolution with respect to Gautran's confession, he
became painfully aware that he had committed himself to a line of
action from which he could not now recede without laying himself open
to such suspicion, from friend and foe alike, as might fatally injure
his reputation. He was a lawyer, and he knew what powerful use he
could make of such a weapon against any man, high or low. If it could
be turned against another it could be turned against himself. He must
not, therefore, waver in his resolution. Only his conscience could
call him to account. Well, he would reckon with that. It was a
passive, not an active accuser. Gautran would seek some new locality,
in which he would be lost to sight. As a matter of common prudence, it
was more than likely he would change his name. The suspicion which
attached itself to him, and the horror with which he was regarded in
the neighbourhood in which he had lived, would compel him to fly to
other pastures. In this, and in the silence of time, lay the
Advocate's safety, for every day that passed would weaken the fever of
excitement created by the trial. After a few weeks, if it even
happened that Gautran were insanely to make a public declaration of
his guilt, and to add to this confession a statement that the Advocate
was aware of it during the trial, by whom would he be believed?
Certainly not by the majority of the better classes of the people; and
in the event of such a contingency, he could quote with effect the
poet's words: "Be thou chaste as ice, and pure as snow, thou shalt not
escape calumny."

So much, then, for himself: but he was more than ever anxious and ill
at ease regarding Christian Almer. The secret which his friend dared
not divulge to him was evidently of the gravest import--probably as
terrible in its way as that which lay heavily on the Advocate's soul;
and the profound mystery in which it was wrapt invested it with a
significance so unusual, even in the Advocate's varied experience of
human nature, that he could not keep from brooding upon it. Was it a
secret in which honour was involved? He could not bring himself to
believe that Almer could be guilty of a dishonourable act--but a man
might be dragged into a difficulty against his will, and might have
a burden of shame unexpectedly thrust upon him which he could not
openly fling off without disgrace. And yet--and yet--that he should be
so careful in concealing it from the knowledge of the truest of
friends--it was inexplicable. Ponder as long as he might, the Advocate
could arrive at no explanation of it, nor could his logical mind
obtain the slightest clue to the mystery.

The cool air in the gardens refreshed him, and he walked about, always
within view of the lights in his study windows, with his head
uncovered. It was during the first five minutes of his solitude that
an impression stole upon him that he was not alone. He searched the
avenues, he listened, he asked aloud:

"Is any person near, and does he wish to speak to me?"

No voice answered him. The gardens, with the exception of the soft
rustling of leaf and branch, were as silent as the grave. Towards the
end of his solitary rambling, and as he was contemplating leaving the
grounds, this impression again stole upon him. Was it the actual sound
of muffled footsteps, or the spiritual influence of an unseen
presence, which disturbed him? He could not decide. Again he searched
the avenues, again he listened, again he asked a question aloud. All
was silent.

This was the third time during the night that he had allowed himself
to be beguiled. Once in Christian Almer's room, when he thought he had
heard a laugh, and now twice in the solitude of the grounds. He set it
down as an unreasoning fancy springing from the agitation into which
he had been thrown by his interview with Gautran, and he breathed a
wish that the next fortnight were passed, when his mind would almost
certainly have recovered its equilibrium. The moment the wish was
born, he smiled in contempt of his own weakness. It opened another
vein in the psychological examination to which he was subjecting
himself.

He entered his study, and did not perceive Gautran, who was asleep in
the darkest corner of the room. But his quick observant eye
immediately fell upon the glass out of which Gautran had drunk the
wine. The glass was on his writing-table; it was not there when he
left his study. He glanced at the wine-bottles on the sideboard; they
had been disturbed.

"Some person has been here in my absence," he thought. "Who--and for
what purpose?"

He hastily examined his manuscripts and, missing none, raised the
wine-glass and held it mouth downwards. As a couple of drops of red
liquor fell to the ground, he heard behind him the sound of heavy
breathing.

An ordinary man would have let the glass fall from his hand in sudden
alarm, for the breathing was so deep, and strong, and hoarse, that it
might have proceeded from the throat of a wild beast who was preparing
to spring upon him. But the Advocate was not easily alarmed. He
carefully replaced the glass, and wheeled in the direction of the
breathing. He saw the outlines of a form stretched upon the ground in
a distant corner; he stepped towards it, and stooping, recognised
Gautran. He was not startled. It seemed to be in keeping with what had
previously transpired, that Gautran should be lying there slumbering
at his feet.

He stood quite still, regarding the sleeping figure of the murderer in
silence. He had risen to his full height; one hand rested upon the
back of a massive oak chair: his face was grave and pale; his head was
downwards bent. So he stood for many minutes almost motionless. Not
the slightest agitation was observable in him; he was calmly engaged
in reflecting upon the position of affairs, as though they related not
to himself, but to a client in whose case he was interested, and he
was evolving from them, by perfectly natural reasoning, the most
extraordinary complications and results. In all his experience he had
never been engaged in a case presenting so many rare possibilities,
and he was in a certain sense fascinated by the powerful use he could
make of the threads of the web in which he had become so strangely and
unexpectedly entangled.

Gautran's features were not clearly visible to him; they were too much
in shadow. He took from his writing-table a lamp with a soft strong
light, and set it near to the sleeping man. It brought the ruffian
into full view. His unshaven face, his coarse, matted hair, his brutal
sensual mouth, his bushy eyebrows, his large ears, his bared neck, his
soiled and torn clothes, the perspiration in which he was bathed,
presented a spectacle of human degradation as revolting as any the
Advocate had ever gazed upon.

"By what means," he thought, "did this villain obtain information of
my movements and residence, and what is his motive in coming here?
When he accosted me tonight he did not know where I lived--of that I
am convinced, for he had no wish to meet me, and believed he was
threatening another man than myself on the high road. That was a
chance meeting. Is this, also, a chance encounter? No; there is
premeditation in it. Had he entered another house he would have laid
his hands on something valuable and decamped, his purpose being
served. He would not dare to rob me, but he dares to thrust his
company upon me. Of all men, I am the man he should be most anxious to
avoid, for only I know him to be guilty. Have I created a monster who
is destined to be the terror and torture of my life? Is he shrewd
enough, clever enough, cunning enough, to use his power as I should
use it were I in his place, and he in mine? That is not to be borne,
but what is the alternative? I could put life into the grotesque oaken
features upon which my hand is resting, and they might suggest a
remedy. The branches of the tree within which these faces grew in some
old forest waved doubtless over many a mystery, but this in which I am
at present engaged matches the deepest of them. Some demon seems to be
whispering at my elbow. Speak, then; what would you urge me to do?"

The Unseen: "Gautran entered unobserved."

The Advocate: "That is apparent, or he would not be lying here with
the hand of Fate above him."

The Unseen: "No person saw him--no person is aware that he is in your
study, at your mercy."

The Advocate: "At my mercy! You could have found a better word to
express your meaning."

The Unseen: "You know him to be a murderer."

The Advocate: "True."

The Unseen: "He deserves death! You have already heard the whisperings
of the voice which urged you to fulfil the divine law, Blood for
blood!"

The Advocate: "Speak not of what is Divine. Tempter, have you not the
courage to come straight to the point?"

The Unseen: "Kill him where he lies! He will not be missed. It is
night--black night. Every living being in the house, with the
exception of yourself, is asleep. You have twisted justice from its
rightful course. The wrong you did you can repair. Kill him where he
lies!"

The Advocate: "And have the crime of murder upon my soul?"

The Unseen: "It is not murder. Standing as you are standing now,
knowing what you know, you are justified."

The Advocate: "I will have no juggling. If I kill him it is not in the
cause of justice. Speak plainly. Why should he die at my hands?"

The Unseen: "His death is necessary for your safety."

The Advocate: "Ah, that is better. No talk of justice now. We come to
the coarse selfishness of things, which will justify the deadliest
crimes. His death is necessary for my safety! How am I endangered? Say
that his presence here is a threat. Am I not strong enough to avoid
the peril? How vile am I that I should allow such thoughts to suggest
themselves! Christian, my friend, whatever is the terror which has
taken possession of you, and from which you vainly strive to fly, your
secret is pure in comparison with mine. If it were possible that the
secret which oppresses you concerned your dearest friend, concerned
me, whom perchance it has in some hidden way wronged, how could I
withhold from you pity and forgiveness, knowing how sorely my own
actions need pity and forgiveness? For the first time in my life I am
brought face to face with my soul, and I see how base it is. Has my
life, then, been surrounded by dreams, and do I now awake to find how
low and abominable are the inner workings of my nature? I must arouse
this monster. He shall hide nothing from me."

He spurned Gautran with his foot. It was with no gentle touch, and
Gautran sprang to his feet, and would have thrown himself upon the
Advocate had he not suddenly recognised him.



                              CHAPTER XV

                       GAUTRAN AND THE ADVOCATE


"How long have I been asleep?" muttered Gautran, shaking himself and
rubbing his eyes. "It seems but a minute." The clock on the mantel
struck the hour of two. "I counted twelve when I was in the grounds; I
have been here two hours. You might have let me sleep longer. It is
the first I have enjoyed for weeks--a sleep without a dream. As I used
to sleep before----" He shuddered, and did not complete the sentence.
"Give me something to drink, master."

"You have been helping yourself to my wine," said the Advocate.

"You know everything, master. Yes, it was wine I drank, as mild as
milk. It went down like water. Good for gentlemen, perhaps, but not
for us. I must have something stronger." He looked anxiously round the
room, and sighed and smiled; no appalling vision greeted his sight.
"Ah," he said, "I am safe here. Give me some brandy."

"You will have none, Gautran," said the Advocate sternly.

"Ah, master," implored Gautran, "think better of it, I must have
brandy--I must!"

"Must!" echoed the Advocate, with a frown.

"Yes, master, must; I shall not be able to talk else. My throat is
parched--you can hear for yourself that it is as dry as a raven's. I
must have drink, and it mustn't be milk-wine. I am not quite a fool,
master. If that horrible shadow were never to appear to me again, I
would show those who have been hard on me a trick or two that would
astonish them. If you've a spark of compassion in you, master, give a
poor wretch a glass of brandy."

The Advocate considered a moment, and then unlocked a small cupboard,
from which he took a bottle of brandy. He filled a glass, and gave it
to Gautran.

"Here's confusion to our enemies," said Gautran. "Ah, this is fine! I
have never tasted such before. It puts life into a man."

"What makes you drink to _our_ enemies, Gautran?" asked the Advocate.

"Why, master, are not my enemies yours, and yours mine? We row in the
same boat. If they found us out, it would be as bad for you as it
would be for me. Worse, master, worse, for you have much to lose; I
have nothing. You see, master, I have been thinking over things since
we met in the lane yonder."

"You are bold and impudent. What if I were to summon my servants and
have you marched off to gaol?"

"What would you accuse me of? I have not stolen anything; you may
search me if you like. No, no, master, I will take nothing from you.
What you give I shall be grateful for; but rob you? No--you are
mistaken in me. I owe you too much already. I am bound to you for
life."

"You do not seem afraid of the gaol, Gautran."

"Not when you threaten me with it, master, for you are jesting with
me. It is not worth your while; I am a poor creature to make sport
of."

"Yet I am dangerously near handing you over to justice."

"For what, master, for what? For coming into your room, and not
finding you there, throwing myself in a corner like a dog?"

"It is sufficient--and you have stolen my wine. These are crimes which
the law is ready to punish, especially in men with evil reputations."

"You are right, I've no doubt; you know more about the law than I do.
I don't intend to dispute with you, master. But when they got hold of
me they would question me, and my tongue would be loosened against my
will. I say again, you are jesting with me. How warm and comfortable
it is in this grand room, and how miserable outside! Ah, why wasn't I
born rich? It was a most unfortunate accident."

"Your tongue would be loosened against your will! What could you say?"

"What everybody suspects, but could not prove, master, thanks to you.
They owe me a grudge in the prison yonder--lawyers and judges and
gaolers--and nothing would please them better than to hear what I
could tell them--that I killed the girl, and that you knew I killed
her. You don't look pleased, master. You drove me to say it."

"You slanderous villain!"

"I don't mind what you call me, master. I can bear anything from you.
I am your slave, and there is nothing you could set me to do that I am
not ready to perform. I mean it, master. Try me--only try me! Think of
something fearful, something it would take a bold, desperate man to
do, and see if I shrink from it. The gaoler was right when he said I
was a lucky dog to get such an Advocate as you to defend me. You knew
the truth--you knew I did the deed--you knew no one else could save
me--and you wanted to show them how clever you were, and what a fool
any lawyer was to think he could stand against you. And you did it,
master, you did it. How mad they must be with you! I wonder how much
they would give to cry Quits! And you've done even more than that,
master. The spirit which has been with me night and day, in prison
and out of prison, lying by me in bed, standing by my side in the
court--you saw it there, master--dogging me through the streets and
lanes, hiding behind trees and gliding upon me when I thought I had
escaped it--it is gone, master, it is gone! It will not come where you
are. It is afraid of you. I don't care whether it is a holy or an
unholy power you possess, I am your slave, and you can do with me as
you will. But you must not send me to prison again--no, you must not
do that! Why, master, simple as I am, and ignorant of the law, I feel
that you are joking with me, when you threaten to summon your servants
to march me off to gaol for coming into your house. I should say to
them, 'You are a pack of fools. Don't you see he is jesting with you?
Here have we been talking together for half an hour, and he has given
me his best brandy as a mark of friendship. There is the bottle--feel
the rim of it, and you will find it wet. Look at the glass, if you
don't believe me. Smell it--smell my breath.' Why, then they would ask
you again if you were in earnest, and you would have to send them
away. Master, I was never taught to read or write, and there is very
little I know--but I know well that there is a time to do a thing and
a time not to do it, and that unless a thing is done at the proper
time, there is no use afterwards attempting it. I will tell you
something, though I dare say I might save myself the trouble, for you
can read what is in me. If Madeline, when she ran from me along the
river's bank, had escaped me, it is likely she would be alive at this
moment, for the fiend that spurred me on to kill her might never again
have been so strong within me, might never again have had such power
over me as he had that night. But he was too strong for me, and that
was the time to do the deed, and she had to die. Do you think I don't
pity her? I do, when she is not tormenting me. But when she follows
me, as she has done to-night, when she stands looking at me with eyes
in which there is fire, but no light, I feel that I could kill her
over again if I dared, and if I could get a good grip of her. Are all
spirits silent? Have they no voice to speak? It is terrible, terrible!
I must buy masses for her soul, and then, perhaps, she will rest in
peace. Master, give me another glass of that rare brandy of yours.
Talking is dry work."

"You'll get no more till you leave me."

"I am to leave you, then?"

"When I have done with you--when our conversation is at an end."

"I must obey you, master. You could crush me if you liked."

"I could kill you if I liked," said the Advocate, in a voice so cold
and determined that Gautran shuddered.

"You could, master--I know it well enough. Not with your hands; I am
your match there. Few men can equal me in strength. But you would not
trust to that; you are too wise. You would scorch and wither me with a
lightning touch. I should be a fool to doubt it. If you will not give
me brandy, give me a biscuit or some bread and meat. Since noon I have
had nothing to eat but a few apples, to which I helped myself. The
gaolers robbed me of my dinner in the middle of the day, and put
before me only a slice of dry bread. I would cut off two of my fingers
to be even with them."

In the cupboard which contained the brandy and other liquors was a
silver basket containing biscuits, which the Advocate brought forward
and placed before Gautran, who ate them greedily and filled his
pockets with them. During the silence the Advocate's mind was busy
with Gautran's words. Ignorant as the man was, and confessed himself
to be, there was an undisputable logic in the position he assumed.
Shrink from it as he might, the Advocate could not avoid confessing
that between this man, who was little better than an animal, and
himself, who had risen so high above his fellows--that in these
extremes of intellectual degradation and superiority--existed a
strange and, in its suggestiveness, an awful, equality. And what
afforded him food for serious reflection, from an abstract point of
view, was that, though they travelled upon roads so widely apart, they
both arrived at the same goal. This was proved by Gautran's reasoning
upon the Advocate's threat to put him in prison for breaking into the
House of White Shadows. "Sound logic," thought the Advocate, "learnt
in a school in which the common laws of nature are the teachers. A
decided kinship exists between this murderer and myself. Am I, then,
as low as he, and do the best of us, in our pride of winning the
crown, indulge in self-delusions at which a child might feel ashamed?
Or is it that, strive as he may, the most earnest man cannot lift
himself above the grovelling motives which set in motion every action
of a human life?"

"Now, master," said Gautran, having finished munching.

"Now, Gautran," said the Advocate, "why do you come to me?"

"I belong to you," replied Gautran. "You gave me my life and my
liberty. You had some meaning in it. I don't ask you what it is, for
you will tell me only what you choose to tell me. I am yours, master,
body and soul."

"And soul?" questioned the Advocate ironically.

"So long," said Gautran, crossing himself, "as you do not ask me to do
anything to imperil my salvation."

"Is it not already imperilled? Murderer!"

"I have done nothing that I cannot buy off with masses. Ask the
priests. If I could not get money any other way, to save myself I
would rob a church."

"Admirable!" exclaimed the Advocate. "You interest me, Gautran. How
did you obtain admission into the grounds?"

"Over the wall at the back. It is a mercy I did not break my bones."

"And into this room--how did you enter?"

"Through the window."

"Knowing it was my room?"

"Yes, master."

"How did you gain that knowledge?"

"I was told--and told, as well, that you lived in this house."

"By whom were you told?"

"As I ran from Madeline--she has left me forever, I hope--I came upon
a man who, for some purpose of his own, was lingering on a hill a
little distance from here. I sought company, and was glad of his. I
made up my mind to pass my night near something human, and did not
intend to leave him. But when he said that yonder was the house in
which the great Advocate lived, and when he pointed out your study
window, I gave him the slip, knowing I could do better than remain
with him. That is the truth, master."

"Are you acquainted with this man?"

"No, I never saw him before; I saw but little of him as it was, the
night was so dark; but I know voices when I hear them. His voice was
strange to me."

"How happened it, then, that you conversed about me?"

"I can't remember exactly how it came about. He gave me some brandy
out of a flask--not such liquor as yours, master, but I was thankful
for it--and I asked him if he had ever been followed by the spirit of
a dead woman. He questioned me about this woman, asking if she was
fair and beautiful, whether she had met her death in the Rhone,
whether her name was Madeline. Yes, he called her up before me and I
was spellbound. When I came to my proper senses he was talking to
himself about a great Advocate in the house he was staring at, and I
said there was only one great Advocate--you who set me free--and I
asked him if you lived in the house. He said yes, and that the lights
I saw were the lights in your study windows. Upon that I left him,
suddenly and secretly, and made my way here."

"Was the man watching this house?"

"It had the look of it. He is no friend of yours, that I can tell you.
When he spoke of you it was with the voice of a man who could make you
wince if he pleased. You have served him some trick, and he wants to
be revenged, I suppose. But you can take care of yourself, master."

"That will do. Leave me and leave this house, and as you value your
life, enter it no more."

"Then, you will see me elsewhere. Where, master, and when?"

"I will see you in no place and at no time. I understand the meaning
of looks, Gautran, and there is a threat in your eyes. Beware! I have
means to punish you. You have escaped the penalty of your crime, but
there is no safety for you here. You do not wish to die; the guilt of
blood is on your soul, and you are afraid of death. Well may you be
afraid of it. Such terrors await you in the life beyond as you cannot
dream of. Live, then, and repent; or die, and be eternally lost! Dare
to intrude yourself upon me, and death will be your portion, and you
will go straight to your punishment. Here, and at this moment only,
you have the choice of either fate. Choose, and swiftly."

The cold, stern, impressive voice, the commanding figure, had their
effect upon Gautran. He shook with fear; he was thoroughly subdued.

"If I am not safe here, master, where shall I find safety?"

"In a distant part of the country where you are not known."

"How am I to get there? I have no money."

"I will give you sufficient for flight and subsistence. Here are five
gold pieces. Now, go, and let me never see your murderous face again."

"Master," said Gautran humbly, as he turned the money over in his hand
and counted it. "I must have more--not for myself, but to pay for
masses for the repose of Madeline's soul. Then I may hope for
forgiveness--then she will leave me in peace!"

The Advocate emptied his purse into Gautran's open palm, saying, "Let
no man see you. Depart as secretly as you came."

But Gautran lingered still. "You promised me some more brandy,
master."

The Advocate filled the glass, and Gautran, with fierce eagerness,
drank the brandy.

"You will not give me another glass, master?"

"No, murderer. I have spoken my last word to you."

Gautran spoke no more, but with head sunk upon his breast, left the
room and the house.

"A vulgar expedient," mused the Advocate, when he was alone, "but the
only one likely to prove effective with such a monster. It is perhaps
best that it has happened. This man watching upon the hill is none
other than John Vanbrugh. I had almost forgotten him. He does not come
in friendship. Let him watch and wait. I will not see him."



                             CHAPTER XVI

                PIERRE LAMONT SEEKS THE HOSPITALITY OF
                     THE HOUSE OF WHITE SHADOWS.


The following day Pierre Lamont did not leave his bed, and was visited
in his room by the Advocate and Christian Almer. To the Advocate he
said:

"I trust I shall not incommode you, for I am compelled to throw myself
upon your hospitality."

"Get well, then," said the Advocate, "and enjoy it--which you cannot
do, thus confined."

"I do not know--I do not know," said the old lawyer, gazing at the
Advocate, and wondering how it was possible that this profound thinker
and observer could be blind to the drama which was being acted at his
very door, "one can still follow the world. Have you read the papers
this morning?"

"No--I have not troubled myself to look at them."

"Here is one that will interest you. What is called the freedom of the
press is growing into a scandal. Editors and critics abuse their
charter, and need some wholesome check. But you are not likely to be
moved by what they say."

He handed a newspaper to the Advocate, who walked to the window and
read the editorial comments upon the trial and the part he had played
in it.

"The trial of Gautran is over, and the monster whom all believe to be
guilty of a foul murder is set free. The victim, unavenged, is in her
grave, and a heavy responsibility lies not only upon the city, but
upon the nation. Neither for good nor ill can the words we write
affect the future of Gautran. Released, by the law, he is universally
condemned. Justice is not satisfied. In all Switzerland there is but
one man who in his soul believes the degraded wretch to be innocent,
and that this man should be right and all others wrong we refuse to
believe. Never in a cause so weighty have we felt it our duty to raise
our voice against a verdict reluctantly wrung from the citizens whose
lot it was to judge a human being accused--and we insist, righteously
accused--of a horrible crime. The verdict cannot be disturbed. Gautran
is free! There is a frightful significance in these words--Gautran is
free!

"Removed from the feverish excitement of the court in which the trial
took place, the report of the proceedings reads more like a stage
drama than an episode of real life. All the elements which led to the
shameful result are eminently dramatic, and were, without doubt,
planned by the great Advocate who defended the accused with an eye to
dramatic effect. It would scarcely surprise us were the climax now
reached to be followed by an anti-climax in which Gautran's champion
of yesterday would become his accuser of to-day. Our courts of justice
are becoming accustomed to this kind of theatrical display. Consider
the profound sensation which would be produced by the great lawyer
coming forward and saying, 'Yesterday, after a long and exciting
struggle, I proved to you that Gautran was innocent, and by my efforts
he was let loose upon society. To-day I propose to prove to you that
he is guilty, and I ask you to mete out to him his just punishment.' A
dangerous temptation, indeed, to one who studies effect. But there is
a safeguard against such a course. It would so blacken the fame of any
man who adopted it, however high that man might stand in the
estimation of his peers and the people, that he could never hope to
rise from the depths of shame into which his own act had plunged him.

"Many persons who believe that way will doubtless argue that there is
something providential in the history of this ruthless murder of an
unfortunate innocent being. She is slain. Not a soul comes forward to
claim kinship with her. None the less is she a child of God. Human
reason leads to the arrest and imprisonment of Gautran. Providence
brings upon the scene a great lawyer, who, unsolicited, undertakes the
defence of a monster, association with whom is defilement. The wretch
is set free, and Justice stands appalled at what has been done in the
name of the law. But this is not the end. Providence may have
something yet in store which will bring punishment to the guilty and
unravel this tangled skein. What, then, will the great Advocate have
to say who deliberately and voluntarily brought about a miscarriage of
justice so flagrant as to cause every honest heart to thrill with
indignation?"

The Advocate did not read any further, but laid the paper aside and
said:

"Men who take part in public matters are open to attacks of this kind.
There is nothing to complain of."

"And yet," thought Pierre Lamont, when the Advocate left him, "there
was in his face, as he read the article, an expression denoting that
he was moved. Well,--well--men are but human, even the greatest."

Later in the day he was visited by Christian Almer, to whom he
repeated his apologies.

"I have one of my bad attacks on me. They frequently last for days. At
such times it is dangerous for me to be moved about."

"Then do not be moved about," said Almer, with a smile.

But despite this smile. Almer was inwardly disquieted. He had not been
aware on the previous night that Pierre Lamont occupied the next room
to his. After the departure of the Advocate, Adelaide had not been
careful; her voice had been frequently raised, and Almer was anxious
to ascertain whether it had reached the old lawyer's ears.

"You slept well, I hope," he said.

"Yes, until the early morning, a little after sunrise. I am a very
deep sleeper for four or five hours. The moment I close my eyes sleep
claims me, and holds me so securely that, were the house on fire, it
would be difficult to arouse me. But the moment the sunshine peeps
into my room, my rest is at an end. When I had the use of my limbs I
was an early riser."

Almer's mind was relieved. "Sleeping in a strange bed is often not
conducive to repose."

"I have slept in so many strange beds." And Pierre Lamont thought as
he spoke: "But never in a stranger bed than this."

"You can still find occupation," said Almer, pointing to the books on
table and bed.

"Ah, books, books, books!" said Pierre Lamont. "What would the world
do without them? How did it ever do without them? But I am old, and I
am talking to a young man."

"My father was a bookworm and a student," said Almer. "Were he alive,
he would be disappointed that I do not tread in his footsteps."

"Perhaps not. He was a wise man, with a comprehensive mind. It would
not do for us all to be monks."



                             CHAPTER XVII

       FRITZ THE FOOL RELATES A STRANGE DREAM TO PIERRE LAMONT


Half-a-dozen times in the course of the day Pierre Lamont had sent in
search of Fritz the Fool, and it was not till the afternoon that Fritz
made his appearance.

"You should have come earlier, fool," said Pierre Lamont with a frown.

"I was better engaged," said Fritz coolly. "You fired me with those
love-verses last night, and I have been studying what to say to my
peach."

"The pretty Dionetta! Rehearse, then; I am dull."

"Ah, I have much to tell you. I am thinking of saying to the peach,
'Dionetta, place your hand in mine, and we will both serve Pierre
Lamont. He will give us a home; he will pay us liberally; and when he
dies he will not leave us unprovided for.'"

"And if the peach should laugh in your face?"

"I would reason with it. I would say, 'Look you now; you cannot be
always ripe, you cannot be always mellow and luscious. Do not waste
the precious sunshine of life, but give yourself to a clever fool, who
cares quite as much for your fair face and beautiful skin as he does
for the diamond baubles in your ears.'"

"Diamond earrings, Fritz! Are you dreaming?"

"Not at this moment--though I had a dream last night after I left you
which I may tell you if I don't repent of it before I disclose it.
Yes, Master Lamont, diamond earrings--as I'm a living fool, diamonds
of value. See, Master Lamont, I don't want this peach to be gathered
yet. It is well placed, it is in favour; it is making itself in some
way useful, not to finer, but to richer fruit. Heaven only knows what
may be rained upon it when the very first summer shower brings a
diamond finger-ring, and the second a pair of diamond earrings. A
diamond brooch, perhaps; money for certain, if it will take a fool's
advice. And of course it will do that if, seeing that the fool is a
proper fool, the peach says kindly, 'I am yours.' That is the way of
it, is it not, Master Lamont?"

"I am waiting to hear more, Fritz," said Pierre Lamont, with a full
enjoyment of Fritz's loquacity.

"Behind the summer-house, Master Lamont, lies a lovely lake, clear as
crystal in parts where it is not covered with fairy lilies. I am as
good as a pair of eyes to you to tell you of these beauties. The water
is white and shining and at one part there is a mass of willows
bending over; then there is a break, clear of the shadow of branch
and leaf; then there is another mass of willows. From a distance you
would think that there was no break in the foliage; you have to go
close to it to make the discovery, and once you are there you are
completely hidden from sight. Not more than two hours ago I was
passing this spot at the back of the willows, when I heard a
voice--a girl's voice, Master Lamont--saying quite softly, 'Oh, how
lovely! how beautiful--how beautiful!' It was Dionetta's voice; I
should know it among a thousand. Through the willows I crept with the
foot of a cat till I came to the break, and there was Dionetta
herself, bending over the water, and sighing, 'Oh, how lovely! how
beautiful!' She could not see me, for her back was towards me, and I
took care she did not hear me. She was shaking her pretty head over
the water, and I shouldn't deserve to be called a fool if I had not
felt curious to see what it was in the lake that was so lovely and
beautiful. Perhaps it was her own face she was admiring. Well, she had
a perfect right, and I was ready to join in the chorus. I crept up to
her as still as a mouse, and looked over her shoulder. She gave a
great scream when she saw my face in the lake, and I caught hold of
her to prevent her from falling in. Then I saw what almost took away
my breath. In her ears there flashed a pair of diamond earrings, the
like of which I never in my life beheld in our village. Her face got
as red as a sunset as I gazed at her. 'How you frightened me, Fritz!'
she said. I set the earrings swinging with my fingers and said, 'Where
did you get these wonderful things from?' She answered me pat. 'My
lady gave them to me.' 'They are yours, then?' I asked. 'Yes, Fritz,'
she said, 'they are mine, and I came here to see how I look in them.
They are so grand that I am ashamed to put them on unless I am alone.
Don't tell anybody, will you, Fritz? If grandmother knew I had them,
she would take them from me. She would never, never let me wear them.
Don't tell anybody.' Why, of course I said I would not, and then I
asked why my lady gave them to her, and she said it was because my
lady loved her. So, so! thought I, as I left my peach--I would like to
have given her just one kiss, but I did not dare to try--so, so! my
lady gives her maid a pair of diamond earrings that are as suitable to
her as a crown of gold to an ass's head. There is something more than
common between lady and maid. What is it, Master Lamont, what is it?"

"A secret, fool, which, if you get your peach to tell, will be worth
much to you. And as you and I are going to keep our own counsel, learn
from me that this secret has but one of two kernels. Love or jealousy.
Set your wits at work, Fritz, set your wits at work, and keep your
eyes open. I may help you to your peach, fool. And now about that
dream of yours. Were you asleep or awake at the time?"

Fritz stepped cautiously to the door, opened it, looked along the
passage, closed the door, and came close to the bedside.

"Master Lamont," he said, "what I dreamt is something so strange that
it will take a great deal of thinking over. Do you know why I tell you
things?"

"I might guess wrong, Fritz. Save me the trouble."

"You have never been but one way with me; you have never given me a
hard word; you have never given me a blow. When I was a boy--twenty
years ago and more, Master Lamont--you were the only man who spoke
kind words to me, who used to pat my head and pity me. For, if you
remember, Master Lamont, I was nothing but a castaway, living on
charity, and everybody but you made me feel it. Cuffed by this one and
that one, kicked, and laughed at--but never by you. Even a fool can
bear these things in mind."

"Well, well, Fritz, go on with your dream. You are making me hungry."

"It came nearly two hours after midnight. At that time I was in the
grounds. All was dark. There was nobody about but me, until the
Advocate came. Then I slipped aside and watched him. He walked up and
down, like a machine. It was not as if a man was walking, but a figure
of steel. It was enough to drive me crazy, it was so like clockwork.
Twice he almost discovered me. He looked about him, he searched the
grounds, still with the same measured step, he called aloud, and asked
if anybody was near. Then he went into the house and into the study. I
knew he was there by the shifting of the lights in the room. Being
alone with the shadows, your love-verses came into my mind, and you
may believe me, Master Lament, I made my way to the window of the room
in which Dionetta sleeps, and stood there looking up at it. I should
have been right down ashamed of myself if I hadn't been dreaming. Is
it the way of lovers, Master Lamont? 'Faster than bees to flowers they
wing their way;' that is how the line runs, is it not? Well, there
stood I, a bee, dreaming in the dark night, before the window of my
flower. An invisible flower, unfortunately. But thoughts are free; you
can't put chains on them. So there stood I, for how many minutes I
cannot say, imagining my flower. Now, if I had known that her pretty
head was lying on the pillow, with great diamond earrings in her
ears--for that is a certainty--I might not perhaps have been able to
tear myself away. Luckily for my dream, that knowledge had still to
come to me, so I wandered off, and found myself once more staring at
the lights in the Advocate's study windows. Now, what made me step
quite close to them, and put my eye to a pane which the curtains did
not quite cover? I could see clear into the room. Imagine my surprise,
Master Lamont, when I discovered that the Advocate was not alone!
Master Lamont, you know every man in the village, but I would give you
a thousand guesses, and you would not hit upon the name of the
Advocate's friend. From where I stood I could not hear a word that was
said, but I saw everything. I saw the Advocate go to a cupboard, and
give this man liquor; he poured it out for him himself. Then they
talked--then the Advocate brought forward a silver basket of biscuits,
and the man ate some, and stuffed some into his pockets. They were on
the very best of terms with each other. The Advocate gave his friend
some money--pieces of gold, Master Lamont; I saw them glitter. The man
counted them, and by his action, asked for more; and more was given;
the Advocate emptied his purse into the man's hand. Then, after
further conversation, the man turned to leave the room. It was time
for me to scuttle from my peep-hole. Presently the man was in the
grounds stepping almost as softly as I stepped after him. For I was
not going to lose him, Master Lamont; my curiosity was whetted to that
degree that it would have taken a great deal to prevent me from
following this friend of the Advocate's. 'How will he get out?'
thought I; 'the gates are locked; he will hardly venture to scale
them.' Two or three times he stopped, and looked behind him; he did
not see me. He arrived at the wall which stretches at the back; he
climbed the wall; so did I, in another and an easier part; he dropped
down with a thud and a groan; I let myself to the ground without
disturbing a leaf. Presently he picked himself up and walked off, with
more haste than before. I followed him. He stopped; I stopped; he
walked on again, and so did I. Again he stopped and cried aloud: 'I
hear you follow me! Is not one killing enough for you?' And then he
gave a scream so awful that the hair rose on my head. 'She is here!'
he screamed; 'she is here, and is driving me to madness!' With that he
took to his heels and tore through field and forest really like a
madman. I could not keep up with him, and after an hour's running I
completely lost sight of him. There was nothing for me to do but to
get back to the villa. I returned the way I came--I had plenty to
think about on the road--and I was once more before the windows of the
Advocate's study. The lights were still there. The Advocate, I
believe, can live without sleep. I peeped through the window, and
there he was, sitting at his table reading, with an expression of
power in his face which might well make any man tremble who dared to
oppose him. That is the end of my dream, Master Lamont."

"But the man, Fritz, the man!" exclaimed Pierre, Lamont. "I am still
in ignorance as to who this strange, nocturnal visitor can be."

"There lies the pith of my dream. If I were to tell you that this man
who makes his way secretly into the grounds in the darkness of the
night--who is closeted with the Advocate for an hour at least--who is
treated to wine and cake--who is presented with money, and grumblingly
asks for more, and gets it--if I were to tell you that this man is
Gautran, who was tried for the murder of Madeline, the flower-girl,
and who was set free by the Advocate--what would you say, Master
Lamont?"

"I should say," replied Pierre Lamont with some difficulty controlling
his excitement, "that you were mad, fool Fritz."

"Nevertheless," said Fritz with great composure, "it is so. I have
related my dream as it occurred. The man was Gautran and no other. Can
you explain that to me in one word?"

"No," said Pierre Lamont, gazing sharply at Fritz. "You are not
fooling me, Fritz?"

"If it were my last word it would make no difference. I have told you
the truth."

"You know Gautran's face well?"

"I was in the court every day of the trial, and there is no chance of
my being mistaken. See here, Master Lamont. I can do many things that
would surprise people. I can draw faces. Give me a pencil and some
paper."

With a few rapid strokes he produced the very image of Pierre Lamont,
sitting up in bed, with thin, cadaverous face, with high forehead and
large nose; even the glitter of the old lawyer's eyes was depicted.
Pierre Lamont examined the portrait with admiration.

"I am proud of you, Fritz," he said; "you have the true artist's
touch."

Fritz was busy with the pencil again. "Who may this be?" he asked,
holding another sketch before Pierre Lamont.

"The Advocate. To the life, Fritz, to the life."

"This is also to the life," said Fritz, producing a third portrait.
"This is Gautran. It is all I can draw, Master Lamont--human faces; I
could do it when I was a boy. There is murder in Gautran's face; there
was murder in the words I heard him speak as I followed him: 'Is not
one killing enough for you?' There is only one meaning to such words.
I leave you to puzzle it all out, Master Lamont. You have a wise head;
I am a fool. Mother Denise may be right, after all, when she said--not
knowing I was within hearing--that it was an evil day when my lady,
the Advocate's wife, set foot in the grounds of the House of White
Shadows. But it is no business of mine; only I must look after my
peach, or it may suddenly be spirited away on a broomstick. Unholy
work, Master Lamont, unholy work! What do you say to letting Father
Capel into the mystery?"

"Not for worlds!" cried Pierre Lamont. "Priests in such matters are
the rarest bunglers. No--the secret is ours, yours and mine; you shall
be well paid for your share in it. Without my permission you will not
speak of it--do you hear me, Fritz?"

"I hear you, and will obey you."

"Good lad! Ah, what would I give if I had the use of my limbs! But you
shall be my limbs and my eyes--my second self. Help me to dress,
Fritz--quick, quick!"

"Master Lamont," said Fritz with a sly laugh, "be careful of your
precious self. You are ill, you know, very, very ill! You must keep
your bed. I cannot run the risk of losing so good a master."

"I have a dozen years of life in me yet, fool. This dried-up old skin,
these withered limbs, this lack of fat, are my protection. If I were a
stout, fine man I might go off at any moment. As it is, I may live to
a hundred--old enough to see your grandchildren, Fritz. But yes, yes,
yes--I am indeed very ill and weak! Let everybody know it--so weak and
ill that it is not possible for me to leave this hospitable house for
many, many days. The medicine I require is the fresh air of the
gardens. With my own eyes I must see what I can of the comedy that is
being played under our very noses. I, also, had dreams last night,
Fritz, rare dreams! Ah--what a comedy, what a comedy! But there are
tragic veins in it, fool, which make it all the more human."



                   _BOOK V.--THE DOOM OF GAUTRAN_.



                              CHAPTER I

             ADELAIDE STRIVES TO PROPITIATE PIERRE LAMONT


The following night was even darker than the preceding one had been.
In the afternoon portents of a coming storm were apparent in the sky.
Low mutterings of thunder in the distance travelled faintly to the
ears of the occupants of the House of White Shadows. The Advocate's
wife shuddered as she heard the sounds.

"There are only two things in the world I am afraid of," she said to
Pierre Lamont, "and those are thunder and lightning. When I was a
little child a dreadful thing occurred to me. I was playing in a
garden when a storm came on. I was all alone, and it was some distance
to the house. The storm broke so suddenly that I had not time to reach
shelter without getting myself drenched. I dare say, though, I should
have run through it had I not been frightened by the flashes of
lightning that seemed to want to cut me in two. I flew behind a tree,
and stood there trembling. Every time a flash came I shut my eyes
tight and screamed. But the storm did not allow my cries to be heard.
You can imagine the state I was in. It would not have mattered, except
for the wetting, had I kept my eyes closed, but like a little fool, I
opened them once, and just at that moment a flash seemed to strike the
tree behind which I stood. I can almost hear the shriek I gave, as I
fell and fainted dead away. There, lying on the wet grass, I was
found. A dreadful looking object I must have been! They carried me
into the house, and when I was conscious of what was passing around
me, I asked why they did not light the gas. The fact is I was quite
blind, and remained so for several days. Was it not shocking? I shall
never, never forget my fright. Can you imagine anything more dreadful
than being struck blind? To be born blind cannot be half as bad, for
one does not know what one loses--never having seen the flowers, and
the fields, and the beautiful skies. But to enjoy them, and then to
lose them! It is altogether too horrible to think of."

She was very gracious to the old lawyer during the afternoon.

"Do you know," she said, "I can't quite make up my mind whether to be
fond or frightened of you."

"Be fond of me," said Pierre Lamont, with a queer look.

"I shall see how you behave. I am afraid you are very clever. I don't
like clever people, they are so suspicious, pretending to know
everything always."

"I am very simple," said Pierre Lamont, laughing inwardly. He knew
that she wanted to propitiate him; "and beauty can lead me by a silken
thread."

"Is that another of your compliments? I declare, you speak as if you
were a young man."

She did, indeed, desire to win Pierre Lamont entirely to her, and she
would have endured much to make him her friend instead of her enemy.
Christian Almer had told her that the old lawyer had slept in the next
room to his, and she had set herself the task of sounding the old
fellow to ascertain whether his suspicions were aroused, and whether
she had anything to fear from him. She could not help saying to
herself what a fool Mother Denise--who looked after the household
arrangements--was to put him so close to Christian.

"I do believe," thought Adelaide, "that she did it to spite me."

Her mind, however, was quite at ease after chatting with the old
lawyer.

"I am so glad we are friends," she said to him; "it is altogether so
much nicer."

Pierre Lamont looked reproachfully at her, and asked how she could
ever have supposed he was anything but her most devoted admirer.

"Lawyers are so fond of mischief," she replied, "that if it does not
come to them ready-made they manufacture it for themselves."

"I am no longer a lawyer," he said; "if I were twenty years younger I
should call myself a lover."

"If you were twenty years younger," she rejoined gaily, "I should not
sit and listen to your nonsense."

Being called from his side she turned and gave him an arch look.

"All that only makes the case stronger, my lady," he said inwardly.
"You cannot deceive me with your wiles."



                              CHAPTER II

                     GAUTRAN SEEKS JOHN VANBRUGH


During the chief part of the day Gautran concealed himself
in the woods. Twice had he ventured to present himself to his
fellow--creatures. He was hungry, and in sore need of food, and he
went to a wayside inn, and called for cold meat and bread and brandy.

"Can you pay for it?" asked the innkeeper suspiciously.

Gautran threw down a gold piece. The innkeeper took it, bit it, turned
it over and over, rang it on the wooden table, and then set the food
before Gautran.

The murderer ate ravenously; it was the first sufficient meal he had
eaten for days. The innkeeper gave him his change, and he ordered more
meat and brandy, and paid for them. While he was disposing of this,
two men came up, eyed him, and passed into the inn; Gautran was eating
at a little table in the open air.

Presently the innkeeper came out and looked at him; then the
innkeeper's wife did the same; then other men and women came and cast
wrathful glances upon him.

At first he was not conscious that he was being thus observed, he was
so ravenously engaged; but his hunger being appeased, he raised his
head, and saw seven or eight persons standing at a little distance
from him, and all with their eyes fixed upon his face.

"What are you staring at?" he cried. "Did you never see a hungry man
eat before?"

They did not answer him, but stood whispering among themselves.

The idea occurred to Gautran to take away with him a supply of food,
and he called to the innkeeper to bring it to him. Instead of doing
so, the innkeeper removed the plates and glasses in which the meal had
been served. Having done this, he joined the group, and stood apart
from Gautran, without addressing a word to him.

"Do you hear me?" shouted Gautran. "Are you deaf and dumb?"

"Neither deaf nor dumb," replied the innkeeper; "we hear you plain
enough."

"Bring me the bread and meat, then," he said.

"Not another morsel," said the innkeeper. "Be off with you."

"When I get the food."

"You will get none here--nor would you have had bite or sup if I had
known."

"Known what?" demanded Gautran fiercely. "Is not my money as good as
another man's?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Because there is blood upon it."

If this did not convince him that his name was known and execrated,
what next transpired would have enlightened him. The innkeeper's wife
came out with a glass and two plates in her hands.

"Are these the things," she asked of her husband, "the monster has
been eating out of?"

"Yes," replied the innkeeper.

She dashed them to the ground and shivered them to pieces, and the
onlookers applauded the act.

"Why do you do that, Mistress?" cried Gautran.

"So that honest men shall not be poisoned," was the answer, "by eating
out of a murderer's dish or putting their lips to a murderer's glass."

And the onlookers again applauded her, and kicked away the pieces.

Gautran glared at the men and women, and asked:

"Who do you take me for?"

"For Gautran. There is but one such monster. If you do not know your
own face, look upon it there."

She pointed to the window, and there he beheld his own portrait, cut
out of an illustrated newspaper, and beneath it his name--"GAUTRAN,"
to which had been added, in writing, the words, "The Murderer of
Madeline, the Flower-Girl."

He could not read the inscription, but he correctly divined its
nature. The moment before he saw his portrait, it had entered his mind
to deny himself; he recognised now how futile the attempt would be.

"What if I am Gautran?" he exclaimed. "Do you think the law would set
me free if I was guilty?"

To which the innkeeper's wife replied:

"You have escaped by a quibble. You are a murderer, and you know
yourself to be one."

"Mistress," he said, "if I had you alone I would make you smart."

"How does that sound, men?" cried the innkeeper's wife with excited
gestures. "Is it the speech of an innocent man? He would like to get
me alone. Yes, he got one poor girl alone, and we know what became of
her. The coward! the murderer! Hunt him away, neighbours. It is a
disgrace to look upon him."

They advanced towards Gautran threateningly, and he drew his knife and
snapped it open.

"Who will be the first?" he asked savagely, and seeing that they held
together, he retreated backwards, with his face to them, until a turn
in the road hid them from his sight. Then he fled into the woods, and
with wild cries slashed the trees with his knife, which he had
sharpened in the early morning.

On the second occasion he presented himself at a cottage door, with
the intention of begging or buying some food. He knocked at the door,
and not receiving an answer, lifted the latch. In the room were two
children--a baby in a cradle, and a five-year-old boy sitting on the
floor, playing with a little wooden soldier. Looking up, and seeing
the features of the ruffian, the boy scrambled to his feet, and
rushing past Gautran, ran screaming down the road. Enraged almost to
madness, Gautran ran after the child, and catching him, tossed him in
the air, shouting:

"What! you, too, brat? This for your pains!"

And standing over the child, was about to stamp upon him, when he
found himself seized by the throat. It was the father, who, hearing
the child's screams, came up just in time to save him. Then ensued a
desperate struggle, and Gautran, despite his boast to the Advocate,
found that he had met more than his match. He was beaten to the
ground, lifted, and thrown into the air, as he had thrown the child.
He rose, bruised and bleeding, and was slinking off, when the man
cried:

"Holy Mother! it is the murderer, Gautran!"

Some labourers who were coming across the fields, were attracted by
the scuffle, and the father called out to them:

"Here is Gautran the murderer, and he has tried to murder my child!"

This was enough for them. They were armed with reaping-hooks, and they
raced towards Gautran with loud threats. They chased him for full a
mile, but he was fleeter of foot than they, and despair gave him
strength. He escaped them, and sank, panting, to the ground.

The Advocate had spoken truly. There was no safety for him. He was
known for miles round, and the people were eager for vengeance. He
would hide in the woods for the rest of the day. There was but one
means of escape for him. He must seek some distant spot, where he and
his crime were unknown. But to get there he would be compelled to pass
through villages in which he would be recognised. It was necessary
that he should disguise himself. In what way could this be done? He
pondered upon it for hours. In the afternoon he heard the muttering of
the thunder in the distant mountains.

"There's a storm coming," he said, and he raised his burning face to
meet the welcome rain. But only a few heavy drops fell, and the wind
moaned through the woods as if in pain. Night stole upon him swiftly,
and wrapt him in horrible darkness. He bit his lips, he clenched his
hands, his body shook with fear. Solitude was worse than death to him.
He tried to sleep; in vain. Terrible images crowded upon him. Company
he must have, at all hazards. Suddenly he thought of John Vanbrugh,
the man he had met the night before on the hill not far from the
Advocate's house. This man had not avoided him. He would seek him
again, and, if he found him, would pass the night with him. So
resolving, he walked with feverish steps towards the hill on which
John Vanbrugh was keeping watch.



                             CHAPTER III

                 GAUTRAN RESOLVES ON A PLAN OF ESCAPE


The distance was longer than Gautran had calculated, and he did not
shorten it by the devious tracks he took in his anxiety to avoid
meeting with his enemies. The rainstorm still kept off, but, in spite
of the occasional flashes of lightning, the darkness seemed to grow
thicker and thicker, and he frequently missed his way. He kept on
doggedly, however, and although the shadow of his crime waited upon
his steps, and made itself felt in the sighing and moaning of the
wind, in the bending of every branch, and in the fluttering of every
leaf, the craving for human companionship in which there was something
of sympathy, and from which he would not be hunted like a dog, imbued
him with courage to fight these terrors. Often, indeed, did he pause
and threaten with fearful words the spectre of the girl he had
murdered; and sometimes he implored her to leave him, and told her he
was going to pay for masses for the repose of her soul. Occasionally
he was compelled to take the high road, and then he was grateful for
the darkness, for it prevented his face from being seen. At those
times he slunk close to the hedges, as though dreading that the
slightest contact with a human being would lead to discovery. Terrible
as the night was to him, he feared the approach of day, when it would
be more difficult to conceal himself from his pursuers. He knew that
his life was not safe while he remained in this fatal neighbourhood.
He _must_ escape, and in disguise, before he was many hours older. How
was this to be accomplished? Once, in the roadway, he followed with
stealthy steps two men who were conversing. He would have avoided
them, as he had avoided others, had it not been that he heard his name
mentioned, and was morbidly curious to hear what they were saying
about him.

Said one: "I have not set eyes upon this man-monster, but I shall know
him if I meet him in the light."

To which the other replied: "How will you manage that, if you have
never seen his face?"

"You ask a foolish question. Have not full descriptions of the
murderer been put about everywhere? His features, the colour of his
hair, his clothes, from his cap to his boots--all is known. His face
he might disguise by a slash of his knife, if he has courage enough
for it, or he might stain it--and in that way, too, he might change
the colour of his hair. But his clothes would remain. The shirt he
wears is one in a thousand, and there's no mistaking it. It is blue,
with broad yellow bands, which encircle his villainous body like
rings. Let him get another shirt if he can. The country is aroused for
twenty miles round, and men are resolved to take justice into their
own hands. The law has allowed him to slip through its fingers; he
shall not slip through ours. Why, he said to a woman this morning that
he would know how to serve her if he had her alone, and not long
afterwards he tried to murder a child! Shall such a monster be allowed
to remain at liberty to strike women down and murder the helpless?
No--we don't intend to let him escape. Men are on the watch for him
everywhere, and when he is caught he will be beaten to death, or hung
upon the nearest tree. There is another end for him, if he chooses to
take it. He can hide in the woods and starve, and when his body is
found, we'll drive a stake through it. Take my word for it, Gautran,
the murderer, has not long to live."

Gautran shook with fear and rage.

"I could spring upon them with my knife," he thought, "but they are
two to one."

And then, when the men were out of hearing, he shook his fist at them,
and muttered:

"Curse you! I will cheat you yet!"

But how? The description given of his shirt was a faithful one; the
broad yellow bands were there, and he remembered that, two days before
the end of his trial, the gaolers had taken it from his cell in the
night, and returned it to him in the morning, washed, with the yellow
colour brighter than it had been for months. He knew now that this had
been done out of malice, in case he should be acquitted, so that he
might be the more readily recognised and shunned, or the more easily
tracked and caught if he was again wanted. There loomed upon him a way
to foil those who had vowed to kill him. The man he was seeking had
spoken in a reckless manner; he had complained of the world, and was
doubtless in want of money. He had gold which the Advocate had given
him; he would offer to buy the man's clothes, and would give him his
own, and one, two, or even three gold pieces in exchange; An easy
thing to accomplish. But if the man would not consent to the bargain!
He smiled savagely, and felt the edge of his knife. He was thoroughly
desperate. He would sacrifice a thousand lives to save his own.

Out of this murderous alternative--and out of the words uttered by the
man he had overheard, "His face he might disguise by a slash of his
knife if he has courage for it"--grew ideas which, as he plodded on
gradually arranged themselves into a scheme which would ensure him an
almost sure escape from those who had leagued themselves against him.
Its entire success depended upon certain physical attributes in John
Vanbrugh--but he would risk it even if these were not as he wished
them to be. The plan was horrible in its design, and needed strength
and cunning. He had both, and would use them without mercy, to ensure
his safety. John Vanbrugh, with whose name he was not acquainted, was
probably a stranger in the locality; something in Vanbrugh's speech
caused him to suspect this. He would assure himself first of the fact,
and then the rest was easy. Vanbrugh was about his own height and
build; he had stood by his side and knew this to be so. Gautran should
die this night in the person of another man, and should be found in
the morning, murdered, with features so battered as to defy
recognition. But he would be attired in Gautran's clothes, and would
by those means be instantly identified. Then he, the true Gautran,
would be forever safe. In John Vanbrugh's garments he could make his
way to a distant part of the country, and take another name. No one
would suspect him, for Gautran would be dead; and he would buy
masses for the repose of Madeline's soul, and so purge himself of
blood-guiltiness. As to this second contemplated crime he gave it no
thought, except that it was necessary, and must be done.



                              CHAPTER IV

                          HEAVEN'S JUDGMENT


Within half an hour of midnight he arrived at the hill, and saw the
shadow of a man who was leaning against a tree. Gautran had been
walking for nearly three hours, and during the whole time the storm of
thunder and lightning had continued at intervals, now retreating, now
advancing; but its full force had been spent many miles away, and it
did not seem likely to approach much nearer to the House of White
Shadows.

"The man is there," muttered Gautran, "with his face still towards the
Advocate's window. What is his purpose?"

He was curious about that, too, and thought he would endeavour to
ferret it out. It might be useful to him in the future, for it
concerned the Advocate. There was plenty of time before him to
accomplish his own murderous design.

John Vanbrugh heard Gautran's footsteps.

"Who comes this way?" he cried.

"A friend," replied Gautran.

"That is easily said," cried Vanbrugh. "I am not in a trustful mood.
Hold off a bit, or I may do you mischief."

"Do you not know me?" asked Gautran, approaching closer, and measuring
himself with the dark form of Vanbrugh. They were of exactly the same
height.

"What, Gautran!" exclaimed Vanbrugh in a gay tone.

"Yes, Gautran."

"Welcome, friend, welcome," said Vanbrugh, with a laugh. "Give me your
hand. Veritable flesh and blood. You have a powerful grip, Gautran. I
thought we should meet again. What caused you to make yourself scarce
so suddenly last night? You vanished like a cloud."

"I had business to do. Have you got any more of that brandy about
you?"

"I am not sure whether you deserve it. After emptying my flask, you
may make off again. A poor return for hospitality, my friend."

"I promise to remain with you--it is what I came for--if you give me
brandy."

"I take your word," said Vanbrugh, producing a flask. "Drink, but not
too greedily."

Gautran took a long draught and returned the flask, saying, "You have
no food, I suppose?"

"Why, yes, I have. Warned by previous experiences I supplied myself
liberally for this night's watch. I'll not refuse you, though I spent
my last franc on it."

"Ah," said Gautran, with some eagerness, for an amicable exchange of
clothing would render the more villainous part of his task easier of
accomplishment, "you are poor, then?"

"Poor? Yes, but not for long, Gautran. The days of full purses are
coming. Here is the food. Eat, rogue, eat. It is honest bread and
meat, bought and paid for; but none the sweeter for that. We know
which fruit is the sweetest. So you had business to do when you took
French leave of me! How runs the matter? I had just pointed out the
Advocate's window to you--your own special Advocate, my friend, to
whom you have so much reason to be grateful--when you disappeared like
an arrow from a bow. What follows then? That, leaving me so abruptly,
your business was important, and that it concerned the Advocate. Right
or wrong, rogue?"

"Right," replied Gautran, as he devoured the food.

"Come, that's candid of you, and spoken like a friend. You did not
know, before I informed you, that he lived in the villa yonder?"

"I did not."

"I begin to have hopes of you. And learning it from me, you made
up your mind on the spur of the moment--your business being so
important--to pay him a friendly visit, despite the strangeness of the
hour for a familiar call?"

"You've hit it," said Gautran.

John Vanbrugh pondered a while. These direct answers, given without
hesitation, puzzled him. He had expected to meet with prevarication,
and he was receiving, instead, straightforward confidence.

"You are not afraid," he said, "to speak the truth to me, Gautran?"

"I am not."

"But I am a stranger to you."

"That's true."

"Why, then, do you confide in me?"

It was Gautran's turn now to pause, but he soon replied, with a
sinister look which John Vanbrugh, in the darkness, could not see:

"Because, after what passes between us this night, I am sure you will
not betray me."

"Good," said Vanbrugh; "then it is plain you sought me deliberately,
because you think I can in some way serve you."

"Yes, because you can in some way serve me--that is why I am here."

"Then you intend to hide nothing from me?"

"Nothing--for the reason I have given."

A flash of lightning seemed to strike the spot on which he and Gautran
were conversing, and he waited for the thunder. It came--long, deep,
and threatening.

"There is a terrible storm somewhere," he said.

"It does not matter," rejoined Gautran, with a shudder, "so long as a
man is not alone. Don't mind my coming so close. I have walked many a
mile to find you. I have not a friend in the world but you."

"Not even the Advocate?"

"Not even him. He will see me no more."

"He told you that last night?"

"Yes."

"But how did you get to him, Gautran? You did not enter by the gates."

"No; I dropped over the wall at the back. Tell me. It is but fair; I
answer you honestly enough. What are you watching his house for? A man
does not do as you are doing, on such black nights as this, for idle
pastime."

"No, indeed, Gautran! I also have business with him. And strangely
enough, you, whom I met in the flesh for the first time within these
last twenty-four hours, are indirectly concerned in it."

"Am I? Strange enough, as you say. But it will not matter after
to-night."

Some hidden meaning in Gautran's tone struck warningly upon John
Vanbrugh, and caused him to bestow a clearer observance upon Gautran's
movements from this moment.

"There is a thing I wish to know, Gautran," he said. "Between
vagabonds like ourselves there is no need for concealment. It is a
delicate question, but you have been so frank with me that I will
venture to ask it. Besides, there are no witnesses, and you will not,
therefore, incriminate yourself. This girl, Madeline, whose spirit
follows you----"

Vanbrugh hesitated. The question he was about to ask trembled on his
lips, and he scarcely knew how to give it shape in words that would
not provoke an outbreak on the part of Gautran. He had no desire to
come into open collision with this ruffian, of whose designs upon
himself he was inwardly warned. Gautran, with brutal recklessness,
assisted him.

"You want to know if I killed her?"

"Why, yes--though you put it roughly."

"What matter? Well, then, she died at my hands."

John Vanbrugh recoiled from the murderer in horror, and in a
suppressed tone asked:

"When the Advocate defended you, did he know you were guilty?"

"Aye. We kept the secret to ourselves. It was cleverly worked, was it
not?"

"And last night," continued John Vanbrugh, "he received you in his
study?"

"Aye--and gave me liquor, and food, and money. Listen to it." He
rattled the gold pieces in the palms of his hands. "Look you. I have
answered questions enough. I answer no more for a while. It is my turn
now."

"Proceed, Gautran," said Vanbrugh; "I may satisfy you or not,
according to my whim."

"You'll satisfy me, or I'll know the reason why. There is no harm in
what I am going to say. You are a stranger in these parts--there is no
offence in that, is there?"

"None. Yes, I am a stranger in these parts. Heavens! what a flash! The
storm is coming nearer."

"All the better. You will hardly believe that I have been bothering
myself about the colour of your hair. I hate red-haired men. Yours,
now. Is there any offence in asking the colour of it?"

"None. My hair is black."

Gautran's eyes glittered and a flash of lightning illuminated his
face, and revealed to Vanbrugh the savage and ruthless look which
shone there.

"And your height and build, about the same as mine," said Gautran.
"Let us strike a bargain. I have gold--you have none. I have taken a
fancy to your clothes; I will buy them of you. Two gold pieces in
exchange for them, and mine thrown in."

"The clothes of a murderer," said Vanbrugh, slowly retreating as
Gautran advanced upon him. "Thank you for nothing. Not for two hundred
gold pieces, poor as I am. Keep off. Do not come so near to me."

"Why not? You are no better than I. Three gold pieces! That should
content you."

"You have my answer, Gautran. Leave me, I have had enough of you."

"You will have had more than enough before I have done with you," said
Gautran, and Vanbrugh was satisfied now, from the man's brutal tones,
that it was a deadly foe who stood within a few inches of him, "if you
do not do as I bid you. Say, done and done; you had better. By fair
means or foul I mean to have what I want."

"Not by fair means, you murderous villain. Be warned. I am on my
guard."

"If you will have it, then!" cried Gautran, and with a savage shout he
threw himself upon Vanbrugh.

So sudden and fierce was the attack that Vanbrugh could not escape
from it; but although he was no match for Gautran in strength, he had
had, in former years, some experience in wrestling which came to his
aid now in this terrible crisis. The struggle that ensued was
prolonged and deadly, and while the men were locked in each other's
arms, the storm broke immediately over their heads. The thunder pealed
above them, the lightning played about their forms.

"You villain!" gasped Vanbrugh, as he felt himself growing weaker.
"Have you been paid by the Advocate to do this deed?"

"Yes," answered Gautran, between his clenched teeth; "he is the
fiend's agent, and I am his! He bade me kill you. Your last moment has
come!"

"Not yet," cried Vanbrugh, and by a supreme and despairing effort he
threw Gautran clear from him, and stood again on the defensive.

Simultaneously with the movement a flash of forked lightning struck
the tree against which Vanbrugh had been leaning when Gautran first
accosted him, and cleft it in twain; and as Gautran was about to
spring forward, a huge mass of timber fell upon him with fatal force,
and bore him to the earth--where he lay imprisoned, crushed and
bleeding to death.



                              CHAPTER V

             FATHER CAPEL DISCOVERS GAUTRAN IN HIS PERIL


Father Capel was wending his way slowly over the hill from the bedside
of the sick woman whom he had attended for two nights in succession.
On the first night she was in a state of delirium, and Father Capel
could not arouse her to a consciousness of surrounding things. In her
delirium she had repeatedly uttered a name which had powerfully
interested him. "Madeline! Madeline! my Madeline," she moaned again
and again. "Is it possible," thought the priest, "that the girl whose
name she utters with agonised affection is the poor child who was so
ruthlessly murdered?" On this, the second night, the woman whose last
minutes on earth were approaching, was conscious, and she made certain
disclosures to Father Capel which, veiled as they were, had grievously
disturbed his usually serene mood. She had, also, given him a mission
to perform which did not tend to compose his mind. He had promised
faithfully to obey her, and they were to meet again within a few
hours. To his earnest request that she would pray with him, she had
impatiently answered:

"There will be time enough after I have seen the man you have promised
to bring with you. I shall live till then."

So he had knelt by her bedside and had prayed for her and for himself,
and for all the erring. His compassionate heart had room for them all.

For twenty miles around there was no man better loved than he. His
life had been reproachless, and his tender nature never turned from
the performance of a good deed, though it entailed suffering and
privation upon himself. These were matters not to be considered when
duty beckoned to him. A poor man, and one who very often deprived
himself of a meal in the cause of charity. A priest in the truest
sense of the word.

Seldom, in the course of a long, merciful, and charitable career, had
he met with so much cause to grieve as on the present occasion. In the
first place, because it was an added proof to the many he had received
that a false step in life, in the taking of which one human being
caused another to suffer, was certain to bring at some time or other
its own bitter punishment; in the second place, because in this
particular instance, the punishment, and the remorse that must surely
follow, were as terrible as the mind of man could conceive.

His road lay towards the hill upon which the desperate conflict
between John Vanbrugh and Gautran was taking place. There was no
occasion for him to cross this hill; by skirting its base he could
follow the road he intended to take. But as he approached the spot,
the wind bore to him, in moments when the fury of the storm was
lulled, cries which sounded in his ears like cries of pain and despair
They were faint, and difficult to ascribe to any precise definite
cause; they might be the cries of an animal, but even in that case it
was more than likely that Father Capel would have proceeded in their
direction. Presently, however, he heard a human cry for help; the word
was distinct, and it decided his movements. Without hesitation he
began to climb the hill.

As he approached nearer and nearer to the spot on which the struggle
was proceeding, there was no longer room to doubt its nature.

"Holy Mother!" murmured the priest, quickening his steps, "will the
evil passions of men never be stilled? It seems as if murder were
being done here. Grant that I am not too late to avert the crime!"

Then came the terrific lightning-flash, followed immediately by
Gautran's piercing scream as he was struck down by the tree.

"Who calls for help?" cried Father Capel, in a loud voice, but his
words were lost in the peals of thunder which shook the earth and made
it tremble beneath his feet. When comparative silence reigned, he
shouted again:

"Who calls for help? I am a priest, and tender it."

Gautran's voice answered him:

"Here--here! I am crushed and dying!"

This appeal was not coherently made, but the groans which accompanied
it guided Father Capel to the spot upon which Gautran lay. He felt
amid the darkness and shuddered at the touch of blood, and then he
clasped Gautran's right hand. The tree had fallen across the
murderer's legs, and had so crushed them into the earth that he could
not move the lower part of his body; his chest and arms were free. A
heavy branch had inflicted a terrible gash on his forehead, and it was
from this wound that he was bleeding to death.

"Who are you?" said Father Capel, kneeling by the dying man, "that
lies here in this sad condition? I cannot see you. Is this Heaven's
deed, or man's?"

"It is Heaven's," gasped Gautran, "and I am justly punished."

"I heard the sounds of a struggle between two men. Are you one of
those who were fighting in the midst of this awful darkness?"

"Yes, I am one."

"And the design," continued Father Capel, "was murder. You do not
answer me; your silence is sufficient confirmation. Are you hurt
much?"

"I am hurt to death. In a few minutes I shall be in eternal fire
unless you grant me absolution and forgiveness for my crimes."

"Speak first the truth. Were you set upon, or were you the attacker in
this evil combat?"

"I attacked him first."

"Then he may be dead!" exclaimed Father Capel, and rising hastily to
his feet, he peered into the darkness, and felt about with his hands,
and called aloud to know if the other man was conscious. "This is
horrible," said the priest, in deep perplexity, scarcely knowing what
it was best to do; "one man dying, another in all likelihood dead."

He turned as if about to go, and Gautran, divining his intention,
cried in a tone of agony:

"Do not leave me, father, do not leave me!"

"Truly," murmured the priest, "it seems to me that my present duty is
more with the living than the dead." He knelt again by the side of
Gautran. "Miserable wretch, if the man you attacked be dead, you have
murdered him, and you have been smitten for your crime. It may not be
the only sin that lies upon your soul."

"It is not, it is not," groaned Gautran. "My strength is deserting me;
I can hardly speak. Father, is there hope for a murderer? Do not let
me die yet. Give me something to revive me. I am fainting."

"I have nothing with me to restore your strength. To go for wine, and
for assistance to remove this heavy timber which imprisons you--my
weak arms cannot stir it--cannot be accomplished in less than half an
hour. It will be best, perhaps, for me to take this course; in the
meantime, pray, miserable man, with all the earnestness of your heart
and soul, for Divine forgiveness. What is your name?"

"I am Gautran," faintly answered the murderer.

Father Capel's frame shook under the influence of a strong agitation.

"From the bedside of the woman I have left within the hour," he
murmured, "to this poor sinner who has but a few minutes to live! The
hand of God is visible in it."

He addressed himself to the dying man:

"You are he who was tried for the murder of Madeline, the
flower-girl?"

"I am he," moaned Gautran.

"Hearken to me," said Father Capel. "For that crime you were tried and
acquitted by an earthly tribunal, which pronounced you innocent. But
you are now about to appear before the Divine throne for judgment; and
from God nothing can be hidden. He sees into the hearts of men. Who is
ready--as you but now admitted to me--to commit one murder, and who,
perhaps, has committed it, for, from the silence, I infer that the
body of your victim lies at no great distance, will not shrink from
committing two. Answer me truly, as you hope for mercy. Were you
guilty or innocent of the murder of Madeline?"

"I was guilty," groaned Gautran. "Wretch that I am, I killed her. I
loved her, father--I loved her!"

Gautran, from whose lips these words had come amid gasps of agony,
could say no more; his senses were fast leaving him.

"Ah me--ah me!" sighed Father Capel; "how shall such a crime be
expiated?"

"Father," moaned Gautran, rallying a little, "had I lived till
to-morrow, I intended to buy masses for the repose of her soul. I will
buy them now, and for my own soul too. I have money. Feel in my
pocket; there is gold. Take it all--all--every piece--and tell me I am
forgiven."

Father Capel did not attempt to take the money.

"Stolen gold will not buy absolution or the soul's repose," he said
sadly. "Crime upon crime--sin upon sin! Gautran, evil spirits have
been luring you to destruction."

"I did not steal the gold," gasped Gautran. "It was given to
me--freely given."

"Forgiveness you cannot hope for," said Father Capel, "if in these
awful moments you swerve from the truth by a hair's-breadth. Confess
you stole the gold, and tell me from whom, so that it may be
restored."

"May eternal torments be mine if I stole it! Believe me,
father--believe me. I speak the truth."

"Who gave it to you, then?"

"The Advocate."

"The Advocate! He who defended you, and so blinded the judgment of men
as to cause them to set a murderer loose?"

"Yes; he, and no other man."

"From what motive, Gautran--compassion?"

"No, from fear."

"What reason has he to fear you?"

"I have his secret, as he had mine, and he wished to get rid of me, so
that he and I should never meet again. It was for that he gave me the
gold."

"What is the nature of this secret which made him fear your presence?"

"He knew me to be guilty."

"What do you say? When he defended you, he knew you to be guilty?"

"Aye, he knew it well."

"Incredible--horrible!" exclaimed Father Capel, raising his hands. "He
shared, then, your crime. Yes; though he committed not the deed, his
guilt is as heavy as the guilt of the murderer. How will he atone for
it?--how _can_ atone for it? And if what I otherwise fear to be true,
what pangs of remorse await him!"

A frightful scream from Gautran arrested his further speech.

"Save me, father--save me!" shrieked the wretch. "Send her away! Tell
her I repent. See, there--there!--she is creeping upon me, along the
tree!"

"What is it you behold amidst the darkness of this appalling night?"
asked Father Capel, crossing himself.

"It is Madeline--her spirit that will never, never leave me! Will you
not be satisfied, you, with my punishment? Is not my death enough for
you? You fiend--you fiend! I will strangle you if you come closer.
Have mercy--mercy! You are a priest; have you no power over her? Then
what is the use of prayer? It is a mockery--a mockery! My eyes are
filled with blood! Ah!"

Then all was silent.

"Gautran," whispered Father Capel, "take this cross in your hand; put
it to your lips and repeat the words I say. Gautran, do you hear me?
No sound--no sound! He has gone to his account, unrepentant and
unforgiven!"

Father Capel rose to his feet.

"I will seek assistance at once; there is another to be searched for.
Ah, terrible, terrible night! Heaven have mercy upon us!"

And with a heart overburdened with grief, the good priest left the
spot to seek for help.



                              CHAPTER VI

                        THE WRITTEN CONFESSION


During the whole of this interview John Vanbrugh had lain concealed
within two or three yards of the fallen tree, and had heard every word
that had passed between Gautran and Father Capel. For a few moments
after he had thrown Gautran from him he was dazed and exhausted by the
struggle in which he had been engaged, and by the crashing of the
timber which had saved him from his deadly foe. Gradually he realised
what had occurred, and when Father Capel's voice reached his ears he
resolved not to discover himself, and to be a silent witness of what
transpired.

In this decision lay safety for himself and absolute immunity, for
Gautran knew nothing of him, not even his name, and to be dragged into
the light, to be made to give evidence of the scene in which he had
been a principal actor, would have seriously interfered with his plan
of action respecting the Advocate.

Favoured by the night, he had no difficulty in concealing himself, and
he derived an inward satisfaction from the reflection that he might
turn even the tragic and unexpected event that had occurred to his own
immediate advantage. He had not been seriously hurt in the conflict; a
few bruises and scratches comprised the injuries he had received.

Among his small gifts lay the gift of mimicry; he could imitate
another man's voice to perfection; and when Father Capel left Gautran
for the purpose of obtaining assistance, an idea crossed his mind
which he determined to carry out. He waited until he was assured that
Father Capel was entirely out of hearing, and then he stepped from his
hiding-place, and knelt by the side of Gautran. Having now no fear of
his enemy, he placed his ear to Gautran's heart and listened.

"He breathes," he muttered, "there is yet a little life left in him."

He raised Gautran's head upon his knee, and taking his flask of brandy
from his pocket, he poured some of the liquor down the dying man's
throat. It revived him; he opened his eyes languidly; but he had not
strength enough left in him to utter more than a word or two at the
time.

"I have returned, Gautran," said John Vanbrugh, imitating the voice of
the priest; "I had it not in my heart to desert you in your last
moments. The man you fought with is dead, and in his pocket I found
this flask of brandy. It serves one good purpose; it will give you
time to earn salvation. You have two murders upon your soul. Are you
prepared to do as I bid you?"

"Yes," replied Gautran.

"Answer my questions, then. What do you know of the man whom you have
slain?"

"Nothing."

"Was he, then, an absolute stranger to you?"

"Yes."

"You do not even know his name?"

"No."

"There is no time to inquire into your reasons for attacking him, for
I perceive from your breathing that your end is very near, and the
precious moments must not be wasted. It is your soul--your soul--that
has to be saved! And there is only one way--the guilty must be
punished. You have met your punishment. Heaven's lightning has struck
you down. These gold pieces which I now take from your pocket shall be
expended in masses. Rest easy, rest easy, Gautran. There is but one
thing for you to do--and then you will have made atonement. You hear
me--you understand me?"

"Yes--quick--quick!"

"To die, leaving behind you no record of the guilt of your
associate--of the Advocate who, knowing you to be a murderer,
deliberately defeated the ends of justice--will be to provoke Divine
anger against you. There is no hope for pardon in that case. Can you
write?"

"No."

"Your name, with my assistance, you could trace?"

"Perhaps."

"I will write a confession which you must sign. Then you shall receive
absolution."

He poured a few drops of brandy into Gautran's mouth, and they were
swallowed with difficulty. After this he allowed Gautran's head to
rest upon the earth, and tore from his pocket-book some sheets of
blank paper, upon which, with much labour, he wrote the following:

"I, Gautran, the woodman, lately tried for the murder of Madeline, the
flower-girl, being now upon the point of death, and conscious that I
have only a few minutes to live, and being in full possession of my
reason, hereby make oath, and swear:

"That being thrown into prison, awaiting my trial. I believed there
was no escape from the doom I justly merited, for the reason that I
was guilty of the murder.

"That some days before my trial was to take place, the Advocate who
defended me voluntarily undertook to prove to my judges that I was
innocent of the crime I committed.

"That with this full knowledge he conducted my case with such ability
that I was set free and pronounced innocent.

"That on the night of my acquittal, after midnight had struck, and
when every person but himself in the House of White Shadows was
asleep, I secretly visited him in his study, and remained with him
some time.

"That he gave me food and money, and bade me go my way.

"That I am ignorant of the motives which induced him to whom I was a
perfect stranger, to deliberately defeat the ends of justice.

"That the proof that he knew me to be guilty lies in the fact that I
made a full confession to him.

"To which I solemnly swear, being about to appear before a just God to
answer for my crime. I pray for forgiveness and mercy.

"Signed----."

And here John Vanbrugh left a space for Gautran's name. He read the
statement to Gautran, who was now fast sinking, and then he raised the
dying man's head in his arms, and holding the pencil in the almost
nerveless fingers, assisted him to trace the name "Gautran."

This was no sooner accomplished than Gautran, with a wild scream, fell
back.

John Vanbrugh lost not another moment. With an exultant smile he
placed the fatal evidence in his pocket, and prepared to depart. As he
did so he heard the voices of men who were ascending the hill.

"This paper," thought Vanbrugh, as he crept softly away in an opposite
direction, "is worth, I should say, at least half the Advocate's
fortune. It is the ruin of his life and career, and, if he does not
purchase it of me on my own terms, let him look to himself."

When Father Capel, with the men he had summoned to his assistance,
arrived at the spot upon which Gautran lay, the murderer was dead.



                   _BOOK VI.--A RECORD OF THE PAST_



                              CHAPTER I

                   THE DISCOVERY OF THE MANUSCRIPT


All was silent in the House of White Shadows. Strange as was the drama
that was in progress within its walls it found no open expression, and
to the Advocate, seated alone in his study, was about to be unfolded a
record of events long buried in the past, the disclosure of which had
not, up to this moment, been revealed to man. During the afternoon,
the Advocate had said to Christian Almer:

"Now that I have leisure, I intend, with your permission, to devote
some time to your father's works. In his day, certainly for a number
of years, he was celebrated, and well known in many countries, and I
have heard surprise expressed that a career which promised to shed
lasting lustre upon the name you bear seemed suddenly to come to an
end. Of this abrupt break in the labours of an eminent man there is no
explanation--as to what led to it, and in what way it was broken off.
I may chance upon the reason of a singular and complete diversion from
a pursuit which he loved. It will interest me, if you will give me
permission to search among his papers."

"A permission," rejoined Christian Almer, "freely accorded. Everything
in the study is at your disposal. For my own part the impressions of
my childhood are of such a nature as to render distasteful the records
of my father's labours. But you are a student and a man of deeper
observation and research than myself. You may unearth something of
value. I place all my father's manuscripts at your unreserved
disposal. Pray, read them if you care to do so, and use them in any
way you may desire."

Thus it happened that, two hours before midnight, the Advocate, after
looking through a number of manuscripts, most of them in an incomplete
shape, came upon some written pages, the opening lines of which
exercised upon him a powerful fascination. The only heading of these
pages was, "A FAITHFUL RECORD." And it was made in the following
strain:



                              CHAPTER II

                       CHRISTIAN ALMER'S FATHER


"It devolves upon me, Ernest Christian Almer, as a duty, to set down
here, in a brief form, before I die, the record of certain events in
my life which led me to the commission of a crime. Whether justifiable
or not--whether this which I call a crime may be otherwise designated
as an accident or as the execution of a just punishment for trust and
friendship betrayed--is for others to determine.

"It is probable that no human eye will read what I am about to write
until I am dead; but if it should be brought to light in my lifetime I
am ready to bear the consequences of my act. The reason why I myself
do nothing to assist directly in the discovery (except in so far as
making this record and placing it without concealment among my
manuscripts) is that I may in that way be assisting in bringing into
the life of my dear son, Christian Almer, a stigma and a reproach
which will be a cause of suffering to him. If it should happen that
many years elapse before these lines fall into the hands of a human
being, if may perhaps be for the best. What is done is done, and
cannot be recalled. Even had I the power to bring the dead to life I
doubt whether I should avail myself of it.

"My name is not unknown to the small world in which I live and move,
and I once cherished a hope that I should succeed in making it famous.
That hope is now like a flower burnt to ashes, never more to blossom.
It proves the vanity of ambition upon which we pride ourselves and
which we imbue with false nobility.

"As a lad I was almost morbidly tender in my nature; I shrank from
giving pain to living creature; the ordinary pursuits of childhood, in
which cruelty to insects forms so prominent a feature, were to me
revolting; to strip even a flower of its leaves was in my eyes a cruel
proceeding. And yet I have lived to take a human life.

"My earliest aspiration was to win a name in literature. Every book I
read and admired assisted in making this youthful aspiration a fixed
purpose when I became a man. Often, as I read the last words of a book
which had fired my imagination, would I think, and sometimes say
aloud, 'Gladly would I die were I capable of writing a work so good,
so grand as this.'

"My parents were rich, and allowed me to follow my bent. When they
died I was left sole heir to their wealth. I had not to struggle as
poorer men in the profession to which I resolved to devote myself have
had to do. So much the worse for me perhaps--but that now matters
little. Whether the books I hoped to write would be eagerly sought
after or not was of no moment to me. What I desired was to produce;
for the rest, as to being successful or unsuccessful, I was equal to
either fortune.

"I made many friends and acquaintances, who grew to learn that they
could use and enjoy my house as their own. In setting this down I lay
no claim to unusual generosity; it was on my part simply the outcome
of a nature that refused to become a slave to rigid forms of
hospitality. The trouble entailed would have been too great, and I
declined to undertake it. I chose to employ my hours after my own
fashion--the fashion of solitude. I found great pleasure in it, and to
see my friends around me without feeling myself called upon to
sacrifice my time for their enjoyment, knowing (as they well knew)
that they were welcome to the best my wealth and means could supply
them with--this added to my pleasure a peculiar charm. They were
satisfied, and so was I; and only in one instance was my hospitality
abused and my friendship betrayed. But had I been wise, this one
instance would never have occurred to destroy the hopes of my life.

"Although it is running somewhat ahead of the sequence of events, I
may mention here the name of the man who proved false to friendship.
It was M. Gabriel. He was almost young enough to be my son, and when I
first knew him he was a boy and I was a man. He was an artist, with
rare talents, and at the outset of his career I assisted him, for,
like the majority of artists, he was poor. This simple mention of him
will be sufficient for the present.

"As when I was a lad I took no delight in the pleasures of lads of my
own age, so when I was a man I did not go the way of men in that
absorbing passion to which is given the name of Love. Those around me
were drawn into the net which natural impulse and desire spread for
mankind. There was no credit in this; it was simply that it did not
happen. I was by no means a woman-hater, but it would seem as if the
pursuits to which I was devoted were too engrossing to admit of a
rival. So I may say what few can say--that I had passed my fortieth
year, and had never loved.

"My turn came, however.

"Among my guests were the lady who afterwards became my wife, and her
parents. A sweet and beautiful lady, twenty-five years my junior.
My unhappiness and ruin sprang from the chance which brought us
together--as did her wretchedness and misery. In this I was more to
blame than she--much more to blame. In the ordinary course of a life
which had reached beyond its middle age I should have acquired
sufficient experience to learn that youth should mate with youth--that
nature has its laws which it is dangerous to trifle with. But such
experience did not come to me. At forty-five years of age I was as
unlearned as a child in matters of the heart; I had no thought of love
or marriage, and the youngest man of my acquaintance would have
laughed at my simplicity had the opportunity been afforded him of
seeing my inner life. It was not the fault of the young lady that she
knew nothing of this simplicity. No claim whatever had I to demand to
be judged by special and exceptional rules. She had a perfect right to
judge me as any other man of my age would have been judged. All that
can be said of it was that it was most unfortunate for her and for me.
If it should happen (which is not unlikely, for the unforeseen is
always occurring) that these pages should be read by a man who is
contemplating marriage with one young enough to be his daughter, I
would advise him to pause and submit his case to the test of natural
reason; for if both live, there must come a time when nature will take
its revenge for the transgression. The glamour of the present is very
alluring, but it is the duty of the wiser and the riper of the twain
to consider the future, which will press more hardly upon the woman
than upon the man. With the fashion of things as regards the coupling
of the sexes I have nothing to do; fashions are artificial and often
most mischievous. Frequently, when the deeper laws of nature are
involved, they are destructive and fatal.

"It was my misfortune that during the visit of the young lady and her
parents, the father, an old and harmless gentleman, met his death
through an accident while he, I, and other gentlemen were riding. In
my house he died.

"It occasioned me distress and profound sorrow, and I felt myself in
some way accountable, though the fault was none of mine. Before his
death he and I had private confidences, in which he asked me to look
after his affairs, and if, as he feared, they were in an embarrassed
state, to act as protector to his daughter. I gave him the promise
readily, and, when he died, I took a journey for the purpose of
ascertaining how the widow and the orphan were circumstanced. I found
that they were literally beggars. As gently as I could I broke the
news to them. The mother understood it; the daughter scarcely knew its
meaning. Her charming, artless ignorance of the consequences of
poverty deeply interested me, and I resolved in my mind how I could
best serve her and render her future a happy one.

"Speaking as I am in a measure to my own soul, I will descend to no
duplicity. That I was entirely unselfish in my desire that her life
should be bright and free from anxieties with which she could not cope
is true; but none the less true is it that, for the first time, I felt
myself under the dominion of a passion deeper and more significant
than I had ever felt for woman. It was love, I believe, but love in
which there was reason. For I took myself to task; I set my age and
hers before me; I did this on paper, and as I gazed at the figures I
said. Absurd; it is not in nature, and I must fight it down.' I did
wrestle with it, and although I did not succeed in vanquishing it, I
was sufficiently master of myself to keep the struggle hidden in my
own breast.

"How, then, did this hapless lady become my wife? Not, in the first
instance, through any steps voluntarily and unreasoningly taken by
myself. I had firmly resolved to hold my feelings in check. It was the
mother who accomplished that upon which she had set her heart. I may
speak freely. This worldly mother has been long dead, and my
confession cannot harm her. It was she who ruined at least the
happiness of one life, and made me what I am.

"Needless here to recount the arts by which she worked to the end she
desired; needless to speak of the deceits she practised to make me
believe her daughter loved me. It may be that the fault was mine, and
that I was too ready to believe. Sufficient to say that we fell into
the snare she prepared for us; that, intoxicated by the prospect of an
earthly heaven, I accepted the meanings she put on her daughter's
reserve and apparent coldness, and that, once engaged in the
enterprise, I was animated by the ardour of my own heart, in which I
allowed the flower of love to grow to fruition. So we were married,
and with no doubt of the future I set out with my wife on our bridal
tour. She was both child and wife to me, and I solemnly resolved and
most earnestly desired to do my duty by her.

"Before we were many days away news arrived that my wife's mother had
met with an accident, in a part of the grounds which was being
beautified by my workmen according to plans I had prepared for the
pleasure of my young bride--an accident so serious that death could
not be averted. In sadness we returned to the villa. My wife's
coldness I ascribed to grief--to no other cause. And, indeed, apart
from the sorrow I felt at the dreadful news, I was myself overwhelmed
for a time by the fatality which had deprived my wife of her parents
within so short a time on my estate, and while they were my guests.
'But it will pass away,' I thought, 'and I will be parents, lover,
husband, to the sweet flower who has given her happiness into my
keeping.' When we arrived at the villa, her mother was dead.

"I allowed my wife's grief to take its natural course; seeing that she
wished for solitude, I did not intrude upon her sorrow. I had to study
this young girl's feelings and impulses; it was my duty to be tender
and considerate to her. I was wise, and thoughtful, and loving, as I
believed, and I spared no effort to comfort without disturbing her.
'Time will console her,' I thought, 'and then we will begin a new
life. She will learn to look upon me not only as a husband, but as a
protector who will fully supply the place of those she has lost.' I
was patient--very patient--and I waited for the change. It never came.

"She grew more and more reserved towards me; and still I waited, and
still was patient. Not for a moment did I lose sight of my duty.

"But after a long time had passed I began to question myself--I began
to doubt whether I had not allowed myself to be deceived. Is it
possible, I asked myself, that she married me without loving me? When
this torturing doubt arose I thrust it indignantly from me; it was as
though I was casting a stain upon her truth and purity."



                             CHAPTER III

                     A DISHONOURABLE CONCEALMENT


"I will not recount the continual endeavours I made to win my wife to
cheerfulness and a better frame of mind. Sufficient to say that they
were unsuccessful, and that many and many a time I gave up the attempt
in despair, to renew it again under the influence of false hopes.
Unhappy and disheartened, the pursuits in which I had always taken
delight afforded me now no pleasure, and though I sought relief in
solitude and study, I did not find it. My peace of mind was utterly
wrecked. There was, however, in the midst of my wretchedness, one ray
of light. In the course of a little while a child would be born to us,
and this child might effect what I was unable to accomplish. When my
wife pressed her baby to her breast, when it drew life from her bosom,
she might be recalled to a sense of duty and of some kind of affection
which I was ready to accept in the place of that thorough devoted love
which I bore to her, and which I had hoped she would bear to me.

"Considering this matter with as much wisdom as I could bring to my
aid, I recognised the desirability of surrounding my wife with signs
of pleasant and even joyful life. Gloomy parents are cursed with
gloomy children. I would fill my house once more with friends; my wife
should move in an atmosphere of cheerfulness; there should be music,
laughter, sunny looks, happy voices. These could not fail to influence
for good both my wife and our little one soon to be born.

"I called friends around me, and I took special care that there should
be many young people among them. Their presence, however, did not at
first arouse my wife from her melancholy, and it was not until the man
whose name I have already mentioned--M. Gabriel--arrived that I
noticed in her any change for the better.

"He came, and I introduced him to my wife, believing them to have been
hitherto strangers to each other. I had no reason to believe otherwise
when I presented M. Gabriel to her; had they met before, it would have
been but honest that one or both should have made me acquainted with
the fact. They did not, by direct or indirect word, and I had,
therefore, no cause for suspicion.

"Things went on as usual for a week or two after M. Gabriel's arrival,
and then I noticed with joy that my wife was beginning to grow more
cheerful. My happiness was great. I have been too impatient, I
thought, with this young girl. The shock of losing her parents, one
after another, under circumstances so distressing, was sufficient to
upset a stronger mind than hers. How unwise in me that I should have
tormented myself as I had been doing for so many months past! And how
unjust to her that, because she was sorrowful and silent, I should
have doubted her love for me! But all was well now: comfort had come
to her bruised heart, and the book of happiness was not closed to me
as I had feared. A terrible weight, a gnawing grief, were lifted from
me. For I could imagine no blacker treason than that a woman should
deliberately deceive a man into the belief that she loved him, and
that she should marry him under such conditions. My wife had not done
this; I had wronged her. Most fervently did I thank Heaven that I had
discovered my error before it was too late to repair it.

"I saw that my wife took pleasure in M. Gabriel's society, and I made
him as free of my house as if it had been his own. He had commissions
to execute, pictures to paint.

"'Paint them here,' I said to him, 'you bring happiness to us. I look
upon you as though you belonged to my family.'

"In the summer-house was a room which he used as a studio; no artist
could have desired a better, and M. Gabriel said he had never been
able to paint as well as he was doing in my house. It gladdened me to
observe that my wife, who had for a little while been reserved towards
M. Gabriel, looked upon him now as a sister might look upon a brother.
I encouraged their intimacy, and was grateful to M. Gabriel for
accepting my hospitality in the free spirit in which it was tendered.
He expressed a wish to paint my wife's portrait, and I readily
consented. My wife gave him frequent sittings, sometimes in my
company, sometimes alone. And still no word was spoken to acquaint me
with the fact that my wife and he had known each other before they met
in my house.

"My child was born--a boy. My happiness would have been complete had
my wife shown me a little more affection; but again, after the birth
of our child, it dawned upon me that she cared very little for me, and
that the feelings she entertained for me in no wise resembled those
which a loving woman should feel towards a husband who was
indefatigable, as indeed I was, in his efforts to promote her
happiness. Even then it did not strike me that she was happier in M.
Gabriel's society than she was in mine. The truth, however, was now to
be made known to me. It reached me through the idle tittle-tattling of
one of my guests; of my own prompting I doubt whether I should ever
have discovered it. I overheard this lady making some injurious
observations respecting my wife; no man's name was mentioned, but I
heard enough to cause me to resolve to hear more, and to put an end at
once to the utterances of a malicious tongue.

"During my life, in matters of great moment, I have seldom acted upon
impulse, and the value of calm deliberation after sudden excitement of
feeling has frequently been made apparent to me.

"I sought this lady, and told her that I had overheard the remarks she
had made on the previous day; that I was profoundly impressed by them,
and intended to know what foundation there was for even a breath of
scandal. I had some difficulty in bringing her to the point, but I was
determined, and would be satisfied with no evasions.

"'I love my wife, madam,' I said, 'too well to be content with half
words and innuendoes, which in their effect are worse than open
accusations.'

"'Accusations!' exclaimed the lady. 'Good Heavens! I have brought
none.'

"'It is for that reason I complain,' I said; 'accusations can be met,
and are by no means so much to be feared as idle words which affect
the honour of those who are the subject of them.'

"'I merely repeated,' then said the lady, 'what others have been
saying for a long time past.'

"'And what have others been saying for a long time past, madam?' I
asked, with an outward calmness which deceived her into the belief
that I was not taking the matter seriously to heart.

"'I am sure it is very foolish of them,' said the lady, 'and that
there is nothing in it. But people are so mischievous, and place such
dreadful constructions upon things! It is, after all, only natural
that when, after a long separation, young lovers meet, they should
feel a little tender towards each other, even though one of them has
got married in the interval. We all go through such foolish
experiences, and when we grow as old as you and I are, we laugh at
them.'

"'Probably, madam,' I said, still with exceeding calmness; 'but before
we can laugh with any genuineness or enjoyment, it is necessary to
have some knowledge of the cause of our mirth. When young lovers meet,
you said, after a long separation, it is natural they should feel a
tenderness towards each other. But we are speaking of my wife.'

"'Yes,' she replied, 'of your wife, and I am sure you are too sensible
a man--so much older than that sweet creature!--to make any
unnecessary bother about it.'

"She knew well how to plant daggers in my heart.

"'My wife, then, is one of those young lovers? You really must answer
me, madam. These are, after all, but foolish experiences.'

"'I am glad you are taking it so sensibly,' she rejoined. 'Yes, your
wife is one of the young lovers.'

"'And the other, madam.'

"'Why, who else should it be but M. Gabriel?'

"I did not speak for a few moments. The shock was so severe that I
required time to recover some semblance of composure.

"'My mind is much relieved,' I said. 'There is not the slightest
foundation for scandal, and I trust that this interview will put an
effectual stop to it. My wife and M. Gabriel have not been long
acquainted. They met each other for the first time in this house.'

"'Ah,' cried the lady very vivaciously, 'you want to deceive me now;
but it is nonsense. Your wife and M. Gabriel have known each other for
many years. They were once affianced. Had you not stepped in, there is
no knowing what might have occurred. It is much better as it is--I am
sure you think so. What can be worse for a young and beautiful
creature than to marry a poor and struggling artist? M. Gabriel is
very talented, but he is very poor. By the time he is a middle-aged
man he may have made his way in the world, and then his little romance
will be forgotten--quite forgotten. I dare say you can look back to
the time when you were as young as he is, and can recall somebody you
were madly in love with, but of whom you never think, except by the
merest chance. These things are so common, you see. And now don't let
us talk any more about it.'

"I had no desire to exchange another word with the lady on the
subject; I allowed her to rest in the belief that I had been
acquainted with the whole affair, and did not wish it to get about.
She promised me never to speak of it again to her friends in any
injurious way, said it was a real pleasure to see what a sensible view
I took of the matter, and our interview was at an end.

"I had learnt all. At length, at length my eyes were opened, and the
perfidy which had been practised towards me was revealed. All was
explained. My wife's constant coldness, her insensibility to the
affectionate advances I had made towards her, her pleasure at meeting
her lover--the unworthy picture lay before my sight. There was no
longer any opportunity for self-deception. Had I not recognised and
acknowledged the full extent of the treason, I should have become base
in my own esteem. It was not that they had been lovers--that knowledge
in itself would have been hard to bear--but that they should have
concealed it from me, that they should have met in my presence as
strangers, that they should have tacitly agreed to trick me!--for
hours I could not think with calmness upon these aspects of the misery
which had been forced upon me. For she, my wife, was in the first
instance responsible for our marriage; she could have refused me. I
was in utter ignorance of a love which, during all these years, had
been burning in her heart, and making her life and mine a torture. Had
she been honest, had she been true, she would have said to me: 'I love
another; how, then, can I accept the love you offer me, and how can
you hope for a return? If circumstances compel me to marry you there
must be no concealment, no treason. You must take me as I am, and
never, never make my coldness the cause of reproach or unhappiness.'
Yes, this much she might have said to me when I offered her my name--a
name upon which there had hitherto been no stain and no dishonour. I
should not have married her; I should have acted as a father towards
her; I should have conducted her to the arms of her lover, and into
their lives and mine would not have crept this infamy, this blight,
this shame which even death cannot efface.

"Of such a nature were my thoughts during the day.

"Then came the resolve to be sure before I took action in the matter.
The evidence of my own senses should convince me that in my own house
my wife and her lover were playing a base part, were systematically
deceiving me and laughing at me.

"Of this man, this friend, whom I had taken to my heart, my horror and
disgust were complete. I, whose humane instincts had in my youth been
made the sport of my companions, who shrank from inflicting the
slightest injury upon the meanest creature that crawled upon the
earth, who would not even strip the leaves from a flower, found myself
now transformed. Had M. Gabriel been in my presence at any moment
during these hours of agonising thought, I should have torn him limb
from limb and rejoiced in my cruelty. So little do we know ourselves."



                              CHAPTER IV

                       M. GABRIEL IS DISMISSED


"I was up the whole of the night; I did not close my eyes, and when
morning broke I had schooled myself to the task before me--to assure
myself of the truth and the extent of the shame.

"I kept watch, and did not betray myself to them, and what I saw
filled me with amazement at my blindness and credulity. That my wife
was not guilty, that she was not faithless to me in the ordinary
acceptation of the term, was no palliation of her conduct.

"Steadfastly I kept before me one unalterable resolve. In the eyes of
the world the name I bore should not be dishonoured, if by any means
it could be prevented. We would keep our shame and our deep
unhappiness within our own walls. In the light of this resolve it was
impossible that I could challenge M. Gabriel; he must go unpunished by
me. My name should not be dragged through the mire, to become a
byeword for pity.

"By degrees, upon one excuse and another, I got rid of my visitors,
and there remained in the villa only I, my wife and child, and M.
Gabriel. Then, in M. Gabriel's studio, I broke in upon the lovers, and
found my wife in tears.

"For a moment or two I gazed upon them in silence, and they, who had
risen in confusion when I presented myself, confronted me also in
silence, waiting for the storm of anger which they expected to burst
from me, an outraged husband. They were mistaken; I was outwardly
calm.

"'Madam,' I inquired, addressing my wife, 'may I inquire the cause of
your tears?'

"She did not reply; M. Gabriel did. 'Let me explain,' he said, but I
would not allow him to proceed.

"'I do not need you,' I said, 'to interpose between man and wife. I
may presently have something to say to you. Till then, be silent.'
Again I addressed my wife, and asked her why she was weeping.

"'They are not the first tears I have shed,' she replied, 'since I
entered this unhappy house.'

"'I am aware of it, madam,' I replied; 'yet the house was not an
unhappy one before you entered it. Honour, and truth, and faithfulness
were its characteristics, and towards no man or woman who has received
hospitality within these walls has any kind of treachery been
practised by me, its master and your husband. Tears are a sign of
grief, and suffering from it, as I perceive you are, I ask you why
have you not sought consolation from the man whose name you bear, and
whose life since you and he first met has had but one aim--to render
you happy.'

"'You cannot comfort me,' she said.

"'Can he?' I asked, pointing to M. Gabriel.

"'You insult me,' she said with great dignity. 'I will leave you. We
can speak of this in private.'

"'You will not leave me,' I said, 'and we will not speak of this in
private, until after some kind of explanation is afforded me from your
own lips and the lips of your friend. In saying I insult you, there is
surely a mistaken idea in your mind as to what is due from you to me.
M. Gabriel, whom I once called a friend, is here, enjoying my
hospitality, of which I trust he has had no reason to complain. I find
you in tears by his side, and he, by his attitude, endeavouring to
console you. When I ask you, in his presence, why, being in grief, you
do not come to me for consolation, you reply that I cannot comfort
you. Yet you were accepting comfort from him, who is not your husband.
It suggests itself to me that if an insult has been passed it has been
passed upon me. I do not, however, receive it as such, for if an
insult has been offered to me, M. Gabriel is partly responsible for
it, and it is only between equals that such an indignity can be
offered.'

"'Equals!' cried M. Gabriel; he understood my words in the sense in
which I intended them. 'I am certainly your equal.'

"'It has to be proved,' I retorted. 'I use the term in so far as it
affects honour and upright conduct between man and man. You can bring
against me no accusation of having failed in those respects in my
behaviour towards you. It has to be seen whether I can in truth bring
such an accusation against you, and if I can substantiate it by
evidence which the commonest mind would not reject, you are not my
equal. I see that this plain and honest reasoning disturbs you; it
should not without sufficient cause. Something more. If in addition I
can prove that you have violated my hospitality, you are not only not
my equal, but you have descended to a depth of baseness to describe
which I can find no fitting terms.'

"He grew hot at this. 'I decline to be present any longer,' he said,
'at an interview conducted in such a manner.' And he attempted to
leave me, but I stood in his way, and would not permit him to pass.

"'From this moment,' I said, 'I discharge myself of all duties towards
you as your host. You are no longer my guest, and you will remain at
this interview during my pleasure.'

"He made another attempt to leave the room, and as he accompanied it
by violence, I seized his arms, and threw him to the ground. He rose,
and stood trembling before me.

"'I make no excuse, madam,' I said to my wife, 'for the turn this
scene has taken. It is unseemly for men to brawl in presence of a
lady, but there are occasions when of two evils the least must be
chosen. Should I find myself mistaken, I shall give to M. Gabriel the
amplest apology he could desire. Let me recall to your mind the day on
which M. Gabriel first entered my gates as my guest. I brought him to
you, and presented him to you as a friend whom I esteemed, and whom I
wished you also to esteem. You received him as a stranger, and I had
no reason to suspect that he and you had been intimate friends, and
that you were already well known to each other. You allowed me to
remain in ignorance of this fact. Was it honest?'

"'It was not honest,' she replied.

"'It made me happy,' I continued, 'to see, after the lapse of a few
days, that you found pleasure in his society, and I regarded him in
the light of a brother to you. I trusted him implicitly, and although,
madam, you and I have been most unhappy, I had no suspicion that there
was any guilt in this, as I believed, newly-formed friendship.'

"'There was no guilt in it,' she said very firmly.

"'I receive your assurance, and believe it in the sense in which you
offer it. But in my estimation the word I use is the proper word. In
the concealment from me of a fact with which you or he should have
hastened to make me acquainted; in the secret confidences necessarily
involved in the carrying out of such an intimacy as yours; there was
treachery from wife to husband, from friend to friend, and in that
treachery there was guilt. By an accident, within the past month, a
knowledge has come to me of a shameful scandal which, had I not nipped
it in the bud, would have brought open disgrace upon my name and
house--but the secret disgrace remains, and you have brought it into
my family.'

"'A shameful scandal!' she exclaimed, and her white face grew whiter.
'Who has dared----'

"'The world has dared, madam, the world over whose tongue we have no
control. The nature of the intimacy existing between you and M.
Gabriel, far exceeding the limits of friendship, has provoked remark
and comment from many of your guests, and we who should have been
the first to know it, have been the last. From a lady stopping in my
house I learnt that you and M. Gabriel were lovers before you and I
met--that you were affianced. Madam, had you informed me of this fact
you would have spared yourself the deepest unhappiness under which any
human being can suffer. For then you and I would not have been bound
to each other by a tie which death alone can sever. I have, at all
events, the solace which right doing sometimes sheds upon a wounded
heart; that solace cannot unhappily be yours. You have erred
consciously, and innocent though you proclaim yourself, you have
brought shame upon yourself and me. I pity you, but cannot help you
further than by the action I intend to take of preventing the
occurrence of a deeper shame and a deeper disgrace falling upon me.
For M. Gabriel I have no feelings but those of utter abhorrence. I
request him to remove himself immediately from my presence and from
this house. This evening he will send for his paintings, which shall
be delivered to his order. They will be placed in this summer-house.
And in your presence madam, I give M. Gabriel the warning that if
at any time, or under any circumstances, he intrudes himself within
these walls, he will do so at his own peril. The protection which my
honour--not safe in your keeping, madam--needs I shall while I live be
able to supply.'

"This, in substance, is all that took place while my wife was with us.
When she was gone I gave instructions that M. Gabriel's paintings and
property should be brought to the summer-house immediately, and I
informed him of my intentions regarding them and the room he had used
as a study. He replied that I would have to give him a more
satisfactory explanation of my conduct. I took no notice of the
threat, and I carried out my resolve--which converted the study into a
tomb in which my honour was buried. And on the walls of the study I
caused to be inscribed the words 'The Grave of Honour.'

"On the evening of that day my wife sent for me, and in the presence
of Denise, our faithful servant, heard my resolve with reference to
our future life, and acquainted me with her own. The gates would never
again be opened to friends. Our life was to be utterly secluded, and
she had determined never to quit her rooms unless for exercise in the
grounds at such times as I was absent from them.

"'After to-night,' she said, 'I will never open my lips to you, nor,
willingly, will I ever again listen to your voice.'

"In this interview I learnt the snare, set by my wife's mother, into
which we both had fallen.

"I left my wife, and our new life commenced--a life with hearts shut
to love or forgiveness. But I had done my duty, and would bear with
strength and resignation the unmerited misfortunes with which I was
visited. Not my wife's, I repeat, the fault alone. I should have been
wiser, and should have known--apart from any consideration of M.
Gabriel--that my habits, my character, my tastes, my age, were
entirely unsuitable to the fair girl I had married. I come now to the
event which has rendered this record necessary."



                              CHAPTER V

                        THE THIEF IN THE NIGHT


"The impressions left upon me by the tragic occurrence I am about to
narrate have, strangely enough, given me a confused idea as to the
exact date upon which it took place, but I am correct in saying that
it was within a month of the agreement entered into between my wife
and myself that we should live separate lives under the same roof.

"I expected to receive a challenge from M. Gabriel, a challenge which
for the reason I have given--that I would not afford the world an
opportunity of discussing my private affairs--I firmly resolved not to
accept. To my surprise no such challenge reached me, and I indulged
the hope that M. Gabriel had removed himself forever from us. It was
not so.

"The night was wild and dark. The wind was sweeping round the house;
the rain was falling. I had resumed my old habits, and was awake in my
study, in which I am now writing. I did no intelligent work during
those sad days. If I forced myself to write, I invariably tore up the
sheets when I read them with a clearer mind. My studies afforded me
neither profit nor relief. The occupation which claimed me was that of
brooding over the circumstances attendant upon my wooing and my
marriage. For ever brooding. Walking to and fro, dwelling upon each
little detail of my intimacy with my girl-wife, and revolving in my
mind whether I could have prevented what had occurred--whether, if I
had done this or that, I could have averted the misery in which our
lives were wrapt. It was a profitless occupation, but I could not tear
myself from it. There was a morbid fascination in it which held me
fast. That it harrowed me, tortured me, made me smart and bleed,
mattered not. It clung to me, and I to it. Thus do we hug our misery
to our bosoms, and inflict upon ourselves the most intolerable
sufferings.

"I strove to escape from it, to fix my mind upon some abstruse
subject, upon some difficult study, but, like a demon to whom I had
sold my soul, it would not be denied. There intruded always this one
picture--the face of a baby-boy, mine, my dear son, lying asleep in
his mother's arms. Let me say here that I never harboured the thought
of depriving my wife of this precious consolation, that never by the
slightest effort have I endeavoured to estrange him from her. The love
he bore to me--and I thank Heaven that he grew to love me--sprang from
his own heart, which also must have been sorely perplexed and have
endured great pain in the estrangement that existed between his
parents. Well, this pretty baby-face always intruded itself--this soul
which I had brought into life lay ever before me, weighted with myriad
mysterious and strange suggestions. It might live to accomplish great
and noble deeds--it might live to inspire to worthy deeds--it might
become a saviour of men, a patriot, an emancipator. And but for me, it
would never have been. Even the supreme tribulation of his parents'
lives might be productive of some great actions which would bring a
blessing upon mankind. In that case it was good to suffer.

"After some time--not in those days, but later on--this thought became
a consolation to me, although it troubled and perplexed me to think
whether the birth of a soul which was destined to shine as a star
among men was altogether a matter of chance.

"A dark, stormy night. I created voices in the sweeping of the wind.
They spoke to me in groans, in whispers, in loud shrieks. Was it fancy
that inspired the wail, 'To-night, to-night shall be your undoing!'

"Midnight struck. I paced to and fro, listening to the voices
of the wind. Presently another sound--a sound not created by my
imagination--came to my ears. It was as though something heavy had
fallen in the grounds. Perhaps a tree had been blown down. Or did it
proceed from another cause, which warned me of danger?

"I hastened immediately into the grounds. The sense of danger
exhilarated me. I was in a mood which courted death as a boon.
Willingly would I have gone out to meet it, as a certain cure for the
anguish of my soul. Thus I believe it is sometimes with soldiers, and
they become heroes by force of desperation.

"I could see nothing. I was about to return, when a moving object
arrested my purpose. I sprang towards it--threw myself upon it. And in
my arms I clasped the body of a man, just recovering consciousness
from a physical hurt.

"I did not speak a word. I lifted the body in my arms--it had not yet
sufficient strength to repel me--and carried it into my study. The
moment the light of my lamps shone on the face of the man I recognised
him. It was M. Gabriel.

"I laughed with savage delight as I placed him on a couch. 'You
villain--you villain!' I muttered. 'Your last hour, or mine, has come.
This night, one or both of us shall die!'

"I drew my chair before the couch, so that his eyes, when he opened
them, should rest upon my face. He was recovering consciousness, but
very slowly. 'I could kill you here,' I said aloud, 'and no man would
be the wiser. But I will first have speech with you.' His eyelids
quivered, opened, and we were gazing at each other face to face. The
sight of me confounded him for a while, but presently he realised the
position of affairs and he strove to rise. I thrust him back fiercely.

"'Stay you there,' I said, 'until I learn your purpose. You have
entered my house as a thief, and you have given your life into my
hands. I told you, if you ever intruded yourself within these walls,
that you would do so at your peril. What brought you here? Are you a
would-be thief or murderer? You foul betrayer and coward! So--you
climb walls in the dark in pursuance of your villainous schemes!
Answer me--do you come here by appointment, and are you devil enough
to strive to make me believe that a pure and misguided girl would be
weak enough to throw herself into your arms? Fill up the measure of
your baseness, and declare as much.'

"'No,' he replied; 'I alone am culpable. No one knew of my coming--no
one suspected it. I could not rest.'

"I interrupted him. 'After to-night,' I said gloomily, 'you will rest
quietly. Men such as you must be removed from the earth. You steal
into my house, you thief and coward, with no regard for the fair fame
of the woman you profess to love--reckless what infamy you cast upon
her and of the life-long shame you would deliberately fling upon one
who has been doubly betrayed. You have not the courage to suffer in
silence, but you would proclaim to all the world that you are a martyr
to love, the very name of which becomes degraded when placed in
association with natures like yours. You belong to the class of
miserable sentimentalists who bring ruin upon the unhappy women whom
they entangle with their maudlin theories. Mischief enough have you
accomplished--this night will put an end to your power to work further
ill.'

"'What do you intend to do with me?' he asked.

"'I intend to kill you,' I replied; 'not in cold blood--not as a
murderer, but as an avenger. Stand up.'

"He obeyed me. His fall had stunned him for a time; he was not
otherwise injured.

"'I will take no advantage of you,' I said. 'Here is wine to give you
a false courage. Drink, and prepare yourself for what is to come. As
surely as you have delivered yourself into my hands, so surely shall
you die!"



                              CHAPTER VI

                           THE HIDDEN CRIME


"He drank the wine, not wisely or temperately as a cool-headed man
whose life was at stake would have done, but hastily, feverishly, and
with an air of desperation.

"'You are a good fencer,' I said, 'the best among all the friends who
visited me during the days of your treachery. You were proud of
showing your skill, as you were of exhibiting every admirable quality
with which you are gifted. Something of the mountebank in this.'

"'At least,' he said, rallying his courage, 'do not insult me.'

"'Why not? Have you not outraged what is most honourable and sacred?
Here are rapiers ready to our hands.'

"'A duel!' he cried. 'Here, and now?'

"'Yes,' I replied, 'a duel, here and now. There is no fear of
interruption. The sound of clashing steel will not fall upon other
ears than ours.'

"'It will not be a fair combat,' he said. 'You are no match for me
with the rapier. Let me depart. Do not compel me to become your
murderer.'

"'You will nevermore set foot outside these walls,' I said; 'here you
will find your grave.'

"It was my firm belief. I saw him already lying dead at my feet.

"'If I should kill you,' he said, 'how shall I escape?'

"'As best you may,' I replied. 'You are an adept at climbing walls. If
you kill me, what happens to you thereafter is scarcely likely to
interest me. But do not allow that thought to trouble you. What will
take place to-night is ordained!'

"I began to move the furniture from the centre of the room, so as to
afford a clear space for the duel. The tone in which he next spoke
convinced me that I had impressed him. Indeed, my words were uttered
with the certainty of conviction, and a fear stole upon him that he
had come to his death.

"'I will not fight with you,' he said; 'the duel you propose is
barbarous, and I decline to meet you unless witnesses are present.'

"'So that we may openly involve the fair name of a lady in our
quarrel,' I retorted quietly. 'No; that will not be. Before witnesses
it is I who would decline to meet you. Are you a coward?'

"'It matters little what you call me,' he said, 'as no other person is
near. You cannot force me to fight you.'

"'I think I can,' I said, and I struck him in the face, and proceeded
with my work.

"My back was towards him; a loaded gun was hanging on the wall;
unperceived by me he unslung it, and fired at me.

"I did not know whether I was hit or not. Maddened by the cowardly
act, I turned, and lifting him in the air, dashed him to the ground.
His head struck against one of the legs of my writing-table; he
groaned but once, and then lay perfectly still. It was the work of a
moment, and the end had come. He lay dead before me.

"I had no feeling of pity for him, and I was neither startled nor
deeply moved. His punishment was a just punishment, and my honour was
safe from the babble of idle and malicious tongues. All that devolved
upon me now was to keep the events of this night from the knowledge of
men.

"There was, however, one danger. A gun had been fired. The sound might
have aroused my wife or some of the servants, in which case an
explanation would have to be given. At any moment they might appear.
What lay on the floor must not be seen by other eyes than mine.

"I dragged a cloth from a table and threw it over the body, and with
as little noise as possible swiftly replaced the furniture in its
original position. Then I sat on my chair and waited. For a few
minutes I was in a state of great agitation, but after I had sat for
an hour without being disturbed I knew that my secret was safe.

"I removed the cloth from the face of the dead man and gazed at it.
Strange to say, the features wore an expression of peacefulness. Death
must have been instantaneous. Gradually, as I gazed upon the form of
the man I had killed, the selfish contemplation in which I had been
engaged during the last hour of suspense--a contemplation devoted
solely to a consideration of the consequences of discovery, so far
as I was concerned, and in which the fate of the dead man formed no
part--became merged in the contemplation of the act itself apart from
its earthly consequences.

"I had taken a human life. I, whose nature had been proverbially
humane, was, in a direct sense of the word, a murderer. That the deed
was done in a moment of passion was no excuse; a man is responsible
for his acts. The blood I had shed shone in my eyes.

"What hopes, what yearnings, what ambitions, were here destroyed by
me! For, setting aside the unhappy sentiment which had conducted
events to this end, M. Gabriel was a man of genius, of whose career
high expectations had been formed. I had not only destroyed a human
being, I had destroyed art. Would it have been better had I allowed
myself to be killed? Were death preferable to a life weighed down by a
crime such as mine?

"For a short time these reflections had sway over me, but presently I
steadily argued them down. I would not allow them to unman me. This
coward and traitor had met a just doom.

"What remained for me now to do was to complete the concealment. The
body must be hidden. After to-night--unless chance or the hand of
Providence led to its discovery--the lifeless clay at my feet must
never more be seen.

"There was a part of my grounds seldom, if ever, intruded upon by the
servants--that portion in which, for the gratification of my wife, I
had at the time of our marriage commenced improvements which had never
been completed. There it was that my wife's mother had met with the
accident which resulted in her death. I thought of a pit deep enough
for the concealment of the bodies of fifty men. Into this pit I would
throw the body of M. Gabriel, and would cover it with earth and
stones. The task accomplished, there would be little fear of
discovery.

"First satisfying myself that all was quiet and still in the villa,
and that I was not being watched, I raised the body of M. Gabriel in
my arms. As I did so, a horror and loathing of myself took possession
of me; I shuddered in disgust; the work I was performing seemed to be
the work of a butcher.

"However, what I resolved to do was done. In the dead of night, with
darkness surrounding me, with the rain beating upon me, and the
accusing wind shrieking in my ears, I consigned to its last
resting-place the body of the man I had killed.

"Years have passed since that night. My name has not been dragged into
the light for scandal-mongers to make sport of. Open shame and
derision have been avoided--but at what a price! From the day
following that upon which I forbade M. Gabriel my house, not a single
word was exchanged between my wife and myself. She sent for me before
she died, but she knew she would be dead before I arrived. A fearful
gloom settled upon our lives, and will cover me to my last hour. This
domestic estrangement, this mystery of silence between those whom he
grew to love and honour, weighed heavily upon my son Christian. His
child's soul must have suffered much, and at times I have fancied I
see in him the germs of a combination of sweetness and weakness which
may lead to suffering. But suffer as he may, if honour be his guide I
am content. I shall not live to see him as a man; my days are
numbered.

"In the time to come--in the light of a purer existence--I may learn
whether the deed I have done is or is not a crime.

"But one thing is clear to me. Had it not been for my folly, shame
would not have threatened me, misery would not have attended me, and I
should not have taken a human life. The misery and the shame did not
affect me alone; they waited upon a young life and blighted its
promise. It is I who am culpable, I who am responsible for what has
occurred. It is impossible, without courting unhappiness, to divert
the currents of being from their natural channels: youth needs youth,
is attracted to youth, seeks youth, as flowers seek the sun. Roses do
not grow in ice.

"Mine, then, the sin--a sin too late to expiate.

"I would have my son marry when he is young, as in the course of
nature he will love when he is young. It is the happier fate, because
it is in accordance with natural laws.

"If he into whose hands these pages may fall can discern a lesson
applicable to himself in the events I have recorded, let him profit by
them. If the circumstances of his life in any way resemble mine, I
warn him to bear with wisdom and patience the penalty he has brought
upon himself, and not to add, in the person of another being to whom
he is bound and who is bound to him, to an unhappiness--most probably
a secret unhappiness--of his own creating.

"And I ask him to consider well whether any good purpose will be
served by dragging into the open day the particulars of a crime, the
publishing of which cannot injure the dead or benefit the living. It
cannot afford him any consolation to think, if my son be alive, that
needless suffering will be brought to the door of the innocent. Let
him, then, be merciful and pitiful."



                             CHAPTER VII

                       FALSE WIFE, FALSE FRIEND


Thus abruptly the record closed. To the last written page there were
several added, as though the writer had more to say, and intended to
say it. But the pages were blank. The intention, if intention there
were, had never been carried out.

The reading of the record occupied the Advocate over an hour, and when
he had finished, he sat gazing upon the manuscript. For a quarter of
an hour he did not move. Then he rose--not quickly, as one would rise
who was stirred by a sudden impulse, but slowly, with the air of a man
who found a difficulty in arranging his thoughts. With uneven steps he
paced the study, to and fro, to and fro, pausing occasionally to
handle in an aimless way a rare vase, which he turned about in his
hands, and gazed at with vacant eyes. Occasionally, also, he paused
before the manuscript and searched in its pages for words which his
memory had not correctly retained. He did this with a consciousness
which forced itself upon him, and which he vainly strove to ignore,
that what he sought was applicable to himself.

It was not compassion, it was not tenderness, it was not horror, that
moved him thus strangely, for he was a man who had been but rarely, if
ever, moved as he was at the present time. It was the curious and
disquieting associations between the dead man who had written and the
living man who had read the record. And yet, although he could, if he
had chosen, have reasoned this out, and have placed it mentally before
him in parallel lines, his only distinct thought was to avoid the
comparison. That he was unsuccessful in this did not tend to compose
him.

Upon a bracket lay a bronze, the model of a woman's hand, from the
life. A beautiful hand, slender but shapely. It reminded him of his
wife.

He took it from the bracket and examined it, and after a little while
thus passed, the words came involuntarily from his lips: "Perfect--but
cold."

The spoken words annoyed him; they were the evidence of a lack of
self-control. He replaced the bronze hastily, and when he passed it
again would not look at it.

Suddenly he left the study, and went towards his wife's rooms. He had
not proceeded more than half a dozen yards before his purpose,
whatever it might have been, was relinquished as swiftly as it had
been formed. He retraced his steps, and lingered irresolutely at the
door of the study. With an impatient movement of his head--it was the
action of a man who wrestled with thought as he would have done with a
palpable being--he once more proceeded in the direction of his wife's
apartments.

At the commencement of the passage which led to the study was a lobby,
opening from the principal entrance. A noble staircase in the centre
of the lobby led to the rooms occupied by Christian Almer and Pierre
Lamont. On the same floor as the study, beyond the staircase, were his
wife's boudoir and private rooms.

This part of the house was but dimly lighted; one rose-lamp only was
alight. On the landing above, where the staircase terminated, three
lamps in a cluster were burning, and shed a soft and clear light
around.

When he reached the lobby and was about to pass the staircase, the
Advocate's progress was arrested by the sound of voices which fell
upon his ears. These voices proceeded from the top of the staircase.
He looked up, and saw, standing close together, his wife and Christian
Almer. Instinctively he retreated into the deeper shadows, and stood
there in silence with his eyes fixed upon the figures above him.

His wife's hand was resting on Almer's shoulder, and her fingers
occasionally touched his hair. She was speaking almost in a whisper,
and her face was bright and animated. Almer was replying to her in
monosyllables, and even in the midst of the torture of this discovery,
the Advocate observed that the face of his friend wore a troubled
expression.

The Advocate remembered that his wife had wished him good-night before
ten o'clock, and that when he made the observation that she was
retiring early, she replied that she was so overpowered with fatigue
that she could not keep her eyes open one minute longer. And here,
nearly two hours after this statement, he found her conversing
clandestinely with his friend in undisguised gaiety of spirits!

Never had he seen her look so happy. There was a tender expression in
her eyes as she gazed upon Christian Almer which she had never
bestowed upon him from the first days of their courtship.

A grave, dignified courtship, in which each was studiously kind and
courteous to the other; a courtship without romance, in which there
was no spring. A bitter smile rested upon his lips as this remembrance
impressed itself significantly upon him.

He watched and waited, motionless as a statue. Midnight struck, and
still the couple on the staircase lingered. Presently, however, and
manifestly on Almer's urging, Adelaide consented to leave him.
Smilingly she offered him her hand, and held his for a longer time
than friendship warranted. They parted; he ascending to his room, she
descending to hers. When she was at the foot of the staircase she
looked up and threw a kiss to Almer, and her face, with the light of
the rose-lamp upon it, was inexpressibly beautiful. The next minute
the Advocate was alone.

He listened for the shutting of their chamber-doors. So softly was
this done both by his friend and his wife that it was difficult to
catch the faint sound. He smiled again--a bitter smile of
confirmation. It was in his legal mind a fatal item of evidence
against them.

Slowly he returned to his study, and the first act of which he was
conscious was that of standing on a certain spot and saying audibly as
he looked down:

"It was here M. Gabriel fell!"

He knelt upon the carpet, and thought that on the boards beneath, even
at this distance of time, stains of blood might be discerned, the
blood of a treacherous friend. It was impossible for him to control
the working of his mind; impossible to dwell upon the train of thought
it was necessary he should follow out before he could decide upon a
line of action. One o'clock, two o'clock struck, and he was still in
this condition. All he could think of was the fate of M. Gabriel, and
over and over again he muttered:

"It was here he fell--it was here he fell!"

There was a harmony in the storm which raged without. The peals of
thunder, the lightning flashing through the windows, were in
consonance with his mood. He knew that he was standing on the brink of
a fatal precipice.

"Which would be best," he asked mentally of himself, "that lightning
should destroy three beings in this unhappy house, or that the routine
of a nine-days' wonder should be allowed to take its course? All that
is wanting to complete the wreck would be some evidence to damn me in
connection with Gautran and the unhappy girl he foully murdered."

As if in answer to his thought, he heard a distinct tapping on one of
his study windows. He hailed it with eagerness; anything in the shape
of action was welcome to him. He stepped to the window, and drawing up
the blind saw darkly the form of a man without.

"Whom do you seek?" he asked.

"You," was the answer.

"Your mission must be an urgent one," said the Advocate, throwing up
the window. "Is it murder or robbery?"

"Neither. Something of far greater importance."

"Concerning me?"

"Most vitally concerning you."

"Indeed. Then I should welcome you."

With strange recklessness he held out his hand to assist his visitor
into the room. The man accepted the assistance, and climbing over the
window-sill sprang into the study. He was bloody, and splashed from
head to foot with mud.

"Have you a name?" inquired the Advocate.

"Naturally."

"Favour me with it."

"John Vanbrugh."



                       _BOOK VII.--RETRIBUTION_



                              CHAPTER I

                    JOHN VANBRUGH AND THE ADVOCATE


"A stormy night to seek you out," said John Vanbrugh, "and to renew an
old friendship----"

"Stop there," interrupted the Advocate. "I admit no idea of a renewal
of friendship between us."

"You reject my friendship?" asked Vanbrugh, wiping the blood and dirt
from his face.

"Distinctly."

"So be it. Our interview shall be conducted without a thought of
friendship, though some reference to the old days cannot be avoided. I
make no apology for presenting myself in this condition. Man can no
more rule the storm than he can the circumstances of his life. I have
run some distance through the rain, and I have been attacked and
almost killed. You perceive that I am exhausted, yet you do not offer
me wine. You have it, I know, in that snug cupboard there. May I help
myself? Thank you. Ah, there's a smack of youth in this liquor. It is
life to one who has passed through such dangers as have encompassed
me. You received my letter asking for an interview? I gave it myself
into your hands on the last evening of the trial."

"I received it."

"Yet you were unwilling to accord me an interview."

"I had no desire to meet you again."

"It was ungrateful of you, for it is upon your own business--yours and
no other man's--that I wished to speak with you. It was cold work out
on the hill yonder, watching the lights in your study window, watching
for the simple waving of a handkerchief, which would mean infinitely
more to you than to me, as you will presently confess. Dreary cold
work, not likely to put a man like myself in an amiable mood. I am not
on good terms with the world, as you may plainly perceive. I have had
rough times since the days you deemed it no disgrace to shake hands
with me. I have sunk very low by easy descents; you have risen to a
giddy height. I wonder whether you have ever feared the fall. Men as
great as you have met with such a misfortune. Things do not last for
ever, Edward--pardon me. it was a slip of the tongue."

"Do you come to beg?"

"No--for a reason. If I came on such an errand, I might spare myself
the trouble."

"Likely enough," said the Advocate, who was too well acquainted with
human nature not to be convinced, from Vanbrugh's manner, that his was
no idle visit.

"You were never renowned for your charities. And on the other hand I
am poor, but I am not a beggar. I am frank enough to tell you I would
prefer to steal. It is more independent, and not half so disgraceful.
It may happen that the world would take an interest in a thief, but
never in a beggar."

"Is it to favour me with your philosophies that you pay me this
visit?"

"I should be the veriest dolt. No, I will air my opinions when I am
rich."

"You intend, poor as you confess yourself, to become rich?"

"With your help, old friend."

"Not with my help. You will receive none from me."

"You are mistaken. Forgive me for the contradiction, but I speak on
sure ground. Ah, how I have heard you spoken of! With what admiration
and esteem! Almost with awe by some. Your talents, of themselves,
could not have won this universal eulogy; it is your spotless
character that has set the seal upon your fame. There is not a stain
upon it; you have no weaknesses, no blemishes; you are absolutely
pure. Other men have something to conceal--some family difficulty,
some domestic disgrace, some slip in the path of virtue, which, were
it known, would turn the current against them. But against you there
is not a breath; scandal has never soiled you. In this lies the
strength of your position--in this lies its danger. Let shame, with
cause, point its finger at you--old friend, the result is unpleasant
to contemplate. For when a man such as you falls, he does not fall
gradually. He topples over suddenly, and to-day he is as low in the
gutter as yesterday he was high in the clouds."

"You have said enough. I do not care to listen to you further. The
tone you assume is offensive to me--such as I would brook from no man.
You can go the way you came."

And with a scornful gesture the Advocate pointed to the window.

"When I inform you which way I came," said Vanbrugh, with easy
insolence, "you will not be so ready to tell me to leave you before
you learn the errand which brought me."

"Which way, then, did you come?" asked the Advocate, in a tone of
contempt.

"The way Gautran came--somewhat earlier than this, it is true, but not
earlier than midnight."

The Advocate grasped the back of a chair; it was a slight action, but
sufficient to show that he was taken off his guard.

"You know that?" he said.

"Aye, I know that, and also that you feasted him, and gave him money."

"Are you accomplices, you two knaves?"

"If so, I have at present the best of the bargain. But your surmise is
not made with shrewdness. I never set eyes on Gautran until after he
was pronounced innocent of the murder of Madeline. On that night
I--shall we say providentially?--made his acquaintance."

"You have met him since then?"

"Yes--this very night; our interview was one never to be forgotten.
Come, I have been frank with you; I have used no disguises. I say to
you honestly, the world has gone hard with me; I have known want and
privation, and I am in a state of destitution. That is a condition of
affairs sufficient not only to depress a man's spirits, but to make
him disgusted with the world and mankind. I have, however, still some
capacity for enjoyment left in me, and I would give the world another
trial, not as a penniless rogue, but as a gentleman."

"Hard to accomplish," observed the Advocate, with a cynical smile.

"Not with a full purse. No music like the jingling of gold, and the
world will dance to the tune. Well, I present myself to you, and ask
you, who are rich and can spare what will be the making of me, to hand
me from your full store as much as will convert a poor devil into a
respectable member of society."

"I appreciate your confidence. I leave you to supply the answer."

"You will give me nothing?"

"Nothing."

"Mind--I do not ask it of your charity; I ask it of your prudence. It
will be worth your while."

"That has to be proved."

"Good. We have made a commencement. Your reputation is worth much--in
sober truth as much as it has brought you. But I am not greedy. It
lies at my mercy, and I shall be content with a share."

"That is generous of you," said the Advocate, who by this time had
regained his composure; "but I warn you--my patience is beginning to
be exhausted."

"Only beginning? That is well. I advise you to keep a tight rein over
it, and to ask yourself whether it is likely--considering the
difference of our positions--that I should be here talking in this
bold tone unless I held a power over you? I put it to you as a lawyer
of eminence."

"There is reason in what you say."

"Let me see. What have I to sell? The security of your reputation? The
power to prevent your name being uttered with horror? Your fame--your
honour? Yes, I have quite that to dispose of, and as a man of
business, which I never was until now, I recognise the importance of
being precise. First--I have to sell my knowledge that, after
midnight, you received Gautran in your study, that you treated him as
a friend, and filled his pockets with gold. How much is that worth?"

"Nothing. My word against his, against yours, against a hundred such
as you and he."

"You would deny it?"

"Assuredly--to protect myself." As he made this answer, it seemed to
the Advocate as if the principle of honour by which his actions had
been guided until within the last few days were slipping from him, and
as if the vilest wretch that breathed had a right to call him his
equal.

"We will pass that by," said Vanbrugh, helping himself to wine.
"Really, your wine is exquisite. In some respects you are a man to be
envied. It is worth much to a man not only to possess the best of
everything the world can give, but to know that he has the means and
the power to purchase it. With that consciousness within him, he walks
with his head in the air. You used to be fond of discussing these
niceties; I had no taste for them. I left the deeper subtleties of
life to those of thinner blood than mine. Pleasure was more in my
way--and will be again."

"You are wandering from the point," said the Advocate.

"There is a meaning in everything I say; I will clip my wings. Your
word against a hundred men such as I and Gautran? I am afraid you are
right. We are vagabonds--you are a gentleman. So, then, my knowledge
of the fact that you treated Gautran as a friend after you had
procured his acquittal is worth nothing. Admitted. But put that
knowledge and that fact in connection with another and a sterner
knowledge and fact--that you knew Gautran to be guilty of the murder.
How then? Does it begin to assume a value? Your silence gives me hopes
that my visit will not be fruitless. Between men who once were equals
and friends, and who, after a lapse of years, come together as we have
come together now, candour is a useful attribute. Let us exercise it.
I am not here on your account, nor do I hold you in such regard that I
would trouble myself to move a finger to save your reputation. The
master I am working for is Self; the end I am working for is an easy
life, a life of pleasure. This accomplished by your aid, I have
nothing more to do with you or your affairs. The business is an
unpleasant one, and I shall be glad to forget it. Refuse what I ask,
and you will sink lower than I have ever sunk. There are actions which
the world will forgive in the ignorant, but not in men of ripe
intellect."

He paused and gazed negligently at the Advocate, who during the latter
part of Vanbrugh's speech, was considering the dangers of his
position. The secret of Gautran's guilt belonged not alone to himself
and Gautran; this man Vanbrugh had been admitted into it, and he was
an enemy more to be dreaded than Gautran. He saw his peril, and that
he unconsciously acknowledged it to be imminent was proved by the
thought which intruded itself--against his will, as it seemed--whether
it would be wise to buy Vanbrugh off, to purchase his silence.

"It is easy," he said, "to invent tales. You and a dozen men, in
conjunction with the monster Gautran----"

"As you say," interrupted Vanbrugh, gently nodding his head, "the
monster Gautran. But why should you call him so unless you knew him to
be guilty? Were you assured of his innocence, you would speak of him
pityingly, as one undeservedly oppressed and persecuted. 'The monster
Gautran!' Thank you. It is an admission."

"----May invent," continued the Advocate, not heeding the
interruption, but impressed by its logic, "may invent any horrible
tale you please of any man you please. The difficulty will be to get
the world to believe it."

"Exactly. But in this case there is no difficulty, although the
murderer be dead."

"Gautran! Dead!" exclaimed the Advocate, surprised out of himself.
Gautran was dead! Encompassed as he was by danger and treachery, the
news was a relief to him.

"Yes, dead," replied Vanbrugh, purposely assuming a careless tone.
"Did I not tell you before? Singular that it should have escaped me.
But I have so much to say, and in my brightest hours I was always
losing the sequence of things."

"And you," said the Advocate, "meeting this man by chance----"

"Pardon me. I asked you whether I should consider our meeting
providential."

"It matters not. You, meeting this man, come to me after his death,
for the purpose of extracting money from me. You will fail."

"I shall succeed."

"You killed Gautran, and want money to escape."

"No. He was killed by a higher agency, and I want no money to escape.
You will hear to-morrow how he met his death, for all the towns and
villages will be ringing with it. I continue. Say that Gautran at the
point of death made a dying confession, on oath, not only of his
guilt, but of your knowledge of it when you defended him;--say that
this confession exists in writing, duly signed. Would that paper, in
conjunction with what I have already offered for sale, be worth your
purchase? Take time to consider. You are dealing with a man in
desperate circumstances, one who, if you drive him to it, will pull
you down, high as you are. You will help me, old friend."

"It may be. Have you possession of the paper you speak of?"

"I have. Would you like to hear it?"

"Yes."

Vanbrugh moved, so that a table was between him and the Advocate, and
taking Gautran's confession from his pocket read in a clear voice:


"I, Gautran the woodman, lately tried for the murder of Madeline the
flower-girl, being now at the point of death, and conscious that I
have only a few minutes to live, and being also in the full possession
of my reason, hereby make oath and swear:

"That being thrown into prison, awaiting my trial, I believed there
was no escape from the doom I justly merited, for the reason that I
was guilty of the murder.

"That some days before my trial was to take place, the Advocate who
defended me voluntarily undertook to prove to my judges that I was
innocent of the crime I committed.

"That with this full knowledge, he conducted my case with such ability
that I was set free and pronounced innocent.

"That on the night of my acquittal, after midnight had struck, and
when every person but himself in the House of White Shadows was
asleep, I secretly visited him in his study, and remained with him for
some time.

"That he gave me food and money, and bade me go my way.

"That I am ignorant of the motives which induced him, to whom I was a
perfect stranger, to deliberately defeat the ends of justice.

"That the proof that he knew me to be guilty lies in the fact that I
made a full confession to him.

"To which I solemnly swear, being about to appear before a just God to
answer for my crime. I pray for forgiveness and mercy.

                         "Signed,                      Gautran."


Without comment, John Vanbrugh folded the paper, and replaced it
carefully in his pocket.

"The confession may be forged," said the Advocate.

"Gautran's signature," said Vanbrugh, "will refute such a charge. He
could write only his name, and documents can certainly be found
bearing his signature, which can be compared with this."

"With that document in your possession," said the Advocate, speaking
very slowly, "are you not afraid to be here with me--alone--knowing,
if it state the truth, how much I have at stake?"

"Excellent!" exclaimed Vanbrugh. "What likenesses there are in human
nature, and how thin the line that divides the base from the noble!
Afraid? No--for if you lay a hand upon me, for whom you are no more
than a match, I will rouse the house and denounce you. Restrain
yourself and hear me out. I have that to say which will prove to you
the necessity, if you have the slightest regard for your honour, of
dealing handsomely with me. It relates to the girl whose murderer you
set free--to Madeline the flower-girl and to yourself."



                              CHAPTER II

                        A TERRIBLE REVELATION


Without requesting permission, John Vanbrugh filled his glass with
wine, which he drank leisurely with his eyes fixed on the Advocate's
pale face the while. When he spoke, it did not escape the Advocate
that he seemed to fling aside the flippancy of manner which had
hitherto characterised him, and that his voice was unusually earnest.

"I do not ask you to excuse me," he said, "for recalling the memory of
a time when you did not despise my companionship. It is necessary for
my purpose. We were, indeed, more than companions--we were friends.
What it was that made you consort with me is just now a mystery to me.
The contrast in our characters may have tempted you. I, a careless,
light-hearted fellow who loved to enjoy the hours; you, a serious,
cold-hearted student, dreaming perhaps of the position you have
attained. It may be that you deliberately made a study of me to see
what use you could make of my weakness. However it was, I lived in the
present, you in the future. The case is now reversed, and it is I who
live in the future.

"I have said you were cold-hearted, and I do not suppose you will
trouble yourself to deny it. Such as you are formed to rise, while we
impulsive, reckless devils are pretty sure to tumble in the mud. But I
never had such a fall as you are threatened with, and scapegrace,
vagabond as I am, I am thankful not to have on my conscience what you
have on yours.

"Now for certain facts.

"I contemplated--no, I mistake, I never contemplated--I settled to go
on a tour for a few weeks, and scramble through bits of France,
Switzerland, and Italy. You will remember my mentioning it to you.
Yes, I see in your face that you are following me, and I shall feel
obliged by your correcting me if in my statement of facts I should
happen to trip. The story I am telling needs no effort of the
imagination to embellish it. It is in its bare aspect sufficiently
ghastly and cruel.

"When I was about to start on my tour, you, of your own accord,
offered to accompany me. You had been studying too hard, and a wise
doctor recommended you to rest a while, if you did not care to have
brain-fever, and also recommended you to seek new scenes in the
company of a cheerful friend whose light spirits would be a good
medicine for an overworked brain. You took the doctor's advice, and
you did me the honour to choose me for a companion. So we started on
our little tour of pleasure.

"To shorten what I have to say I will not dwell upon the details of
our jaunt, but I fix myself, with you, at Zermatt, where we stayed for
three weeks. The attraction--what was it? The green valleys--the
grandeur of the scenery? No. A woman. More correctly speaking, two
women. Young, lovely, inexperienced, innocent. Daughters of a peasant,
whose cottage door was always open to us, and who was by no means
unwilling to receive small presents of money from liberal gentlemen
like ourselves. Again I slip details--the story becomes trite. We
captivated the hearts of the simple peasant maidens, and amused
ourselves with them. In me that was natural; it was my way. But in you
this circumstance was something to be astonished at. For just as long
as you remained at Zermatt you were a transformed being. I don't
think, until that time, I had ever heard you laugh heartily. Well,
suddenly you disappeared; getting up one morning, I found that my
friend had deserted me.

"It was shabby behaviour, at the best. However, it did not seriously
trouble me; every man is his own master, and I think we were beginning
to tire a little of each other. It was awkward, though, to be asked by
one of our pretty peasant friends where my handsome friend had gone,
and when he would return, and not be able to give a sensible answer.

"This girl, who had been in your presence always bright and joyous and
happy, grew sad and quiet and anxious-looking in your absence, and
appeared to have a secret on her mind that was making her wretched. I
stayed on at Zermatt for another month, and then I bade good-bye to my
sweetheart, promising to come again in a year. I kept my promise, but
when I asked for her in Zermatt I heard that she was dead, and that
her sister and father had left the village, and had gone no one knew
whither.

"It will be as well for me here to remind you that during our stay in
Zermatt we gave no home address, and that no one knew where we came
from or where we lived. So prudent were we that we acted as if we were
ashamed of our names.

"Three years afterwards in another part of Switzerland I met the woman
to whom you had made love; she had lost her father, but was not
without a companion. She had a little daughter--your child!"

"A lie!" said the Advocate, with difficulty controlling himself; "a
monstrous fabrication!"

"A solemn truth," replied Vanbrugh, "verified by the mother's oath,
and the certificate of birth. To dispute it will be a waste of breath
and time. Hear me to the end. The mother had but one anxiety--to
forget you and your treachery, and to be able to live so that her
shame should be concealed. To accomplish this it was necessary that
she should live among strangers, and it was for this reason she had
left her native village. She asked me about you, and I--well, I played
your game. I told her you had gone to a distant part of the world, and
that I knew nothing of you. We were still friends, you and I, although
our friendship was cooling. When I next saw you I had it in my mind to
relate the circumstance to you; but you will remember that just at
that time you took it into your head to put an end to our intimacy. We
had a few words, I think, and you were pleased to tell me that you
disapproved of my habits of life, and that you intended we should
henceforth be strangers. I was not in an amiable mood when I left you,
and I resolved, on the first opportunity, to seek the woman you had
brought to shame, and advise her to take such steps against you as
would bring disgrace to your door. It would be paying you in your own
coin, I thought. However, good fortune stood your friend at that time.
My own difficulties or pleasures, or both combined, claimed my
attention, and occupied me for many months, and when next I went to
the village in which I had last seen your peasant sweetheart and your
child, they were not to be found. I made inquiries, but could learn
nothing of them, so I gave it up as a bad job, and forgot all about
the matter. Since then very many years have passed, and I sank and
sank, and you rose and rose. We did not meet again; but I confess,
when I used to read accounts of your triumphs and your rising fame,
that I would not have neglected an opportunity to have done you an ill
turn had it been in my power. I was at the lowest ebb, everything was
against me, and I was wondering how I should manage to extricate
myself from the desperate position into which bad luck had driven me,
when, not many weeks since, I met in the streets of Geneva two women.
They were hawking nosegays, and the moment I set eyes upon the elder
of these women I recognised in her your old sweetheart from Zermatt.
You appear to be faint. Shall I pause a while before I continue?"

"No," said the Advocate, and he drank with feverish eagerness two
glasses of wine; "go on to the end."

"It was your sweetheart from Zermatt, and no other. And the younger of
these women, one of the loveliest creatures I ever beheld, was known
as Madeline the flower-girl."

The Advocate, with a sudden movement, turned his chair, so that his
face was hidden from Vanbrugh.

"They were poor--and I was poor. If what I suspected, when I gazed at
Madeline, was correct, I saw not only an opportunity for revenge upon
you, but a certainty of being able to obtain money from you. The
secret to such a man as you, married to a young and beautiful woman,
was worth a fair sum, which I resolved should be divided between
Pauline--that was the name adopted by the mother of your child--and
myself. You cannot accuse me of a want of frankness. I discovered
where they lived--I had secret speech with Pauline. My suspicion was
no longer a suspicion--it was a fact. Madeline the flower-girl was
your daughter."

He paused, but the Advocate made no movement, and did not speak.

"How," continued Vanbrugh, "to turn that fact to advantage? How, and
in what way, to make it worth a sum sufficiently large to satisfy me?
That was what now occupied my thoughts. Madeline and her mother were
even poorer than I supposed, and from Pauline's lips did I hear how
anxious she was to remove her daughter from the temptations by which
she was surrounded. In dealing with you, I knew it was necessary to be
well prepared. You are a powerful antagonist to cope with, and one
must have sure cards in his hand to have even a chance of winning any
game he is playing with such a man as yourself. Pauline and I spoke
frequently together, and gradually I unfolded to her the plan I had
resolved upon. Without disclosing your name I told her sufficiently to
convince her that, by my aid, she might obtain a sum of money from the
man who had wronged her which would enable her to place herself and
her daughter in a safer position--a position in which a girl as
beautiful as Madeline would almost certainly meet with a lover of good
social position whom she would marry and with whom she would lead a
happy life. Thus would she escape the snare into which she herself
fell when she met you. This was the mother's dream. Satisfied that I
could guide her to this end, Pauline signed an agreement, which is in
my possession, by which she bound herself to pay me half the money she
obtained from you in compensation for your wrong. Only one thing was
to remain untouched by her and me--a sum which I resolved to obtain
from you as a marriage portion for your daughter. Probably, under
other circumstances, you would not have given me credit for so much
consideration, but viewed in the light of the position in which you
are placed, you may believe me. If you doubt it, I can show you the
clause in black and white. This being settled between Pauline and me,
I told her who you were--how rich you were, how famous you had grown,
and how that you had lately married a young and beautiful woman. The
affairs of a man as eminent as yourself are public property, and the
newspapers delight in recording every particular, be it ever so
trivial, connected with the lives of men of your rank. It was then
necessary to ascertain what proof we held that you were the father of
Madeline. Our visit to Zermatt could be proved--her oath and mine, in
connection with dates, would suffice. Then there would, in all
likelihood, be living in Zermatt men and women whose testimony would
be valuable. The great point was the birth of the child and the date,
and to my discomfiture I learnt that Pauline had lost the certificate
of her daughter's birth. But the record existed elsewhere, and it was
to obtain a copy of this record, and to collect other evidence, that
Pauline left her daughter. Her mission was a secret one, necessarily,
and thus no person, not even Madeline, had any knowledge of its
purport. What, now, remains to be told? Nothing that you do not
know--except that when Pauline left her daughter for a few weeks, it
was arranged that she and I should meet in Geneva on a certain date,
to commence our plan of operations, and that I, having business
elsewhere, was a couple of hundred miles away when Gautran murdered
your hapless child. I arrived in Geneva on the last day of Gautran's
trial; and on that evening, as you came out of the court-house, I
placed in your hands the letter asking you to give me an interview. I
will say nothing of my feelings when I heard that you had successfully
defended, and had set free, the murderer of your child. What I had to
look after was myself and my own interest. And now you, who at the
beginning of this interview rejected a renewal of the old friendship
which existed between us, may probably inwardly acknowledge that had
you accepted the hand I offered you, it is not I who would have been
the gainer."

Again he paused, and again, neither by word or movement, did the
Advocate break the silence.

"It will be as well," presently said Vanbrugh, "to recapitulate
what I have to sell. First, the fact that you, a man of spotless
character--so believed--deliberately betrayed a simple innocent girl,
and then deserted her. Inconceivable, the world would say, in such a
man, unless the proofs were incontestable. The proofs are
incontestable. Next, the birth of your child, and your brutal--pardon
me, there is no other word to express it, and it is one which would be
freely used--negligence to ascertain whether your conduct had brought
open shame and ruin upon the girl you betrayed. Next, the knowledge of
the life of poverty and suffering led by the mother and the child,
while you were in the possession of great wealth. Next, the murder of
your child by a man whose name is uttered with execration. Next, your
voluntary espousal of his cause, and your successful defence of a
monster whom all men knew to be guilty of the foul crime. Next, your
knowledge, at the time you defended him, that he was guilty of the
murder of your own child. Next, in corroboration of this knowledge,
the dying declaration of Gautran, solemnly sworn to and signed by him.
A strong hand. No stronger has ever been held by any man's enemy, and
until you come to my terms, I am your enemy. If you refuse to purchase
of me what I have to sell--the documents in my possession, and my
sacred silence to the last day of my life upon the matters which
affect you--and for such a sum as will make my future an easy one, I
give you my word I will use my power against you, and will drag you
down from the height upon which you stand. I cannot speak in more
distinct terms. You can rescue me from poverty, I can rescue you from
ignominy."

The Advocate turned his face to Vanbrugh, who saw that, in the few
minutes during which it had been hidden from his sight, it had assumed
a hue of deadly whiteness. All the sternness had departed from it, and
the cold, piercing eyes wavered as they looked first at Vanbrugh, then
at the objects in the study. It was as though the Advocate were
gazing, for the first time, upon the familiar things by which he was
surrounded. Strange to say, this change in him seemed to make him more
human--seemed to declare, "Stern and cold-hearted as I have appeared
to the world, I am susceptible to tenderness." The mask had fallen
from his face, and he stood now revealed--a man with human passions
and human weaknesses, to whom a fatal sin in his younger days had
brought a retribution as awful as it was ever the lot of a human being
to suffer. There was something pitiable in this new presentment of a
strong, earnest, self-confident nature, and even Vanbrugh was touched
by it.

During the last half-hour the full force of the storm had burst over
the House of White Shadows. The rain poured down with terrific power,
and the thunder shook the building to its foundations. The Advocate
listened with a singular and curious intentness to the terrible
sounds, and when Vanbrugh remarked, "A fearful night," he smiled in
reply. But it was the smile of a man whose heart was tortured to the
extreme limits of human endurance.

Once again he filled a glass with wine, and raised it to his mouth,
but as the liquor touched his lips, he shuddered, and holding the
glass upright in his hand, he turned it slowly over and poured it on
the ground; then, with much gentleness, he replaced the glass upon the
table.

"What has become of the woman you speak of as Pauline?" he asked. His
very voice was changed. It was such as would proceed from one who had
been prostrated by long and almost mortal sickness.

"I do not know," replied Vanbrugh. "I have neither seen nor heard from
her since the day before she left her daughter."

"Say that I was disposed," said the Advocate, speaking very slowly,
and pausing occasionally, as though he was apprehensive that he would
lose control of speech, "to purchase your silence, do you think I
should be safe in the event of her appearing on the scene? Would not
her despair urge her to seek revenge upon the man who betrayed and
deserted her, and who set her daughter's murderer free?"

"It might be so--but at all events she would be ignorant of your
knowledge of Gautran's guilt. This danger at least would be averted.
The secret is ours at present, and ours only."

"True. You believe that I knew Gautran to be guilty when I defended
him?"

"I am forced to believe it. Explain, otherwise, why you permitted him
to visit you secretly in the dead of night, and why you filled his
pockets with gold."

"It cannot be explained. Yet what motive could I have had in setting
him free?"

"It is not for me to say. What I know, I know. I pretend to nothing
further."

"Do you suppose I care for money?" As the Advocate asked the question,
he opened a drawer in the escritoire, and produced a roll of notes.
"Take them; they are yours. But I do not purchase your silence with
them. I give the money to you as a gift."

"And I thank you for it. But I must have more."

"Wait--wait. This story of yours has yet to be concluded."

"Is it my fancy," said Vanbrugh, "or is it a real sound I hear? The
ringing of a bell--and now, a beating at the gates without, and a
man's voice calling loudly?"

Without hesitation, the Advocate went from his study into the grounds.
The fury of the storm made it difficult for him to keep his feet, but
he succeeded in reaching the gate and opening it. A hand grasped his,
and a man clung to him for support. The Advocate could not see the
face of his visitor, nor, although he heard a voice speaking to him,
did the words of the answer fall upon his ears. Staggering blindly
through the grounds, they arrived at the door of the villa, and
stumbled into the passage. There, by the aid of the rose lamp which
hung in the hall, he distinguished the features of his visitor. It was
Father Capel.

"Have you come to see me?" asked the Advocate, "or are you seeking
shelter from the storm?"

"I have come to see you," replied Father Capel. "I hardly hoped to
find you up, but perceived lights in your study windows, and they gave
me confidence to make the attempt to speak with you. I have been
beating at the gates for fully half an hour."

He spoke in his usual gentle tones, and gazed at the Advocate's white
face with a look of kindly and pitying penetration.

"You are wet to the skin," said the Advocate. "I must find a change of
clothing for you."

"No, my son," said the priest; "I need none. It is not the storm
without I dread--it is the storm within." As though desirous this
remark should sink into the Advocate's heart, he paused a few moments
before he spoke again. "I fear this storm of Nature will do much harm.
Trees are being uprooted and buildings thrown down. There is danger of
a flood which may devastate the village, and bring misery to the poor.
But there is a gracious God above us"--he looked up reverently--"and
if a man's conscience is clear, all is well."

"There is a significance in the words you utter," said the Advocate,
conducting the priest to his study, "which impresses me. Your mission
is an important one."

"Most important; it concerns the soul, not the body."

"A friend of mine," said the Advocate, pointing to Vanbrugh, who was
standing when they entered, "who has visited me to-night for the first
time for many years, on a mission as grave as yours. It was he who
heard your voice at the gates."

Father Capel inclined his head to Vanbrugh, who returned the courtesy.

"I wish to confer with you privately," said the priest. "It will be
best that we should be alone."

"Nay," said the Advocate, "you may speak freely in his presence. I
have but one secret from him and all men. I beg you to proceed."



                             CHAPTER III

                               PAULINE


"I have no choice but to obey you," said Father Capel, "for time
presses, and a life is hanging in the balance. I should have been here
before had it not been that my duty called me most awfully and
suddenly to a man who has been smitten to death by the hand of God.
The man you defended--Gautran, charged with the murder of an innocent
girl--is dead. Of him I may not speak at present. Death-bed
confessions are sacred, and apart from that, not even in the presence
of your dearest friend can I say one further word concerning the
sinner whose soul is now before its Creator. I came to you from a
dying woman, who is known by the name of Pauline."

Both Vanbrugh and the Advocate started at the mention of the name.

"Fate is merciful," said the Advocate in a low tone; "its blows are
sharp and swift."

"Before I left her I promised to bring you to her tomorrow,"
continued the priest, "but Providence, which directed me to Gautran in
his dying moments, impels me to break that promise. She may die before
to-morrow, and she has that to say which vitally concerns you, and
which you must hear, if she has strength enough to speak. I ask you to
come with me to her without a moment's delay, through this storm,
which has been sent as a visitation for human crime."

"I am ready to accompany you," said the Advocate.

"And I," said Vanbrugh.

"No," said the priest, "only he and I. Who you are I do not seek to
know, but you cannot accompany us."

"Remain here," said the Advocate to Vanbrugh; "when I return I will
hide nothing from you. Now, Father Capel."

It was not possible for them to engage in conversation. The roaring of
the wind prevented a word from being heard. For mutual safety they
clasped hands and proceeded on their way. They encountered many
dangers, but escaped them. Torrents of water poured down from the
ranges--great branches snapped from the trees and fell across their
path--the valleys were in places knee-deep in water--and occasionally
they fancied they heard cries of human distress in the distance. If
the priest had not been perfectly familiar with the locality, they
would not have arrived at their destination, but he guided his
companion through the storm, and they stood at length before the
cottage in which Pauline lay.

Father Capel lifted the latch, and pulled the Advocate after him into
the room.

There were but two apartments in the cottage. Pauline lay in the room
at the back. In a corner of the room in which they found themselves a
man lay asleep; his wife was sitting in a chair, watching and waiting.
She rose wearily as the priest and the Advocate entered.

"I am glad you have come, father," she said, "she has been very
restless, and once she gave a shriek, like a death-shriek, which
curdled my blood. She woke and frightened my child."

She pointed to a baby-girl, scarcely eighteen months old, who was
lying by her father with her eyes wide open. The child, startled by
the entrance of strangers, ran to her mother, who took her on her lap,
saying petulantly, "There, there--be quiet. The gentlemen won't hurt
you."

"Is Pauline awake now?" asked Father Capel.

The woman went to the inner room and returned. "She is sleeping," she
said, "and is very quiet."

Father Capel beckoned to the Advocate, who followed him to the bedside
of the dying woman. She lay so still that the priest lowered his head
to hers to ascertain whether she was breathing.

"Life appears to be ebbing away," he whispered to the Advocate; "she
may die in her sleep."

Quiet as she was, there was no peace in her face; an expression of
exquisite suffering rested on it. The sign of suffering, denoting how
sorely her heart had been wrung, caused the Advocate's lips to quiver.

"It is I who have brought her to this," he thought. "But for me she
would not be lying in a dying state before me."

He was tortured not only by remorse, but by a terror of himself.

Notwithstanding that so many years had passed since he last gazed upon
her, she was not so much changed that he did not recognise in her the
blooming peasant girl of Zermatt. Since then he had won honour and
renown and the admiration and esteem of men; the best that life could
offer was his, or had been his until the fatal day upon which he
resolved to undertake the defence of Gautran. And now--how stood the
account? He was the accomplice of the murderer of his own child--the
mother of his child was dying in suffering--his wife was false to
him--his one friend had betrayed him. The monument of greatness he had
raised had crumbled away, and in a very little while the world would
know him for what he was. His bitterest enemy could not have held him
in deeper despisal than he held himself.

"You recognise her?" said the priest.

"Yes."

"And her child, Madeline, was yours?"

"I am fain to believe it," said the Advocate; "but the proof is not
too clear."

"The proof is there," said the priest, pointing to Pauline; "she has
sworn it. Do you think--knowing that death's door is open for her to
enter--knowing that her child, the only being she loved on earth, is
waiting for her in the eternal land--that she would, by swearing
falsely, and with no end in view that could possibly benefit herself,
imperil the salvation of her soul? It is opposed to human reason."

"It is. I am forced to believe what I would give my life to know was
false."

"Unhappy man! Unhappy man!" said the priest, sinking--on his knees. "I
will pray for you, and for the woman whose life you blighted."

The Advocate did not join the priest in prayer. His stern sense of
justice restrained him. The punishment he had brought upon himself he
would bear as best he might, and he would not inflict upon himself the
shameful humiliation of striving to believe that, by prayers and
tears, he could suddenly atone for a crime as terrible as that of
which he was guilty.

"Father Capel," he said, when the priest rose from his knees, "from
what you have said, I gather that the man Gautran made confession to
you before he died. I do not seek to know what that confession was,
but with absolute certainty I can divine its nature. The man you saw
in my study brought to me Gautran's dying declaration, signed by
Gautran himself, which charges me with a crime so horrible that, were
I guilty of it, laden as I am with the consequences of a sin which I
do not repudiate, I should deserve the worst punishment. Are you aware
of the existence of this document?"

"I hear of its existence now for the first time," replied the priest.
"When I left the bedside of this unhappy woman, and while I was
wending my way home through the storm, I heard cries and screams for
help on a hill near the House of White Shadows, as though two men were
engaged in a deadly struggle. I proceeded in the direction of the
conflict, and discovered only Gautran, who had been crushed to the
earth by the falling of a tree which had been split by the storm. He
admitted that he and another man were fighting, and that the design
was murder. I made search, both then and afterwards, for the other
man, but did not succeed in finding him. I left Gautran for the
purpose of obtaining assistance to extricate him, for the tree had
fallen across his body, and he could not move. When I returned he was
dead, and some gold which he had asked me to take from his pocket was
gone; an indication that, during my absence, human hands had been busy
about him. If Gautran's dying declaration be authentic, it must have
been obtained while I was away to seek for assistance."

"I can piece the circumstances," said the Advocate. "The man you saw
in my study was the man who was engaged in the struggle with Gautran.
It was he who obtained the confession, and he who stole the gold. In
that confession I am charged with undertaking the defence of Gautran
with the knowledge that he was guilty. It is not true. When I defended
him I believed him to be innocent; and if he made a similar
declaration to you, he has gone to his account with a black lie upon
his soul. That will not clear me, I know, and I do not mention it to
you for the purpose of exciting your pity for me. It is simply because
it is just that you should hear my denial of the charge; and it is
also just that you should hear something more. Up to the hour of
Gautran's acquittal I believed him, degraded and vile as he was, to be
innocent of the murder; but that night, as I was walking to the House
of White Shadows, I met Gautran, who, in the darkness, supposing me to
be a stranger, would have robbed me, and probably taken my life. I
made myself known to him, and he, overcome with terror at the
imaginary shadow of his victim which his remorse and ignorance had
conjured up, voluntarily confessed to me that he was guilty. My
error--call it by what strange name you will--dated from that moment.
Knowing that the public voice was against me, I had not the honesty to
take the right course. But if I," he added, with a gloomy recollection
of his wife and friend, "had not by my own act rendered valueless the
fruits of a life of earnest endeavour, it would have been done for me
by those in whom I placed a sacred trust."

For several hours Father Capel and the Advocate remained by the
bedside of Pauline, who lay unconscious, as if indeed, as the priest
had said, life was ebbing away in her sleep. The storm continued and
increased in intensity, and had it not been that the little hut which
sheltered them was protected by the position in which it stood, it
would have been swept away by the wind. From time to time the peasant
gave them particulars of the devastation created by the floods, which
were rushing in torrents from every hill, but their duty chained them
to the bedside of Pauline. An hour before noon she opened her eyes,
and they rested upon the face of the Advocate.

"You have come," she sighed.

He knelt by the bed, and addressed her, but it was with difficulty he
caught the words she spoke. Death was very near.

"Was Madeline my daughter?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Pauline, "as I am about to appear before my God!"

The effort exhausted her, and she lay still for many minutes. Then her
hand feebly sought her pillow, and the Advocate, perceiving that she
wished to obtain something from under it, searched and found a small
packet. He knew immediately, when she motioned that she desired him to
retain it, that it contained the certificate of his daughter's birth.
The priest prayed audibly for the departing soul. Pauline's lips
moved; the Advocate placed his ear close. She breathed the words:

"We shall meet again soon! Pray for forgiveness!"

Then death claimed her, and her earthly sorrows were ended.



                              CHAPTER IV

                           ONWARD--TO DEATH


Late in the afternoon the Advocate was stumbling, almost blindly,
through the tempest towards the House of White Shadows. Father Capel
had striven in vain to dissuade him from making the attempt to reach
the villa.

"There is safety only in the sheltered heights," said the priest. "By
this time the valleys are submerged, and the dwellings therein are
being swept away. Ah me--ah me! how many of my poor are ruined; how
many dead! Not in my experience have I seen a storm as terrible as
this. It is sent as a warning and a punishment. Only the strongest
houses in the villages that lie in the valleys will be able to
withstand its fury. Be persuaded, and remain here until its force is
spent."

He spoke to one who was deaf to reason. It seemed to the Advocate as
though the end of his life had come, as though his hold upon the world
might at any moment be sapped; but while he yet lived there was before
him a task which it was incumbent upon him to perform. It was
imperative that he should have speech with his wife and Christian
Almer.

"I have work to do," he said to the priest, "and it must be done
to-day."

An unaccustomed note in his voice caused Father Capel to regard him
with even a more serious attention than he had hitherto bestowed upon
him.

"There are men," said the priest, "who, when sudden misfortune
overtakes them, adopt a desperate expedient to put an end to all
worldly trouble, and thus add sin to sin."

"Have no fear for me," said the Advocate. "I am not contemplating
suicide. What fate has in store for me I will meet without repining.
You caution me against the storm, yet I perceive you yourself are
preparing to face it."

"I go to my duty," said the priest.

"And I to mine," rejoined the Advocate.

Thus they parted, each going his separate way.

The Advocate had not calculated the difficulties he was to encounter;
his progress was slow, and he had to make wide detours on the road,
and frequently to retrace his steps for a considerable distance, in
order to escape being swept to death by the floods. From the ranges
all around the village in which the House of White Shadows was
situated the water was pouring in torrents, which swirled furiously
through the lower heights, carrying almost certain destruction to
those who had not already availed themselves of the chances of escape.
Terrific as was the tempest, he took no heed of it. It was not the
storm of Nature, but the storm within his soul which absorbed him. He
met villagers on the road flying for safety. With terror-struck
movements they hurried past, men, women, and children, uttering cries
of alarm at the visitation. Now and then one and another called upon
him to turn back.

"If you proceed," they said, "you will be engulfed in the rapids. Turn
back if you wish to live."

He did not answer them, but doggedly pursued his way.

"My punishment has come," he thought. "I have no wish to live, nor do
I desire to outlast this day."

Once only, of his own prompting, did he pause. A woman, with little
children clinging to her, passed him, sobbing bitterly. His eyes
happening to light upon her face, he saw in it some likeness to the
peasant girl whom in years gone by he had betrayed. The likeness might
or might not have been there, but it existed certainly in his fancy.
He stopped and questioned her, and learned that she had been utterly
ruined by the storm, her cottage destroyed, her small savings lost,
and all her hopes blasted. He emptied his pockets of money, and gave
her what valuables he had about him.

"Sell them," he said; "they will help to purchase you a new home."

She called down blessings on his head.

"If she knew me for what I am," he muttered as he left her, "she would
curse me."

On and on he struggled and seemed to make no progress. The afternoon
was waning, and the clouds were growing blacker and thicker, when he
saw a man staggering towards him. He was about to put a question to
him respecting the locality of the House of White Shadows--his course
had been so devious that he scarcely knew in what direction it
lay--when a closer approach to the man showed him to be no other than
John Vanbrugh.

"Ah!" cried Vanbrugh, seizing the Advocate's arm, and thus arresting
his steps, "I feared we had lost you. A fine time I have had of it
down in your villa yonder! Had it not been for the storm, I should
have been bundled before a magistrate on a charge of interloping; but
everybody had enough to do to look after himself. It was a case of the
devil take the hindmost. A scurvy trick, though, of yours, to desert a
comrade; still, for my sake, I am glad to see you in the land of the
living."

"Have you come straight from the villa?" asked the Advocate.

"Straight!" cried Vanbrugh with a derisive laugh. "I defy the soberest
saint to walk straight for fifty yards in such a hurricane. Three
bottles of wine would not make me so unsteady as this cursed
wind--enough to stop one's breath for good or ill. What! you are not
going on?"

"I am. What should hinder me?"

"Some small love of life--a trivial but human sentiment. There is no
one in your house. It is by this time deserted by all but the rats."

"My wife----"

"Was the last to leave, with a friend of yours, Christian Almer by
name. He and I had some words together. Let me tell you. I happened to
drop a remark concerning you which he considered disparaging, and had
I been guilty of all the cardinal sins he could not have been more
angered. A true friend--but probably he does not know what I know.
Well for you that I did not enlighten him. You will meet them a little
lower down on the road, but I advise you not to go too far. The
valleys are rivers, carrying everything, headlong, in their course."

"There was an old lawyer in the house. Do you know what has become of
him?"

"I saw him perched on the back of a fool, and by their side a girl
with the sweetest face, and an old woman I should take to be her
grandmother."

"Farewell," said the Advocate, wrenching himself free. "Should we meet
again I will pay you for your friendly services."

"Well said," replied Vanbrugh. "I am content. No man ever knew you to
be false to your word. A woman perhaps--but that lies in the past. Ah,
what a storm! It is as though the end of the world had come."

"To those whose minutes are numbered," said the Advocate between his
set teeth, "the end of the world has come. Farewell once more."

"Farewell then," cried Vanbrugh, proceeding onward. "For my sake be
careful of yourself. If this be not the Second Deluge I will seek you
to-morrow."

"For me," muttered the Advocate, as he left Vanbrugh, "there may be no
to-morrow."

Bearing in mind the words of Vanbrugh that he would meet his wife and
Christian Almer lower down on the road, he looked out for them. He saw
no trace of them, and presently he began to blunder in his course; he
searched in vain for a familiar landmark, and he knew not in which
direction the House of White Shadows was situated. Evening was fast
approaching when he heard himself hailed by loud shouts. The sounds
proceeded from a strongly-built stone hut, protected on three sides
from wind and rain, and so placed that the water from the ranges
rolled past without injuring it. Standing within the doorway was Fritz
the Fool.

Thinking his wife might have sought shelter there, the Advocate made
his way to it, and found therein assembled, in addition to Fritz, old
Pierre Lamont, Mother Denise and her husband Martin, and their pretty
granddaughter Dionetta.

"Welcome, comrade, welcome," cried Pierre Lamont. "It is pleasant to
see a familiar face. We were compelled to fly from the villa, and
Fritz here conveyed us here to this hospitable hut, where we shall be
compelled to stay till the storm ceases. Where is 'your fair lady?"

"It is a question I would ask of you," said the Advocate. "She is not
here, then?"

"No. She left the villa before we did, in the company of your
friend"--the slight involuntary accent he placed upon the word caused
the Advocate to start as though he had received a blow--"Christian
Almer. They have doubtless found another shelter as secure as this. We
wished them to stop for us, but they preferred not to wait. Fritz had
a hard job of it carrying me to this hut, which he claims as his own,
and which is stored with provisions sufficient for a month's siege. I
have robbed the old house of its servants--Dionetta here, for whom"
(he dropped his voice) "the fool has a fancy, and her grandmother,
whom I shall pension off, and Fritz himself--an invaluable fool.
Fritz, open a bottle of wine; do the honours of your mansion. The
Advocate is exhausted."

The Advocate did not refuse the wine; he felt its need to sustain his
strength for the work he had yet to perform. He glanced round the
walls.

"Is there an inner room?" he asked.

"Yes; there is the door."

"May I crave privacy for a few minutes?"

Pierre Lamont waved his hand, and the Advocate walked to the inner
room, and closed the door upon himself.

"What has come over this man?" mused Pierre Lamont. "There is in his
face, since yesterday, such a change as it is rare in life's
experience to see. It is not produced by fatigue. Has he made
discovery of his wife's faithlessness and his friend's treachery. And
should I not behave honestly to him, and make him as wise as I am on
events within my knowledge? What use? What use? But at least he shall
know that the secret of Gautran's guilt is not his alone."

In the meantime the Advocate was taking advantage of the solitude for
which he had been yearning since he left the bedside of Pauline. It
was not until this moment that he could find an opportunity to examine
the packet she had given him.

It contained what he imagined--the certificate of the birth of his
child. He read it and mentally took note of the date and also of
certain words written on the back, in confirmation of the story
related to him by John Vanbrugh. No room was there for doubt. Madeline
was his child, and by his means her murderer had escaped from justice.

"A just Heaven smote him down," he thought; "so should retribution
fall upon me. I am partner in his crime. Upon my soul lies guilt
heavier than his."

Within the certificate of birth was a smaller packet, which he had
laid aside. He took it up now, and removed the paper covering. It was
the portrait of his daughter, Madeline the flower-girl. The picture
was that of a young girl just budding into womanhood--a girl whose
laughing mouth and sparkling eyes conveyed to his heart so keen a
torture that he gave utterance to a groan, and covered his eyes with
his hand to shut out the reproach. But in the darkness he saw a vision
which sent violent shudders through him--such a vision as had pursued
Gautran in the lonely woods, as he had seen in the waving of branch
and leaf, as had hovered over him in his prison cell, as he stood by
his side in the courthouse during the trial from which he emerged a
free man. Bitterly was this man, who had reached a height so lofty
that it seemed as if calumny could not touch him, bitterly was he
expiating the error of his youth.

He folded the portrait of his child within the certificate of birth,
and replaced them in his pocket. Then, with an effort, he succeeded in
summoning some kind of composure to his features, and the next minute
he rejoined Pierre Lamont.

"You will remain with me," said the old lawyer; "it will be best."

"Nay," responded the Advocate, "a plain duty lies before me. I must
seek my wife."

"She herself is doubtless in a place of shelter," said Pierre Lamont,
"and while this tempest is raging, devastating the land in every
direction, you can scarcely hope to find her."

"I shall find her," said the Advocate in a tone of conviction. "Stern
fate, which has dogged my steps since I arrived in Geneva, and brought
me to a pass which, were you acquainted with the details, would appear
incredible to you, will conduct me to her side. Were I otherwise
convinced I must not shrink from my duty."

"Outside these walls," urged Pierre Lamont, "death stares you in the
face."

"There are worse things than death," said the Advocate, with an air of
gloomy and invincible resolution.

"Useless to argue with such a man as yourself," said Pierre Lamont. He
turned to Fritz. "Go, you and your friends, into the inner room for a
while. I wish to speak in private with my friend."

"One moment," said the Advocate to the fool as he was preparing to
obey Pierre Lamont. "You were the last to leave the House of White
Shadows."

"We were the last humans," replied Fritz.

"In what condition was it at the time?"

"In a most perilous condition. The waters were rising around the
walls. It had, I should say, not twelve hours to live."

"To live!" echoed Pierre Lamont, striving to impart lightness to his
voice, and signally failing. "How do you apply that, Fritz?"

"Trees live!" replied Fritz, "and their life goes with the houses they
help to build. If the walls of the old house we have run from could
talk, mysteries would be brought to light."

"You have been my wife's maid," said the Advocate to Dionetta, as she
was about to pass him. Dionetta curtsied. "Has she discharged you?"

Dionetta cast a nervous glance at Pierre Lamont, and another at Mother
Denise. The old grandmother answered for her.

"I thought it as well," said Mother Denise, "in all respect and
humility, that so simple a child as Dionetta should be kept to her
simple life. My lady was good enough to give Dionetta a pair of
diamond earrings and a diamond finger-ring, which we have left behind
us." Fritz made a grimace. "These things are not fit for poor
peasants, and the pleasure they convey is a dangerous pleasure."

"You are not favourably disposed towards my wife," said the Advocate.
Mother Denise was silent. "But you are right in what you say. Diamonds
are not fit gifts for simple maids. I wish you well, you and your
grandchild. It might have been----" The thought of his own child, of
the same age as Dionetta, and as beautiful, crossed his mind. He
brushed his hand across his eyes, and when he looked round the room
again, he and Pierre Lamont were alone.

"A fool of fools," said Pierre Lamont, looking after Fritz. "If he and
the pretty Dionetta wed--it will be a suitable match for beauty to
mate with folly--he will be father to a family of fools who may, in
their way, be wiser in their generation than you and I. Your decision
is irrevocable?"

"It is irrevocable."

"If you do not find your wife you will endeavour to return to us?"

"I shall find her."

"And then?" asked Pierre Lamont with a singular puckering of his
brows.

"And then?" echoed the Advocate absently, and added: "Who can tell
what may happen from one hour to another?"

"How much does he know?" thought Pierre Lamont; "or are his suspicions
but just aroused? There is a weight upon his soul which taxes all his
strength. It is grand to see a strong man suffer as he is suffering.
Is there a mystery in his trouble with which I am not acquainted? His
wife--I know about her. Gautran--I know about him. But the stranger
he left in his study in the middle of the night--a broken-down
gentleman--vagabond, with a spice of wickedness in him--who is he, and
what was his mission? Of one thing I must satisfy myself before I am
assured that he is worthy of my compassion." Then he spoke aloud. "You
said just now there are worse things than death."

"Aye."

"Disgrace?"

"In a certain form that may be borne, and life yet be worth the
having."

"Good. Dishonour?"

"It matters little," said the Advocate; "but were the time not
precious, I should be curious to learn why you desire to get at the
heart of my secrets."

"The argument would be too long," said Pierre Lamont with earnestness,
"but I can justify myself. There are worse things than death. Pardon
me--an older man than yourself, and one who is well disposed towards
you--for asking you bluntly whether such things have come to you?"

"They have. You can read the signs in my face."

"But if you have a secret, the revealing of which would be hurtful to
you, cannot the mischief be averted? As far as I can expect you have
been frank with me. Frankness for frankness. Say that the secret
refers to Gautran and to your defence of him?"

"I have been living in a fool's paradise," said the Advocate with a
scornful smile. "To whom is this known?"

"To Fritz the Fool, and to me, through him. He saw Gautran in your
study after the trial----"

"Have I been watched?"

"The discovery was accidental. He was moved by some love-verses I read
to him, and becoming sentimental, he dallied outside Dionetta's
window, after the manner of foolish lovers. Then the lights of your
study window attracted him, and he peeped through. When Gautran left
the villa, Fritz followed him, and heard him in his terrified
soliloquies proclaim his guilt. Were this to go out to the world, it
would, according to its fashion, construe it in a manner which might
be fatal to you. But Gautran is dead, and I can be silent, and can put
a lock on Fritz's tongue--for in my soul I believe you were not aware
the wretch was guilty when you defended him."

"I thank you. I believed him to be innocent."

"Why, then, my mind is easy. Friend, shake hands." He held the
Advocate's hand in his thin fingers, and with something of
wistfulness, said: "I would give a year of my life if I could prevail
upon you to remain with us."

"You cannot prevail upon me. So much being said between us, more is
necessary. The avowal of my ignorance of Gautran's guilt at the time I
defended him--I learnt it after the trial, mind you--will not avail
me. A written confession,--sworn upon his dying oath, exists, which
accuses me of that which the world will be ready to believe. Strange
to say, this is my lightest trouble. There are others of graver moment
which more vitally concern me--unknown to you, unless, indeed, you
possess a wizard's art of divination."

"Comrade," said Pierre Lamont, slowly and with emphasis, "there
breathes not in the world a woman worth the breaking of a man's
heart."

"Stop!" cried the Advocate in a voice of agony.

In silence he and Pierre Lamont gazed upon each other, and in the old
lawyer's face the Advocate saw that his wife's faithlessness and his
friend's treachery were known.

"Enough," he said; "there is for me no deeper shame, no deeper
dishonour."

And he turned abruptly from Pierre Lamont, and left the hut staggering
like a drunken man.

"Fritz, Fritz!" cried Pierre Lamont. "Come quickly!" Fritz instantly
made his appearance from the inner room. "Look you, Fritz," said the
old lawyer, in hurried, excited tones, "the Advocate has gone upon his
mad errand--has gone alone. After him at once, and if you can save him
from the consequences of his desperate resolve--if you can advise,
assist him, do so for my sake. Quick, Fritz, quick!"

"Master Lamont," said Fritz, "are you asking me to do a man's work?'

"Yes, Fritz--you can do no more."

"Well and good. As far as a man dare go, I will go; but if a madman
persists in rushing upon certain death, it will not help him for a
fool to follow his example. I am fond of life, Master Lamont, doubly
fond of it just now, for reasons." He jerked his thumb over his
shoulder to the room which contained Dionetta. "But I will do what can
be done. You may depend upon me."

He was gone at least two hours, and when he returned he was exhausted
and panting for breath.

"I was never born to be drowned," he said, and he threw himself into a
chair, and sat there, gasping.

"Well, Fritz, well?" cried Pierre Lamont.

"Wait till I get my breath. I followed this great Advocate as you
desired, and for some time, so deep was he in his dreams, he did not
know I was with him. But once, when he was waist high in water--not
that he cared, it was as though he was inviting death--and I, who was
acquainted with the road through which he was wading, pulled him
suddenly back and so saved his life, he turned upon me savagely, and
demanded who I was. He recognised me the moment he spoke the words--I
will say this of him, that in the presence of another man he never
loses his self-possession, and that, in my belief he would be a match
for Death, if it presented itself to him in a visible, palpable shape.
'Ah,' said he, 'you are Fritz the Fool; why do you dog me?' 'I do not
dog you,' I replied; 'Master Lamont bade me guide and assist you, if
you needed guidance and assistance. He is the only man for whom I
would risk my life.' 'Honesty is a rare virtue,' he said; 'keep with
me, then, for just as long as you think yourself to be safe. You saw
my wife and Mr. Almer leave the House of White Shadows. Is it likely
they took this road?' 'They could take no other, and live,' I said,
'but there is no trace of them. They must have turned back to the
villa.' 'Could they reach it, do you think?' he asked. 'A brave man
can do wonders,' I replied; 'some hours ago they may have reached it;
but they could not stop in the lower rooms, which even at that time
must have been below water-mark. I will not answer for the upper part
of the house at this moment, and before morning it will be swept
away.' 'Guide me as far on the road as you care to accompany me,' said
he, 'and when you leave me point me out the way I should go.' I did
so, and we encountered dangers, and but for me he would not have been
alive when I left him. We came to the bridge which spans the ravine of
pines, two miles this side of the House of White Shadows. A great part
of it had been torn away, and down below a torrent was rushing fierce
enough to beat the life out of any living being, human or animal.
'There is no other way but this,' I said, 'to the House of White
Shadows. I shall not cross the bridge.' He said no word, but struggled
on to the bridge, which--all that was left of it--consisted of three
slender trunks half hanging over the ravine. It was nothing short of a
miracle that he got across; no sooner was he upon the other side than
the remaining portion of the bridge fell into the ravine. He waved his
hand to me, and I soon lost sight of him in the darkness. I stumbled
here as well as I could. Master Lamont, I never want another journey
such as that; had not the saints watched over me I should not be here
to tell the tale. This is the blackest night in my remembrance."

"Do you think he can escape, Fritz?" asked Pierre Lamont.

"His life is not worth a straw," replied Fritz. "Look you here, Master
Lamont. If I were to see him tomorrow, or any other day, alive, I
should know that he is in league with the Evil One. No human power can
save him."

"Peace be with him," said Pierre Lamont. "A great man is lost to us--a
noble mind has gone."

"Master Lamont," said Fritz sententiously, "there is such a thing as
being too clever. Better to be a simpleton than to be over-wise or
over-confident. I intend to remain a fool to the end of my days. I
have no pity for such a man. Who climbs must risk the fall. Not rocky
peaks, but level ground, with bits of soft moss, for Fritz the Fool."

He slept well and soundly, but Pierre Lamont tossed about the whole of
the night, thinking with sadness and regret upon the downfall of the
Advocate.



                              CHAPTER V

                THE DOOM OF THE HOUSE OF WHITE SHADOWS


An unerring instinct guided him; a superhuman power possessed him; and
at midnight--though he could keep no count of time--he found himself
within the gates of the House of White Shadows. Upon his lips,
contracted and spasmodic with pain and suffering, appeared a pitiable
smile as he gazed at a window on the upper floor, and saw a light. It
was reflected from the window of Christian Almer's room.

"There they are," he muttered; "I shall not die unavenged."

The water was breast high. He battled through it, and reached the open
door of the villa. Slowly he ascended the stairs until he arrived at
the landing above. He listened at Christian Almer's door, but heard no
sound. Enraged at the thought that they might, after all, have escaped
him, he dashed into the room, and called out the names of his wife and
friend. Silence answered him. He staggered towards the lamp, which
stood on a table covered with a shade which threw the light downward.
Before the lamp was a sheet of paper, with writing upon it, and
bending over it the Advocate saw that it was addressed to him, and was
intended for his perusal.

A steadier survey of the room brought its revelations. At the extreme
end of the apartment lay a woman, still and motionless. He crept
towards her, knelt by her, and lowered his face to hers. It was his
wife, cold and dead!

A rosy tint was in her cheeks; a smile was on her lips; her death had
brought no suffering with it.

"Fair and false," he said. "Beauty is a sinful possession."

Her clothes were wet, and he knew that she had been drowned.

Then, turning, he saw what had before escaped his notice--the body of
Christian Almer, lying near the table. He put his ear to Almer's heart
and felt a slight beating.

"He can wait," muttered the Advocate. "I will first read what he has
written."

He was about to sit at the table when he heard a surging sound
without. He stepped into the passage, and saw the waters swaying
beneath him.

"It is well," he thought. "In a little while all will be over for
those who have sinned."

This reflection softened him somewhat toward those who lay within the
room, and by whom he believed himself to have been wronged. Was he not
himself the greatest sinner in that fatal house? He returned to the
table and read what Christian Almer had written.


"Edward:

"I pray that these words may reach your eyes. Above all things on
earth have I valued your friendship, and my heart is wrung with
anguish by the reproach that I have not been worthy of it. Last night,
when your wife and I parted, I knew that you had discovered the weak
and treacherous part I have played towards you, for as I turned
towards my room--at that very moment, looking downward, I saw you
below. I did not dare to come to you--I did not dare to show my face
to the man I had wronged. It was my intention to fly this morning from
your presence and hers, and never to see you more; and also to write
to you the words to which, by the memory of all that I hold sacred, I
now solemnly swear--that the wrong I have done you is compassed by
sentiment. I do not seek to excuse myself; I know that treachery in
thought is as base between you and me, as treachery in act. Yet in all
humbleness I implore you to endeavour to find some palliation, though
but the slightest, of my conduct in the reflection that sometimes in
the strongest men--even in such a man as yourself, whose mind and life
are most pure and noble--error cannot be avoided. We are hurried into
wrong by subtle forces which wither one's earnest endeavours to step
in the right path. Thus it has been with me. If you will recall
certain words which were spoken in our conversation at midnight in the
room in which this is written, you will understand what was meant when
I said that I flew to the mountains to rid myself, by a happy chance,
of a terror which possessed me. You who have never erred, you who have
never sinned, may not be able to find it in your heart to forgive me.
If it be so, I bow my head to your judgment--which is just, as in all
your actions you are known to be. But if you cannot forgive me, I
entreat you to pity me.

"You were not in the house to-day when we endeavoured to escape to a
place of shelter in which we should be protected from this terrible
inundation. We did not succeed--we were beaten back; and being
engulfed in a sudden rush of waters, I could not save your wife. The
utmost I could do was to bear her lifeless body back to this fatal
house. It was I who should have died, not she; but my last moments are
approaching. Think kindly of her if you can.

                                  "Christian Almer."


Had he not been absorbed, not only in the last words written by
Christian Almer, but by the reflections which they engendered, the
Advocate would have known that the floods were increasing in volume,
and that, in the short time he had been in the house, the waters had
risen several feet. But he was living an inner life--a life in which
the spiritual part of himself was dominant.

He stepped to the body of his wife and said:

"Poor child! Mine the error."

Then he knelt by the side of Christian Almer, and raised him in his
arms. Aroused to consciousness by the action, Almer opened his eyes.
They rested upon the Advocate's face vacantly, but presently they
dilated in terror.

"Be not afraid," said the Advocate, "I have read what you have
written. I know all."

"I am very weak," murmured Christian Almer. "Do not torture me; say
that you pity me."

"I pity and forgive you, Christian," replied the Advocate in a very
gentle voice.

"Thank God! Thank God!" said Almer, and closed his eyes, from which
the warm tears gushed.

"God be merciful to sinners!" murmured the Advocate.

When daylight broke, the House of White Shadows, and all that it
contained, had been swept from the face of the earth. A bare waste was
all that remained to mark the record of human love and human ambition.





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