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´╗┐Title: A Ring of Rubies
Author: Meade, L.T.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Ring of Rubies" ***

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A Ring of Rubies
By L.T. Meade
Published by Ward, Lock and Co Ltd, London.
This edition dated 1906.

A Ring of Rubies, by L.T. Meade.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
A RING OF RUBIES, BY L.T. MEADE.

CHAPTER ONE.

STORMING THE CITADEL.

I have often been asked to tell the story of the Ruby Ring, and I now do
so for the sake of my children.  It may instruct them a little; it will
certainly amuse and interest them.

I am nearly thirty now, but when the story of the ring happened, I was
between nineteen and twenty.  It is not so long ago, therefore, and all
the events stand out quite clear and strong in my memory.

We lived in the country, about thirty miles away from London.  There
were plenty of quick trains, even ten years ago, and my father and
brothers used to go to town every morning, and return in time for a sort
of mixed meal between dinner and supper, at night.

My mother and I had rather a dull life; the only event of any moment in
the twenty-four hours being the evening meal when the men of the family
were at home.

I was the only girl, and the youngest of the family.  I was not petted
nor made much of in any way; ten years ago girls were not fussed over as
they are now.  My father had none of the advanced ideas with regard to
women; he thought the less girls were heard of outside their homes, the
better.  He was a very good, honourable man, but a great autocrat.  What
he said and thought was echoed both by my mother and brothers.  They all
preached to me from morning till night the doctrine of staying quietly
at home, of doing nothing, and of waiting until your fortune dropped
into your lap.

Of course, we were horribly poor; not in the exciting sort of way of
wanting food, and a covering for our heads, or anything dramatic of that
sort; but poor in the way which takes the courage out of a young life
more than anything else--a penny had always to be looked at twice, a
dress had always to be turned twice, meals had to be scanty, fires
small, and my mother's whole time was spent contriving and planning how
to make two ends meet, consequently life was very narrow and dull.

One day, on a certain sunshiny morning, a few months after I was
nineteen, I awoke early, lay for an hour thinking hard, then jumped up
and dressed myself.  As I arranged my thick hair before the glass, I
looked attentively at my face.  I had a rather square face; the lower
part of it in particular was somewhat heavily moulded; my mouth had very
firm lines; my eyes were dark and deeply set.  Certainly I was not
beautiful, but my face had lots of character; I could see that for
myself.

"The present state of things cannot go on any longer," I mentally
soliloquised.  "I'll make a break in the dulness this very day.  The
fact of my being born a woman shall not shut me out from all joy in
life; I'll have the whole subject out with mother after breakfast."

"Rosamund," said my mother that morning, when my father and the boys had
gone to London, "will you put on your hat, and come with me into the
orchard to pick the late damsons?  I want to preserve them this
afternoon."

"Oh, wait until to-morrow, mother.  I have something important to talk
about; the damsons can keep."

My mother was very gentle.  Now she raised her brows a little, and
looked at me anxiously.

"It seems a pity to waste the time," she said.  "I know what you are
going to say, and I can't grant it.  I spoke to your father last night.
He says he cannot raise your quarter's allowance, so the new trimmings
must be dispensed with, poor Rose."

These were for my winter dress.  I was turning it, and mother and I had
planned how some new velvet would improve it.

"My dear mother," I said, going over to her, "yesterday I should have
been fretted about a trifle like this, but to-day it does not even seem
like a pin-prick.  I made a resolve this morning, mother, and I want to
talk it out with you now."

Every one in the house knew that my resolves were not to be trifled
with.  I did not often make them, but when I did, I metaphorically put
down my foot, and kept it down.  Even my father listened good-humouredly
when I had one of my great determinations on.

Now my mother gently sighed, gave up the damson jam on the spot, and
began to unroll her knitting.

"Be as quick as you can, Rosamund," she said, in a rather weary voice.

"I can say what I want to say in a very few words, mother, only please
don't interrupt me.  I am tired of my present life.  I want to do
something.  I want to go to town every morning, and come back at night."

My mother held up her hands.

"I want to earn money."

A look of agony came into my mother's gentle blue eyes.  I turned
slightly away.

"I have one talent, and I wish to cultivate it."  Here my mother _would_
interrupt.

"You have many gifts, my dear child," she said proudly.  "In particular
you have a great faculty for turning and contriving.  Most invaluable
under our circumstances."

"I hate turning and contriving," I burst out, "and I have only got one
real talent, and that is, for art.  I could be an artist."

"You are an artist, Rosamund; you paint beautifully."

"Dreadfully, you mean, mother.  I have no knowledge of perspective.  I
have no true ideas of colour; but I _could_ paint."

I felt sparkles of hope coming into my eyes, and I knew my cheeks were
flaming.

My mother glanced up at me admiringly.  "You look quite handsome, dear,"
she said.  "Oh, if I _could_ dress you properly!  Rose, when I was your
age I had nice clothes."

"Never mind that, mother dear; I shall have money to buy nice clothes
presently.  I want to cultivate what I feel is within me, I want to
cultivate the love which ought to become a power.  I love pictures; I
love dabbling with paints; my brush ought to be able to tell stories,
and it shall when once I have mastered the technical difficulties.  I
want to go to a school of art in London, to begin at the beginning, and
work my way up.  I should like best to go to the Slade School."

My mother opened her lips to speak.  I interrupted her.

"I know what you are going to say.  There is no money.  I have thought
that part out very carefully.  Mother, you _must_ consent!  Just for a
little bit of pride my whole life must not be spoiled.  Mother dear, it
_is_ dull at home, and I do so long for this.  Let me go and see Cousin
Geoffrey."

My mother started when I said this.  I knew she would, for Cousin
Geoffrey's name had always a potent, curious charm in our home.  It was
a name both of awe and admiration, and I felt quite sure when I spoke it
that I should secure immediate and profound attention.  Not that I had
ever seen Cousin Geoffrey.  I had heard of him all my life, but I had
never yet laid eyes on him.

No one who was at all intimate with my mother could be long in her
presence without hearing about Cousin Geoffrey.

She had the sweetest, most contented face in the world, but it generally
took an expression of melancholy mixed with envy and profound awe when
she spoke of this relative.

"Talk of riches!" she would say.  "Ah, you ought to know Geoffrey!  My
dears," she would constantly remark, "if I were your Cousin Geoffrey I
could give you so-and-so, but as it is,--" then she would sigh, and her
eyes would sometimes fill with tears.

Of course, my brothers and I were intensely curious about Cousin
Geoffrey; all the more so because we had never seen him--beyond knowing
that he lived somewhere in London, we were not even aware of his
address.  We never dared speak of him in my father's presence.  Once I,
impelled by an irresistible longing to break the overpowering dulness,
had whispered his name.  My mother had turned pale, my brothers had
instantly kicked me violently under the table, and my father left the
room, not to return again that night.

Of course, I did not mention Cousin Geoffrey's name any more when my
father was present, but not the less did I think of him.  He began to
assume to me more and more the character of a deliverer, and when I made
my resolution I decided that he should be my weapon with which I would
fight my way to success.

We never do know how our dreams are going to be fulfilled.  Certainly
nothing happened as I expected it.

It took me exactly a week to talk my mother round.  I may mention, in
passing, that there was no damson jam that year.  We spent all our
mornings in the little parlour; I talked very hard, my mother listened
very sorrowfully.

At the end of the third day she revealed to me the name of the street in
which Cousin Geoffrey lived, but a whole week passed before I had
sufficient particulars to act upon.  These were all I wanted.  I would
do the rest myself.

On a certain bright morning early in October, the beginning of a lovely
day, I kissed my mother, and accompanied my father and brothers to town.
They were under the impression that I wanted to buy a new winter hat.
They thought me extravagant to come so far for the purpose; they
expressed disapproval by their looks, if not by their words.  They were
all three of them men who thought it waste of breath to argue with a
woman.

I offered no explanations.  They read their papers and took no notice of
me.  When we got to Paddington, George, my youngest brother, offered to
put me in an omnibus which would, he said, set me down at Whiteley's
door.

"I am not going to Whiteley's," I said.

George stared.

"It is quite the cheapest place for what you want," he replied.  "But as
you are so absolutely demoralised, here is another omnibus which will
take you to Regent Circus."

I got into this omnibus, bade George good-bye, and, as I drove away,
felt that I had now really my fate in my own hands.

I had never been in London alone before, but I was glad to feel that my
heart beat quite evenly, and that I was in no way unduly excited.

"It is quite plain to my mind, Rosamund Lindley," I said, addressing
myself, "that you were meant to be a man.  You have the nerve, the calm
which is generally reserved for the male sex.  Here you are in great
London, and your pulse doesn't even flutter.  Keep up your courage,
Rosamund, and you will build the fortunes of your family."

We reached the Circus; the omnibus conductor gave me some directions,
and I walked up Oxford Street, stepping lightly, as the young and
hopeful should.

I did not know my way beyond a certain point, but policemen directed me,
and presently I found myself in an old square, and standing on the steps
of a house whose windows were grimy with dust, and the old knocker of
the ponderous hall-door rusty from want of use.

"My mother must be mistaken--Cousin Geoffrey must have moved from this
house," I said to myself.

Nevertheless, I raised the knocker, and made it sound sharply.  In the
course of a minute footsteps were heard in the tiled hall within.  Some
chains were withdrawn from the door, and a dreary-looking old man put
his head out.

"Is Mr Rutherford at home?"

The old man opened the door an inch wider.

"Eh?  What?  I'm a trifle deaf," he said.

I repeated my question more distinctly.

"Is Mr Rutherford within?"

"And what may you want with him?"

"My name is Rosamund Lindley.  I am his relative.  I want to see him."

"Eh, my dear," said the old man; "Geoffrey Rutherford has many
relatives, many, and they all want to see him.  It's wonderful how he's
appreciated!  Quite extraordinary, for he does nothing to deserve it.
I'll inquire if you can be admitted, Miss--Miss Lindley."

The old man shambled away.  He was so inhospitable that he absolutely
left the chain on the door.

He was absent for nearly ten minutes.  I thought he had forgotten all
about me, and was about to knock again, when he reappeared.  Without
saying a word he removed the chain from the hall-door and flung it wide
open.

He was about the shabbiest-looking servant I ever saw.

"Come this way," he said, when I had stepped into the hall.

He took me down a long passage, and into a room which was only lighted
from the roof.  The furniture of the room was handsome, but covered
everywhere with dust.  The leather of the high-backed chairs was
worm-eaten.

"Sit down, Miss Lindley," he said, motioning to one of them.

And then, to my astonishment, he placed himself before a high desk, and
began to write.

I am sure I must always have had a quick temper.  I thought this old
servant's manners intolerable.

"Go and tell your master, at once, that his relative, Rosamund Lindley,
is here," I said.  "Go, I am in a hurry."

He dropped his pen, and looked at me with the dawning of a smile playing
round his thin lips.

"And pray, who is my master?"

"My cousin, Mr Geoffrey Rutherford."

"I happen to be that individual myself."

I was really startled into jumping out of my seat.  I flopped back again
with a very red face, said "Oh!" and felt extremely foolish.

"What is your candid opinion of your Cousin Geoffrey, young lady?" said
the little man, jumping up and walking over to the fireplace.  "He is
the ideal sort of rich cousin, is he not?"

I laughed.  My laugh seemed to please the owner of the dirty house.  He
smiled again faintly, looking hard into my face, and said:--"I forget
your name, tell it to me again."

"Rosamund Lindley."

"Ah, Lindley!"  He started slightly.  "I have put down no _Lindleys_ in
my list of relatives.  Rosamund Lindley!  Are you my seventh, eighth, or
tenth cousin, child?  I have cousins, I assure you, twenty degrees
removed, most affectionate people.  Extraordinary!  I can't make out
what they see in me."

"My mother was your first cousin," I said boldly.  "Her name was the
same as yours--Rutherford.  Before she was married she was known to her
friends as Mary Rutherford."

I expected this remark to make a sensation.  It did.  The little man
turned his back on me, _gazed_ for a couple of minutes into the empty
grate, then flashed round, and pointed to one of the worm-eaten chairs.

"Sit down, Rosamund Lindley, you--you have astonished me.  You have
given me a shock.  In short you have mentioned the only relative who is
not--not very affectionate.  So you are Mary Rutherford's daughter?  You
are not like her.  I can't compliment you by saying that you are.  Did--
did Mary Rutherford send you to me?"

"Most assuredly she did not.  I have come entirely of my own free will.
I had to coax my mother for a whole week before she would even give me
your address."

"But she gave it at last?"

"I made her."

"She knows you have come then."

"It is impossible for her not to know that I have come.  But she is
angry--grieved--even frightened.  You could not have been at all kind to
my mother long ago, Cousin Geoffrey."

"Hush--chit!  Let your mother's name drop out of our conversation.  Now,
I will sit down near you, and we can talk.  You have come to see me of
your own free will?  Granted.  You are my relative--not twenty degrees
removed?  Granted.  Now, what can I do for you.  Rosamund Lindley?"

"I want you to help me," I said.

I spoke out quite boldly.

"You are rich, and I am poor.  It is more blessed to give than to
receive."

"Ha, ha!  You want me to be one of the blessed ones?  Very neatly put.
Upon my word, you're a brave girl.  You quite entertain me.  Go on."

My cheeks were very red now, but I was not going to be beaten.

"Cousin Geoffrey," I said, "we are all very poor at home, and I hate
being poor.  We have all to pinch and contrive, and I loathe pinching
and contriving.  I have a talent, and I want to cultivate it.  I want to
be an artist.  I can't be an artist without money.  I wish to go to one
of the good schools of art, here in London, and study hard, and work my
way up from the very beginning.  I have no money to do this, but you
have lots of money.  As you are my cousin, I think you ought to give me
enough money to learn art at one of the great schools here.  I think you
ought.  You are my relative--you ought to help me."

I had flung my words out almost defiantly, but now something seemed to
catch my voice; it broke.

"Oh, Cousin Geoffrey, this means so much to me," I said, half sobbing.
"How happy you can make me, and I will love you for it.  There, I will
love you!"

I knew I was offering him something greater than he could give me.  I
felt we were equals.  I ceased to sob, I stood up, and looked him full
in the face.

He returned my gaze with great solemnity.  A queer change came over his
very old face; his eyes were lit by an inward fire.  It was impossible
for me to tell whether he was pleased or not, but unquestionably he was
moved, even agitated.  After a brief pause he came up and took my hand
in his.

"You are a brave girl, Rosamund Lindley," he said.  "You are like your
mother, but you have more spirit than she ever had.  You are very
young--very, _very_ young, or you would not offer an old man like me--an
old miser, a person whose own heart is withered--such a gift as love.
What can a withered heart want with love?  You are very young, Rosamund,
so I forgive your rash words.  I will talk to you, however.  Sit near
me.  You may open that fresh heart to me if you feel inclined."

Cousin Geoffrey and I talked together for over an hour.  At the end of
that time he told me he was hungry, and that if I had no objection he
would go out and bring in some lunch for us both.

He was now quite confidential and friendly.  I made him laugh several
times, and although he had apparently turned a deaf ear to my request, I
fancied that I was getting on very well with him.

He made me chain the hall-door after him when he went out, and he
promised that he would not be longer away than he could help.  He
brought in two mutton-chops for our lunch, which he fried himself in the
most perfect manner, over a gas-jet in his sitting-room.  We had bread
with our chops, and some very rare wine, which was poured into tall
Venetian glasses of great beauty.

"I don't open this wine for my distant relatives," he said, with a
chuckle.  "But you, Rosamund--your courage deserves the best I can do
for you."

After lunch he took me all over his large house.  It was full of the
most valuable and costly furniture, but all worm-eaten and going to
decay from dirt and neglect.

He had some paintings of immense value in his drawing-rooms, and in his
library were several rare editions of costly books.

"I refused three thousand pounds for that Paul Veronese," he said,
pointing to a picture which I was too ignorant to appreciate.

"Then you, too, love art," I said.  "Of course you will help me."

"I love the great in art," he answered.  "But I despise the little.  And
of all things, what I most despise is the wild talk of the aspirant.
Rosamund, you are a good girl, a plucky honest girl, but you will never
be an artist.  Tut, tut!  There have not been more than a dozen real
artists in the world, and is it likely that you will be the thirteenth?
Go and darn your stockings quietly at home, Rosamund, and forget this
silly little dream."

I stamped my foot.

"If there have hitherto been only twelve artists I will make the
thirteenth," I said.  "There!  I am not afraid.  _I_ go and darn
stockings!  No, I won't, not while you are alive, Cousin Geoffrey."

I was angry, and I knew my eyes flashed angrily.  I had often been told
that my eyes could flash in a very brilliant and even alarming manner,
and I was well aware that they had now bestowed a lightning glance of
scorn on Cousin Geoffrey.

He was not displeased.

"Oh, what utter nonsense you talk!" he said.  "But you are a brave girl,
very brave.  Why, you are not a bit afraid of me!"

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

"Most of my relatives are afraid of me, child.  They choose their words
carefully; they always call me `dear Geoffrey,' or `dear Cousin
Geoffrey,' and they agree with every word I say.  It's awfully
monotonous being agreed with, I can tell you.  A daring chit like you is
a wonderful change for the better.  Now, come down-stairs with me.  You
and I will have tea together.  Rosamund, I wish you had a contented
soul."

By this time we had returned to the ugly sitting-room with the
sky-light.  Cousin Geoffrey had lit a fire with his own hands.  He was
now on his knees toasting some bread.  He would not allow me to help him
in the smallest particular.

"Rosamund," he repeated, "I wish you were contented.  Your ambition will
undo you; your pride will have a fall."

"Very well, Cousin Geoffrey, let it.  I would rather ride my high-horse
for a day, and have a fall in the evening, than never mount it at all."

"Oh, folly, child, stuff and folly!  There, the kettle boils.  No, you
need not help me, I don't want young misses with grand ideas like you to
touch my china.  Rosamund, do you know--that I am looking out for an
heir, or an heiress, to inherit my riches?"

"All right, Cousin Geoffrey, only pray don't choose me!"

"You, you saucy chit!  I want some one who's contented, who won't
squander my gold.  _You_!--really, Rosamund, your words are a little too
bold to be always agreeable."

"Please forgive me, Cousin Geoffrey.  I just came here to-day to ask you
for a little help--just a trifle out of all your wealth, and I don't
want you to think to think."

"That you have come prying round like the other relatives?  Why, child,
your eyes have got tears in them.  They look soft now--they were fierce
enough a few moments ago.  I don't think anything bad of you, Rosamund;
you are a brave girl.  You shall come and see me again."

"I will, with pleasure, when I come to London, to study art."

"Oh--pooh!--Now drink your tea."

After the meal was over, Cousin Geoffrey rose, and held out his hand.

"Good-bye, Rosamund," he said.  "I am glad you came to see me.  You are
your mother's daughter, although you have not got her face.  You may
tell her so if you like, and and--But no; I won't send any other
message.  Good-bye, Rosamund."

"Cousin Geoffrey, you have not told me--Cousin Geoffrey--you won't, oh,
you won't disappoint me?"

"Child, if I grant your request it will be against my will.  As a rule,
I never do anything against my will.  I disapprove of your scheme.  You
are just a nice girl, but you are no artist, Rosamund."

"Cousin Geoffrey, let me prove to you that I am."

"I don't want you to prove it to me.  There, if I think twice of this
matter you shall hear from me in a week."

"And if I don't hear?"

"Take my silence for what it means.  I respect art--only true votaries
must approach her shrine."

CHAPTER TWO.

COUSIN GEOFFREY.

I went home and waited for the week.  I was excited, I even felt
nervous.  I was not a particularly pleasant companion for my mother
during these days of waiting.  I felt irritable, and the merest trifle
made me speak crossly.  The boys (we always called my big grown-up
brothers "the boys") twitted me on my London visit.  They said my new
hat had not improved my temper, and, by the way, where was my new hat?

I said, if it came home it would be in a week.  I threw great mystery
into my voice when I made this remark, but the boys were essentially
matter-of-fact, and did not pursue the inquiry.

During this week my mother talked a great deal about Cousin Geoffrey.

At first she seemed almost afraid to ask me what had taken place during
the time I spent with him, but soon she got over her reluctance, and
then she was only too desirous to learn even the most remote particulars
that I could give her.

She both laughed and cried over my account of my interview.

"Just like Geoffrey!" she exclaimed, when I quoted his remarks about art
and artists.  "Just like Geoffrey," she said again, when I told her
about the mutton-chop cooked by his own hands, and the delicate and rare
wine served in the tall Venetian glasses.

My mother seemed to know his home well; she asked about the position of
certain pieces of furniture, and in particular she spoke about the Paul
Veronese.  _She_ knew its value well enough--she was no artist, but she
could appreciate its merits.  Her cheeks glowed, and her eyes grew
bright as she spoke of it.

"Ah, Rosamund," she said, "I helped him to unpack it--long ago--long,
long ago."

When I told my mother how Cousin Geoffrey said she was the only relative
who was not kind, she turned her head away.

I knew why she did this--she did not want me to see the tears in her
eyes.

The week passed.

I got up early on the morning which saw its completion, and went
down-stairs myself to answer the postman's ring.

There was no letter for me.  I did not cry, nor show disappointment in
any way.  On the contrary I was particularly cheerful, only that day I
would not talk at all about Cousin Geoffrey.

In the evening my father returned by an earlier train than usual; my
brothers had not come back with him.  He came straight into our little
drawing-room without removing his muddy boots, as his usual custom was.
My mother and I had just lighted the lamp; the curtains were drawn.  My
mother was bending over her eternal mending and darning.

When my father entered the room my mother scarcely raised her head.  I
did--I was about to remark that he was home in specially good time, when
I noticed something strange in his face.  He raised his eyebrows, and
glanced significantly towards the door.

I knew he wanted me to leave the room; he had something to say to my
mother.

I went away.  My father and mother remained alone together for about a
quarter of an hour.  Then he came out of the drawing-room, called to me
to get supper ready at once, and went up to his own room.

I helped our one maid to put the dishes on the table, and then rushed
into the drawing-room to my mother.

She was sitting gazing into the fire.  A stocking she had been darning
lay on her lap.  Her face was very pale, and when she turned round at my
step, I saw by her eyes that she had just wiped tears away from them.

"Rosamund," she said, in her gentle, somewhat monotonous voice, "my
child, you will be disappointed--disappointed of your hope.  Cousin
Geoffrey is dead."

I uttered a loud exclamation.

"Hush," said my mother.  "We must not talk about it before your father.
Hush, Rosamund.  Why, Rosamund, my dear, why should _you_ cry?"

"No, I won't cry," I said, "only I am stunned, and--shocked."

"Come in to supper," said my mother.  "We will talk of this presently.
Your father must not notice anything unusual.  Keep all your feelings to
yourself, my darling."

Then she got up and kissed me.  She was not a woman to kiss any one,
even her own child, often.  She was the sweetest woman in the world, but
she found it difficult to give expression to her feelings.  Her tender
caress now did much to make up for the sore and absolutely certain fall
of all my castles in the air.

The next day, I learned from one of my brothers that Cousin Geoffrey
Rutherford had been found seated by his desk, quite dead.  A policeman
had found him.  He had seen that hall-door, which was practically never
off its chain, a little ajar, and had gone in and found Cousin Geoffrey.

The day but one after the news reached us, my mother got a letter from
Cousin Geoffrey's lawyer.

"As you are one of the nearest of kin of the deceased, it would be
advisable that you should be present at the reading of the will."

"I think, Andrew," said my mother, handing this letter across the table
to my father, "that I will go, and take Rosamund with me; I am quite
sure Geoffrey cannot have left me anything," she continued, a vivid pink
coming into her cheek.  "Indeed, I may add," she continued, "that under
the circumstances I should not _wish_ him to leave me anything, but it
would give me gratification to show him the slight respect of attending
his funeral--and I own that it would also give me pleasure to see the
old house and the furniture again."

I had never heard my mother make such a long speech before, and I fully
expected my father to interrupt it with a torrent of angry words.  Even
the boys turned pale as they listened to my mother.

To our great astonishment her words were followed by half a moment of
absolute silence.  Then my father said in a quiet voice:--

"You will please yourself, of course, Mary.  I have not a word of advice
to give on this matter."

We buried Cousin Geoffrey in Kensal Green.  After the funeral was over
we all returned to the old house.

When I say "we all," I include a very goodly company.  I am almost sure
that fifty people came home in mourning-coaches to Cousin Geoffrey's
desolate house.

It presented, however, anything but a desolate appearance on the day of
his funeral.  No one who saw that long train of mourning relatives could
have said that Cousin Geoffrey had gone unsorrowed to his grave.  Now,
these sorrowing relatives wandered over his house, and after a cold
collation, provided by the lawyers out of some of Cousin Geoffrey's
riches, they assembled to hear the will read in the magnificent
drawing-room, where the Paul Veronese hung.

Mr Gray was the name of Cousin Geoffrey's lawyer.  He was a most
judicious man, and extremely polite to all the relatives.  Of course he
knew the secret which they were most of them burning to find out, but
not by voice, gesture, or expression did he betray even an inkling of
the truth.  He was scrupulously polite to every one, and if he said a
nice thing to an excitable old lady on his right, he was careful to say
quite as nice a thing to an anxious-faced gentleman on his left.
Nevertheless I felt sure that he could be irascible if he liked, and I
soon saw that his politeness was only skin-deep.

My mother and I did not join the group who sat round an enormous centre
table.  My mother looked terribly pale and sad, and she would keep me by
her side, and stay herself quite in the background, rather to the
disgust of some of the more distant relatives, who could not make out
who my mother was, nor what brought her there.

At last Mr Gray cleared his throat, put on his glasses, and looked down
at an imposing-looking parchment which lay on the table at his side.

Instead of opening the parchment, however, as every one expected, he
suddenly took off his glasses again, and made a little speech to all the
relatives.

"I may as well premise," he said, "that my good friend who has passed
away was extremely eccentric."

"Ah, yes, that he was, poor dear!  Undoubtedly eccentric, but none the
worse for that," murmured the red-faced old lady at Mr Gray's right.

He turned and frowned at her.

"I should feel obliged to you not to interrupt me, madam," he said.

"Quite right, too," said the testy old man on the left.

He got a deeper frown from the lawyer, who, after a moment's pause,
resumed his speech.

"Our friend was eccentric.  I make this remark with a reason.  I am
about to communicate some news which will astonish--and disappoint--
every individual in this room."

This short speech made a profound sensation.  All the relatives began
muttering, and I cannot say that I once heard poor Cousin Geoffrey
spoken of as "dear."

"I repeat for the third time," continued the lawyer, "the remarks I have
already made.  Our friend Geoffrey Rutherford was extremely eccentric.
He was not the least out of his mind, his brain was as sound, his reason
as clear as any man could desire.  Nevertheless he was a very uncommon
character.  He lived a queer, lonely, inhospitable life.  As regards
money he was miserly.  And yet, and yet," continued the lawyer, "I have
known him generous--generous to a fault."

"Perhaps you will oblige us by coming to the point, sir," here
interrupted the testy old man.

Mr Gray favoured him with a short, impatient glance.

"I will," he said.  "Yes, I will come to the point without further
delay.  The point is the will.  I am about now to speak of my friend's
will."

Here all the company settled down into a hushed, expectant state.  Their
interest was so keen that the proverbial pin might have been heard to
drop.

"If Geoffrey Rutherford was more eccentric in one particular than
another," continued Mr Gray, clearing his voice, "it was on the subject
of wills.  In the course of his long life he made several--to each of
these wills he added codicils.  The wills and the codicils were all
peculiar, but none, none so peculiar as the last.  It is with regard to
the last will and testament of my esteemed friend that I am now going to
speak."

"You will read us the will, perhaps, Mr Gray," interposed an
anxious-looking relative.

Mr Gray gave her a long glance.

"Under the circumstances, no," he said.  "My friend's last will is long,
and full of technicalities.  It is without a flaw anywhere; but to hear
it read would be tedious, and you must excuse me, ladies and gentlemen,
if I refuse to gratify what can only, at the present moment at least, be
regarded as idle curiosity.  For the will as it now stands affects no
one present."

"It is scarcely fair not to read it, however," said the red-faced lady.
"After a funeral the will is always read.  This is, I think, ordained by
law, and ought to be enforced."

"I am sorry," repeated Mr Gray, taking no notice of the old lady's
remark, which made her frightfully irate.  "It would be tedious to read
the will, so I decline to do so.  I have, however, a letter from my late
client, which embodies the principal provisions in it, and that I shall
be happy to read aloud for the benefit of every one present."

Here Mr Gray cleared his throat, and putting on his glasses, began to
read.

Cousin Geoffrey's letter ran as follows:--

  "My dear Gray:

  "The more I think over our interview to-day the better pleased I am at
  the arrangement we have arrived at.  You know how particular I am
  about my wills.  I regard them from a serious and even an artistic
  point of view.  I look upon a will as the crowning stone of a man's
  life, a crown to be placed on the shrine of his memory, a monument to
  hand down his name to the ages.  My last will pleases me much.  It is
  finished in all its details.  It is, I may venture to say, truly
  original.  I do not think it has a flaw in its construction, and, when
  carried into force, it will be a means of diffusing happiness and
  adding to the benefit of the human race.

  "As you are well aware, Gray, I am a rich man; the rich have many
  trials: they are the envied of the poor, and that in itself is
  disagreeable; they are also much worried by relations.  I have never
  married; there is, literally, not a soul in the world belonging to me
  who bears my name, and yet I have relatives--many relatives.  All my
  relations are kind, and solicitous for my welfare.  When I am dead
  they will one and all express sorrow at my departure.  There will be a
  goodly gathering of them at my funeral, and they will congregate
  afterwards at my house to hear my will read.  I don't wish my will to
  be read.  You, as my only trustee, are to take the necessary legal
  steps with regard to it, but I don't wish it to be read aloud to my
  relatives.  As, however, they will be naturally curious to know in
  what way I dispose of my property, you may mention to them, in any
  manner you think fit, the following particulars:

  "I have appointed in my will heirs to all my worldly estates, my
  property in lands and houses, in stocks and shares.  The names of my
  heirs I have not thought fit to disclose; they may turn up at any time
  between the date of my death and five years after, and whenever they
  do appear on the scene, prepared to fulfil a condition which I have
  named, my property goes to them as appointed in my will.

  "If, five years having gone by, the true heirs do not come to claim
  the property, one-half of it is to go to different charities named at
  full length in my will, and the other half is to be divided in equal
  shares among all my blood relations.

  "Until the end of the five years, or until the true heirs appear, my
  property is to accumulate; my furniture, plate, valuable china, and
  jewels are to remain unsold.

  "I have, however, given directions in my will that a certain small
  legacy is to be given without any delay to a young girl, the daughter
  of a relative.

  "This girl came to me a week ago with a request that I should give her
  sufficient money to enable her to attend a school of art.  I hate art
  schools; the word art, as applied to them, is a misnomer.  I have my
  own views with regard to art--she is a mistress who must be wooed in a
  very different manner.  This girl, Rosamund Lindley is her name, trod
  severely on my most cherished prejudices when she made her daring
  request.

  "To show, however, that I bear her good-will, I leave her, and request
  that it may be given to her at once, the valuable ruby ring which
  belonged to my mother, and which for many years I wore myself.  You
  will find the ring in my mother's jewel-case, in drawer fifty, room
  eight, in the second story of this house.

  "Rosamund Lindley and her mother may possibly attend my funeral.  I
  hope they will.  In that case, please give Rosamund the ruby ring in
  the presence of my other relatives, and, although I lay no command
  upon her in the matter, tell her, if she values the memory of old
  Geoffrey Rutherford, not to sell the ring.

  "I am, my dear Gray,--

  "Yours faithfully,--

  "Geoffrey Rutherford."

Immediately after reading the letter Mr Gray put his hand into his
waistcoat pocket, and drew out a small, old-fashioned morocco case.

"You will like, ladies and gentlemen, to see the ruby ring," he said, in
his blandest tones.

CHAPTER THREE.

THE OCTAGON ROOM.

There was immediately a great buzz and clatter in the room.  All the
relatives rose in a body, and pressed round the table near which Mr
Gray stood.  My mother and I, surely the most interested persons
present, were thus pushed quite into the background.

We had not a chance of seeing the ring until the other relatives had
first gazed at it.

It was taken out of its velvet bed, and handed solemnly from one to
another.  I don't think an individual praised it.  The comments which
reached my ears were somewhat as follows:

"What an old-fashioned shape!"

"Dear, dear, how clumsy!"

"The centre stone is large, but is it real?--I doubt it."

A very morose-looking Scotchman pronounced the ring "no canny."  A lady
near immediately took up the sentiment, and said that the gem had an
evil look about it, and she was truly thankful that the ring was not
left to her.

A gentleman, who I was told afterwards was a poet and wrote verses for
the magazines, said that the ruby itself had an eye of fire, and if it
were his he feared it would haunt him.

In short, one and all of the relatives expressed their scorn of the
ring, and their utter contempt for Cousin Geoffrey.  Not a woman in the
room now spoke of him as a poor dear, nor a man as an eccentric but
decidedly jolly sort of old boy.  There were several muttered
exclamations with regard to Cousin Geoffrey's sanity, but no expression
of affection came from a single pair of lips.

At last Mr Gray's voice was distinguished, rising above the general
din.

"If you will permit me, ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I should be
glad to show Miss Rosamund Lindley her property.  Allow me, madam."  And
he took the ring out of a sour-faced lady's hand.  Immediately all eyes
were turned on me.  I heard the stout person who had spoken of Cousin
Geoffrey as a "poor dear," pronounce me nothing but a chit of a girl.
Notwithstanding this withering comment, I had, however, the strength of
mind to come forward, and with outward calmness receive my property.

"Take all possible care of this ring, Miss Lindley," said the lawyer.
"If it has no other value, it is worth something as a curiosity.  The
setting of the gem is most uncommon."  Then he put the case containing
the ring into my hand.

One by one the relatives now left the room, and my mother, the lawyer,
and I found ourselves alone.

"If you will permit me," said my mother in her gentle, charming sort of
manner to Mr Gray, "I should like to go over Cousin Geoffrey's house,
and to look once again at the old furniture.  You are not perhaps aware
of the fact that I lived here for many years when I was a young girl."

Mr Gray smiled slightly.

"I happen to know some of Mr Rutherford's history," he said.

My mother blushed quite prettily, as if she were a young girl.  She
turned aside and took my hand in hers.

"We may go, then," she said.

"Undoubtedly you may go, Mrs Lindley, and pray do not hurry; take your
own time.  I am going to put a caretaker into this house, and until he
arrives shall stay in charge myself, so you and Miss Rosamund need not
hasten away."

My mother thanked Mr Gray, and then she and I began our pilgrimage.  I
don't think I ever before spent such an interesting afternoon.  Cousin
Geoffrey's death had cast me down and destroyed all the hopes on which I
had been building, still--perhaps it was the effect of the ring--I felt
a curious sense of elation.  The task of looking over the old house was
the reverse of depressing to me.  I never had been in such an antique,
curious, rambling old mansion before.  It was not like an ordinary
London house; it had unexpected nooks, and queer alcoves, and
marvellously carved and painted ceilings, and quaint balustrades and
galleries.  It must have been built a long time ago, and when the
precious London ground was comparatively cheap, for the building went
back a long way, and was added to here and there, so that it presented
quite an irregular pile, and I don't believe another house in London in
the least resembled it.  It towered above all its fellows in the square,
and looked something like a great king who owned but a shabby kingdom.
For the neighbouring houses were fifth-rate, and most of them let out in
tenements.

But Cousin Geoffrey's house was not only curious in itself--its contents
were even more wonderful.  I never saw a house so packed with furniture,
and I don't believe there was an article in it which had not seen at
least a hundred years.  The quaintest bureaus and chests of drawers
inlaid with brass and ivory and mother-of-pearl were to be found in all
directions.  There were great heavy glass cupboards full of rare and
wonderful china; there were spindle-legged tables and chairs of the most
approved last-century pattern; there were Chippendale book-cases, and
Queen Anne furniture of all shapes and sizes.  At the time I was not a
connoisseur of old furniture, but my mother was.  She told me the date
of the furniture of each room, and said that the house was so full of
valuables, that it would make in itself quite an interesting museum.  I
never saw my mother look younger or prettier.

"Ah, I remember this," she exclaimed, "and this--and this.  It was by
this mirror I stood when I was dressed for my first ball, and as a
little child I used often to climb on to this carved window-sill."

We came to a room presently which seemed to have been taken more care of
than the rest of the house.  Its approach was up a little turret stair,
and the room, when we entered it, was an octagon.  Each of the octagon
windows contained a picture in richly-coloured glass; the pictures
represented the same child in various attitudes.

"Oh, how lovely!"  I exclaimed.  "Even the dirt and the neglect can't
spoil these windows."

"No," said my mother, but she turned a little white, and for the first
time showed signs of fatigue.  "I did not know Geoffrey kept the room in
such order," she said.  "Why, look, Rosamund, look, it is fairly clean,
and the glass in this great mirror shines.  I believe Geoffrey took care
of this octagon room himself."

"This was your room, mother," I said, flashing round upon her, "and I do
believe this was your face when you were a child.  Oh, what lovely,
quaint, uncomfortable chairs, and _what_ a brass fender to the old
grate, and _what_ a wonderful bit of tapestry hangs across that alcove!
This was your room, your own, wasn't it, mother dear?"

"I used to sit here a good deal," answered my mother.  "And Geoffrey's
father had the windows representing childhood put in specially for me.
Poor Geoffrey!  I think he drew all the designs himself."

"Then Cousin Geoffrey was an artist?"

"Oh, my dear, did I never mention that?"

"No.  How could you have kept such an interesting secret to yourself?
And I talked art to him, and fancied myself so wise?"

"Rosamund dear, I am glad you have got the ruby ring.  From a man like
Geoffrey it means much.  Cousin Geoffrey must have taken a great fancy
to you, Rosamund."

"Well, mother, I wish he had left me some of his money."

My mother's face turned still paler.  She made no reply, but, walking
across the octagon room, she spent some little time examining the old
furniture, and touching it with reverent fingers.

"Rosamund," she said suddenly, "I am tired.  This day has been too much
for me.  We will go home now."

I took the ring home in my pocket.  This was a dangerous thing to do,
and Mr Gray looked somewhat grave as he saw me slip such a precious
relic into so insecure a hiding-place.

"_Do_ keep out of crowds," he said.  "Beware of pickpockets when you get
to Paddington, and, above all, keep your pocket side next your mother
when you get into the train."

I don't think I attended to any of these directions, but the little old
brown morocco case containing Cousin Geoffrey's legacy arrived safely at
Ivy Lodge, the name of our humble abode.

My mother and I got back in time for supper.  My father and the boys
arrived home as usual, and we sat down together to our supper.

I felt excited and full of my subject.

Surely on this night the departed relative might be mentioned; the
curious scene after the funeral might be detailed for the benefit of
those who were not present.  But, as we approached the table, my mother
held up a warning, finger.

"Not a word about Cousin Geoffrey," she whispered to me.

The evening meal was even more dull than usual.  No one alluded to the
events of the day.  George read a battered novel as he sipped his tea,
and my father perused the evening paper, as was his invariable custom.

After tea, Jack, my youngest brother, came up and asked me a question.

"Any money left to you by the old miser, eh, Rosey?"

"No, Jack, certainly not."

"Well, miss, you needn't look so fierce.  A pity not, say I.  Girls are
of very little value nowadays unless they have a good supply of the
chink to add to their charms."

"Jack, you are positively vulgar, I hate you to talk to me like that."

"All right, my dear.  I have no desire to have any further conversation
with you.  I'm dead tired and have a headache.  I shall go to bed."

Jack mounted the stairs to his own loft in the roof, and, as soon as
possible, I followed his example.  Having locked my door and lighted the
precious inch of candle which was all that was ever allowed me to go to
bed with, I took a key out of my pocket, and unfastening the box which
contained all my greatest treasures, proceeded to place some wax
Christmas tapers in various small sconces, and then to light them one by
one.  I had quite an illumination, as I sat down by my dressing-table to
examine leisurely the legacy which had been left to me that day.

I took the little case out of my pocket, pressed the spring, and gazed
at the treasure within.  The fire which lay in the heart of the ruby
leaped up at once to meet the illumination which I had made for it.  I
now perceived what I had not noticed before, that the ring contained
three rubies.  One of unusual size in the centre; one much smaller at
each side.  I saw at a glance that they had all eyes of fire, that they
were beautiful, fantastic, bewitching.  I suddenly pressed the little
ring to my lips.

"Gift from Fairyland, welcome!"  I said.  "Open, sesame, and let me into
your magical secrets!  My life is _so_ prosaic, _so_ commonplace.
Comfort me, little ring!  Reveal to me the world of romance!  Show me
dreams, bring to me visions!  Speak with those fiery eyes; speak, I
listen!"

I suddenly stopped this rhapsody with a laugh.

"If my respected father and brothers heard me now they would think that
I had taken leave of my senses," I soliloquised.  "Well, this is a dear
little ring, and I am glad Cousin Geoffrey gave it to me.  How small it
is--it won't go on my tiniest finger.  I wonder what kind of woman wore
it last.  It is of heavy make to be a woman's ring.  How solid the gold
is, and how quaintly carved.  I see there is the device of a serpent
worked very richly into the gold at each side, and the smaller ruby
forms the eye.  Really, this looks like witchery, a serpent with a fiery
eye.  Two serpents, rather, for each is complete in itself.  How much to
get into so little.  No wonder the ring is heavy.  Very different from
that little slender hoop of mother's which contains the single small
bright diamond, which used to delight me when I was a child."

Having examined the ring from every point of view I presently blew out
the precious Christmas tapers.  They were much too valuable to waste, so
I put them back into my box, placed the ring in its case by their side,
and got into bed.

The next morning I spoke to my mother.  "I have been disappointed in my
first effort to open the oyster-shell," I said.

"What do you mean, Rosamund?"

"Only that I must seek some other means to secure the necessary money to
take me to the Slade School."

"My darling, I wish you would put such a futile idea out of your head."

"Mother dear, I cannot.  It is fixed and established there by this time.
I must go to the Slade School, and I must find the means for defraying
the necessary expenses.  Now, if I were to sell my ruby ring--"

"Oh, Rose, you surely are not serious."

My mother's face turned pale with apprehension.

"I don't think I am," I said.  "I don't believe I could part with the
pretty thing.  I love it already.  Besides, Cousin Geoffrey did not wish
me to sell it."

"Rose, dear, your father doesn't know that Geoffrey left you the ring."

"Very well, mother, I shan't enlighten him."

"I believe that ruby ring is of considerable value," continued my
mother.  "I know it well.  It belonged to Geoffrey's mother, and was
left to her by an old ancestress, who brought a good deal of money and
considerable misery to the house.  Geoffrey's mother would never wear
the ring, but he was fond of it, and had a link made at the back to
fasten it to his watch-chain.  I know the large ruby in the middle is
worth a great deal."

All the time my mother was speaking she was going on with that endless
darning which always gave me a sore dull feeling in my heart.  If there
is a dismal employment it is darning, and my mother's little delicate
fingers looked as if they were surely never meant for such an ungainly
task.

"I wonder who Cousin Geoffrey has left all his money to?"  I said
suddenly.  "I wonder if the rightful heirs will appear within the five
years.  I certainly should not like any of the relatives to have it."

"I would not think about it, if I were you, Rosamund.  We, of course,
are completely out of it."

"I don't know why we should be.  You are one of the nearest relations."

"Well, dear, we are out of it, so that ends the matter."

My mother spoke with quite unwonted irritation.

"It was a very curious will," I said after a pause; "very eccentric."

"Geoffrey was always eccentric, Rose, I've told you so scores of times."

"I wish I knew who was the heir," I repeated, getting up restlessly and
standing by the fire.  "Mother, have you any messages for me to do in
town to-morrow?"

"In town?  Surely, Rosamund, you are not going up to London so soon
again.  You have got no money; how can you pay your fare?"

"Yes, I have half-a-sovereign from my last allowance."

"Oh, but that is extravagance."

"I can't help it, mother.  I must go to a jeweller to ask him to value
the ring.  Oh, no, I shan't sell it, but I cannot rest until I know its
value."

My mother looked vexed, but she knew it was useless to argue with me
when I had fully made up my mind.

"I do not know what girls are made of in these days," she remarked in a
plaintive voice.  "They are quite a different order of being from the
girl of eighteen whom I used to know, when I was young.  They are
obstinate, and are quite sure to tell their elders every hour of the day
that they know a great deal more about the ways and doings of life than
they do, that they are quite capable of guiding their own actions."

"Mother, you are not angry?"  I said suddenly.  "Oh no, dear," she
replied at once.

"I cannot help taking my own way, but I love you with all my heart," I
said irrelevantly.  "I must take my ring to town and have it valued, but
believe me, I shall do nothing really rash."

"I must trust you, Rose," she said then.  "You are a queer girl, but I
have never known you do a really imprudent thing in your life, except on
the rare occasion when you would force yourself on Cousin Geoffrey's
notice."

"Mother dear, was that rash?  I have got my beautiful ruby ring."

My mother smiled and said no more.  I left the room, knowing that she
would make no opposition to my going to town on the following morning.

When the day broke, I got up early, for I felt too restless to sleep.  I
wore my best dress when I came down to breakfast; and when my father and
brothers were ready to start for London, I accompanied them.

On the way up I noticed how ill Jack looked.  He had a much nicer face
than George, and I could have been fond of him had he ever shown the
slightest desire to win my regard.  But from his babyhood he was
reserved and morose, and shared my father's ideas with regard to women.
Jack was serving his time to a solicitor in the City.  At present he was
earning no money, but the happy day when he could add to the family
purse, and so relieve some of the dreadful burden of penury and scanty
living, was not far distant.  In two months' time he was to earn
sufficient to pay his weekly mite to the household exchequer.

George, who was three years older than Jack, was doing quite comfortably
as a clerk at Lloyd's, and already spoke of taking a wife, and having a
home of his own.  I used to wonder what sort of a girl George would
marry.  I must frankly say I did not envy her her husband.

This morning I found myself seated _by_ Jack's side in the railway
carriage.

"How is your headache?"  I whispered to him.

He looked round and favoured me with an almost glassy stare.  He knew I
spoke to him, but had not heard my question.  I repeated it.

"Oh, better, better," he said hurriedly.  "Don't speak of it, there's a
good girl," and he lay back against the cushions and closed his eyes.

I felt sure at once it was not better, but it was like Jack to shut
himself out from all sympathy.

We got to Paddington in good time, and I once more found myself in an
omnibus which would convey me to Regent Circus.  Presently I got there.
I had made all my plans beforehand.  I was a curious mixture of the
practical and romantic, and I thought it best not to rely entirely on
myself in choosing the jeweller who would value my ring.  I wanted to
get at the real value, and a jeweller who naturally would suppose I
wished him to be a purchaser, would think it his province to run the
ring down.  I knew a girl from our village, who was serving her time now
to a dressmaker in Great Portland Street.  The girl's name was Susan
Ford.  She had often helped me to turn my dresses, and was a very
sensible, matter-of-fact, honest sort of girl.  I knew she would do
anything for me, and as she had been over a year in London, she must
have a tolerably wide experience to guide her.

Regent Circus was only a few steps from Madame Leroy's address.  The
house bore the customary brass plate on its door.  I pulled the bell,
and a boy in buttons answered my summons.

"Is Susan Ford in?"  I asked.

The boy stared at me from head to foot, and made a supercilious and
irrelevant reply.

I saw at once that people who called to see the apprentices must not
expect politeness from the buttons.  Nevertheless I held my ground, and
said firmly that I wished to see Susan Ford if she could be spared to
speak to me.

"I'll take up your name, and inquire," Buttons finally condescended to
say.

I said I was Miss Lindley, from Thorpdale.  I was then requested to wait
in the hall, where I sat and shivered for quite five minutes.  At the
end of that time Susan, jubilant with smiles, joined me.

"Oh, Miss Rosamund, how kind of you!  How very kind--I am delighted!"

"Susan, I particularly want to ask your advice.  Would it be possible
for you to come out with me for a little?"

"Oh, miss, I'd like to, awfully, but I'm afraid it's against the rules.
Still, it would be a treat to take a walk with you, miss, and Madame
Leroy is very good-natured.  I have a good mind to try if she'd spare me
for an hour; we are not particularly full of orders just now."

"All right, Susan, do your best, for I really want your help," I
answered.

Susan nodded and disappeared.  In an incredibly short space of time she
returned, wearing a very smart jacket and stylish hat.  Oh, how dowdy I
looked by her side!

"I'm just given an hour, Miss Rosamund," she said.

The moment we got into the street I told her what I wanted.

"I have got a curious old ring with me," I said, "very old-fashioned; I
want to find out what it really is worth.  Do you know an honest
jeweller who will tell me the truth, Susan?"

Susan's eyes sparkled.

"There's lots of jewellers in Oxford Street, miss," she said.

"I don't wish to go to one of them.  They will fancy I want to sell, and
will run my ring down."

"Then," proceeded Susan, "there are men, Jews, most of them, who lend
ornaments to my missis, which she hires out to her ladies."

Susan's eyes shone very brightly when she revealed this little secret to
her country friend.

"Another time you shall tell me more about these jewellers," I replied.
"But they surely would be the least honest of all, and could not help us
to-day.  Susan, you must think again."

"I know an apprentice," said Susan.  "And he's very clever, and--and--
wonderful on stones, Miss Rosamund."

"Ah, I thought you were the girl for me to come to, Susan.  This
apprentice is just the person whom we want.  Where does he live?"

"Well, miss, if you'll come with me now we'll catch him just before he
goes to his dinner.  Sam is honest, if you like, miss, blunt I call
him."

"Take me to Sam without a moment's delay," I said.

We walked quickly, and presently found ourselves in Hanway Street.  We
turned into a small shop.  A lad of about twenty was selling a china cup
and saucer to an old lady.

The shop was full of all kinds of dirty, quaint, curious things.  It
reminded me a little bit of Cousin Geoffrey's house.  The lad had red
hair; he winked at Susan, and I saw at once that I was in the presence
of Sam.

Presently the lady customer left the shop in a considerable huff, and
without the cup and saucer.

"She'll come back fast enough, I've hooked her," said Sam.  "The old
'un'll be pleased.  I most times hook a couple of customers in the
morning, and the old 'un is always delighted.  Your pleasure, ladies?
How do, Susan?"

All the favourable opinion I had formed of Susan Ford was abundantly
verified by her conduct during this interview.  Sam examined the ruby
ring from every possible point of view, he squinted frightfully over it.
He turned on the gas, and caused its rays to pierce through the heart
of the gems.  They leaped up as if with living fire.

Presently he said that it was his bounden duty to consult the old 'un.
Before I could expostulate he had vanished with the ring into an inner
sanctum.  He came back in the course of ten minutes.

"How will you take it, miss?" he said.  "In notes or gold?"

For a moment I felt too petrified to speak.

"What do you mean?"  I presently gasped.  "I don't want to sell the
ring."

"Oh, come now, miss, that's a good 'un!  You know better than that.
Don't she, Miss Ford?"

Susan bridled and got very red when she was addressed as Miss Ford.
But, being my staunch friend, she came quickly to the rescue.

"Miss Lindley knows her own mind, Sam," she said severely.  "She don't
want to sell the ring, only to value it."

Sam, looking intensely mysterious and amused, darted once more into the
back room.

"I wish he would give me back my ring," I said to Susan.

"Oh, it's all right, you let Sam manage it his own way," retorted Susan.

After what seemed an interminable five minutes, Sam returned.  His face
was now quite pale, and his voice had an awe-struck sound about it.

"I never knew anything like it," he said, "never in all my life, but
it's true for all that.  The old 'un'll give you one hundred and fifty
pounds for the ring, miss."

I was nineteen years old, and I had never in the whole course of my life
possessed ten pounds at a time.  The idea, therefore, of walking out of
that shop with one hundred and fifty pounds in notes and gold, all my
own, my very own, was something of a temptation.  Nevertheless I stood
firm.

"I don't mean to sell the ring," I said, "whatever it is valued at.  I
know now that it is worth not only one hundred and fifty pounds, but a
considerable sum more.  I cannot, however, get the exact value out of
your master, as he wants to become the purchaser.  I will, therefore,
say good-morning.  Come, Susan."  Susan, casting a somewhat withering
glance at Sam, followed me into Hanway Street, and we presently found
ourselves back again at the large house in Great Portland Street.

"Good-bye, miss," said Susan.  "I wish with all my heart I could ask you
in, but I can't, and there's an end.  I'd be delighted to help you in
any other way, miss, about the ring, and if ever you do want to sell, I
have no doubt Sam and his master will still hold to their offer."

"Yes, but I shall never want to sell my ring," I replied somewhat
proudly.  Then I bade Susan a hearty good-bye and returned to Oxford
Street.

I had some idea of calling on Mr Gray, of taking him into my
confidence, of asking him to advise me as to the best means of becoming
a pupil at the Slade School.  But I abandoned this idea for the present,
and decided to take the next train home to my mother.  Before doing this
I went into Peter Robinson's, and purchased two yards of delicate
pearl-grey ribbon to put in her best cap.

"Sweet, pretty mother!"  I said to myself.  "How I should like to buy
real Honiton lace to trim that cap, and a pearl-grey silk dress to match
this ribbon; and how I should love to give her the daintiest food and
the most beautiful luxurious home, and to take away that coarse darning,
and that rough horrid mending, and that grinding poverty for ever."

I could do a great deal if I sold Cousin Geoffrey's ring.  A great deal,
but not all, and I must not part in a hurry with a legacy which was not
only beautiful, but had such a substantial money-value.

I popped my bit of ribbon, therefore, into my pocket, looked sadly at
the few remaining shillings in my purse, and took the next train back to
Thorpdale.

I arrived at Ivy Lodge in time for an afternoon cup of tea with my
mother.  I was very hungry, for I had not ventured on the extravagance
of lunch in town, and while I ate, I regaled her with the account of my
morning's adventures.  She was by no means astonished when she heard
that the old Jew dealer had offered me one hundred and fifty pounds for
the ring.

"It is worth a good deal more than that," she said.  "I know the centre
ruby has been priced at a very high figure by more than one connoisseur.
Nevertheless, you are not going to sell the ring, are you, Rosamund?"

"It would pay my expenses at the Slade," I said somewhat mischievously.

My mother was about to reply when we were both startled by hearing the
sound of a latch-key in the hall-door lock.  I opened the door of the
little drawing-room and peeped out.

"Jack!"  I exclaimed.  "What has brought you back at this hour?"

"My headache is worse," he replied, "I could not stay in town, so I came
home."

"Oh, I am sorry," I said.  "Mother, Jack has come home with a bad
headache."

My mother stepped into the hall.

"You are looking very ill indeed," she exclaimed.

Jack growled in that peculiarly ungracious way which always drove me
wild when it was addressed to our mother.

"I am not ill," he said.  "What a fuss women make!  I have just got a
beastly headache."

"Come into the drawing-room, and have a cup of tea, my dear boy."

"I could not sit up, thank you, mother.  I'll go to my room, and see
what a stretch on the bed and a nap will do for me.  If Rosamund likes
to be good-natured, she can bring me up some tea in half an hour."

I did not particularly wish to be good-natured; nevertheless, at the
time specified I took the tea to Jack.  He sat up when I entered the
room; there were feverish spots on his cheeks.

"Bother that tea!" he exclaimed.  "Put it down, and shut the door,
Rosamund.  Now come over, and sit near me.  If I don't tell you what is
the matter, I shall go mad."

CHAPTER FOUR.

BORROWED!

I sat down at once by Jack's bedside.

"What are you going to tell me?"  I asked.

"How prosaic you are, Rose."

"Well, you never like me to make a fuss."

"That is true, and no doubt you will act sensibly in the present
emergency.  It is nice to be pitied, and affection is of value, but
sense, oh yes, unquestionably common sense comes first of all."  I could
not help gazing at Jack with wide-open round eyes while he was speaking.

"You never in your whole life asked me to show feeling or affection," I
managed to gasp out.  "What do you mean by regretting it now?  Your head
must be wandering."

"Well, well, Rose, perhaps it is.  It certainly aches badly enough to
account for any vagaries in my speech.  But now to business--or rather
to the kernel of the matter.  Rose, I am going to be very ill, _very_
dangerously ill--do you understand?"

"I hope I don't, Jack.  You have a bad headache, which will soon get
better."

"I repeat, I am going to be dangerously ill.  I have taken fever.  I
know the symptoms, for I have watched them in another."

"In another?  Whom do you mean?  When have you been with a
fever-stricken patient?"

"You will start when you hear my next words.  I have been nursing my
wife through fever."

"Jack--your wife!  Are you married?  Oh, Jack!"

"Well, go on, Rosamund.  Get over your astonishment.  Say, `Oh Jack!' as
often as you like, only believe in the fact without my having to repeat
it to you.  I am married.  My wife has scarlet fever; I have nursed her
till I could hold up no longer, and now I have taken it myself."

I looked full into my brother's face.  It was flushed now, and his brown
eyes were bright.  He was a big fellow, and he looked absolutely
handsome as he sat up in bed with the fever gleam shining through his
eyes, and a certain sad droop about his still boyish mouth.  I own that
I never found Jack so interesting before.  He had behaved very badly, of
course, in marrying any one secretly, but he was the hero of a romance.
He had feeling and affection.  I quite loved him.  I bent forward and
kissed him on his cheek.

"Go on," I said.  "You want me to help you.  Tell me all the story as
quickly as you can."

"But you will shrink from me when you know all."

"No, I promise that I won't.  Now do go on."

"I believe I must tell you quickly, for this pain rages and rages, and I
can scarcely collect my thoughts.  Now then, Rosamund, these are the
bare facts.  Six months ago I fell in love with Hetty.  Her other name
doesn't matter, and who she was doesn't matter.  I used to meet her in
the mornings when she walked to a school where she was teaching.  We
were married and I took her to some lodgings in Putney."

"But you had no money."

"Well, I had scarcely any.  I used to make an odd pound now and then by
bringing home work to copy, and Hetty did not lose her situation as
teacher.  She still went to the school, and she told no one of her
marriage.  I meant to break it to you all when I began to get my salary,
for you know my time of apprenticeship will expire at Christmas.  Things
wouldn't have turned out so badly, for Hetty has the simplest tastes,
poor little darling, if she had not somehow or other got this horrible
scarlet fever.  She was so afraid I'd take her to the hospital; but not
I!--the landlady and I nursed her between us."

"But, Jack, where did you get the money?"  The heavy flush got deeper on
my brother's brow.  He turned his head away, and his manner became
almost gruff.

"That's the awkward part," he growled.  "I--I borrowed the money."

"From whom?"

"Chillingfleet."

"Mr Chillingfleet?  He's the head of your firm, isn't he?"

"Yes, yes.  I went into his room one day.  His private drawer was open;
I took four five-pound notes.  That was last Monday.  He won't miss them
until next Monday--the day he makes up his accounts.  I thought Hetty
was dying, and the notes stared me in the face, and I--I _borrowed_
them.  He has tens of thousands of pounds, and I--I borrowed twenty."

"Jack--Jack--you stole them!"

I covered my face with my hands; I trembled all over.

"Oh, don't, Rose! call me by every ugly name you like--there, I know I'm
a brute."

"No, you're not," I said.  I had recovered myself by this time.  I
looked at his poor flushed face, at his trembling hands.  He was a
thief, he had brought disgrace upon our poor but honest name, but at
this moment I loved him fifty times better than George.

"Listen to me, Jack," I said.  "I won't say one other word to abuse you
at present.  What's more, I will do what I can to help you."

"God bless you, Rosamund.  You don't really mean that?  Really and
truly?"

"I really and truly mean it.  Now lie down and let me put these sheets
straight.  This is Friday.  Something can be done between now and
Monday.  Are you quite sure that Mr Chillingfleet will not find out the
loss of the notes before Monday?"

"Yes, he always banks on Monday, and he makes up his accounts then.
Rose, you have got no money; you cannot save me."

"I have certainly got no money, Jack, but I have got woman's wit.  Have
you spent all the twenty pounds?"

"Every farthing.  I owed a lot to Mrs Ashton, Hetty's landlady."

"Now you must give me Hetty's address."

"Oh, I say, Rose, you are a brick!  Are you going to see her?"

"Yes, of course."

"Are you going to-day?"

"I'll go, if I possibly can."

"You must be very gentle with her, remember."

"I'll do my best."

"And for goodness' sake don't frighten her about me."

"No."

"You must make up some kind of excuse about me.  You must on no account
let out that I have caught this horrible thing.  Do you understand,
Rosamund, if Hetty finds this out it will kill her at once."

"I'll do my very best for you, Jack.  I won't do anything to injure
Hetty.  I don't know her, but I think I can promise that.  Now, please,
give me her address."

"Twenty-four, Peacock Buildings, fourth story, care of Mrs Ashton.
When you get to Putney, you turn down Dorset Street, and it's the fifth
turning to the right.  Can you remember?"

"Yes, yes.  Now lie still.  I am going to send mother to you."

When I reached the door, I turned and looked back.  Jack was gazing
wistfully after me, his eyes were full of tears.

"Rose, you're a brick," said the poor fellow; and then he turned his
face to the wall.  I closed the door very softly and went down to the
drawing-room where mother sat.

I went up to her, and took the mending out of her thin, white hands, and
bending down kissed her.

"What is the matter, Rose, my dear?" she said.  We were not a family for
embraces, and she wondered at this mark of demonstration.  When she
raised her eyes to my face, she could not restrain a little cry, for
with all my efforts I did not absolutely conceal the marks of strong
emotion.

"Mother," I said, "you must put away your mending for the present."

"Why so, my dear?  I am particularly anxious to get on with this
invisible darning, for I wish to begin to refront Jack's shirts
to-morrow."

"The shirts must keep, mother.  Jack wants you for something else just
now--he is very ill."

"Ill?  Poor fellow, he did look as if he had a bad headache."

"Yes, I think we ought to send for Mr Ray."

"What!  For the doctor?  Because of a headache?  Rose, dear, are you
getting fanciful?"

"I trust not, mother, but I really think Jack is ill, and I am afraid it
is more than a headache that ails him."

"What do you know about illness, child?"

"Well, mother dear, go up yourself and see."  My mother went softly out
of the room.  Her light footsteps ascended the creaking stairs.  I heard
her open Jack's bedroom door and shut it behind her.  In about five
minutes she had rejoined me in the drawing-room.

"Rose, will you put on your hat, and go round to Mr Ray, and ask him to
call at once."

My mother now spoke as if the idea of fetching the doctor had originated
with herself.

"Jack is very ill, Rose," she said, looking at me, pathetically.

"Yes, mother, I fear he is.  Now, listen to me, please; if you are going
to nurse him, you are not to be tired in any way; you are to have no
anxieties down-stairs.  When I go out, mother, I am going to fetch in
Jane Fleming as well as Mr Ray."

Jane Fleming was a very capable woman who lived in the village; she
could take the part of housekeeper, nurse, cook, dressmaker, as occasion
offered.  She was quiet and taciturn, and kept herself, as the
neighbours said, "to herself."  I felt that Jane would be a safe person
to listen to Jack's wanderings, and that my mother might safely sleep
while Jane watched by the sick man's side.

Accordingly I said, "I will fetch in Jane Fleming," and I turned a deaf
ear when my mother murmured the word expense.

"If the worst comes I will sell the ruby ring," I thought to myself,
"but I won't sell it unless all other resources fail me."

I put on my hat and jacket and went out.  The shades of evening were
already falling.  I was dreadfully afraid that I might meet my father
and George.  I did not wish to see them at that moment.  I felt that
their coldness and want of sympathy would unnerve me.  They would have
every reason to be cold, for why should they fuss themselves over Jack's
bad headache? and yet I, knowing the tragedy which lay beneath that
apparently commonplace pain, felt that I could not stand the slight
sneer of indifference which would greet my announcement at that moment.
Jack, compared to George and my father, was a very black sinner indeed.
The cardinal sin of theft could be laid at his door.  He was guilty of
gross deception; he was weak, he was imprudent, nay more, he was mad,
for by what sacred right had he bound his own life to that of another,
when it was impossible for him to fulfil the vows he had taken?

And yet, Jack, I loved you better than I had ever done before in my
whole life at that moment; now in your pain, your helplessness, your
degradation, I would spare you even from a sneer.  You trusted me, Jack,
and I resolved to prove myself worthy of your trust, and, if possible,
if in any way within my power, to save you.

I walked down the village street, and reached Jane Fleming's house.  She
was ironing some collars in her neat kitchen.

"Jane," I said, "my brother Jack is ill, and mother wants you to go up
and help to nurse him."

"Yes, Miss Rosamund," replied Jane, in her quiet, unsurprised way.  "Am
I likely to be required for the night, miss?"

"Yes, Jane, you certainly are."

"I'll be at Ivy Lodge in ten minutes, miss," replied Jane Fleming.

I left the house without another word.  Mr Ray lived a little farther
off, but I was lucky in finding him also at home.  I asked him to call
to see Jack at once, and then I turned off in the direction of the
railway station.  I must be really wary now, for it would be fatal to
Jack's peace of mind were my father and George to see me going to town
at that hour.  I managed to elude them, however, and going into the
ladies' waiting-room scribbled a little note to my mother.

"Dear mother," I said, "you must not be at all anxious.  I am going to
town on important business for Jack.  Don't on any account tell father
and George, and expect me home some time to-morrow."

I gave my note to a small boy who was lounging about outside the
station.  He was to deliver the little note into Jane Fleming's hands.
No one else was to get it.  I knew Jane sufficiently well to be sure she
would give it to my mother unobserved.

Shortly afterwards my train came up, and I found myself being whirled
back to London in a second-class compartment.  Fares were cheap on our
line, and I was relieved to find that I had five shillings still
untouched in my purse.  I got to Paddington in a little over half an
hour,--the train I travelled by was an express,--and then stepping into
an omnibus I was carried slowly, and with many provoking delays, to
Regent Circus.  I had never been in London by night before, and the
dazzling lights and pushing crowds would have nonplussed me considerably
another time.  Under ordinary circumstances I might have felt
uncomfortable and even a little afraid.  Every idea of strict propriety
in which I had been brought up would have protested against the
situation in which I had placed myself.  I was a lady, a very young
lady, and it was not correct for me to perambulate these gaslit streets
alone.

As it turned out, however, I had no time for fear, nor was there the
smallest cause for alarm.  No one noticed the plainly, almost dowdily
dressed girl, as with dull apprehension in her eyes, and a queer reserve
fund of fortitude in her heart, she hurried along.

I soon reached the house I had visited early in the morning, and almost
gave Buttons an electric shock by once more inquiring for Susan Ford.  I
knew that it was necessary to propitiate Buttons, and poor as I was I
expended sixpence on that worthy.

"Go and tell Susan that I _must_ see her without fail, and at once," I
said.

Buttons stuck his tongue into his cheek, very nearly winked at me, but
refrained, and promising to do his best, vanished.

Susan was evidently busy at this hour.  I sat for nearly a quarter of an
hour in that cold stone-flagged hall waiting for her.  She came down at
last, looking perplexed and even cross.

"My missis _is_ in a temper, Miss Rosamund.  Of course I'm delighted to
see you, miss, but I can't stay; I really can't.  We're all in no end of
confusion up-stairs.  Oh, Miss Rosamund, you do look cold and white!  I
wish I could take you up to my room, but I just daren't.  Is there
anything I could do for you, miss?  Please say it as quick as you can."

I clutched hold of Susan's shoulder.

"You know the ring," I said.

"Oh yes, miss; you don't want me to go back to Sam with it now, miss?"

"No, no, no!  I am not going to sell my precious ruby ring; but, Susan,
you said to-day that your mistress sometimes hired out jewels.  Fine
ladies, who wanted to look extra fine, borrowed jewels.  Of course, when
they borrowed, they paid.  Look at my ring once again, Susan.  See!
Here under the gas-lamp, does it not sparkle?  Would not the gems look
well on a small, fair hand?"

While I was speaking Susan remained motionless, but I noticed that she
began to breathe hard and quick.

"I do believe that this will set everything right," she said, "I do most
positively believe it.  You give me the ring, miss, and stay here.  I'll
be back in a minute; don't you stir till I come back to you, Miss
Rosamund."

"Listen, Susan, I must have money for the ring, money down.  The more
you can get the better, and I'll hire it out for one night only.
Remember that, Susan, I only hire out the ring for one night."

"All right, miss, give me the ring at once.  This may set matters
straight again.  There ain't no saying.  I'll attend to all you want,
Miss Rosamund, never you fear."

Susan almost snatched the old-fashioned little case out of my hand,
sprang up the stairs three steps at a time, and vanished.

I waited in the great, cold, empty hall with no other companion than my
fast-beating heart.

I had a curious sense of loneliness and even desolation, now that I had
parted with the ring.  It seemed to me that Cousin Geoffrey was near,
and that he was looking at me reproachfully.  I almost regretted what I
had done; if I had known where to find Susan I would have rushed after
her, and asked her for my ring back.

As it was, I had to restrain my impatience as best I could.  Perhaps
Susan would be unsuccessful; perhaps in a moment or two she would bring
me back the ring.  She did nothing of the kind.  She kept me waiting for
a quarter of an hour, then she came back with five pounds in her hand.

"My missis is awfully obliged to you, Miss Rosamund, and--and here's
five sovereigns, miss.  I couldn't get more, I couldn't really."

"And my ring, Susan, my ring?"

"You'll have it back to-morrow, miss."

"But is my precious ring safe?  Is it in the house?  Where is it?"

"Where is your ring, Miss Rosamund?"  Susan stared at me, and spoke
almost pettishly.  "Didn't you say you wanted to hire the ring out,
miss?  Well, and haven't I done it?  The ring is out--it's seeing
company to-night, that ruby ring; it's having a fine time; it belongs to
grand folk for the night, and it's seeing life, that's what it is.  Oh,
I wish I was it!  I think, Miss Rosamund, that ring is going to have a
lovely time."

"And you're sure I shall have it back by to-morrow?"

"Why, of course, miss.  You come here about twelve o'clock.  I shouldn't
be surprised if Madame wanted to do another hire with it; she seemed
mighty taken with the big ruby, and I dare say the young lady who wears
it to-night may want it again.  But of course that's as you please,
miss."

"Of course, Susan.  Well, I am very much obliged to you, and I will call
to-morrow at noon."  I slipped the five sovereigns into my purse, shook
hands with Susan, and left the house.  I felt wonderfully independent;
the touch of the gold had done this.  It was marvellous with what a
sense of power I now looked around me.  I felt at that instant what a
gulf there was between the rich and the poor.  With five shillings I
could be timid; with five pounds I could be wonderfully calm, collected,
and brave.

I walked as composedly down the gaslit streets as if I had done so every
evening of my life.  I entered a grocer's shop and bought half a pound
of tea, very good tea.  I also bought sugar, Brand's meat jelly, and a
pound of paraffin candles.  As I was leaving the shop I thought how fond
mother was of rusks when she was ill.  I turned back and got some.  I
was now quite laden with parcels, and as I knew I must purchase several
more, and could not possibly carry them all in my hands, the next thing
was to secure a basket.  I was not long in discovering a sort of bazaar,
where miscellaneous articles of every description were to be had.  I
chose a serviceable basket, paid for it, popped my groceries in, and
went out.  I soon added to the store a chicken, two pounds of beef for
beef-tea, a loaf of bread, and some fresh butter.  Finally I placed on
the top of the basket a bunch of fine hothouse grapes, two or three
lemons, some oranges, and, lastly, a great lovely bunch of
chrysanthemums.

Now, I felt that I was ready for Putney.

I retraced my steps to Regent Circus, and after a little delay found
myself in an omnibus which would finally land me at Victoria.

I need not describe my brief journey to Putney; I had no adventures on
the road.  No one spoke rudely to me, or stared at me, or molested me in
any fashion.  The train was punctual, and my fellow-passengers civil.

When I got out at Putney station I did not lose my way, for Jack's
directions were explicit, and my head felt wonderfully clear.

It was, however, between nine and ten o'clock at night when I arrived at
the lodging-house where my brother's poor young wife lay ill.

I knocked at the door, and the landlady, who had watery eyes and an ugly
sodden sort of face, presently answered the summons.

She opened the door about six inches, and stared at me suspiciously from
head to foot.

"Does Mrs Lindley live here?"  I asked.

"No, there's no one of that name in the house."  She prepared to shut
the door in my face.

"Stay," I exclaimed, pressing my hand against the panel of the door,
"there is a young lady here who is very ill.  I am her husband's sister,
and I have come with a message from him, and I have brought several
things that she wants.  I must see her at once."

The landlady looked at the heavy basket in my hand.  She glanced at my
face, which I am sure was resolved in expression.  She listened to my
voice, which was firm.

"Oh, you mean Mrs Gray," she exclaimed.  "Yes, poor thing, she's as bad
as bad can be.  I suppose you had better come up and see her, if you
have any message from her husband.  It's a perfect worry to hear her
calling out for him all the time, and maybe you can quiet her down a
bit."

The landlady mounted the narrow stairs slowly.  They were dirty, as
stairs in all such houses are; there were many gaps in the banisters,
and many sad rents and signs of wear on the greasy carpets.  I could
have moralised, as I walked up the stairs behind the broad-backed
landlady.  I could have stored up materials for an excellent little
essay on the shady side of lodging-house life.  But my heart was too
full just then to think of anything but the girl whom I was about to
visit, the girl whom my brother had married without even giving her his
rightful name.

Poor people are often the proudest, and we Lindleys had what is commonly
called "honest pride."  That simply means that we _were_ honest; we had
no double dealings; we paid our way not only with coin of the realm, but
with promises which were kept, with endeavours which terminated in
results.  It could not enter into our heads to cheat our brothers; we
could do without luxuries, but we could not part with even a
hair's-breadth of honour.

The first scapegrace in a family like ours causes, therefore, those
anguished blushes, those shrinkings of the soul which are about the
worst forms of pain.  I felt as if I were being roasted at a slow fire
of public condemnation as I followed Mrs Ashton up-stairs.  I was
almost sorry at that moment that my conscience was so tender.

The landlady did not stop until she reached the attic floor; then she
turned and pointed to the door of a room which was slightly open.

"Mrs Gray's in there," she said; "you can go in."

She did not offer to come with me.  On the contrary she turned her broad
back and descended the stairs with many bumps and bangs.  I walked
softly into the small low attic which had been thrown open for my
entrance.

My steps were light, and the room was almost entirely in shadow, for the
fire had gone out, and one solitary candle was already dying in its
socket.

Light as my footfall was, however, it was heard, for a high-pitched,
querulous, weak voice said instantly:--

"Is that you, Jack?  Is that really you at last?"

"No," I replied to the voice, "I am not Jack, but I am the next best
thing, I am Jack's sister.  I have brought you a great many messages
from him.  Now lie quite still, until I light a candle, and then I will
tell you everything."

The figure in the bed gave utterance to a queer kind of astonished
groan, but no further sound of any kind came from the lips.  I fumbled
in my basket until I found the pound of candles; I lit one at the
expiring embers in the socket, found two showy candlesticks on the
mantelpiece, filled both, and lighted them, and then, going over to the
bed, bent down to take a good look at my sister.

I saw a small dark face; two big beautiful eyes looked up at me; a weak
little peevish mouth trembled; the lips were drawn down; I saw that
tears, and perhaps hysterics, were close at hand.  I touched the girl's
forehead with my hand, it was damp from weakness, but there was no
fever.

"Before I tell you any of my story I must make you comfortable, Hetty,"
I said.

"Hetty?" she whispered, in a kind of terror.  "How _do_ you know
anything about me?"

"Jack has told me, of course; it's all right, I assure you.  He is
prevented coming to-night, so I am going to be your nurse.  Oh, yes, I
will talk to you presently, but not yet, not until you have had some
food, and I have made you comfortable."

I now observed that the girl's face was ghastly pale.  Yes, the fever
was gone, but she was in almost the last extremity of weakness.  I
rushed again to my basket, took out the tin of Brand's jelly, opened it,
and gave her a spoonful.  It acted as a stimulant at once, and I felt
that I might leave her while I ran down-stairs to interview the
landlady.

Oh, the wonders that a purse full of money can effect!  With the chink
of that gold I softened Mrs Ashton's obdurate heart.  Jack's wife
became "Poor dear!" and an object of the deepest interest in her eyes.
She bundled up-stairs herself, to re-light the fire in the miserable
attic.  She supplied me with unlimited warm water, clean towels, and
clean sheets, and when I asked her if she could roast a fowl, and send
it up hot in about an hour's time, she readily promised to do what I
required.

In her absence I affected wonders in the attic room.  I made it cheerful
with fire-light and candle-light.  I opened the window and let in some
purer air.  Having fed my patient, I proceeded to comb out her beautiful
curly dark hair.  I then washed her face and hands, and made the bed
over again with the clean sheets.

When the landlady brought up the fowl nicely done to a turn, we were
both ready for it.  The good food, the care, the cheerful light, the
purer atmosphere had already done wonders for Hetty.  She lost the
nervous, frightened manner which at first had made it almost distressing
to speak to her.  Her eyes shone; the colour dawned faintly in her white
cheeks, and when I fed her with tender bits of chicken, she even smiled
up into my face with a world of love and gratitude in her eyes.

"You are good to me, miss," she whispered.

"You must not call me miss, my name is Rosamund.  I am your husband's
sister."

But this allusion made her blush painfully, and she drew once more into
her shell.

When Hetty and I had finished our chicken, I set what was left carefully
away, and putting out one of the candles sat down by the bedside, and
told my new sister that she must go to sleep.

"But you, miss?--oh!  I beg your pardon,"--she stopped, confusion in her
tone.

"Never mind," I said, soothingly.  I saw this was not the time to
commence her education.  "Go to sleep," I said, and bending forward I
touched her forehead lightly with my lips.  Her eyes looked full back
into mine.  I had never seen such a wealth of love in any eyes.  The
lids fell languidly over them.  She obeyed me with a happy, satisfied
sigh.

CHAPTER FIVE.

LADY URSULA.

Hetty slept fairly well.  I sat broad awake by her bedside.  I was too
young, too fresh, too strong to be exhausted by this evening's
excitement and hurry.  I was not tired enough to drop asleep in the hard
chair by my sister's bedside.  My pulses were beating high.  I sat all
through the long night, excited, anxious, full of a thousand forebodings
and troubles.  I gave my patient Brand's jelly and grapes when she woke
in the night, and early in the morning I boiled an egg, made some crisp
toast, and a teapot of fragrant tea, and gave Hetty her breakfast.
Afterwards I washed and dressed her; I combed out her hair, and tied it
into a soft mass.  I straightened the bed, and made it look as tidy as
such a miserable bed could be, and then putting some grapes within
reach, and the flowers on a little table, where she could look at them,
I ran down-stairs to interview the landlady.

"I am glad to tell you," I said, "that my sister seems much better this
morning."

"Oh, ay, miss, I'm sure I'm pleased to hear it."  The landlady was all
beams and curtsies.  "I always said, pore dear, that it was care she
wanted--and all I could I give her, as Mr Gray can testify; but when a
woman has got to 'arn her living 'ard, she has no power to spend much
time a-cookin', and a-cleanin', and a-nursin', and a-messin'.  It's
always a-nursin' and a-messin' with the sick, and I han't got the time,
so I'm glad you has come in, miss."

"Yes, but I must go away for some hours," I said, "and I want my sister
to be taken all possible care of in my absence.  Will you do that for
me, Mrs Ashton?  I will come back as early in the afternoon as I can."

"To be sure I will, my dear."

"Here is a piece of paper on which I have written what she is to eat,
and how often she is to be fed."

"Well, dear, I'll do my 'umble best.  I'm not good at readin' and
writin', but Mary Ann in the kitchen can spell out what you has writ
down, miss, I make no doubt."

I left the paper in Mrs Ashton's hands, and went back again to Hetty.

"Hetty," I said, "I must go away for a few hours.  Mrs Ashton will take
all possible care of you."  I stopped, distressed by the piteous,
helpless expression on her face.

"Mrs Ashton doesn't take any care of me," said Hetty.  "She leaves me
all day long, and never, never comes near the room.  Yesterday the fire
went out, and I got so hungry, so dreadfully hungry.  Then the hunger
went off, and I felt only cold and very faint.  I thought perhaps I was
dying.  Don't leave me with Mrs Ashton, miss."

"You must call me Rosamund, Hetty.  Now listen.  Don't tremble, dear.  I
am obliged to leave you.  I have a mother and father, and--and--
brothers.  Your Jack is one of my brothers.  I will come back again as
soon as ever I can; and when I come I shall probably bring you a message
from Jack."

"Won't Jack come to see me himself to-day?"

"I'm afraid not.  Jack does not forget you, Hetty, but the fact is, he
is ill.  He has a bad headache, and has to be nursed."

"Oh," she said gently, and without any of the alarm I had anticipated.
"Sometimes his head aches fearfully, I know; I have seen it.  I have sat
up all night nursing his headache.  Who is taking care of him now?"

"His mother and mine, the tenderest and best of human beings."

I felt a break in my voice as I said this.  I knew my mother was no
longer first in Jack's affections.  I felt an unreasonable and
ridiculous sense of jealousy on my mother's account.

"Good-bye, Hetty," I said hastily; "I will bring you news of Jack; and
try and believe one thing--the Mrs Ashton of yesterday and the Mrs
Ashton of to-day are two distinctly different people.  You will be taken
care of, my dear, and remember I expect to see you looking quite bright
and well this evening."

Then I ran down-stairs and out of the house.  It was still too early to
go to Madame Leroy's, but the comfortable chink of gold in my purse
enabled me to spend my time profitably.  I laid in fresh provisions both
for Hetty and for Jack.  At twelve o'clock exactly I arrived at Madame
Leroy's.  To my surprise Susan herself opened the door for me.  I think
she must have been waiting on the mat inside, for the moment I rang, the
door was pulled open, and Susan said breathlessly:

"Oh, come in, Miss Rosamund, come up-stairs."

"Where is my ring, Susan?"  I said, resisting her impetuous push.  "Give
me back my ring at once and let me go.  I have really a great deal to
do, and have not time to wait to chat with you."

"It isn't me, miss, as wants to keep you, it's Madame Leroy herself."

"Madame Leroy?  What _do_ you mean?"

"And I haven't got the ring, miss.  When I asked Madagie for it this
morning, she said, `When the young person calls, show her up to my
private room at once.'  She said `young person,' miss, meaning no
offence, but the moment she claps her eyes on you she'll know you are a
lady born."

"I don't care what she calls me, Susan; if I must see her, I must, I
suppose.  Show me to her room at once."

Susan ran on before me, past the first floor, and the second, and on to
the third floor of the great house; where she paused, and knocked
deliberately at a certain door which wanted paint, and was altogether
very shabby.

"Come in," said a voice, and I found myself in the presence of Madame
Leroy.

I suppose this great _artiste_, as she would term herself, had a certain
figure, manner, eye, tone which were capable of not only inspiring awe,
but of tickling vanity, of whetting desire, of ministering to the
weakest passions of the silliest of her sex.  I may as well own at once
that her arts were thrown away on me.

She was a handsome dark-eyed woman, full in figure, tall in stature, and
with what would be called a commanding presence.  I was only a slip of a
girl, badly dressed, and with no presence whatever.  Nevertheless, I
could not fear the fashionable and pompous being.

"Will you kindly return me my ring, Madame Leroy?"  I said brusquely.

Madame favoured me with a sweeping curtsey.

"I presume I am addressing Miss Lindley?" she said.  "Pray take a seat,
Miss Lindley--I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

The moment she spoke I perceived that she was not French.  She was an
English or an Irish woman, probably the latter.  Her name was doubtless
an assumed one.  I did not take the chair she proffered me.

"I have come for my ring," I said, in a voice which I really managed to
make very firm and business-like.  "I brought it to you last night, and
you very kindly paid me five pounds for the loan of it.  I want it back
now.  Your servant said that if I called at twelve o'clock I should have
the ring back."

"I wish you would take a chair, Miss Lindley; I want particularly to
speak to you about the ring.  I am pleased to be able to impart to you
some good news.  I--" Madame Leroy paused, and slightly smacked her
lips.  "I have found a purchaser for your ruby ring, Miss Lindley."

I felt my cheeks turning very red.

"You are kind," I replied; "I dare say you mean to be good to me when
you say you have a purchaser for the ring.  But I don't want to sell
it."

"Not want to sell it!"  Madame Leroy looked me all over from the crown
of my hat to the tips of my shabby boots.  Then putting on her pince-nez
she scrutinised my face.  I knew perfectly well the thoughts that were
filling her mind.  She was saying to herself:--"You are a poor specimen
of humanity, but if I, the great _artiste_, had the dressing of you, I
might make you at least presentable.  The idea of a chit like you
presuming to refuse to sell a trinket!"

"I don't want to sell my ring," I said.  "But it is possible that I may
lend it to you another evening.  Even that I am not sure about.  Give it
back to me now, please."

I held out my hand.  Madame Leroy drew back.

"I am very sorry," she said, reddening; "the fact is, I have not got the
ring."

"Not got my ring?"

"No.  Lady Ursula Redmayne borrowed the ring last night.  She sent me a
messenger this morning with a letter, and no ring.  Shall I read you her
letter?"

"I do not care to hear it," I said.  "It is no matter to me what Lady
Ursula Redmayne writes to you.  I want my ring."

"Well, miss,"--Madame Leroy's tone was now decidedly angry,--"seeing how
very anxious you were last night for the immediate loan of five pounds,
you have a mighty independent way with you.  Lady Ursula Redmayne,
indeed!  I can tell you it isn't every one as has the privilege of
getting letters from Lady Ursula."

While Madame Leroy was speaking I had a great many flashes of thought.
Her first words recalled me to myself.  A girl who had come in
desperation to hire out a family trinket for what she could get for it,
was surely inconsistent when she disdained even the suggestion of a
future patron.  Lady Ursula, whoever she was, would buy the ring.  Of
course she must not have it, I must be a great deal harder pressed
before I could consent to part with my Talisman, my "Open Sesame" into
the Land of Romance.  But I knew that I _did_ want money.  I wanted
twenty pounds before Monday, if I would help Jack--I wanted further
money if I would continue to assist his wife.

All these thoughts, as I say, flashed through me, and by the time Madame
Leroy had finished speaking, I had quite altered my tone.

"I am sorry to appear rude," I said.  "I know you were very kind to help
me last night.  Will you please tell me what Lady Ursula says about my
ring?"

"Candidly, my dear, she wants to buy it from you.  Here is her letter.
She says:--

"`Dear Madame Leroy,--You must get me that lovely ruby ring at any
price.  I refuse to part from it.  Name a price, and I will send you a
cheque.'

"There's a chance for you," said Madame Leroy, flinging down her letter.
"You can't say I have not been a good friend to you after that letter.
Name any price in reason for that old ring, and you shall have it--my
commission being twenty per cent."

"But I don't wish to sell the ring, Madame Leroy."

"I am sorry, Miss Lindley, I am afraid you have no help for yourself.
Lady Ursula Redmayne intends to buy it."

This was not at all the right kind of thing to say to me.  I was very
proud, and all my pride flashed into my face.

"You think because I am poor, and Lady Ursula is rich, that she is to
have my property?"  I said.  "You must send a messenger for the ring at
once.  I will wait here until he returns."

Poor Madame Leroy looked absolutely stupefied.

"I never met such a queer young lady," she said.  "How can I send a
message of that sort?  Why, it will offend my best, my very best
customer.  If you have no pity on yourself, Miss Lindley, you ought to
have some on me."

"What can I do for you, Madame Leroy?  I cannot sell the ring."

"Well, you might go yourself to Lady Ursula.  She is eccentric.  She
might take a fancy to you.  You might go to her, and explain your
motives, which are more than I can understand.  And above all things you
might exonerate me; you might explain to her that I did my best to get
the ring for her."

"I could certainly do that."

"Will you?"

"I will go to Lady Ursula, if it does not take up too much of my time."

"She lives in Grosvenor Street, not five minutes' drive from here.  You
shall go in a hansom at my expense at once."

CHAPTER SIX.

THE ARISTOCRAT.

The house in Grosvenor Street was the most splendid mansion I had ever
seen.  It was Cousin Geoffrey's house over again, only there were no
cobwebs, no neglect, no dirt anywhere.  The household machinery was
perfect, and well oiled.  I suppose I ought to have felt timid when
those ponderous doors were thrown open, and a powdered footman stared at
me in the insolent manner which seems specially to belong to these
servitors of the great.  I had no feeling of abasement, however.  The
lady, be she young or old, who resided in this palace, wanted a boon
from me; I required nothing at her hands except my own property back
again.

I said to the footman:

"Is Lady Ursula Redmayne at home?"

He replied in the affirmative.

"I wish to see her," I continued.  "Will you have the goodness to let
Lady Ursula know at once that I have called at the request of Madame
Leroy to speak to her on the subject of a ring."

A sudden flash of intelligence and interest swept over the man's
impassive features.  Then he resumed his wooden style, and flinging the
door yet wider open invited me to enter.

I was shown into a small room to the left of the great entrance hall,
and had to consume my own impatience for the next ten minutes as best I
might.  At the end of that time the servant returned.

"Come this way, madam," he said.

He ushered me up a flight of stairs, down another flight of stairs,
along a dimly-lighted gallery hung with many Rembrandts and
Gainsboroughs, and suddenly opening a door ushered me into a kind of
rose-coloured bower.  There was a subtle warmth and perfume about the
room, and the coloured light gave me for a moment a giddy and unnerved
feeling.

"Miss Lindley, your Ladyship," announced the man.  The door was softly
closed, indeed it seemed to vanish into a wall of tapestry.

The rose-coloured light had for an instant confused my sight, and I did
not see the girl, no older than myself, who was lying back in an
easy-chair, and pulling the silken ears of a toy-terrier.

When the man left the room she sprang up, flung the dog on the ground,
who gave a squeaking bark of indignation, and came to meet me as if I
were a dear old friend.

"Sit down, Miss Lindley.  How good of dear old Madame to send you to me!
And so you are the owner of that heavenly ring?"

Lady Ursula was very pretty.  Her voice was like a flute; her dress was
perfection; her manner almost caressing.  But even there, in that
rose-coloured bower, I recognised her imperiousness, and I felt that if
she were crossed her sweet tones would vanish, and I should be permitted
to gaze at a new side of her character.

"You have come about the ring," she said.  "Now, what _do_ you want for
it?  It is a treasure, but you won't be too extravagant in your demands,
will you?"

"I won't be extravagant at all, Lady Ursula," I cried.  "I have no
demand to make, except to ask you to let me have my property back."

"The ring back?  The ruby ring?  Oh, my dear good creature you don't
understand.  I wrote to Madame Leroy offering to buy it.  I will give
you a cheque for it, Miss Lindley--or gold, if you prefer it.  You shall
have a price for the ring.  Your own price, if it is not beyond reason.
Now do you understand?"

"I understand perfectly," I replied--I am afraid my tone was nettled--I
certainly felt very angry.  "I understand," I said.  "You want me to
sell the ring--I don't intend to sell it.  It was a legacy left to me by
a cousin, and I--I won't part with it."

I said these words so decidedly that the fine young lady, who all her
life had lived luxuriously, and, perhaps, now for the first time in her
existence had her whim refused, stared at me in amazement.  Her brows
became contracted.  Her pleasant, kindly, but insufferably condescending
manner changed to one more natural although less amiable.  Lady Ursula
ceased to be the aristocrat, and became the woman.

"You won't sell your ring?" she said.  "But you did much the same last
night.  Last night you took money for the ring left to you by your--your
cousin.  I wore the ruby ring, and I paid you money for the loan."

"I know you did," I answered.  "I wanted money last night.  I was in
despair for money.  I heard through one of her apprentices that Madame
Leroy now and then hired out jewels to some of her rich customers.  You
wore the ring and paid me for it.  Now I want it back.  I am in a hurry,
so please let me have it at once."  I stood up as I spoke.  Lady Ursula
did not stir.

"Sit down," she said.  "No, not on that stiff little ottoman, but on the
sofa, close to me.  Now we can talk cosily.  This seems an exciting
story, Miss Lindley, and you have an exciting way of putting things.
Fancy you, wanting money so badly as to have to hire out your ring.  I
always knew there were creatures in the world who would do anything to
secure money, but I had not an idea that ladies were put to these
straits."

"You know very little indeed about the lives of some ladies," I
answered.  "The need of money comes to some who are ladies, and it
presses them sore."

"It must be awfully interesting and exciting," responded Lady Ursula.

"It is both.  At the same time it is cruel; it stabs horribly."

"Ah."

Lady Ursula looked me all over from head to foot.

"Then you don't want money to-day," she said suddenly.

"Yes, I do."

"As badly as you did last night?"

"I think so.  Yes, I believe I want it quite as badly."

"Then you will sell your ring; if the want of money stabs and is cruel,
you will take what opportunity offers.  For the sake of a sentiment you
won't refuse to enrich yourself, and remove the pain which you speak of
as so bitter."

"I won't sell my ring," I said.  "I am sorry to disoblige you, Lady
Ursula, but the question is not one which leaves any room for
consideration.  I want my ring back.  Will you give it to me, please?"

I really don't know how aristocratic girls are brought up.  I suppose
they have a totally different training from girls who live in cottages,
and are very poor.  There is compensation in all things, and no doubt if
self-denial is a virtue the cottage girl has a chance of acquiring it
which is denied to the maid who inhabits the palace.

If I never performed any other mission, I shall always feel that I was
the first person who did for Lady Ursula Redmayne the inestimable
service of saying "No" to a strong desire.

It took this beautiful young woman several moments to realise that she
absolutely could not have her way; that the humble and poor cottage girl
would not part with her legitimate property.

When Lady Ursula realised this, which she did after a considerable and
fatiguing discussion, she sat silent for a moment or two.  Then she
jumped up and looked out of the window.  She pulled aside the soft
rose-coloured silk curtains to take this peep into the outer world.  Her
eager dark eyes looked down the street and up the street.  For all her
languor she was now fully alive and even quick in her movements.  With a
pettish action she let the rose curtains cover the window again, and
going to the fireplace pressed the button of an electric bell.

In a moment an elderly woman dressed in black silk, with a book-muslin
apron, and a white cap with long streamers of lace, appeared.

"Nurse," said Lady Ursula, "please give orders that I am not at home to
any callers this morning."

"I will attend to the matter, my lady," answered the nurse.  "But if
Captain Valentine calls?"

"I am not at home--I make no exception."

The nurse respectfully withdrew, and the door, which opened into the
tapestry, was noiselessly closed.

"Now," said Lady Ursula, turning to me, "I am going to confide in you,
Miss Lindley."

I felt quite cross.  I was dying to be home with mother and Jack, and
wondering if my poor new sister Hetty was being starved by Mrs Ashton.

Lady Ursula looked at me with an expression which seemed to say--

"Now you are having an honour conferred on you."

In reply to it, I rose to my feet, and I think some of the crossness in
my heart got into my face.

"Thank you," I said, "but I have only a moment to give you.  My brother
is dangerously ill at home, and I must go back as soon as possible."

Lady Ursula slightly raised her delicate brows.

I think she scarcely heard what I said about my brother.

"Do sit down," she said, "I won't keep you a moment.  What a queer girl
you are! but very refreshing to meet.  Now do sit down.  You can't go,
you know, until you get your ring.  Miss Lindley, I must confide my
story to you.  I am engaged."

I bowed my head very slightly.

"To Captain Rupert Valentine.  He is in the Guards.  Would you like to
see his photograph?"

I murmured something.  Lady Ursula stretched out her hand to a table
which stood near, took up a morocco case, which she opened, and showed
me the dark, slightly supercilious face of a handsome man of about
thirty.

"Don't you admire his expression?" she said.  "Isn't it firm?  Doesn't
he look like the sort of hero a girl would be proud to obey?"

"That depends on the girl," I answered.

"Good gracious, there isn't a girl in the kingdom who would not be proud
to be engaged to Rupert Valentine."

"I hope you will be very happy, Lady Ursula."

"There is not the least doubt on that point.  We are to be married
immediately after Christmas.  Now comes the real point of my confidence.
Rupert gave me an engagement ring exactly like yours, so like, that
only the closest observer could detect a difference.  The ring belonged
to his mother, and he valued it above all other earthly things."

"Yes," I said; I was really interested at last.

"Yesterday I lost the ring.  I don't know how.  I was out driving, and I
may have pulled it off with my glove when I was shopping.  I went to
Madame Leroy's among other places.  When I came back my ruby ring was
gone.  I cannot conceive how it vanished.  I went very nearly mad on the
spot, I really did.  I dared not face Rupert, and tell him his
engagement ring was lost.  All search was made for its recovery, but in
vain.  Nurse took the carriage round, and went from shop to shop to try
and get some trace of it.  In the end she visited Madame Leroy.  I was
to meet Rupert at a friend's house last night.  While nurse was at
Madame Leroy's your ring was brought in.  Imagine her astonishment and
rapture!  Here was a mode of deliverance for me in case my own ring was
never recovered.  I wore your ruby ring last night, Miss Lindley, and
Captain Valentine noticed it, and said that beautiful as he had always
known his mother's rubies to be, he had never seen them flash as they
did on my finger last night.  How relieved I felt, and how certain that
you would let me buy the ring from you.  You will, now that I have
confided my trouble to you, won't you?"

"I am sorry," I said, "but I must repeat the words I have used already
so often.  I cannot part with the ruby ring.  It was left to me by an
old cousin of mine, and when I received it I was particularly requested
never to part with it.  I am sorry for you, Lady Ursula, but I must ask
you to give me my ring, and let me go."

Lady Ursula put her hands behind her.

"You are a cruel, selfish girl," she said angrily.

"No, Lady Ursula, I am not cruel.  The world, which has been so gentle
to you, has blown many hard rough winds on my face, but they have never
made me cruel.  And as to being selfish, why should I part with my one
ewe-lamb?"

"Oh, dear!" said Lady Ursula.

She rose from her seat, and began to pace up and down the room.  I
noticed that she was a tall, largely-made girl, and could be as vigorous
and energetic as any one when she chose.  She clenched her dainty hands
now and spoke with passion.  "I repeat that you are cruel and selfish,"
she said.  "I know that you can plead your cause well; for I suppose you
are clever, and have doubtless been educated at one of those detestable
High Schools.  But let me tell you that however you argue the point you
are actuated by cruel motives.  What _can_ that ring matter to you? and
if I don't get it, most likely my engagement will be broken off.  Thus,
you see, you will have ruined my life."

"Lady Ursula," I said, "it is _you_ now who are cruel.  I have my own
reasons for wishing to retain my own trinket, and surely the only right
and honourable thing for you to do is to tell Captain Valentine of your
loss.  If he is the least worthy of your affection, he will, of course,
overlook what was only an unfortunate accident."

"No, he never will--he never, never will.  You don't know what he
thought of that ring.  I'd rather never see him again than tell him that
his mother's ruby ring was lost."

"Well, I am truly sorry for you.  But I don't see my way to helping
you."

"Listen.  Hire me the ring for a week--only for a week, and I will give
you thirty pounds."

I must admit that this proposal staggered me.  I thought of Jack, and
the stolen twenty pounds.  I thought of Monday morning, when the
discovery of the theft would be made known.  I thought of the agony, the
dishonour; I saw my mother's face as it would look when the news was
brought to her that her son was a thief.  Yes, thirty pounds could do
much good just then; it would save Jack, and it would give me funds to
attend to Hetty's wants.

Lady Ursula saw the hesitation in my face.

"Give me one week's grace," she said.  "My own ruby ring may be found
before the week is up."

She opened a little exquisitely inlaid secretary, and began to pull out
of a secret drawer notes and gold.  She made a pile of them on the
table--four five-pound notes, ten sovereigns.  The yellow of the
sovereigns seemed to mix with the rose-coloured tone of the room.  I
gazed at them as if they fascinated me.  I half held out my hand to
close over them, and then drew it back again.

"You will take the money--you want it, I know you do," said Lady Ursula.

"But even if I do you will be no better off at the end of a week.  In
fact, you will be worse off, for you will have been all that time
deliberately deceiving the man you intend to marry."

"Oh, don't begin to lecture me!  Let the end of the week take care of
itself!  Here are thirty pounds!  Give me the ring for a week!"

"I shall do very wrong."

"Do wrong then!  Take your money!  You are looking greedily at it!  Take
it, you long for it!"

"I do long for it," I answered.  "If I take it, Lady Ursula, it will
avert such a storm as girls like you can never even picture.  It will
save--Oh, have you a mother, Lady Ursula?"

"Of course I have.  I don't see her very often.  She is at Cannes now."

"If I take the money," I said, "it will be only for a week, remember."

"Very well.  Of course you will take it.  Out with your purse.  Nay,
though, you shall have a new purse, and one of mine.  What do you say to
this, made of red Russian leather?  Here go the notes, and here the
gold.  Pop the purse into your pocket.  Now, don't you feel nice?  We
have both got what we want, and we can both be happy for a week."

"I will come back in a week," I said.  I felt so mean when that thirty
pounds lay in my pocket that I could scarcely raise my eyes.  For the
first time the difference of rank between Lady Ursula and myself
oppressed me.  For the first time I was conscious of my shabby dress, my
rough boots, my worn gloves.  "Good-bye, Lady Ursula," I said.

"Good-bye, good-bye!  I cannot tell you how grateful I am!  You are not
cruel, you are not selfish.  By the way, what is your name?"

"Lindley."

"Your Christian name?"

"I am called Rosamund."

"How pretty!  Good-bye, Rosamund!"

CHAPTER SEVEN.

MR CHILLINGFLEET.

I left the house, and took the next train home.  Jack was very ill
indeed.  His fever had taken an acute form.  My mother looked miserable
about him.  Even the doctor was anxious.

"I am so glad you have come back, Rose," said my mother; "you had
scarlet fever when you were a little child, so there is no fear for you,
and it will be a great comfort having you in the house."

I did not make any immediate response to this speech of my mother's.  I
had Hetty under my charge, and could not stay, and yet how queer my
mother would think my absence just then.  I wondered if I dared confide
to her Jack's secret.  It was told me in great confidence, but still--
While I was hesitating, my mother began to speak again.

"Jack has been delirious all the morning.  In his delirium he has spoken
constantly of a girl called Hetty.  Do we know any one of the name,
Rose?"

"_I_ know some one of the name," I responded.

"_You_!--But what friend have you that I am not acquainted with?  I
don't believe there is a single girl called Hetty in this place."

"I know a girl of the name," I repeated.  "She does not live here.  She
is a girl who is ill at present, and in--in great trouble, and I think I
ought to go and nurse her.  She is without the friend who should be with
her, and it is right for me to take his place."

"What _do_ you mean, Rosamund?  Right for you to go away, and nurse a
complete stranger, when your own brother is so ill?"

"But he has you, and Jane Fleming.  Jack won't suffer for lack of
nursing, and the girl has no one."

"I have old-fashioned ideas," said my mother.  A pink flush covered her
face.  I had never seen her more disturbed.  "I have old-fashioned
ideas, and they tell me that charity begins at home."

At this moment Jane Fleming softly opened the door and came in.  She
certainly was a model nurse; so quiet, so self-contained, so capable.

"Mr Jack is awake, and conscious," she said.  "He fancied he heard your
voice, Miss Rose, and he wants to see you at once."

I glanced at my mother.  She was standing with that bewildered
expression on her face which mothers wear when their children are
absolutely beyond their control.  I made my resolution on the spur of
the moment.

"Come with me to Jack, mother," I said.

I took her hand, and we went softly up-stairs to the attic bedroom.
Jack's great big feverish eyes lighted up with expectancy when he saw
me; but when he perceived that my mother accompanied me, their
expression changed to one of annoyance.  I went up to him at once, and
took his hand.

"Hetty is better," I said, "she has had an excellent night and is doing
well.  Mother dear, please come here.  I shall go back to Hetty, Jack,
and take all possible care of her, and nurse her, and make her strong
and well again, if you will tell our mother who she is."

"Yes," said Jack, at once.  "Yes, oh yes; she is my wife."

My mother uttered an exclamation.

"Tell mother all about her, Jack," I continued.  "I will leave you both
together for five minutes, then I will return."

I slipped out of the room, took Jane aside, and gave her a sovereign.

"Jane," I said, "you are to make the beef-tea yourself, and you are
always to have a supply, fresh and very strong, in the house.  Whenever
my mother seems tired or fagged you are to give her a cup of beef-tea,
and see that she drinks it."

"Bless you, Miss Rose, of course I will."

"Buy anything else that is necessary," I said.  "I am going away
immediately, but shall be back on Monday afternoon."

My five minutes were up by this time, and I stole into Jack's sick-room.
He was stretched flat out in bed; his cheeks were wet as if tears had
touched them, and one great muscular arm was flung round my mother's
neck.  She was kneeling by him, and holding his hand.

The moment I entered she looked round at me.

"My dear love," she said, "you are perfectly right; Hetty must not be
left a moment longer than can be helped.  Hush, Jack, you need have no
anxiety for your wife.  I--I will go to see her _myself_ if it is
necessary."

"No, mother, you must stay with me.  You are so pretty and so gentle,
and your hand is so soft.  Hetty's hands aren't as soft as yours."

Here he began to wander again.  My mother followed me out of the room,
the tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Oh, Rose," she said, "the poor, poor boy.  And you thought, both of
you, to hide it from your mother?"

"No, mother, I longed for you to know; I am sure that telling you his
story has given Jack the greatest relief.  And weren't you a bit angry
with him, mother?"

"Angry, Rosamund?  Was this a time to be angry? and do mothers as a rule
turn away from repentant sons?"

"Not mothers such as you," I replied.  "Mothers worthy of the name would
never do such a thing," she replied.  "Why, Rosamund, a mother--I say it
in all reverence--stands something in the place of God.  When we are
truly repentant we never feel nearer to God, and so a boy is never truly
nearer to his mother than when he has done something wrong, and is sorry
for it.  Come up-stairs with me at once, I must help you to make your
preparations.  You have not an hour to lose in going to Jack's Hetty."
My mother was so excited, so enthusiastic, that she would scarcely give
me breathing-time to put my things together.

"You must not delay," she kept on saying.  "You have told me how
careless the landlady is, and that poor child has had no one to do
anything for her since early morning.  Rose, dear, how is she off for
little comforts, and clothes and those sort of things?"

"I should say, very badly off, mother.  Hetty is as poor as poor can
be."

"I have one or two night-dresses," began my mother.

"Now, mother, you are not going to deprive yourself."

"Don't talk of it in that light, Rose.  Hetty is my daughter, remember."

I felt a fierce pang of jealousy at this.  My mother left the room, and
presently returned with a neatly-made-up parcel.

"You will find some small necessaries for the poor child here," she
said.  "And now go, my darling, and God bless you.  One word first,
however.  How are you off for money, Rose?"

"I have plenty, mother.  Don't worry yourself on that point."

"I have a little pearl ring up-stairs, which I could sell, if
necessary."

The tears rushed to my eyes when my mother said this.  The pearl ring
was her sole adornment, and she had worn it on Sunday ever since we were
children.

"You shall never sell your dear ring," I said.

I rushed up to her, kissed her frantically, and left the house.

Hetty and I spent a quiet Sunday together.  She was much better, and she
looked very pretty in the warm, softly-coloured dressing-jacket which
mother had sent her.  She told me her little story, which was simple as
story could be.  She had no parents, nor any near relatives living.
Even a distant cousin, who had paid for her education, had died two
years previously.  She thought herself very lucky when she secured the
post of English teacher at Miss West's Select Seminary for young ladies.
She made Jack's acquaintance early in the spring; no one else had ever
been specially kind to her, and when he asked her to marry him, she said
"Yes," in a burst of delight and gratitude.

"I didn't know he was so grand as he has turned out to be, miss," said
Hetty, in conclusion.

"Now, Hetty, what did I say about miss?"

"It seems so queer and forward to say Rose," she answered.  "I never had
any one to love until Jack married me.  Oh, don't I love him just, and
don't I love you--_Rose_!"

"I know you do," I said, "and when you see my mother you will love her.
We will try to be good to you, poor little Hetty, and you will try to
learn to be a real lady for my mother's sake."

"And for Jack's sake," she answered, an eager flush coming into her
cheeks.

"Yes," I replied.

"Will you show me how to be a lady, Rose?"

"Oh, Hetty, no one can show you.  You must find out the way yourself.
You will, too, if you are in earnest, and if you love my mother as she
deserves to be loved.  Hetty, my mother is the gentlest of women, and
yet no queen could be more dignified, more ladylike."

"Would she frighten me awfully?" whispered Hetty.

"Oh, you poor child!  There, I won't talk any more.  Wait until you see
her!"

Hetty was rather under than over educated for her station; but there was
a certain sweetness, and even refined charm about her, which gave me a
sense of almost pain as I looked at her.  Was Jack worthy of this
passionate, loving heart?

Sunday passed peacefully, but I did not forget what lay before me on
Monday morning.  The real crucial turn in Jack's affairs would come
then.

I went early to town, and saw Mr Chillingfleet, the head of Jack's
firm, about eleven o'clock.  Jack had told me that twelve was the hour
when the money was generally collected and sent to the bank.  I don't
know how I managed to inveigle a young clerk to coax Mr Chillingfleet
to see me, but I did, and at eleven o'clock I stood before him.

I looked into his face.  I knew that a great deal hung upon that
interview; I knew that my mother's future happiness in life, that all
poor Hetty's bliss or undoing depended on what sort of face Mr
Chillingfleet possessed.  I was a good reader of physiognomy, and I
studied his with an eager flash.

It was a firm face: the lips thin, the chin both long and square, the
check-bones high; the eyes, however, were kind, honest, straightforward.
I looked into Mr Chillingfleet's eyes, and took courage.

"You want to see me, young lady?" said the chief of the great house.

"I do, sir," I said, "I have come about my brother Jack."

"Young Lindley--you are young Lindley's sister?  I am sorry he is ill."

Mr Chillingfleet's tone was kind, but not enthusiastic.  The young
clerk's services were evidently not greatly missed.

"I have a story to tell you," I said.  And then I began to speak.

My tone was eager, but I saw at once that I did not make a deep
impression.  Mr Chillingfleet was only languidly attentive.  I could
read his face, and I was absolutely certain that the thought expressed
on it was the earnest hope that my story would be brief.  I felt certain
that he considered me a worry, that he felt it truly unreasonable of the
sisters of sick clerks to come to worry him before noon on Monday
morning.

He was a true gentleman, however, and as such could not bring himself to
be rude to a woman.

"I can give you ten minutes," he said, in a courteous tone.

All this time I had been toying with my subject.  I now looked in agony
at a boy clerk who was perched on a high stool by a desk at the other
end of the room.

"If I could see you by yourself," I said, almost in a whisper.

"Dawson, you can go," said Mr Chillingfleet.

The boy glided off the high stool, and vanished.  The moment the door
was shut I took out my purse, and removing four five-pound notes, laid
them on the desk beside the chief of the great house.

"Good gracious, young lady, what do you mean by that?" said Mr
Chillingfleet.

"Those four five-pound notes are yours," I said.  "I have brought them
back to you."

"Miss Lindley, you must explain yourself."

Mr Chillingfleet's tone was no longer languid in its interest.

Then I gulped down a great lump in my throat, and told the story.  It
does not matter how I told it.  I cannot recall the words I used.  I
don't know whether I spoke eloquently or badly.  I know I did not cry,
but I am firmly convinced that my face was ashy pale, for it felt so
queer and stiff and cold.

At last I had finished.  The story of the young clerk's temptation and
disgrace was known to his chief.  Now I waited for the fiat to go forth.
Suppose Mr Chillingfleet refused to receive back the twenty pounds I
brought him?  Suppose he thought it good for the interests of business
that the young thief--the wicked, brazen young thief--should be made an
example of?

I gazed into the kind and honourable eyes.  I watched with agony the
firm, the hard, the almost cruel mouth.

"Oh, sir," I said, suddenly, "take back the money!  Jack's mother is
alive, and perhaps your mother, too, lives, sir.  Take back the money,
and be merciful, for her sake."

Mr Chillingfleet shut his eyes twice, very quickly.  Then he spoke.

"You must not try to come over me with sentiment," he said.  "This is
not the time.  A principle is involved, and I must be guided by a sense
of duty.  I am particularly busy at this moment, but I will give you my
decision before you go.  Can you wait for half an hour?"

"Yes, sir."

Mr Chillingfleet sounded an office gong by his side.

"Dawson," he said, when the boy appeared, "show this lady into the
waiting-room."

The boy preceded me into a dismal little back room, furnished me with a
copy of the day's _Times_, and left me.  I could not read a word.  I
felt more and more hopeless as the moments went by.

It was nearly one o'clock before I was summoned back into Mr
Chillingfleet's presence.

"Sit down," he said, in a much more kind tone than he had used when I
left him.  "You are a good girl, Miss Lindley," he began.  "You have
acted in a very straightforward and honourable manner.  Your mother must
be a good woman, for she has brought up a worthy daughter.  However, to
the point.  I will accept the notes you have just brought me in lieu of
those stolen by your brother.  I will not prosecute him for theft."

"Oh, sir, God bless you?"

"Stay, you must hear me out.  I don't forgive absolutely; I should not
think it right.  Lindley has proved himself unworthy of trust, and he no
longer holds a situation in this house.  He may redeem his character
some day, but the uphill path will be difficult for him, for the simple
reason that I shall find it impossible to give him a recommendation
which will enable him to obtain another situation."

"Oh, sir--Mr Chillingfleet--his young wife!"

"Precisely so, Miss Lindley, but society must be protected.  When a man
does something which destroys his character, he must bear the
consequences.  There, I am sorry for you, but I can do no more.  I must
be just.  Good-morning."

Mr Chillingfleet touched my fingers, bowed to me, and I withdrew.

I pulled my veil down over my face; I did not look to right or left as I
walked out of the office.

CHAPTER EIGHT.

I CANNOT PART WITH MY RING.

Jack was going on well, and I spent most of the time with his wife.  One
day a letter from home was forwarded to me.  I opened it, and saw to my
astonishment that the signature was Albert Chillingfleet.

  "My dear Miss Lindley," the good man wrote, "your face has made a
  tolerably strong impression on me.  I wish you were a lad; I would
  give you a berth in my business-house directly.  But in the case of
  your brother, justice must be done, you know.  He ought never to be a
  clerk in a business-house again.  Still, there are other openings.
  When he has quite recovered, ask him to call to see me at my private
  address--Princes' Gate.  I am generally disengaged and at home between
  nine and ten in the evening.  I enclose a trifle for that young wife.

  "Yours sincerely,--

  "Albert Chillingfleet."

The trifle was a ten-pound note.  My fingers trembled as I unfolded it.
I looked across the room at Hetty.  She was better now, and was able to
spend a certain portion of each day on a sofa which the landlady had
brought into the room for her.

Hetty's face wore the bright, innocent expression of a child.  Her
illness seemed to have brought back a kind of pathetic lost youth to
her.  She was young, undoubtedly, in years, very young, but I felt
convinced that before she had been so ill she had not worn this
child-expression--her lips could not have been so reposeful in the old
days, nor her eyes so unanxious.

She was lying now gazing calmly out of the window.  Her hands were
folded on her lap.  The knitting she had been trying to accomplish had
tumbled unheeded to the floor.  When the bank-note rustled in my hand
Hetty turned and looked at me.  I got up and gave it to her.

"This is for you," I said.  "I have had a letter from a friend of ours,
and he has sent you this."

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  She clasped the note in both her hands.  "Ten
pounds!" she repeated.  "Rosamund," she continued, "I never had so much
money as this in all my life before."

"Well, make good use of it, dear child," I said.  "Put it away safely
now.  You'll be sure to want it."

"But ought not I to thank your friend?"

"I'll do that for you.  I'll be sure to say something very pretty."

Hetty looked at the ten-pound note as if she loved it.  Then she
stretched out her hand, and proffered it back to me.

"You had better have it, Rosamund.  You buy everything that we want.
Take it, and spend it, won't you?  You must need it very badly."

"No, no, no!  This is your own nest-egg, and no one else shall touch it.
See, I will put it into your purse; I know where your little empty
purse is, Hetty.  I will put this nice crisp note into it.  Is it not
jolly to have so much laid by?"

"Yes," said Hetty, "I feel delightfully rich."  She closed her eyes,
smiling, wearied, happy.  In the sleep which followed she smiled again,
more than once.  She was thinking of Jack, and of the good things she
could buy for him out of this purse of Fortunatus.

On the following day I was to go back to Lady Ursula to receive my ruby
ring.  As I sat and worked by Hetty's side, I planned how I would take
the little excursion in the morning, bring back the ring, and amuse my
sister in the afternoon by telling her the story of it.

I carried out the early part of this programme exactly as I had mapped
it before my eyes on this peaceful afternoon.  The next morning found me
at an early hour ringing the ponderous bell under the heavy portico of
the great house in Grosvenor Street.  The liveried footman once more put
in his appearance, and I was taken once again to Lady Ursula's pretty
rose-coloured bower.

It was empty when I entered.

"Her ladyship will be with you in a minute or two," said the man, as he
closed the door behind the tapestry.

I sat back in an easy-chair, and waited.  It was very nice to wait in
this pretty room.  I felt quite easy in my mind, and not at all anxious.
Circumstances had improved for me during the last fortnight.  Hetty was
getting well.  Jack was better.  Exposure and disgrace were averted.  In
short, the heavy pressure of expectant calamity was withdrawn, and life
smiled at me with its every-day face.  I thought how glad I should be to
have my little ring again--my pretty romantic treasure should be more
prized than ever.  Nothing should induce me to part with it again.

As I lay back and reflected peacefully, footsteps approached.  The
tapestry was pushed aside, and a man entered.

He was tall, with a dark complexion.  His appearance was aristocratic.
I glanced at him, and recognised him in a flash.  I knew him by his
likeness to the excellent photograph Lady Ursula possessed--he was her
lover.

I was seated rather in the shadow.  At first when he came in he did not
notice me.  He went straight up to Lady Ursula's table, and laid a small
morocco case on it.  He took up a photograph of the young lady, looked
at it steadily--a half smile played round his somewhat austere mouth,
his eyes softened.  He held the photograph close to his lips, but he did
not kiss it; with an almost reverent gesture he replaced it, then turned
to leave the room.  As he did so he caught sight of me.  I had been
looking on with a very red face.  It was now Captain Valentine's turn to
get red.  He grew scarlet; he looked intensely angry.  I saw at a glance
that he was the last man who could bear to be caught in a sentimental
attitude, he was the last man who could bear even a shade of ridicule.

He bowed very stiffly to me and vanished.

The next instant Lady Ursula came in.

"Oh, here you are, Rosamund!" she said; "how do you do?"

"I am very well," I answered.  I did not want Lady Ursula to call me
Rosamund.  She sat down on the sofa with her hands crossed idly in her
lap.  Her face was full of interrogation; it said as plainly as face
could:

"Now, what do you want, Rosamund?  Have the goodness to say it, whatever
it is, and go away."

The look in her eyes was replied to steadily by mine.  Then I said
calmly: "I have come for my ring."

When I said this Lady Ursula dropped her mask.  War to the knife gleamed
in her bright eyes.

"Oh! the ring," she said; "well, you can't have it, so there!"

At that instant Captain Valentine hastily re-entered the room.  With a
brief apology to me he turned to Lady Ursula and spoke:

"Here is your ring," he said, taking up the morocco case, touching a
spring and opening it.  "I have had the central ruby properly fastened
in; there is no fear of your losing it now."

He was leaving the room again when an impulse, which I could not
overcome, made me rush forward and lay my hand on the table.

"Don't, Rosamund, I beseech of you," said Lady Ursula.

There was entreaty, almost anguish in her bright blue eyes.  I paused,
the words arrested on my lips.

Captain Valentine stared from one to another of us with a puzzled,
amazed glance.  Lady Ursula slipped her hand through his arm.  She led
him towards the door.  They passed out together; the door was a little
ajar, and I heard him murmur something.  Her gentle caressing reply
reached my ears:

"My love, there is not the smallest fear, she is only a very excitable,
eccentric young person, but I shall soon get rid of her."

Those words decided me.  Lady Ursula was coming back.  I had not a
second to lose.  I was determined that she should see how the excitable,
eccentric young person could act.  I opened the morocco case, took the
ring out, and slipped it on my finger.

The moment she returned to her table I held up my hand, and let her see
the glittering treasure.  She gave a cry of sharp pain.

"Oh, Rosamund, you are not really going to be so cruel!"

"I am very sorry," I answered, "but I must have my ring.  This is not a
case of cruelty.  It is simply a case of my requiring my own property
back.  Under great pressure I lent it to you for a week.  Now I must
have it back.  Good-bye."

"But, Rosamund, Rosamund!"  She caught hold of my dress.  "I gave you
thirty pounds for the ring last week.  You found the money useful; you
know you did."

"Yes," I said.  I blushed as the memory of all that that money meant
rushed over me.  With some of that thirty pounds I had saved Jack and
our family honour.  The money had been undoubtedly useful, but I held
the glittering ring on my finger, and I loved it better than gold.

"I will give you forty pounds this week," said Lady Ursula.

"No, no, I cannot accept it," I replied.  I walked towards the door.

"Fifty pounds," she said, following me.  "Oh, Rosamund, Rosamund, you
are not going to be so cruel!"

"I must have my ring," I said.  "You have many treasures, and this is my
one ewe-lamb.  Why should you seek to deprive me of it?"

"Rosamund, please sit down."  She took my hand.

"Come and sit by me on the sofa, dear Rosamund.  You know why I want
this ruby ring; Captain Valentine knows nothing of the terrible loss I
have sustained.  If he hears of it--if he knows that his ring is gone,
he will break off his engagement."

"Then I have only one thing to say, Lady Ursula," I replied; "if that is
the nature of the man you are about to marry, you had better find it out
before marriage than afterwards.  Do you think _I_ would marry a man who
loved a trinket more than me?  No!  I am a poor girl, but I should be
too proud for that.  Lady Ursula, take your courage in your hands, and
tell Captain Valentine the truth.  He is not what you think; even I know
better than that."

"You don't.  You don't know him a bit."

"I know what a brave and good man ought to be; surely you could marry no
one else."

Lady Ursula got up and stamped her foot.

"Child," she said, "you sit there and dare to argue with me.  You are
the cruellest creature I ever came across, the cruellest, the hardest.
I hate you!  I wish I had never met you."

Her voice rose high in its petulance and passion.  Once more the door
was opened, and Captain Rupert Valentine came in.

"What is the matter?" he asked in some alarm.  His indignant eyes
flashed angry fire at me; I am sure he considered me a young person
deprived of the use of her intellect, who was seeking to terrify Lady
Ursula, perhaps even to lay violent hands on her.

His glance stung me to the quick.  "There is nothing the matter," I
said, taking the words out of Lady Ursula's mouth.  "Lady Ursula
Redmayne and I are unfortunate enough to differ on a certain point, but
there is really nothing the matter.  May I wish you good-morning now,
Lady Ursula?"

I bowed to the young lady, bestowed upon the gentleman the faintest
possible shade of acknowledgment, and covering the precious ruby ring
with a terribly worn silk glove, walked towards the door.

Lady Ursula flung herself back on the sofa, and covered her face with
her hands.  Captain Valentine seemed to struggle for a moment with his
desire to comfort her, and his sense of what his duties as a gentleman
required.  Finally the latter feeling triumphed, and he reached the door
in time to open it, and so assisted my exit.

A moment later I was in the street.  I was absolutely outside that
detestable mansion, with the beloved little ring pressed in my warm
hand.

I felt an almost childish sense of triumph and exultation; the
possession of a large sum of money could not have gratified me to
anything like the same extent as did this recovery of my rightful
legacy.  I felt enormously rich; I felt giddy with delight; it seemed to
me impossible to walk, I must ride; the owner of such a ruby ring could
not pace with draggled skirts those muddy streets.  I hailed a hansom
and desired the man to drive me to Mr Gray's chambers.  I did not
exactly know what I wanted to say to the old lawyer, but I was possessed
by a sudden intense desire to see him, and I knew when I got into his
presence I should have something special to talk about.

Mr Gray had rooms in Bloomsbury, not a great way off from Cousin
Geoffrey's old house.  He was in, and almost immediately on my arrival I
was ushered into his presence.

"Miss Lindley!" he said.  He came up and shook hands with me warmly.
"Pray sit down," he added.  "Sit here, near the fire.  What a cold,
miserable day we are having.  You are all quite well at home, I hope;
how is your mother?"

"My mother is well, thank you, Mr Gray.  My brother Jack has been ill,
but he is better now."

"I am glad of that," replied Mr Gray.  "And now, can I do anything for
you, Miss Rosamund?  You know I shall be delighted."

When Mr Gray said this I suddenly knew what I had come to see him for.

"I want to go over Cousin Geoffrey's house," I said.  "Have you the key,
and if so, will you entrust it to me?  I will promise not to injure
anything."

The moment I made this request Mr Gray's face brightened, and an almost
eager look came into his eyes.

"Have you any--any particular reason for wishing to see the house?" he
asked.

"Oh, no," I replied.  "No very special reason.  Just a desire, to see
the old place once again."

The lawyer had deep-set and piercing eyes.  They darted a quick glance
at me.  He sighed impatiently.

"My late client was very eccentric," said Mr Gray.  "Eccentric in life,
more eccentric, perhaps, with regard to his last will and testament.
Miss Lindley--you have no--no clue for instance--with regard to the
heirs?"

"Oh no," I answered.  "How could I possibly have?"

"It is my opinion," said Mr Gray, with another short, almost angry
sigh, "that the heirs in question will never be found.  I told my client
so.  I said as much repeatedly.  All that fine fortune will go to endow
the hospitals.  Well, well, he would not listen to me."

"May I have the key?"  I inquired in a gentle voice.

"Oh, of course, of course!  But stay, you won't want it.  You don't
suppose a valuable house like that is left without caretakers.  Two
policemen take care of it, and one of them is always on the premises.  I
will give you my card, and whichever of them is in will show you over
the place."

"Oh, please, may I not go over it by myself."

"Well, child, well!  I don't suppose it makes much matter what you do.
I'll have to write a special letter to Dawson or Drake, whichever of
them happens to be in.  I'll write the letter, and you shall take it,
and then you can moon about the old place as much as you please.  By the
way, my dear Miss Rosamund, I hope you have got my client's valuable
ring safe?"  For answer I pulled off my shabby silk glove, and flashed
the gem in the old lawyer's face.

"Good gracious, you don't mean to say you wear that valuable ring every
day?"

"Not every day--by any means."

"But it is very unsafe to wear a ring like that on your finger when you
are out alone.  My dear child, you have not the faintest idea what that
centre ruby is worth."

"I have some little idea," I said.

"You had much better leave it at home.  Look at it constantly of course,
but leave it in a safe place at home."

"Oh no, I like to wear it on my finger."

"Well, well!"  The lawyer sighed, then sat down and wrote his letter.

CHAPTER NINE.

A TELEGRAM.

I took the letter in my hand, and walked to Cousin Geoffrey's house.
Drake was the name of the policeman who replied to my summons.  He read
the contents of Mr Gray's letter with almost lightning speed, then
moved aside to let me pass in.

"You would rather I did not show you round, Miss Lindley?" said Drake.

"Yes," I answered, "I know the old house, I have been here before; I
should just like to walk quietly over it by myself."

"Very well, miss; but you'll allow the wife to prepare you a cup of tea?
We can get it quite handy, in the housekeeper's room next the kitchen,
if so be as you object to taking it in the kitchen itself, miss."

"I don't object at all," I answered.  "Thank you very much, Mr Drake, I
should like to have a cup of tea, and I would prefer having it in the
kitchen."

A pleased smile stole slowly over the man's face.  He walked down-stairs
in the deliberate fashion of a person who has remarkably little to do,
and I commenced my tour of investigation.  I said to myself--"Drake need
not hurry with that tea; I shall not want it for some time."  It was
delightful to me to be alone in this treasure-house.  I could explore, I
could examine, I could pause, I could think.  The furniture, the
carpets, the curtains were all full of story, and alive with
associations.  I walked from room to room.  My mother, had she been with
me, could have put speech into all these rare treasures, could have hung
a lovely legend or charm over each of those antiquated chairs and
tables.  Her stories would have been founded on fact, but I, too, helped
perhaps by my magical ruby ring, could weave romances as I walked along.

The rooms of the house had one peculiarity, which I had not noticed the
last time I walked over it.  Set into a panel of the door of each was a
kind of sliding slab, which could be pushed aside with the finger, and
which, when opened, revealed a name.  I found that each room in the
house had its own special name.  This discovery excited me very much.
It was not discernible to the ordinary visitor, for the little white
slab was well hidden in the heavy oak door.  But a touch, the twist of a
button would reveal it.  I wondered when Cousin Geoffrey had perpetrated
this strange freak.  I imagined the queer pleasure he took in naming the
different apartments of his lonely mansion.

After I had made this little discovery I ceased to take such a deep
interest in the furniture.  My desire was, if possible, to read the
title of each chamber.  I thought what a delightful story I would have
to tell my mother by and by.  I knew that she was unacquainted with this
vagary of her kinsman's.

I began at the attics, and turning slab after slab concealed so cleverly
in the doors, read the names rapidly off.  Some were commonplace, some
fantastic; most of the rooms were called after the colour of the
decoration, or the style of the furniture.  Thus there was the Oak room,
the Walnut room, the Blue room, the Gray room, the Rose room; there were
also the North room and the South room.  At last I reached the beautiful
octagon room which contained the painted windows, and which had so
excited my mother's emotions.

The title of this room gave me a good deal to ponder over.  It was
called the Chamber of Myths.  I stayed for a long time here.  I examined
all the furniture.  I studied the subjects of the painted windows.  I
stood on the raised dais, and leant against the old four-poster, and
pressed my hand against the moth-eaten counterpane.  How dusty, and
dreary, and haunty it looked!

The light was fading fast, now, and the room displeased me.  I left the
Chamber of Myths in a hurry, and went down to the kitchen to have tea
with Drake and his wife.  I said nothing to them about the discovery I
had made, but when I left the house I was firmly convinced that Cousin
Geoffrey's eccentricity must have bordered on madness.  What _did_ he
mean by the "Chamber of Myths"?  What were the myths?  Perhaps my mother
could tell me.  I would question her the first moment I had an
opportunity.

It was rather late when I went back to Hetty.  I thought how pleased she
would be to see the ruby ring, how pretty she would look when she opened
her eyes wide to gaze at it.  How charmed and bewildered she would be if
I let her wear it for a moment on her slim third finger.  Hetty had
lovely little hands.  Her wedding finger would look dainty, circled with
this ruby ring.  I too had small hands, but I could only get it on my
smallest finger.

The moment I got in Hetty pointed with excitement to a telegram which
lay upon the little table at her side.

"It has been here for two hours, Rose," she said.  "Do open it quickly.
I am so anxious to know what is in it.  Perhaps it is about Jack.
Perhaps he is worse."

"You poor little thing," I replied.  "Why did you not open the envelope
yourself, if you are so upset with nervous terrors?  Now let me see what
this precious yellow envelope contains."

"Well?" said Hetty.

I was reading the telegram to myself.  My face showed heightened colour
and annoyance.

"Well?" she said again.  "_Do_ speak, please, Rose."

"It is nothing about Jack," I said then.

"Nothing at all?"

"Nothing at all; the telegram is from my home, but it is about--about
another matter."

This was the other matter--these were the contents of the telegram.

"Lady Ursula Redmayne and Captain Rupert Valentine have just been here,
asking to see you.  Will call at your lodgings in Putney, to-morrow,
before eleven.  Lady U. in great distress.  Gave your address under
pressure."

This long telegram from my mother showed most reckless extravagance.  I
could imagine how Lady Ursula had worked upon her feelings.

"But I am not going to give you up, little ring," I said, kissing it.

CHAPTER TEN.

RELATIONS.

I parried Hetty's curious remarks with regard to the telegram, putting
her off at first with vague replies, then speaking decidedly.

"I have had a message from my mother, dear Hetty," I said; "nothing at
all about Jack, nothing that will interest you."

"Oh, of course, Rosamund--" Hetty's pale face flushed vividly.  She took
up some knitting she was trying to get through, a sock for Jack, of
course.  I saw her poor little fingers trembling.  She was the most
sensitive little creature.  A touch, a word, sent her into herself.  She
felt so unsure of her position, so unsure of everything, except that she
had a great hungry wealth of love to give away to those who would
receive it of her.

As I saw her making these futile, pathetic little attempts to get on
with her knitting, I felt some of the experiences one might feel if one
had set one's foot on a little wild-flower and crushed it.  I watched
her timid, downcast eyes for a moment, then I spoke.

"After all, Hetty," I said, "I should not be in the least surprised if
the contents of my mother's telegram interested you amazingly.  I don't
see why you shouldn't know.  It is a most exciting story.  We'll have
tea together, and then I'll tell it to you."

Hetty's little face came quickly out of the shadow in which it had
looked so pathetic.  She was all smiles and sunshine once more.  She
even laughed with glee when I arranged our evening meal.  Her impatience
to know the mystery was absolutely childish, but I was determined not to
be cross with her, nor to blame her in any way again.

After we had finished eating, I drew a chair up to her sofa, and began
my story.  I told everything from the beginning--I mean from the time of
my visit to Cousin Geoffrey.  Really, Hetty was a most delightful
listener; she was all sympathy, her interest was absorbing, she
interrupted the narrative with no questions, but her beautiful eyes
spoke volumes for her.  They expressed wonder, sorrow, joy.  I had quite
a pleasant time as I told my little romance.  I could not have desired a
prettier sight than Hetty's eyes with the soul looking out of them as
they gazed at me.

What a benefit to the possessor those speaking eyes are!  In some cases
I could imagine them to be the best of all good fairies' gifts, for what
can they not do?  Wheedle, coax, command, subdue.  Hetty was not a
particularly brilliant personage in any way.  She was a very loving,
dear, true little creature, but she was neither clever, nor particularly
heroic.  Yet with her eyes she could command a kingdom.  Now some people
speak of me as clever, and I know I have plenty of presence of mind, but
I can do nothing at all with my eyes.

Well, Hetty heard the story, and then she examined the ring, and then we
had a long consultation over Lady Ursula's visit of the morrow.

"Won't you write and tell her not to come?" said Hetty.

"Oh dear, no," I said, "I am not afraid of Lady Ursula Redmayne,--she
can come if she wishes to."

Hetty sighed.

"You are courageous, Rose," she answered.  The next morning my brother's
wife took upon herself to show great anxiety with regard to my wardrobe.

"I want you to look beautiful," she said.  "Don't you think you might
wear your hair not quite--not quite so flat on your forehead?"

I laughed.

"Oh, my dear," I answered, "you are not going to induce me to adopt a
fringe.  That would be quite the last come-down to my pride.  I have not
got wavy, fuzzy hair like you, Hetty, and I am not beautiful, so nothing
can make me look it."

"But your face is very beautiful to me," said Hetty, looking at me with
a great glow of love beaming over hers.  "It is full of strength, and I
think you have such a sweet expression, Rose, and you look so dignified.
Sometimes I think you are grand."

"Oh, hush, hush, you foolish child!"  I said.

"Well, but do fasten that little pink bow at your throat, and do puff up
your hair a little, to show your nice forehead.  Now isn't that a great
improvement?"

She made me kneel by her while she tried to manipulate my heavy, thick,
straight hair.  My private opinion is that I never looked more uncouth,
but Hetty was pleased, so where was the use of worrying her?

I heard a carriage stop in the street below, and flew to the window to
look out.

"They arrive," I said, "my foes arrive!  Now I go forth to conquer!
Farewell, Hetty."

"Oh, I shall be so excited to know what is going to happen!" called
Hetty after me.

I blew a kiss to her and ran down-stairs.  I had arranged with Mrs
Ashton to give me the use of a private sitting-room for the
all-important interview.  It was a truly dingy apartment--a back parlour
in every sense of that odious-sounding word.  It was here I had for the
first time the pleasure of seeing Lady Ursula Redmayne without any
rose-coloured glamour thrown over her.  Unsupported by the background
which her luxurious boudoir in Grosvenor Street afforded, she looked
what she was, a most ordinary young woman.

Ordinary--yes,--I made up my mind on the spot that Lady Ursula was not
at all good-looking.  But she was something else.  She appeared better,
far better in my eyes.  At that moment she looked what she was, an
every-day, happy, healthy English girl.  Yes, a happy girl, and her
happiness took all her little affectations away.

"Oh, here you are, my benefactress?" she said, rushing up and kissing
me.  "May I introduce Captain Valentine?  I don't think I did it
properly yesterday.  Now, Rupert, let's sit one at each side of her, and
tell her everything, and get her to tell us everything."

I was very much astonished, and I showed my astonishment in my face.

"Would you not rather speak to Miss Lindley alone, Ursula?" said Captain
Valentine.  "I can go out for a walk, or to--to buy something--I might
return in a quarter of an hour."

"No, Rupert, you will sit on that chair, just there, please, and
listen."

Captain Valentine sat down at the imperious bidding of Lady Ursula's
voice.  I was sure he must have a sensitive nature, he got red so often.
His whole face was scarlet now.

"Now I will begin," said Lady Ursula.  She turned towards me.  "You
know, Rosamund, you treated me very badly yesterday--very badly, and
very shabbily, and very cruelly.  Oh, my dear, I'm not going to reproach
you now--it all turned out for the best, as the good little books say.
Listen, Rosamund, please, to my story.  After you left us yesterday, I
told Rupert that I was distracted, that something had happened which I
could not possibly tell him, but that I must instantly go to my
dressmaker, and that it would be best for me to go alone.  `By no
means,' answered Rupert, `I will accompany you.'  `Oh, don't,' I said.
`I am determined,' he replied.  So the carriage was ordered, and we
drove to Madame Leroy's together.  When I got there, I said, `I shall be
some little time engaged.'  `Very well,' Rupert answered, `I will wait
for you in the carriage.'  `Oh, don't,' I said again.  But he shook his
head.

"I saw Madame Leroy, and got your home address from her, Rosamund.  I
wanted to follow you home, and I wanted Rupert not to come.  He did not
mind me; he would come.  We took the train, and reached your pretty
cottage in the country.  We were shown into the drawing-room, and
presently your mother came into the room.  The moment I saw her I burst
out crying.  Somehow her face made me feel that I was the most miserable
girl in the world, and that I was just about to lose everything, and
that Rupert never, never had been half so dear to me.  Your mother
behaved perfectly to me; she took me out of the room, and said nice,
kind, comforting sort of words, and soon I stopped crying, and told her
that I wanted to see you, and she gave me your present address, and said
she would send you a telegram.  She was very sorry for me, but she
wasn't curious; she was too much of a lady to be curious, only she was
just so sweet that the mere fact of my being in trouble made her kind to
me.

"Rupert and I came away.  We went back again to Grosvenor Street, and I
felt more sure than ever that all must be up between us.  I could not
help it, Rosamund--when I got into the house I began to cry again.  Then
Rupert spoke--oh, dear, I can't tell you how--but somehow I suddenly
lost all my terror, and I told him the whole story from the beginning.
You dreadful, but dear little benefactress, I took your advice.  And
what was the consequence?  Rupert did just say one word of reproof.  He
said, `Don't you suppose, Ursula, that I care more for you than for a
ruby ring?'  So, of course, after that it was all right, and I have
never, never been half so happy before in all my life."

Captain Valentine, who had fidgeted on his chair, and seemed more or
less on thorns during the recital of Lady Ursula's story, now jumped up,
and went over to the window to look out.  He had only a view of Mrs
Ashton's back-yard, and surely the sight could not have been
inspiriting.  Lady Ursula, whose eyes were full of tears, bent forward
to kiss me.  I put my two arms around her neck and gave her a hug.  I
could not help it.  I forgot all about her title and her grandeur--she
was just a girl, like any other girl, to me at that moment.

"Now I have something to say," she continued in a changed voice.
"Neither Rupert nor I want your ruby ring, but we are very curious to
see it again, for Rupert has a story to tell you about it."

"A story to tell me about my own ring," I inquired.

"Well, yes," said Captain Valentine, returning, and speaking slowly.
"It so happened that during the week, when Ursula lived in such terror
of me, that she was obliged to hire a ring to prevent my righteous
vengeance falling on her head,"--he laughed merrily as he spoke, and
Lady Ursula gave his hand a vicious pinch,--"during that week," he
continued, "I noticed that the central ruby of the ring was a little
loose.  I took it to my jeweller's to have it more firmly riveted.  I
therefore had full opportunity of carefully examining your ring, Miss
Lindley, and I can declare that it is in every particular precisely
similar to the one Lady Ursula has lost."

"Similar, perhaps, but a different ring," I retorted.

"Precisely, a different ring, but one of a pair.  I think I can tell you
some of the early history of your own ring, Miss Lindley."

"Please, Rosamund, admit that you are very much excited and thrilled
with interest," interrupted Lady Ursula.

"I am interested, undoubtedly," I replied.  "Please tell me the story,
Captain Valentine."

"My great-great-grandmother," he began at once, "came from the West
Indies, and brought with her, amongst much valuable gold, some rubies of
great price.  Two of the largest and most precious of the rubies were
set in rings of very curious workmanship.  I believe the rest of the
gems, with the exception of a few smaller rubies which were used in
perfecting the rings, were sold to meet a financial difficulty in our
family.  These rings were given by my great-grandmother to her sons,
with the request that they should be handed down as heirlooms, and worn
as betrothal rings by the girls who should marry their direct
descendants.  The rings were made in a very unique fashion, and had a
certain spring which could open at the back, and contain hair or some
other tiny relic.  Do you mind fetching your ruby ring and letting me
look at it once again, Miss Lindley?"

"I will fetch it of course," I replied.

I ran off at once, my heart beating fast with wonder and curiosity.

Hetty's eyes devoured my face when I rushed into our bedroom.

"I am having a delightful time," I said, "everything is going on
splendidly."

"Oh, do, do tell me?" said Hetty, sitting up on her sofa, and letting
her work tumble to the ground.

"Yes, presently I will; but my visitors have not gone yet."

"Haven't they?  They are staying a long time."

"Yes, and they will probably remain a little longer.  I have come now to
fetch the ring."

"Oh, Rosamund, you have not given way?  You are not going to part with
the ring?"

"Not a bit of it," I answered, as I unlocked my small bag, and taking
the ring from its hiding-place slipped it on my finger.  "Goodbye for
the present, Hetty," I said; "think of all pleasant and improbable
things till I return to you."

I flew down-stairs to the two who were now my friends.  Lady Ursula made
me seat myself next to her on the sofa, and Captain Valentine, taking
the ring from me, turned it round and round in the light.  How that
central ruby did flash--how blinding and bewildering were the rays which
it shot from the depths of its heart.  I had an uncomfortable feeling,
as if the costly gem was going to mesmerise me.

Suddenly I uttered an exclamation.  By some deft movement, done so
quickly that I could not follow it, Captain Valentine had touched a
spring, and the ring had altered.  The massive gold of the setting moved
aside like tiny doors; the central ruby shot up a fiercer ray of almost
triumph; it revolved slowly from its position, and left the inner
mechanism or skeleton of the ring bare to view.

"There," said Captain Valentine, "behold the most cunning device ever
invented for holding a few threads of hair, or any other invaluable
treasure.  Yes, this ring is the companion one to yours,
Ursula.  No doubt on the subject, no doubt whatever, for it was my
great-grandmother, or her double, who invented this unique little
hiding-place in the back of a ring."

"But this hiding-place, this secret treasure-house contains no hair, no
delightful discovery of any kind," said Lady Ursula.

"That is true; the space is empty," said Captain Valentine.
"Nevertheless, I identify the ring."  He touched the secret spring
again.  The central ruby seemed to flash a wicked intelligent look into
my eyes; the embossed gold doors revolved back into their places; the
magnificent middle ruby resumed its position as keeper of the doors, and
the little ring looked as it had done before.

Captain Valentine handed the ruby ring back to me.

"You must explain to me the secret of those magical doors," I said to
him.  "Where did you touch the spring which set that clever, enchanting
little machinery in motion?"

He took the ring again in his hand, and began to explain the cunning
little secret to me.

"Do you see that nick in the side of the gold?" he said.  "Just at the
left of the serpent's eye.  Press it: not too hard.  A light touch is
sufficient--a heavy one might break the delicate machinery."

"I see," I answered, "thank you.  No, I won't disturb my rubies again
now.  It might break the charm if I got my ring to tell its secrets too
often."

"Rosamund," said Lady Ursula, suddenly, "it strikes me that you and
Rupert must be some kind of relations; that is, if that ring were left
to you by a relation."

"My mother's cousin left me the ring," I said.

"Your mother's cousin?" said Captain Valentine.  "Do you mind giving me
some particulars?  It is interesting to trace relationships; in this
case especially so."

I mentioned Cousin Geoffrey's name, and then added:

"My mother can tell you all about him.  I only saw him once in my whole
life; but my mother and I attended his funeral, and afterwards I found
he had left me this ring."

Captain Valentine uttered an exclamation.

"So old Geoffrey Rutherford was your cousin?" he said.  "Of course I
knew him,--he was also my cousin,--the queerest and the richest old man
of my acquaintance."

"Were you at the funeral?"  I asked suddenly.

"No; why do you ask?"

"I thought all the relations were," I answered, demurely.

Captain Valentine smiled.

"Ah," he said, "a good many people had expectations from poor old
Geoffrey.  Who did he leave his wealth to, by the way?"

"I don't know," I replied.

"You don't know?  But wasn't the will read after the funeral?"

"Something was read.  I don't think it was a will; and the only thing
given away was my ruby ring."

"Just like Geoffrey," exclaimed Captain Valentine.  "Then I presume all
the wealth of his miserly old life went to endow a hospital."

"Even though you are a relation, you must not abuse Cousin Geoffrey," I
said.  "His wealth has not gone to endow any hospital, but is waiting."

"Waiting--for whom?"

"For the heir."

Lady Ursula suddenly broke in.  "The longer I know you, Rosamund," she
said, "the more mysterious you grow.  Who in the world is the heir?  Why
is not the wealth divided?  Is not that poor relation," she pointed with
a comical finger at Captain Valentine, "to share in any of the spoil?"

"I don't know," I replied.  "You had better go and ask Mr Gray; he will
tell you everything."

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

A BEAR'S HUG.

About a fortnight after the events mentioned in the last chapter, my
quiet time in the queer little lodgings at Putney came to an end.  Jack
was declared free from infection, Hetty was quite well again, and with
some difficulty we managed to get them both admitted to a Convalescent
Home at Broadstairs.

It was quite affecting to see the meeting between Jack and Hetty.
Jack's illness had both improved and refined him.  He was always the
best-looking of the family, and he really looked quite handsome as he
took that little confiding gentle wife of his into his arms and kissed
her three or four times.  Poor Jack,--he kissed me too with a fervour he
had never hitherto shown.  He murmured something I could not quite catch
about never being able to show sufficient gratitude to me, and then he
and Hetty went away.

I saw them off from the railway station.  The last glimpse I got of
Hetty, she was sitting very close to her husband, and looking into his
face.  That poor young face of his looked worn and anxious enough, but
Hetty knew nothing of the anxiety, and nothing of Jack's fall from the
paths of honour;--to her he was a prince--the first of men.

I sighed as I left the railway station.  "Poor Jack!"  I said to myself,
"the path that lies before him will not be too easy to climb.  Fancy
having a little wife like Hetty to look after and support, and no means
whatever to earn money for either of them.  His character and chance of
success practically gone.  What is to be done with them both after their
fortnight at Broadstairs is over?"

I returned home that afternoon to my dear mother.  It was mid-winter and
bitterly cold.  Christmas was come and gone, we were well into January;
snow rested on the ground, and as I entered the cottage, I saw by the
look of the sky that more was likely to fall.

My mother welcomed me with just that degree of warmth which seemed to me
the perfection of greeting.  It consisted of very little in the way of
embraces, scarcely anything in the shape of endearing words, but the
expression in my mother's eyes told me all I wanted to know.  She was
very, very happy to have me back again; and as to me, I felt for the
time being rested and satisfied.  Why not?  I was with the human being I
loved best on earth.

We had tea together, and then my mother began to speak.

"You saw Jack off, poor fellow?"

"Yes, mother," I answered; "I saw Jack and Hetty off."

"Oh, Hetty," repeated my mother, with the faintest perceptible toss of
her head.  She had been very good about Hetty at first, but to have her
coupled with Jack in this cool and easy manner gave her something of a
shock.

"Mother," I said with enthusiasm, "Jack had no right to marry any girl
secretly, but as he did so we cannot be too thankful that he has taken
this sweet little creature.  She is as good as gold, mother, and as
innocent as a little flower, and she thinks Jack perfection."

"My dear," said my mother, "that's the right way; that's as it should
be.  Though every one, I fear," she added with a sigh, "cannot live up
to it."

"Hetty will," I said quickly, for I did not want my mother to have time
to make unhappy comparisons even in her heart.

"She has got an excellent husband," proceeded my mother.  "Rose, I did
not know there was half as much in Jack as I find there is.  He
surprised me wonderfully during his illness; he really is a very fine
fellow."

I was silent.

"It was a great comfort to be alone with him," proceeded my mother; "I
got really to know my boy at last.  Yes, his wife is a lucky woman.  I
trust she will prove worthy of him."  This time I was spared making any
further remarks, for my father's latch-key was heard in the front-door.
The next moment he and George entered the little drawing-room together.
"Bitterly cold night," said my father, walking up to the fire, and
monopolising the whole of it.  "A sharp frost has set in already.  Ha!
is that you, Rosamund?  Home again?  How do you do?  My dear," turning
to his wife, "did you register the thermometer as I told you to do this
afternoon?"

"Yes, George.  There were five degrees of frost then."

"Ha! there'll be fifteen by nine o'clock to-night.  Why do you women
keep such miserable fires?  This thimbleful is enough to freeze any
one."

My father turned, and seizing the coal-scuttle, dashed a quantity of
loose coal into the grate.  It raised a dust, and almost extinguished
the fire, but we none of us expostulated, for my father was
unquestionably master in his own house.

George meanwhile flung himself into a deep easy-chair, crossed one muddy
boot over the other, and seizing my mother's favourite tabby cat, began
to stroke it the wrong way, and otherwise to worry it.  He laughed once
or twice, when pussy resisted his endearments.  He suddenly flung her on
the ground almost roughly.

"Do turn that ugly thing out of the room, Rosamund," he said.

I did not stir.  I thought the time had come when I would cease to allow
George to bully me.

"By the way," said my father suddenly, in his harsh voice, "what's this
I hear, that Chillingfleet has given Jack the sack?  You gave me the
information, didn't you, George?"

"Yes, sir, and it's correct," replied George.  "I suppose Jack was
playing the fool in some way, and Chillingfleet took advantage of his
illness to get rid of him."

"Monstrous, I call it," interrupted my father; "an unprecedented sort of
thing to do.  I shall call on Chillingfleet to-morrow morning, and sift
this matter to the very bottom."

My mother looked up in alarm when my father spoke in this tone.

"I understand," she said in her gentle voice, "that Jack has had a
particularly kind letter from Mr Chillingfleet.  He did not show it to
me, but he told me of it."

"Then you knew of this?" said my father, angrily.

"Yes, George, Jack told me that he was going about a fortnight ago."

"H'm--ha!  The young cub doesn't choose to confide in me.  Did he give
you any reason for his dismissal?"

"No, I did not think any necessary.  Jack has been ill for weeks, and
unable to attend to his work.  Mr Chillingfleet had naturally to get
some one to take his place."

"Naturally, indeed!  That's all you women know!"

My father began to pace the floor in his indignation.

"Much chance a poor young clerk would have, if just because he was
unlucky enough to take fever, he was dismissed from his post.  But, of
course, people who know nothing jump to conclusions.  Now if I had been
consulted at the time, as I ought to have been, I might have talked
Chillingfleet round, and shown him the enormity of his own proceeding."

"I don't think your talking would have had the least effect," suddenly
interrupted George.  "If there is a hard old flint in this world, its
Chillingfleet.  Every one knows his character."  My father frowned at
George's presuming to doubt his powers of eloquence.  After a pause, he
said, emphatically:

"Your mother has acted in a very foolish way, keeping this affair to
herself; but even now it is not too late, and notwithstanding your
opinion, George, for which I am much obliged, I shall tackle
Chillingfleet in the morning."

With these last words my father left the room, banging the door noisily
after him.  My mother looked disturbed, George cross.  How little they
knew what revelations might reach them, what agony and distress might be
theirs through my father's untimely interference!  I felt that I must
prevent his having an interview with Mr Chillingfleet at any cost.

It was easier, however, to make this resolve than to act upon it.

"Rose, you don't look at all well," said my father, as we sat over our
evening meal.  "You have knocked yourself up nursing that common place
young woman.  I might have told you that would be the case.  If you go
on in this erratic fashion you will be old before your time."

Even this rather gruff notice from my father was so unusual that I quite
blushed with pleasure.

"I will not let him be humiliated," I said to myself.  "After all he is
my father.  Hard he is--sometimes cruel--but always, always the very
soul of honour.  I must--I will save him from what would bring his grey
hairs with sorrow to the grave."

My eyes travelled slowly from my father's face to George's.

George was also hard.  George could also be cruel, but he at least was
young.  George might share my burden.  If George knew, it would be his
interest to keep the thing quiet, and I felt sure that where I was
powerless to keep my father from turning even a hair's-breadth from his
own way, George might have many means of influencing him.

After dinner I came up to where George was idly reading the newspaper.

"Can I speak to you before you go to bed?"  I said, in a low voice.

"What about?" he asked, crossly.

"I can't tell you in this room.  Will you come to my bedroom before you
go to sleep?"

"Very well," he answered, still very gruffly.

"Now what is it?" he asked, when he came to my room between ten and
eleven that night.  "What girl's confidence am I to be worried, with?"

"No girl's confidence, as you are pleased to call it, George.  Now
listen.  Our father must not see Mr Chillingfleet in the morning.  He
_must_ not--he _shall_ not.  You, George, must prevent it."

"I must prevent it!  Is that what you have kept me out of my bed to say?
Upon my word, Rose, you are unreasonable.  Pray tell me how I am to
keep my father from doing what he wishes."

"Oh!  George, you are very clever, and you can find a way when I--I
can't, although I'd give all the world to.  George, George! he must not
see Mr Chillingfleet, and this is the reason."

Then I told my story.  I told it quite calmly and without any outward
show of shame.  I found as I talked that I had grown accustomed to this
tragedy, that the first edge of its agony was blunted to me.

I was not prepared, however, for the effect it had on my brother.  As my
story proceeded I saw all the colour leave George's large,
healthily-tinted face; drops of perspiration stood on his forehead.  He
took out his handkerchief and wiped the moisture from his lips and brow.

When I ceased speaking he sank down on the nearest chair.  I had
expected a perfect storm of angry and bitter words.  George did not
utter one.

"Well?"  I could not help saying at last.

"Well," he answered, "there's an end of everything, that's all.  I meant
to ask an honest girl with a nice little bit of money to be my wife.  I
thought I'd ask her next Sunday.  I love her, too, 'tisn't on account of
the money; that's at an end.  She shan't ever say she married the
brother of a thief!"

"Oh!  George, don't be too hard on him.  He was sorely tempted, and he
is so young."

"Am I hard on him, Rose?  Am I saying anything?"

"George, dear brother, I wish I could help you."

"You can't; I'm off to bed now."

"George, you will keep this from my father?"

"Rather!"

"You will manage that he shall not see Mr Chillingfleet?"

"I will manage that he never hears the story you have told me to-night.
Good-night, Rose."

"Kiss me, George.  Oh!  George, I'm bitterly sorry for you."

I ran after him and flung my arms round his neck, and gave him what we
used in the old childish days to call a bear's hug.

When I pressed my lips to his cheek I saw tears in his eyes.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

MY BROTHER'S SIN.

When George left my room I sat down near my dressing-table, and to
comfort myself after all the worries of the day, took out my ruby ring
to feast my eyes on its beauty.  I had a vision of George's face with
the queer pallor on it.  I heard again his voice as he spoke of the girl
who had a little money, and whom he loved--the girl, however, who would
never now be asked to be his wife.  My brother George was a hard man,
but he was righteous, he was honourable.  I respected him for his words;
and at that moment I pitied the girl who would lose him because of
Jack's sin.

"Oh, Jack, Jack, what have you done to us all?"  I cried aloud.

How pitiable is weakness; how mean is cowardice; and of all things, how
dreadful is that _moral_ cowardice which leads men into crooked ways.
Oh, Jack, if only you had told us about Hetty, and not stooped to theft
for her sake.

I wiped some slow tears from my eyes.  I was determined that my regrets
should not overmaster me.  I looked down at the ruby ring on my finger;
it had the usual effect upon me; banishing my anxieties, lifting my mind
from the sordidness of my surroundings, and taking me with it into a
land of dreams, loveliness, and hope.

I said to myself, "Now I will touch the secret spring.  Now, little
ring, you shall open your heart and show me the very depths of your
secret life.  First, however, I shall make an illumination in your
honour."  I opened my trunk; took out my bits of candles and lighted
them; turned the key in the lock of my door, and sat down again by the
dressing-table.  It did not take me long to discover the slight nick by
the serpent's eye.  I pressed my finger lightly on the spring, and to my
joy the central splendid ruby revolved aside on its hidden hinge, and
the serpents with their brilliant flashing eyes moved apart like doors.
The inner mechanism of the ring was bare; the tiny, hidden chamber was
open.

"What a secret I could put in here!"  I said to myself.  "Some hairs
from a beloved head might be buried here along with thousands of
brilliant hopes.  Love itself could lie hidden here to leap into life
and fulness when the right moment came."  I wondered if love, with his
thousand hopes and fears, could ever in such a sense come to me.
Scarcely likely.  I was one of the women who, in all probability, would
never marry.  I should have a strong life and plenty to do.  I should
have a courageous life and many battles to fight; but it was scarcely
likely that my portion in the book of fate could also include the
passionate lover, the tender and devoted husband, and the clinging, soft
love which would come from baby lips, and enter into my heart through
sweet child voices.

I expected none of these things, and yet the trembling desire to grasp
them all, to claim them all, to cry to fortune, "Give, give, give fully,
give abundantly; don't starve _me_, but feed me until my whole nature is
satisfied," swept over me as I looked into the heart of the ruby ring.

As I did so I noticed for the first time that the little recess, which
appeared at the first glance to be quite empty, contained a tiny piece
of paper, which might have been placed there as a bed on which to lay a
treasure.  The paper was white, of the finest texture, exquisitely cut
to fit the exact shape of the chamber.  There was nothing whatever
written on the paper.  I touched it with the point of my small finger,
it did not move; I pressed it, it did not stir.

I was about to close the ring, but something induced me to look again
more narrowly at the paper.  Why was it put there?  Why did it take up
space so minute, so valuable?

I put my hand into my pocket, and taking out a penknife, opened the
smallest blade and inserted the point delicately under the paper.  After
a very slight resistance, I detached it from the base of the little
secret chamber.  I took it out of the ring, and laid it on the palm of
my hand.  There was no writing on the upper surface of the paper.  I
looked underneath and saw, to my amazement, that something was faintly
ciphered there.  The writing was perfect, but so minute that I could not
possibly read it with my naked eye.  My mother possessed amongst her
treasures an old microscope.

I guessed shrewdly, although she never told me so, that this microscope
had been given to her by Cousin Geoffrey.  My mother kept her microscope
on her own little work-table in the drawing-room.

The house was quiet now; all its inhabitants, with the exception of
myself, asleep and in bed.  I knew there was little chance of sleep for
me that night.

Placing the treasured morsel of paper under a glass on my
dressing-table, I slipped off my shoes, softly unlocked my door, and ran
down-stairs.  I felt provoked with the small and poor cottage stairs for
creaking so desperately.  I reached the drawing-room, however, without
disturbing any one, found the microscope, and brought it back in triumph
to my room.

Again I locked my door, and opening the microscope, took out the
strongest lens it possessed.  I arranged the lens as I had seen my
mother do; steadied the candles until I managed to secure a powerful ray
of direct light; placed the morsel of paper under the magnifier, and
applied my eye to the glass.

The minute writing was now magnified some hundreds of times.  So largely
was it increased that I could not see the whole of the writing at once.
In large type I read, however, the following words:

"Look in the--"

I felt myself trembling all over.  Where was I to look?  Why was I to
look?  Was the ruby ring going to tell me a secret?  Was it going to
confide to me--to me, the mystery of Cousin Geoffrey's unknown heir?

With great difficulty, and with fingers that trembled, I moved the
morsel of paper until I got the microscope to bear on the remaining
words of the sentence.  They came out clear at last.  Clear and large
they flashed upon my vision.

The conclusion of the sentence was as follows:

"Chamber of Myths."

The ruby ring had given up its secret; it had brought me a message.

"Look in the Chamber of Myths."

"Yes," I said, "I will look there to-morrow."

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

GEOFFREY RUTHERFORD'S KEYS.

It is scarcely to be wondered at when I say that I did not close my eyes
that night.  I arose early the following morning, determined to lose no
time in seeking Mr Gray, and receiving a renewed order to visit Cousin
Geoffrey's house.  I rose long before dawn, dressed myself neatly, and
went down-stairs.  I felt far too excited to remain in bed any longer.
It was still dark when I entered our tiny drawing-room, but I busied
myself in helping our one servant to clean and tidy the little
sitting-room.  She polished the grate and laid the fire, and I put a
match to it and caused it to blaze up merrily.

"Oh, Miss Rosamund, you are wasteful," exclaimed Sally.  "And there
ain't any too much coal left in the cellar," she continued.  "My missus,
she never has the fire lit in the droring-room afore dinner-time, and
you knows that well, Miss Rosamund."

"Never mind, Sally, I must have a fire this morning," I replied.

I felt reckless and extravagant.  What if we never needed to economise
more!  What if--?  My brain seemed to reel; I almost shook myself in my
anger.  "How silly you are, Rosamund Lindley!"  I said under my breath.
"What if you have got the secret which will lead to the discovery of
Cousin Geoffrey's will? is it likely that that will can affect you?  Oh,
what a conceited, foolish girl you are!"

Nevertheless, I toasted myself before a warm fire, and dreamed my dreams
until breakfast time.

At that meal I called forth angry words both from my father and George.
I calmly announced my intention of going up to town with them.  When I
said this, George's face grew red with indignation.  His eyes looked
full at me.  They said as plainly as eyes could speak: "_Now_ what whim
have you taken into your head?  Are you going to interfere still further
in this wretched, disgraceful affair of Jack's?"

My own eyes danced as they replied to him with a gay and confident
smile.  He almost turned his back on me, and upset half a cup of coffee
in disgust.

I jumped up to fetch a cloth to wipe up the mess he had made.  My father
said:

"Rosamund, it is out of my power to gratify all your restless whims; you
are scarcely at home when you are off again.  You will turn into one of
those gadding women, those busy-bodies who are a disgrace to their sex.
Mary," turning to my mother, "I wonder you allow it."

"Could not you stay at home to-day, Rose, dear?" she asked, gently,
looking at me with a sweet piteous sort of smile.

"I'll stay at home to-morrow, mother darling," I answered.  "I am ever
so sorry to leave you to-day, but it is absolutely necessary for me to
go to town."

"Stuff and nonsense," said my father.  "I shan't pay for your ticket,
miss."

"I've enough money to do that for myself," I replied.

The sorrow in my mother's eyes deepened.  She could never bear any of us
to oppose our father.  I followed her into the little drawing-room.

"A fire already!" she exclaimed.  "What can Sally have been thinking
of?"

"It was my fault, mother.  I lit the fire."

"Rosamund, dear, how very wasteful!  And we have scarcely any coal in
the cellar, and your father says he will not be able to order a fresh
supply before Monday."

"Mother darling, sit down in your easy-chair and warm yourself by the
fire; you look so white and shivery.  Mammie dear," I continued,
kneeling down and rubbing my cheek affectionately against hers, "I feel
full of hope to-day--I cannot economise to-day--don't ask me."

My mother smoothed back my hair, kissed me on my forehead, and gave
herself up to the enjoyment of the fire.

"Do you know why I am going to town?"  I whispered.

"I wish you would not go at all, Rose.  Your father is vexed."

"I fear I must vex him to-day, mother.  I am going to Cousin Geoffrey's
house."

Two pink roses stole into my mother's pretty cheeks.  She looked at me
inquiringly.

"Last night," I continued, "the ruby ring brought me a message."

"Rosamund, my darling, what do you mean?"

"What I say.  I will explain everything when I return from town.  I am
going now on the business which the ring told me of."  I sprang to my
feet as I spoke, kissed my mother again, and ran out of the room to get
ready.

I had a silent journey up to Paddington; neither my father nor George
would say a word to me.

When I arrived at the terminus I coolly desired George to hail a hansom
for me.

"I think you must be mad," he said, raising his eyebrows.

"Will you get me a hansom?"  I repeated, in a quiet voice.  He stared at
me again; but the steady look in my eyes quelled him.  He held up his
umbrella to a hansom driver, and walked unwillingly across the platform
with me.  My father had long ago left us to our own devices.

"Shall I give you a lift, George?"  I said.  "I am going towards the
City."

"No, thank you," he replied.  "I at least am too honest to ride in a
vehicle I cannot afford."

"George," I said, looking earnestly at him, "believe me, I am doing
nothing rashly.  I am upheld by a hope to-day--a hope which may turn out
a mere chimera, but which is yet sufficiently real to induce me to take
steps to see Mr Gray with as little delay as possible."

"Who is Mr Gray?"

"Cousin Geoffrey Rutherford's lawyer."

"That crazed old man who died in the autumn?"

"Good-bye, George," I said, springing into the hansom and waving my hand
to him.  I shouted Mr Gray's address to the driver through the little
window in the roof.  George was so angry that he did not even vouchsafe
to take off his hat to me as I drove away.

I arrived at Mr Gray's in good time.  He was within, and I was shown
almost directly into his presence.

"How do you do, Miss Lindley?" he said; "please be seated."

His manner was calm and pleasant, but his eyes said plainly, "Now,
what's up?  Have you got any news for me?"

I answered Mr Gray's eyes, not his voice.  I did not sit down, but
stood close to him, as if I was in haste to be gone.

"I want an order to view Cousin Geoffrey's house," I said.

"What, again?" he asked.

"Yes, and I am in a great hurry."

Mr Gray's eyes grew absolutely eager and hurried in their speech, but
his voice was as cool as ever.

"You had better take a chair," he said.

Still replying to his eyes, I continued to stand.

"I want an order to view the house," I said.  "I want you to give me a
letter to the caretakers asking them to allow me to go where I please
_alone_; and I want you to give me all Cousin Geoffrey's keys."

"All Mr Rutherford's keys!  What do you mean?"

"I cannot tell you.  Will you trust me?  May I have them?"

"You are making a bold and extraordinary request."

"I know it."

"And you won't explain?"

"I can't explain.  Oh!  Mr Gray, please let me have the keys."

The lawyer looked me all over from head to foot; his searching eyes
travelled over my person.

"At least, Rosamund Lindley, you are honest," he said.  "If you open
drawers, you won't steal."

"No," I said, proudly.

"If you peer into secret places, you won't disturb?  I see order written
across your forehead, Rosamund, and determination sits comfortably on
those firm lips of yours, and courage and honesty dwell in your eyes.
There!  I'm an old fool, I suppose; but chit of a girl as you are, I am
going to trust you.  If you want those keys, you may have them."

"Thank you, Mr Gray; they shall be all safely returned to you
to-night."

"I should rather think so, indeed.  I only meant you to have them for an
hour or two."

"I shall probably want them for the whole of to-day; and if I do not
come across what I am looking for, I shall be obliged to ask you to let
me have the keys again to-morrow, again the next day, again every day
until my search is ended."

"Pooh, pooh!" he said.  "You are intent on a search for the hidden will,
I suppose.  May you find it! you have my best wishes."

"Thank you."

"By the way, Miss Lindley, you have got that ruby ring of yours safe, I
hope?"

"Quite safe; it is on my finger."

"How often have I warned you not to wear a valuable ring of that kind in
so careless a manner!  Good heavens! it may slip off when you are
washing your hands."

"I will take care of that," I answered.

The lawyer sighed, favoured me with another keen glance, and then rose
deliberately from his chair.

"I had better get you the keys," he said.  "Shall I come with you to the
house?"

"No, thank you."

"But the keys are heavy.  I must send a messenger with you to carry
them."

"I will take them myself, please."

"I warn you that they are heavy."

"And I am strong."

Mr Gray smiled.

"Wilful girl," he said.  He ceased to combat any more of my objections,
and, walking across his office, opened an iron safe which was let into
the wall.  He pushed his hand far into the safe and took out a leather
bag.  There was a label on the bag which I could read.

"Geoffrey Rutherford's keys" was written in clear type on the white
label.

Mr Gray untied the label, placed it in the safe, and brought me over
the bag.

"Here they are," he said, "the precious keys! here they are, one and
all--some bright, some rusty; some large, some small.  You will have to
take pains with these keys, Miss Rosamund.  They were made specially for
their owner by a skilled locksmith; they are full of curious tricks;
some must turn twice before they open, some must lock and unlock and
lock again and yet again; some remain immovable until they find the
secret spring.  Don't break any of them, for it would be difficult to
replace them.  Now take the bag; its contents are heavy and more
precious than gold."

Mr Gray placed the leather bag in my hand.  Its weight surprised me.  I
would not show dismay, however, but girding up my courage and all the
muscles of my strong right arm, went out into the street.

I had to walk the whole length of this long street before I came across
an empty hansom.  Both arms ached by this time.  From right hand to left
I changed that bag; from left hand back again to right.  I never carried
anything so heavy before.  I wished more than once that I had accepted
Mr Gray's offer of sending a trusty messenger with me.

At last, however, my earnestly desired hansom crawled slowly into view.
I hailed it, got in, and a few minutes later found myself standing in
the hall of Cousin Geoffrey's house.

The caretaker, Drake, was within.  He knew me this time, and smiled a
welcome.

"Drake," I said, "I have come to spend some hours here.  Mr Gray says
that I am to have full liberty, and am not to be questioned or
interfered with in any way."

"Certainly, miss; whatever Mr Gray wishes must be done."

"Is Mrs Drake within this morning, Drake?"

"The missus is down in the kitchen, miss; shall I fetch her to you?"

"I don't think you need do that.  I only wanted to say that as I shall
probably have to spend the day here, I should like to have something to
eat."

"Yes, Miss Lindley; the missus had better come up and take your orders."

"No, Drake; I have no time to waste in that way.  Go down-stairs and
tell her that I will come to her in the kitchen at two o'clock.  Ask her
to have a cup of tea for me and a boiled egg, if quite convenient.  I
shall pay, of course."

"Oh, miss, there ain't no need.  Mr Gray provides us very liberally.
I'll give the wife your orders, Miss Lindley."

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

KEYS AND LOCKS.

As the saying is, I had my task cut out for me.  Never did any one go
more nearly mad over the subject of keys than I.  Cousin Geoffrey, with
all his eccentricities, had in many respects a well-balanced mind.
Nothing could have been neater than the queer arrangements of his house.
Everywhere there were locked cupboards, locked bureaus, locked chests
of drawers, boxes with locks to them, portfolios which could only be
opened by fitting a key into a lock.  In short, there never was a more
thoroughly locked-up house.  No wonder the bag which contained Cousin
Geoffrey's keys should prove heavy.

It was one thing, however, for the owner of the said keys to know where
to apply each--it was quite another thing for me.  To my horror when I
unfastened the brown leather bag, I found that the great bunches of keys
of all sorts and sizes were unlabelled.  When I made this discovery I
almost gave up my task in despair.  I had to look twice at the ruby
ring, and think of the voice which spoke so confidently within its
secret chamber before I had the courage to commence my search.

I don't believe, however, that my heart was a particularly faint one,
and after girding myself to the fray, I toiled up-stairs, carrying the
bag of keys with me.

I knew well that my search must be confined to the octagon room.

To reach this room I had to go up-stairs to the first landing of the
house.  I had then to turn to the left, and to descend some four or five
steps; a narrow passage here led me to a spiral staircase which
communicated directly with the Chamber of Myths.

This quaint and beautiful room was evidently an afterthought.  It was
built when the rest of the house was completed.  It stood alone, and I
found afterwards that it was supported from the ground by massive
pillars.  No pains and no money had been spared upon it.  The middle of
London, or at least the middle of Bloomsbury, could scarcely contain a
lovely view.  Geoffrey Rutherford had clearly apprehended this fact when
he built the octagon chamber: he did the next best thing he could for
it; he supplied it with painted glass, of modern workmanship it is true,
but exquisite in colour and artistic in design.  The eight windows which
the room contained were narrow, high, and pointed; they were filled in
with glass copied from the designs of masters.  Geoffrey must have
travelled over a great part of Europe to supply himself with these
designs.  He must have gone with an artist as his companion, for in no
other way could these perfectly painted glass pictures from old Flemish
Cathedrals and old Roman Council Chambers have been so exquisitely and
perfectly reproduced.

"I wonder if he copied the designs himself," I thought.  "I remember
that my mother told me what an accomplished artist Cousin Geoffrey was.
Oh, what lovely glass!  I could sit here and study.  I will sit here and
study.  If I cannot acquire art in any other way, I will learn it from
Cousin Geoffrey's windows."

The Chamber of Myths had always exercised a fascination over me, but
never more so than to-day.  I was so excited by what I saw that I forgot
for a time the mission on which I had come.  The subjects of the
different windows represented Woman in various guises and forms: there
was the mother with the baby in her arms: there was the maiden crowning
herself with spring flowers, there was the wife tending the vines and
watching for the return of her absent husband.  One window was larger
than the rest, and it contained what I supposed was a copy of a
well-known masterpiece.  The world's greatest Friend sat in the centre
of a group of children.  Some had climbed into His arms, some leant
against His knees, some knelt at His feet, the tender and gracious hands
were raised in blessing, the eyes shone with the highest love.  In the
background a mother stood, worship in her face; adoration, humility,
joy, thanksgiving in her smile.  This picture of Christ blessing
children made me weep.

"Oh, if I could but see the original," I murmured.

I did not know then what I afterwards learnt that I was looking at the
original; that this painted window was the work, the greatest work, of
the eccentric owner of the house.  Between each of the pointed windows
hung valuable Gobelin tapestries, some the work of the great French
artist, Noel Coypel; others by the splendid workman, Jans.  I learned
the value of these rare tapestries later on; now I scarcely noticed
them, so absorbed was I in the fascination of the windows.  Each window
contained a deep seat, which was approached by oak steps, highly
polished and black with age.  The floor of the room was also of black
oak.  The roof was high and pointed, made of oak and exquisitely carved.
Behind each of the tapestry curtains I discovered a small locked
cupboard.  There were four oak bureaus in the room, each of which
contained ten separate locked drawers.  A work-table of ivory, inlaid
with lovely _lapis lazuli_, was also locked.  There was an old-fashioned
writing-table, and three or four oak chests.  Everything that could be
fitted with a key in this chamber had a lock which was securely
fastened.  I thought it highly probable that each lock would have to be
fitted with a separate key.  In this case, after making a careful
calculation, I found that if I were to acquaint myself with all the
secrets contained in the Chamber of Myths, I must be supplied with about
sixty separate keys.  No wonder the task before me seemed to increase in
magnitude as I approached it.

Opening my brown leather bag, I laid the keys which Mr Gray had given
me on a slender Queen Anne table, which stood near one of the tapestry
recesses.  My first task was to arrange them according to size.  This
occupied me until two o'clock, when a slow, somewhat heavy step on the
stairs warned me that Mrs Drake was approaching.  I did not want her to
see me at my task, and hastened to meet her.  She had provided a dainty
little lunch for me; not in the kitchen, but in the queer and desolate
sitting-room where I had first seen Cousin Geoffrey.  I ate my chop off
old Sevres china, and drank a refreshing draught of water out of a tall,
rose-coloured Flemish glass.  I was far too excited to linger long over
the meal.  The moment I had satisfied my hunger, I ran back to the
octagon room, and continued my task of arranging and sorting the keys.
I had provided myself with paper and ink, and as I fitted each key to
its lock I fastened a label to it.  Night overtook me, however, before
my work was a quarter done.  I put the keys once more into the brown
bag--the unsorted ones at the bottom, those with the labels at the top.
I went down-stairs, desired Drake to fetch a cab for me, told him I
should return to the house early the next day, and took the precious bag
containing the keys back to the lawyer's office.  He was within, and
evidently expecting me.

"Well, Miss Rosamund," he said, "and what luck have you had?"

"None up to the present," I replied.  Then I continued: "There must have
been a sad want of order in some person's brain not to have had these
keys labelled."

"Ah, you have found that out, have you?"

"Yes, and I am rectifying the omission."

"Good girl--clever, methodical girl."

"Here is the bag, Mr Gray; I will come to fetch it early to-morrow."

"Oh, you will, will you?"

"Certainly; expect me before eleven o'clock."  I bade Mr Gray
good-night, and took an omnibus which presently conducted me to the
neighbourhood of Paddington Station.

In course of time I got home.  My father and George had arrived before
me.  It was quite contrary to the doctrines of our house for a woman to
assert her independence in the way I was doing.  My conduct in staying
out in this unwarrantable fashion called forth contemptuous glances from
my father, sighs of regret from my gentle mother, and sharp speeches
from my brother George.  I bore all with wonderful patience, and ran
up-stairs to take off my things.

As I was arranging my thick hair before the glass, and giving a passing
thought to my dear little sister Hetty's curling brown locks, and
remembering how deftly she had tried to arrange mine according to modern
fashion, a knock came to my door, and George stood outside.

"You don't deserve me to treat you with any confidence.  You are the
most curious mixture of childishness, folly, and obstinacy that I have
ever had the pleasure of meeting," he said in his cold voice; "but,
nevertheless, as you were good enough to confide in me last night, and
as your communication was of importance, you will be pleased to learn
that I was able to persuade my father not to see Chillingfleet."

"I am delighted," I said, running up to George, and kissing him, very
much against his will.  "How did you manage it, George?  Do tell me."

"Dear me, Rosamund, how impulsive you are!  What does it matter how I
managed the thing, provided it was done?  I think it due to you to let
you know that I have taken steps to prevent our father ever becoming
acquainted with Jack's wickedness; and now let us drop this revolting
subject at once and for ever."

"I am more than willing," I replied, "provided we do not drop Jack as
well."

"What do you mean?  Do you suppose I am going to have anything further
to say to the fellow?"

"I cannot say whether you are or not, George, but I am.  Jack must live;
Hetty must be cared for."

"Hetty!  How dare you speak to me of that low-born girl?"

"I know nothing about her birth," I retorted.  "I only know that she Is
a lady at heart; that she is a sweet little thing, and that I love her
tenderly."

"I don't want to stand here any longer, Rosamund, to listen to your
childishness."

"Just as you please, George."

"One word, however, before I go," continued my brother.  "You will have
the goodness to give up this gadding into town in future, and will
arrange to stay quietly at home with our mother."

"I am sorry I cannot oblige you," I replied.  "It will be necessary for
me to go back to town early to-morrow, and to continue to do so for
several days."

"I shall ask my father to forbid you."

"Very well, George; you can please yourself, only I warn you, you had
better not."

"What do I care for your warnings?"  He slammed the door behind him, and
went down-stairs in the worst possible humour.

I wondered if George had quite made up his mind to give up the girl whom
he loved, and who possessed a little money, and if this was the reason
he was even crosser than his wont.

This thought helped me to be patient with him; and I went down-stairs to
supper, resolved to show no ill-temper, but to make myself as agreeable
as I possibly could.

I had never in my whole life wilfully disobeyed a direct command of my
father's, and I did not want to begin to do so now.  I took it upon me,
therefore, to make myself agreeable to him.  I put his worsted-work
slippers before the fire to warm.  I pulled forward his favourite
arm-chair, and cut the pages of a new magazine and laid it by his side.
George was not in the room.  My father received these attentions without
any outward show of thanks; but when I came close to him for a moment,
he bent forward and patted my head.

"It's a good thing to have you at home again, Rose," he said.

"Father," I said, suddenly, "I should always like to do what _you_ wish,
of course; but I need not obey George, need I?"

"Obey George!" echoed my father.  "I should think not, indeed.  The
fellow is growing much too hectoring.  Obey George!  What next, I
wonder?"

"He wants me not to go to town to-morrow," I said; "but if you give me
leave, I may, may I not?"

"Of course, child, of course."

"Then I'll tell George that I have your leave.  It isn't as if I were a
little girl, is it?  I shall always wish to please you and mother."

My father muttered something which might have signified approval or the
reverse; but when George came into the room and began, according to my
father's verdict, to hector me once again, he received a sudden and
unlooked-for check.

I could not help feeling myself quite double, and even deceitful, when I
discovered that I had so easily gained my point.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

METHOD IN THIS MADNESS.

I came down-stairs the next morning dressed in my best brown cashmere.
I had a neat white frill round my throat, and my hair was dressed with
attention.  I looked smart for me, and I felt certain that George would
notice this fact, and begin to make himself disagreeable.  The meal that
morning was particularly appetising.  I myself had seen to this.  I had
supplemented our inefficient maid-of-all-work's efforts.  I had boiled
the porridge myself, and took care that it was thick, but not too thick,
and that it was smooth in substance and admirably done.  I had also made
the toast; and that delicate brown toast, crisp and thin, was certain to
meet with my somewhat fastidious father's approval.  The coffee, too,
was strong, and the milk which was to add to its flavour was thoroughly
well boiled.  While my father drank his fragrant coffee, and munched
that thin crisp toast, good humour sat upon his brow, his deep-set and
somewhat fierce eyes glanced at me complacently.  He made a remark which
I was almost certain he would make--

"It is a good thing to have you back again, Rose.  I do not need you to
tell me, but I am quite certain that we do not owe this breakfast to
Bridget."

"Yes," suddenly responded George; "it's always well to have a capable
woman in the house.  You are staying at home of course to-day,
Rosamund--the right place for you too.  I am sure, sir, you must agree
with me," continued George, glancing at my father, "when I say that
young women have no business to spend their time gadding about."

"Much you know about young women," answered my father.  He was about to
continue, when I suddenly interrupted.

"And I am going to town this morning," I said, in my meekest voice, "and
father knows all about it, and he has given me leave."

"Tut!  I am not so sure of that," said my father, with a frown.

"I hope, sir, you will once for all forbid Rose to spend her time in
this thoroughly unprofitable, not to say extravagant and improper
manner," said George, his face turning crimson.

"It is not your place to interfere," said my father.

"And if _you_ give me leave, I may go, may I not, father?  You said last
night I need not obey George."

"Most certainly you need not.  George, stop that hectoring."

My father stamped his foot vehemently.  George dropped his eyes on to
his plate, and I ate my breakfast feeling that my cause was won.

"Rose," said my mother, when the meal was over, calling me into the
drawing-room as she spoke, "are you really going back to London to-day?"

"I must, mother darling."

"My dear child, your present strange proceedings agitate me a good
deal."

"Dearest mother! you shall know everything as soon as ever I can tell
you.  Perhaps to-night you shall know all."

My mother sighed.  "And where is the good of vexing George?" she
continued.

"George shall not stand between us and--and happiness," I said with
vehemence.  "Mother, it is impossible for me to explain.  I shall, I
must, I _will_ go to London to-day.  Mother darling, you won't blame me
when I tell you everything by and by."

"I never blame you, Rosamund," said my mother; "you are the great
comfort of my life.  How could I possibly find fault with you, my dear,
dear daughter?"

She kissed me as she spoke.

I ran up-stairs for my hat and jacket, and as my father was putting on
his great-coat in the hall, I tripped up to him, equipped for my little
expedition.

"So you are coming, Rosamund?" he said.  "Yes, of course," I replied,
"if only to show that George is not to lay down the law to you."

Oh! how double I felt as I said this.  I hated myself.  I blushed and
fidgeted.  It is a most uncomfortable sensation to fall a peg or two in
your own estimation.  It ruffles the nerves in the most extraordinary
manner.  As I walked to the station, leaning on my father's arm, I kept
saying to myself, "Rosamund, you are a detestable, double-minded,
deceitful girl.  You must do penance for this.  You must be punished by
yourself--by the better part of yourself, Rosamund Lindley.  Some day,
Rosamund, you will have to confess your real motives to your father.
You must let him know what a low, double sort of a creature he has got
for a daughter."

George did not speak at all during our journey up to town, but my father
was quite chatty and confidential with me.  He even confided some fears,
much to my surprise, which he entertained with regard to my dear
mother's health.

"Your mother ought never to spend her winters in England," he said.
"She has always been fragile; she grows more fragile every year; she
ought to winter abroad--in the Riviera, or some other dry and sheltered
place."

He spoke quite kindly, with real anxiety in his voice.  I never loved
him so well.  We parted the best of friends at Paddington, and I went
off to Mr Gray's office, secured my bag of keys, and before ten o'clock
that day found myself once again in Cousin Geoffrey's house, with many
long hours before me to spend as I thought fit.  I went up to the
octagon room, and spent the whole of that long day arranging and sorting
those dreary bundles of keys.  I had made up my mind that I would not
commence my task of examination until each key fitted each lock.  I was
firmly convinced that if I did not use method I should effect nothing.
I was aware that the task before me was one of great difficulty.  I
would not add to it by any irregularity with regard to my method of
search.  Methodical work is always more or less successful, and as the
day wore on I fitted key after key into the locks they were meant to
open.  My spirits rose as my work proceeded, and I felt almost sure that
I might commence my search in good earnest to-morrow.

The light was beginning to fade, and I was thinking of putting my
nicely-sorted keys away and retiring from my hard day's work, when I
heard steps on the deserted stairs, the murmur of voices--several
voices, one of them high and sweet, the others low and deep in tone,
evidently proceeding from men's throats.

The sounds approached nearer and nearer, and a moment afterwards the
door of the octagon room was opened, and Drake, accompanied by three
people, entered.  In this dark room, which, with all its beauty, never
admitted the uninterrupted light of day, it was difficult for me at
first to recognise the people who so suddenly invaded my solitude.  But
the clear, high voice was familiar, and when an eager figure ran across
the room, and two hands clasped mine, and a fervent kiss was implanted
on my somewhat dusty forehead, I did not need to look again to be quite
sure that Lady Ursula Redmayne stood before me.

"Here I am, Rosamund.  Whether welcome or not, I am here once more.
Ursula, the impetuous, comes to visit Rosamund, the mysterious.  Now, my
dear, what are you doing? and have you no word of greeting for me, your
real friend, and for your cousin, for he is your cousin, Rupert
Valentine?  Have you no word of affectionate greeting, Rosamund?"

I stammered and blushed.  I was not very glad to see Lady Ursula
Redmayne.  At this moment her presence confused me.  I avoided looking
at Captain Valentine, and wondered quickly what he must think of my
present very remarkable occupation.

"How do you do?"  I said, not returning her kiss, but trying hard to
seem pleased; "how do you do, Captain Valentine?  I won't shake hands
with you because my hands are very, very dirty."

"And why are they dirty, Rose?" asked Lady Ursula, her merry eyes
twinkling.  "A lady should never have dirty hands.  Oh, fie!  Rose; I am
shocked at you.  I will only forgive you on one condition--that you tell
me what you are doing here."

"Nothing wrong," I replied; "but Mr Gray knows.  You had better ask Mr
Gray."

"Don't worry her, Ursula," said Captain Valentine.  "Miss Lindley has a
perfect right to employ her time as she pleases.  You remember, Miss
Lindley, the last time I had the pleasure of meeting you, how we
established a sort of cousinship.  I believe we are undoubtedly cousins.
May I therefore have the pleasure of introducing to you another
relative--my brother Tom?"

Mr Tom Valentine now came forward.  He was a little shorter than his
brother, broader set, with a good-humoured and kind face.

(Forgive me, Tom, if at that moment I saw nothing more in your face.)

He shook hands with me kindly, said a word or two about being glad to
meet a relative, and then began to examine the curious room for himself
with much interest.

"But what are you doing here?" said the irrepressible Lady Ursula; "and
oh!  Rupert, do look at these keys.  Fancy our methodical Rose arranging
these keys in bunches, and labelling them.  Oh! what a model of neatness
you are, Rose!  What a housewife you would make!"

"Don't worry her, Ursula," said Captain Valentine again.  Then he added,
turning to me: "The fact is, my brother Tom and I are very much
interested in this old house.  Tom is my eldest brother, Miss Lindley.
He is a great traveller--a sort of lion in his way.  You must get him at
some propitious moment to tell you all about his many adventures.  He
has met the savages face to face.  He has been through the heart of
darkest Africa.  He has fought with wild beasts.  Oh, yes!  Tom, you
need not blush."

"Who would suppose you could blush, Tom?" said his future sister-in-law,
patting him familiarly on his shoulder.  "I should imagine that swarthy
skin of yours too dark to show a blush."

"I hate making myself out a hero," said Tom Valentine in his gruff
voice.  "Do stop chaffing, Rupert, and let us tell Miss Lindley why we
have come here."

"Curiosity," said Captain Valentine; "curiosity has brought us.  I told
Tom last night about Cousin Geoffrey Rutherford's death, and about the
curious will he had made.  Tom and I spent many happy months in this old
house; long, long, long ago, Miss Lindley.  I told Tom last night the
story of your ruby ring.  Altogether I excited his curiosity to an
enormous extent; and he said he himself would like to have a search for
the missing document.  May I ask you a blunt question, Miss Lindley?
Are you looking for it now?"

I hesitated for a moment.  I felt my face turning white; then raising my
eyes, I said, steadily, "I am."

As I uttered these words I encountered the direct and full gaze of my
new cousin, the bearded and bronzed traveller, Tom Valentine.  If ever
there were honest eyes in the world they dwelt in Tom's rather plain
face.  They looked straight into mine as I uttered these words, and I
read approval in their glance.

"Yes, I am looking for the will," I said, encouraged by the glance Tom
had given me.

"I may never find it; but I am not without a clue.  Look here!"  I
added, suddenly, "I will confide in you all.  Two of you are cousins,
the other is, I am sure, my true friend.  Look at my ruby ring."  I held
up my hand--my dirty hand.  I pulled the ring off my third finger.  "You
know the secret of the ring," I said to Rupert Valentine.  "Open it
carefully; let it show its secret chamber.  You thought that secret
chamber revealed nothing; that it was empty and without its secret.  You
were mistaken.  Look again, but carefully--very carefully."

I was so excited that I absolutely forgot that I was addressing my words
to three comparative strangers.  I gave the ring back to Captain
Valentine.

"Be very, very careful," I repeated.

He looked at me gravely, took the ring over to the light, motioned to
his brother to follow him, and touched the spring.  The central ruby
revolved out of its place, the serpents' heads opened wide their doors,
and the little chamber inside the ring was once more visible.

"Raise that white paper," I said; "there is writing under it."

"Rosamund, you shake all over," said Lady Ursula.

I flashed an impatient glance at her.

"Can you wonder?"  I said.  "Yes, perhaps you can.  It is impossible for
you to understand.  If you wanted money as badly as I do, and saw the
bare possibility of getting it, you too would shake--you would find it
impossible to control your emotion."

Again Tom Valentine's eyes met mine.  Now they were less approving.
Their glance expressed a sense of being puzzled, of being disappointed.

Meanwhile, Captain Valentine, lifting the tiny portion of paper, was
trying to decipher the very minute writing on the other side.

"You cannot read that with the naked eye," I remarked.  "Has any one
here got a magnifying glass?"

"I have," said my cousin Tom.

He took a tiny little lens, exquisitely mounted, out of his pocket, and
handed it gravely to his brother.  Captain Valentine applied the lens to
his eye, looked at the ring, and uttered an exclamation.

"Look in the Chamber of Myths," he read aloud.

"`Look in the Chamber of Myths!'  What does this mean?  I always thought
Geoffrey Rutherford was off his head.  Dear Miss Lindley, are you
allowing wild words of this sort to guide you?"

"There is method in this madness," I returned, "for this is the Chamber
of Myths."

"This room, this lovely room?" exclaimed Lady Ursula.

"Yes; it was one of Cousin Geoffrey's fancies to name each room in his
house.  This was called by him the `Chamber of Myths'--why, I cannot
tell you.  The fact I can verify.  Go to the door and look."

I brought them all to the door of the room, pushed aside the sliding
panel, and showed the name in white letters on a dark ground.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

VANITY.

I returned home late that night, but by this time my people were
accustomed to my eccentricities.  My father and mother made no comment
when I came in looking tired and yet excited.  Even George was silent.
He evidently thought it useless to continue to torment me.  I scarcely
slept at all that night.  I had fitted all the keys into their locks,
and to-morrow my search would begin.

Lady Ursula Redmayne, Captain Valentine, and his brother had all
arranged to come and see me on the morrow in the Chamber of Myths.

"We will none of us disturb your search," Lady Ursula had said, "but the
result we must--we really must know."

I could not forbid them to come, for the Valentines were also Cousin
Geoffrey's relations; but I was sorry.  The secret had been in a measure
confided to me alone, and I had an unreasonable feeling of jealousy in
sharing it with any one.

I was early at Cousin Geoffrey's house the following day, and everything
being arranged now according to the most approved method, I began my
search without a moment's delay.  Oh! the pathos of the task.  Oh! the
strange, dreary, undefined sense of loneliness which came over me as one
by one I opened those drawers, and looked into the secrets of the dead
man's life.  The drawers of the different cabinets in the Chamber of
Myths were filled, not with rubbish, but with strange, foreign
curiosities.  A sweet scent came from them which brought me a waft of
another and richer world.  Sandal-wood and spices, old-fashioned silks,
gorgeous brocades, boxes full of exquisite dyes, shawls from Cashmere,
coloured beads from Japan, piles of embroidery, Indian muslins of the
softest and finest texture, all lay neatly folded and put away in the
drawers of the cabinets in the Chamber of Myths.

Were these things myths?  Were they myths in the life of a man who had
gone down to his grave leaving the world no whit better for his
presence?  He had hoarded his wealth instead of using it.  He, living in
the richest of homes, had yet been practically homeless; he, with a long
rent-roll and a heavy banker's account, had yet been poorest of the
poor.  He had never known children to love him or a wife to render his
existence beautiful.  On his tombstone only one word could be
written--_Vanity_.

I felt all these thoughts.  They coursed through my brain as I opened
the sacred drawers where the delicate riches from Eastern lands lay
treasured up.  No clue had I yet obtained to guide me in my search--no
papers, no memoranda of any sort.  The Eastern perfume began presently
to intoxicate me--it seemed to get into my head, to put a light into my
eyes and a flush of roses on my cheeks.  I felt under a spell.  I should
not have been the least surprised if Cousin Geoffrey himself had opened
the door of the Chamber of Myths and come up to my side and asked me
what I did opening coffins.  For in one sense these closed drawers were
coffins.  They held, I made no doubt, many buried hopes.

At one o'clock the rattling of gay, light laughter was heard on the
stairs, and Lady Ursula, accompanied by my two relatives--for by these
names I was pleased to designate the Valentines--entered.

"We have brought lunch," said Lady Ursula; "a delicious basketful--
containing all kinds of good things.  Rupert must open it.  Well,
Rosamund, what rosy cheeks!  Have you found the will?"

"No," I said.  "Please, Lady Ursula--"

"Well, what does this most pleading of pleases mean?"

"We are not going to lunch in this room," I said.

"Why not?  It is a charming room to lunch in.  Oh, what a love of a
cloth!  I must open it.  See the delicacy of this ground, and these
fairy stitches, and that embroidery.  We will spread it over the centre
Queen Anne table, and put our lunch on it."

"You will not," I said.  "The cloth does not belong to us.  We have no
right to desecrate it."

"Desecrate!  Honour, you mean, Rosamund.  Oh!  Rupert, Rupert,"
continued Lady Ursula, turning to her future husband, "I do pray and
trust that you will be discovered to be Cousin Geoffrey's heir.  I
absolutely pine for that cloth.  I long for it as intensely as I used to
long for Rosamund's ruby ring."

Lady Ursula's volatile spirits had a depressing effect on me.  I was
determined, however, not to yield to her whims.  We had no right to
spoil Cousin Geoffrey's Chamber of Myths by dining in it.

I took my friends down to the great drawing-room, and there we spread
our repast; truth to tell, we had a merry time.  Afterwards we all
returned to the Chamber of Myths.

"You alone have the right to continue the search, Miss Lindley," said my
cousin Tom Valentine.

"I think I had better go on with it," I said, steadily.  "I have a
certain plan marked out in my own mind, and if any one interfered with
me now I should only feel puzzled."

"You must certainly continue the search," said Captain Valentine.

"And we will look at these loves of windows," said Lady Ursula.

My three visitors--for in one sense I considered them my visitors--went
to the far end of the room and left me in comparative peace.  With all
my heart I wished them away, but I had not the courage to desire them to
go.  I felt also that I had not the right.

The search, however, was now becoming irksome.  The Eastern treasures no
longer exercised a spell over me.  I was anxious for the daylight to
wane--for the time to arrive when I might re-lock the drawers, and
return the keys to Mr Gray.

I had now completely examined five of the cabinets.  I approached the
sixth, which stood exactly under the window which contained the
representation of Christ blessing the children.  I opened the top drawer
of this cabinet with a renewed sense of great weariness, of fatigue of
both mind and body.  The first thing I saw lying by itself in the little
shallow drawer was a thick envelope with my name on the cover--"Miss
Rosamund Lindley."  I seized it with trembling fingers.  I felt suddenly
cold and faint--my heart seemed to stop--my brain to reel.  I knew that
my search was ended.

"What is the matter?" said Lady Ursula, coming up to me quickly.

"Nothing," I replied, "except--except this--my search is over."

I held up the thick packet to her.  She half screamed, and called the
two Valentines to look.  "Read it, Rosamund, read it," she said.  "Read
the contents of that letter quickly, dear Rosamund."

"No," I answered, "I could not take in the words now, my head aches, my
hands shake, I am tired--I am very, very tired.  I must read the words
written to me inside this thick envelope when I am alone."

"Oh, but that is too bad.  We are consumed with curiosity.  Won't you
open the envelope?  Won't you read just a few words to satisfy us that
you are really the heir."

"I may be as little the heir as you, Lady Ursula.  The packet with my
name on the cover proves nothing.  But I am agitated--perhaps it is with
hope.  I should be glad to be Cousin Geoffrey's heir, for I am tired of
great poverty.  I am not a bit ashamed to say this; but I cannot read
the letter which either confirms or destroys my hopes in the presence of
any one else."

Lady Ursula looked annoyed.  Captain Valentine also plainly expressed a
sense of disappointment on his face, but my cousin Tom heartily approved
my resolution.

"You are right," he said; "we will all go away.  You shall read your
letter in peace."

"You need not go away," I said.  "I am going myself.  I will not read
this letter until I get home.  Now I must lock these drawers and return
the keys to Mr Gray."

"And you will be sure to write at once and tell us the news, Rosamund,"
said Lady Ursula.

"Better still," exclaimed Captain Valentine, "let us meet here
to-morrow.  Let Miss Lindley tell us the contents of Cousin Geoffrey's
letter in person."

After a little consultation this plan was resolved upon.  We four were
to meet in the Chamber of Myths at noon on the following day.

After this I took my leave, ordered a hansom, and drove to Mr Gray's.

He was in and disengaged.  I entered his room without any delay.  The
moment he saw my face he jumped up, seized my two hands, shook them
heartily, and exclaimed--

"You have succeeded, Miss Lindley.  I know by your face that you have
succeeded."

"I have found this," I answered, holding up the packet.

"Yes, yes; in finding that you have found everything.  What a relief
this is to me.  That eccentric clause of the will was the last straw to
try the temper of any man.  Now let me congratulate you.  I do so most
heartily."

"I don't know what for; this solid packet may mean nothing to me."

"Oh! but it does."

"You know its contents then?"

"Perfectly.  Sit down, read your letter; know for yourself what a
fortunate--what a really fortunate girl you are."

"I won't read my letter now," I answered.  "I will take it home and read
every word, study each sentence in my own room; but not now.  You excite
me.  I am tired.  I cannot bear any more."

"Poor little girl," said Mr Gray, in quite a tender voice.  "There
never was a more plucky creature than you, Rosamund Lindley; but you are
a true woman after all.  Well, my dear, go home.  Early to-morrow I
shall see you again."

"I am to meet Lady Ursula Redmayne and Captain Valentine and his brother
in Cousin Geoffrey's house at twelve o'clock to-morrow," I replied.

"What!" answered Mr Gray.  "Has Tom Valentine returned?  Do you know
the Valentines--your cousins?"

"Are they really my cousins?"

"Yes, three or four times removed; but undoubtedly there was at one time
a relationship.  Well, Rosamund, what do you think of your cousin Tom
Valentine?"

"I scarcely know that I think of him at all," I replied.

"What!  Have you not discovered that he is a traveller--a man who has
met with remarkable adventures; a man of the world, a gentleman, a man
of culture; also, and above all, an Englishman, with a true and honest
heart?"

"I have had no time to find out these many excellent qualities," I
answered back.

"You will soon see them," responded Mr Gray.  "Your eyes will be
opened.  You will perceive what I mean; all, all that I mean.  So you
have already met Tom Valentine; and Tom has returned just in time.  What
an extraordinary coincidence! what a piece of luck!"

"I don't pretend to understand you," I answered.

"No, my dear; go home and read your letter.  God bless you, Rosamund.
Upon my word, this day's work has taken a load off my mind."

He again wrung my hand.  I had no time to think of his extraordinary
rapture, nor of his queer uncalled-for words about Tom Valentine.
Everything he said came back to me by and by; but I had no room in my
mind to dwell upon his words at that moment.  There was no doubt
whatever that the packet held in my hand brought good fortune to me and
mine.  Ugly Poverty might take to himself wings and fly away--he and I--
he and those I loved, would not have even a bowing acquaintance in
future.  This fact was quite sufficient to fill my mind to the exclusion
of all other ideas.  I went home early--had tea with my mother--said
nothing at all about the packet which lay in my pocket, but listened to
a long and miserable letter from Jack, while I held in my hand a little
note from Hetty, which I knew must be sad, but which scarcely troubled
me at that moment, for I also knew how soon I could relieve my dear
little sister's anxieties; how absolutely it now lay in my power to
comfort and aid her, and to give to Jack all the good things which would
make him a manly fellow once more.

I do not think in my whole life I ever felt happier than I did that
evening.  My fatigue had vanished--a feeling of absolute rest reigned in
my heart; even the annoyances, the vexations, the penury of home brought
to me a sense of rejoicing.  It was sweet to know that with a touch of
my magic wand I could sweep them once and for ever out of sight.

If I was happy, however, this could scarcely be said of any of the rest
of the family.  My mother had a headache; she had also caught cold, and
the cough, which always more or less racked her slender frame, was worse
than usual.

My father kept looking at her anxiously.  He really did love my
beautiful, gentle mother very much.  George was disagreeable and morose;
and my mother's eyes kept straying in the direction where Jack's
photograph stood.  She was thinking no doubt of that last letter from
the poor fellow.  Never mind, these were passing clouds, and knowing how
soon I could chase them away, I felt scarcely any pain as I watched
them.

At last, one by one, my family bade me good-night.  I stayed down-stairs
to put the little house in order, and then, going up to my room, locked
my door, and prepared to acquaint myself with the contents of that
letter, which was to turn all the dross of my life into pure and
glittering gold.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

UGLY POVERTY AND I.

Cousin Geoffrey had sealed his letter with red wax.  He had stamped the
seal with his own signet-ring, which gave the impress of a coat-of-arms
with a quaint device.  That device became a household word with me by
and by, but I was too impatient even to trouble myself to decipher it
just then.  I spread the thick sheets of paper before me, and gave
myself up to the luxury of satisfying the most burning curiosity which
surely ever besieged a girl.

Cousin Geoffrey's letter--a letter addressed to myself, well and
carefully written--was far too long to make it possible for me to quote
it here.  I read it once, twice, three times.  Then I sat with my hands
before me, the open sheets of paper lying on my lap, my eyes fixed on
vacancy.  Two or three candles were lighted in my room; one by one they
burnt low in the socket, and expired.  I was in the dark, not mentally
but physically.  There was no darkness in my mental vision that night;
my mind was so active that my body was incapable of feeling either
fatigue or cold, and my eyes were incapable of noticing the thick
darkness which surrounded them.

This was my position: I was an heiress of Cousin Geoffrey's wealth.  On
certain conditions I was to inherit exactly one-half of his houses and
lands, of his money in stocks and shares, and in the English Funds.  I
could have for my own, exactly one-half of the marvellous treasures
which filled the old house.  I could divide those shawls from Cashmere,
those sandal-wood boxes from China, those quaint embroideries from
Persia.  Even the half of those lovely painted windows in the Chamber of
Myths would belong to me.

It was very funny.  I could not help almost laughing, as I sat in the
dark, with Cousin Geoffrey's open letter on my lap, over the persistency
with which I would think of the treasures which the Chamber of Myths
contained.  Which Cashmere shawl might I take?  Which piece of
embroidery might I clasp to my heart as my very, very own?  Above all,
which of the painted windows might in future be known as Rosamund
Lindley's window--hers and no one else's?

I felt far, far more anxious about these comparatively minor matters
than I did about the money in the Funds and the landed possessions,
one-half of which also belonged to me.

Alack and alas! the news in the letter had nearly stunned me.  I found
that I was incapable of clear reasoning.  What a fool I was--what an
idiotic girl--to plan and consider, and think of Cashmere shawls and
Indian embroideries and painted windows, and wonder which would fall to
my share--which of the beautiful things I might claim as my own.

My own!  Cousin Geoffrey gave me nothing, nothing whatever of all his
wealth as my own absolutely.

On a certain condition I might have half.  Half of the money, half of
the treasures, should be settled on me and on my children for ever, if--
ah, here was the rub, here was the astounding discovery which took my
breath away and paralysed me, and made me incapable of any consecutive
thought beyond a burning sense of shame and anger.  I was to have these
riches if I fulfilled a condition.

This was the condition.  I was to marry the heir of all the other half
of the wealth and the beauty.  The other half of Cousin Geoffrey's
riches was left to my almost unknown cousin, Tom Valentine.  He was to
possess his half if he married me.  I was to take possession of my half
on the day I became his wife.

"I like you, Rosamund Lindley," Cousin Geoffrey had said in his letter;
"you are no beggar, and no fawner.  You are a simple-minded, honest,
downright English girl.  You have courage, too, and I always respect
courage.  You have come to me to help you with your art.  You have done
this with such a ludicrous, belief in yourself and your own powers, with
such a simple sort of vanity, that I should probably have tried to cure
it by granting your request had you come to me as a stranger.  But I
cannot look upon you as a stranger, Rosamund; you belong to my own kith
and kin, and you are the daughter of the woman I love best on earth.
Because you are Mary Rutherford's daughter I give you half my wealth _if
you fulfil the conditions I require_!"

I knew these words of the long letter almost by heart; I said them over
to myself many times.

When the first light of morning dawned I rose from my chair, stretched
my cramped limbs, pinched my arms to see if I were awake or if I had
only been going through a horrid nightmare; opened the window, took in a
draught of the cool morning air, and putting Cousin Geoffrey's letter
into my pocket went down-stairs.

The place looked as I had left it last night--our maid-of-all-work had
not yet come down-stairs.  Ugly Poverty surrounded me, and once more it
hemmed me tightly around, and made its presence more felt even than of
old, I had looked into a land of promise--an ideal and lovely country.
I had thought to enter; but alas! iron bars of pride, of maidenly
modesty, of right feeling, of even righteousness, kept me out.  All the
womanhood within me declared wildly and desperately--

"Even to enter into that promised land you shall not sell yourself?"

Ugly Poverty and I must still be close acquaintances--nay more, we must
be intimate friends, even comrades, walking the path of life side by
side and hand in hand.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

ARE THE CONDITIONS IMPOSSIBLE?

"Now, my dear young lady," said Mr Gray; "now, my dear, good Miss
Rosamund, let me ask you if you are doing right in flinging the gifts of
Providence from you?"

"I am doing perfectly right," I retorted with spirit.

"Pardon me, please do pardon me; youth is so impulsive and hot-headed;
youth is so assertive, so positive, it must be guided by age--it simply
must.  Now, Miss Rosamund, will you sit down in this easy-chair?  Will
you sit perfectly still, and allow me to speak for three or four
minutes?"

"Yes, you may certainly do that," I replied.

"Take this chair, then; lean back in it.  It is known to have the most
soothing effect imaginable on irritable nerves."

"Thank you very much; but my nerves are not irritable, and I prefer to
stand."

"Good heavens!  Rosamund Lindley's nerves not irritable.  Rosamund, who
is all fire and impatience; all quicksilver; the most sensitive, the
most nervous of mortals."

"Oh, please, please, Mr Gray, don't discuss me.  If you have anything
to say, please say it quickly."

Mr Gray was not a lawyer for nothing.  He saw he had gone too far; his
manner altered--he became business-like, grave, polite, and as a matter
of course, persuasive.

"You have been left this money, Miss Lindley," he said, "on, I grant
you, very peculiar conditions."

"On impossible conditions," I interrupted.

"Now, now, that is the point I am coming to; _are_ the conditions
impossible?"

"They are.  Mr Gray, if you have nothing more to add I will say
good-morning."

"I have a great deal more to add.  This is a very serious matter, and
you must not be a child about it."

"A child?"

"Yes! a baby, if you like.  The fact is, Miss Lindley, I have no
patience with you."

"You have not?"

"No, I have none whatever!  You are both conceited and selfish.  I am
ashamed of you."

Mr Gray spoke in a very angry tone.  Strange as it may seem, I quite
enjoyed it.  At that moment it was positively nice to be scolded.

"I will listen to you," I said, in a weak voice.

"You are very selfish," pursued Mr Gray.  "Providence intends you to be
wealthy, and to help all your relatives.  Providence means you to be a
blessing and assistance to your family.  You prefer to be a hindrance, a
clog, a kill-joy, a spoil-all.  Your mother is delicate, your father
poor, your brothers without any opening in life.  You can remove the
thorns out of all their paths.  You refuse to do this.  Why?  Because of
pride.  Providence, in addition to wealth, offers you the best fellow in
Christendom for a husband.  You won't even look at him.  You refuse to
make him happy by becoming his wife, and you leave him in a state of
poverty, because he can not inherit the fortune which is offered to him
without your assistance.  Thousands and tens of thousands of pounds are
placed at your feet.  What a power they are! what a grand power!  But
you won't have anything to say to them, and they go to enrich the Jews,
and the Society for Befriending Lame Cats, or some other preposterous
charity, I'm sure I can't say what."  Mr Gray's voice rose to a perfect
storm of indignation as he spoke of the provisions Cousin Geoffrey had
made for the spending of his wealth in case I refused to comply with the
conditions of his will.

"Well, what am I to do?"  I said, when the angry little man paused again
for want of breath.  "Am I, influenced by the reasons you have
mentioned, to lower myself, to have no regard at all for those natural
feelings of pride which all girls ought to have, and go up to my almost
unknown cousin and beg and pray of him to take pity on me, and allow me
to become his wife?"

"Who said you were to do anything of the kind?"

"Please, Mr Gray, _what_ am I to do?"

The lawyer jumped from his chair, rushed over to me, and seized both my
hands.

"Now you are reasonable," he said; "now you are delightful--now you
shall listen to my scheme."

"Please what is your scheme?"

"Listen, listen.  In the first place, Tom knows nothing of the
conditions of the will."

"Of course he does not.  How could he know?"

"Listen, Miss Rosamund.  Tom Valentine shall fall in love with you in
the ordinary and orthodox fashion, and shall propose to you in orthodox
fashion.  And you shall fall in love with him."

"How can you bring that about?"

"Never mind.  Nothing shall be done to hurt your pride.  My part in the
matter is simple enough.  I give you and Tom Valentine an opportunity of
becoming acquainted with each other.  I have a place at Putney--a
charming place.  You shall pay me a visit there."

"I won't go," I said.

"Yes, you will go--you will do what I tell you."

"No," I repeated; "you ask me to Putney for an object.  You mean to
conquer me--I won't be conquered.  I shall be very glad to visit you, if
you will be kind enough to invite me on another occasion.  But I am not
going to meet Mr Valentine; I am not going to meet him, because at last
I know the contents of Cousin Geoffrey's will."

Mr Gray rubbed his hands with impatience.  "You are doing wrong," he
said stoutly.  "You are offered a gift which will befriend you and
yours, which will help your mother who is ill."

"How do you know my mother is ill?"  I asked testily.

The lawyer gave me a piercing glance, he turned away.

"Your mother is not well," he said evasively.  It was curious, but that
tone in his voice broke me down.  I said--

"A visit to you, after all, involves nothing.  Say no more about it--I
will come."

I went home that day feeling uncommonly weak and small.  My excitement
had run its course--the re-action had set in; I felt dead tired and
languid.  I had a slight headache too, which I knew would get worse by
and by.  In short, I was more or less in a state of collapse, and I felt
that tears were not far from my eyes.

It seemed to me that I had just been going through a very severe fight,
and that I was in danger of being beaten.  I knew this by the fact that
in my collapsed condition I did not much care whether I was beaten or
not.

I arrived home to find matters a little more dismal even than usual.  My
mother's cough was so bad that the doctor had been sent for.  He had
prescribed (in those comfortable, unfaltering words which doctors are so
fond of using) the Riviera as the sovereign remedy.  My mother must
leave the harsh east winds of our English spring, and go into the land
of balmy breezes and colour and flowers.

"You must go without delay, Mrs Lindley," the doctor said, and then he
shook hands with her, and pocketed his fee, and went away.

His visit was over when I reached home, and my mother was seated,
wrapped up in a white fleecy shawl, by the little fire in the
drawing-room.  That shawl became her wonderfully.  Her beautiful face
looked like the rarest old porcelain above it; her clear complexion, the
faint winter roses on her cheeks, the soft light in her eyes, the
sweetness of her lips, and the fine whiteness of her hair gave her as
great a beauty as the loveliness of youth.  In some way my mother's
picturesque loveliness exceeded that of the innocent freshness of
childhood, for all the story, and all the sorrow, and all the love, the
courage, the resignation which life rightly used can bring, was
reflected on her beloved features.

I bent forward and kissed her, and the tears which were so near welled
up in my own eyes.

"Well, Rose, I can't go," she said; "but I'll tell you what we'll do,
we'll bring the Riviera here.  With a few flowers, and a nice book, and
a little more fire in the grate, we can get these pleasant things around
us; and I have no doubt, notwithstanding gloomy Dr Hudson, that I shall
soon lose my cough, and be as well as ever."

"Oh, yes, you will soon lose your cough, mother," I said.  I sat down at
her feet, and took her thin hand and pressed it passionately to my lips.
Over and over again I kissed it, and each moment a voice kept
whispering to me:

"The battle is going against you--you know it--you know it well!"

We were very poor at our home; but I will say this for us, we did not
make money the staple subject of conversation.  When we met at meals we
each of us pushed our penury away under a decent sort of cloak, and
although we constantly fought and argued and disagreed, we did not
mention our fears with regard to the possibility of meeting the next
quarter's rent, and paying the water rates, and filling the coal cellar
with fuel.

It seemed to-night, however, as if all my family were in league to break
this customary rule.  George crossly declared that he could not exist
any longer without a new suit of clothes.  My father desired him to
hush, and said that he might be thankful if he had a roof to cover him,
as there were already two quarters owing for rent, and he had not the
faintest idea where the necessary cheque was to come from.  Then he
began to scold about the expenses incurred during Jack's illness, and my
mother, weak and low already, put her handkerchief up to her eyes and
wept.

In the midst of our tribulation a letter arrived from Hetty, in which
she begged and implored me, for the love of Heaven, to send her a postal
order for a couple of sovereigns by return of post.

This letter of Hetty's was the last drop.  What _did_ it matter about me
and my feelings, and my righteous pride, and all the holy instincts of
my youth?  There was my mother to be saved, my home to be relieved, my
poor little new sister to be comforted and made happy.  I rushed out of
the room and wrote a frantic letter to Hetty.  I could not send her the
money, but I could send her hope.  I did.  I sent it flying to her on
the wings of her Majesty's post.  Then I wrote to Lady Ursula, and
apologised for not keeping my appointment at the Chamber of Myths that
day.  I said that Cousin Geoffrey's letter was of a very startling
character, and that it was impossible for me to disclose its contents to
any one at present.  I spoke to Lady Ursula affectionately and in a
sisterly spirit, and I sent my kind regards to her intended husband,
Captain Valentine.  I paused and even blushed as I considered what
message I could forward to my cousin Tom.  After careful reflection I
felt that I could say nothing about him.  He was the thorn in my lot at
present, and I felt that I owed him an enormous grudge, and that I
should have liked very much to hate him.  But when I remembered his
extremely honest expression, his bluntness and downrightness, I could
not quite manage to get up a feeling of hatred to a man who was really
in himself quite innocent.

Finally I wrote to Mr Gray, and told him that I would present myself at
his villa in Putney to-morrow.

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

MY MOTHER'S WEDDING-DRESS.

Never did a girl prepare for a gay visit with a sadder heart.  I had not
an idea what I was going to.  Mr Gray was rich, and I felt certain that
his villa was what my father would term "pretentious."  By this would be
meant that he had large rooms instead of small, good furniture instead
of shabby, good meals instead of bad, and in the place of loneliness and
gloom, brightness and company.

This I was sure of, for Mr Gray's eyes sparkled as if he lived well and
cheerily, and the pleasant sunshine of hospitality shone all over his
expressive features.

I was going to a gay house then--a "company" house.

I ran down-stairs early the next morning and told my mother of my
invitation, and of my acceptance of it.

She seemed a little surprised, then, after a pause, she said she was
pleased.

"Go, and have a good time, Rosamund," she said; "it is quite right that
girls should enjoy themselves; but oh! my love," an anxious shadow
coming across her face, "what have you got to wear?"

"Plenty of things, mother," I retorted, "lashin's and lavin's, as they
say in Ireland."

"But you have no evening dress, Rose.  At Mr Gray's the girls are sure
to dress for the evening."

"Oh, I can manage," I said.

"But you have _not_ got an evening dress, my darling; all the girls will
have evening dresses."

"One girl must do without," I retorted in a stout voice which concealed
many qualms of the heart.

"One girl must _not_ do without," replied my mother.  "Come with me,
Rosamund.  Rose, did I ever show you my wedding-dress?"

My mother laughed gaily; her eyes were bright.

"I did not know your wedding-dress was in existence, mother," I said.

"Yes, it is, and well preserved," she replied.  "Come up-stairs with me,
and you shall see it."

I followed my mother into her bedroom.  She unlocked a great square
wooden trunk, which stood in one of the windows, and laying aside many
folds of tissue paper, took from the depths of the trunk a brocaded silk
dress of heavy make and rich texture.  She laid the dress on the bed,
and looked at me with pink spots on each of her cheeks.

"There!" she said; "there!  Geoffrey gave me the dress, and he saw me in
it.  You may suppose that Geoffrey knew how to choose good things.  You
could not buy silk like that now.  Geoffrey pinned a rosebud just here.
Do you notice the tiny, yellow stain?  And then he kissed me on my
forehead.  We were good friends that day, although Geoffrey, dear
Geoffrey, had a strange look in his eyes.  I remembered the look
afterwards; but we were good friends, very great and affectionate
friends.  I never saw him again--never.  Well, Rosamund, what do you
think of your mother's wedding-dress?"

I was examining it all over.  It was quaint in make, and the silk had
the faint yellow tinge which years of lying by always produces.  The
sleeves were high and puffed.  There was a ruffle of very soft and
exquisite lace round the V-shaped body.  The waist was long, with a
pointed stomacher, and the skirt below was full and wide.

Never was there a dress less like the mode in vogue at the time of which
I write.

"The dress is out of date, perhaps, but it is very good in itself," said
my mother.  "It will fit you, Rosamund, for your figure is small and
dainty, like mine used to be.  Will you wear your mother's
wedding-dress, even if it is a little out of the fashion?"

"Yes, I will wear it," I said.  "Give it to me, and I will take it away
with me."

"But you must have other things to match," said my mother.  "Wait a
moment; you must have other things to suit the dress."

She rushed again to her trunk; she looked like a girl in her excitement.

"These are my wedding--shoes," she said, "and these white silk stockings
go with the shoes.  This petticoat, with the deep embroidery, will have
to be worn under the full skirt of the dress.  Oh, Rose, how glad I am
now that I did not cut this petticoat up!  Rose, I should like to see
you dressed for your first dinner-party!"

I kissed my mother, gathered up the poor old-world mementoes of lost
youth and love, and ran away to my own room.  I took with me on my visit
a larger trunk than I had at first intended, for my mother's wedding
silk must not be crushed or injured.

I arrived at the Grays' house about an hour before dinner.

The villa was less of a villa and more of a mansion than even I had
imagined.  There was a wide entrance hall, and an open roof overhead,
and a square well-staircase, which opened on to galleries which led to
the bedrooms.  The spring light had nearly faded when I arrived at the
house, but the soft and cheerful blaze of coloured lamps gave the
brightest and most picturesque effect.  There were flowers everywhere,
and vistas of pretty things from open doorways, and little peeps of wide
conservatories, and a distant faint clatter of glasses and silver in the
far-off dining-room.

Mr Gray came out himself to bid me welcome.  He was followed by his
wife and two daughters, Nettie and Tottie.  Nettie and Tottie were round
and fat and fair and insignificant-looking.  Mrs Gray was also round
and fat, but she had a matronly dignity about her, and a comfortable,
homely manner which made me take to her at once.

After Mr Gray had shaken me warmly by both my hands, Mrs Gray kissed
me, and Nettie and Tottie came up, each to one side of me, and in this
manner I was conveyed across the hall, and into a cheerful little
boudoir, where three anxious women's voices pressed hot tea and buttered
cakes on my notice.

I drank my tea and ate hot muffins, and felt that the pleasant and
luxurious surroundings of my present habitation suited me uncommonly
well.  After staring at me for half a minute Tottie made an abrupt
observation.

"Two or three people are coming to dinner," she said; "only gentlemen,
however, friends of papa's."

"Oh, Tottie!" exclaimed Nettie, giving her sister a knowing look.
"Friends of papa's indeed!  What next?  Are they _all_ only papa's
friend's?"

Tottie shrugged her shoulders--she looked pleased and conscious--perhaps
she expected me to quiz her; but that was not at all the kind of thing I
felt capable of doing.

"Some gentlemen are coming to dinner," resumed Tottie, after an
expectant pause, "so perhaps you would like to come up to your room in
good time to dress, Miss Lindley?"

I assented at once.

"I shall be very glad to go to my room," I said.

Tottie preceded me up the shallow stairs.  She ushered me into a large
bedroom supplied with every modern comfort.  It was getting well on into
April now, but a bright fire burnt in the grate, and the room was
further rendered cheerful with electric light.  I had the key of my
old-fashioned trunk in my pocket, so it was not yet unpacked; but to my
surprise two dinner dresses lay on the bed.  One was of soft creamy
silk; the other pink, a kind of almost transparent muslin.  Both were
simple in outline and graceful.  Even a brief glance showed me that they
were exquisitely finished, and must have cost a large sum.  Beside the
dresses lay gloves, a fan, small shoes, and delicate openwork stockings.
In a box were some beautiful freshly-arranged flowers, a spray for the
hair, and another for the front of the dress.

"Oh dear, dear!" exclaimed Tottie.  She rushed to the bed and stood
silent, the colour mounting high into her cheeks.  "That accounts for
it," she said, when she could find her astonished breath.  "That
accounts for the mysterious box, and for papa's manner.  Does papa take
you to the dressmaker, Miss Lindley?  How very, very odd that he should
superintend your toilet!"

Tottie looked at me with intense curiosity as she spoke.  I knew that my
cheeks were burning, and that a burst of angry words was crowding to my
lips.  With a violent effort I restrained them.

"Your father is very civil," I said, after a pause.  "He has evidently
fetched this box home.  I am much obliged to him for his trouble.  Now
perhaps, Miss Gray, you will let me get ready for dinner?"

Tottie blushed and stepped away from the bed as if my manner half
frightened her.

"Of course," she said.  "I forgot how time was flying.  But can I do
nothing to help you?  Shall I send Dawson, our maid, to you presently to
help you to put on one of your pretty dresses?"

"No, thank you," I replied.  "I always prefer to dress myself."

With some difficulty I saw Tottie out of the room.  Then I locked the
door, and with a violent effort kept my hands from tearing those pretty
and dainty robes.  My heart was full of the most ungovernable anger.  I
felt that kind-hearted Mr Gray had offered me an insult.  I must be
sacrificed, and Mr Gray must deck me for the altar.  No, no, not quite
that; not this lowest depth of all.  How thankful I was that I had my
mother's wedding-dress in my trunk.

I dressed myself slowly and with care.  I was determined to look well.
I was determined to show Mr Gray that Rosamund Lindley was not
altogether dependent on him for her chance of looking nice--for looking
what she was, on her mother's side at least, a lady of old family and
proud descent.

Remembering Hetty's advice, I piled my dark hair high on my head; then I
put on the dainty silk stockings and shoes with their funny pointed
toes; the rich embroidered petticoat came next; over all, the dress.
The skirt was very full, but the silk was so soft and rich that it fell
gracefully.  It showed a peep of my shoes, with their seed pearl
ornaments, as I walked.  Behind, it was cut away in a pointed train.  My
mother's wedding-dress fitted me to perfection.  The old ruffles of
lovely lace lay softly against my young throat.  More ruffles of lace
half concealed half showed my arms.  I did not need bracelets, and I
clasped no ornament of any kind round my neck.

As I was completing my toilet the dinner gong sounded solemn and loud
through the house.  I had heard the hall-door bell ring two or three
times.  I knew that the guests had arrived.  Still I lingered, putting
final touches.  At the last moment I pinned a bunch of the softest blush
roses, which must have come straight from the Riviera, in the front of
my dress.  There was no need to add anything further.  A glance in the
mirror revealed to me that the roses which lay near my heart matched in
hue those which tinted my cheeks.  For the time being I was beautiful--I
was a picture, a walking picture out of long ago.  I was glad to be the
last to enter the drawing-room.  I wanted to startle Mr Gray; to show
him that he had presumed.  I had no thought to give to any one else at
that moment.

CHAPTER TWENTY.

LIKE AN OLD PICTURE.

Tottie was right when she said that several young men were coming to
dinner.  They were all more or less at home however; they were
accustomed to the house and its ways.  I saw when I entered the
drawing-room that I was the greatest stranger present.  Captain
Valentine and his brother were both in the room, but Lady Ursula
Redmayne was not one of Mr Gray's guests.  I had thought to startle Mr
Gray by the magnificence and quaintness of my toilet; but I must own
that I forgot all about him when I glanced up and encountered an
earnest, puzzled, respectful look from the wide-open eyes of my cousin
Tom.  Like a flash my mind reverted to a memory which a moment ago I had
forgotten.  I was back again in my room reading Cousin Geoffrey's will.
I blushed all over as the hateful remembrance of the conditions of that
will filled my brain.

"I cannot see this visit out," I said, under my breath; "I cannot even
spend a second night under this roof.  I must go away, I must return
home, for never, never can I fulfil the conditions of Cousin Geoffrey's
will."

At this moment Captain Valentine came up and offered me his arm.  I was
relieved to find that my other cousin was not to take me in to dinner;
but matters were scarcely improved for me when I discovered that he sat
exactly at the opposite side of the table, and that I could scarcely
raise my eyes without encountering his.

"We were greatly disappointed not to meet you in the Chamber of Myths,"
said Captain Valentine.  "I think Lady Ursula very nearly cried.  The
fact is, you have roused her profoundest interest, Miss Lindley."

"I am very much obliged to Lady Ursula," I answered.

"It was cruel to disappoint us all," pursued Captain Valentine,
"particularly when you gave no adequate reason."

"That was just it," I retorted.  "Had I come I should not have been
entertaining.  I had no news to bring--I had nothing to say."

"But you promised to tell us something of the contents of the letter."

"I found I could not keep my promise.  That letter, as far as we, any of
us, are concerned, might as well never have been written."

"Indeed!"  Captain Valentine looked at me long and curiously.  I kept my
eyes fixed on my plate.

When he spoke next it was on matters of indifference.

Presently there fell a silence over most of the company.  Captain
Valentine bent towards me, and said in a low voice, almost a whisper:

"No one can tell a better story than my brother Tom; you must listen to
him."

After this whisper there was a kind of hush, and then the one voice,
deep and musical, began to speak.  It held every one under its spell.  I
forget the story now, but I shall always remember how the voice of the
speaker affected me; how the turmoil and irritation in my breast first
subsided, then vanished; how Cousin Geoffrey's will sank out of sight;
how his odious conditions ceased to be.  By degrees the enthusiasm of
the narrator communicated itself to at least one of his listeners.  Tom
Valentine was relating a personal experience, and step by step in that
journey of peril which he so ably described I went with him.  I shared
his physical hunger and thirst; I surmounted his difficulties; I lived
in the brave spirit which animated his breast.  In the end his triumph
was mine.

I suppose there was something in my face which showed a certain amount
of the feeling within me, for by degrees Tom Valentine ceased to look at
any one but me.

There was quite a little applause in the room when his story came to an
end, but I think he sought and found his reward in the flashing and
enthusiastic verdict which came from my eyes, although my lips said
nothing.

After dinner, in the conservatory, my cousin came up and spoke to me.

"You liked my story?" he asked.

"I did not tell you so," I answered.

"Not with your lips.  Sit down here.  I have another adventure to
relate, and it is not often that a man's vanity is soothed by such a
listener as you are."

He began to speak at once, and again I forgot Cousin Geoffrey under the
spell of my cousin's voice.  He told me two or three more of his
adventures that evening.  I made very few comments, but the hours flew
on wings as I listened.  No one interrupted us as we sat together in the
conservatory; but although I remembered this fact with burning cheeks,
later on, it passed unnoticed by me at the time.  Suddenly my cousin
stopped speaking.

"You have been a very kind listener," he said.  "I did not know a girl
could care so much just for a man's mere adventures.  I'm going back to
Africa next week.  I shall think of you in my next moments of peril."

Then I remembered Cousin Geoffrey's will, and all that Tom Valentine's
going away meant to my family and me.

"Must you go in a week? must you really go in a week?"  I said
excitedly.

"I have made my arrangements to go in about a week," he replied,
starting back a little and looking at me in astonishment.  I knew why he
looked like that.  The regret in my tone had been unmistakable.

Before I could reply Tottie rushed in.

"You two," she exclaimed; "you really must come to make up the number we
want in our round game."

Laughter filled her eyes and bubbled round her lips.

"Come, come," she said; "we can't do without you, or rather the game
can't."

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

SHE WAS EVERYTHING.

Notwithstanding the ardent vow which I had made before dinner, I did
spend that night under the Grays' roof.  I not only spent it there, but
I slept profoundly in the luxurious bed in my large and luxurious
chamber.  In my sleep I dreamt of Tom Valentine.  I was with him in
Africa; I was going through adventures by his side.  After the
extraordinary fashion of dreams, there seemed nothing at all remarkable
to me in the fact that Tom and I were going through peril together.  It
seemed to me, in my dream, that we were following a somewhat forlorn
hope, and that the same spirit animated us both.  I dreamt nothing at
all about Cousin Geoffrey's will.

When the morning broke I thought over the visions of the night and
determined to banish them.  Tom Valentine was going to Africa in a week.
I should probably never see him more.  Well, never mind, he was a brave
and interesting man.  I was glad to think he liked to talk to me; that
he, the hero of many an adventure, thought me a good listener--thought
it worth his while to thrill my ears and heart with stories both of
peril and of sadness.  I was glad to know that in a very distant degree
I could claim cousinship with Tom Valentine.  I determined not to
associate him with Cousin Geoffrey's odious will.  This will degraded my
cousin.  I would think of him apart from it in future.  I believed
myself quite strong enough to carry out the resolve.

Soon after breakfast that day a pretty little victoria, drawn by a pair
of ponies, stopped at the Grays' house.  I was in my room at the moment
and had a good view of the carriage sweep.  I bent from my window to see
who had arrived.  Lady Ursula Redmayne sat in the victoria.

A moment or two later I was summoned to see this capricious young woman.
I felt certain that she was devoured with curiosity, but I was
determined to parry all her questions.

Lady Ursula was alone in the drawing-room when I entered.

"How do you do, Rosamund?" she said.  "You did not expect me to find you
out here: but of course Rupert and Tom told me all about you.  Sit down
there, where I can take a good look at you.  Rosamund, what a remarkably
wicked young woman you are."

"I don't understand you, Lady Ursula."

"Please call me Ursula.  We shall be cousins when I am Rupert
Valentine's wife.  Do you know, Rosamund, that I have taken an immense
fancy to you!"

"What! you have taken a fancy to a wicked young woman!"

"Yes, yes; particularly as she is in reality more naughty than wicked.
Rosamund, why did you not come to the Chamber of Myths at the appointed
day and hour?"

"I gave Captain Valentine my reason."

"Pardon me, you did not give him any adequate reason; but it is so easy
to deceive a man.  Now, _I_ want the truth.  Come, Rosamund, confide in
me.  You know that letter contains news of the deepest interest to you,
perhaps to me, perhaps to others.  Ah, you blush!  I have hit upon the
truth."

I had been sitting when Lady Ursula began to speak, now I stood up.

"As far as any one can predict the future, Lady Ursula," I said, "the
contents of my Cousin Geoffrey Rutherford's letter will never be known
except to the two people who are already in possession of the secret."

"Who are they?"

"I am one, Mr Gray is the other.  Think what you like about the letter,
Lady Ursula, you are never, never likely to know more of its contents
than you do at this moment."

Lady Ursula was a person largely blessed with the bump of curiosity, but
she was also a lady, and she knew when to stop.

Her face wore a blank, half-amused, half-indignant expression.  Then
coming up to me she bent forward and kissed my forehead.

"I might have guessed I should have my drive for nothing," she said.
"Now then, to change the subject.  Where did you get that fascinating
dress you wore last night?"

"The dress I wore last night was my mother's wedding-gown."

"Delicious!  Who but Rosamund Lindley would have dared to appear in an
antiquated robe of that sort!  My dear, your daring deserved its
success.  Rupert declares that he thought his great-grandmother had
suddenly come into the room.  His great-grandmother young and--and
beautiful."

I scarcely heard Lady Ursula's last words.  I was standing by the window
watching a boy who was approaching the house.  He was a telegraph boy,
and as he walked up the steps I saw him take a yellow envelope out of
the little bag fastened to his side.  I knew even before the servant
brought it in, that that telegram was for me.  I also knew that it
contained bad tidings.  My heart sank low in my breast.

Lady Ursula's gay, high voice kept rambling on.  I ceased to hear a word
she was saying.  The drawing-room door was opened.  The neat
parlour-maid walked up the long apartment.  She held out a silver
salver, with the telegram lying on it.

"For you, miss," she said.  "And the boy is waiting to know if there is
any answer."

The contents of the telegram were brief and emphatic.

"Your mother is very ill; come home at once."

My father had dictated that telegram.  I raised a cold, white face to
Lady Ursula's.

"Good-bye," I said.  "This explains why I must leave you."  I put the
telegram into her hand and rushed out of the room.  I am not quite sure
to this day whether I bid the kind Grays good-bye.  I know that somehow
or other I found myself in a cab, and in some fashion I caught an early
train, and reached home in the bright spring sunshine before the day had
half travelled through its course.

Even our ugly garden showed faint traces of the resurrection of all
things.  A stunted lilac-tree was putting out buds.  An almond-tree was
adorning itself in a hazy pink robe.  There was a faint, tender perfume
of violets in the air.  I turned the handle of the shabby little
front-door and went in.

If spring had given tokens of its presence outside, however, it had
printed no fairy footfall inside our ugly and desolate little home.
Inside there was close air, confusion, untidiness; but there was also
something else--supreme terror, a dark fear.  The shadow of this fear
sat on my father's brow.  He hurried to meet me the moment I set foot
inside the threshold; his face was unkempt, unwashed, his eyes
bloodshot; he held out a trembling hand, and grasped my shoulder.

"Thank heaven you have come, Rose," he said.

"How is mother?"  I managed to gasp.

My father's painful clutch on my shoulder grew harder and firmer.

"Come in here," he said.  He dragged me into the drawing-room, and
softly closed the door.  "Listen," he said; "yesterday night your
mother's cough grew worse; this morning she broke a blood-vessel."

"Then she is dying," I said in a voice of terror.

"No, she shan't die--you have got to save her!"

"I?  Father--father--how can I?"

"Don't prevaricate--don't look me in the face, and tell lies at this
moment.  Dr Johnson and Dr Keith, from London, are both up-stairs.
They will tell you what you have to do.  Go to them; obey their
directions.  There is not a moment to be lost."

My father's trembling hand still held my shoulder; he emphasised his
words with cruel pinches.  I wrenched myself away with a sudden effort.

"You hurt me when you hold me like that," I said.

"Who cares whether I hurt you or not, child? it's your mother's life
that hangs in the balance.  What matter about _you_--what are _you_?  Go
up-stairs to the doctors.  Listen to their directions and obey them."

I was sobbing feebly.  My father's manner had unnerved me.

"I hate women who cry," he said, turning away.  "You have always made a
great profession of caring for your mother.  Go up-stairs now, and act
on it."

"How can I?"  I repeated.  "Father, why do you speak to me as you are
doing?  My mother wants money, peace, rest."

"Exactly, Rosamund.  Penury and a hard life are killing your mother.  Go
up-stairs.  Don't talk any more humbug.  Get your mother what she wants.
Gray, the lawyer, has been here this morning."

"Oh," I said, "and he has told you?"

"He has told me that you can be rich if you please.  He has told me also
the source from which the wealth can come.  You think that I will shrink
from that source.  I shrink from nothing that will save your mother.
Gray thinks it highly probable that you will act like a weak idiot."

"Father, did Mr Gray tell you what I had to do?"

"He did not.  I did not ask him.  Whatever it is, do it.  Go up-stairs
now and see the doctors."

My father opened the drawing-room door and pushed me out.  He locked the
door behind me.  I heard him pacing the little room, and his groans of
agony reached me through the thin panels of the locked door.  I stumbled
up-stairs.  On the landing I met George.  His hair was ruffled; his eyes
red and sunk into his head.  He had evidently been crying--crying, hard
man that he was, until his eyelids were swelled and blistered.

"So you have come, Rose," he said; "that is well.  You will put
everything right, of course?"

"You have seen Mr Gray, too," I whispered.  "Yes, yes; for God's sake
don't lose a minute in putting things straight."

"But can I?"  I whispered back.  "Even money cannot always, always
save."

"You can but try," retorted George.  "Go and speak to the doctors.  Our
mother's life depends on your actions I am firmly convinced.  Here is
Dr Johnson.  Will you talk to my sister, doctor?"

The family physician motioned me into a spare bedroom.  He introduced me
to the London doctor, and they began a semi-technical explanation of my
mother's case.

"Things are bad, but not hopeless," said Dr Keith.  "If certain
measures are taken directly, there is no reason why Mrs Lindley may not
revive and gain strength, and have many years of life before her.  Her
lungs are undoubtedly affected, but the worst mischief is in connection
with the heart.  Listen, Miss Lindley.  I have one emphatic direction to
give.  Your mother must have _no more worries_."

"No more worries," I repeated under my breath.  "Yes, yes, I
understand."

"You are looking very ill yourself, my dear child," said Dr Johnson.

"Never mind me," I said, turning away impatiently.

"But I must and will mind you," retorted our fussy little family doctor.
"Dr Keith, there is not a more admirable girl in the land than
Rosamund Lindley."

Dr Keith bowed an acknowledgment of my merits.  Then he took his watch
out of his pocket.

"I really must catch the next train," he said.  "Good-bye, Miss Lindley.
Johnson will go into the particulars of our proposed treatment with
you; but remember above all things, no worry.  As much cheerfulness as
you can possibly manage; a generous diet, the best champagne--I have
ordered a special brand--and--and--I think we'll do.  In all probability
in about a fortnight Mrs Lindley will be well enough to be moved by
easy stages to Cannes.  Good-bye, Miss Lindley; keep up a brave heart."

Dr Keith went cheerfully out of the room.  Perhaps he imagined that he
had given me excellent advice.  Perhaps he had, if I could only have
acted on it.  I rushed away to my room, bathed my face and hands, put on
slippers which made no sound, and my prettiest afternoon dress.  Then on
tip-toe I went across the landing to my mother's room; on tip-toe my
father was coming up the stairs.

"Well, Rosamund, you have seen the doctors?"

"Yes, father."

"You know what they wish?"

"Yes, father."

"You will do it?"

"Yes--I will do it."

"Good girl.  Kiss me.  God bless you.  George, George,--come here!"

George's red face had been peeping round his bedroom door.

"George, your sister will do what is required.  By God's blessing we may
keep your mother with us yet."

"Thank you, Rosamund," said George.  He bent his big sulky head and
kissed me lightly on my forehead.  He, too, in his fashion, was blessing
me.  I felt as if my heart would break.

I turned the handle of my mother's door and went in.  There was no
confusion in this room.  A bright little fire burned in the grate.  One
of the windows was open about an inch.  The room was sweet with the
perfume of violets.  Somebody--my father probably--had picked a few from
the garden and brought them in.  My mother herself was lying high up in
bed supported by pillows.  There was a faint pink on each of her cheeks,
but the rest of her sweet and lovely face was white as death.  Her
gentle eyes looked too bright, her lips wore too sweet a smile.

The moment I saw her the whole attitude of my mind changed.  I ceased to
feel that I was about to do any sacrifice.  I became eager--excited to
set the seal to that which would open wide the fairy doors of peace and
health and ease and luxury for my mother.  I absolutely lived in her
life at that moment.  I was nothing--she was everything.  I rejoiced; my
heart even danced at the thought that it was in my power to bestow a
great gift upon her.  I went up and kissed her.

"You look well, Rose," she whispered, reading the joy which filled my
eyes.

"Oh, yes, I am very well," I replied.  "I am so glad to be back with
you, mother.  I am going to stay with you night and day until you are as
strong as you ever were."

While I spoke I held her hand, which I softly stroked.  In a few minutes
I stole out of the room.  George was still lingering about on the
landing.

"Well, well?" he whispered.

"Don't whisper, George, but come down-stairs with me at once; I want to
write a letter, and I want you to take it for me."

I sat down at my mother's desk in the drawing-room and scribbled a hasty
line:

  "Dear Mr Gray,--

  "I will fulfil the conditions of Cousin Geoffrey's will.  Please give
  George a hundred pounds to bring back with him.

  "Yours very truly,--

  "Rosamund Lindley."

George was looking over my shoulder as I wrote.

"You must get some of that money in small change," I said, looking up at
him.  "And then you are to buy all the things I have mentioned in this
list.  Don't forget one of them, and come back by the first possible
train."

While I was speaking to George my father came into the room.

"It's all right," I said; "and George is going to town to get the things
we shall immediately require.  Now go, George, and be quick.  Father, I
want to speak to you."

"What is it, Rose?"

"Will you please go out and ascertain if the Priory is still to let?"

"The Priory!  Are you mad, child?"

"No, I assure you I am quite sane.  The Priory is a very pleasant sunny
house, beautifully furnished.  The Ashtons only left it a week ago.  If
it is still to let, please take it without a moment's delay.  It is not
the least matter about the price.  It faces due south, and has a lovely
garden.  I think we may be able to remove my mother there to-morrow."

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

TELL HIM TO COME TO SEE ME.

The Priory was taken, and in less than twenty-four hours, my mother
found herself the occupant of a large, luxuriously-furnished chamber.
Her windows commanded an extensive and most lovely view.  She had a
glimpse of the winding river which made our little village a favourite
summer resort for anglers.  It meandered away like a narrow silver
thread in the midst of the peaceful landscape.  Already there was a
faint tinge of soft, pale green on the trees, and an added brightness
was making the grass beautiful with a fresh growth.  The Priory had
sloping lawns, flower-beds carefully tended and gay with all the early
spring flowers.  There were greenhouses in abundance; there were
gravel-walks and tennis-courts; in short, the usual pleasure-grounds
which surround a country home of some pretension.

Inside the appointments were perfect.  An able staff of servants
attended to our every want.  There were suites of beautiful rooms,
bright, and gay, and clean.  Fresh air and sweetness pervaded
everything.  In short, there could scarcely have been found a greater
contrast than Myrtle Cottage, where the Lindley family had resided for
so many years, and the Priory, where that same family now enjoyed the
pleasures of refined existence.

It is surprising how soon one gets accustomed to luxury.  My father and
brother, who began by accepting the good things of life with a humility
almost painful to witness, before a week was out grumbled about the
quality of the soup served at dinner, and expressed in plaintive tones
their dislike to turbot appearing too often on the board.

"You must see to this, Rosamund," George would say, shaking his head,
and my father would descant on the menage of that West End club to which
he belonged a great many years ago, before he married my mother.

Meanwhile I lived in a sort of dream.  I was not unhappy, for my mother
was better.  The new life suited her.  My father's cheerful tones were
more stimulating and strengthening than the best champagne or the
strongest beef-tea.

At the end of the first week she expressed a desire to see Jack and his
wife again.

"I will write and ask them to come here," I said.  I went down-stairs
prepared to do this.  I was thinking of the pleasure my letter would
give to Hetty.  How she would hurry her own and her husband's
departure--how pretty and surprised she would look when she came to our
luxurious new home--how nice it would be to dress her suitably, and make
life sweet and pleasant to her.  I was thinking these thoughts and
forgetting all about the conditions of Cousin Geoffrey's will, when I
went into the drawing-room to fetch my writing portfolio which I had
left there on the previous evening.

"Hey-day!" said a voice.  I raised my eyes and found myself face to face
with Mr Gray.  "How do you do, Miss Rosamund?" he said, shaking my
hand.  "I judge from your own blooming appearance that your mother is
much better."

"Yes, she is much better," I replied.

"What a wise girl you are, and were!  How much I respect you!  Now can
you give me a few moments of your time?"

"Yes," I replied.  My "Yes" was uttered in a meek voice.  The gladness
had gone out of my face and manner.  "Yes," I repeated, "my time is, of
course, at your disposal, Mr Gray."

"Well, let us sit here comfortably on this sofa.  Miss Rosamund, I have
been very considerate to you, have I not?  I have not troubled you with
word or message for a whole week."

"I know it," I replied.  "I know you have been kind."  My eyes filled
with tears.

"It is a great wonder to me," began Mr Gray.  He stopped abruptly.  "I
don't understand what girls are made of," he continued under his
breath--"the very nicest fellow!--Miss Rosamund, please answer me one
question.  Do you greatly object to marrying your--your cousin?"

"I am not bound to reply to you," I said.  "I knew that I should have to
marry my cousin if he were willing to have me when I wrote you that
letter a week ago.  I did it for my mother's sake."  My tears were
dropping.  I felt dreadfully weak and childish.  I hated myself for
giving way to emotion in this fashion.

"Yes, yes," said Mr Gray, patting my arm, "and you were a very plucky
girl, Miss Rosamund, and you are going to have a happy--most happy life.
Your cousin is a first-class fellow--_first-class_.  I had the pleasure
of communicating to him the contents of the will a few days ago, and he
sends you a message now."

"What--what is it?"  I stammered.

"He says you are to take your own time.  He won't even come to see you
unless you wish it.  He had made all arrangements to go back to Africa,
and he will go all the same unless you wish him to remain.  It all rests
with you, he says.  Nothing could be more gentlemanly than his conduct."

I sat very still, my eyes were fixed on the spring landscape outside the
window.

"There has been no--no letter, I suppose?"  I said.

"There is no letter, but not for want of thought, I assure you.  Your
cousin felt that you would rather not hear from him.  He said I could
convey his wishes to you; in short, his wishes are yours.  There is just
one thing more.  If you elect to postpone the--the marriage for a year,
I have made arrangements to supply you with funds to live on at the
Priory with your family."

I sat very still.

I don't know why, but my silence and almost apathy began to irritate Mr
Gray very much.  I felt that he was looking at me impatiently.  I even
heard him sigh.  Suddenly he sprang to his feet.

"What answer am I to take to Tom Valentine?" he asked.

Then I raised my head.

"Tell him to come to see me," I said.

"Good gracious!  Do you mean it?"

"I do mean it."

"When is he to come?"

"To-night, if he likes--the sooner the better."

I rushed away, I flew up the wide stairs.  My one desire was to take
refuge in my mother's room.  A wide bay-window faced the sofa where she
lay.  The sun had set more than half an hour ago, but faint rose tints
still lingered in the sky, and a full moon was showing her cold but
brilliant face.  The weather was turning quite genial and spring-like.
Under ordinary circumstances I should not have cared to sit so near the
fire.  Now I huddled up to it, glad of its warmth, for I was shivering
slightly, with the queerest mixture of suppressed excitement, despair,
and yet gladness.  Now and then I glanced at my mother.  From where she
lay I could only see a dim outline of her figure.  She was lying very
still; her hands were peacefully folded by her side; her breathing came
gently; there was repose about her attitude.

Her voice, very sweet and clear, soon broke the silence.

"Rose, come here, darling."

I sprang up, ran to her, and knelt by her side.  My mother often called
me in this way, not because she had anything special to say, but because
she liked to feel my firm young hand clasping hers.

She laid her fingers in mine now, and turned her soft brown eyes to
catch the outline of my face.

"Mother!"  I exclaimed with sudden passion, "in all the wide world you
are to me the very sweetest, the dearest, the best."  Tears trembled in
my voice, and almost choked me.  I hated myself for giving way.  My
mother kept on looking at me.  She softly patted the hand which held one
of hers.  It was not in her to express her feelings except by that
gentlest of touches.

"And if you die, I shall die," I continued.  "Mother, you must get
better--you must live, you must!"

"It is as God wills, my darling."

"That is just it, mother.  He would not have made us rich if He did not
will that you are to live.  Poverty and care were killing you.  Now they
have folded their wings, and gone away.  You will always be rich in the
future; you will always have the most nourishing food, the softest care,
the tenderest love.  Don't you think you can nestle down into the love
and the care, mother?  Don't you think you can try?"

"I do try, Rose.  But poverty--poverty and trouble have left their mark.
That mark has sunk deep, very deep.  Still, I will try to live for your
sake--indeed, for all your sakes.  Don't cry, my dear daughter."

I wiped my tears softly away.  After a time, I said in a voice which I
tried hard not to be tremulous:

"Are you strong enough, mother, for me to say something?"

"Yes, my darling, certainly."

"Are you not a little surprised, mother, at this sudden change?  Are you
not a little curious to know by what means poverty has folded her wings
and flown away from us?"  My mother was silent for nearly a full moment,
then she said slowly:

"I know you have a story to tell me whenever I am ready to hear it.  But
I am too weak to listen to it to-night.  Weakness keeps us from being
very curious, Rose.  I don't think, even in health, I was ever
inordinately curious about anything.  I was always able to take things
on trust from those I loved.  I can take riches on trust for the
present, Rose."

"You are just the sweetest mother in the world," I said, kissing her on
her forehead.

Just then the peal of the front-door bell penetrated into my mother's
room.  I started back at the sound.

"What is the matter, dear?" she asked.  "Did that bell startle you?"

"It did, mother, because--because I know who has come."

"Some friend of yours, darling?"

"Yes, a--a friend of mine.  I must go down-stairs to see him.  Mother,
give me your two hands for a moment."

She gave them without a word.  I bent low, and placed my mother's hands
on my head.

"Mother, say these words over me, `God bless you, Rosamund; your
mother's God bless you!'"

"Your mother's God abundantly bless you, my precious daughter?" said my
mother.

I kissed her thin hands passionately, and ran out of the room.

A footman in livery was coming up the stairs.  He bore a card on a
silver salver.

"The gentleman is in the drawing-room, miss," he said.

I took the card, rushed past the astonished servant, and untidy and
discomposed, tears scarcely dried on my cheeks, entered the
drawing-room.

My cousin Tom was standing by one of the windows.  When he heard my step
he turned quickly round, advanced a pace or two, then stood still, a
crimson wave of colour dyeing his darkly-bronzed cheeks, and his white
brow.  He looked confused, awkward, uncertain.  I, on the contrary, had
no room in my over-full heart for embarrassment.

"I have sent for you, Cousin Tom," I said, "to say that I will marry you
as soon as ever you will have me."  I looked him full in the face as I
spoke, and when I had finished I held out one of my hands for him to
take.

He stared at me for a moment in absolute astonishment.  Then a queer
change came over his whole face.  It became irradiated with the sweetest
and most joyful light.  He took my slim fingers between his two great
hands, and almost crushed them.

"And I would marry you to-morrow, Rosamund," he said, "_not_ because of
Cousin Geoffrey's will, but because I love you for yourself.  I love
you, Rosamund; I have loved you since--"

There came an interruption.  The drawing-room door was banged noisily
open.  Jack's voice was heard on the threshold.  Hetty's gay, agitated
little treble followed it.

Tom Valentine dropped my hands.

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE DEAREST BOND.

My cousin, Tom Valentine, stayed to supper.  We had a very merry,
rapturous sort of evening.  There was an unexplained mystery that no one
spoke of; but that did not make our spirits the lower, or our laughter
the less frequent.  We laughed a good deal; we made witty remarks; we
joked each other; we criticised each other; we even alluded, lightly and
gracefully, to the old days of poverty.

We were all present at the board--all except my mother.  Her room was
overhead.  Our gay voices must have floated up to her through the big
windows which were partly open.  My father took the foot of the table;
his face looked quite handsome; his brow was smooth; he made the
wittiest remarks of any one present.

Looking down the long table--for I poured out coffee at the farthest
end--I perceived at a glance that poverty had all his life acted as a
sort of umbrella over my father's head, shutting away the genial rays of
the sun, and causing his nature to wither as a plant does when removed
from the light and air.  Now the umbrella was shut, and my father's
nature was expanding genially.

George too was very much the better for his good food, cheerful home,
and well-made clothes.  (I had sent him to a West End tailor a week ago,
and when he returned home in the suit of clothes which that tailor had
given him, I discovered for the first time that George was a remarkably
well-made man.)

As to Jack and Hetty, this was their first taste of the good things of
life.  They were still poorly clad, their faces were thin, and in each
pair of eyes anxiety was not dead, but only lulled to sleep.

Notwithstanding this, however, these two--the brother who had fallen a
victim to temptation, and the little new sister who had loved him and
suffered for his sake--were to me more interesting, more powerful to
move me, more capable of filling my heart with rejoicing, than were any
other people in the room.

As to Cousin Tom--it is very strange, but I scarcely thought of Cousin
Tom during that jovial meal.  He was there--he was one of us; he was a
most important factor in all the happiness; without him there would have
been no happiness, no delightful sunshine of prosperity.

It seemed to me, however, as I shared the merry meal, and saw the faces
of my own people looking their best and brightest, either that there was
no room for Cousin Tom in my heart, or that his footing in it was so
well-established that he was part of me already.  I have thought of that
happy evening often since, and I am quite sure now that the reason I
gave so little separate thought to my cousin was, because I knew him so
well.

After supper my father, George, Hetty, and Jack went off to explore the
house.  George was very polite to his new sister Hetty, and my father
was glad to renew his intercourse with Jack.

"You will come with us, won't you, Valentine?" asked George of my
cousin.

"I will follow you in a few moments," he answered.

George went away, and Tom and I were alone.  He came up to me at once.

"I wish you quite to understand," he said, speaking in a very composed
and guarded sort of fashion, "that I don't intend to take advantage of
anything you may say on impulse.  I love you; I loved you before I knew
a word of that strange will of our old kinsman's.  The first day I saw
you I felt that you were different from other women.  Well, that is all.
I think you believe me.  I don't want to say anything more on this
matter at present.  If Cousin Geoffrey had not made his queer will, I
should have pressed my suit.  As it is, I cannot.

"What I want to tell you now, however, is this, that you are absolutely
free to choose your own time to marry me.  There is to be no hurry, and
no constraint is to be put upon you.  I understand from Gray that you
have yielded to the conditions of our cousin's will for your mother's
sake.  Gray is a right good fellow, and he appreciates your spirit of
self-sacrifice.  He has made it possible for us two to delay our
marriage, and yet for your mother and your people not to suffer."

"I know," I answered, "I know.  Mr Gray told me himself.  But I--I
don't wish that."

"You don't wish to delay our marriage?"

"No; come up-stairs and see mother."

I took his hand before he could prevent me.  I ran up the wide stairs
holding it.  Still clasping it in mine, I entered my mother's room.

She looked up at the sound of our feet.  Her eyes rested on our faces--
Cousin Tom's pale, mine flushed.  Then the pink glow deepened on her
cheeks.  She held out her hands to us both.

"Come," I said to my cousin.  He followed me, and my mother laid her
little hand in his.

"Mother," I said, "this is my cousin, Tom Valentine; we are going to
marry each other."

"My dear Rose, my child!"

"There is no hurry," murmured Tom.

"There is every hurry," I repeated; "we--we love each other."

"Rosamund!" interrupted my cousin.

"We love each other," I continued, steadily, "as much as any two people
could.  There is no reason why we should delay our marriage."

"As that is the case, there is no reason what ever," Tom Valentine said
now.  And he put his arm quite boldly round my waist.

I think my mother said something more, but I am not quite sure.  The
queerest thing happened at that moment; the queerest, most
incomprehensible thing.  I had forgotten Cousin Tom down-stairs because
my father and brothers and sister were present.  Now up-stairs I forgot
my mother, who had hitherto been the first being in the world to me,
because Cousin Tom was by; because I suddenly knew that my heart was
his, my life his, my future his; because I realised that if every other
part of Cousin Geoffrey's will crumbled into dust and ceased to bind me,
the clause which gave me to Tom Valentine would remain in force, and be
the sweetest and dearest of all bonds to me.

Cousin Tom's arm held me still firmer to his side.  I turned and laid my
head on his shoulder.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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