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Title: Flora Adair, Vol. 2 (of 2) - or, Love Works Wonders
Author: Donelan, A. M.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    FLORA ADAIR;
    Love works Wonders.


    _BY A. M. DONELAN._


    "IN FUNICULIS ADAM TRAHAM EOS, IN VINCULIS CHARITATIS."
        _Osee_ xi. 4.


    IN TWO VOLUMES.
        VOL. II.


        LONDON:
    CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193, PICCADILLY.
        1867.



FLORA ADAIR.



CHAPTER I.


Would she have said so had she known that, although Mr. Earnscliffe
_was_ in Venice, all his thoughts were occupied about her?

In proportion as he had been elated and happy with her, so did the next
morning find him depressed and sad. He had given himself up completely
to the enjoyment of that starlight walk. How pleasant he found it to
watch the movements of Flora's little slight figure as she walked by
his side, and every now and then to have some thought or feeling which
he expressed responded to by a look from her soft eyes. But even as he
thought over it all he said to himself, "Yes, it was very delightful;
but will any good come of it? I knew such an evening long ago; then,
too, I walked with one whom I loved and trusted, and she brought me
only misery. Life and hope and faith have been blighted by her. Is it
not worse than folly, then, to believe in a woman again?..."

For the last few days he had cast all doubt from him. He only thought
of how Flora had acted towards Mr. Lyne; of how true she had been
to him; so true that not even an unjust accusation could wring from
her a word implying that he had proposed for her. But now came the
reaction. It was not all at once that Mr. Earnscliffe could divest
himself fully of that distrust of women which for years had been so
rooted in his mind. Then Mary Elton's words and his own dream forced
themselves painfully upon him, and sounded like a warning which said,
"Stop, before it is too late." "But perhaps it is already too late," he
thought. "Could I forget her even now? Have I ever forgotten her since
the first day we met at Frascati? All that time at Capri was I not
thinking of her, although persuading myself that I was not interested
in her personally? How much less, then, could I forget her after
these two happy evenings. Yet, if ever any one had a presentiment of
misfortune in adopting some particular course of action, I have. It is
not possible, of course, to do otherwise than accompany them across the
Brenner, since I offered them my escort; but I need not go to Meran; we
can meet at Botzen. If she is to be banished from my memory, it would
be folly to put myself in the way of sweet associations; of seeing her
constantly; of walking and riding with her; guiding her through all
the lovely excursions about Meran. Then, indeed, I could never help
yielding to the charm of having such a companion--a charm which I have
never known before; for in those fatal days when I fancied myself in
love, I was only caught by a beautiful casket. It was so beautiful that
it dazzled me, and kept me from looking beyond. I took it for granted
that the jewel contained in it must be priceless, until one day the
casket flew open, and showed me that the supposed jewel was a false
one. Now it is just the contrary; the casket boasts of no great beauty
or outward ornament, but may not the jewel within be precious? Yes,
I see it is the lighting up of that jewel which possesses so subtle
a charm now, when no outward brilliancy could win a glance from me.
Were I sure of its intrinsic value, it would be well worth the trial;
yet all kinds of dark forebodings seem to warn me back. But how that
jewel's sparkle would brighten my cold, lonely existence! Shall I,
then, go to Meran, or not?"

Ah! Flora, you little know how important a moment this is for you! Why
are you not in Venice, so that your presence might turn the scale in
your own favour? Will the memory of yesternight's walk suffice for
it? It appears that at least it is sufficient to prevent sentence
from being pronounced against you. The judge is evidently not sure of
himself; not sure that he would have strength to carry it out, and
therefore he wisely defers putting it on record. He will wait and see
what time will do. So you may congratulate yourself on a half triumph,
at all events; and occupy yourself with the sights of Verona and the
different beauties of the route to Meran.

In "fair Verona's" amphitheatre, unmatched save by the giant Coliseum
of Rome, we left the Adairs standing, and when they had wandered up and
down its tiers and given their meed of admiration, they drove to see
the house of the Capulets and the--so-called--tomb of Romeo and Juliet.
On their way Flora told Marie the lovers' sad history, and showed her
how doubly interesting the site is to natives of Great Britain, because
enshrined in their great poet's genius.

An afternoon they found sufficient to "do" the lions of Verona, so the
next morning they started by train for Peschiera, and there took the
steamer to Riva.

What a lovely sail it is across the Lago di Garda, with its boundary of
castle-capp'd mountains and the little villages at their base, half
buried in groves of lemon and orange tress! And, for lovers of classic
memory, there are the ruins of the house where Catullus dictated his
ballads. In the days of Virgil the lake was celebrated for looking like
a little sea, foaming beneath the lash of the mountain winds, which
seldom left it unruffled; and to-day it did not belie its reputation,
as its blue waters tossed about in miniature fury, the white-crested
waves rolling one over the other and dashing their spray afar. Riva
itself is a charming little place; and then the drive to Trent--a
drive which shows one of Tyrol's greatest charms, that of uniting
something of the wildness and grandeur of Switzerland with the soft,
fresh beauty of our home scenery.... Now we see an isolated lake, so
shut in by snowy mountains that the only egress from its shores seems
to be a winding, giddy mountain path, to which we almost fear to trust
ourselves; but if we venture and ascend it for a time, we find that
it leads down, on the other side, into a smiling valley, with emerald
green fields stretching far away in gentle undulations, and watered
by little rivulets flowing between flowery banks and shady trees. Or
we come suddenly upon two rocky points spanned by a single plank, and
at such a height that, looking at it from below, it appears as If it
were suspended in the air; and beneath, a rushing torrent dashes over
its rugged bed, gurgling and foaming at each attempted interruption
to its headlong course. Let us climb down from this wild spot, and we
come upon an almost English scene of comfort and neatness; there is a
pretty cottage with its shelving wooden roof and carved cross in front;
the sheep and cows are grazing at a distance, and the shepherd boy is
lying in the grass pulling the wild flowers which grow around him.
The character of Tyrol's inhabitants partakes too of all this; they
have the open independent bearing of mountaineers, combined with rare
simplicity and softness. There is not a spot in all Tyrol without its
own beauty, and we should travel far indeed before we met so fine a
race of people; not only in their general character, but also in their
outward appearance.

The Adairs slept that night at Trent, and before leaving the next day
they visited its churches, particularly the one where the great Council
was held, and there they saw a painting of it which contains portraits
of several of the prelates who assisted thereat. Towards evening they
arrived at Botzen, just as the last rays of the sun were lighting up
the Calvarienberg, as the mountain close to the entrance of the town
is called, on account of the stations of the Cross which lead up to
the Calvary on its summit. With one accord they all exclaimed, "How
beautiful!" But in Tyrol this is an exclamation which is called forth
at every turn, and words are indeed too weak to express the different
degrees of its loveliness.

How glad Flora felt at the prospect of getting to Meran to-morrow! It
would be the fourth day since they had left Venice, the day upon which
Mr. Earnscliffe had promised to meet them; and she looked forward
anxiously to that meeting. Once before she had parted from him in the
utmost friendliness, and when next she saw him he scarcely spoke to
her--would it be so now? These were her thoughts as they drove along
the hill and castle-bordered route which leads from Botzen to Meran.

No familiar face greeted them at the Post Hotel. The day waned, and
Flora stood leaning listlessly against one of the front windows,
gazing down the road which they had traversed that morning, and sadly
she thought: "So he is not coming--I suppose he will wait until the
exact time when he thinks we shall want to cross the Brenner; but, at
least, he might have written to say so. It is rude of him thus to break
the appointment without a word of apology. How slowly the days will
now pass, even here in beautiful Meran! Beauty and pleasure are only
accessories; they cannot give a particle of the happiness which we
may feel, even in toil and trouble, when endured for one whom we love.
Moore was right when he said--

    'Life is a waste of wearisome hours,
    Which seldom the rose of enjoyment adorns.'"

But stay: Flora's listless attitude changes; she bends eagerly forward
over the window sill, then draws back and throws herself into an
armchair beside it. Her colour is bright and her eyes are dancing.
Whence this sudden change? We have only to look along the Botzen road,
and an approaching carriage with a single occupant will tell us the
cause of it.

Flora Adair's eyes had not deceived her. Its occupant was Mr.
Earnscliffe. We remember, that day when the Adairs left Venice,
how he hesitated about joining them at Meran; yet here he comes,
although it would be difficult to say what had turned the balance in
Flora's favour. They started on Tuesday, and that day and the next
Mr. Earnscliffe spent in visiting different galleries with dogged
perseverance, although they did not seem to afford him any great
pleasure. He also went to see some Italian artists and literary men
with whom he was acquainted, and for the remainder of the time he made
a feint of reading, whilst in reality he was pondering on the Meran
question. Thursday came, and he half determined to be wise and stay
away. If he were to do so, however, he felt that he must write to Mrs.
Adair and say that he could not leave Venice for some days, but would
meet them at Botzen a week hence, and have everything arranged for
crossing the pass at once, if he did not send an apology, he must of
course fulfil his promise to join them at Meran; however, it would be
time enough to write in the afternoon. He dawdled away the morning over
some books which had been lent to him, and then prepared to go out; but
just as he was about to do so, in came an Italian who asked him to make
one of a party of five or six, himself included, who were going by the
next train to Treviso to see the paintings of Titian and Domenichino,
in the fine but yet unfinished cathedral, and also the Villa Manfrino;
they would dine at Treviso and return to Venice in the evening.

The Italian named those who were to be of the party. Mr. Earnscliffe
knew them all to be more or less well-informed, agreeable men, and
among them were two excellent musicians and improvisatori; so at least
the proposal held out to him the prospect of hearing some good singing,
of which he was particularly fond; besides, it would spend the day for
him, and if he were candid with himself he would acknowledge that he
felt rather at a loss for something to do. Accordingly he accepted the
invitation and went off with his friend, without ever thinking of the
note to Mrs. Adair.

The day passed quickly away, and the dinner was excellent; the
champagne abundant; the singing of the best; the conversation flowing
and animated--Mr. Earnscliffe sustaining a prominent part in it. He
spoke Italian with perfect ease, and entering into the spirit of the
hour, he showed how brilliant, without being shallow, were his powers
of conversation, when he once cast off his habitual reserve. They only
returned to Venice by the last train, which arrived about eleven, and
Mr. Earnscliffe, having wished his friends good-night and thanked them
for the pleasant day which they had afforded him, got into a gondola
and soon landed at his hotel, the "Victoria."

The night was as lovely as the one upon which he had parted from Flora
Adair. The memory of that night now rose up vividly before him, and
as it did so, he remembered with pleasure that he had _not_ written
to Mrs. Adair, and that now it was too late to hesitate any longer;
go he must. If he started by the first train in the morning, he could
reach Meran the same evening, and so keep his appointment, and this he
determined to do; so as soon as he got into his room he rang for his
servant, and told him that he was to have everything ready for them to
leave Venice by the six a.m. train next morning. The servant looked
rather dismayed at this intelligence, but retired without making any
remonstrance; for he knew that his master must be obeyed to the letter,
and unhesitatingly too.

As the door closed Mr. Earnscliffe exclaimed, "So for good or evil it
is decided that I go to Meran. Perhaps it is as well that it should be
so. I shall have an opportunity of knowing Flora Adair thoroughly. If
she is all that I have dreamed of, and if I can win her love, it will
be worth having suffered, even as I have done, in order to taste such
unexpected bliss; and if she is not, it will be only one pang more, and
what signifies that in such a life as mine? Not to go would be to throw
away a chance of possible happiness through fear of possible pain; and
that at best would be more of cowardice than prudence. I am glad that I
am going in spite of all my presentiments."

On the following day Mr. Earnscliffe reached Botzen about four. He
dined there, and set out afterwards in an open carriage for Meran,
where we have seen him drive up to the hotel. He left his servant at
Botzen to make inquiries about the carriage and ascertain where was
the best place for getting really good horses, and then he was to
follow him to Meran.

Mrs. Adair and Marie met Mr. Earnscliffe just as he got out of the
carriage. They were returning from the Friday evening devotions in the
church, at which they had been present. Flora did not accompany them,
for she felt that even if she did go she would be only corporally in
the church, that her mind and heart would be fixed on the Botzen road
and not on prayer; so she remained at home watching the setting sun,
and with it fell her hopes of that longed-for arrival.

The sun sank, but her hope rose and broke into bright certainty.

Marie ran into her room, crying, "Flore, _Monsieur Earnscliffe est
arrivé!_"

The waning light and the shadow which the curtain threw over Flora
prevented the blush and conscious smile from being seen, as she
answered, "Indeed, then he has been punctual to his word, I see."

"And we take tea downstairs with him, Flore, Madame Adair has told me
to tell you. Are you ready?"

"I shall be before you, Mignonne, for I have only to brush my hair
and wash my hands, and you have, besides all this, to take off your
out-of-door things; but surely there is not any hurry if we are to
wait for Mr. Earnscliffe,--he must have time to shake off the dust of
the journey before he appears for the evening."



CHAPTER II.


A week is quickly passed in Meran in visiting the different places of
interest in its neighbourhood--all so rich in the beauties of nature,
yet richer still in the memories of the late war of independence in
1809, when Tyrol's children, headed by her peasant-hero, Andreas
Hofer, rose in defence of their religion and their liberty, and with
rare heroism maintained the struggle almost single-handed for several
months--Austria having withdrawn her troops from Tyrol in the August of
1809--against the united and disciplined forces of France and Bavaria.

Close to the town are the hill and castle of Zeno, both so called
because St. Zeno was consecrated in the chapel which, with the
exception of one of the entrance towers, is the only part of the
castle still standing. Looking from its summit over the broad
range of the Janfen mountains--whose passes were defended like so
many Thermopylæs--and the valleys which gave birth to those brave
defenders, we cannot help recalling the following beautiful words of a
German writer: "A wild river rushes by the castle-topped hill of Zeno,
and in vain do the red roses bend lovingly over it, as if to soothe its
foaming waters with their kisses; in vain do the fig-trees spread over
it the soft shade of their fresh green leaves; unheedingly it dashes
on with a deep sullen roar. What sort of a river is it then? How comes
it that the lovely flowers and the soft balmy shade cannot win it to
anything like peace and rest? Ah! that river is the Passer! Does it
then entone an eternal lament over the heroes whose lullabies it once
sung, or is it that with unbridled fury it dashes on to the Etsch, so
that, in union with it, it may look upon the land where the Sandwirth
of Passeier laid down his heroic life."

A little more distant from Meran is the Schloss Tirol, the ancient
residence of the country's princes, and from which it takes its name.
There, too, it was that Hofer and Hormayer--Tyrol's simple mountain
son, and proud Austria's baron--met on terms of equality to consult
over the means to be taken in order to preserve the country's newly-won
freedom. Then the castle of Schönna, magnificently situated at the
entrance of the Passeier valley, now in possession of Archduke John's
son, the Count of Meran, and many others scarcely less remarkable.
But exceeding all other spots in interest is the Sandwirthshof, the
birthplace and home of Andreas Hofer, the pure noble-hearted patriot
whom Napoleon--to his everlasting shame--condemned to death and caused
to be shot in Mantua on the 20th of February, 1810.

Thus from Meran our friends made excursion after excursion, and Mr.
Earnscliffe almost ceased to struggle with his daily increasing
admiration for Flora Adair; yet he rarely betrayed it by word or look,
even whilst wandering by her side through scenes where almost every
hill and castle made her eyes light up with enthusiasm, as she talked
of the deeds connected with them. He delighted in exciting her about
her favourite Tyrolese, and as they stood one evening a little in
advance of Mrs. Adair and Marie, leaning over the rocky bridge which
runs into the lovely valley of Kinele, with the sun's golden rays
illuminating its narrow defile, he began to tease her about them, and
spoke somewhat disparagingly of the Passeier peasants in particular, as
a stupid, stolid race--with the exception of Andreas Hofer, of course.
She looked up at him exclaiming--

"Oh, Mr. Earnscliffe, you cannot mean what you say! The people who
combine unsurpassed bravery with the softest compassion of a woman's
heart cannot be called 'stolid.' Was there ever a war so remarkable
for deeds of heroic humanity as this peasants' war? You know, of
course, the grand act of the Passeier, Sebastian Prünster, when he was
one of the outpost watchers on the hill above Volders--how, when he
struck with the butt end of his gun the Bavarian soldier who had crept
close up to him through the underwood in order to shoot him, he felt
horror-stricken as he saw him rolling towards the precipice, and at the
risk of his own life dashed after him, caught him up in his arms, and
carried him to the soft grass above, and having staunched his wound and
given him bread and brandy to restore his strength, cried, 'Ass that
thou art! what brings thee up here? Flee as far as thou canst from me.
It pains my inmost heart to think that I should be obliged to kill thee
thus without any good cause.'... How those who loved Sebastian Prünster
must have gloried in him!"

Flora had never seemed so charming to Mr. Earnscliffe as now. She
ceased speaking and stood with her slight figure drawn up triumphantly,
and one little hand resting on the ridge beside her. He looked at her
for a moment in silent admiration, and then, bending low over her
hand--low enough for his lips to have touched it, but they did not--he
murmured, more to himself than to her, "What would not any living man
give to hear himself so spoken of by you!"

The sound of these words fell faintly on Flora's ear, and she scarcely
dared to believe that she heard aright; nevertheless she blushed as she
turned away, saying, "They are waiting for us."

This was their last evening in Meran; the next day they commenced the
crossing of the Brenner to Innsbruck. If Flora's enthusiasm for her
favourite Andreas Hofer and his brave followers had been excited by
visiting the peaceful haunts of their early days in the dark Passeier
valley, what must it be now when passing over the very sites of some
of their most wonderful victories! And after spending some days in
Innsbruck, the focus and hotbed--the Marathon of Tyrol, as it has been
called--of that glorious war, they set out for Munich by the Achen and
Tegernsee route. Two hours of train travelling took them to Jenbach,
and thence an open carriage was to convey them to Achensee, their
journey's end for that day.

About three o'clock they drove up to the pretty rustic little inn
called Scholastica, which stands at the top of the lake; and after an
hour or two spent in resting and dining they went out to explore the
beauties of Achensee, and as the best way to do so they were told to
row up to the other end of the lake and walk back along its shore. As
they rowed slowly, and stopped every now and then to feast their eyes
on its loveliness, it was tolerably late by the time they got out of
the boat. Mrs. Adair and Marie walked on at once along the path which
leads back to the hotel; but Mr. Earnscliffe and Flora stood gazing
silently on the scene before them.

What pen could give a true idea of Achensee at any time?... It would
indeed be rash to attempt to describe it on such an evening as this,
when it lay bathed in a flood of mellow light shed from the golden
slanting rays of the setting sun. What words could paint that lake,
so closely shut in by mountains as to be almost hidden within their
bosom--their peaks towering one above another with their still
snow-covered summits glowing with the rich red tints of the dying
day; the lengthening shadows creeping over its deep blue waters, and
gathering round Flora Adair and the object of her love, as they stood
on its brink?

Well do we know the indescribable beauty of Achensee on a fine evening
at sunset, for we too have stood on its brink at that hour, gazing into
its waters, and watching the shadows flitting over them, but

    "Alone the while,"

that is, with the heart's void unfilled save by a vague ideal. What
must it be to stand there beside the one all-absorbing love of one's
life! And Flora knew what that was now, as she leaned against a tree
with her hat in her hand, the light breeze ruffling her luxuriant hair.

"Miss Adair," exclaimed Mr. Earnscliffe, suddenly, "can you not picture
to yourself in such a scene as this the interview between Rudens and
Bertha in Schiller's 'William Tell'?... Oh! I can feel with Rudens as
he says,

    "Könnt ihr mit mir euch in das stille Thal
      Entschliessen und der Erde Glanz entsagen--
      O, dann ist meines Strebens Ziel gefunden;
      Dann mag der Storm der wildbewegten Welt
      Ans sichre Ufer dieser Berge schlagen--
      Kein flüchtiges Verlangen hab' ich mehr
      Hinaus zu senden in des Lebens Weiten--
      Dann mögen diese Felsen um uns her
      Die undurchdringlich feste Mauer breiten,
      Und dies verschlossne sel'ge Thal allein
      Zum Himmel offen und gelichtet seyn!"[1]

Flora, as if in a sort of dream, began Bertha's answer--

    "Jetzt bist du ganz----"

She stopped suddenly, and got very red.

"Why do you stop, Miss Adair?" asked Mr. Earnscliffe, eagerly. "Why
break the charm which you shed around me--that of being with one who
responds to each implied thought and feeling?"

"I see that we have been carried away by Schiller's beautiful
poetry even to the forgetting that mamma and Marie have preceded us
by some minutes towards home. Pray let us make haste to overtake
them," answered Flora, blushing more than ever, and moving away. Mr.
Earnscliffe was at her side in a moment, and said, "Yes, we will follow
them, but as we go you must hear me, Miss Adair. I can wait no longer
to have my fate decided. Over each hill and through each dale of this
lovely land have I wandered before, but never until now have I _felt_
its beauty to the full; never until now have I known--to use your own
poet's words--the 'soft magic' of having one, the beloved of my heart
near me,

    'To make every dear scene of enchantment more dear,'

Flora, will you hear me?"

She made a slight motion of assent, but did not look up, and he
continued, "Yet I must not ask you for an answer until I have given
you--though painful be the task--a short sketch of my life, so that
you may know me as I _really_ am before you decide for or against me,
and also that hereafter none may have the power to tell you aught of
my earlier days that you have not already heard from my own lips....
Left an orphan, whilst still almost a baby, I was consigned to the
guardianship of an uncle, and most honourably did he fulfil the trust;
but I could no more love that imperturbable, just man, who was _coldly_
kind upon principle, than fire and water could blend. He was not
married, so I had no aunt or cousins to whom I could attach myself,
and it was a joy rather than a grief to me that I was sent to school
when very young. I applied with unusual ardour to study, and gloried
in the power which I possessed of being first among my companions, and
in my facility for mastering foreign tongues.... I lived among the
ancients--those master spirits of old who by their nobility of soul
rose above the debasing vice of their age, and stood forth as bright
examples of the great power of man's own mind and will unaided and
unrestrained by the fetters of modern society or Christianity. Thus I
passed from a studious, dreamy youth, to man's estate. I was ardent and
enthusiastic, full of glowing ideals of moral beauty and excellence,
and, with all the prestige of high birth and wealth to assure me a
favourable reception from the world, I was launched into the vortex of
London life. I tasted of all its pleasures; I was courted and sought
after; yet by most people I was looked upon as being

    'Among them, but not of them; in a shroud
      Of thoughts which were not their thoughts.'

But what cared they for that? I was rich and successful, and was,
therefore, to be flattered. At Lady M----'s ball--"... he paused,
covered his eyes with his hand as if to shut out the stinging memories
which now thronged before them; he mastered himself and went on, ...
"Pardon me, even now I cannot recall that time without a shudder, and
only dare to pass cursorily over its events.... Well, as I said, at
Lady M----'s ball I saw one who then appeared to me to be beautiful,
and was introduced to her; I was completely captivated. I imagined--ah,
_now_ I know, 'twas only imagination--that I loved her with a deep,
true passion. I won her,--but scarcely had I time to congratulate
myself on my conquest when I discovered--oh, that I should have to tell
it!--that I had been deceived, betrayed by her; that she had accepted
me only for my wealth and position, whilst her love was another's.
To resolve to separate from her for ever was a moment's work, and I
confided to the care of my lawyers all the necessary arrangements, and
left England, to escape at least from the scene of my misery, and the
rankling consciousness that men were laughing at the proud _exalté_
Earnscliffe, who had been caught by the light beauty; then I awoke from
the dream of careless enjoyment in which I had been living.... The
face of nature in its calm repose seemed to mock at my wretchedness.
Everything gave testimony of a creative power; but of justice, of
love, in that dread power, I could see no trace.... I had not asked
for life; I had done nothing knowingly to merit the curse which had
fallen upon me. Why then was I subjected to a betrayal which blighted
my every hope, dried up all the sources of happiness from which I used
to drink?--for my belief in truth and goodness had been shattered....
I asked for what had I been created? Why doomed to bear unasked-for
existence?... I sought eagerly for comfort in religion, but I could
find none. What consolation could any man's interpretation of Scripture
give me, since everything they said was vague and varying? I longed
for some universal certainty--something upon which to lean with one's
whole weight, but nowhere could I find it; the more I sought, the
more incomprehensible did everything appear to me, seeing all around
as Lamartine says, 'evil where good might be.'--At last with wearied
brain and aching heart I gave up the search. To end my life seemed to
me to be a cowardly thing; to plunge into dissipation, as Byron did,
beneath me; so I resolved to be henceforth self-sufficing; noble and
true, because such qualities alone make man great; but trusting in
none, believing in nothing, and above all, not in a woman.... Such has
been my life for the last ten years. But a few months ago there came a
break in its terrible monotony--I met you! Accustomed as I was to be
flattered and fawned upon by young ladies as a good match, your severe
remark upon what I said to Mrs. Elton at Frascati made me almost start
with surprise, and during the time when I considered myself bound to
visit you and try to relieve the wearisomeness of your imprisonment, I
studied you as something new--unknown before. I became interested in
the study, nevertheless I would not admit to myself the possibility
that I could be attracted by a woman. I persuaded myself that I merely
felt a curiosity about you; then I fancied that I had discovered you
to be just like the rest of your sex, heartless and false, and, in
spite of all my theories about not caring for you, I mourned over the
supposed discovery. But a light was suddenly thrown upon your conduct,
and you came out brighter than ever from under the cloud.... I
followed you on chance to Venice; I watched you closely day after day
in your family circle; I saw how little the ordinary bagatelles and
vanities which sum up the existence of most women occupied you, and I
felt drawn towards you as to a kindred spirit; yet I dreaded to trust a
woman again, and I struggled hard indeed before I yielded to the charm
of loving you. But resistance was useless; the more I tried to think
of you as of others whom I had known, the more I found you different,
and at last I gave up the struggle. Now I am yours wholly and entirely.
Refuse not then to receive the poor shipwrecked traveller, who, having
confessed to you all his faults and misfortunes, clings to you as his
last anchor of hope on earth.... Flora do not hesitate--speak."... He
caught her hand and pressed it tightly in his own.

The rush of wild delight, which thrilled through every portion of
Flora's being at having thus offered to her a happiness so intense
that she had not dared to expect it, was so great, that for a moment
it deprived her of utterance; but raising her glistening eyes to his,
she gave him _such_ a smile that he asked for no words to interpret its
meaning, and drawing the already imprisoned hand within his arm, he
held it there clasped to his heart, as he exclaimed--

"_My_ Flora! this moment repays, nay, overpays me for all that I have
suffered!... But why do you tremble? Are you afraid of me? Have you not
faith in me?"

It cost Flora an effort to speak--to shake off the exquisite emotion
which the warm clasp of his hand caused her to feel; but surely any
lover would have thought it an answer worth waiting for when at length
she said--

"You might as well ask me if I had not faith in my own existence. All
that I am afraid of is the intensity of my happiness."

"Generous Flora! not one word of doubt, although I could not offer
you--what alone is worthy of you--a heart's _first_ homage; and yet in
very truth I might say that I never really loved before. Now, indeed,
can I forgive and forget that faithless one----"

"And _I_ can thank her for having left you free to offer me the
treasure of your heart, and to receive mine in return whole and
untouched--friendship only has it known until now! But 'tis all that
I have to give, for fortune I have none, nor--as you see--beauty, and
this last I would that I had for your dear sake."

"But you have it for me, Flora. Your beauty I would not have exchanged
for that of a Venus di Medici!"

"Nay, turn not flatterer, or I shall be forced to _begin_ to doubt. But
tell me, why did you treat me so icily when we met you at the Farnese
Palace--to say nothing of the celebrated night at Mrs. Elton's?"

"So even then you noticed and felt my change of manner, Flora?" he
asked in a low, thrilling tone, as he bent down and tried to get a full
look at her face; but he could only see the bright red colour spreading
even over her neck as she quickly turned away her head, and said gaily--

"Why, that is worthy of an Irishman! You answer my question with
another, which I certainly shall not take any notice of; and now please
to reply to mine."

"You shall be obeyed, my little queen.... The day before I met you
at the Farnese Palace, Mary Elton told me that you were going to be
married to Mr. Lyne, adding that, indeed, you could not _afford_ to
refuse such an offer as his. Prone as I was to believe that all women
were ready to sell themselves, I scarcely doubted this to be true,
although I knew that you did not particularly like Mr. Lyne. Then
everything seemed to confirm it. I met you with him the next day at the
Farnese Palace, and at Mrs. Elton's ball. He was constantly at your
side. I saw you together apart from everybody else, talking eagerly.
At last he stood up, and held your hand in his for a moment before
leaving you, and I believed this to be the signing of the sale. I left
Rome more embittered than ever against women; but a chance--a blessed
chance--showed me how utterly mistaken I had been. I learned from
Helena Elton that Mr. Lyne had proposed for you, but that you--with a
truth and courage rarely to be found in woman--had refused him, rich as
he was, and although you yourself were portionless. Oh, Flora! how my
heart bounded to you from that moment! Now you know all, and you see
that I not only love you ardently, but that I have at the same time the
highest esteem for you. Come to me and be the chosen companion of my
heart and mind, for in you I pay homage to a heart superior and a mind
equal to my own!"

"It is worth living for alone to hear such words! But, again, I must
chide you for flattery and exaggeration, as it was both to say 'a
mind equal to my own.' No: mine is not equal to yours--a woman's very
education forbids it. Had you said that I possessed a mind capable of
understanding and following yours it might have been true. Believe
me, it is a woman's truest glory to admit the great superiority over
herself of him whom she loves. What repose it is to trust entirely in
a higher being than one's-self,--to know that henceforth you will be my
lawgiver and teacher; for you will have much to teach me.... But how
sweet will such lessons be!"

"How could I have ever dreamed that I loved before, oh, my dearest!"

"_I_ can scarcely answer that question; but we all know how tempting
a bait is beauty of person to you lords of the creation--is it not
so? But time wears, and I have much to say before we reach the hotel.
You have told me all your feelings on religion. Another would shudder
at such a disclosure, and perhaps be scared from loving so daring a
spirit; but _I must_ love you, whatever be your faults. I believe
I almost love your faults themselves, because they prove what the
strength and grandeur of your character is; but I do shudder _for_
you! How fearful it would be to think of such a soul as yours lost
for all eternity, and like this glorious sun above us only shedding
forth the rays of its light and power for a few short hours on earth,
then setting into darkness, but unlike the material sun, never to rise
again. This must not, shall not be if power or prayer of mine can aught
avail!"

Her face flushed and her eyes lit up with the light of that long
concentrated love which now burst its bonds. To Mr. Earnscliffe it
was irresistible. He clasped her round the waist, drew her to him,
and--let Bulwer speak for us--"and still and solitary deepened the
mystic and lovely night around them. How divine was that sense and
consciousness of solitude! How, as it thrilled within them, they clung
closer to each other! Theirs was that blissful time, when the touch of
their hands clasped together was in itself a happiness of emotion too
deep for words!"

At length Flora said, as she walked on with his arm still encircling
her waist, "Yes, I do hope that I may help you more than any theologian
to reach the one great source of truth. Let me say a few words of my
own experience.... Like you, when at school I delighted in study,
and enjoyed being first among my companions. This, added to a cold
although invariably polite manner, caused me to be looked upon by
the rest as proud and haughty, setting myself apart from them. But
I was indifferent to others; study and the approbation of one of my
mistresses, whom I dearly loved, were everything to me, and as far as
it went, I was perfectly happy within those dear convent walls. My
sorrow at leaving them was great; but I could not spend my life there.
I too one day awoke from a dream of careless, thoughtless happiness.
That day came when I left school to enter upon a young lady's inane
existence. I felt, as Schiller says, that 'empty occupation cannot fill
the soul's void; there is a deeper happiness, there are other joys!'
Balls, visits, promenades and needle-work--what could they give to
satisfy the heart or the mind? The people whom I met in society wearied
me; I longed for something different. Then I sought for rest and
contentment in religion, but I found them not; and weary of the present
and dreading the future, I too asked, 'Can life be a gift? Where am
I to find the justice and goodness of God of which I am told? Is it
not He who has made me _what_ I am, and why, why render me incapable
of finding contentment in the ordinary occupations of those with whom
He chose to cast my fate?' All the other stumbling-blocks to human
reason--predestination, the origin of evil--followed in the train of
these thoughts; I was on the verge of losing all faith; but grace and
the teaching of one of God's own ministers, one to whom I must ever owe
the deepest gratitude, saved me. He showed me the evidences and truth
of the Fall of man--that key to all knowledge of him; he proved to me
the existence of a Divine teaching Authority, by which man could learn
his end, and the means of attaining it; he made me see how absurd was
the attempt of finite reason to measure itself with the Infinite; and
he summed up all in these words, as he pointed to the crucifix, 'Will
you refuse to believe in the goodness of Him who gave his only Son to
die on a Cross for your sake? And, trusting to that goodness, can you
not wait patiently until the few short years of life shall be over,
and all shall be made clear as noonday to you? On the other hand, if
you will not wait, if you refuse to submit your reason, what will you
gain? You say that you are not happy now: will it make you happier not
to believe in eternal happiness, and throw away all hope of attaining
it?'... How true was all this! I could not doubt the life or divinity
of our Saviour: history itself proves it too clearly; then how could I
deny the great testimony of love given in His Crucifixion? Again and
again recurred to me that question: 'What will you gain if you refuse
to submit your reason?' Nothing, absolutely nothing: nay, more, I began
to see that to dwell on these subjects, which are above, not against,
human reason, could only lead to misery and perhaps to madness; and
I determined to question no more, but to believe.... 'Easier said
than done,' perhaps you will answer.... True, it is easier said than
done, but at least it is possible in the only religion which bears
the impress of Divine foundation, the only religion which dares to
attribute to itself the delegated authority of God, and say, 'So far
and no farther shalt thou go.'... Study _that_ religion, examine the
proofs upon which its authority rests; but you must go to that study,
that examination, with the full determination that as soon as you
recognise its Divine foundation, you will trust to faith, and not to
finite reason. I know it will ever be rebelling, but those rebellions
must be crushed down with a firm hand. We cannot all be simple loving
disciples like little Marie, but we can do our utmost, and say, 'My
God, I am what Thou hast made me; accept then what I can give Thee.'"

She ceased speaking, and for a few moments they both remained silent;
then Mr. Earnscliffe said gravely, "I _will_ make the examination which
you desire, with all earnestness and sincerity, and God only knows how
I have longed for truth and certainty; but I could not venture to give
you much hope that your wishes and my own will be crowned with success;
nevertheless, you _have_ done more towards making me a believer, my
Flora, than any theologian, even though you admit that your mode of
persuasion is second-hand; but you speak from your own feelings and
experience, and not from theory, and with such an advocate how could I
reason coldly?"

A look of love so inexpressibly tender rested on Flora, that her heart
thrilled again with the intensity of her happiness. But at this
moment they caught sight of a figure coming along the shady walk,
now dimly lighted by the pale rays of the rising moon, and Flora
gently disengaged herself from Mr. Earnscliffe's encircling arm. The
approaching figure turned out to be Marie, who, as soon as she saw
them, cried out, "Where are you gone? You have been so long time, Mrs.
Adair is tired waiting you."

Flora could not think of any answer to give, but Mr. Earnscliffe said
with mock gravity, "It is not at all wonderful, Mademoiselle, that we
have been a long time coming, for we have had such a fall; and if I
could only tell you what we fell into, you would not be astonished at
our delay."

"_Oh! vraiment_," said little simple Marie, "I am so sorry; I hope
Flore has not done herself harm. Relate me all that please."

"Never mind him, Mignonne; it is not true," said Flora, as well as she
could speak from laughing.

Something, a nameless look about them both, suddenly struck her, and
she exclaimed, "_J'y suis maintenant_, he means that--as you other
English say--you have had a fall into love."

Flora, half indignant and half amused, said, "I declare you are too
bad. I wonder what you will say next. But let us make haste to
mamma; she must indeed be tired of waiting, and pray, Mignonne, do be
_sage_. I assure you"--with a gay glance at Mr. Earnscliffe--"that
our conversation has been awfully serious;--death, judgment, hell and
heaven, are not more solemn subjects than those upon which we have
conversed."

She took Marie's arm and hurried on, followed by Mr. Earnscliffe, who
said, "This is not fair, Miss Adair; you surrendered yourself prisoner
at discretion to me, and then on the first occasion you run away from
me."

She laughed, but hurried on more than ever to the open space before the
hotel, where Mrs. Adair was sitting admiring the silvery moonlit lake.
"At last!" exclaimed Mrs. Adair as they came up; "I was almost getting
frightened about you; and now let us go in and prepare for tea, which
is no doubt ready."

Accordingly they went in, Flora managing that her mother and Marie
should precede her, so that she might linger a moment to get one more
fond clasp of Mr. Earnscliffe's hand and look of love. Then she too
went in.


  [1] Canst thou then dwell with me in this peaceful vale, and forego
      earth's pomp? Oh, then the goal for which I struggled is
      attained, and the storms of the wildly agitated world may beat
      unheeded against the firm bulwarks of these mountains. Not one
      more fleeting wish have I to send forth through life's whole
      expanse. Oh, now may these rocks around us here spread into
      impenetrable encircling walls, and this blessed valley be alone
      open to and lighted by heaven.

      _Bertha_--Now art thou all----



CHAPTER III.


Shortly afterwards they came down to tea, Flora feeling very shy and
conscious. When they had finished, Mr. Earnscliffe said he would go out
to smoke a cigar; and as he left the room, he gave Flora a look which
seemed to say that as soon as possible he would be glad to have some
other company besides that of the cigar. Marie, with delicate tact,
followed his example, declaring that she must go to her room to mend
her dress, which she had torn. Then Flora went and knelt beside her
mother and said, "Mamma, Mr. Earnscliffe has proposed to me."

"What! Mr. Earnscliffe--the woman-hater, as you used to call him!"

"He is not a _universal_ woman-hater now, mamma," replied Flora, with a
little smile of triumph.

"So it seems; but what answer have you given?"

"Mamma! can you ask?"

"Which means, I suppose, that you have accepted him; but, my child,
you know that he is not a believer in religion. If he were to become a
Christian, then, indeed, I should not object to him as a son-in-law;
whilst he remains in his present sentiments, however, you surely will
not think of marrying him."

Flora started up, saying, "Not think of marrying him! Oh! mamma! But he
is virtually a believer in Eternal Truth, if a yearning desire to know
it constitutes one; he could not be the man he is, nor could I worship
him so fully as I do, if error had ever been capable of satisfying him.
From his early youth he has had a craving for truth which has never
yet been appeased; the right means only have been wanting to lead him
into the body of the Church, and to give rest to his soaring spirit.
Then, mamma, do not, do not in pity say that I must not marry him, or
you will break my heart; you will divide it between the two whom I love
best on earth. You know well that no other man ever excited in me even
a passing fancy, and I love Mr. Earnscliffe as only a woman can who has
never loved before. I was _so_ happy an hour ago when he asked me to be
his, and now, mamma, you will not turn my happiness into wretchedness?"
Flora knelt down again, and hid her burning face in her mother's lap.

Mrs. Adair's eyes filled with tears as she wound her arms round
Flora, and said, "I cannot make you wretched, my precious one, when my
only object on earth is your happiness; so I will not _forbid_ you to
marry him--besides, good seldom comes of _forbidding_ marriages--but
I beseech you to pause; take time to see if he will really become a
Christian."

"_I_ cannot oppose him, mamma; you may say anything you like to him
about waiting, and if he consents to wait it is all right. I have no
will but his, and I cannot begin to thwart him now when I ought to
begin to practise that most sweet duty which is to be mine--the duty
of obeying him even in trifles. Besides, his life has been so unhappy
that it would be cruel in _me_ to hesitate about granting whatever
he wishes. Go to him, mamma, and do all you can to persuade him to
wait for whatever time you wish to name, but do not ask me to join in
opposing him--only let me be neutral."

"My poor child, I see yours is a hopeless case; but come with me, and I
will say all that I think right before you."

Mrs. Adair kissed her again and again, then stood up, and putting her
arm round her waist, led her out to meet Mr. Earnscliffe.

A little way down the walk they saw Mr. Earnscliffe leaning against a
tree, and smoking furiously; as soon as he perceived them, he advanced
quickly to meet them, and said, in an eager tone, "You are come to give
me Flora, Mrs. Adair, are you not?"

"I cannot keep her from you, Mr. Earnscliffe; your conquest is
indeed complete, so take her"--and she placed Flora's hand in Mr.
Earnscliffe's. He kissed Flora's forehead warmly, then took Mrs.
Adair's hand, and put it to his lips as he answered, "Oh, that I knew
how to thank you, Mrs. Adair! At least you shall see how I will guard
the precious trust which you now place in my hands."

"Do not thank me, Mr. Earnscliffe; I give her to you not as a free
gift. Let us walk on,--I wish to speak to you very seriously."

He turned, and drawing Flora's arm within his own, he walked between
her and Mrs. Adair, murmuring in a low tone to Flora, "You are mine
now, indeed."

Mrs. Adair then began, "I said that I do not give you Flora as a free
gift, Mr. Earnscliffe, and it is because you are not a believer in
religion. You possess everything else that I could possibly desire for
her in a husband, but what is there that can make up for the want of
faith? It is a fearful risk for a Christian to marry an unbeliever; it
is endangering that faith without which 'it is impossible to please
God;' therefore I urged Flora--as strongly as a parent could urge
without using authority--not to accept you. But, 'tis true, one does
not reason where one loves: she would not listen to anything, and so
implored me not to make her wretched for life by refusing to let her
marry you,--that I could not do so. But I think I have a right to ask
that you should wait a year, and try if you cannot during that time see
the truth of religion."

"A year! Mrs. Adair! If you knew what my life has been, you would not
ask me to wait so long before I may enjoy the only gleam of sunshine
which has been granted to me during ten long lonely years. Give her to
me at once, and she will teach me better than any one else can. I hope
you do not think so badly of me as to imagine that I would care less
to arrive at the knowledge of truth because I had already won her. If
you could feel what it would be to one who has been buffeted about as I
have been from opinion to opinion, to find rest in certain truth, you
would not dread my leaving any means untried in order to obtain it;
and to keep Flora from me can make no difference, as even for her dear
sake I could not profess to believe unless I did so fully. However, it
shall be as Flora wishes. I will abide by her decision whatever it may
cost me; I would serve fourteen years for her, as we are told that
Jacob did for Rachel. Now, Flora, say, must I suffer on through another
year of loneliness and misery? or will you trust me with yourself at
once, and have sufficient confidence in me to believe that I will use
every effort to do and be all that I can to make you happy here and
hereafter?" He let go her hand as if to leave her perfectly free, but
she pressed her face against his arm, as Mrs. Adair said earnestly,
"Flora, think what it is for a Christian to marry an unbeliever! Let
there be this year's trial, and such a sacrifice to the advice of the
Church will merit happiness for you both."

"Yes," added Mr. Earnscliffe, bitterly, "and so needlessly inflict
twelve long months of suffering on him whom you love, and who for ten
years has known nothing else--this, too, merely in obedience to the
advice of your Church. If _it_ gives you leave to marry me at once,
will _you_ refuse me? Flora, is it to be so?"

Poor Flora! what would she not have given not to be called upon to
decide the question, to grant Mr. Earnscliffe's prayer. She knew that
it was an act of weakness to consent to his wishes, but she had not the
almost superhuman courage to inflict such pain as her refusal would
give him, and from her own lips, too! No, she could not do it, and
with her head still pressed against his arm, she murmured, "Mamma, I
told you that I could not oppose Mr. Earnscliffe in anything which was
not in _contradiction_ to our Holy Faith. If he chooses me to marry
him at once I must do it--that is, if I am permitted, and you do not
positively forbid me."

"My own true Flora!" exclaimed Mr. Earnscliffe.

"God help her, poor child!" said Mrs. Adair, with a sigh.

"Do not say God help, but God bless her, Mrs. Adair. Had I your faith I
would say God bless her ten thousand times over for her perfect trust
in the world-wearied man."

Flora glided away from Mr. Earnscliffe's side, and went round to her
mother, to whom she clung fondly, saying, "But you must not be angry
with me, mamma; I could not help it; and _you_ must bless me too, or it
will be a miserable closing to a happy day. You must not make me feel
that my love for him is pain to you--it would be too dreadful if _the_
two strong feelings of my life were to clash."

"They shall not clash, my darling child, and of course I will bless
you. I only want you to be happy; but I fear that you are grasping
_too_ eagerly at happiness--what if it were to be taken from you?"

Flora shuddered from head to foot, and cried, "Oh, don't, don't,
mamma dearest,--let me be happy whilst I may without thinking of dark
possibilities; only bless me and"--in a low tone--"him!"

Mrs. Adair kissed her with overweaning affection, and said, "God bless
you, my own sweet child, and give him whom you love the great boon of
Faith. Take her again, Mr. Earnscliffe, she is indeed yours." Once more
she placed her hand in Mr. Earnscliffe's, who again drew her round to
his side as he replied--

"Mrs. Adair, I can only say, as before, that you shall see how little
cause you will have to regret letting me have her at once. And let it
be all arranged now. When may we be married?"

"We expect to reach Paris in about ten days; there, if you choose; all
the necessary preparations can be made, and the marriage solemnized."

"That will answer so nicely. From Paris I can take a run to England,
and have the settlements--of which you and I, Mrs. Adair, can speak at
our leisure--drawn up."

"There are not any settlements to be made, Edwin," said Flora, shyly,
and for the first time calling him by his Christian name; "you know I
have not any fortune."

"But I must make a provision for all future possibilities. Suppose, for
instance, that you were to be left a widow; you must have a jointure."

"You are as bad as mamma, I declare--you both seem to foresee nothing
but misfortunes for me."

"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed Mrs. Adair. "But we had better go in now; it
is getting late and chilly."

"Chilly, mamma! why I find it quite hot, and it is so beautiful out
here; really one does not know which to admire more, Achensee by sunset
or by moonlight--it is exquisite at both times."

"I daresay _you_ find it so," replied Mrs. Adair; "but I can answer for
it its beauty does not keep _me_ warm. Besides we ought to go in to
Marie--she will feel so alone."

"That's true--how selfish I was to forget poor little Mignonne! she
_will_ feel alone."

They walked back to the hotel, and Mrs. Adair went in; Mr. Earnscliffe
and Flora remained out a few minutes more. He thought he had a right
to get a parting embrace from his betrothed, and Flora was not prude
enough or coquette enough to try to withhold it from him. She could no
more think of being capricious or tantalising towards her lover than
she could of treating him coldly in order to increase his fervour,--as
she had said to her mother, her only thought was how best to please
him. The playfully capricious school of heroine is, we know, the
favourite style in novels, but is not Shakespeare's Juliet a higher
conception of a loving woman, as she says--

    "But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
    Than those that have more cunning to be strange?"

Mrs. Adair's voice was heard calling, "Come, Flora." Mr. Earnscliffe
let her go, saying, "I believe, after all, I must learn quickly to love
God, that in perfect faith I may be able to ask Him to bless thee."

They joined Mrs. Adair, who said, holding out her hand to Mr.
Earnscliffe, "Good-night. It is already late, and we start early
to-morrow, so we must rest now."

"So soon, Mrs. Adair? But you have granted me so great a boon to-night
that I cannot object to anything you wish; you have made me your most
grateful and obedient subject for ever. Good-night then," and he kissed
her hand.

They looked round for Flora, but she had disappeared. Mrs. Adair
smiled, and said, "I dare say you have wished her good-night already,
and she probably did not want to have the _private_ good-night spoiled
by a public one, so ran away."

Mr. Earnscliffe smiled too, as he handed Mrs. Adair her candle, and
taking his hat he went out again.

Mrs. Adair was right. Flora had run away--she had gone up to Marie. As
she entered the room the light of the moon showed her Marie sitting in
the window, looking sadly dejected, and going over to her she put her
arms round her, saying, "Poor darling Mignonne!"

Large tears rolled slowly down Marie's cheeks as she said in French,
"Don't think me ill-natured, Flore--don't imagine that I would not do
anything that I could to promote your happiness, but I felt so lonely;
I felt that I was a stranger amongst you. Now that you are with me,
however, and as fond as ever, it is all well, and I am so glad if you
are happy, Flore. But Monsieur Earnscliffe is not _un croyant_, so I
suppose you cannot marry him until he becomes one?"

Flora felt almost angry with Marie. Was there never to be an end of
this question of religion? She subdued the feeling, however, and
answered gently, "Mignonne, if Mr. Barkley were not a _croyant_, as you
say, and if he came to you and told you how for years and years he had
known only suffering, but that now he loved you and that you could
make him forget it all if you would marry him at once, would you--could
you say to him, 'No, suffer on until you become one of the body of the
faithful?' Could you condemn him you love to endure pain which _you_
could relieve? Could you refuse, even for a time, to fulfil the office
for which woman was created--that of consoling and rendering happy one
whom she loves?"

"I know it would be fearfully difficult," replied Marie, looking very
much puzzled; "but if you were told it was right to do so, what then?"

"If the Church _forbade_ me to marry him I would of course submit.
But what misery it would be to make him endure one hour's suffering
from which I might save him. Thank God, I know that there is no
_indispensable_ obstacle to my marrying him--it would be _too_
dreadful."

"Take care, Flore, there may be some _indispensable_ obstacle although
you know it not."

"Mignonne, wish me joy at having won the love of _such_ a man, rather
than suggest obstacles to our happiness; it is a bad omen to hear of
nothing but objections on the night of one's betrothal. God knows
that 'sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,'" and again Flora
shuddered.

"I do wish you joy, Flora, now and for ever, and I will daily pray
that Monsieur Earnscliffe may soon be as firm a believer as you are
yourself."

"Thanks, dear Mignonne, it is so unselfish of you to think about me now
in the midst of your own trial."

"I was not unselfish a few minutes ago, Flore, when I saw you and
Monsieur Earnscliffe together, and his kiss of betrothal imprinted on
your brow made me cry; yet indeed it was not that I envied you, Flore,
but it made me feel how different everything was for me."

"You need not tell me that it was not envy, Mignonne. I verily believe
that you would not know envy if you were to see it, so you might indeed
answer with regard to it as Nelson did when somebody spoke to him of
fear, 'What's fear? I never saw it.'"

"It is very _gentil_ of you to say so, Flore; but I want to talk about
yourself. I want you to tell me all about it,--how long you have
cared for Monsieur Earnscliffe; when you discovered that he liked
you,--everything, _enfin_."

"It will only pain you, Mignonne,--only recall Florence."

"But it will be such sweet pain, Flore; do tell me?"

"Yes, anything you like, darling," answered Flora, who certainly was
just in the mood to-night to do whatever could give anybody pleasure.
So they had a long chat over this prolific subject to young ladies--a
love affair. Then Flora went in to Mrs. Adair, and nearly an hour
passed before she sought her own room.

It was the last on the corridor, and had a balcony looking upon the
lake, so she was tempted to go out and look again on the beautiful
scene without. To any one Achensee would have looked surpassingly
lovely on that clear moonlight night, but to Flora Adair its beauty
spoke with one of those voices "which set the inmost music of our souls
a-going," singing a song which requires no words, yet breathing a
prayer to heaven to be made more worthy of ministering to the object of
our love, and to be enabled to make him happy. At length she muttered
half aloud, "What bliss it was to hear him say that I had done him
good!--my Edwin!"

"Flora!"

She started, but more with pleasure than fear, at the sound of her
own name, as she saw Mr. Earnscliffe come from under the shadow of
the trees and stand facing the balcony as he said, "I saw you come
out, and I have been watching you ever since. It was so delightful to
see you there, and know that you were thinking of me. I even heard a
sound which seemed very like Edwin; but it would have been still more
delightful if I could have been standing up there beside you."

Flora blushed and laughed as she answered, "Well, I must say it was
very wicked of you to be out here eaves-dropping when you ought to have
been in bed; and pray, why are you not there?"

"Might I not ask the same question, fair lady?"

"No, it is quite a different thing for me. A lady may have work and a
thousand other things to keep her up, but a man has no such excuse."

"And does standing on a balcony in the moonlight get a lady's work done
for her?"

"_Such_ a question does not merit any answer. But you will go in now,
will you not? It is really very late."

"Do you _wish_ me to go?"

"I think you ought to go."

"That is not saying whether you _wish_ me to go or not; if you do, I
will go."

"Unfortunately wish and ought are very often at variance, and so they
are now; wish says, 'stay out and enjoy this beautiful night,' and
ought, 'go in and to bed.' But now I must obey _ought_ for I have been
very refractory of late."

"In what?"

"In not listening to its voice, which told me to wait a year before I
gave a certain person of my acquaintance the right to plague me with
his presence at all seasons and hours; so now good-night indeed."

"Stay a moment longer, Flora; do not go yet."

"If I stay a moment it may probably stretch into an hour, and it really
must not be; good-bye again, but only till to-morrow." She retreated
into her room as he kissed hands to her; the window was closed, and he
too went in for good.

We can imagine that, although it was very late when Flora got to bed,
she was up betimes next morning, and took a stroll before breakfast,
and of course it is unnecessary to say that her stroll was not a
solitary one. Again they wandered down that walk which borders the
lake,--that lake which evermore will be mirrored in Flora's memory as
she saw it at eventide with the snowy mountains around it, crimsoned by
the setting sun; then as it lay calm and unruffled in the pale silvery
moonlight; and lastly as on that morning when the sun shone full upon
it, and a light breeze tossed its waters into sparkling, dancing waves.
It will ever be to her

    "The greenest spot on memory's waste."

When they got a little way from the hotel, Mr. Earnscliffe said, "Mrs.
Adair was so kind as to say that all the arrangements for our marriage
could be made in Paris, and that she expects to arrive there in about
ten days, but I want _you_ to name the day when you will give yourself
to me 'for better, for worse.' I feel a feverish impatience to have you
in my own keeping--to be certain that nothing on earth can separate us
more."

"What could separate us now, Edwin?"--she pronounced his name shyly;
then laughed and looked up at him, saying, "Do you know that I still
feel half afraid to call you by your Christian name; it sounds so
strange that _I_ should have the right to take such a liberty with so
grand and unapproachable a personage as you are."

"What, child, afraid of your captive! You ought rather to triumph in
your victory over one who made so fierce a resistance; and pray don't
have the least fear of wounding your captive's pride by taking _such_
liberties with him. You can never know how sweet it sounded to him last
night when first he heard you say Edwin."

"Well then, Edwin, I ask again what could separate us now? Surely you
have ceased to doubt me, and know that the chains in which you hold me
cannot be riveted any tighter; the marriage ceremony will only bless
them, and give me its sacred sanction to dwell in the mighty shadow of
your love."

"Ceased to doubt you, dearest! Of course I have. There is no real
love without trust; but I want you to be mine beyond the reach of all
danger. I am like a man who has found some rich treasure in an open
field, and can feel no rest or peace until he can convey it into his
house and revel in its possession; until then he dreads, he knows not
what, but that something may rob him of what is so precious to him. But
does the treasure not wish to be taken home? Would it rather be left
where it is for some time longer?"

"Oh, Edwin!"

"Then, the day, Flora--the day!"

She paused for a moment, and then said in a low tone--

"The happiest day I have ever known until now was the 21st of June,
the great feast of my dear school days, and its happiness consisted
in the power of being nearly all the time with my favourite mistress,
the object of my girlish love; so let my wedding day be the 21st of
June, that day which will give me the unutterable happiness of being
always with the love of my riper years; and thus the 21st of June will
be to me the happiest day of my life in youth as in childhood. Are you
satisfied, Edwin?"

She blushed all over as she spoke, and still more so when his answer
was to fold her in his arms, and murmur--

"My wife, then, in a few weeks hence!" Then he added, letting her
go, but making her lean upon him again, "I will write to England
immediately and desire all the papers to be got ready, so that I shall
only have the signing work to do when I go there from Paris."

"But you will not be long away, Edwin, will you?"

"Trust me, I'll not stay longer than is absolutely necessary; but I
must pay a flying visit to Earnscliffe Court to give orders about its
being fitted up for your reception. Shall I take you to it--my real
home--at once, darling?"

"Please, Edwin. Would it be possible to get there from Paris without
stopping on the way? That would be so pleasant."

"So it would; and I'll think about how we can manage. The old place
will bring up many painful memories, for I have not been there for more
than ten years; but you will exorcise all those ghosts of the past, my
Flora."

"It shall not be my fault if I do not, Edwin."

"Then in September I must whirl you off to Capri. I promised my poor
fisherpeople there to go and see them again as soon as I could; but
I almost doubt if they will know me, for I shall have grown so
young-looking in this new atmosphere of happiness. How much I shall
have to show you on those classic shores!"

"How bright a picture, Edwin: its brightness dazzles me. Oh, that it
may be realised!"

"Why should it not be realised? _Now I_ may ask, why do you doubt it?"

"Because it is too--too bright for me, Edwin. But we must return, or we
shall be late for breakfast, and then mamma will not be pleased."

When they got into the breakfast-room, they found Mrs. Adair and Marie
there. Flora had jestingly told the latter that she must congratulate
Mr. Earnscliffe the first time she met him; but, of course, never meant
that she should take it seriously. However, as Mr. Earnscliffe shook
hands with Marie and wished her good-morning, she said, timidly--

"I wish you much happiness, Mr. Earnscliffe; and it would be very
astonishing if you were not happy when you shall have Flore."

"I quite agree with you, Mademoiselle Mignonne: it _would_ be very
astonishing. But what do you say of Flora? If you were in her place,
would you likewise say that it would be very astonishing if you were
not to be happy?"

"Oh, that is all another thing, Monsieur. I would have fear of you; but
Flora has not."

This speech of Marie's caused a general laugh, which covered the poor
child with confusion; but Flora said gaily--

"Never mind, Mignonne! What you said was perfectly true:--I am not
dreadfully afraid of the formidable Mr. Earnscliffe. I don't suppose
that he will chop me up into mincemeat. But here comes the coffee, and
we must not let it get cold."



CHAPTER IV.


About an hour after breakfast the carriage came to the door, and our
friends set out for Tegernsee, two of them, at least, looking back
fondly on Achensee's secluded shores, and promising themselves to
visit them again when their happiness should be still more complete.
Promises, alas, which might never be fulfilled! Live in the present,
poor lovers--draw from the passing hour all its sweetness; but dream
not of bliss to come! The dark curtain which veils the future may too
soon be drawn aside, and leave you standing face to face with a stern
reality. Wander yet awhile in lovely Tyrol!--feast your eyes on its
green valleys, where graze the peaceful flocks, and the tinkling of
their bells sounds musically through the clear air, and look up to the
mountain's height where

    "Mortal foot hath ne'er or rarely been,"

or by the foaming torrent's course, and see there the touching symbols
of their faith, raised by Tyrol's sons to cheer and guide the daring
chamois hunter on his lonely way. It is a land that breathes of love
and peace. Linger in it, then, and deem not that Paris, with its false
glitter and turmoil, will crown your happiness. Passions fierce and
angry dwell within that great city's walls and point their arrows
towards you!

Immediately after leaving the village which lies at a little distance
from the lake, the road to Tegernsee enters the narrow pass of Achen,
bordered on one side by a rapid stream, and on the other by high
mountains, which are so thickly wooded that even beneath a mid-day sun
they make the pass look dark and solemn; whilst through breaks in the
mountain's chain glimpses may be caught of smiling valleys, and here
and there a solitary cottage.

In passing by a shrine the driver raised his hat, and Flora said in a
low tone, "Do you condemn that, Edwin?"

"Not in these poor people, because they do not know that it is
superstition."

"But suppose that it is _not_ superstition, as you yourself will admit
when you see the supernatural truth of religion, and God grant that
that may be very soon."

"Amen! How I long for faith in _eternal_ happiness now, Flora."

His expressive eyes and the tone of his voice as it lingered over her
name told all that words did not say of why it was that he so longed
for such faith _now_. And Flora read it all therein with deep delight
as she answered, "How true it is that the more the heart loves, the
more irresistibly is it drawn to Divine faith, for _then_ we dare
not believe that the grave is to be the end of everything. The great
mystery of life and death would be too awful had we not faith and hope.
So you must have them, Edwin."

"I shall have them, Flora, if I can only find what I used to call my
_ignis fatuus_--certainty--to rest them upon. I gave up the search for
it long ago, as I told you, but now I will begin it again in a new
territory and under new auspices, and if it will cease to be an _ignis
fatuus_, and blaze into a steady flame, how grateful I shall be, and
how I shall bless the star which lighted it up for me, and shed over me
the halo of happiness for this world and for the next. But here we are
at the baths of Kreuth."

"It is very pretty," replied Flora, "although it cannot boast of
Achensee's grand wild beauty. What could rival that?" Flora's smile
seemed to say that Achensee had more charms for her even than those
which nature had bestowed upon it.

At Kreuth a rest and hot luncheon--or dinner, as it may be
called--were very acceptable after their drive through the keen
mountain air; and in about two hours they resumed their journey. Some
time before reaching Kreuth they crossed the Tyrolian boundary into
south Bavaria, where the scenery all the way to Tegernsee is very
lovely, although, as Flora said, it cannot boast of great wildness
or grandeur; and Tegernsee itself is a sweet little spot, but wholly
devoid of any of the characteristics of Achensee. The lake is like
an immense sheet of crystal, with pretty little villages and gardens
running down to its very edge, and all around wooded hills and flowery
meadows meet one's gaze, but there is nothing solemn or impressive
about it. The dark blue lake shut in by ramparts of snowy mountains,
the isolated cottages with their carved crosses, the oratory and the
shrine--these all belong to Tyrol. Tegernsee charms the eye with
its smiling prettiness and brightness, but it does not speak to the
imagination as Achensee does.

Our party stopped that evening and the next day at Tegernsee, exploring
its neighbourhood. Walking was the order of the day. Mr. Earnscliffe
managed that they should drive as little as possible; he declared that
it was a shame not to walk when there were such beautiful shady alleys
leading to all the different _points de vue_ and places of resort; or
in other words, walking suited his taste better than driving, because
then he could have Flora more to himself, whilst Mrs. Adair and Marie
preceded or followed them, as the case might be.

Mr. Earnscliffe was an exacting lover, but he could not be too much so
for Flora; she asked nothing better than to be with him, whether he
spoke or was silent, and he was very often silent. On one occasion when
they had walked for some distance in silence, he said, "You are so good
to stay with me, Flora, in whatever mood I may be. Does not my silence
sometimes weary you? I fear I seem but a sorry lover, and you never try
to make me what you would wish me to be; you do not use your privilege
of _fiancée_--that of ruling your lord elect."

"How can you ask if your silence wearies me, Edwin? Do you not know
that silence is often more eloquent than words? It is enough for me
to be with you, and to feel that although you do not speak, you like
to have me at your side, and would miss me were I to go away. And as
to ruling you, it would be no privilege to me,--I want to be ruled.
_Our_ sovereignty consists in voluntarily yielding to one whom we love,
whilst knowing that we have the power to give him happiness. This and
this alone is our true sovereignty."

"Darling! what should I do if anything were to take you from me?" and
he shivered.

Flora had observed that the fonder he appeared to be of her the more
did he seem haunted by a morbid dread of losing her, and she asked,
"What makes you fear that anything should take me from you?"

"Because you are so precious to me, child, and I am so unaccustomed to
happiness that I can scarcely believe in its realisation. I wish we
were married and that I had you safe at Earnscliffe Court." He could
not tell her about Mary Elton and his strange dream;--of the former he
was of course bound in honour not to speak, and of the latter it seemed
so foolish and superstitious even to think; yet it was the remembrance
of these which so often made him thoughtful and silent.

Flora saw that he was in a desponding mood, and in order to distract
him from his gloomy thoughts, she began to question him about
Earnscliffe Court, what the grounds and house were like, until by the
time they reached the term of their walk he was talking gaily about the
fitting up of the rooms for her reception, and as the others joined
them he appealed to Mrs. Adair for advice on the subject.

In such walks and talks time slipped quickly by--time, that tyrant
which ever flees when we would have it stay its course, and drags when
we would give worlds to have it accelerate its speed!... How its wheels
are going now for Mr. Earnscliffe and Flora! They are tearing up the
hill at full speed, but at the summit the drag will be put on, and the
descent will be slow and weary.

The morning but one after their arrival at Tegernsee they drove to
Holzkirchen, and there got into the train for Munich. At the terminus
Mr. Earnscliffe's servant, who had been sent on to engage rooms, met
them with a carriage to take them to the Hotel des Quatre Saisons,
where apartments had been taken for them.

How well does Munich merit its title of the Athens of Germany, with all
its art repositories! Its fine wide streets and gay shops, too, claim
for it a share of admiration from the lovers of handsome modern cities.
A week passes quickly there, and even then we come away without having
really seen all its treasures, as it would indeed take a long time to
exhaust the resources of its different galleries. In the old Pinacothek
there are original paintings of the Spanish, Flemish, French, and
Italian schools. Of the last-named school we see subjects from the
pencil of its very earliest pupils,--Cimabue, Giotto, Sodoma, and Beato
Angelico. And standing before a picture of the _Frate's_ we find Mr.
Earnscliffe and Flora, the day after their arrival in Munich; Mrs.
Adair and Marie had just gone into one of the other rooms.

"Do you like Fra Angelico's pictures?" asked Flora.

"Yes, he is an exquisite painter."

"Yet he was, according to your ideas, an ignorant monk, and a
worshipper of images; nevertheless, I daresay that your enlightened
Landseer could not paint anything to equal his angels! Yet he is
generally considered to be one of your best painters."

"But it's not fair, Flora, to compare them," answered Mr. Earnscliffe,
laughing at the mere idea of such a comparison; "Fra Angelico's and
Landseer's are altogether different styles."

"Of course they are. How could reason and truth, and superstition and
ignorance produce the same style of painter? And it was just that which
struck me;--the difference in elevation of style and subject shown by
the disciple of truth and intellect over the poor superstitious monk!"

Mr. Earnscliffe smiled, but remained silent, and Flora said, "Why do
you not answer, Edwin? Have I annoyed you?"

"Annoyed me? No. I did not speak, because I was thinking over your
words. It _is_ strange, no doubt, that the painters of the Middle Ages
should be of so much higher an order than those of our own time. To be
candid with you, this reflection has often occurred to me before now,
but I turned away from it as one of the many riddles which reason could
not explain--I wish it could be satisfactorily cleared up."

"It _can_ be, Edwin. But we shall lose mamma if we do not go on--she
and Marie have already left this hall...."

It would be too fatiguing to follow them in all their sight-seeing
labours. The only expedition in which we feel inclined to accompany
them is the one which they made to the Bavaria. Mr. Earnscliffe said
that it was at a pleasant walking distance from the town; accordingly
they went on foot, he leading the way with Flora. Both she and Marie
were most curious to see the statue of a woman whose head alone can
contain six persons, and they found it difficult to believe that it
did not look like an overgrown monster. But, on the contrary, when
they reached it they saw only the form of a beautiful woman standing
on a marble pedestal and a lion crouching by her side. Its proportions
are so admirable, that even when close to it they could hardly force
themselves to credit its gigantic size.

The girls said they would like to ascend, just for curiosity. Mr.
Earnscliffe of course went with them. They sat down in the head, then
looked through the eyes for a moment or two, but were glad enough to
come down again, as the heat was excessive. When they returned and got
again into the open air, they saw, much to their astonishment, a lady
and gentleman speaking to Mrs. Adair, and heard her say, "How surprised
they will be to see you here."

The lady turned round, and they saw Helena Elton, looking brighter
and gayer than ever. Surprise was indeed depicted on all their
countenances, but in Mr. Earnscliffe's there was another expression
blended with it which was not so easily read.

"Helena Elton!" exclaimed Flora.

"Helena Elton is no more," she said, laughing and blushing; "allow me
to present my husband, Mr. Caulfield."

When the excitement caused by this unexpected meeting had subsided a
little, Mrs. Adair said, "Had we not better return now? We dine at five
to-day, so as to be ready to go to the Opera, which begins at six."

"We are going to do so also," added Mr. Caulfield.

"Then, Helena, you might as well walk back with us; I want to hear
a great deal of news," said Flora, with a significant glance at Mr.
Caulfield.

"Indeed, Miss Flora, and do you expect me to gratify your curiosity?
But come, I will indulge you if you will promise to gratify mine in
return."

"If I had anything to tell which could gratify it, I might promise, but
one can't make promises if there is nothing to be told; however, we can
make terms as we go," answered Flora, lightly.

"Very well, so be it. We drove here, but we can send away the carriage,
can't we, Harry?"

"To be sure we can, Cricket; I dare say the driver will not be
inconsolable for the loss of our company if he gets our money. But,
Mrs. Adair, can you not wait for a few moments to let us run up Dame
Bavaria,--we want to be able to say that we have been in a woman's
head."

"Yes, ten minutes cannot make any great difference."

"Oh, we shall do it in less time than that."

As soon as they had got into the statue, Mr. Earnscliffe drew Flora
aside, and said, "Do not tell her of our engagement. I will give you my
reasons for not wishing it to be told to her, at another time."

"It is enough to know your wishes in order to follow them, Edwin; you
can tell me the reason when you like, or not at all, if you choose. But
I must caution mamma and Marie."

He pressed her hand as she turned away from him and went to her mother.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield came down again, and they
all set out to walk home, Mr. Caulfield having first discharged their
carriage.

Helena and Flora walked together, as prearranged, and the latter
thought the best way to keep from admitting her engagement was to begin
by telling as much as she chose, and so prevent too much questioning;
therefore, she said at once, "When you talked of my gratifying your
curiosity, Helena, I suppose you meant to allude to Mr. Earnscliffe's
being with us, but, alas! for your gratification, there is very little
to tell. We met him by chance in Venice."

"Chance, Flora?" interrupted Helena.

"Yes, quite so; we did not even know that he was in Venice. We happened
then to speak of crossing the Tyrol. Mamma said we were going in the
diligence,--as we were three unprotected females she did not like to
take a carriage and trust altogether to the driver of it,--when Mr.
Earnscliffe good-naturedly offered to escort us over the pass. That is
all I have to tell you."

"Come, Flora, you are not so verdant as to imagine that a Grand Mogul
like Mr. Earnscliffe, who, as a general rule, dislikes ladies, would
offer to dance attendance upon three of them out of mere good nature;
it is quite evident that he would never have done so unless one of the
three had pinioned him with Cupid's fiery darts. Admit, Flora, that he
is in love with you."

"Well, Helena, your reasoning _is_ worthy of a woman, for it is utterly
guiltless of all logic. Because a gentleman offers to see us across
a mountain pass, you jump to the conclusion that he must be in love
with _me_. If even it were--which, of course, it is not--a necessary
consequence of his travelling with us that he should be in love with
one of the party, why, in the name of all that's wonderful, fix upon
me? Marie is much prettier. Why, then, not upon her?"

"Prettier--yes; but you might as well talk of his being in love with me
as with her. Why, he considers _us_ merely good, gay little fools, that
is, if he could for a moment bring down his great mind to think about
us at all. Of course, _you_ are the 'favourite;' and if he does not
propose it will be very dishonourable."

"How can you be so absurd, Helena?" said Flora, getting a little
excited, yet feeling that too warm a defence might only betray her.
"It would be too bad if a gentleman could not do a good-natured act
to three ladies without being expected to propose for one of them, and
surely an avowed woman-hater like Mr. Earnscliffe could do it most
safely without giving cause for any such expectations. But never mind
_him_,--I want to hear about yourself. I need scarcely say that I knew
there was a flirtation between you and Mr. Caulfield in Rome; but I had
no idea that Mrs. Elton would approve of him as a suitor for your hand."

"Approve of him, indeed! What an idea! Poor Harry is not enough of a
big-wig or rich enough to take my lady mother's fancy. Our history is
quite a romance."

"Then please to let me hear it, or a _résumé_ of it, at least, for we
have not much time to spare."

"Well, then, to begin at the beginning. Early in the winter Harry and
I became great friends, and at first mamma seemed to be amused with
him, and used to laugh at our incessant skirmishing. Then that day at
Frascati--you remember it, Flora?--she suddenly got up the idea that
I flirted _too_ much with him. She was particularly annoyed about it
because that horribly slow Mr. Mainwaring was there. He is as rich as
Croesus, and mamma wanted me to marry him. But the evening crowned
the day. I was in wild spirits, and danced all night with Harry, and
finally sat for a full half-hour alone with him in that recess where I
had the pleasure of seeing you with Mr. Lyne. You can guess what tale
it was that I listened to there, and what my answer was. In an evil
moment mamma passed by and gave me a look of thunder. I saw that a
storm was gathering, and hoping to avert it, I told Harry that I would
not dance with him any more that night, and that he must not attempt
to speak to mamma until I gave him leave to do so, for I dreaded that
she would 'cut up rough.' He didn't seem to like it. However, he was
obliged to give me the required promise. No sooner were all the people
gone than I got the most tremendous scolding that a poor mortal could
have. I was peremptorily told that Mr. Caulfield was not a fit match
for me, and that, therefore, the way in which I flirted with him was
disgraceful, and, in fine, that there must be an end to it. I was in
despair; but thought that I had better let the squall blow over and
try to get Mary on my side. Mary behaved like an angel. She saw that
I really loved Harry, and so she did all she could to let us meet as
often as possible, and in the meantime endeavoured to influence mamma
in his favour. Thus things went on as long as we remained in Rome, and
for some time after we got to Naples. At last, one evening--by the
way, Mr. Earnscliffe dined with us on that day--a bouquet girl came
to the door ostensibly to sell bouquets, but in reality to bring me a
note from Harry. The note was to tell me that he had just received a
letter announcing his sister's approaching marriage with an officer
about to start for India immediately, and whose wedding must therefore
take place at once; but Harry declared that he would either take me
with him as his bride, or never see me again. His note, I assure you,
Flora, was quite in the _romance_ style, calling upon me to choose
between the man whom I professed to love, and a cruel, unreasonable
parent. He concluded by saying that he _had_ waited months in the
hope of her relenting, and that he would wait no longer, but on the
next day would formally ask mamma for my hand, and if she refused her
consent, it would remain with me to decide between them. There was no
possibility of stopping him, for I could not write then, and afterwards
it would have been too late; but, to say the truth, I did not want
to do so. I was getting heartily tired of manoeuvring to see him,
and to keep mamma from forbidding me to speak to him, so I was almost
glad that it had come to a crisis. The next day up came the hero, and
he was shown into the drawing-room, where Mary and I were sitting in
fear and trembling at the coming attack on the citadel. Harry looked
awfully determined and braced up to the fighting point as he came in,
and walking up to Mary, he said, 'Miss Elton, you are probably aware of
what my object in coming here to-day is, and I hope I may count upon
your seconding it.' Mary bowed, and then he asked, 'Can I see Mrs.
Elton?' 'I will go and tell her that you are here,' answered Mary.
Harry had only time to say a few words to me, when mamma came down,
followed by Mary. Then commenced the battle in earnest. Everything
that mamma said was bitter and cutting, and I, of course, was crying
like a fool. At last she concluded by saying, 'Mr. Caulfield, I told
Helena long ago that I disapproved of her flirtation, as I would
never give my consent to her marriage with you, and I tell it to you
now. My consent she shall never have. She has braved my displeasure
hitherto, and I suppose she will continue to do so. I have not the
power to prevent her from becoming your wife if she chooses to do
it in spite of my prohibition; but if she does I will not give her
any fortune whatsoever.' The brightest of smiles played over Harry's
face as he replied, eagerly, 'As for the fortune, Mrs. Elton, it is
a matter of indifference to me. If Helena can be satisfied to marry
a comparatively poor man it's all right. I shall only regret her not
having a fortune for her own sake. What do you say, Helena?' My answer
was to go and place my hand in his, and he put his arm round my waist,
saying, 'It's all right, you see, Mrs. Elton.' I saw mamma's eyes fill
with tears, and pushing Harry away, I went and threw myself at her
feet, and begged of her only to say that she would not be angry with
me if I married him. I said that I did not want any money, but that I
could not bear her displeasure. Mary came to the rescue, and joined her
prayers to mine, and we wrung from mamma a sort of half consent, which
Harry gladly seized on, and rushed off to the English chaplain to get
everything arranged as quickly as possible. A fortnight after we were
privately married. Mary was my only bridesmaid, and Mr. Lyne Harry's
bridesman. Poor Mary looked heart-broken as she wished me good-bye, and
I was so sorry to leave her; but I could not help wanting to go with
Harry"--(Flora smiled)--"We travelled post-haste to Rome, intending
to sail from Civita Vecchia; but at his banker's in Rome Harry found
a letter from his sister, informing him that her marriage was put off
for a few weeks, as her future husband's regiment was not to sail so
soon as they had expected. How Harry laughed when he got that letter,
declaring that if his sister had been playing into his hands, she could
not have helped him better to his wife, and that he was sure if he had
not taken mamma by storm and carried me off in a whirlwind, he would
never have got me at all. We had now time to spare, and I proposed that
we should come here, as we had neither of us seen Munich, and go home
by the Rhine. There's the end of my story; but, tell me, wasn't it
grand of Harry not to care about my fortune when, naturally, he must
have expected that I would have a large one? And mamma kept to it. She
did not give me anything. But Harry is such a darling, Flora, you can't
think!"

"Take care, Helena; you are yet too young a wife to sing your husband's
praises.... Wait a little."

"As if Harry would change, indeed!"

"Well, I don't at all mean to say that he will; I only said that you
must wait a while before you gain the right of singing his praises.
But here we are at your hotel, for I see them all standing at the door
waiting for us."

"Yes, we are staying at the Bayrischer Hof,--and you?"

"At the Vier Jahreszeiten; but we shall meet at the theatre."

"Oh yes, we must spend this evening together, for I heard Mrs. Adair
say that you were going away to-morrow; and I am not at all satisfied
about Mr. Earnscliffe; I must try and pick his brains--or rather it
is his heart that I want to pick--to-night at the theatre. As you are
so close to it, suppose we call for you, and then we can all go in
together."

"Yes, that will be the better plan; then please to be with us at a few
minutes before six."

As they came up Mr. Caulfield said, looking admiringly at Helena's
bright laughing face, "What a chatterbox my wife is, is she not, Miss
Adair?"

"Not worse than her husband, at all events," answered Helena, taking
his arm and pinching it. She then wished her friends good-bye, until
six, promising for herself and Harry to be punctual.

We may imagine what success Helena had that evening in gleaning
information from Mr. Earnscliffe about the state of his heart; and the
next morning the Adair party were in the train _en route_ for Paris
before the Caulfields had finished their rather late breakfast.



CHAPTER V.


When the Adairs arrived in Paris they found a letter waiting for them
from Madame de St. Severan, stating that most unfortunately Monsieur de
St. Severan had got a violent attack of the gout, which it was feared
would detain him for some weeks at his chateau in the south, where they
then were; therefore, to their deep regret, they were forced to give up
the pleasure of going to Paris to receive their dear child Marie, and
to thank her kind friends who had taken such care of her. But if Mrs.
Adair would kindly write and say on what day Marie would be ready to
leave Paris, they would send up a faithful old servant to take charge
of her to the chateau. The letter concluded with a warm invitation to
the Adairs to spend some time with them as soon as Monsieur de St.
Severan should be recovered. Flora declared that Marie must not go
away before her wedding, but the difficulty was how to get leave from
the de St. Severans for her to stay, without giving the true reason,
for Flora did not wish them to be told of her marriage; she said it
would be time enough to tell them just before it took place,--it was so
disagreeable to have a thing of that kind spoken of beforehand. So Mrs.
Adair could only write to Madame de St. Severan begging her to allow
Marie to stay with them until after the 21st, when they intended to
leave France, and holding out a hope that if the de St. Severans were
not able to come to Paris, then she would take Marie to them herself.
Mrs. Adair pressed so earnestly for consent to this arrangement that it
was granted, although somewhat reluctantly, as Colonel de St. Severan
was all impatience to see Marie; however, the consent _was_ given, and
Marie remained--for the wedding.

For nearly the first three weeks of their stay in Paris Mr. Earnscliffe
was in England, and, notwithstanding her occupation--one too in
which ladies are supposed to take such delight, that of getting her
_trousseau_--Flora found the time pass very slowly, and voted the
_trousseau_ a bore. Marie, however, supplied for the bride elect's
abstraction, and superintended all its most minute details.

Towards dusk one evening Flora sat in the drawing-room window totally
heedless of repeated calls from Marie to come and see what pretty
things they were planning for her; but she sat immovable in the
half-dark silent room, whilst from the one next to it there came a
streak of light and the sound of shrill French voices in full chatter.
Suddenly she started up and ran to the outer door of their apartment,
which she opened as if by chance just as a gentleman was about to ring
at it. It was too dark for him to see who the person was who opened it,
particularly as she stood very much behind it, and he asked in a quick,
eager tone, "_Madame Adair, est-elle chez elle?_"

"_Est-ce bien Madame que Monsieur veut voir?_" was the reply, in an odd
muffled voice.

"_Les dames enfin_," he returned, impatiently, "_sont elles à la
maison? Dites moi donc vite._"

A low laugh was now the only answer, but it seemed to satisfy Mr.
Earnscliffe perfectly as to whether the _ladies_ were at home, for he
did not repeat his question, but caught the respondent in his arms, and
murmured between kisses, "Wicked Flora! to try my patience so, and keep
me waiting for _this_."

Now time resumed its gallop for Flora, and everything became
interesting. Being asked to decide between this dress or that was
no longer tiresome, since Mr. Earnscliffe was there to say which he
thought the prettier. It came to within about ten days of the eventful
twenty-first, and everything seemed to bid fair to contradict the old
saying that "the course of true love never did run smooth." But one
evening as they drove home from the Bois de Boulogne, Mrs. Elton and
Mary passed them, driving very fast, but not before Mary had time to
recognise them and bow most markedly.

"The Eltons here!" exclaimed Flora. "Helena did not tell me that they
were coming to Paris." And she looked at Mr. Earnscliffe, but to
her amazement she saw that he had become strangely pale, and seemed
scarcely to hear her; then, with that sort of shudder which she had
before observed, he said, "Here! yes, I had no idea of it."

He scarcely spoke again all the evening, yet he could not bear Flora to
be away from him for a moment.

Here was the first shadow: it was not a very great one, but it
_was_ one. Flora could no longer blind herself to the fact that in
Mr. Earnscliffe's mind there was some sinister train of thought
in connection with Mary Elton. To doubt Mr. Earnscliffe was an
impossibility to her, and she only wished to know what it was that
caused this gloom, whenever Mary Elton was named or seen, in order
that she might better know how to cheer him and make him forget it.
She could not speak to him on this subject, because, as he had not
volunteered to tell her, any questioning or remarks upon it might look
like distrust, and she could not bear to say anything which might wear
the faintest semblance of such a feeling. So on that evening she could
only exert all her powers of charm and affection to try to chase away
his sadness. He stayed late, and when he was going away he held her for
a moment longer than usual in his arms, and said, but more to himself
than to her, "Would that you were really mine, Flora! then I should
have nothing to dread, but now----"

"What is that you dread now, Edwin?"

"You would laugh at me if I were to tell you, Flora, and it does seem
to be folly, but--oh, the power of a woman for good or evil is fearful!
I have a right to dread it."

"But tell me what it is that makes you sad, be it folly or not, and I
will try to banish it away, Edwin," she said with a smile.

"That you would, darling, but I _must_ not tell you. I am bound in
honour not to do so, and you gave me so good an example some time ago
on this point, that I should be unpardonable if I were to say a word.
But you will trust me."

"Trust you, Edwin!" and her blue eyes, as they rested full on his face,
looked worlds of trust.

"My own dearest, good-night!" and he gave her the last kiss, adding,
with a smile, as he turned away, "I must not stay any longer, or
you would tempt me into telling you my foolish fears, to have them
_petted_--which would be better far than reasoned--away."

But Mary Elton: what were her feelings on thus seeing Mr. Earnscliffe
driving in the carriage with her rival? In order to understand them
fully, let us go back to that evening at Naples, when, worked up to
the highest pitch of excitement, she forgot all maidenly reserve, and
allowed Mr. Earnscliffe to see her ungovernable passion for himself,
and almost cursed Flora Adair. We remember that she rushed away from
him down a side walk, as she heard the sound of an approaching step;
but we did not see her a moment later, when, coming to a stone bench,
she threw herself on the ground beside it, and pressed her burning face
upon its cool surface. Suddenly, however, she felt something flowing
into her mouth, and raising her head, a stream of blood came from her
lips. She tried to stop it with her handkerchief, and with her other
hand she clung to the bench for support, for everything seemed to swim
round her.

Thus Helena found her, and she started back with fright as she saw her
face, hands, and handkerchief all besmeared with blood; then putting
her arms round her, she made her lean against her as she exclaimed,
"Oh, sister, what is the matter? What can I do for you? Shall I call
any one?"

Mary leaned her head heavily on Helena's shoulder, as if to keep her
from moving, and half opened her closed eyes. Helena saw and understood
well why it was so--that Mary did not wish any one to see her in this
state; so Helena tried to remain quiet, but she felt so frightened
about Mary, and so powerless to do or to get anything for her, being
afraid to leave her, that she fairly broke down and began to cry. It
roused Mary, however, for as Helena's tears fell like rain-drops on
her face, she opened her eyes and tried to say, "It is nothing, I
shall be better in a few minutes;" and again, after a moment's pause,
she whispered, "Let me lean against the seat, and you go and dip your
handkerchief in the fountain and bring it back to me."

"But I am afraid to leave you, Mary, darling!"

"Do not be afraid, go--oh, go!"

Helena did not venture to hesitate any longer, for fear of irritating
Mary and making her worse, so she settled her as comfortably as
she could against the bench, went to the fountain, saturated her
handkerchief well with cold water, and ran back with it to Mary, who
muttered, "Put it upon my head." As Helena did so, Mary gave a deep
drawn sigh of relief, then taking the wet handkerchief in her own hand,
she rubbed it upon her face.

"Let me do it for you, Mary," said Helena, and she took the
handkerchief from her and tried to remove the blood stains from Mary's
lips, whilst the latter said, in a stronger voice than she had yet
spoken, "Do you think you could take me up, Helena, and help me to the
fountain. If I could only get to it I should be all right."

"I will try," answered Helena, and after a little time she did get her
up; and holding her tightly round the waist, and with Mary's arm thrown
across her shoulders, they at last got to the fountain. Mary plunged
her hands into the cold water, deluged her face with it, and repeated
this process until all feeling of faintness was gone. Helena stood by,
watching her mournfully, until at length Mary said, "There, now it's
all over, and so don't look frightened any more, Lena."

"But, Mary, what was all that blood? You have not burst a blood-vessel,
surely!"

"Nonsense, child," said Mary, quickly, although in her heart she
thought that what Helena said was true, that she had burst a
blood-vessel; "I probably hurt myself against the bench, and my nose
and mouth bled."

"I hope it was only that, dear sister; and now please, please to
believe that I did not willingly disobey you about Flora. He found it
out, Mary, before I knew what I was saying,--forgive me, forgive me,"
and Helena knelt before Mary.

"Helena!" Mary almost screamed, "never again dare to mention that
subject to me, the past is buried, and"--with bitterness--"washed
away in my blood. None know it but you, and none ever can know it but
_through_ you; be silent as the grave upon it to me as well as to
others! Lena"--her voice changed and lost all its sternness--"do not
thwart me by ever alluding to it; you are all that is left to me to
love now. Speak to me of yourself--of how I can help you--and I shall
be glad to have anything good to do or to think about."

Helena kissed her fondly, and thinking that, as she herself said, it
would be well for her to have something to do and to think about,
she put Mr. Caulfield's letter into her hand. Mary read it by the
moonlight, which, as we may recollect, was very bright that night. Then
she said, "We must go in now; I will go upstairs and change my dress,
and you can tell mamma that I have gone to do so, as I got it wet by
sitting at the fountain; that is true, heaven knows." She held up her
arms, and the water dripped from her light muslin sleeves.

The first thing that Mary did on getting to her own room was to drink
off about twenty drops of sal-volatile, in the smallest possible
quantity of water--she had latterly given herself the habit of taking
these stimulants--and then as soon as she had changed her dress, and
carefully folded up and put away the blood-stained one, together with
her own and Helena's handkerchief, she went down-stairs, and appeared
to be very much as usual for the remainder of the evening. Then next
day, as we already know, began all the fuss and hurry about Helena's
marriage, and for the ensuing fortnight excitement kept Mary up. But
on the evening of Helena's wedding day, after the bridal party had
left, as Mary sat before the dressing-table to have her hair arranged
for dinner, the maid saw even in the glass that she suddenly changed
countenance, and her lips formed the word "basin" although scarcely any
sound came from them. She handed it to her with all possible speed,
and again the blood streamed from Mary's lips. The maid was able to
reach the bell from where she stood at the dressing-table, and rang it
violently. The house was soon in commotion, and Mrs. Elton, though
evidently much agitated, was the only one who preserved any presence
of mind. Without a moment's delay, she sent off a messenger to their
doctor, and in case that he should not be at home, she desired the
former not to return without some good medical man; and having done
this, she turned all her attention to trying to get Mary stretched upon
her bed, as she was sure that she would be better if she could be laid
on her back. They succeeded in this, and the vomiting of blood ceased
for the time being.

Dr. Danvers, their regular physician, came quickly on the receipt of
Mrs. Elton's urgent message. Almost immediately after seeing Mary he
said that she had burst a blood-vessel from over excitement, but that
as far as he could judge at present there was not any danger if she
could be kept perfectly quiet. Mrs. Elton of course promised that this
should be done, and Dr. Danvers, having written a prescription, and
given all necessary directions for the night, took his leave, saying
that he would see the patient early next morning.

The first words which Mary spoke were, "Mamma, remember, you must not
say that I am ill when you write to Lena,--promise me this faithfully,
or I shall have no rest."

"Of course I will promise it, dear child," answered Mrs. Elton;
"everything shall be done that you wish, only keep yourself quiet, and
then you will soon be well again. I never supposed that Lena's leaving
us would be such a blow to you, and yet how you urged on that marriage
for her sake. How unselfishly you must love her, Mary."

Mary's eyes filled with tears, and her mother, dreading any agitation
for her, kissed her and went away. Mary now progressed slowly but
steadily from day to day, and before long she was able to go about
again. But when Dr. Danvers was taking his final leave of her he said
significantly, "Young lady, beware of violent excitement. To break a
blood-vessel about the heart a second time is most dangerous, a third
time fatal. In persons of your temperament feeling should be given way
to naturally, and not hidden and pent up in their own hearts, for then
it swells and swells until it bursts, and inundations, we all know,
sometimes destroy life. Remember my words, young lady, if you would be
long-lived. And now allow me to wish you good-bye, and at the same time
health and happiness."

Dr. Danvers might have spared his advice. There could be no natural
outlet for that secret passion which Mary kept "pent up" indeed in
her own heart. She burned to know where Mr. Earnscliffe and Flora
Adair--for she never doubted that they were together--were, and what
was the result of their meeting. Suddenly it occurred to her that
perhaps they were in Paris. She remembered that the Adairs had said
in Rome that they expected to get to Paris by the end of May. It was
the first of June now, so in all probability they were there, and Mary
resolved that she and Mrs Elton should go too, murmuring at the same
time, "I told him to dread me in the hour when he felt most sure of
Flora Adair. For her he slighted my love, and I will snatch her from
him yet--how, I know not--but I will do it or die."

Helena had not ventured to tell Mary that she met the Adairs and Mr.
Earnscliffe in Munich, so it was on chance that Mary determined upon
inducing her mother to go to Paris, and Mrs. Elton at once consented,
not wishing to oppose Mary in anything just after her illness.
Accordingly they arrived in Paris a day or two before that evening when
they met the Adairs and Mr. Earnscliffe in the Champs Elysées.

Mary had expected to see them together, yet the realisation of what
she expected was a shock to her. A sharp pain shot across her heart,
and tears of rage and jealousy started to her eyes, but, heedless of
Dr. Danvers' parting admonition, she forced them back, and exerted
herself to appear unconcerned, and when she retired to her own room
for the night, she did not go to bed, but sat pale and exhausted in an
armchair, meditating upon what she could do to separate them. "I saw
him start as he caught sight of me, so he has not forgotten that night
at Naples, and it shall be recalled still more forcibly to his memory
before long,--yet how? I do not even know where either he or the Adairs
are staying; however that I can find out. What then? Oh, that I were
Iago to his Othello! Heavens! it is not possible that they are married
and that I am too late!" she exclaimed, springing from her chair. "No,
no, it cannot be, I should have heard of it; but even if they are, I am
not too late,--revenge is still possible, only let me have the means!
But it is of no use to think any more to-night; to-morrow I must find
out where they are, and then--now, oh give me rest, rest!"

The next morning she sent their courier to the police to inquire where
a Madame et Mademoiselle Adair et Mademoiselle Arbi were residing, and
desired him to be shown up to her room the instant he came back.... She
trembled as she heard his step approach, and it had seemed like ages to
her until his knock came to the door. "_Entrez_," she cried eagerly.
He went in and gave her an answer, for which he received a most
earnest "_Merci beaucoup_." The answer was that the _three_ ladies were
residing in an apartment in the Avenue de Marigny, 29. "Now," thought
Mary, "we can go and call upon them, and there we shall hear where Mr.
Earnscliffe is. So far all is well; I am still in time to keep my word
to him. We had better go early to the Adairs--about half-past one--so
as to catch them at home; so I must go and tell mamma, as it must be
long past twelve now." She entered the drawing-room, where Mrs. Elton
was sitting reading, and was just going to propose the visit to the
Adairs, when Thomas opened the door and announced "Mr. Maunsell."

Mary frowned with displeasure, for she feared that the visitor--she
could not think of any one whom she knew of that name--might make them
late in going to the Adairs, and she felt indignant with Thomas for
allowing any one to come in at such an undue hour for visitors--"before
one o'clock--preposterous!" But Mrs. Elton exclaimed, with a bright
smile, as a venerable-looking, grey-haired old gentleman came in, "Mr.
Maunsell, how delighted I am to see you!"

Mary saw with surprise that her mother's eyes were swimming in tears,
and the old gentleman, whom she was sure _she_ had never seen before,
kept her hand in his as he said, "Poor William! You and he were
together when last I saw you."

They both remained silent for a second or two, and then Mrs. Elton
said, "Mary, come and make the acquaintance of an old friend of your
dear father's. You have heard me speak of Mr. Maunsell often, and of
having stayed at his country seat, near Earnscliffe Court, years ago."

As if by magic Mary's frown vanished, and her whole face lit up; even
Mrs. Elton was astonished at the singular graciousness of her manner as
she expressed her pleasure at being introduced to Mr. Maunsell; yet she
was much gratified by it, for she looked upon it as a proof of how dear
her father's memory was to Mary; and Mr. Maunsell seemed to be quite
touched as he said, "Thank you, my dear, for receiving me so warmly; we
old people value cordiality from the young so much."

But neither of them had got the right key to her sudden change of
manner,--that key was the word Earnscliffe Court. "He must know Mr.
Earnscliffe then," she thought, "and possibly he might be of some use
to her--who could tell?"

When they were all seated Mrs. Elton said, "How did you know that we
were in Paris, Mr. Maunsell?"

"Well, by the merest chance," he answered. "I met Earnscliffe
unexpectedly--I did not know that he was here, either--and in the
course of conversation I asked him if he knew you, adding that you
and his parents had been intimate friends. He said he had met you in
Italy, and then I asked him if he had any idea where you were now; he
answered, somewhat abruptly I thought, 'I suppose they are here, for I
saw them driving in the Champs Elysées last evening, but I know nothing
more about them.' I did not like to lose the chance of seeing you,
without making some exertion, and accordingly I went to Galignani, in
hopes of finding your address, and as you see, I was successful."

"It was so good of you to take the trouble of finding us out."

"It was not goodness, my dear; I felt that it would be a gratification,
even if a sad one, to me to see you again. But come, I must not make
you think of bygones," he added, as he saw Mrs. Elton's eyes beginning
to glisten again; "let us talk of something cheering. By the way, I
think Earnscliffe is going to be married again."

Mary felt as if the beating of her heart stood still, as Mrs. Elton
exclaimed, "Again! Why, has he been married? Is he a widower?"

"Married! to be sure he has been, but he is only a widower in law,"
answered Mr. Maunsell with a smile.

Mary could stay quiet no longer; she stood up and went to the window,
apparently to arrange the blind, and then seated herself so that the
shadow of the curtain fell upon her.

"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Elton. "We have resided so much out of
England for the last twelve years, that I know nothing of all this. Do
tell us the whole history."

Mr. Maunsell, who enjoyed telling a story, acceded to this request with
the utmost willingness.

"It must be somewhat more than ten years ago now, I should say, since
the beautiful Miss Foster was the reigning belle in London. Mr. Foster
had been lavishly extravagant all his life, and it was generally known
that he depended upon his only child's making a rich marriage in order
to stave off absolute ruin. If beauty can be called a fortune, Amelia
Foster certainly had an ample dower. Well, in the beginning of the
season Earnscliffe was abroad, but towards its close he returned to
London, and was, of course, introduced to Miss Foster. From the first
moment that he laid eyes upon her he was a doomed man, and by the
end of the season he had proposed and was accepted. Old Foster was
in a high state of triumph at having secured _such_ a son-in-law.
He thought that there was nothing which he might not expect from
Earnscliffe, with his lordly possessions and well-known generosity;
but it was observed by more than one that the young lady looked sad
and dejected from the time of his proposal. She pleaded hard, I am
told, not to be married until after her next birthday, which was some
months off. Earnscliffe chafed at so long an engagement; but he could
not refuse her anything that she chose to ask for. I never saw a man
more bewitched by a woman than he was, and she tried him pretty well.
Her worst prank was insisting on fulfilling a promise which she had
made to go on a tour with her uncle's family through Switzerland and
Germany. I used to see a good deal of him at the time, and although it
was evident how much this tour annoyed him, he would not allow any one
to find fault with her. Accordingly, she went off with her Uncle and
Aunt Stanly, and her two cousins, John and Alfred. John was the eldest
son, and a quiet ordinary young man; but Alfred was a handsome, gay,
wild fellow, and it was whispered that if he and Earnscliffe could
have changed places with regard to the fair Amelia, she would not
have wanted to see Switzerland just then. No one, however, ventured
to say this to Earnscliffe. You know it is not easy to take any
liberty with him. Poor fellow! he spent the time of her absence all
alone at Earnscliffe Court, superintending the adorning of it for its
future mistress. At last, late in October, she came back. I was not in
London then; but I heard from friends there that Miss Foster looked
wretchedly ill. However, she did not complain, and there was no further
postponement of the marriage, and it was celebrated on the 20th of
November. I remember the date well, for it was the day upon which I
myself was married. And on that very day Alfred Stanly received the
official announcement that he was nominated to a place in the Home
Department of the Foreign Office, which Earnscliffe had procured for
him. I was one of the wedding guests, I went up to London especially
for it, and I heard the Stanlys showering thanks upon Earnscliffe for
his kindness to Alfred as they took leave of him, and he led his bride
to the carriage. They spent three weeks or so in the south of England,
and then they came to Earnscliffe Court for Christmas, which was to be
kept there with grand festivities. The house was full of company, and
among others was Alfred Stanly, who had just passed his examination for
his new appointment. He was a clever fellow enough when he chose to
exert himself. Everything went off to perfection, and the bride was at
times lively and charming; at others silent and abstracted; I often saw
Earnscliffe look at her with a melancholy puzzled air. At length all
the guests went away except Alfred Stanly, who was to remain with them
until the middle of January, when he was to begin his attendance at the
office. One day I met them out driving, and Earnscliffe told me that
he was going to London that evening on business; but Mrs. Earnscliffe
exclaimed eagerly, 'Oh, Mr. Maunsell, you have influence with my
husband--do try and persuade him not to go now. He might as well wait
for Alfred, who will be going to town in a fortnight, and they could go
together!' I was going to try what I could do to forward her wishes,
but Earnscliffe said gravely, 'Do you suppose, Amelia, that I would
stay at home at the request of another, when I thought it right to
refuse you? I really must go at once; but I shall be back in a week.'
'A week!' she repeated, and I shall never forget the scared expression
of her face: but she said no more. And I thought nothing further about
them until five or six days afterwards, when the rumours spread through
the country that late on the previous night Earnscliffe had returned
unexpectedly, but quitted his house not half an hour after he had
entered it, drove back to the railway station, and took the night mail
up to London, and also that Mrs. Earnscliffe and Stanly left early
next morning. The next thing we heard was that Earnscliffe had sued
for and obtained a divorce, and that his unfortunate wife had become
Mrs. Alfred Stanly. This morning was the first time since that dreadful
affair that Earnscliffe and I have met."

"Why, you have told us quite a romance," exclaimed Mrs. Elton; but she
was prevented from saying anything more by Mary's getting a violent fit
of coughing: she made a sign to her, however, not to mind her, and with
her handkerchief pressed to her mouth she stood up and left the room.

"Miss Elton is not ill, I hope?" said Mr. Maunsell.

"Oh no!" answered Mrs. Elton; "she will probably be all right again in
a moment. And now I will ring for luncheon. You must not run away from
us until after that, at all events."

Mr. Maunsell allowed himself to be prevailed upon to stay for it, and
after a little time they repaired to the dining-room, where Mary joined
them, looking very pale, but her eyes sparkled brilliantly, and as
she came into the room she said, "I was sorry that my tiresome cough
obliged me to leave you just as you finished your interesting story,
Mr. Maunsell; but you said that you thought Mr. Earnscliffe was going
to marry again. And who is to be his second bride?"

"That I can't tell you; for, as you may imagine, marriage is the last
subject in the world upon which _I_ can speak to him. But I suppose
he is going to be married, because Earnscliffe Court is being all
refurnished, and I know that he was in England some time ago, and was
very much with his lawyers,--that looks like settlements. Then he told
me to-day that he was going with some ladies to the grand ball at the
Hotel de Ville, given for charity, which is to be to-morrow night."

"Going to the ball, is he, with her?" said Mary, and she laughed a low,
strange laugh; then added suddenly, "Mr. Maunsell will you escort us to
it? They say it will be a grand sight!"

"Surely I am too old for going to balls, my dear!"

"Indeed you are not, and I want you to come with us," answered Mary,
with her sweetest smile. "Now you must not refuse the first request of
my father's daughter."

"So you have already found out the way to make me do what you like!"

"Then you will come? Oh, thank you!"

"And you must come and dine with us," said Mrs. Elton; "then we can go
late to the ball."

"Of course I cannot refuse _you_ after granting my young friend's less
congenial request. At what hour do you dine?"

"Our usual hour is seven."

"Then I shall not fail to be with you by that time."



CHAPTER VI.


Soon after Mr. Maunsell left them, and Mrs. Elton said, "Really, Mary,
I am quite uneasy about you; you look dreadfully flushed and excited,
and that fit of coughing was almost convulsive. I must take you to Dr.
O----; and I do not think that I can allow you to go to the ball. I did
not like to oppose you while Mr. Maunsell was here, but now that we are
alone, I am sure that I have only to appeal to your own good sense in
order to induce you to give it up, especially as I know that you do not
care about balls."

"But I _do_ care about this one," cried Mary eagerly--however, she
continued in a calmer tone as she saw her mother look at her in
amazement--"and please to let me go to it; afterwards I will see any
doctor you choose. This ball is the first amusement that I have felt a
wish to partake of since Lena's marriage, and to prevent me from going
to it will only be a new cause of irritation."

"Well, I suppose it is the lesser of two evils to let you go, since you
have set your heart upon it; but why is it so? You never liked balls
before. There is something altogether strange about you--something that
I do not understand, and that your grief for Lena does not account for;
that would not make your cheeks flush, nor your eyes flash as they do
now. What is the cause of it all, Mary?"

"God knows! Derangement of the nervous system, I suppose. But talking
about it, mamma, can do no good; it can only increase the evil. Wait
till the ball is over, and then try what doctors can do for me,"
answered Mary gloomily, as she hastily left the room.

Poor Mrs. Elton was sadly perplexed. She saw that there was some secret
influence at work within Mary's heart, yet she feared to question her
any farther, as it seemed to increase her excitement so much, and in
vain she tried to form any _clear_ idea of its cause. A faint suspicion
crossed her mind that Mr. Earnscliffe had something to do with it; and
as she thought over the events of the last few weeks it struck her that
since that day when he dined with them at Naples Mary had never been
quite herself, and this wild desire to go to the ball, after she heard
that he was to be there, seemed to corroborate it all. The result
of these meditations was to render Mrs. Elton sad, and thoughtfully
serious, as she said to herself, "Since William's death, I have had
no thought on earth but to make my children happy and prosperous in
the world, yet I do not appear to have succeeded. Lena has made a poor
match, in opposition to my wishes, and Mary has some secret sorrow
preying on her; yet how carefully I trained them to avoid all romance
and love nonsense, and I thought at one time that Mary, at least, was a
model of sense and discretion; but I fear it is impossible to think so
any more. Can my teaching have been false? Oh, my children, do not make
me feel that I have been to blame in your regard,--you for whom alone
I have lived through these long twelve years of widowhood!" Then with
a sigh she stood up, and went to Mary's room to ask her what she would
like to do for the afternoon.

"To drive," was Mary's laconic answer. She had evidently given up
the projected visit to the Adairs. And well she might; for there was
nothing to be gained from it now. The tale which Mr. Maunsell had told
was to her as if she had been suddenly shown a mine of gunpowder, over
which her victims were unconsciously walking. She felt that she had but
to apply the match to it in order to blast their happiness to atoms;
and she revelled in this coming triumph of her revenge. Her excitement
was almost uncontrollable; it was killing her by inches, and she knew
it; but she could not relinquish her triumph. Come what would, she
must go to the ball and fire the mine; after that she resolved to give
herself up altogether into the hands of a doctor, and perhaps, even
then, she thought it might still be time to save her life.

Mary, having so many Catholic relations, knew--what Mr. Earnscliffe did
not--that Flora Adair, according to her religion, must look upon a man
who had got a divorce, but whose wife was still living, as a married
man. Therefore it was that Mr. Maunsell's revelations filled her heart
with such savage delight. She pictured to herself Flora's misery on
hearing it; her struggles between love and religion; Mr. Earnscliffe's
entreaties, reproaches, and final despair and indignation; and she
laughed bitterly as she thought over each detail of the suffering which
she was about to inflict. And if she could only make Flora believe that
Mr. Earnscliffe had intended to deceive her,--to marry her, although he
knew from the first that it would be no marriage to her,--then, indeed,
would her revenge be complete.

The eventful night arrived. But when Mary went up to dress she felt so
ill that she could scarcely stand, and as she sighed heavily her mouth
became full of blood. She spat it out hurriedly, and taking a bottle
of lavender drops, she put it to her lips, and held it there until she
felt herself reviving. She then put it down and corked it up, saying,
"I hope to-morrow will not be too late to see Dr. O----. But too late
or not, I cannot help it now; I must go on and take my chance for the
rest." She rang for her maid, and began to dress.

When she went into the drawing-room in her flowing white dress, covered
with light gauzy blue draperies, old as he was, Mr. Maunsell looked at
her admiringly, and said, "You are as good, my dear, I hope, as you are
handsome."

"But I am not, Mr. Maunsell," she answered impetuously; and her voice
trembled, for his words affected her strangely, and she did not speak
again until they were in the midst of that most brilliant of sights--a
ball at the Hotel de Ville in Paris; its vast _salles_ one blaze of
light, which together with the fountains, trees, and flowers, formed a
scene of fairy-like splendour.

The Eltons had not been there much more than a quarter of an hour when
the Adair party arrived, with Mr. Earnscliffe, and another gentleman
whom Mary did not know. Mrs. Adair was leaning upon the strange
gentleman's arm, and the two girls followed with Mr. Earnscliffe. Mary
longed to pounce upon her prey; but she considered that it would be
wiser to defer the final stroke until she could get Flora separated
from the others. However, she might go and speak to them at once; so
she said, "Mamma, there are the Adairs. Shall we go and join them?"

"If you like, dear," answered Mrs. Elton, watching her narrowly to try
and discover if Mr. Earnscliffe had really anything to do with her
feverish state of excitement. And when they got to the Adairs she did
imagine that she saw Mary's hand tremble as she shook hands with him,
whilst he scarcely touched hers. Mrs. Elton felt convinced that there
was some mystery connected with him, and resolved to speak to Mary
gravely about it to-morrow. She was so occupied with her own thoughts
that she scarcely noticed Mrs. Adair's saying to her, "Allow me to
introduce my son, Mr. Adair, to you, Caroline."

She bowed half mechanically, but recollecting herself, she said, "Oh,
_we_ must shake hands, Mr. Adair. Your mother and I are old friends;
we knew each other as girls. And here is my eldest daughter, Mary. You
have heard of her and her sister Helena from Flora, I dare say."

"If he _has_ not," thought Mary, as they shook hands, "he will hear of
me from her. So he has come over for the wedding! But he might have
spared himself the trouble, I can tell him. There will be _no_ wedding,
or else his sister must abjure the errors of Popery; but heaven forbid
that she should do so, for then my revenge would be frustrated!" and
her eyes glared on Flora.

Flora did not see that angry glance, but Mr. Earnscliffe did, and he
could not bear it. He felt that he must get Flora away; and turning
abruptly to her he said, "May I have the pleasure of dancing with you,
Miss Adair?"

It was a valse! Flora looked at him in astonishment, but took his
offered arm; and he led her away quickly into the crowd of dancers.
Flora could not understand it. She knew that he seldom danced himself,
and that he did not like her to valse; therefore she had determined
never to do so again, although _she_ saw nothing objectionable in it.
What, then, could have come over him to-night to make him propose
dancing it with her himself? And almost before she had time to recover
from her astonishment he whirled her round and round at such a pace
and holding her so tightly that she was quite out of breath when they
stopped after a very few minutes of it. He piloted her out of the crush
towards one of the fountains, where they found a nice shady seat
close at hand, and she was very glad to sit down. He stood before her,
looking at her anxiously, and said, "I fear I have tired you, Flora."

"Not tired me," she answered with a smile; "but you have put me
somewhat out of breath. And now do tell me what made you dance
to-night? I thought you disliked dancing,--valsing especially."

"Valsing is not disagreeable _sometimes_," he returned gaily. "But the
truth is that I wanted to get you away from those people; and I could
think of no other way of doing it but by proposing to dance. How heated
you look; where is your fan?"

"I gave it to mamma to hold for me whilst I arranged my necklace, just
before you asked me to dance."

"Then I will go and get it for you. I saw Mrs. Adair sit down near to
where we were standing."

"I do not want it, Edwin. Stay with me."

"Yes you do, dearest; you look so hot. I shall be back in a moment;"
and he hastened away. But he would not have gone had he seen Mary Elton
approaching from the other side, leaning on Mr. Maunsell.

"So here you are all alone, Flora," said Mary, going up to her.

"Yes," replied Flora. "Mr. Earnscliffe has just left me to go and get
my fan from mamma. I was heated after valsing."

"But, nevertheless, I dare say you enjoyed it with _such_ a partner.
And now let me wish you joy, Flora; I did not like to do it while
there were so many by." Flora blushed, but made no answer, as she
wondered how Mary had heard of her approaching marriage; and the latter
continued, "But I did not know that you Catholics recognised the law of
divorce, even for those who are not in your Church?"

Flora felt a sensation of icy cold creeping over her as she asked with
a gasp, "What do you mean, Mary?"

"Why, of course Mr. Earnscliffe has told you that he was obliged to
divorce his wife about two months after their marriage, and that she is
still living, and the wife of his rival. Mr. Earnscliffe's friend here,
Mr. Maunsell, knew _Mrs._ Earnscliffe very well."

Surely, even in this moment of her triumph, Mary must have felt a
touch of pity as she saw poor Flora's eyes close, and large drops of
perspiration burst out on her forehead; but with a supreme effort at
self-control, Flora opened her eyes, and looking at Mary, said, "You
were right when you supposed that we Catholics do not recognise the
law of divorce; but what this has to do with Mr. Earnscliffe I can't
see, for I have never said, nor has he, that there was any engagement
between us. Now, adieu for the present," and Flora turned away her
head. Mary thought she saw Mr. Earnscliffe coming, and not wishing to
meet him just then, she drew Mr. Maunsell away, but looked back with
an almost pitying glance at Flora, and murmured to herself, "She _is_
a brave girl! How she tried to bear up in order to save him from the
imputation of having deceived her! Yet the bare thought of it must
rankle in her heart. My revenge is working well!"

Meanwhile, Flora was writhing under this overwhelming blow. There was
not a ray of comfort for her on any side, and the javelin of distrust
which Mary had so cleverly barbed was lacerating her heart, although
she struggled with all her might to cast it from her. But did not
this fatal disclosure clearly explain Mr. Earnscliffe's hitherto
unaccountable dread of Mary Elton? To know that she must either give
up him whom she loved, or her religion, was--heaven knows!--torture
enough; but it would be nothing in comparison to being forced to
believe him to be unworthy of that love--a deceiver, in short; that
would be agony! and she exclaimed within herself, "No, it is not
so,--he is _true_, if heaven is true!"

At this moment Mr. Earnscliffe returned with the fan, but as he saw
Flora leaning back with closed eyes, and a look of terror in her face,
he cried, as he threw himself on the seat beside her, "Flora, speak,
are you ill? What is the matter?"

She looked at him earnestly, but did not answer; that look, however,
was enough to make her feel, "Yes, he _is_ true, and I cannot give him
up."

"Flora, dearest," he called again, "answer me! What is the matter with
you?"

"The heat, or something, has been too much for me. Take me home,
Edwin," she said, in a low, plaintive voice.

"You must take something first--wine--champagne--what shall I get you?"

"Oh, do not leave me again, Edwin!"

"Flora," he exclaimed, "something has happened during my absence which
has put you into this state; tell me what it is?"

"How hot it is," she murmured, putting her hand to her forehead.

"Good God! Flora, you are not going to faint, I hope." He stood up
hastily--"Take my arm, and let us get out upon one of the balconies;
the air will set you to rights."

She took his arm silently, and leaned heavily upon it, as she passively
allowed him to lead her where he liked. As soon as they got to the
balcony he put his arm round her waist, and said, "Now, my precious
one, tell me, what is it all about?"

She did feel a little revived, and it was so sweet to stand there in
the cool night air, with his strong protecting arm round her; but how
could she tell him what had happened? Yet she must do it, if it were
only to have her faith in his truth confirmed, so at last she said,
"Mary Elton"--she felt his arm tremble; it made her start, and she
asked, in a piteous tone of voice, "Edwin! what has made you dread Mary
Elton?"

"Go on, finish what you were going to tell me," was his only answer.

To obey him was like an instinct to Flora, and she began again
timidly, "Mary Elton and a Mr. Maunsell--I think that was the name
she said--came to me while you were away, and they began to talk of
your--your marriage, long ago."

"Well, dearest, but why should this affect you so? You remember, I told
you all about it at Achensee; how, a short time after I had obtained
possession of one whom I believed to be a treasure, I discovered that
she had betrayed me. Of course you understood that I got a divorce
immediately; indeed, I told you that I put the case into the hands of
my lawyers at once, and left England."

Flora forgot everything else in her wild joy at this perfect
vindication of his truth, and she buried her face on his shoulder; but
she was roused by his saying, as he placed his right hand on her head,
"Darling, you have not yet told me what it was that so frightened you."

She shook all over as the sad reality was recalled to her, and his
utter unconsciousness of what the fact of his first wife being still
alive was to a Catholic, increased her pain, as she answered, "I have
been very stupid, Edwin,--you did tell me everything of your past life,
with your own truth and honour, but I misunderstood you. I thought
that she of whom you spoke as having betrayed your love, was only your
betrothed, not your wife, and--and--" she could get no further, and
Mr. Earnscliffe said, quickly, "Flora, I don't understand you. What
difference does that mistake make to you? Do you love me less because
my misfortune has been deeper than even you supposed?"

"_Love_ you less, Edwin!--more--more if it were possible, but--" the
words came slowly, and with great agitation--"there is no--no such
thing as divorce in the eyes of--of a Catholic!"

It was like an electric shock to him, and his voice trembled with
emotion, as he cried, "But I was not married as a Catholic; your laws
cannot affect me! Flora Adair, you are not going to give me up for
this,--it can be but mere prejudice!"

Flora fell from his encircling arm on her knees to the ground beside
him, murmuring, as she clasped his hands in her own, "Ask me nothing
to-night,--I am bewildered and half maddened; take me to mamma now, and
to-morrow morning come to me and you shall know all. God help me!" and
Flora moaned aloud.

"Flora," he cried again, raising her from the ground, "do you expect
me to be able to pass the night in such suspense as this? If you are
half maddened now, what should I be by that time? But here are people
coming; I must take you out of this place. Can I not see you to-night
in your own house?"

"No, Edwin, that cannot be, unless I tell mamma and my brother, and
then perhaps they would never let me see you again. Do you wish me to
tell them?"

"No, no. I suppose it must be as you say. But if _you_ fail me--oh,
Flora, Flora!"

He said no more, but the agonised tone of his voice rang in Flora's
ears with a dull, heavy, crushing sound, and she whispered--

"Take me to the cloak-room, and then go for mamma and the others. I
shall escape observation better in that way. Tell mamma that I do not
feel well."

Mr. Earnscliffe silently did as Flora desired, and before many minutes
her party joined her; but Mr. Earnscliffe did not come with them. They
got into their carriage and drove home. Flora hurriedly said good-night
and went to her own room; and now that she was at last alone, and free
from restraint, "all the winds" of passion did indeed

    "Leap forth, each hurtling each,
    Met in the wildness of a ghastly war,"

which was about to be waged in her heart.... Will she come forth from
that war victorious, although wounded and heart-broken? or conquered
and fallen? Will her one mainstay--her firm conviction in the truth and
the divine authority of her religion--carry her triumphantly through
it? or will she sink under the enemy's sharp blows from want of that
child-like love and confidence in the goodness of God which would have
blunted their edge? Ah, who can tell? It is a fearful test to be
called upon to dash away the cup which human happiness is "uplifting,
pressing, and to lips like" hers! Let us, then, follow her into her
room and watch the warfare's course.

She fastened the door, threw aside her cloak, and tearing off her pearl
necklace--a gift of Mr. Earnscliffe's--as if its clasp round her neck
were choking her, she walked up and down the room with rapid steps, and
her hands nervously pressed together. At last she exclaimed--

"Great God! it is as if Thou didst sport with the heart of Thy
creature! It would seem as if it were to crush that heart with tenfold
force that Thou didst lead me through a youth of deep yearning after
some object worthy of devoting myself to unreservedly, until I met
one who filled the void; and then after opening up to me a vista of
happiness and of a blessed work to be accomplished--that of healing his
wounded spirit and leading it to the knowledge of truth which it has so
long sought for in vain--Thou callest upon me to give him up, and not
only that, but at the same time, with my own hand, to inflict on him a
blow which will cast him back into darkness and despair! Is this love
or justice?"

She stopped short in her quick walk, and stood before the window gazing
out on the now quiet, deserted avenue, and then she raised her eyes
slowly to the blue starry sky above, as if, indeed, she would cry with
Promethus--

    "O majesty of earth, my solemn mother!
    ............ Earth and Ether,
    Ye I invoke to know the wrongs I suffer."

With a groan she turned away, threw herself upon a chair, and covered
up her face with her hands; but after a few minutes she took them down,
and said slowly--

"But let me try to think calmly.... Perhaps I have been too hasty in
at once supposing that I must give him up. Marriage, except among
Catholics, is not a sacrament: it is merely a civil contract made by
law, and 'what the law can make it can break' is an old-established
maxim, therefore Edwin is evidently free." She paused; but again she
resumed her soliloquy. "Yet the Church, I know, does not recognise the
law of divorce even among those who are not her children; but if that
decree be against reason, justice, and charity, am I bound to submit to
it? It could not be a good deed to drive him to despair, and that, too,
without being able to give him any sufficiently sound reason--at least,
any which would appear so to him--for my conduct. He would think that
my love for him was not strong enough to make me give up--as he would
call it--a mere prejudice of my education. It would only make him
hate, and keep him away from, religious truth. No, I cannot do this.
There is no really good reason why I may not be your wife, my beloved,
and that I will be! So now it is decided, I will marry him; and having
begun the night in true heroine style, with a wild rhapsody, I had
better finish it like a rational person and go to bed. But _how_ I wish
that he had never been married, or that she" (Flora gave her no name)
"were dead!"

She stood up, took off her ball dress, put on her dressing-gown, and
began to take down her hair.

Has the battle, then, been fought and lost? Is Flora about to fall from
light to darkness? Will she be false to her own principle? Will she
cast herself into the chaos of uncertainty and shifting opinion from
which she would have drawn her lover? Does she forget, when she says
that her refusal to marry him would keep him away from religious truth,
that if she does marry him, she places a stronger barrier than ever
between him and it? Yet stay, the battle is not quite over; even if the
enemy has gained possession of the colours for the moment, they may be
regained by the poor combatant.

Flora had just finished unweaving the thick plaits of her hair, when
she impetuously dashed it back from off her face, exclaiming, as she
resumed her pacing up and down the room--

"What sophistry all this is with which I have been endeavouring to
satisfy myself! Religion declares that there can be no divorce but in
death; and Edwin Earnscliffe's--ah!--wife lives! Therefore, it is vain
to try to compromise between my religion and my love. I must choose
between them; and, O God, what a choice! Fool that I was! I said that
to refuse to marry him would keep him away from religious truth; but do
I not know that to consent to it is to deny the principle of certainty,
and to force him, even for my sake, to shut his eyes to truth? and thus
I should be a curse instead of a blessing to him, not only in time, but
in eternity. Edwin, I must bear your reproaches and your misery; but I
cannot be a curse to you! No--no!" And she fell upon her knees before
an ivory crucifix which stood on a little side table, murmuring, "My
God! now teach me to do Thy will!..."

And there let us leave her to find strength and grace, whilst we return
to the Hotel de Ville to see what has become of Mr. Earnscliffe.

When he left Flora in the cloak-room, he lost not a moment in seeking
out Mrs. Adair, with whom, fortunately, he found her son and Marie, so
that there was no delay in looking for any of the party, and they at
once hastened down to Flora. But Mr Earnscliffe had scarcely delivered
her message, when he felt his arm touched, and turning round he saw
Mary Elton standing beside her mother, who was sitting talking to some
ladies near her.

"Mr. Earnscliffe," Mary said, in a low, impressive manner, "do you
remember that I gave you a rendezvous that night in Naples? I am here
to keep it now. Will you take me into the refreshment-room?"

But without waiting for an answer, she took his arm. The touch of her
hand was like the sting of an adder to him. In common politeness,
however, he could not shake it off, and to avoid attracting attention
he moved on, but did not speak.

Mary's eyes burned like two balls of fire as she looked at Mr.
Earnscliffe silently for a moment or two; but with her iron will she
kept down the fire which was raging fiercely within her, for there must
be no scene, she must be outwardly cool and collected so as not to lose
any of the triumph of her revenge; and again she spoke in measured
accents. "Yes, Mr. Earnscliffe, I told you that night to dread me in
the hour when you only waited for religious rites to make Flora Adair
yours, and I promised to be near you then, so you see I have kept my
word. That night you spurned me for her sake--I who had known and loved
you before you ever saw her--and I swore, if it were in human power to
do it, that I would tear her from you. I have done that work to-night,
and _you_ will _now_ know what it is to have your love spurned and cast
aside by your own idol for the sake of some senseless code of doctrine.
And to render my revenge more full and overflowing, I have planted in
her heart the thorn of distrust by making it appear that you intended
to deceive her by concealing your former marriage."

"Fiend as you are," he exclaimed in a tone of suppressed passion, "you
have not succeeded in that! My peerless, trusting Flora believes in me
at this moment as fully as ever----"

"How do you know that?" she interrupted eagerly.

"Because I have spoken to her since you have been trying to poison her
mind against me."

Mary's coolness began to give way. Was it then possible that Flora
would disappoint her of her revenge by giving up her religion rather
than her lover? and she cried hotly, "And will she marry you all the
same?"

Mr. Earnscliffe ground his teeth with rage. He could not answer
that question confidently. He hesitated, and in a moment all Mary's
coolness came back to her. She guessed how it was: that Flora had been
too confused to give any decided answer, but at the same time that
he dreaded she would not marry him; and from that instant Mary felt
_sure_ of her revenge. So, resuming her calm, mocking tone, she said,
"To-morrow, I suppose, you will go to her, and your 'peerless, trusting
Flora' will say to you, 'I am very sorry, but my Church will not allow
me to marry you,' and your love, your misery, and your reproaches will
not be able to win from this passionless disciple of her Church's
teaching a single concession. It is I, too, who have brought all this
to bear, in order to requite you for your appreciation of the gift
which I once bestowed upon you; and my thanks are adequate, are they
not, Mr. Earnscliffe? Now take me back,--I have had all the refreshment
which I wanted."

Mr. Earnscliffe did not trust himself to answer. He feared to lose all
mastery over himself, for if ever a man could be tempted to forget
himself, he was then. Every member trembled with the intensity of his
passion as he muttered under his breath, "Demon, and worse than demon!
and yet I must allow her to go unchained."

As soon as Mary saw that they were near her mother, she let go his
arm, and making him a mockingly gracious bow, she said, "Good-night,
Mr. Earnscliffe, and happy dreams." He hurried downstairs, and dashing
on his opera hat, which he had in his hand, he walked out into the
_Place_, without ever thinking of asking for his coat, and it was
between five and six in the morning when he appeared at his hotel door
in full ball costume.

In the mean time Mary Elton stood for about five minutes beside Mrs.
Elton without speaking, and then said abruptly, "There is Mr. Maunsell,
mamma; ask him to have the carriage called, and let us go home."

Mrs. Elton had been speaking to some old acquaintances whom she had
unexpectedly met a few moments before, but now she looked up at Mary to
see what had caused this sudden fancy, and she felt really frightened
at her appearance. There were two deep red spots on her cheeks, and her
eyes glittered with a strange light. Mrs. Elton said, "Mary, you ought
not to have been allowed to come to this ball; would that I had not
consented to it; however you are right in wishing to go home now," and
she beckoned to Mr. Maunsell to come to her, and asked him to get the
carriage called.

When they stopped at their own door Mr. Maunsell got out first, then
Mrs. Elton, but Mary did not move, and her mother called, "Mary are you
asleep?"

No answer came, and Mrs. Elton exclaimed, "A light, for God's sake!"
The servant pulled out one of the carriage lamps and held it inside,
and there, with her head thrown back upon the cushions, and blood
trickling from her lips, they saw Mary.

"Oh my God!" cried her poor mother, whilst Mr. Maunsell and the servant
took Mary out of the carriage and carried her upstairs. Mr. Maunsell
bent down his ear to catch some words which she was trying to utter,
and as well as he could make out they were, "Telegraph for Lena."



CHAPTER VII.


The great Dr. O---- was instantly sent for, telegrams to Helena and
Charles were despatched, and all that human skill or care could do
was done to save Mary; but while waiting for the doctor's sentence to
be pronounced and Helena's arrival from Ireland, we shall turn our
attention to our heroine and the coming interview with her lover.

On this fatal morning after the ball, when Flora went into the
breakfast-room, where her mother and Marie were before her, the former
exclaimed as she kissed her, "My child, what is the matter? You look
very ill; are you so?"

"No," answered Flora, speaking hurriedly to cover her intended
_équivoque_, "not now; but I certainly did suffer during the night.
Neuralgia is dreadful torture. But where is Edward?"

"Oh, he desired us not to wait breakfast for him, as he would probably
be very late, and we are going out early."

"For what?" asked Flora, listlessly.

"Oh, you _méchante_ Flore!" cried Marie; "I do believe that you have
forgotten the--the--_prise d'habit_--what you call it in English?--at
the Sacré Coeur to-day."

"You are right; I had forgotten it. But at all events _I_ cannot go: I
have an appointment for this morning."

But Marie had no notion of letting her off so easily, and she said with
a pout, "With whom then, Flore? You were not free to make a rendezvous
for this morning when you had already promised to come with us; it
would disappoint me so, and you do not wish to make pain to your
Mignonne, Flore; is it not so?"

"It is impossible, Mignonne; I expect Mr. Earnscliffe," replied Flora
shortly, and oh, how difficult she found it to utter that name calmly!

"_O ce Monsieur Earnscliffe!_ You cede everything to him, Flore. But
why not see him in the afternoon? Remit him until then. You can come
very well if you like; can she not, Mrs. Adair?"

Flora looked at her mother so appealingly, as she would say, "Spare me,
by ending this discussion," that Mrs. Adair said with a smile, "Oh,
Marie, you are too hard upon her. Remember who it is that you ask her
to give up for the reception; and she is tired from suffering and not
sleeping last night; so we will not tease her any more, but go to get
ourselves ready, and leave her love-sick highness to herself and her
beloved." Mrs. Adair stood up, and taking Marie by the hand, she drew
her along with her, and left the room.

As the door closed on them Flora sank back in her chair with a deep
sigh. How many home-thrusts had she not received in that short time!
and from those who would have done anything in their power to save her
from pain.

When she heard their descending steps, and the drawing up of the
carriage which was to take them to the Rue de Varennes, she went to
the window and saw them drive away. Then turning back to the table,
she drank off the cup of strong tea which had for so long remained
untouched before her, rang to have the breakfast things taken away, and
proceeded to her own room. Opening the _armoire_, she took out a box of
exquisitely inlaid woods, and placed it upon the table. She raised the
lid, and disclosed to view a perfectly fitted jewel case, with numerous
and costly ornaments reposing in their velvet beds. But three of these
were unfilled. Did she seek their occupants as her eyes wandered round
the room, and rested finally on the pearl necklace and bracelets lying
on the dressing-table, where they had lain since she took them off last
night? Yes, it was these which she sought; but what stinging memories
of that night's awful struggle did they call up! It almost seemed as
if the struggle were going to begin over again, as, clasping her hands
together, she cried, "It is too much! I cannot--cannot do it!" And once
more she impatiently walked up and down the room....

What! after the murmured "My God, now teach me to do Thy will!" and
the hours passed on her knees before the crucifix, does she fall
back into the old rebellious feelings? "It is very unheroine-like,
very imperfect!" we hear our readers exclaim. And it is quite true;
but we did not promise them a heroine even bordering on perfection.
We know that it would be much more according to the general style
of tale-writing to represent our heroine, after she has made the
sacrifice, as a picture of sad, touching resignation, thinking
beautiful thoughts about the sorrow and trials which are sent to us by
an all-loving heavenly Father, receiving them without a murmur because
they come from Him; but, alas! as we are painting from reality, we
cannot draw Flora different from what she is--one capable of making
grand sacrifices, but unable to bear patiently the incessant pricking
of that crown of thorns which now pressed her brows. To be really
resigned, to endure without repining, hour after hour, and day after
day, the weight of a great abiding sorrow, requires ardent faith and
sensible love of God. All this Flora had never possessed; her faith
had always been more or less beset by struggles, and now has come the
crowning one, which may never cease but in death. For her indeed,

    "Henceforth time is sunless,
    And day a thing that is not."

Suddenly she stood still and said, "Is this the way in which the heroes
of old sacrificed themselves to save their country? And shall I be
less brave than they were when the sacrifice which I am called upon
to make is one required by God, and made to save--although he will
not understand it _now_--him whom I love? No, no; even though their
sacrifice was far less than mine; for they died, and were at rest,
whilst I live to suffer. But, _fiat_!"... She took the necklace and
bracelets and put them into their places; her fingers seemed to cling
to them. Ah, how happy she was when she put them on last night! and
now--but she was determined to be strong, and hastily closing the box,
she carried it into the drawing-room and seated herself on the sofa.

Reader, do you know what it is to listen for a step whose sound
makes all your pulses throb; to long for it, and yet dread it; to
shudder if you think you hear it, and yet sink back with a feeling of
weariness and disappointment if it comes not? If you do, we need not
give any description of what Flora's feelings were as she sat in the
drawing-room awaiting the arrival of Mr. Earnscliffe, for you know
them by experience, and if you do not, a description of them would be
useless, for words could never give you any true idea of the reality.

Her state of suspense was ended at last; the servant opened the door
and announced "Monsieur Earnscliffe." She stood up, but remained
leaning with one hand on the arm of the sofa, not daring to look at
him. He advanced towards her, and in a constrained tone said, "Well,
Flora, how are we to meet?"

"Edwin!" and she raised her eyes to his.

The look of suffering in her face put to flight his assumed coldness,
and putting his arm round her waist, he kissed her forehead, drew her
down on the sofa beside him, and said, "My poor darling! you look
wretchedly ill; and no wonder, if you have passed as miserable a night
as I have done. Those dreadful words of yours at the ball haunted me,
and presentiments of evil gave me no rest; but now that I am here they
do not dare to assail me as before. Now that my Flora has had time to
think calmly over our case, I am sure she will be to me like a good
enchantress, and break all these dark spells; will she not?"

Flora could not speak. Each word of his was driving in the sword
deeper and deeper, and she was not deceived by his apparently cheerful
conclusion, for she knew how agitated he must be when his "deep-toned
voice faltered" as it did now. What could she say? How was she to
begin? And the longer the silence continued, the more difficult did
it become to her to break it. Mr. Earnscliffe, however, did that for
her, as he said suddenly, "Flora, you asked me last night what caused
my dread of Mary Elton,"--his lips literally grew white as he named
her, and the hoarse tone of his voice made Flora look wonderingly at
him,--"and I did not answer you; but now I think it right to do so, as
it might appear that it proceeded from fear of her telling you about
that unhappy divorce, although in reality I could not have had any
dread of that, believing as I did that you understood it all perfectly
before you promised to be mine."

"Edwin, I did not doubt you, though appearances were so strongly
against you."

"I know it, dearest; but it is better that you should be aware of what
my real feelings were in regard to her. I offended her, but through no
fault of mine, and in revenge she did all she could to keep me away
from you; but when she saw that that was not possible, she swore, if it
were in human power, to tear you from me. I had suffered so much from
a woman before, that this threat of another's had a strangely powerful
effect on me, and caused that morbid, and it seemed unreasonable, dread
of her. I considered myself bound in honour not to tell you all this
until now that she has openly interfered to separate us. But she will
fail if you are only true to me, if you prove yourself to be what I
have ever thought you--the first, the noblest of women, in mind as well
as in heart."

She looked up at him, and her lips moved, but no words could be heard;
and she shook her head as if to say, "I cannot;" then let it fall back
on the cushions of the sofa.

"For God's sake, Flora, say something! I can bear this no longer. If
you love me, tell----"

"If? Oh, Edwin!"

Her tone was so heart-broken, that he exclaimed, "Forgive me, Flora;
but you madden me.... In pity speak!"

He took her hand and held it tightly in his.

"Then, Edwin," she said, with a kind of gasp, "you must try to listen
to me quietly, and, above all, do not interrupt me, for I have scarcely
strength to get through the miserable task which lies before me; yet
it must be done. I tried to convince you in past happy days that there
was to be found on earth that which you had so long sought for in vain,
namely, an unerring source of truth; and its voice declares that there
can be no divorce between those whom God has joined. Therefore, were I
even wicked enough to be ready to barter my own soul for the intense
earthly happiness of being yours, I must not do it for _your_ sake; for
if I did I should be only a curse to you--a curse which would prevent
you from ever possessing the light of truth, that light which alone
can satisfy your great mind. No, think it not, my beloved--even such
unreserved love as mine could not satisfy you, unless you could look
forward with undoubting hope to the continuance and perfecting of our
happiness in an eternal union; then it would be bliss indeed! But as it
is, my very worship of you forces me to say that we must part."

Her voice sunk almost to a whisper as she uttered the last word, but
Mr. Earnscliffe heard it all too plainly, and for a moment he remained
silent as if stunned; then dashing away her hand, he stood up, and
looking at her almost with scorn, exclaimed--

"For _my_ sake, indeed! You might have left _that_ out; it is truly
adding insult to injury. But I have deserved this for trusting, loving
again a woman. Fool that I was to imagine that I had found one whose
mind and heart soared above their little world of petty triumphs, of
inane occupations, and hemmed in by weak prejudices and laid-down
maxims. You were only a deeper actress than the generality; yet,
Flora"--his voice softened almost unknown to himself--"your acting was
fearfully real; but the first obstacle has unmasked you." He paused for
a moment, but then burst forth again:--"Yes, you are worthy of your
sex.... Where is now that love which could brave death itself for me?
It seems that it is not strong enough to get over that narrow-minded
prejudice of your Church which says that I am married. As for what
you said about your love causing you to act thus, and your being a
curse to me if you did not do so, by preventing me from possessing
the light of truth, it is too nonsensical. It cannot be the voice of
truth or charity which tells you that you ought to break, to drive to
desperation, the wounded heart which you had won and promised to heal,
rather than to infringe an unreasonable regulation of your Church;
and this, forsooth! was the Church of which you so wished me to be a
member, and of whose truth you had in some degree convinced me! But
this puts the finishing stroke to my wavering belief in your 'goodness
of God.' Adieu, Flora! this is your work. You found me bereft of hope,
but a calm fatalist; you send me from you a blasphemer."

He turned away, and walked towards the door. Flora lay like one in a
trance; those bitter, cutting words appeared to have deprived her of
consciousness. But again he turned, looked back, hesitated, and hastily
retracing his steps, he knelt before her, saying--

"Flora, with all the strong power of my manhood have I loved you!--do
I love you! Send me not from you to despair!" and the proud man almost
sobbed.

Flora started up, and, grasping his outstretched hands, she cried--

"My own beloved! in mercy recall not those dreadful spirits with which
I struggled the long night through--rebellion, infidelity, and all
their satellites; for, as your terrible reproaches rang in my ear,
they seemed to crowd around me with renewed strength; they borrowed
your words, they spoke with your voice, they looked with your eyes.
How, then, resist, with all my own feelings aiding them in trying to
drag me from that standard to which I must cling, or else be the cause
of your ruin as well as my own? Reproach me and treat my words with
scorn as much as you choose, but nevertheless it is true that it is
the intensity of my love for you which, with God's grace, gives me
strength to act thus; and you will feel this some day, Edwin, though I
may not live to see it, for it would be too dreadful to think that such
a sacrifice as mine should be made in vain. Truth must dawn upon you at
last, and then you will do me justice."... She let go his hands, and
pointing to the jewel-case, she murmured--"It is mine no longer, Edwin:
when may I have it sent to you?"

He sprang to his feet, exclaiming--

"You might have spared me that at least, Flora. Do what you like with
the baubles; give them away--what you will--but I cannot have them:
they would be like coals of fire burning into my heart."

He strode to the other end of the room in a state of fierce agitation,
and Flora felt that she was growing very weak, that she could not bear
up much longer; leaning heavily on the table upon which the casket
stood, she held out her right hand, and in a faltering voice muttered--

"It must be said.... Edwin--good-bye!"

He seized her hand, looked into her eyes yearningly for an instant,
then suddenly he caught her round the waist, clasped her to his heart,
and whispered--

"_Must_ I go now, Flora?"

It _was_ an ordeal for her. Could she tear herself from those fond
encircling arms, and raise her head from that dear resting-place on his
shoulder? Her colour came and went, and his breath fanned her cheek
as he bent over her to catch the longed-for leave to stay. It was the
supreme moment of her long struggle, and opening her closed eyes, she
looked wildly round as if to ask for help; but help there was none for
her, save from God. Her lips moved, in prayer perhaps; and then she
murmured--

"Oh! it is cruel, Edwin, to try me so; and yet I must resist, if I
would not be a curse to you. In mercy leave me, whilst still I have
sense to feel that----we must part!--Edwin, go!"

His pallor was fearful and his eyes flashed as he bent one look on the
wan, suffering face lying on his shoulder; and then he pushed her from
him, saying in a loud voice--

"Mary Elton was right: you are a cold, passionless disciple of a
senseless code of doctrine!" and he walked towards the door.

Flora tottered to the sofa, fell heavily upon it, and lay there
motionless; but the turning of the door-handle roused her. She looked
up with a frightened expression; her eyes met Mr. Earnscliffe's in one
long, last, passionate gaze, and the door closed, shutting out at the
same moment from Flora her life's light and the material light of day,
for she had fainted.



CHAPTER VIII.


A little after eleven o'clock, Mrs. Adair and Marie returned from the
convent, and, as the latter opened the drawing-room door, she started
back, exclaiming "Mrs. Adair, see Flore!"

"Good heavens!" cried Mrs. Adair, as she rushed over to the sofa, where
Flora still lay unconscious; "what can have happened!" She guessed
that this fainting fit must in some way or other be connected with Mr.
Earnscliffe, and therefore she felt that it would be better not to call
the maid; so she said, "Marie, run and bring me cold water and _eau de
Cologne_, but do not tell any one of this."

Marie hastened away to get the desired restoratives, and when she
returned Mrs. Adair bathed Flora's temples with the cold water, and
held the _eau de Cologne_ to her nostrils, whilst Marie rubbed her
hands to try and bring a natural heat back to them.

When, at length, Flora opened her eyes, she found herself in her
mother's arms, and saw Marie kneeling beside her, chafing her hands.
She looked at them vacantly for a moment, then with a shiver reclosed
her eyes; but by degrees a slight colour came to her cheeks, and
the icy cold of her hands began to yield to the warmth of returning
circulation. Mrs. Adair saw that she was now really reviving, and she
told Marie to take away the cold water, and leave them alone. "Now, my
child," she said, as she kissed Flora, and smoothed back her tossed
hair, "try to tell me what has happened."

"He called me cold, passionless; he does not believe in me any longer,"
murmured Flora, as if to herself.

"Flora, darling, what is it all about? Has Mr. Earnscliffe proved
unworthy of you?"

Unconsciously Mrs. Adair had done the best thing in the world to rouse
Flora thoroughly, by thus seeming to blame Mr. Earnscliffe. She raised
her head, and for the first time looked at her mother intelligently, as
she said, "No, no; but it is all over between us;" and she sank back
into her mother's arms.

Mrs. Adair's heart bled for her idolised child as she clasped her to
it; yet she thought that it would be better to force her to speak at
once, and that she would be better afterwards, so she continued,
"But what has caused this, dearest? You must endeavour to tell me
collectedly all about it, as Edward must be told immediately; and if it
is right that he should do so, he will apply to Mr. Earnscliffe for an
explanation of his conduct, which certainly appears to me to be most
strange, for of course the cause of this break rests with him."

"Mamma," cried Flora, excitedly, "do not say a word against him,--he
is the soul of truth and honour. I--I am the only one in fault." She
stopped for a moment, and pressing her hands nervously together, she
added, "But you are right; I must try to give a collected account of
it all, or you will blame him, though heaven knows he deserves it not.
Oh, Edwin, Edwin!" her voice died away in a low wail, and she trembled
violently all over.

Mrs. Adair threw her arms round her again, and said, "My precious
child, I see that it is too much for you now. Let me take you to your
room, and after you have had some hours of rest you will be able to
tell me."

Flora made no objection; she seemed to be utterly indifferent as to
what she was to do, and without giving her mother any answer, she let
her take her to her room, and settle her as comfortably as she could on
the bed. Mrs. Adair arranged the quilt over her, and then, closing the
shutters, she said, "Now, darling, I am going to get you some quieting
drink, and when you have taken it, you will go to sleep, and awake
quite well."

Flora shivered--the thought of that awaking was so dreadful; but she
remained silent, and Mrs. Adair left the room. She returned, however,
after a short absence, with a strong sedative, which she made Flora
take, and then she seated herself beside the bed.

Flora was completely worn out by want of rest and violent agitation,
so that the sedative, aided by exhausted nature, caused her soon to
fall into a deep sleep; and when Mrs. Adair heard her heavy regular
breathing continue for some time, she stood up softly, and stole away.
She went to Marie, who was anxiously waiting to hear of Flora, and
told her that she had fallen asleep; then Mrs. Adair repaired to the
drawing-room to see her son, who had just come from his hotel.

In answer to his question of where the girls were, and what it was
that made her look so sad, she told him as much as she knew about
this unfortunate affair of Flora's. It quite enraged him, and he
hotly declared that no matter what Flora said, Mr. Earnscliffe must
have behaved in some very strange manner, for that he never saw
a girl so desperately in love as his sister was; therefore it was
evident that _she_ would never have broken off the marriage unless Mr.
Earnscliffe himself had forced her to do it. He would go at once to Mr.
Earnscliffe, and demand a full explanation.

Mrs. Adair was endeavouring to induce him to wait until Flora could
give them a tolerably clear account of what had occurred, for as yet
they were completely in the dark about it all, when the servant came
in, and handed Mrs. Adair a letter. It was from Mr. Earnscliffe, and
commenced--

    "MADAM,

        "I feel that it is due to myself to write you a statement of what
    my conduct to your daughter has been from the time that I declared
    my love to her. Before I obtained from her a promise that she
    would become my wife, I told her the history of my life, although
    any allusion to the past was intensely painful to me; but I was
    determined that she should know what the great misfortune of my
    life had been before she accepted me.

    "I told Miss Adair accordingly that years ago I had loved a
    beautiful girl and won her, but no sooner had I done so than I
    found that I was betrayed for another, and without ever seeing her
    again, I hurried out of England, leaving everything in my lawyer's
    hands. Miss Adair treated me _then_ with angelic trustfulness, and,
    as you are aware, consented to be mine.

    "Consequently I supposed that she accepted me fully understanding
    that it was after my marriage that I had been betrayed, and that
    I had got a divorce, for I had not the slightest idea that your
    Church arrogated to itself the power of making laws even for those
    who do not belong to it. But it seems that Miss Adair misunderstood
    me; she imagined that it was my betrothed, and not my wife, who
    had been false to me, until last night, when chance revealed to
    her the true state of the case; and this morning she deliberately
    informed me that she preferred to obey one of her Church's most
    daring and unreasonable fiats,--which declares that there is no
    such thing as divorce, even outside of its jurisdiction,--rather
    than act according to the dictates of reason, honour, and love, by
    fulfilling her promise to me.

    "I have written this letter of explanation in order to show that I
    had not, as appearances would lead one to believe, any intention of
    concealing my wretched marriage from Miss Adair; this would have
    been base deceit; and from such a charge you will, I am sure, as
    Miss Adair does most fully, exonerate me. Early in life one woman
    betrayed me; ten years later another heartlessly sacrifices me to
    prejudice! Truly I owe women no gratitude!

                "EDWIN EARNSCLIFFE.

    "Hotel de Douvres,

        "Rue de la Paix, Paris, June 14th."

"Poor, poor Flora! God help her!" exclaimed Mrs. Adair, as she
finished reading the letter, and handed it to her son, who in his turn
exclaimed, after having read it, "But how was it ever allowed to go so
far without your knowing that Earnscliffe had been married?"

"Edward, all retrospection is useless now," answered Mrs. Adair, sadly;
"but I do not think that any one has been to blame in this unhappy
case. Mrs. Elton introduced us to Mr. Earnscliffe, in Rome, as an
unmarried man, with whose father and mother her family had been very
intimate, but they had died many many years ago, and she had lost
sight of their son--he was a baby at the time of their death--until
she met him on the Continent. She spoke in high terms of his personal
abilities, his social position and fortune, and of these two latter
advantages we know she thinks a great deal. How could I suppose then
that it was necessary to make any further inquiries about him? And,
as he says in his letter, he gave Flora a history of his life before
he asked her to engage herself to him, which history she told me, but
of course as she understood it, or, indeed, misunderstood it. All this
misery has been caused by her unfortunate mistake; yet it was a most
natural one. Mr. Earnscliffe evidently did not _distinctly_ say that
it was his _wife_ who had been false to him; and Flora, supposing
everybody to know that the Church does not recognise the divorce law,
took it for granted that he had not been married, or else that he would
not have thought of asking her--a Catholic--to be his. The only thing
about which I was not satisfied was as to Mr. Earnscliffe's sentiments
upon religion, and I besought of Flora not to marry him unless he
would become a professed believer in Christianity, and at all events
to wait a year, and thus let him have time to study its doctrines. But
she would listen to nothing of the kind; he was in the true faith, she
declared, because he had such an ardent desire of the knowledge of
truth. From the first he consented to all the conditions required by
the Church. Poor child, she could not bear to insist upon his waiting a
year, and now she is obliged to send him away for ever. You, yourself,
Edward, would scarcely have been able to keep up, if you had seen her
as I did when we came in."

"Poor Flo! when can I see her?" he said, and furtively brushed away
a tear; then he added, "I see now, mother, that you are right,--no
one has been to blame; but it is one of the strangest and saddest
occurrences imaginable; it is really worthy of Lady Georgiana
Fullerton's title, 'Too Strange not to be True.' But tell me, when will
poor Flo be visible?"

"Not till the evening, at all events; it will be better for her to
remain perfectly quiet all day. You will come to dinner, of course."

"Yes; and there is nothing to be done now, I suppose; there would be no
object in my seeing Earnscliffe?"

"None in the world; it would only give him an opportunity of railing at
religion, and, as he says, at Flora's heartless sacrifice of his love
to prejudice."

"Then I may as well go away, and try to kill time as well as I can
until dinner; for of course you and Marie will be occupied with poor
Flo. Good-bye, then, for the present."

As soon as he was gone, Mrs. Adair sat down and wrote:--

    "MY DEAR MR. EARNSCLIFFE,

        "I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, and to assure
    you that we all exonerate you perfectly from having had any intention
    to deceive us. Poor Flora's mistake was a most unfortunate one; but
    as soon as she learned what the reality was--how she learned it I
    do not yet know, for she has been unable to tell me anything--she
    could not have acted otherwise than she has done.

    "However great _your_ sufferings may be, _hers_ far surpass
    them;--she has a double weight of sorrow to bear: her own, and
    the greater one--that of knowing that she has inflicted pain on
    one whom she loves, and that he has ceased to believe in her.
    Her first words on being roused from the fainting fit in which I
    found her when I came in were, 'He called me cold, passionless;
    he does not believe in me any longer;' and then she relapsed into
    insensibility. If this is heartlessness, I leave it to you to judge.

    "Adieu, and believe me to be very sincerely yours,

                "CAROLINE ADAIR.

    "Paris, June 14th."

Having directed her letter, and desired it to be taken immediately to
the Hotel de Douvres, for Mr. Earnscliffe, she went up to Flora's
darkened room, where she found Marie watching beside the poor sleeper.

Mrs. Adair's note was handed to Mr. Earnscliffe, as he sat in his room
with folded arms and his head drooping upon his breast. He seized it
eagerly, tore it open, and glanced his eye over it; then crushing it
up in his hand, and with his teeth firmly set together, he muttered,
"Psha! let her Church, to whose senseless maxims she sacrifices me,
console her! But I will show what that Church is, how its teaching is
destructive of all the best qualities of the human heart and mind,
since it can make such a creature as Flora Adair was act in direct
contradiction to reason and love. It is too foolish to say that when a
man is married _only_ according to the laws of the established Church
of England, that that Church has not the right to annul its own act. If
Rome had had anything to do with my marriage, one could understand it;
but as it is--damnation, it is unbearable!" and he stamped about the
room,--then rang the bell furiously.

His servant came up with a startled look in his face, and the
expression of surprise to be read there increased as his master said,
"Desire my bill to be prepared, and have everything ready to start by
the night train for Strasbourg."

"That's done," he exclaimed, as the servant retired. "By to-morrow
I shall be in the Black Forest, and there I can stay for a day or
two, and draw out the plan of my book; then if I settle myself in the
neighbourhood of one of the large university towns, I shall not want
for help in the way of books; and converse with the German philosophers
will be pleasant and useful relaxation for me, so that in six months I
may hope to have it in the publisher's hands. Now I must write letters
to England, to countermand all my orders. Poor Earnscliffe Court! thou
art doomed ever to be deserted! ever to be without a mistress!"

Sighing deeply, Mr. Earnscliffe opened his desk and began to write.



CHAPTER IX.


At twelve o'clock that night--the hour when, on the previous one, they
had all met in the brilliant _salle_ of the Hotel de Ville--an express
train was whirling Mr. Earnscliffe away from Paris, Flora Adair was
walking restlessly up and down her room, and Mary Elton lay upon her
deathbed.

The doctor had just left her, after having, as gently as possible,
told Mrs. Elton that the last ray of hope for her daughter's recovery
was gone,--she was sinking, and now it was only a question of how long
she might hold out. Probably she might linger until the same time
to-morrow, but it was also possible that the end might come much more
quickly.

The night-lamp burned dimly, the nurse dozed in an armchair, and Mrs.
Elton knelt in despairing grief beside her dying child, her head
pressed down upon the bed-clothes, as she tried to smother the sound
of her convulsive sobs, and prevent them from disturbing Mary; and she
thought to herself, "I have killed her by letting her go to that ball.
I saw that she was not fit to go, and yet through weakness I allowed
it. Mary, my most precious child, my firstborn, do not leave me! What
can the others be to me, if you are taken? Great God, in pity give me
back this favourite one, or let me die with her!"

Mary was indeed Mrs. Elton's "most precious child;" she resembled her
father strikingly in appearance, as also in many points of disposition,
and far more than either Charles or Helena; therefore was she dearer
to her mother than they were. Her husband's memory was the passion of
Mrs. Elton's existence, as he himself had been whilst he lived; so now
she felt that to lose the child who resembled him most was like losing
all that remained to her of him, and to this was added the torture of
believing that she might have saved her if she had only been firm about
the ball. Her agony in her utter loneliness was piteous; her favourite
child was dying, and the other two were far away; they had been
telegraphed for, but neither of them could possibly have come to her as
yet. Helena was expected to arrive early in the morning, but Mrs. Elton
could make no guess as to when her son might come. He was quartered
far up in the north of Scotland, and of course he could not start
instantly on receipt of the telegram, as Helena would; he must wait to
get leave, and thus the time of his arrival could not be counted upon.

Mary scarcely ever spoke, save to ask, "Can Lena soon be here?" But
this question she repeated almost every hour, and each time it wrung
her mother's heart anew, for it showed her that Mary felt herself to be
dying, and that she feared she might not live to see her sister. Mrs.
Elton saw with dismay that this dread was worrying her beloved child,
yet she could do nothing to relieve it; and there are few sufferings
more difficult to endure than this feeling of powerlessness even to
give ease to one whom we love, although we must yield them up to the
grave in a few short hours.

Through the whole of that lone night-watch Mrs. Elton remained on her
knees beside the bed. Several times the nurse had tried to induce her
to sit down, but she never answered, or appeared even to hear her;
she seemed insensible to everything except the dying girl, but to her
slightest movement, or barely audible words, she was keenly alive.

At last, about five in the morning, a carriage was heard to stop at the
door. Mary quivered all over, and murmured, "Mamma, there is Lena; go
to her and tell her that she must not be frightened when she sees me.
Poor Lena, it is too bad to ask her to come almost from her honeymoon
to see me thus; and she has never looked upon approaching death before.
And you, mamma, you must not grieve so wildly for me: I heard your
sobs and passionate prayers all through the long night, but I did not
dare to speak to you, I was so afraid of exhausting my strength before
Lena came. Mamma, she is far more worthy of your affection than I have
been,--give it all to her, and she will repay you well. Go to her now."

"I cannot," murmured Mrs. Elton. "Nurse, go and receive Mrs. Caulfield,
and beg of her to wait for a few moments in the drawing-room;" and,
with an irrepressible sob, she added, as she clasped Mary's hand in
hers, "My own child, take me with you to your father! Life without him
and you will be too awful!"

"Shall I ever see him?" whispered Mary fearfully. "But it is cruel to
treat Lena thus. Mamma, go to her for my sake, and let me see her as
soon as possible, and then you must go and rest for a few hours,--I
insist upon it," she said with a faint smile; "and you know you cannot
disobey me, as it will be the last time."

Mrs. Elton turned away with a choking sensation in her throat, and left
the room.

From the time that Mary had been carried from the carriage to her bed
she felt that she had risked the last chance for her life, and lost it
in order to gratify her revenge and gloat over the sight of her rival's
misery; but even so she did not then regret it, for her triumph had
been so full and complete, and every other thought was for the moment
absorbed in the wish to see her sister; her affection for her being, as
we have said before, the one pure feeling which not even the terrible
passion of revenge could sully. But during the twenty-eight or thirty
hours that she had lain on her dying bed she had been haunted by grim
phantoms of terror regarding the unknown world to which she was going
so fast, and she began to feel that the success of her revenge was far
less sweet to think of than she had expected; now, however, Helena's
coming brought up vividly before her the remembrance of that miserable
night at Naples, and once more a flush of fierce satisfaction covered
her face, as she muttered, "Well, at least I paid him off to the last
farthing!" As these words passed her lips the door opened, and Helena
entered, with the tears streaming from her eyes.

"Darling Lena!" exclaimed Mary, but without attempting to sit up,
for the doctor had warned her that to do so would surely bring on a
recurrence of the hemorrhage--"how good you were to come so quickly."

Helena threw herself on the bed beside Mary, and kissed her again
and again, but she could not speak; and as Mary tried to soothe her,
her tears only flowed the faster, until at last the former said in a
broken voice, "Lena, think how you are trying me, and I have so little
strength left to talk to you, or even to listen to you. I think I hear
the nurse coming. Go and tell her not to come until you call her, and I
begged mamma to lie down and rest for a little; so once more, Lena, you
and I can have a _tête-à-tête_ chat, as in days of old."

Helena silently rose, and did as Mary desired her; then returning, she
seated herself beside the bed, and took her sister's cold hand in hers
and began to rub it, saying, "How cold your hands are, sister!--let me
warm them for you."

"They will never be warm again, Lena," answered Mary, with a sort of
smile; "but never mind that now, tell me about yourself. Are you as
happy as you expected to be?"

"Oh, Mary," rejoined Helena, trying to suppress her tears, "until I
received that miserable telegram my happiness was unalloyed, and I only
longed for the time when I could get you to come and stay with me, that
you might have the pleasure of seeing what your kindness and affection
had done for me; for had you not been all that you were to me, I should
never have had the happiness of being Harry's. Mary, you must live to
see your own work."

"Lena, how can you talk so! Has not mamma told you that by this time
to-morrow I shall no longer be with you?"

"Yes," sobbed Helena; "but while there is life there is hope--and I
_will_ hope."

"You _must_ not, Lena, for there is none; this is the second since----"
a spasm caught her breath, but she went on, although her voice was
evidently getting weak--"since that evening when you found me half
fainting by the stone bench."

"Mary," cried Helena, almost angrily, "you have treated me shamefully
in not letting me be told that you had an attack of this kind on the
night of my wedding; and I saw by mamma that she blames me bitterly for
having left you; she thinks that my doing so increased, even though it
did not cause, your illness; and in justice to me, Mary, you ought to
have written to me. I could have been with you all these weeks past
since Harriet's marriage, and I might have saved you; being in your
confidence, I could in some degree have prevented you from brooding
over the past until it has killed you. Why have you kept me away from
you, sister? But tell me what is all this about the ball, and Mr.
Earnscliffe, and Flora Adair? I could not understand anything from
mamma's account of it."

"You remember the first time in Rome that you spoke of those two names
together,--I said then that I would rather see him dead than loving and
beloved by her; then in Naples he spurned my love for her sake, and I
swore to be revenged; and I have been!"

"Mary, for God's sake stop!" interrupted Helena, with an expression of
horror; "it is too awful to hear the dying speak of revenge!"

But Mary resumed with increasing vehemence, "By chance I heard that
he had been married, and that his divorced wife was living. _I_ knew
then that _she_ could not marry him, and at the same time I was certain
that _he_ did not know enough of Catholics to be aware that this would
be a barrier, so in all probability he had not told her; therefore I
could easily make it appear that he had intended to deceive her, and
thus torture her doubly: and through my instrumentality, too, he should
feel the bitter agony of having his love rejected by the being whom he
loved. Lena, I carried it all out at the ball, and I saw them both
writhe under my blows! Ay, I paid _him_ off fully for that night in
Naples! Ah!----"

She half rose from her recumbent posture, and then fell back heavily.
Helena caught her in her arms and screamed, "Nurse!"

The nurse was fortunately in the adjoining room, and she ran to
Helena's assistance at once. She saw that her patient had only a
passing faintness; and under her experienced treatment Mary soon
rallied. Helena then asked her to leave them alone again, and she did
so, but gravely cautioned Helena not to allow her sister to excite
herself, as any violent agitation might be instantly fatal. Helena
promised to do her best to prevent it, and the nurse left them.

For a full hour more the sisters' conference lasted, and then Helena
went into the next room, murmuring, through her tears, "Nurse, desire a
clergyman to be sent for; and wait: I must write a note, which can be
left at its destination as the messenger goes to the clergyman."

Helena burst out crying afresh as she opened Mary's desk and tried to
write; at last she succeeded in scribbling these few lines:--

    "MY DEAR FLORA,

        "Poor dearest Mary we fear is dying. She would like to see you;
    so I hope you will come to us as soon as you can.

            "Yours affectionately,

                    "HELENA CAULFIELD.

    "Friday Morning."

As she gave the note to the nurse, Mrs. Elton came into the room, and
Helena told her that Mary wished to see a clergyman, and also Flora
Adair, and that the nurse had just gone to desire them to be sent for.
Mrs. Elton passed on silently into Mary's room, and it was only the
nervous quivering of her lips which told that she understood what had
been said to her.

Helena had hard work to make Mary consent to receive a clergyman, and
to see Flora Adair, in order to undo as far as she could the suffering
which she had inflicted on her by calumniating Mr. Earnscliffe, and now
she began to feel completely exhausted from fatigue and grief as she
lay back in the chair after writing the note. But she was roused by
Mrs. Elton, who lightly touched her shoulder, and said, like a person
speaking in a dream, "Mary says that you must go and take some rest,
and they will bring you breakfast." She rang the bell, and her own
maid answered it, to whom she said, "Take Miss Helena to my room, and
get her tea--breakfast--you know what to do." Then Mrs. Elton turned
away and went back to Mary.

Helena followed the maid into Mrs. Elton's room, and gladly lay down
upon the bed, as she said, "Margaret"--the maid was an old acquaintance
of hers--"if my husband comes--he went to an hotel to be out of the way
at first--show him in here, and also Miss Adair; of course you will
tell me at once if Miss Elton should get worse."

"Yes, miss--I beg your pardon--ma'am; and now I will go and get you
some breakfast."

"It will be useless to bring me anything but a cup of tea, Margaret."

After Helena had taken the tea she fell asleep, and slept for about an
hour, when she was awaked by a kiss, and the sound of somebody saying,
"Poor Cricket, how unlike itself it looks, doesn't it, Miss Adair?"

As she opened her eyes, and saw her husband and Flora standing beside
her, she exclaimed, "Harry, I am so glad that you have come, and Flora
too; but----" She covered up her face in her hands, and the tears
trickled through her closed fingers.

Margaret now came in, and said, "Mrs. Caulfield, Miss Elton has asked
for you."

"Say that I will be with her in a moment," answered Helena, springing
off the bed, and hastening after Margaret, as she said to Mr. Caulfield
and Flora, "Wait here for me."

She was only a few moments absent, and entering with her handkerchief
pressed to her eyes, she took Flora's hand and led her in to Mary, over
whose countenance the livid colour of death was fast spreading.

Flora felt awe-stricken as she thought that not six-and-thirty hours
had passed since she saw her in the ball-room, and silently she went
over and knelt down beside the bed, as Mary said in a hollow voice,
"Flora Adair, can you forgive me?"

"It was right that I should know it, Mary."

"Yes, that I understand; but can you forgive me for having tried to
lower you in his opinion by falsehood, and every means in my power, and
finally for insinuating to you that he was deceiving you by not telling
you of his marriage, although he knew that you could not be his wife in
the sight of your Church if that were known?"

Mary paused, and Flora, shuddering, said, "It was very cruel, the bare
suspicion of it tortured me; but I did not believe it, or it would have
driven me mad. But, Mary, what had I ever done to you that you should
have thus sought to harm me?"

"You gained the love of the man whom I loved with an overwhelming love,
and for you he rejected me.... Was this no cause to hate you? Revenge
became the object of my life, and I had it,--I saw _him_ suffer that
night at the ball even as he had made me suffer; but that longed-for
revenge has turned into bitterness, instead of sweetness, and my gentle
sister there has won me to better thoughts, and induced me to send for
you to ask your forgiveness, and to tell you distinctly what _I_ knew
all along, that _he_ did not know the Catholic rules about divorce. So
again I ask your forgiveness."

"You have it, Mary; although God knows you have made us both suffer
doubly!" Flora rose and kissed her forehead, but she almost started at
its cold, clammy touch, and Mary murmured, "Lena, it has been growing
dark to me for a long time, but now it is nearly night, so call mamma
and your husband; I must say good-bye to him,--I have not seen him
since your wedding"--Lena sobbed violently--"and the clergyman, he may
come too if you like; he is with mamma. But he cannot throw light upon
the darkness into which I am entering. O God!" and Mary moaned.

That moan was heard in the next room, where her mother, her
brother-in-law, and the clergyman were waiting to be called; and they
stood up and went into the sick room.

Surely we may draw a curtain over these last awful moments. Poor
Mary!... _her_ dying words might have been similar to those of the
great world poet--"Light, light, more light!"

Half an hour later Mrs. Elton was carried in a state of utter
unconsciousness from the room of her dead child, whilst Helena sobbed
away her grief in her husband's arms, and Flora Adair drove home more
saddened even than when she left it some two hours before.



CHAPTER X.


That evening Charles Elton arrived in Paris to find his sister dead,
and his mother stretched on her bed like a person in a trance, with her
eyes wide open, but apparently unconscious of everything that was going
on around her. She did not even speak or move when he went into the
room and kissed her. Some hours later, when he and Helena were speaking
in whispers about the preparations for the funeral, she, however,
started up suddenly, and said, "She must be taken to England,--we will
go with her and see her laid beside her father. Charles, you will
arrange all this." Then slowly and deliberately she left the room and
went into Mary's, where she remained day and night in spite of all
remonstrance, until the coffin was screwed down and carried away for
transportation to England. She gazed after it with tearless eyes as she
stood leaning against the bed from which it had been taken, but the
despair of her look and attitude was such that it awed Helena, who
was sobbing passionately, into silence, and rising from her knees she
went and wound her arms round her mother, and tried by her caresses to
soften the bitterness of her grief, but Mrs. Elton seemed to shrink
from her, and after a few minutes she said, coldly, "When do we start?"

"At six this evening," murmured Helena; "the packet leaves Havre for
Southampton at twelve to-night."

Mrs. Elton then disengaged herself from Helena, and going into her
own room she remained there alone with her sorrow, for Helena did not
venture to follow her. This unnatural composure and coldness in their
mother rendered the journey to England even more sad and silent to
Helena and Charles than it must have been under any circumstances, and
had it not been for Harry Caulfield's comparative cheerfulness and
activity of mind it would have been almost unbearable.

The Eltons had a beautiful place in the neighbourhood of Southampton,
and in the pretty retired cemetery close by, Mary was, according to
Mrs. Elton's wishes, to be laid beside her father. On the evening of
the funeral, when the sun's last rays had faded into twilight, and all
nature seemed settling into repose, Mrs. Elton contrived to steal out
unperceived to visit the joint tomb of her beloved husband and child.
At the sight of it, and the thought of the two idols of her heart lying
there, side by side, but insensible and unknown to each other, her icy
composure gave way, and with a heart-broken cry she cast herself on the
dewy ground which covered them. Then the long-suppressed tears burst
forth in torrents, and an hour afterwards her two remaining children,
after seeking her in vain all through the house, found her still
crouched over the grave, weeping bitterly. It was a relief to them to
see her cry, for now that her grief had a natural vent in tears they
hoped that it would gradually become less overwhelming. They silently
knelt down beside her, and their tears flowed too over a father and
sister's grave. Then gently they raised their mother from the ground
and induced her to return home with them, but scarcely had she entered
the house when she was seized with a violent fit of shivering. They got
her to bed as quickly as possible, and made her take hot drinks, but
the shivering fits returned at intervals, and the next morning they
sent for a doctor. He at once pronounced her illness to be fever, and
for three weeks life and death seemed to be hanging in equal balance;
but life, for the present at least, outweighed death, and Mrs. Elton
slowly began to amend. Charles and Helena had been devoted in their
attendance upon her during those weary one-and-twenty days, and now, as
she daily regained a little strength, she used silently to clasp their
hands in hers, whilst her countenance showed how much she felt their
affectionate solicitude about her. And when at last she was able to go
about again, she was quite a changed person; all the seeming coldness
and self-reliance of her character had vanished, and she appeared to
lean on Helena's affection.

Charles was obliged to rejoin his regiment, so the Caulfields persuaded
her to accompany them to Ireland, and spend the remainder of the year
with them, promising at the same time that they would return to England
with her in the spring. And they did so, but, as it turned out, only to
follow Mrs. Elton to her last home, for before spring's budding foliage
had ripened into the maturity of summer, her weary spirit was set at
rest, and she was laid beside the two whom she had so loved in life.

Here ends our record of the Elton family, and the story returns to the
Adairs.

Mr. Adair went back to Ireland, regretting for his own sake as well as
his sister's that fruitless visit to Paris; and, as soon as the hapless
21st was past, the remainder of the party went down to the south of
France, to the de St. Severans, where they were received indeed with
open arms.

Monsieur de St. Severan was a favourable specimen of a Frenchman of
the old school, full of courtesy and compliment to ladies, but so
delicately was the latter insinuated and interwoven in manner and
speech that it never appeared fulsome or offensive. In appearance he
was somewhat above the middle height, and very thin; his eyes were dark
brown and his features marked and pointed; his countenance in repose
was very grave, but his smile was like a sunbeam bursting through the
clouds on a dull grey afternoon, it was so bright and genial. With such
a smile did he welcome and fold Marie in his arms, as he murmured, "_Ma
chère enfant, enfin je te revois_."

Madame de St. Severan was quite different. She was a short, plump,
merry-looking Irishwoman, with frank, at times somewhat abrupt, cordial
manners. She had evidently been pretty in her style, and even still
retained a fair share of comeliness. She too received Marie most
affectionately, and warmly joined in her husband's elaborate expression
of thanks to Mrs. Adair for thus conducting their adopted child to
their very arms.

It may be remembered that Flora did not wish the de St. Severans to be
told of her intended marriage until it was on the eve of taking place,
so now they knew nothing of her great sorrow. This was principally the
reason why Mrs. Adair had induced her to consent to their accompanying
Marie to the chateau, as with the de St. Severans she knew there would
be a complete change of scene and association for her; there could
be no allusions to the past, no recollections of bygone happy hours
excited. Besides, being with complete strangers, she would be obliged
to exert herself more or less, and thus Mrs. Adair hoped she would
be roused from that state of sad silent abstraction in which she now
lived. For the first week the plan seemed to have succeeded. Flora
appeared to interest herself in everything, and quite won Monsieur de
St. Severan's admiration; like most foreigners, he cared even more
for agreeability than for beauty; but at the end of that week she was
seized with a violent attack of neuralgia in the head; nothing seemed
to give her any ease, and for four days the pain continued with almost
maddening intensity; then, however, it began gradually to subside, and
at length it ceased altogether; but almost her first words after she
got ease were, "Mamma, take me home,--this is too much for me."

Mrs. Adair now saw what it was, and that it was better even to allow
her to brood over her grief than to force her to make the exertion
of mixing in society; and so, in spite of all the de St. Severans'
warm entreaties for a longer visit, they left the chateau after about
a fortnight's stay, and journeyed slowly towards Ireland. If Flora
had any wish, save not to be obliged to see people, it was to be
near her friend Mina Blake; yet it scarcely amounted to a wish; even
friendly conversation and sympathy could give her but little pleasure,
for now she felt how true was the saying, "_Mieux se taire que de
parler faiblement de ce que l'on éprouve fortement_," and to speak of
anything but that one subject was almost impossible to her, for in it
was her whole mind absorbed. She had sent her lover from her rather
than forswear the cause of truth, but to banish him from her thoughts
and heart she did not attempt; indeed it would have been difficult to
convince her that there was anything wrong in thus clinging to the
memory of her short span of happiness. Nevertheless she wished much to
get home and have some settled occupation, to try to while away the
weary, weary time.

Marie was, as she herself said, "_desolée_" at being separated from
"Flore," and her parting whisper was, "When you write you will
sometimes tell me news of him, Flore,--except through you, I shall
never even hear his name again."

Flora, of course, promised to do so, and after the first burst of
irrepressible tears which followed the Adairs' departure, Marie began
to feel that indulging such grief for her friends might hurt her
adopted parents, who lavished so much affection upon her, so for their
sakes she tried with all her usual amiability to appear cheerful. The
task was not an easy one, particularly at first; but by degrees it
became less difficult as she lost all remnant of shyness with Monsieur
de St. Severan, and treated him as a petted daughter would a doating
father. Madame de St. Severan was very kind and indulgent to her;
yet Marie never felt towards her as she did to her "_cher père_." Of
companionship of her own age she had not much, and what she had did not
give her much pleasure. There were a few families in the neighbourhood
where there were young ladies, but, unlike herself, they were prim and
apparently retiring, so that when Marie did meet them it only made her
think how different they were from "Flore." Therefore, notwithstanding
all her praiseworthy exertions, and partly successful ones, to be
cheerful and contented, it was a relief to her when October came, and
they set out for Paris, where she had the prospect of a gay winter
before her, and much more variety of every kind than she could have in
the country; besides, almost unacknowledged to herself did she cherish
an expectation of meeting Mr. Barkley there. She had not forgotten one
pleasant evening's walk on the banks of the golden Arno, when he said
something about intending to go to Paris during the ensuing winter, and
asked casually what was Monsieur de St. Severan's address there. She
remembered, too, that he wrote down the address as soon as she told it
to him, so it was a possibility that he might come and see them, and
beyond that she did not venture to let her thoughts wander.

Christmas passed, however, and no Mr. Barkley appeared, but early in
January there came a letter from Flora, saying, she heard that he
and his father were going immediately to Paris to meet, it was said,
their friends the Molyneuxes, who were spending the winter there
for the advantage of their only daughter, whom it was supposed Lord
Barkley wanted his son to marry. Poor Marie! the realisation of her
hope that Edmund Barkley would come to Paris now promised to bring her
pain rather than pleasure. She knew the Molyneuxes well,--they were
most intimate with the de St. Severans. The young lady was to have an
enormous fortune, and she was undoubtedly very handsome, but hers was
indeed--

    "A beauty for ever unchangingly bright,
    Like the long, sunny lapse of a summer day's light,
    Shining on, shining on, by no shadow made tender."

There were none of the lovely lights and shades of Autumn. She was
statuesque in appearance, and her manner was quite in keeping with her
countenance, ever formal, cold, and inanimate. And this was the one for
whom Mr. Barkley was expected to give up his bright, playful Marie,
whose soft prettiness

    "Now melting in mist, now breaking in gleams,"

varied with every passing feeling.

How true it is that we are always prone to think that our misfortune,
whatever it might be, would be easier to bear if it were but different
in this or that particular! So now Marie thought if Edith Molyneux
were another sort of person, one, in short, whom Mr. Barkley could
have loved and been happy with, that she would not have found it so
difficult to give him up to her; but as it was it seemed doubly hard
to bear. Then too she was obliged to try and hide it all away in the
recesses of her own heart, for, except Flora, no one knew anything
of her unhappy love,--she had not had courage to make a confidant of
Monsieur de St. Severan, although he sometimes questioned her anxiously
as to what made her at times, when she thought herself unobserved,
look so sad and thoughtful; and more than once she was on the point of
telling him the whole history; but she was always stopped by the fear
of his blaming Mr. Barkley and becoming prejudiced against him.

Some few nights after she had received Flora's letter, she sat in
company with Monsieur de St. Severan and the Molyneuxes, in an opera
box, listening with glowing cheeks and glistening eyes to Mario's
thrilling tones as they rang forth the "_Non ti scordar di me_" of "_A
che la morte_;" and so absorbed was she that she did not know that the
box door had opened, and two gentlemen had entered unperceived by her,
until a low murmur of voices from behind disturbed her enjoyment of the
music, and looking round impatiently, her eyes met Mr. Barkley's. It
was all she could do to repress the cry of joy which trembled on her
lips as she gave him her hand. He pressed it silently, but his lips
seemed to form and follow the passionate words which Mario now sang,
"_Sconto col sangue mio l'amor che posi in te_." The last eight months,
Miss Molyneux, everything, did Marie forget in that moment, save that
her lover was with her, and apparently true, and the tears which stole
down her cheeks, as the devoted but hapless Leonora expired in the arms
of her "true love," were mingled tears of real pleasure and fictitious
sorrow. But as the curtain fell and the dewy mist cleared away from
before her eyes, she saw a sight which dashed all her bright joy and
recalled to her her real position.

Standing behind Miss Molyneux's chair, and leaning over it with marked
attention, was an old gentleman bearing a strong resemblance to Mr.
Barkley. Marie, of course, knew that this must be his father even
before Mr. Molyneux said--

"Ah, Mademoiselle Marie! I must introduce you to my friend, Lord
Barkley, though I see that you are already acquainted with his son."

Marie thought she perceived his lordship frown as he bowed to her, and
said with a chilling smile--

"I have heard of Mademoiselle Arbi from my daughter, Mrs. Penton, who
met her travelling in Italy last year with some acquaintances of ours."
And turning to Colonel de St. Severan, to whom he had been already
introduced, he added more graciously--"Her kind protector, Colonel de
St. Severan's name is one too noted to be unknown to any one who has
been much in France."

Colonel de St. Severan seemed to be pleased at this, and said he hoped
to have the "_honneur_" of receiving his lordship at his hotel. The
two old gentlemen then fell into a conversation upon the African
wars, and Edmund, in obedience to a glance from his father, turned
to Miss Molyneux, and tried to _make_ her talk; whilst Marie leaned
over the box's parapet, and feigned to be much occupied with the light
afterpiece which followed the opera; yet had she been suddenly asked
what it was about, she could no more have told than she could tell what
was going on in Algiers at that moment.

Mr. Barkley did not, however, continue his efforts at "doing the
agreeable" to Miss Molyneux very long, and Marie's painful thoughts
were broken in upon by his bending over her chair, and asking in a low
tone--

"Has Miss Arbi, then, forgotten Italy and the friends whom she met
there, and whom, in those days, she seemed to honour with her regard,
for she has not once bid me welcome to Paris?"

Marie looked up at him, and in her large truthful eyes might be read an
expression of gentle but sorrowful reproach, as she said, "One forgets
not always that which one ought to forget; also I have not forgotten
Italy, and if I have not _said_, be welcome, I felt it."

"Ah! Mademoiselle, if you only knew how the memory of Italy has haunted
me, you would not be so chary of your acknowledgment that you too had
not forgotten it. I may have the happiness of seeing you here, may I
not?"

"I have heard my dear father ask Lord Barkley to come to see us, and
perhaps you will come with _Monsieur votre père_."

"Can _you_ doubt it?"

"But you will be very occupied with your friends the Molyneuxes. You
are come to Paris to meet them, are you not?" and involuntarily she
glanced at Miss Molyneux.

"Marie!" he whispered,--then looking towards the stage, as if he were
alluding to the opera which they had just seen, he repeated aloud, "The
words, '_Sconto col sangue mio l'amor che posi in te_,' harmonise so
well with the air."

"Yes, '_A che la morte_,' it is a melody so sweet," she answered,
endeavouring to follow his example in seeming to talk of the music; but
a bright flush spread itself over her face as she now heard him utter
the words which before she only imagined she saw his lips silently form.

If such moments could only be lasting! But--

    "The brightest still the fleetest."

There was a general movement in the house; the performance was over
and the audience all prepared to depart. Lord Barkley came forward
and offered his arm to Marie, saying, "You must allow an old man,
Mademoiselle, to have the pleasure of escorting you to your carriage,
and so give him an opportunity of becoming somewhat better acquainted
with you, and Edmund will no doubt take good care of my old friend
Molyneux's fair daughter."

"Edmund" did _not_ look delighted with this arrangement, but there was
no help for it now; so with as good a grace as he could command in the
midst of his annoyance, he obeyed the parental injunction, and took
Miss Molyneux down.

Meanwhile, Marie timidly laid her hand on Lord Barkley's arm, as she
tried to get a sidelong glimpse at his face, to see if he looked very
sternly at her, and she felt a little reassured on finding that his
countenance was quite the contrary of stern. His age might have been
about sixty, and his hair and moustache were quite white. He had full
ruddy cheeks, rather small blue eyes, full lips, and a thick nose,
not quite guiltless of a suspicious vermilion tint. The expression of
his face was altogether more that of a good-natured, jolly old _bon
vivant_, than of a severe, unrelenting parent; and Marie would not
have been dissatisfied with the impression which she made on him, had
she known that as he handed her into the carriage he said to himself,
"By Jove! I can't find fault with Edmund's taste in preferring this
pretty, coy little creature, to that stiff, Juno-like beauty. If I were
a young man myself, I should be sure to fall in love with the little
one! Therefore, I am doubly sorry to be obliged to thwart the poor
fellow; but I must do it for the sake of the family as well as his own.
He would be a poor man all his life if I let him marry without a large
fortune."

As the father and son walked home, the former said, "Edmund, my boy, I
have just a few words to say to you about Miss Arbi. I think her very
charming."

"So I perceived, sir," interposed Edmund, drily; "you lingered over the
putting-on of her cloak with the courtly grace of a Leicester."

"Eh, boy, jealous are you?" replied the old man, with a chuckle; "but,
seriously, I think her--as I have said--charming, and I should be
delighted to see her your wife, if you could afford to marry without a
good many thousands; therefore take my advice--don't go too far with
her; that peppery old colonel mightn't like it. And I tell you again,
I must do all I can not to allow you to ruin yourself by making an
imprudent marriage; but if you will do it, I'll save the property, at
least, by leaving it to Marie's second boy."

"This is the old story over again, sir," retorted his son, impatiently,
"and I accompanied you to Paris on the express condition that you would
endeavour to learn what fortune Monsieur de St. Severan will give Miss
Arbi, and that you would then think about whether you would grant me
your consent or not. The moment I meet her, however, you begin to
lecture me about being prudent and keeping clear of her. If this was
to be the way of it, it would have been better for us to have remained
at home. Now, of course, I understand why you were so anxious that we
should come to Paris: it was to try and entangle me with that block of
ice, Miss Molyneux; but I'll not have her, father."

"Very well, just as you like, my dear boy, but you certainly might
do worse. She is very rich, very beautiful--as you must admit--and I
have reason to know that her family would be very willing to receive
you as a suitor for her hand. But, all the same, I'll keep my promise
about Miss Arbi, and if I can avoid it I'll throw no obstacle in the
way. However, to be candid with you, Edmund, I feel certain that she
can't have nearly enough for you. Why, ten thousand pounds would be
an immense fortune for a foreigner to have, and that would be of no
earthly use to you. So, for your own sake and hers, don't be too much
with her--don't, at all events, make her remarkable before her friends,
the Molyneuxes."

"How very anxious you are about her, sir; but leave that to me,--I'll
take care not to make her remarkable. Good-night, sir," he added
abruptly, as they got into the hotel; and he hastily took a candle and
walked off in high dudgeon to his room.

Again Mr. Barkley was acting a cowardly, ungenerous part towards Marie
in making these professions of love, although he should have known in
his heart that his father would not be satisfied with anything that
Colonel de St. Severan could give her, and that he himself had not the
courage to marry her in spite of that, and so risk the loss of his
hereditary estate, which, as we have just heard, his father threatened
to leave away from him if he married any one whose fortune was not
sufficient to clear it. Had he even been wholly dependent upon this,
there might have been some excuse for him, but, on the contrary, he
was actually in possession of a small property of about five hundred a
year, which had been left to him by an uncle; but this seemed absolute
penury to the luxurious heir of at least as many thousands per annum.
He persuaded himself, however, that on the strength of his father's
approbation of Marie personally, and his promise to inquire what her
fortune might be, he was authorised in devoting himself to please her.

Accordingly, he sought her society in every possible way; and through
the Molyneuxes, with whom his father was always pleased to see him,
he contrived to get up riding parties, parties to operas, concerts,
balls, &c. One day during a ride in the Bois de Boulogne, the party
consisting of himself, Marie, Mr. and Miss Molyneux, the latter's
horse became restive in the crowd, and Mr. Barkley suggested that they
should get into some of the less-frequented alleys, where the animal
would probably go quite quietly; he undertook to lead the way with
Marie, whilst Mr. Molyneux and his daughter followed. Here on the
first favourable occasion he renewed his protestations of undying love
to Marie, and won timid avowals of the same nature from her. He told
her--with a slight colouring it is true--of his father's promise, and
how he only lived in the hope of being soon able to ask Colonel de St.
Severan for her hand.

Marie listened in delight, and thought to herself--"Flore did
not do him justice. How little he really cares about money; for
notwithstanding Miss Molyneux's wealth, and beauty too, he is true to
me." Then she said aloud in her low, sweet voice, "How happy you have
rendered me! But I must tell my dear father all this, or I would feel
that I deceived him."

"Marie, for my sake you must not speak to him yet. Only have a little
patience. If you tell Colonel de St. Severan now, he will be sure to
apply to my father at once in true French style, and then adieu to all
my hopes. My father, taken thus suddenly, and before I have time to
gain him over to all I wish, would peremptorily refuse his consent."

"No, no. I would pray my dear father for love of me to say nothing of
it to anybody; but he would be wounded if I hide from him the truth. I
_must_ tell him, Edmund!"

Mr. Barkley drew himself up haughtily as he replied--

"Pray do not suppose that I wish to bind you to secresy further than
that I know if you speak to Colonel de St. Severan now there will be
an end to everything between you and me; but if you are _satisfied_
that it should be so, I have no more to say. Miss Arbi is, of course,
perfectly at liberty to act as she thinks right; only it would have
been more candid had she told me from the beginning that she was not so
deeply interested in the case as I flattered myself."

A vivid colour rushed up to Marie's face, mounting to her very temples,
and for an instant her eyes flashed with indignation as she looked
full at him; but it was only for a moment: the next, her bright eyes
became suffused in tears, and without a word she turned away her head.

Marie had never appeared so lovely to Mr. Barkley as now. That sudden
flash of anger, as he accused her of want of candour towards himself,
which darted across her countenance, then faded into an expression of
such deep sadness, seemed to him the prettiest and most touching thing
he had ever seen, and he exclaimed, eagerly--

"Forgive me, my sweet Marie! How could I be so heartless as to say
anything which could pain you? I know that you are all truth and
candour; but the fact is, I scarcely know what I say. I am driven half
wild between love of you and fear of not being able to marry you; and
if you would not destroy all my hopes of ever having that happiness, do
not tell Colonel de St. Severan for a few days longer, at all events.
I know well that nothing you or any one else could say to him would
prevent him from speaking to my father. Marie, here come the others!
Will you promise me to be silent, at least until I can speak to you
again on the subject?"

There was no time to expostulate any farther, and, half frightened at
the suppressed vehemence of his voice, she murmured--"Yes."

He looked his thanks as the others came alongside of them, and for the
remainder of the ride he attached himself to Miss Molyneux's side.

Marie went home looking so pale and tired, that Colonel de St. Severan,
with fond anxiety, blamed himself for allowing her to take such long
rides. He little knew that it was not fatigue, but remorse for the
promise which she had given to deceive him--as it seemed to her--even
for a time, that made her look so pale, and every mark of affection
which he bestowed upon her increased this feeling.

Things went on in the same state for about ten days. Mr. Barkley,
Marie thought, appeared to avoid any opportunity of speaking to her
privately, although his manner to her, whenever he did meet her, was
expressive of the utmost devotion; but her self-reproach for her
conduct to her kind adopted father increased daily, and one afternoon,
when she thought every one was out, she gave free vent to her tears as
she lay on the sofa in the drawing-room, murmuring every now and then--

"Edmund, Edmund! why did you wring from me that unfortunate promise?
My dear father, how much less unhappy I should be if I could tell you
everything! It is terrible to feel that I am playing false to the
one if I keep my word, and to the other if I break it! Terrible to be
divided between my lover and my father! _Oh, mon père!_"

"_Ma chère enfant!_" said a voice close to her, and she was clasped in
Colonel de St. Severan's arms.

He had heard all: so now there could be no further secresy, and in
answer to her cry on seeing him, "What have I done? Edmund will say
that I have broken my word to him!" he said--

"_I_ am the witness that you have kept it but too well, until it made
you almost ill. Had Providence not sent me home unexpectedly to-day, I
should still have been in ignorance, and you would have been suffering."

When he had petted her into something like composure, he gently but
firmly insisted upon hearing the whole history, assuring her that it
was better he should know all than be left to form his own conjectures.
She felt that he was right, and so she told him everything from the
beginning in Florence, and tried to make Mr. Barkley's conduct appear
in as favourable a light as possible; but Colonel de St. Severan's
countenance grew darker and darker as she proceeded, till she came
to the account of how Mr. Barkley made her promise to be silent,
in spite of all her entreaties to be allowed to tell him; then his
indignation burst forth, and he denounced him as a _vaurien--un homme
déshonorable_. But Marie now fell into such a state of agitation
that it almost frightened him, and so passionately did she plead for
"Edmund," that Colonel de St. Severan said at last--

"In order to save you from grief, _ma fille chèrie_, I will give this
gentleman a chance. I know from Molyneux that he has, independent
of his father, an annual rent of from twelve to fifteen thousand
francs, and I will give you a _dot_ of three hundred thousand francs;
therefore, if he really loves you, he can marry you without any
assistance from his father."

Marie's gratitude knew no bounds. Poor confiding child, she never for a
moment doubted her lover, and wild with joy she ran up to her room to
wash away the traces of tears before Madame de St. Severan should come
in.

The next day was their reception day, and among other visitors came Mr.
Barkley. He saw that Mary looked flushed and excited, but gayer than he
had ever seen her since the old days in Florence; and her gaiety jarred
upon him, as he himself was in wretched spirits, his father having just
told him finally that he must either give up all idea of marrying Miss
Arbi, or of ever possessing Barkley Castle. _Neither_ could he resolve
to give up, and his object in paying that visit to the de St. Severans
was to hear if they would be at the ambassador's ball that night, when
he intended to have another conversation with Marie. Thus, his vexation
was considerably increased on being told that they had sent an apology.
Marie having looked so ill for the last few days, they were determined
not to allow her to undergo any new fatigue.

He stood up to go away, feeling angry with the de St. Severans for not
going to the ball, and with Marie for appearing gay when he was so
miserable. Colonel de St. Severan left the room with him, and as soon
as the drawing-room door was closed, he requested Mr. Barkley to grant
him a few minutes' conversation in his study.

"She has betrayed me!" he thought, as he followed Colonel de St.
Severan into the study.

Marie contrived to escape from the drawing-room, and went into the
library, where she could be alone. It happened to be next to the study,
to which there were two doors, one opening into it, the other giving
upon the passage. The sound of raised voices caught her ear and made
her tremble as she hastily went to the other end of the room, so as
not to overhear a conversation which was not meant for her ears; but
the next moment she heard the far door of the study closed violently,
and at the same time the one leading into the library flew open, and
Colonel de St. Severan entered, his face all in a glow from anger and
indignation. He started as he saw Marie, who ran to him, exclaiming--

"My father! What has happened?"

"Marie, my dear child, I did not expect to find you here," he said,
putting his arms round her, and looking earnestly at her; "but perhaps
it is better as it is. Henceforth you will teach your heart to forget
_ce monsieur_. He is unworthy of you, and I have told him never to dare
to address you again! My child, I know, will do her best to obey me
when I tell her that she must think no more of him!"

Marie became pale as death. Her lips quivered as she tried to answer;
but instead of words there burst from her a long, low sob, and she
remained passive in his arms.



CHAPTER XI.


The interview between Colonel de St. Severan and Mr. Barkley was short
but stormy. That morning the former had called upon Lord Barkley to
learn what were his true feelings with regard to his son's marriage.

Lord Barkley was a most plausible old gentleman, and liked to keep well
with everybody; accordingly he bespattered Colonel de St. Severan with
compliments, said that he himself found Mademoiselle Arbi charming, and
that nothing grieved him more than being obliged to tell Edmund that
if he married without getting a fortune of thirty or forty thousand
pounds, he must leave the ancestral estate, in order to preserve it
in the family, away from him; but were it not for their unfortunate
embarrassments he would be only too delighted to receive Mademoiselle
as his daughter-in-law.

Colonel de St. Severan thanked him and took his leave. Now that he
had heard from Lord Barkley's own lips how much he approved of Marie
personally, and that he left his son free to marry her if he chose to
brave the threat of the family estate being left away from him, Colonel
de St. Severan felt himself authorised in making the proposal to Mr.
Barkley of which he had spoken to Marie.

Unfortunately for Mr. Barkley he had been out all the morning, and went
to the de St. Severans without having heard what had passed between
his father and Colonel de St. Severan, so he was completely taken
by surprise when the latter called him into his study, and having
explained how it was that by chance he discovered the attachment which
existed between him and Marie, he proceeded to relate all that Lord
Barkley had said to him; then in a concise but cutting manner he blamed
Mr. Barkley for his conduct throughout the whole affair. He concluded
by saying that it pained him deeply to think that Marie should have
bestowed her affections upon one who had acted towards her as Mr.
Barkley had done, but that she had wrung from him a promise not to put
any obstacle in the way of her happiness, and in compliance with this
promise he named the fortune which he was ready to give Marie, showing
at the same time that he knew such a portion would enable Mr. Barkley
to marry her--if he really loved her--independently of his father.

Mr. Barkley was not, as we said before, in a serene mood when he
entered the study, and this speech of Colonel de St. Severan's worked
him up almost into a passion. It was forcing him to do the very thing
which he did not wish to do--to choose at once between love and mammon.
To give up the latter and resolve to live on the thousand or so a year
which his own and Marie's income would amount to, seemed to him too
alarming a sacrifice. On the other hand he saw plainly that if he did
not make it he must renounce Marie for ever, as he had no excuse to
give for any further hesitation, save the true one of his unwillingness
to run the risk of being a comparatively poor man all his life; after
what his father had said he had not the courage to plead that fear of
displeasing him was his motive.

He hated the colonel for placing him in such a position, and in vain
he tried to think calmly how he could answer, until Colonel de St.
Severan, tired of waiting for a reply, said--

"Your silence, I suppose, is a tacit acknowledgment that you have been
merely trifling with Mademoiselle Arbi all this time; but indeed it is
only what one might have expected from the whole tenor of your past
conduct."

This was like applying a lighted match to a train of gunpowder. Mr.
Barkley lost all control of himself, accused Colonel de St. Severan
of false dealing, in having gone secretly to speak about him to
his father, and said many other things which, had he been master
of himself, he would never have uttered. Colonel de St. Severan
interrupted him in a voice of thunder, commanded him to leave his
presence instantly, and never to dare to speak to him or Mademoiselle
Arbi again. He pointed to the door, and Mr. Barkley--awed by the
dignity of his manner--obeyed the gesture silently, quailing like a
bold schoolboy before the great and just anger of his superior.

He rushed out of the house in a state of wild excitement, and, as the
fates ordained, almost at the door he met some young Frenchmen of his
acquaintance.

They said they were going to dine at the Trois Frères, and asked him
to join them. Mr. Barkley, glad to have any company rather than that
of his own thoughts, accepted the proposal, and away they went to the
Palais Royal.

The repast was most _recherché_, and naturally the wines were in
keeping with it. Mr. Barkley drank freely of them all, and especially
of champagne, until his spirits became quite exuberant, and when
_écarté_ was suggested as a fitting wind-up to the evening, he eagerly
expressed his pleasure at the suggestion. He played high and lost
considerable sums, but the more he lost the more recklessly he played,
and it was with difficulty that his companions got him away from the
card-table in time to dress for the ambassador's ball, to which they
were all going.

It chanced that the Molyneuxes and Mr. Barkley arrived about the same
time, and he secured Miss Molyneux for the next valse. She looked
dazzlingly handsome in some sort of a light-blue dress over white
satin, and a necklace of turquoise. A buzz of admiration followed her
as she moved in her stately manner through the crowd, leaning on her
partner's arm, so that Mr. Barkley began to feel that at least she
would be a wife that a man could be proud of; and the valse finished
the matter. Excitement, champagne, and that rapid dance all told upon
him, and fired his heart with a momentary fancy for Miss Molyneux.
He made desperate love to her, proposed, and was sobered by her calm
acceptation of his offer. Up to that moment he scarcely knew what he
was saying, but her cool answer and suggestion that they should return
to "papa" made him fully sensible of what he had done. It was as if a
pail of iced water had been thrown over him, and he could scarcely help
shivering as he offered his arm to his affianced bride to lead her to
her parents.

Mr. Barkley passed that night in all the torture of self-reproach.
More than once, after he returned from the ambassador's, he attempted
to write an apology to Colonel de St. Severan, but each time he tore
up what he had written, feeling that it would look like a mockery to
send an apology after that night's work, as he knew that of course the
de St. Severans must hear of his engagement. When he did at last go to
bed, he lay tossing on it with sleepless eyes and a racking headache as
well as _heartache_.

The next morning he went into his father's room, about ten o'clock,
looking so "_seedy_" and haggard that the latter exclaimed--

"Why, Edmund, you must have supped after the ball last night. You
certainly look as if you had a good bout of it."

"Such an one, sir, as I shall never forget, only it was _at_ the ball
and not after it," answered his son; "and I have come to tell you that
my happiness is destroyed for life, but your wishes are gratified. Miss
Molyneux is my affianced wife. I hope _she_ has money enough for you!"

"My dear Edmund, you amaze me! I should indeed have been delighted
to hear of your engagement if you did not speak of it in this
extraordinary manner. Surely I did not insist upon your proposing to
Miss Molyneux."

"No, but you drove me to desperation by opposing my marriage with the
woman I love. I behaved like a scoundrel to her and to Colonel de St.
Severan; then to escape from my own thoughts I drank and gambled until
I was half mad with excitement, and in that state I proposed to Miss
Molyneux."

"Don't flurry yourself about it, my dear boy; under the circumstances,
we can explain away anything a little too tender which you may have
said to Miss Molyneux. I should be very sorry if you were to marry
a girl whom you don't like; and as for the de St. Severan affair, I
don't understand what you mean. I saw the colonel yesterday morning and
explained everything to him. Why, we parted like the dearest friends in
the world!"

"I know it, sir, but I have seen Colonel de St. Severan since, and----,
but, no, I cannot speak of it. Now, with regard to Miss Molyneux," he
continued, hurriedly; "you are mistaken in supposing that I merely said
something too tender to her which could be explained away. I told you
expressly that she was my affianced wife. I was not drunk enough--would
that I had been--to talk nonsense; only enough to act like a madman. I
proposed formally to Miss Molyneux, and she as--no far more--formally
accepted me, and marched me up to 'papa.' As to not liking her, why I
could no more like or dislike her than I could a beautiful piece of
marble, so I may as well marry her as anybody else, since I am not to
have the only one whom I love."

"Still, Edmund, it appears to me that you would do well to think a
little more about this before you go any further."

"It's all very well for you, sir, to talk in this way now after you
have driven me into it. I have twice said that I can't draw back unless
I behave in the same manner to Miss Molyneux as I have done to that
little angel, Marie Arbi. But let there be an end to all discussion.
The die is cast. We must go to old Molyneux this morning, and you may
make any arrangements you like with him, but I leave Paris to-morrow.
I am not going to stay here to be a lasting insult to my poor lost
darling. At what hour will you come with me to my future father-in-law?"

"At twelve, if you like, my dear fellow; but I am really unhappy about
the manner in which you take this up. I wish something could be done to
get you out of it."

"But nothing can be done, sir, and the greatest kindness you can show
me is to say no more about it. We must only make the best of a bad
case. At twelve I will meet you in the coffee-room."

So saying Mr. Barkley returned to his own room and began to dress.

The Molyneuxes left Paris a few days after this and went to London,
whither Lord Barkley and his son had preceded them. The latter urged
his father to get the settlements drawn up as quickly as possible, as
he declared that the shorter time he had to sustain the lover's part
towards his "marble bride" elect, the better it would be for them both,
and he undertook to get Miss Molyneux to name an early day for the
wedding. Accordingly it was fixed for the second week in April.

Towards the end of the month--February--the Barkleys left London for
Ireland, on the plea of seeing that all the preparations for receiving
the bride were being properly executed. Mr. Barkley however was to
return to London in a fortnight or three weeks. In the meantime he, as
well as his father, was delighted to get home to their beautiful place,
and the attractions of a country life; even the old lord was still a
keen sportsman.

A short time after their return there was to be a meet in the
neighbourhood, and some eight or ten gentlemen were invited to dine and
sleep at Barkley Castle the night before. It was a sort of farewell
bachelor party, which Mr. Barkley induced his father to give. There
was a good deal of joking about the approaching marriage, but the only
answer which Mr. Barkley deigned to give to all the questions which
were asked about his "ladye love" was--"When you see her you'll all
acknowledge that I have imported something worth _looking_ at."

Lord Barkley, however, saw by the impatient twitching of his lip how
disagreeable the subject was to him, and although later in the evening
he became boisterously gay, sang comic songs, and related many a good
story, his father felt that his gaiety was forced, and more than
ever did he regret the hastiness with which he had entered into the
engagement with Miss Molyneux; yet he said to himself, "Perhaps it is
better so. Once married he'll be proud of having such a magnificent
looking wife, and they'll get on right well, I daresay. If he does not
marry he would always have a hankering after that little Marie; not
that I am a bit astonished at it, for she is a sweet little creature,
and the other is so stiff and cold; but it would be ruin for him not
to get a large fortune, so it's all as well that he is going to be
settled,--only I wish with all my heart that the poor fellow seemed to
like the idea of it a little better."

After this soliloquy his lordship sought his couch; nevertheless, as
he rose next morning and donned his hunting suit, he could not shake
off an unaccountable feeling of sadness and remorse about "Edmund's"
coming marriage, and the latter happening to go in to him to ask some
question relative to the starting, he said, laying his hand upon his
shoulder--

"Come, boy, you and I must not go out to-day with any ill-will between
us."

"How now, father; surely you are not growing nervous?"

"No, Edmund, that's quite out of my line; but before we go I want to
hear you say that you bear me no grudge for opposing you about Miss
Arbi. You must feel that it was only your own interest that I had at
heart in so doing. I shall be dead and gone in a few years at farthest,
but you would have been a ruined man all your life if I had forwarded a
marriage between her and you."

Mr. Barkley winced at Marie's name and turned away his head, but when
his father ceased speaking he answered gently, although sorrowfully--

"I do not doubt that you acted for the best, father; but was wealth
worth the sacrifice of happiness? I, however, as well as you, helped to
make the sacrifice, therefore I cannot blame you more than I do myself,
or, God knows! half as much; so if it's any satisfaction to you to hear
me say so, I bear you no grudge about it, father. My marriage with
Miss Molyneux is my own work, and I must make the best of it."

"If the thought of it really makes you unhappy, Edmund," exclaimed Lord
Barkley, struck by the despondency of his son's tone, "let us try to
break it off even now."

"Why break it off, father, and at the expense of my honour too, unless
you are willing to try and win back for me the girl whom I love?"

Mr. Barkley's eyes kindled for a moment as he looked half-questioningly
at Lord Barkley, who felt almost tempted to answer, "Yes, I _will_ get
her back for you, and make you happy, my boy, if I can." But Mammon
whispered, "What! for a young man's foolish dream of love will you let
your broad acres pass away from the family?" and he replied, looking
out of the window to avoid meeting his son's earnest gaze--"True,
Edmund, your marriage could not be broken off now, as you say, except
at the expense of your honour; and, after all, Miss Molyneux _is_
gloriously handsome."

It was with difficulty that his son refrained from making an
exclamation of impatience, but he did refrain, and left the room,
merely saying, "I suppose it is nearly time for breakfast?"

Some hours afterwards how glad Mr. Barkley was that he had so
restrained his impatience.



CHAPTER XII.


It was such a morning as the old song describes:

    "A southerly wind and a cloudy sky
    Proclaim a hunting morning;"

and a troop of about a dozen gentlemen rode gaily out of the courtyard,
revelling in the enjoyment of expected pleasure. They were not
disappointed in regard to the hunt itself; but a fatal accident, which
occurred just at its close, threw a gloom over the day.

Reynard was making a last struggle for his life as the hunt galloped up
to the yawning fence over which they had to pass in order to be in at
the "death." There was an up-bank on the side next to the riders, and
on the other a gaping dyke, brimfull of water. The two foremost horses
took it gallantly, but the third jumped short, lost his footing, and
slipped back into the water. His rider, however, succeeded in throwing
himself off, and he clung to the side of the ditch, shouting at the
same time to those behind to give him room. Unfortunately, at that very
moment a horse appeared at the top of the bank, and, startled by the
shout just as he was rising for the spring, he swerved, reared, and
fell backwards from the bank, crushing his hapless rider under him.

The rider was Lord Barkley; and the gentlemen who immediately followed
him reined in their horses and sprang to the ground to assist him. They
had succeeded in getting the horse from over him, when they beheld his
son standing on the top of the bank with a horror-stricken expression
of countenance, and his clothes all saturated with water. Mr. Barkley
was one of the two first horsemen who had so gallantly taken the leap;
but the shout of the man who fell made him turn round in his saddle,
and he saw his father's horse swerve and fall!

A low cry escaped his lips as he glanced at the ditch to see if it were
possible to take it from the side upon which he found himself; but
even at such a moment he saw that it was almost impossible that any
horse could do it, and dismounting hurriedly, he threw himself into the
water, crossed, and scrambled up the bank, where, as we have seen, he
stood looking with horror on the scene before him. But it was only for
a moment that he stood there; the next, he was kneeling beside his
father, and supporting his head on his knee.

The only sign of life which Lord Barkley gave was to moan whenever they
attempted to move him, until one of the gentlemen brought some water
in his hat, and sprinkled it over him. He then opened his eyes, and
recognising his son, he pressed his hand, and murmured, "Good-bye, my
boy; it's all over with me, but be happy in your own way." The rest was
lost in indistinct sounds.

Mr. Barkley bent his head lower and lower, until his dark locks mingled
with his father's grey hair; and the gentlemen stood by silently, not
venturing to disturb the mourner even to ask what could be done.

A poor tenant, however, went up to him, and, touching him on the
shoulder, said with rough good nature, "Come now, Misther Barkley, be
a man, and don't take on so. Shure, maybe the good auld lord will come
too, afther all; and isn't it a quare thing for yer honours to be all
standing there and niver thinking what could be done to rekiver him.
Faix, and its close to B----town that we are, and what w'd ail a few
boys like meself to take a twist over to it and bring back a stretcher
or something of that soort for to carry his lordship? Shure, and your
honour's own docther lives there too; and couldn't we bring him along
wid us?"

"You are right, my good friend," answered Mr. Barkley, raising his
head; "I ought to have thought of that. Please, then, to go; but on
horseback; and ride at full speed."

When the doctor arrived, he tried to examine his poor old friend, in
order to see what injuries he had received; but every touch seemed to
give him such pain that the doctor desisted, and said, "We had better
get him placed on the stretcher and carried as gently as possible to my
house; then we can see better what is to be done."

When the poor sufferer had been carefully raised and laid on the
stretcher, the sad procession moved slowly on, Mr. Barkley and the
doctor walking by the side of the bier, which four stalwart countrymen
carried.

Before setting out, however, the former said in a broken voice to those
about him, "Gentlemen, I am most grateful to you for your kindness. I
cannot speak about it now, but I shall never forget it."

The same night--and little more than twelve hours after they all
started in "gallant array" from Barkley Castle--Lord Barkley's spirit
was at rest. From the first the doctor had seen that there was no hope
of recovery, but he was able to do much towards alleviating the dying
man's sufferings, who, although unable to speak, was evidently sensible
to the last, and he received the Church's sacraments with deep emotion.

Mr. Barkley--or rather now Lord Barkley--was so stunned by the manner
and suddenness of his father's death, that he could scarcely realise
the fact that he who, a few hours ago, rode by his side in the full
enjoyment of health and spirits, was now a corpse; and the only words
which he spoke for long after death had taken place were, "Thank God,
'twas not in anger that I spoke to him last!"

Next day the body was removed to Barkley Castle, and there laid out in
state until the funeral, which was fixed for the fourth day after death.

Lord Barkley begged his brother-in-law, Mr. Penton, to arrange
everything without appealing to him, as he felt too confused to be able
to think.

Mr. Penton consequently acted on his own judgment as to whom he ought
to invite for the funeral, and above all others he thought it right to
ask Mr. Molyneux (the present lord's future father-in-law), although he
thought it most unlikely that he would come. But on the contrary, he
received a telegram to say that Mr. Molyneux would arrive at Barkley
Castle the evening before the funeral.

When this was told to Lord Barkley he appeared to be much agitated; and
in answer to his sister's eager question as to whether her husband had
done wrong in inviting Mr. Molyneux, he said, "No, Maria; I am sure
that George only did what ought to have been done, although I would
rather not see Mr. Molyneux just yet."

The late lord's dying words to his son, "be happy in your own way,"
made a deep impression upon him, for it was an acknowledgment at the
last moment that his father regretted having urged him to sacrifice
happiness for wealth, and that he did not wish the sacrifice to be
completed. Thus during the solemn hours that he watched beside the dead
he could not help being struck by the greatness of the revelations
which approaching death makes, even to a man who has toiled all his
life for wealth, and was ready to give up everything in order to obtain
it. And now, too, as he viewed his own conduct with the strong light of
eternity shining upon it, he saw all its weakness and want of truth.
He had acted treacherously both to the girl whom he loved and to the
one to whom he was affianced, and with shame and sorrow he felt that
however unhappy his life might be henceforth he must blame himself as
the _chief_ cause of it.

Remorse and unhappiness, thus added to the natural grief which he felt
for a parent who had loved him well though not wisely, made him look
so haggard and worn as he stood with blanched cheeks and trembling
lips, looking upon the closing of the vault over his father, that Mr.
Molyneux went up to him and tried to lead him away. "Come, Edmund,"
said he, "let your second father help to console you for the loss which
you have just sustained. My daughter's husband will be nearly as dear
to me as a child of my own. Only treat me as a father, and you will
find that I am such to you by affection though not by nature."

For the sake of his manhood Lord Barkley struggled hard to repress the
tears which rose to his eyes as Mr. Molyneux spoke, and brushing them
hastily away, he said sadly and humbly, "Mr. Molyneux, I am unworthy of
your goodness,--I have deceived you all. You must let me make a full
confession to you to-morrow morning, when I shall be more composed than
I am now. You can never again think well of me after you have heard
it, but it is the only reparation in my power to make, and you shall
at least know me for what I am, before anything irrevocable has been
done."

Mr. Molyneux started, and was on the point of demanding an explanation
at once, but as he looked at Lord Barkley walking beside him with
drooping head, and wrapped in the mourner's garb of deep woe, he
refrained through respect for unaffected grief, and determined to wait
as patiently as he could until the time named.

Mr. Penton acted as his brother-in-law's deputy in doing the honours of
the house, as Lord Barkley retired to his own room immediately after
the funeral and remained there all day. The next morning, however,
about eleven, he sent to Mr. Molyneux to say that if it suited his
convenience he would be glad to see him in the library.

He repaired thither at once, and as he entered Lord Barkley said, "Mr.
Molyneux, I do not offer you my hand until you have heard all that I am
going to tell you, as perhaps you would not wish to shake hands with
me, were you aware of what my conduct has been. You shall hear in as
few words as possible how miserable and dishonourable a part weakness
and habitual self-indulgence may lead a naturally honourable man to
act. The shock of my poor father's sudden death, and the sad time for
reflection which has followed it, have made me feel how shamefully I
have behaved towards you and your daughter, and that at least I ought
to tell you what have been and are my feelings towards her. May I count
upon your forbearance to listen to me without interruption?"

Mr. Molyneux assented, and Lord Barkley then shortly but fully detailed
to him all that had passed from the time he had seen Marie--without
naming her of course--up to the night when he proposed to Miss
Molyneux, adding, "Now, Mr. Molyneux, that you have heard all, I have
only to say I am quite ready to fulfil my engagement. I think I could
promise to be a good and kind though not a loving husband to your
daughter. I would take care never to look again upon the face of her
whom I love, and endeavour to efface her image from my heart. What more
can I do under the circumstances? And I think that at least it was
truer to tell you all this than to continue to deceive you. I believe,
too, from what I know of Miss Molyneux's character, that she would be
quite satisfied with the sincere respect and affection which I feel for
her. I should be the only sufferer, and fully do I acknowledge that I
deserve any punishment which may be inflicted upon me. Even you cannot
blame me more bitterly than I have blamed myself, and there is no
humiliation or expiation that you could impose upon me which I would
not willingly accept. In the name, then, of your old friend--my poor
father--who through too indulgent affection helped to make me what I
am, I ask you to try not to think too harshly of me. Do not even in
your own mind brand me as one utterly devoid of honour and principle,
but say what you wish me to do."

Mr. Molyneux was one of the kindest, not to say most soft-hearted
men that ever lived, and Lord Barkley's air of deep suffering and
self-abasement touched him even in the midst of his anger and
indignation. He thought of his own dead son, who would now be just
about the same age as the poor culprit before him, and pushing away his
chair he walked up and down the room muttering to himself.

No one knew more thoroughly his daughter's cold, proud character than
he did, or so mourned over it; and his grief for his passionate,
affectionate boy had been redoubled and perpetuated by the feeling that
he could find no real comfort in his remaining child.

The more he looked at Lord Barkley, the more did the memory of his
own Edmund knock at his heart and intercede for indulgence towards
the errors of a loving nature, which weakness and over indulgence had
led astray; and knowing his daughter's character as he did, he felt
that it would be punishing him too severely to ask him to fulfil his
engagement with her whilst his young heart yearned for one who was
evidently _not_ a statue. Nevertheless he could not but feel indignant
at the manner in which his daughter had been treated, and at last he
said, sternly--

"Lord Barkley, you were right when you said that your conduct had
merited for you the misery of being married to one woman whilst you
loved another, and if I believed that the breaking off of this marriage
would cause my daughter a moment's deep pain, I should not hesitate to
require you to fulfil your engagement; but she is not one who would
allow herself to _love_ any man until after he was her husband, and
I know that I have only to tell her that from your own showing you
were unworthy of her, and her self-respect will enable her to bear the
separation without much regret. I will not, therefore, take upon myself
to inflict upon you the fate which you deserve. You may, then, consider
yourself released from the engagement, and I shall never say more than
is necessary as to why this marriage was broken off; but you cannot
object to my letting it be understood that it was your own conduct
which caused it, and henceforth let us be as strangers to each other.
For the sake of my dear lost boy, whose schoolfellow you were, rather
than for that of the hardly true friend who urged you to treat us as
you have done, have I been thus lenient to you, and I do not think that
you could have asked more."

"_I_ have asked more! God knows I had no right to expect such
indulgence as you have shown me," answered Lord Barkley, raising his
head, and Mr. Molyneux saw that his face was marked by traces of
tears such as a man rarely sheds. After a moment's pause Lord Barkley
resumed--

"Your reproaches I could have borne better than such forbearance,--it
is indeed heaping coals of fire upon my head. I dare not hope that you
will ever take my hand in friendship again, but whilst I live no son
of your own could look upon you with deeper feelings of gratitude and
respect than I do. Good-bye, and perhaps the spirit of your own lost
son will plead for his weak, erring companion as it did to-day, and at
last win back for him one ray of the old kindly feeling of former days."

Lord Barkley looked so dejected and humbled that Mr. Molyneux had not
the heart to leave him thus coldly, and turning hastily round from
the door, which he had almost reached, he grasped his hand, saying,
"Good-bye, boy; I dare say you'll make as good a man as any of us
after all."

He gave the hand which he held a cordial shake and then hastened out of
the room.



CHAPTER XIII.


Lord Barkley being thus relieved from his engagement to Miss Molyneux,
felt like a prisoner just set free, who rejoices in his newly-recovered
freedom, although the remembrance of the acts which riveted the chains
of bondage round his neck still fills his heart with shame and sorrow;
and he set to work in earnest to try and make amends for all past
self-indulgence and extravagance.

For the three first months which followed his father's death, he
applied himself with energy to the examination of his affairs. He found
them in a dreadful state of confusion, and, totally unaccustomed as he
was to business, it seemed to him almost impossible that he could ever
get through the masses of ill-kept accounts which lay before him, and
his evil genius--indolence--more than once suggested to him that it
would have been unnecessary to do so had he married Miss Molyneux; but
at such moments he had only to look back and recall his misery during
the time of his engagement to her, in order to feel that anything--even
breaking his head over accounts--was better than that; and then with
renewed vigour he would pore over the long lines of figures, thinking
to himself, "I would willingly go through all this if I could only
hope that Marie was not lost to me for ever; yet even on chance I will
labour on, and endeavour to show that I am somewhat less unworthy of
her than I was."

Lord Barkley was naturally clever; all he had ever wanted was
application and energy, and these were now lent to him by sorrow
for the past, and hope, however faint it might be, for the future.
Notwithstanding many a weary hour, when his courage wavered, and he
felt half inclined to abandon the task which he had set himself to
do, he did at last succeed in making himself completely master of his
position. He then saw that it was possible to retrieve the property
without selling himself for a large fortune in marriage, but it could
only be done by--what appeared to him--strict economy and attention to
business.

"I _will_ do it," he exclaimed one evening, as he locked up the papers
which he had been studying. "If Colonel de St. Severan can be induced
to give me Marie, we could live abroad for some years, and everything
would go swimmingly. But how can I dare to address him? I suppose he
would neither see me nor receive a letter from me. And Marie--ah! _she_
would not be too hard on me if I could only plead my own cause to her.
But again, how am I to see her? I have it! Flora Adair can help me if
she will; she can intercede for me with the de St. Severans; and the
old colonel likes her particularly, Marie has often told me so. But
_will_ she help me? God knows! However, _she_ will not refuse to see
me, and perhaps when she hears all she may be persuaded to aid me when
I am doing my utmost to repair the past. Without Marie I have no motive
for exertion, and if she is really lost to me, then I am indeed lost.
But I will try whether Flora Adair cannot be moved to help and save me.
I will go to Dublin to-morrow, and see if she is like so many others,
who sternly refuse to assist the fallen when they try to rise to better
things."

The next day, before the usual visiting hour, Flora Adair was much
surprised when Lord Barkley's card was handed to her, and the servant
said that the gentleman earnestly begged Miss Adair would see him, even
though she did not generally receive visitors when Mrs. Adair was out.
Flora hesitated a little, but finally said, "Well then, show him up."

When Lord Barkley entered the room, he was startled by the brilliant
delicacy of her complexion, and exclaimed, "Miss Adair, have you been
ill?"

"I am not very well, Lord Barkley, and am scarcely able to receive any
but my most intimate friends; however, I did not like to refuse you, as
you asked so particularly to see me," she answered coldly, for she had
never forgiven his lordship for his conduct to Marie.

"I am truly sorry to hear that you are not well, Miss Adair, and I am
most grateful to you for not refusing to see me, for you, if any one,
can help to restore me to happiness and peace of mind. Will you listen
to the confession of my sins against one who is dear to you, but dearer
far to me; and then, if you deem me worthy of forgiveness, will you try
to obtain it for me?"

"I will hear whatever your lordship wishes to tell me, but I can make
no promise for my after conduct."

Lord Barkley then gave her a clear and full account of all that he had
done from the time he went to Paris until the present; in no way did he
extenuate or gloss over any of his faults, or dwell upon his courageous
determination during the last three months to battle with the
difficulties of his position and conquer them. Never had he appeared
to Flora in so favourable a light as now, when he humbly exposed all
his past weakness, but showed by his conduct since his father's death
that he did possess energy and strength of mind sufficient to repent
and begin quite a new life; and he had gained her as an intercessor
even before he concluded by saying, "If Marie would trust me again
with the blessing of her love, the work of amendment which has been
begun in me would be perfected: for then I should have the strongest
of motives to repair the past, and she, I do believe, would be angelic
enough to forgive me all my weakness and infidelity to her. But I dare
not venture to address Colonel de St. Severan,--I could not expect from
him any of that indulgence which she, in the plenitude of her goodness,
might grant me. If I wrote to him I suppose he would send me back my
letter unread, but if you, Miss Adair, would deign to help me--if you
would write to Colonel de St. Severan and Marie in my favour, and
enclose to each of them a letter from me, it would at least enable
me to plead my own cause. I know how great was your contempt for my
weakness even in Florence, and then I had not behaved half so badly
as I did afterwards; but what more can I do than mourn over my great
faults, and try to rise to better things? Will you, then, aid me in
that attempt to rise, for without Marie I have no hope?"

"I will help you as far as I can, Lord Barkley," answered Flora
cordially, as she looked fixedly at him, and marked the worn, anxious
expression of his countenance; "and now for the first time do I think
you worthy of Marie. There is no fault so great that true repentance
cannot efface it, and I know that dear, gentle Marie will not be too
hard upon you, although you well-nigh broke her heart. Your engagement
to Miss Molyneux was a cruel wound to her confiding nature; but 'let
the dead past bury its dead.' I will spare no exertion to induce
Colonel de St. Severan to relent towards you; and Marie, I dare say,
will be a still warmer and a more powerful advocate for you than any
one else. So send me the letters, and I will write at once; and now I
must ask you to leave me, for I am very tired; yet you have done me
good. To try to make Marie happy is something pleasant to do and to
think about."

"I know no words strong enough to express my gratitude to you, Miss
Adair. You have been to me like a good angel, bidding me hope that my
repentance may win my pardon, even while suffering yourself, for your
voice, everything, tells me that you, too, are suffering. May Heaven
reward you for your goodness to me!" He took her hand, raised it to his
lips, and left her, promising to send her the letters that evening.

As soon as Flora received them she lost no time in forwarding them to
the de St. Severans, accompanied by a few lines from herself, both to
Marie and Colonel de St. Severan. And while these important letters are
passing through the post, we shall precede them to the chateau, and
learn how their contents are likely to be received by its occupants....

Colonel de St. Severan's mother was English, and from her he had
learned a somewhat less matter-of-fact idea of marriage than the
generality of French people entertain, and therefore he was wonderfully
indulgent towards Marie's grief when her _love_ match was broken off;
nevertheless he _was_ a Frenchman by birth and education, and he
considered that the best cure for that grief would be to find her a
handsome young husband, endowed with all the desirable advantages of
position and fortune--"_enfin un établissement convenable sous tous les
rapports_."

Shortly after their return to the country, which took place in Easter
week, Colonel de St. Severan was overjoyed at receiving a visit from an
old friend and neighbour, the Comte de Morlaix, who came to propose an
alliance between his eldest son, le Comte Charles de Morlaix, and Marie.

He cordially assured his friend that nothing would make him happier
than to see his dear Marie united to so excellent and charming a
young man as le Comte Charles, adding that he would let him know his
adopted daughter's sentiments on the subject in a day or two, but that
doubtless she would feel only too deeply gratified by the honour which
the Comte and Comtesse de Morlaix conferred upon her by thus desiring
to welcome her into the family as their daughter-in-law.

The Comte de Morlaix then took his leave, after having made a profusion
of complimentary speeches, well satisfied in thinking that he had
obtained for his son a pretty, an amiable, and a wealthy bride.

Colonel de St. Severan was equally pleased with the prospect of
presenting the handsome, gay young Comte to Marie as her future
husband, and felt quite convinced that it would effectually banish any
regret which she might _still_ feel for Lord Barkley.

Accordingly he hastened to find Marie, in order to communicate this
flattering proposal to her; but to his great disappointment she had no
sooner heard it than she began to cry, and sobbingly declared that she
would never marry, and only wanted to be allowed to live always with
her "_cher père_."

Colonel de St. Severan treated all this as girlish sentimentality,
and told her to talk it all over with her good old friend, Monsieur le
Curé, who would advise her as to what she ought to do.

Poor, gentle, yielding little Marie! how could she resist the
persuasion and the reasoning of her beloved adopted father and the good
Curé? She knew not how to answer when in measured accents they spoke
of the dreadful consequences which any indulgence in romantic feelings
might lead to, and counselled her to accept--as a safeguard against
the dangerous inclination of her own heart for one who was about to
become the husband of another--the pleasing and pious young Comte who
now sought her in marriage. She could not, as we have said, reason with
them about it; but from her heart burst forth the cry, "Oh, no! It
cannot be right to marry the Comte Charles when I love another better
than I can love him."

"Poor child!" replied the Curé compassionately; "we only want to make
you happy, and your loving father by adoption will not press you for an
answer. In the meantime you can see Monsieur le Comte Charles now and
then, and think over all that we have said to you."

Marie at length consented to see her proposed suitor occasionally, but
only on this condition, that he, or at least his father, should be
told the whole truth. That is to say, that she was still smarting under
the pain which a final separation from one whom she had loved caused
her, and that consequently she did not feel inclined to entertain the
thought of marrying at all. Nevertheless, in compliance with the wishes
of her _cher père_, she would, if _Monsieur le Comte de Morlaix_ still
wished it, receive the visits of his son in order that she might become
better acquainted with him. But these visits were to be considered
strictly as visits of friendship until after the expiration of two
months, when she should have completed her twenty-first year, and
then she would say if they were to assume another character, or cease
altogether.

These conditions were accepted, for the de Morlaix were really most
anxious to win Marie for their son, and they had little doubt of his
making a favourable impression upon the refractory young lady.

Marie was far too timid to assert her own sense of right by saying
definitely, "I will not give my hand without my heart; for surely God
cannot call upon me to swear falsely--to swear an allegiance to one for
whom I have not even a very strong feeling of preference."

She longed to escape from this proposed marriage; but when she saw that
every one around her looked upon her disinclination to it as a wicked
indulgence in forbidden memories, she began to doubt herself, and to
suppose that although she could not understand it, it must be wrong
of her to refuse the Comte Charles. Her only hope of support was from
Flora Adair; and she wrote her a long history of it all, begging her to
say if _she_ too thought it right for her to marry the Comte Charles;
"for," she added, candidly, "I believe it is true to say that it is the
memory of what I once felt for another which makes me wish to refuse
him. He is very good and kind, and had I never known Edmund, I dare
say I should have married him just because he is so good and kind, and
because _mon cher père_ wishes it. But as it is---- Flora, what shall I
do? The thought of this marriage is hateful to me now."

Flora's answer, however, destroyed her last hope of support. It ran
thus:--

    "MY POOR DARLING MIGNONNE,

        "I must not dare to advise you at such a time as the present,
    when peace, happiness, everything, depends upon your decision. I
    have no right to come between you and your adopted father, Colonel
    de St. Severan, and his friends. They have advised you, and now your
    own heart and conscience can alone decide the question. One word
    only will I say,--no _man's_ counsel is infallible; and outside the
    Church's definitions of right and wrong, our conscience is the only
    code by which God will judge us. Trust to Him alone, and, under
    Him, to your own sense of right, and you cannot go wrong.

    "Write to me often, and tell me how you feel as the time for your
    decision approaches. But you must never ask me to give any opinion
    about it. Do not think it cold and unkind of me, dearest, thus to
    throw you back upon yourself, and leave you to stand alone in this
    crisis of your life. Heaven knows how much it costs me to act so;
    but I cannot do otherwise. Colonel de St. Severan would naturally
    resent any interference on my part; so in honour I am bound to be
    silent.

    "Good-bye, then, dearest; and may God direct you.

              "Ever your affectionate

                          "FLORA ADAIR."

After the receipt of this letter Marie felt more unhappy than ever.
Flora's words, "Trust to God alone, and, under Him, to your own sense
of right," simply told her that she must act on her own responsibility;
for she could not suppose that God would send down an angel to tell
her what she ought to do.

In vain she tried to conquer her repugnance to the idea of marrying.
But when they said to her that this was a temptation and a clinging to
the memory of one whom she had no longer any right to love, she felt
that she had not the courage to say, "I will not marry."

At length she began to look upon her union with the Comte Charles as a
sort of fate, from which she could not escape by any act of her own.
Yet she prayed day after day that, if it were God's holy will, the
marriage might never take place.

Thus time glided on, slowly and sadly for Marie, and yet too quickly
also; for it brought nearer and nearer the dreaded day when she was to
give her final answer.

One soft, hazy June morning, as she sat in an arbour with Colonel de
St. Severan, he said, "_Eh bien! mon enfant_, we are not far from your
birthday, and then I hope you will make us all happy by allowing your
_fiançailles_ to be celebrated."

"But I need not give my answer until the very day, _mon père_,"
murmured Marie, bending low over the work in her hand.

"Certainly not, my child," answered Colonel de St. Severan. "I promised
not to ask for one until then. I cannot help hoping, however, that
so charming and virtuous a young man as Comte Charles has succeeded
in making you feel how much happier you will be as his honoured wife
than in rejecting him and yielding to unauthorised recollections of a
married man, as no doubt Lord Barkley is by this time. Nevertheless,
Marie, you know that you are free to act as you will. I do not desire
you under pain of my displeasure to accept him; but I shall be sorry if
it be otherwise, and a little disappointed in my dear child." He laid
his hand fondly on her head, whilst she struggled to keep down the sobs
which were rising in her throat.

Just then a servant entered with some letters on a salver. Colonel de
St. Severan took them up, read the addresses, and placing before Marie
an unusually large envelope, he said gaily, "There, little one, is a
volume from your nice Irish friend. Just look how thick it is, too!
Why, it will give you something to do to read all that. And I, too,
must see what my correspondents have to say to me."

Not many minutes had passed when Colonel de St. Severan was startled by
a joyful cry from Marie. "I am saved--saved--what joy!--what happiness!
Read, _mon père_." In her right hand she held up before him Flora's
open letter, and in her left another, upon which she gazed with
rapture. But the reaction was too great for Marie's strength, and she
burst into so violent a fit of crying that Colonel de St. Severan was
obliged to take her into the house before even he had time to read a
line of the letter which had caused all this extraordinary agitation;
but he guessed that in some way or other it must be connected with Lord
Barkley, and the very thought of it enraged him.

Madame de St. Severan happened to be passing through the hall as they
entered, and Colonel de St. Severan hastily consigned Marie to her
care, and shut himself up in his study. By the same post Flora wrote to
Marie and Colonel de St. Severan, enclosing Lord Barkley's respective
letters to each of them; but the one addressed to Colonel de St.
Severan, being mixed up among several other letters, had escaped his
notice until he read her note to Marie, in which she spoke of having
also written to him. He then eagerly looked for it, and, having found
it, tore open the envelope and read her letter and Lord Barkley's as
attentively as his increasing indignation would allow him.

Lord Barkley's letter was so frank and open in its acknowledgment of
past unworthiness, and so humble in its appeal for forgiveness, that
Flora hoped it might soften Colonel de St. Severan's anger towards
him; and her own letter closed with these words--"You cannot any longer
doubt Lord Barkley's love for Marie. Think what it must have cost a man
like him, and in his position, to humble himself as he has done both
to you and Mr. Molyneux; yet he did it for her sake. And I need not
say that she loves him. You know it well, since you thought, when he
was engaged to another, that she was bound to guard even against the
memory of that love by making a marriage of duty, to say the least of
it. Dreadful as it appeared to me that she should be induced to marry
in this way, I forced myself to be silent until I learned that he whom
she loved was free, and ready to make any atonement in order to obtain
her hand. So now, dear Colonel de St. Severan, I hope you will pardon
me for becoming Lord Barkley's mediatrix. Marie needs no intercessor
with you; your own deep affection for her will be a far more powerful
advocate in favour of her happiness than anything which I could say. It
will not let you see her suffer very long when you know that it is in
your power to make her happy by forgiving her lover and receiving him
as your adopted son-in-law."

Colonel de St. Severan, however, passionately declared in his own
mind, when he finished reading these letters, that he would never
consent to give Marie to a man who had treated her as Lord Barkley had
done. Repentance came too late; and, so far as he was concerned, he
would sternly reject him. He was just about to write a few chilling
lines to Flora, re-enclosing Lord Barkley's letter, and expressing his
astonishment that he should have had the presumption to address him,
when he was called away on business which obliged him to absent himself
from home for a few hours.

When he returned he was met at the door by Marie, who, all radiant with
joy, threw herself into his arms, and gaily whispered, mimicking his
words in the morning, "Now, _mon père_, I am quite ready to make you
all happy by allowing my _fiançailles_ to be celebrated as soon as you
will. I will not even claim the fulfilment of your promise to wait for
my answer until my birthday. See what a difference a name makes; now
that I may be affianced to Edmund instead of to Charles, I ask for no
delay. Ah! how happy I am!"

"Marie! I am ashamed of you!" exclaimed Colonel de St. Severan, pushing
her from him. "If you had the slightest sense of maidenly dignity you
would consider it an insult that Lord Barkley should dare to address
you again, instead of showing this unseemly joy and of heedlessly
rejecting the honour of becoming the Comte Charles de Morlaix's wife
in order to give yourself to one who cast you off! But I will save you
if I can. By this post I shall send back Lord Barkley's letter to Miss
Adair, requesting that the subject may never be named to me again."

This was a sad check to Marie, to whom the possibility of his not
forgiving her lover had never occurred. She only thought of all he had
suffered, and longed to be able to console him and make him forget the
unhappy past. But Colonel de St. Severan's words rudely dispelled this
delicious dream, and the only concession which her prayers and tears
could win from him was a promise that he would not send Lord Barkley's
letter back to him; but he persisted in writing to Flora, and begged of
her to convey to her friend, Lord Barkley, his decided refusal even to
tolerate the idea of his becoming Marie's husband, and, as a favour,
he asked Flora not in any way to encourage Marie in this misplaced
affection.

Colonel de St. Severan allowed Marie to see the letter, and even
consented that she should add a few lines. She accordingly wrote,
with trembling fingers--"Tell Edmund, dearest Flora, that I have
forgiven and forgotten everything but his love for me; and would--so
gladly!--prove to him how fully it is returned by giving myself to him
at once. But, as you see from the above, my dear father refuses his
consent to our marriage; and I could not be so ungrateful as to marry
in the face of his prohibition. I will never, however, marry any one
else. Thank God! they cannot persuade me now that it is wrong to love
him; and if he thinks me worth waiting for, we may yet be happy. My
dear father, I feel sure, is too fond of me not to relent at last.
Pray, then, _ma Flore_, for thy Mignonne!"

Colonel de St. Severan frowned as he read these lines, and folding up
the letter, he said, "Delude not yourself with false hopes, Marie. You
can of course marry Lord Barkley if you choose, but it must ever be
against my consent."

In spite of this, three months had not passed when Flora Adair received
a letter from Marie, saying that she thought Colonel de St. Severan was
half inclined to yield; and if Lord Barkley were to try the bold stroke
of coming over and seeking a personal interview with him, she hoped all
would terminate happily.

Her hope was realised. Colonel de St. Severan had seen during these
last few weeks that there was no chance of inducing Marie to marry
according to his wishes now that Lord Barkley was free,--now that they
could no longer urge that she was bound to forget _him_ and become the
wife of the Comte Charles; and that consequently he was only making
her suffer to no purpose by continuing to refuse his consent to her
wishes. So, when Lord Barkley unexpectedly presented himself before
him, and pleaded his cause humbly and earnestly, as he had already
done in writing, Colonel de St. Severan yielded, after a fair show of
resistance, and led the grateful and happy Lord Barkley to Marie, to
receive from her lips the ratification of his pardon. And to her tender
mercies we may surely leave him without fearing that she will inflict
any severe penance on him for his past wanderings.



CHAPTER XIV.


We said in our last chapter that when Lord Barkley saw Flora Adair he
was startled by her delicate appearance, therefore we may infer that
time, which a poet has called "the only comforter when the heart hath
bled," had not been a comforter to her.

One would have supposed that the pain of parting from Mr. Earnscliffe
could hardly have been surpassed, for to Flora indeed

    "Light was but where he look'd--life where he moved."

Yet time had developed still greater degrees of suffering than that
which the mere separation from him caused her to endure.

As soon as they returned to Ireland, Flora devoted herself to reading
works on the authority of the Church, and as much as possible avoided
going into society. Had she been of a pious and passive temperament,
she would naturally have had recourse to prayer, and to what are
called the consolations of religion, in her great trial; but,
unfortunately for her, she could find no solace in these, and reading
such books as we have named was the only thing in which her restless,
tortured spirit found even momentary rest. It seemed as if she had a
craving for whatever could strengthen her still more in the conviction
that the great principle of supernatural truth had positively demanded
the tremendous sacrifice which she had made. Sometimes, indeed, when
she saw her mother looking unusually unhappy about her she would try
to rouse herself, and go about among their friends, but she quickly
flagged again, and returned to the one absorbing study.

Thus the summer and autumn passed away, and November--with its short,
gloomy days, and grey, foggy atmosphere--had set in, when one day, as
Flora was looking over a list of new books, her hand suddenly trembled,
and the paper almost fell from it, but she caught it in the other hand,
and, with eager eyes, read over and over again to herself one title
which appeared to grow until it covered the whole list, and she could
see only it. That title was, "THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: ITS TEACHINGS AND
ITS INFLUENCE UPON THE HUMAN HEART AND MIND," by Edwin Earnscliffe.

"My child! what is the matter? You look so frightened!" exclaimed Mrs.
Adair who was sitting opposite to her.

"Write for it, mamma," was Flora's answer, as she handed her the list,
and pointed to Mr. Earnscliffe's name. "I ---- something or other makes
my hand shake to-day, so I would rather not write myself."

"It is better for you not to get it, dearest--it can only give you
pain."

"Mamma, not read _his_ book! I _must_ read it whatever it is. I can
guess but too well what its spirit must be; but, believe me, it is
better that I should _know_ its contents than that my imagination
should picture them to me. Mamma, it would be cruel to wish to keep
_his_ book from me."

"My poor child! I only meant to spare you more suffering, and therefore
it is that I would rather not get that book for you."

"Yes, I know; but, as I said, to refuse it to me will only add to my
suffering. Write, mamma, please to write!" And Flora stood up, got a
writing-book, and placed it before her mother; then she knelt down
beside her, and again said in a low, pleading tone, "Write."

"I cannot refuse you, darling," replied Mrs. Adair, "yet to read that
book will only foster sad memories which you must forget if you are
ever to have peace of mind again. Would I could teach you to forget!"
Mrs. Adair sighed deeply, and laid her hand on Flora's head.

"It would be as easy to teach the ivy to detach itself from the oak
round which it twines, as to teach me to forget," rejoined Flora
slowly, as she looked up earnestly at her mother.

Again Mrs. Adair sighed as she silently took the pen and wrote the
desired order.

The book arrived from London by return of post, and Flora eagerly
seized it, and carried it off to her room.

It possessed the almost irresistible fascination which such works
always do possess when they appeal at the same time to the head and
heart, and are written with the true eloquence flowing from "_une âme
passionnée_." The eloquence of this book, however, flowed, alas! from
the soul of one who, blinded by pride and passion, had turned away from
Light, and devoted his grand powers to the advocacy of darkness, but
who cast upon the darkness a halo of seeming truth and beauty. Over
those pages, indeed, might angels have wept to see so much that was
good and great perverted to evil.

Flora read that book in trembling, yet week after week she spent
studying it almost line by line, until she must nearly have known it by
heart. She would not, however, let even her mother read it, and when
alone she would exclaim aloud, "It is too terrible to think that this
is my work! It is as he himself said, 'You found me bereft of hope,
but a calm fatalist; you send me from you a blasphemer!' When he was
a calm fatalist he dragged none others down with him, but now that he
has written this book, how many will be carried away by the powerful
eloquence--gloomy and mysterious though it be--of his apparently
profound reasoning! He will be responsible for the ruin of all those
souls, but it is I who shall have made him become the cause of their
ruin! O God! can he have been right when he said, 'It cannot be the
voice of Truth or Charity which tells you that you ought to drive to
desperation the wounded heart which you had won and promised to heal,
rather than infringe a mere regulation of your Church?'"

Then would ensue a fierce struggle between the great contending powers
of Faith and unbelief; but her constant study of Truth during the last
few months now came to her aid, and gradually she would become calm
again, remembering what she herself had so often said to her lover,
namely, that the principle of obedience to a revealed and an unerring
source of truth upon earth, must be maintained at any cost, or else the
mysteries of life and death, of good and evil, would be irreconcilable
with the existence of a beneficent Creator, and then life with its
tremendous sufferings would be nothing short of a curse.

The cup of human misery seemed now to be filled to the very brim for
Flora, and yet it was not; the last drop had to be added still, and the
most bitter of all, for it was added by him whom she so loved, and that
too when it depended on his own will alone to save her from any farther
trouble. How true it is that the sufferings inflicted upon us by our
fellow-creatures are almost always more difficult to bear than those
which God sends us direct from His own hand!

A few days before Christmas Mina Blake went to see Flora, and after the
usual greetings were over she said, "Poor Flora, how pale and tired you
look; but I think I know something that will bring the roses back to
your cheeks and the light to your eyes."

"Ah, Mina! you cannot know anything that would call the dead to life
again; my roses and brightness, are buried for ever."

"Not so, Flora.... Would not the roses bloom and the eyes sparkle
again, if the sun of former days could shine upon them once more?"

"Mina!" exclaimed Flora, almost indignantly, "how can you trifle so
cruelly with me?"

"I am not trifling, Flora; the same sun in whose light you once so
loved to bask is now free to shine upon you with greater brilliancy
than ever, and the one dark obstacle to your full enjoyment of it is
removed. Flora, Mrs. Stanly, alias Mrs. Earnscliffe, is no more!"

How unspeakable is the delight of having the portals of hope re-opened
when we believed them to be closed to us for ever in this world! Flora
uttered a cry of joy, as she heard that they were no longer closed to
her; but then she covered up her face in her hands and did not speak
again for some moments. At last, however, she said, putting down her
hands and showing a face as flushed as it had been pale before, "How do
you know it? Mina, tell me quickly, are you certain that it is so?"

"You surely can't suppose that I would have said anything to _you_
about it until I knew it beyond all doubt. A week ago I saw the death
of a Mrs. Alfred Stanly in the paper, and thought to myself, what joy
it would be for you if she were the late Mrs. Earnscliffe; so without
a moment's delay I wrote to a cousin of mine in London, to find out
who the Mrs. Alfred Stanly--wife to one of the higher officials in
the Foreign Office--who was just dead, had been before her marriage
to Stanly. My cousin is a very matter-of-fact sort of person, so
without many comments upon my curiosity about Mrs. Stanly, he wrote
back to me saying that he had made the most particular inquiries about
the deceased lady, and that after a little trouble he had succeeded
in learning all about her. The 'all' was that she had been a Miss
Foster; then the wife of a Mr. Earnscliffe, from whom she was divorced;
and finally she became Mrs. Stanly. I received the glad tidings this
morning, and, of course, rushed off to tell them to you at once."

Flora's joy, however, was not unmixed with anxiety; and when she was
alone, and able to think with comparative calmness, there arose in her
heart a timid dread that Mr. Earnscliffe would not value her love now
that she was free to give it to him, having once persuaded himself that
it was its weakness which had made her give him up. She knew well his
proud nature, and how it must have galled him to think that what he
called mere prejudice was stronger in her than her love for him; he
could not brook not to be first in the heart of one whom he loved.

As these thoughts filled her mind she exclaimed aloud, "God
knows that Edwin has been the first sole possessor of my heart!
Light--life--everything--he was to me from the time I first knew him.
But how can I prove it to him? The proof he asked for I dared not give,
or my love for him would not have been true; and yet this is my crime,
in his eyes--to have obeyed God, and loved _him_ too well! Oh, Father
of mercy, open his eyes,--let him see _how_ I have loved him!"

Flora could pray now as she had not done for a long time; she could
now plead for re-union with her beloved, without wishing for the death
of a fellow-creature; and the star of hope--hope even of earthly
happiness--shone again for her, although the more she thought the
dimmer grew its rays. Every line of Mr. Earnscliffe's book was replete
with concentrated anger against her, or, at least, against what her
religion had made her in his sight; but yet through it all there still
pierced a glimmer of that bright star of hope.

She had sent Mr. Earnscliffe from her, so now she thought it only right
that she should make the first advance towards a reconciliation, and
therefore she wrote to him as follows:--

"Your wife is dead, Edwin, and now, indeed, am I free to devote myself
to you, if you will accept my devotion. You are unhappy. Your book
tells it to me, even if my own heart had not made me feel it ever since
we parted. Let me then try to banish that unhappiness. Let me heal the
wounds that obedience to heaven forced me to inflict upon you!

"As fondly as I loved you when we stood together at Achensee, do I
love you still--or, rather, far deeper is my love now, for it has been
tested by the fierce fire of sacrifice."

She did not know where he was, so she begged Mina Blake to enclose it
to his bankers in London, with a request that it might be forwarded to
him at once. When this was done, she thought to herself, "If he rejects
me now, the last and sharpest point will have been placed in my thorny
crown; but, O God, let my misery at least win for him eternal light and
life!"

For a time after this letter had been sent off, Flora looked brighter
and happier. But it was like the light before death; for when a
full month had passed and no answer came, she fell into a state of
despondency far more dark and gloomy than that which preceeded this
momentary brightening.

In her mother's presence she did her best to hide the despair which was
gathering round her heart. But in vain she tried to apply herself to
any occupation. The only thing that seemed to please her was to take
long, solitary walks into the country; and every day, wet or dry, she
went out for at least two or three hours, until at last she caught
a heavy, feverish cold, and was obliged to keep her room for a week.
But when she was able to go about again her love of walking had given
place to a feeling of unconquerable lassitude; and she never expressed
any wish save to be allowed to lie on the sofa. The illness of a cold
was gone, but the cough remained, and the doctor talked about the
necessity of rousing and amusing her. How this was to be done, was
the question upon which poor Mrs. Adair daily and hourly pondered, as
she watched with aching eyes her darling growing pale and thin. Mina
Blake was unremitting in her attentions to her friend; driving out
with her, sitting with her, talking to her, and trying by every means
in her power to interest Flora in the present, and prevent her from
dwelling so much on the past. But her success was not in proportion
to her exertions, and she saw that unless Flora could be roused into
interesting herself about something or other, there was no hope of
saving her from falling into a gradual decline.

Summer came, but Flora did not regain her strength; and when, in the
beginning of June, Lord Barkley so unexpectedly called and earnestly
begged to see her, she felt scarcely equal to receiving him; but for
Marie's sake she made the effort, and she thought herself richly
rewarded when, at the end of a short time, Marie wrote to announce
that her happiness was complete, as Colonel de St. Severan had
consented that she should be married to Lord Barkley in the following
October; and to ask Flora to be her bride's-maid.

Meanwhile Flora's health had not improved; her weakness and languor
were slowly but steadily increasing. The doctors looked grave, shook
their heads, and suggested the usual resource in such cases--a winter
on the Continent--when they find that their skill fails to touch
the patient's malady. So when Marie's letter arrived it was decided
that they should start at once for Paris, rest there until after the
wedding, and then go on to Rome, for Flora expressed so ardent a desire
to spend the winter there in preference to any other place, that even
the doctors said it was better not to thwart her, although the climate
of Rome was not exactly the one which they would have chosen for her.

Rome--Frascati--the birthplace of her love, was most dear to Flora,
and in her own heart she thought, "If I could only die in Rome! there
where I first saw him, and where I feel certain he will one day bend
in homage before the seat of Divine truth living upon earth, then at
last he will understand me, and weep tears of love and sorrow over my
grave,--tears which will reach me in eternity and make me blest."

Even trials could not make Flora a saint, and instead of praying
like Teresa to suffer or to die, or like Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, to
suffer and not to die, she prayed for death--for rest from earthly
suffering....



CHAPTER XV.


One Sunday morning in the month of October, two gentlemen were standing
in the large room of the Hotel Sirene, at Sorrento, which commands so
matchless a view of the beautiful Bay of Naples.

The two gentlemen were Mr. Blake--Mina Blake's uncle--and Mr.
Earnscliffe. Although they were not acquainted, Mr. Blake and his new
companion were engaged in an animated conversation on the state of
Italy. Whilst they talk together, let us take a short retrospective
glance over Mr. Earnscliffe's life since we saw him in Paris.

He carried out his original intention of spending a short time in
Germany, and there, wandering from place to place, he traced out the
plan of that book which had rendered Flora Adair so doubly unhappy. It
was completed at Gottingen during a residence there of some four or
five months.

No effort had been spared by him in order to render his reasoning
forcible, and his burning indignation against her whom he loved--or,
rather, against that religion which had made her what she was to
him--lent to it the charm of which we have already spoken, namely, that
of appealing to the heart as well as to the mind. Whilst the latter
reasoned for him, the former burned with feelings which infused into
his writing a passionate earnestness well nigh irresistible.

The title of his book gave a fair idea of its tendency. It sought
to prove the destructive effect of an institution which claimed for
itself unerring authority in its teaching, and demanded unquestioning
obedience thereto. "Were it needful to recognise such an authority," he
asked, "of what use would reason be to man?"

Dryden could have told him, had he chosen to be taught, that

    "Dim as the borrow'd beams of moon and stars
    To lonely, weary, wandering travellers,
    Is reason to the soul: and as on high
    Those rolling fires discover but the sky,
    Not light us here; so reason's glimmering ray
    Was lent, not to assure our doubtful way,
    But guide us upward to a better day.
    And as those mighty tapers disappear
    When day's bright lord ascends our hemisphere,
    So pale grows reason at religion's sight,
    So dies and so dissolves in supernatural light."

But he listened only to the promptings of his proud will, and strove
to deny the Divine light enlightening the world by authoritative
teaching.

He was too well schooled a thinker not to know that the fact of a
formal divine revelation being once recognised it naturally followed
that it should be transmitted in an unerring manner, and not be left
to the changeableness of human opinion. He struck, therefore, directly
at the basis of all positive revelation by endeavouring to show that
the only authority which claimed to speak exclusively in the name of
God, sacrificed to its own thirst for domination all the best and
highest powers of mankind. In thus losing sight of the distinction
between what is human and what is divine in religion--branding St.
Peter as an unworthy teacher because he was "a sinful man"--and
therewith of the holy precepts of charity, he condemned alike God and
man, by seeking the divine guide in the human and--without an unerring
teacher--unenlightened conscience. In so doing he flattered pride and
self-sufficiency--those two great sources of error in the world--and
hence he obtained the erring world's applause.

When his book was finished he left Gottingen and crossed the Alps into
Italy; there he joined in the more active struggle between authority
and its antagonists. Nevertheless, he was not satisfied with himself,
nor could he bring himself entirely to sympathise with the persons
and actions of those whose cause he had espoused and so ardently
endeavoured to defend.

The image of Flora Adair, moreover, constantly rose up before him,
and thinking of her as he had known her in all things, save in her
tenacious clinging to her religious faith, he felt her softening
influence often stealing upon him. It was a miserable weakness, he
would try to persuade himself; and yet it was something which in his
inmost heart he loved. It led him always, he saw, to better and more
peaceful thoughts; so true is it that "_God is a centre of love towards
which the weight of love directs every creature_."

These, however, were but fugitive and passing thoughts, yet they
awakened and kept alive in him that desire for good, that thirst after
what is true, which is the ever-blessed fruit of all real love.

At length he yielded to a strange and increasing yearning which he felt
to go to Capri. "I shall find there something real," he would often say
to himself, "and little Anina's joy will gladden my heart...."

And what is like the joy of a faithful people? In vain do _they_
pretend to it who are without faith and hope in the world. The sunny
smile, even more than the sunny sky, is the charm which attracts our
less joyous wanderers to the faithful Italian people. What wonder,
then, that Mr. Earnscliffe found his old love returning with the
happiness which his presence seemed to create around him in Capri?
Anina's joy and that of her parents, however, was not without some
alloy, since they all saw with pain his altered appearance, and his
habitual expression sterner even than of old.

His affection for Anina seemed unchanged, and notwithstanding his more
silent and reserved general manner, he liked to have her with him as
much as ever, although he did not laugh and talk with her as he had
formerly done. One day she timidly asked him if he were ill, "because,"
she said, "he looked so sad and grave now?"

"No," he answered, "I am not ill, _carina_; but some one whom I loved
dearly has made me very unhappy."

"How wicked it is of any one to make _il caro Signore_ unhappy!"
exclaimed the child. "But I will ask the Madonna to pray that he may be
happy again!"

"Never name the Madonna to me again, Anina," said Mr. Earnscliffe with
a dark frown, "if you do not wish to offend me!"

The child wondered greatly as to what he meant by this, and for a long
time did not venture to disobey the command, but all the more did she
implore her loved Madonna to pray for his happiness.

During his quiet sojourn at Capri, Mr. Earnscliffe heard of his wife's
death, and there, too, he received Flora's letter. His pride took
fire even at the trustful love which she had shown to him. It was too
much for him to receive with the meekness and thankfulness which it
deserved, and so by turns he battled with and yielded to the sweet
delight which it foreshadowed to him, as it recalled all the happiness
which her confiding affection had given him from the well remembered
evening at Achensee to that of the fatal ball in Paris.

As our hero's struggle with himself continued and his egotism was from
time to time overcome, a soft light would steal into his eyes, and he
would stretch out his arms longing to clasp Flora to his heart again
and for ever; but that brightening--like the lightning's flash across
a stormy sky--was gone almost as soon as seen, and left behind it only
darkness. One day, with a look of proud despair, he turned away his
head from the letter which lay before him, and muttered--"No, no! I am
not so love-sick as to trust again to one who was so ready to sacrifice
me to a senseless regulation of what she calls religion! Flora Adair,
you _shall_ be torn from my heart whatever it may cost me!"

He seized the letter and crushed it in his hand. After a few moments
of seeming thought, however, he threw it, all crushed as it was, into
a corner of his desk, and locked it up. Like Count Azo, he was now,
indeed, bearing within him "a heart which _would_ not yield nor _could_
forget."

There were times when evidences of the heroic trust produced by the
religion in which Flora Adair believed, crowded before his mind. These
testimonies Mr. Earnscliffe had seen in the Catacombs, in history, in
the world around him, and, lastly, in Flora's sacrifice of happiness
to principle. But pride chased even these away, and his unbending
will again and again perverted his better but weaker judgment. "It is
impossible!" he would exclaim, "that I have been mistaken after all
these years of thought and study! No! I see what this is: it is a weak
clinging to a woman whose prejudice is stronger than her love; but I
_will_ not yield to it! She shall know that I have sufficient strength
to bear wretchedness and loneliness even rather than accept the second
place in her heart!" Yet the thought of that letter lying crushed in
the corner of his desk haunted him. He longed to look upon her writing
again--to read once more all those fond expressions of her constancy;
for he was forced to admit that, at least, she had been _constant_; but
he refused himself even that gratification.

In this turmoil of his heart and mind Mr. Earnscliffe became a more
ardent partisan than ever of Italian independence, and we find him at
Sorrento, after an interview which he had come there to seek with one
of the leaders of that party on the previous Friday. He was about to
return to Capri, and even as he spoke with Mr. Blake he was expecting
the arrival of Paolo and Anina, as he had promised the latter that she
should accompany _il babbo_ whenever he came to fetch him home. In
mixing himself up with all this party spirit, Mr. Earnscliffe's will
had betrayed his judgment into a contradiction of his former respect
for things established, his veneration for time-honoured institutions,
and the wisdom which experience had tested.

It was an endeavour to justify his new opinions to himself, and to
quiet the misgivings which he now so often felt, that had led him to
the conversation in which we now find him engaged.

Having reasoned in his book against the existence of any Divine law
promulgated in mankind by a living authority, he was endeavouring
to persuade Mr. Blake--and perhaps himself--that opinion, or, as he
sometimes more speciously called it, conviction and conscience, being
the only guide in matters of Divine government, by a stronger reason it
was the only authority in human things, and that, therefore, "the voice
of the people _is_ the voice of God." So far had he already, by the
revolt of his will, drifted and well nigh stranded upon the quicksands
of revolution!

Mr. Blake was not a yielding listener; he was an older man than Mr.
Earnscliffe, and one of those who distrusted the modern notions of
progress and liberty; moreover, he did not believe that the same
government is good for different peoples, and in his estimate of such
things he took large account of "the age and body" of the nations
governed. He had read de Maistre, and was strongly inclined to think
with him that "_Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite_." He
disapproved of the Italian revolution, not in a religious, but in a
political point of view, and as the work of foreigners. It shocked
his conservative mind to see the uprooting of so much that time had
honoured, and principles, rights, and duties treated as if they were
things of nought.

"I do not like your revolutionary men," he continued, "much better
than their opinions. I find them for the most part gain-seekers for
themselves and their followers. It is the result of egotism in all
time, and to me a pretty sure sign of wrong-doing. I am not of the
Pope's religion, although but a century ago my ancestors were, and
there is much in it that I cannot comprehend; but it has _one_ charm
for me which I confess is great--those who espouse this cause in
general are thoughtful and steadfast, ever ready to make any sacrifice
for their principles. It is a great test, and a great proof of
sincerity."

"Sacrifice! You call it sacrifice? Why, surely their's is the worst of
all bondage, the enslaving of the heart, the mind, the whole being;
and to what? To a system which governed the dark ages, and which our
brighter civilisation has outrun,--the resolute enemy of all progress
and enlightenment!"

"Whatever the system may be--and it is too great a question to draw
hasty conclusions about--the present manner of dealing with it is, to
my mind, unwise and unjust, and I must repeat, the men who are acting
against it do not attract me by exhibiting what I consider to be the
necessary virtues of true patriotism. We hear much about confiscation,
spoliation, and self-interest in this new era, but steadfast adherence
to settled principles, and respect for law and order, have become
bywords here."

"'The greatest happiness of the greatest number' is the object of all
true patriotism; this I believe to be the object of these men, and
therefore I espouse their cause."

"So far so good," replied Mr. Blake; "but something remains which
you all, I think, lose sight of; add to it, 'for the greatest
length of time,' and then you will surely find strong motives for
the self-sacrifice which I find wanting in these too-hastily-formed
theories. 'The greatest happiness of the greatest number' is a phrase
easily made use of to express 'the greatest happiness of myself and
those who think with me.' It is the sacrifice of the present to the
future, if necessary, that calls forth true devotedness. Will your
patience permit me to give you a striking illustration of this, which I
was reminded of but yesterday in a letter from my niece, and which is
still uppermost in my mind? It is of a young lady who has sacrificed
her heart, her earthly happiness, and, as I greatly fear, even her
life, to this very principle."

"I shall listen to you with pleasure, but do not expect me to attach
much value to _such_ sacrifices. When women take up particular opinions
they cleave to them with far greater obstinacy even than men. Weakness,
you will grant me, is generally obstinate!"

"There is not much of weakness, as you will see, in what I am going to
tell you:--

"My young friend and a gentleman whom she met abroad fell in love with
each other, and, unlike the usually uneven course of true love, all
went smoothly until within a fortnight of the celebration of their
marriage, when she learned that her lover had been married before,
and that his divorced wife was still living. Poor girl! her religion
declares that there can be no such thing as divorce, so she had to
choose between her faith and the earthly happiness already within her
grasp. Well, she was true to her religion, and made the necessary
sacrifice of the present for the future life! Her lover left her, as
I am told, in great indignation, and she came home to Ireland looking
broken-hearted. She rarely visited anywhere; and my niece, an old
schoolfellow of hers, was almost her only companion. In what, as I
suppose, was a fit of selfish revenge, the man wrote a book, which, it
seems, gave her greater pain than all, since she gathered from it that
her very steadfastness had been made the cause of his bitter sarcasm
against all that she held sacred.

"One day the newspaper announced the death of his wife, and my niece
was filled with joy in the hope that her friend's troubles would now
be at an end; but no, the gentleman, it appears, was not so constant
as she had been: he was now free to marry, but he did not come back
to her. It is quite painful to watch her calm outward demeanour, and
yet see, what is so evident, that a worm is in her heart. Poor child!
they say she is in a decline, and the doctors have prescribed for her
that last resource, a winter in the south. I travelled as far as Paris
with her and her mother, and left my niece with them. I could not bear
to take away that pleasure from her. They wait there for some family
event--a marriage--and then come on to Italy. Now this steadfastness
in what she believes to be true is what I call a cardinal virtue,
carried to the point of heroism! If she dies, which is not improbable,
it will be very like martyrdom. What do you think of it? Judging from
the effect to the cause, we can hardly help venerating a principle
which produces such effects. When you can show such in favour of these
modern theories, I may perhaps be inclined to think better of them;
as it is, I see everywhere a display of selfishness, rather than this
devotedness."

Every word that Mr. Blake uttered fell upon Mr. Earnscliffe as a bitter
reproach and a sharp punishment. He had no need to ask that heroine's
name,--he knew it almost from the beginning. A crowd of contending
feelings rushed upon him as Mr. Blake proceeded; at last he murmured
to himself, "And this it is which, in my selfish pride, I have spurned
and mistrusted!"

When Mr. Blake ceased speaking, Mr. Earnscliffe, with a sudden start,
exclaimed, "Yes, this _is_ something to admire; and the cause which
produces it in such a creature as Flora Adair must be good! But do not
tell me that her health is in real danger, that would be too much!"

"Good heavens, sir! what is all this?" cried Mr. Blake, shocked by the
scared expression of Mr. Earnscliffe's face. "Do you, then, know Flora
Adair? Is she a relation of yours, that you should be so startled on
hearing this news of her?"

"Relation! No, bear with me, my dear sir, I am the unworthy cause of
all her suffering!"

"God be praised, then, that I have been led to see you! I have always
felt that there must be some misunderstanding in this matter. Cheer up,
sir, all may yet be well!"

The door opened, and a waiter came in to say that the boatman, Paolo,
was waiting to see _sua Eccellenza_.

Mr. Earnscliffe took Mr. Blake's hand, and pressed it warmly. "I can
never repay you for what you have unknowingly done for me! I must leave
you now. Shall I find you here to-morrow? At three I will wait for you.
Let me count upon your secresy for the present, and until to-morrow
adieu!"

"_God is a centre of lore towards which the weight of love directs
every creature._" The weight of love had all but overcome even the
unruly will of Mr. Earnscliffe. How amply would Flora Adair have been
repaid for all her suffering could she but have seen the power of
her love now working in that proud man's heart! But love's brightest
conquests are unseen, unknown even, save in that trustful consciousness
felt only by those who truly love....

Having directed that Paolo should wait a moment for him, Mr.
Earnscliffe turned into the long corridor of the hotel. His heart was
too full, its flood-gates were yielding, the battle with his pride was
nearly won. Was joy or sorrow uppermost? He hardly knew; yet it was the
forecoming of joy, the dawn of hope outstripping the darkness of his
gloomy night! Not the heart only, but the mind also, is drawn by love;
and, as his _heart_ thrilled at the consciousness of Flora's love, so
his _mind_, no longer trammelled by his haughty will, not only began to
recognise the greatness of her steadfastness under severe trial, but
the justice too of its cause.

Drawn along for a time by this foreshadowing of coming happiness, he
turned at length to himself, and saw the obstacle which had before
shut out the vision of Flora's heroism to him. That obstacle was
himself--his own pride, his selfishness, his uneducated will, "weakened
and inclined to evil," as is the common lot of all mankind. Almost
overwhelmed with these conflicting emotions, he returned to Paolo and
Anina, who were standing outside waiting for him.

As he approached them the child held out her little hand, and said
gaily, "Dear signore, now that we are at Sorrento, will you not come
and say one little prayer to our Madonna with me? Please me greatly,
signore, and come with me before we return!"

Ah! who shall tell all we owe to these little ones!... The signore
was in no frame of mind to refuse Anina's request; nay, he even felt
a secret pleasure in yielding to it. It was a shrine hallowed by that
religion which had called forth Flora's great trust in its eternal
truth; he knew, too, that _she_ had the highest veneration for the
Mother of the Saviour of men!

These thoughts were passing in his mind as he suffered the child to
lead him along. "And why am I incapable of such heroism?" he asked
himself. "Why have I no such trust even in myself? Why have I not her
faith?..."

They had entered the church, and as they crossed the threshold Anina
let go his hand, and went and knelt before the statue of the Madonna.
She made the holy sign, and then closed her hands to pray.... "Why am
I so little in my own estimation before this peasant child?" again
thought the signore. "Why can I not be like her, and pray?"

"_La conversion_," writes Bossuet, "_est une illumination soudaine_."
It was the Saviour of mankind who said, "Lo! I stand at the door and
knock; if any man will hear my voice, and will open the door, I will
come in and sup with him and he with me." The door was open--the
proud man had been already led to acknowledge his insufficiency to
himself, to envy even a little child's simple faith. The rays of grace
had reached his heart, now no longer closed by pride, and light and
heat had entered there together. A recollection came to him of words
read long, long ago: "Ask and receive, that your joy may be full." He
yielded to the heavenly invitation, and he, too, fell upon his knees
and prayed for guidance, light, and love!...

       *       *       *       *       *

It has been said that if an insect could pray to us when we are about
to tread upon it, its prayer would excite in us great compassion. The
more lowly the place whence the lamentations of the heart arise, the
more certain is the success of its prayer. It was "the _lowliness_ of
His handmaiden" which the Lord "regarded," when He "magnified" her whom
He declared to be "blessed among women!"

Mr. Earnscliffe's heart had become humble and meek, and before he
returned to Capri with his dear little Anina, _his_ "soul," too, had
begun "to magnify the Lord, and _his_ spirit to rejoice in God _his_
Saviour!"



CHAPTER XVI.


The light which had dawned upon Mr. Earnscliffe showed him, indeed, the
sanctuary wherein truth was to be found, but it showed too how much was
required of him before he could be admitted within its precincts.

He who had passed in judgment the works of the great sages of old had
now to bend to instruction in the simple truths which every Christian
child knows; and he who had never acknowledged any other judge over
his actions save his own proud will, had now to unfold even his erring
heart's most secret thoughts to the apparently human tribunal at which
he had so often scoffed.

Nevertheless he quailed not before the ordeal, nor tried to turn away
his eyes from that truthful--yet to him dreadful--mirror, wherein
he saw, as in a magnifying glass, the greatness of his erring; the
terrible evil which his book might do in the world, and all the
suffering which he had so cruelly inflicted upon one who loved him
with rare devotedness, and to whom, in spite of himself, his heart had
ever clung with passionate attachment.

How vividly did the memory of their last interview rise up before him
as he remembered Flora's sad prophetic manner, when she said in answer
to his bitter reproaches, "It would be fearful to think that such a
sacrifice as mine should be made in vain! Truth _must_ dawn upon you
at last, though I may not live to see that day, and then, Edwin, you
_will_ do me justice."

His pulse seemed to stand still as he thought of what Mr. Blake had
told him--of the more than possibility that her words might be fully
verified--that she might die, just as he had learned to know the true
beauty and value of the treasure which he had so madly thrown away.

A feverish impatience to see her again took possession of him. "Yet,"
he thought to himself, "I must not go to her until I can take with me
the hard won flag of faith, and lay it at her feet as the glorious
trophy of her heroism. This very day I will go to Père d'Aubin, and ask
him to explain what is still dark to me in the faith for which she has
so valiantly suffered."

Père d'Aubin, or as the people called him, Padre d'Aubini, was a
Frenchman, who, when comparatively a young man, had been forced to
leave his country by ill-health, and although he was now quite well
again, he made no exertion to get himself removed from Capri.

His venerable appearance and genial manner had often attracted
Mr. Earnscliffe's attention. From a few accidental conversations,
too, which he had had with him, he knew him to be a man of no mean
acquirements, and one who must have seen much of the world in his
earlier days. Yet there he was, devoting himself to the spiritual care
of poor illiterate peasants, and making it seem that to be with them
and to do them good was happiness to him, although deprived of home and
friends and all real companionship. Heretofore he had been an enigma to
Mr. Earnscliffe, who could not ascribe his devotion to the priesthood,
as he habitually did that of others, to ignorance, or desire of
self-aggrandisement.

Père d'Aubin might well have been called learned, yet he sought not a
field where that learning could have been displayed, and have gained
for him power and fame. What then _was_ it that rendered him apparently
happy in the humble, simple life which he led on this poor island?

This question was one of the many riddles which by degrees were being
solved for Mr. Earnscliffe; and he felt that he could have no better
guide in the path of truth than Père d'Aubin.

On arriving at his hotel his first work was to open his desk, take out
Flora's letter which he had thrust into one of its corners, and press
it to his lips. After a moment or two, however, of indulgence in old
and sweet memories, he said, "But I must hasten on with the great work
which is before me; then I will go to her and----and, yes I feel it,
she will return me good for evil; the measure of her love and goodness
will exceed even the measure of my offences."

Great was Père d'Aubin's wonder when his simple untrained servant burst
into his room and whispered in an important tone, "_Il gran Signor
Inglese_."

Père d'Aubin, however, rose to receive his unexpected visitor, with
that dignified courtesy of manner which so characterised him; and his
surprise was soon changed into joy as he learned why Mr. Earnscliffe
had thus sought him. Then with sincere emotion he bade him be
welcome--thrice welcome, to the home of his eternal Father.

As Père d'Aubin gradually unfolded to him the science of Christianity,
he began to understand the Saviour's words, "_To you it is given
to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them only
in parables_"--for now indeed he found the key to all the _living_
mysteries which he saw carried on and perpetuated around him, and which
not all the philosophers of ancient or modern times had ever been able
to explain to him.

It would be vain to say that _all_ his difficulties were over now--that
the ascent from doubt and negation to the portals of _super_natural
truth was henceforth plain and easy. On the contrary, every step on
that upward road required a new effort--an effort made too at the
cost of some old feeling or preconceived idea which early association
and habit had rendered dear and familiar. But Mr. Earnscliffe did not
want for courage, and his will being now submissive, he was able to
recognise the proofs which he had hitherto _chosen_ to ignore,--so
bravely he fought "the good fight."

It was only after a conference of several hours that he left Père
d'Aubin, but during that time the great victory had been gained,
although he felt that there were many points upon which he still
required much instruction. Yet the time was very short, as he was
anxious to be able to sail for Marseilles without delay.

Accordingly he again sought Père d'Aubin at an early hour the next
morning, and remained with him until he was obliged to go in order to
keep his appointment with Mr. Blake.

With emotion, such as perhaps few men can ever feel, was Mr.
Earnscliffe's heart brimming over as he entered Mr. Blake's room and
related the effect which his conversation of yesterday had had upon
him. How it had all at once illumined his mind and brought about his
seemingly sudden conversion,--"only _seemingly_ sudden," he continued,
"for it was but the full development of thoughts and feelings which
have for a long time been knocking at my heart, but to which I, in my
great pride, deemed it weakness to listen. Once more I thank you for
having made me see myself as I am, and for having thus helped to break
down the barriers which separated me from truth and happiness. Now,
perhaps, Flora may yet be mine."

Mr. Blake's good-natured interest in the happiness of his niece's
friend prevailed over his natural feelings of annoyance upon being told
that he himself had been instrumental in this work, and he exclaimed
heartily, "Upon my soul, I can't be very sorry for this, though of
course I think you are deluding yourself sadly in going so far. It will
be such joy, however, to that poor girl that it would be almost cruel
to her to try and convince you of the extravagance of your present
feelings. I suppose you intend to start for Paris immediately."

"Yes, I go by the direct service to Marseilles to-morrow evening.
My object in coming here to-day was twofold: to thank you for the
priceless good which you have done me, and to ask you where the Adairs
are staying in Paris. I would ask you too for more information about
_her_ health, only that I dread to hear unfavourable answers."

"And much better not to ask me, my dear sir, as I could only tell you
what the medical advisers say,--and it is quite plain that they cannot
do much for her; but I have little doubt that you will prove a far more
efficient doctor in _her_ case than any of them, and under your care I
dare say all the bad symptoms will gradually disappear. I have not told
you, however, where they are staying,--at the Hotel de Douvres, Rue de
la Paix. They are waiting for the marriage of a Mademoiselle Arbi with
a countryman of ours--Lord Barkley. It will take place, I believe, the
end of next week."

"Ah! so little Marie Arbi is going to be married! She was to have been
Flora's bride's-maid,--now I suppose it will be the other way. But I
must not think of all that now. I shall be in Paris before then at
all events; and God grant that it may be as you say, that I who have
caused Flora's illness may have the power to cure it!"

Mr. Earnscliffe buried his face in his hands and remained silent for a
few minutes; then standing up, he said in a husky voice, "Mr. Blake,
you see how unfitted I am for any companionship save that of my own
thoughts. To-morrow morning I am to be received into the Church; I
suppose I must not ask you to be present at _such_ a ceremony, but I
will pray for you then as for one of my greatest benefactors. I may
depend upon you, I am sure, not to name me even when you write to your
niece; and now good-bye, and may God bless and reward you!"

They pressed each other's hands silently, for neither felt inclined
to speak. Great agitation affects even unconcerned bystanders, so Mr.
Blake could not witness unmoved that of Mr. Earnscliffe.

There are in the lives of some persons such thrilling extremes of joy
and sorrow that it is difficult to write of them without appearing to
use extravagant language. One of these extremes Mr. Earnscliffe felt as
he repaired on the following morning to the little church of Capri, to
enter fully into the communion of the faithful.

In the humble, unpretending sanctuary, adorned only by the natural
flowers with which the loving hands of Maria and Anina had decked it,
knelt the once proud, scoffing Earnscliffe. Behind him were "poor,
ignorant" Italians; but before him, on the altar steps, stood the
priest of God, who, having administered to him the sacraments of
Baptism and Penance, was now about to admit him to the Divine Feast
which our heavenly Father bade _His servants_ to prepare for His
children on their return home. To portray worthily even the outward
features of the scene in that little church would require the pencil of
a Beato Angelico.

"The joy of a faithful people" could now indeed be seen sparkling in
the expressive countenances of the humble witnesses of this august
ceremony; and at its close there was scarcely a dry eye in the whole
church. Almost immediately after it was over Père d'Aubin was obliged
to hurry Mr. Earnscliffe into the sacristy in order to save him from
their tumultuous congratulations; and as the good _père_ pressed him
in his fatherly arms, and called upon God to bless him with all good
gifts, Mr. Earnscliffe fairly sobbed like a child.

A gentle knock was heard at the door: Père d'Aubin opened it, and there
stood Anina, trembling with eagerness to see her dear _Signore_, and
carrying in her hand the little statue of the Madonna which he had
given her long ago.

Père d'Aubin looked round at Mr. Earnscliffe to see if he wished that
she should be admitted, but he said aloud, "_Vieni figlia mia_,--my
little guardian angel, I do believe, who gained for me the blessed
_Madonna's_ intercession!"

Anina sprang into his arms, saying, "You see, Signore, I have brought
her statue with me, because now I know you will not be sorry that you
gave it to me."

"Sorry! Ah, no!" he exclaimed, as he reverently took the statue from
her and placed it on the table.

A feast had been prepared in the garden of the priest's house for the
poor people; but Anina said that they were all waiting to see the
signore before they would begin the repast; "And will the Signore not
come?" she added, pleadingly.

"Yes, _carina_," he answered, "but I can only stay a moment, as I must
start for Naples immediately. You remember, little one, that I told you
I should be obliged to go, but I will come back very soon, and, I hope,
bring with me a lady whom you must love even better than you love me."

The child shook her little head at this, and gently drew the signore
towards the garden. Père d'Aubin accompanied them in compliance with
a look from Mr. Earnscliffe, which meant "Come with us, for I depend
upon you to get me away quickly."

Accordingly he and Père d'Aubin soon left the good Italians to their
feasting, and walked slowly back to the hotel.

As Mr. Earnscliffe received his spiritual father's parting benediction,
he murmured, "Pray that all may be well with Flora, and she will know
how to thank you for what you have been to me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Marie's marriage was celebrated some days earlier than had been
originally intended, in order that the Adairs might be free to leave
Paris as soon as possible.

At nine o'clock on the morning of Saturday, the 15th of October, the
wedding party assembled in the Church of St. Thomas d'Aquin. The little
bride looked pale, but charmingly pretty, in her long flowing dress of
rich white satin, and veil of delicate lace, which descended nearly to
her feet.

Near her stood her first bride's-maid, Flora Adair. She too was pale,
but, unlike Marie, no joyous light beamed from her eyes to redeem that
paleness; and, as the ceremony proceeded, it seemed only to increase.

At the close of the Mass, and as Lord Barkley led his now blushing
bride down the aisle, Flora whispered to Colonel de St. Severan, "Will
you take mamma and Mina in your carriage, and let me return to the
hotel. I do not feel strong enough to be at the breakfast, but if I can
I will see Marie before she goes away. I must tell mamma, and then, I
hope, you will help me to get home quietly."

Colonel de St. Severan made some remonstrance, but as Flora--after
saying a few words to her mother--looked up in his face, he saw that
she was scarcely able to stand, and quickly drawing her hand within his
arm, he took her at once to the carriage, and desired Marie's maid to
go with her to the hotel.

When they arrived there, Flora thanked the maid for having left the gay
scene to accompany her, desired the coachman to drive her back, and
slowly went upstairs.

That wedding had been, indeed, too much for her. She only just reached
the sofa in time to save herself from falling; feebly she loosened the
strings of her light tulle bonnet, and let it drop unheeded upon the
floor, and murmured, "Edwin! if I could only see you once more, and you
would believe in me, I should die happy! But perhaps he has ceased to
be angry with me--ceased even to think of me! Yet no, he is not one
likely to forget; it was not forgetfulness that made him so cruel as
not even to acknowledge the receipt of my letter. Ah! how differently
he felt when he gave me this!"

Flora took from the little table beside her a beautifully bound and
illustrated edition of Schiller's "William Tell," and sought out that
scene between Rudenz and Bertha, the opening lines of which were so
imprinted on her heart that she needed not a book to recall them to her
memory; yet she loved to read them over and over again, out of _his_
present, and dream of the happy evening when he spoke them to her.

To-day, however, as she came to the last line, she burst into a fit of
sobbing, and the page became wet with her tears. At length, exhausted
by her own emotion, she fell asleep....

Meanwhile, Mr. Earnscliffe had travelled post-haste, or rather
steam-haste, from Naples. He reached Marseilles late on Thursday
evening, and the following night he took possession of his old Paris
quarters, in the Rue Castiglione--the Hotel de Londres.

That night seemed to him an eternity--an eternity which separated him
from the object of all his hopes. Vainly he tried to still the beating
of his heart, so as to consider _calmly_ what he should do in the
morning. Should he go at once to Mrs. Adair, or should he write to her?

But neither of these plans pleased him,--he could not think of anything
to say or to write to Mrs. Adair, nor indeed of aught save Flora
herself; and thinking of her put every other thought to flight, for it
conjured up visions which made him feel hot and cold by turns, as they
varied from bright to dark and dark to bright.

Thus the night dragged through, and morning found him still more
feverish and incapable of forming any definite idea of how he was to
get over the interview with Mrs. Adair. He had quite discarded the idea
of writing--and knew not how to reach Flora's presence; but see _her_
he must, and as soon as possible, for he could bear this suspense no
longer.

He, of course, knew nothing of the change about Marie's wedding, and
naturally supposed that the Adairs would certainly be at home about ten
in the morning. Much after this his impatience would not permit him to
wait.

The distance from the Rue Castiglione to the Rue de la Paix was so
short that Mr. Earnscliffe preferred to walk; he hoped, besides, that
the air and exercise would tend to calm him, yet it was in a hardly
steady voice that he asked at the Hotel de Douvres for Madame Adair.

The concierge looked to see if the key was in its appointed place,
and not seeing it, he answered the question in the affirmative, and
indicated the _étage_ and number of their apartment.

Tremblingly Mr. Earnscliffe knocked at the door, but he heard no
answer. Again he knocked,--still no answer. Could the concierge have
been mistaken about their being at home? They might have gone out and
have taken the key with them.

A sickening feeling of disappointment crept over him, and he was moving
away, when it occurred to him that this door might only be an outer
one, and that consequently his knocking might not have been heard, even
if they were at home.

He went back and turned the handle. It _was_ an outer door, and closing
it behind him, he advanced to an inner one which was partly open.

The sight which that half-open door disclosed to his view arrested
his steps on the very threshold, and he stood for a moment like one
transfixed.

There was Flora, in that strange, half-bridal costume, stretched
upon the sofa, seemingly almost lifeless. Those closed eyes--that
pallor--what did it all mean? And striking his forehead with his
clenched hand he murmured, "O God, make not my punishment greater than
I can bear!"

Then stealing softly over to the sofa he knelt down beside her and
listened with rapture to the low sound of her breathing, even whilst he
marked the hectic appearance of her complexion; and well he remembered
how different it was formerly!

He tried to keep himself quiet in order not to disturb her, but as
he looked at the little thin hand, resting upon the open book as if
pointing even in sleep to those words of Rudenz', he could not resist
the temptation to touch it with his lips.

Even sleep could not deaden Flora's sense of that electric touch;
she started up, and gazing at him as one risen from the dead, cried,
"Edwin!"

He, too, sprang to his feet, held open his arms, and forgetting all his
intended prayers for pardon, he merely exclaimed, "My ever loved one!
your words have come true--your sacrifice has won for me the light of
Divine truth, and at last I do you justice! Flora, will you come to me
now?"

To her, his presence, his words, were like the rays of a fierce sun,
which darted in at her eyes, at her ears, and piercing to her very
brain, made her reel with delight, and she sank insensible into his
arms.

We have all read the fable of the statue into which life was infused by
the strength of the sculptor's passion. Thus did the ancients symbolise
the power of love. May we not then justly infer that Flora did not
remain very long insensible in Mr. Earnscliffe's arms! And afterwards,
as she listened to his recital of the dawning and progress of that
supernatural light which now shone upon him, and recognised throughout
her own influence in leading him to it, full indeed was her cup of
happiness--happiness such as she could never have known had she not
purchased it so dearly!...

       *       *       *       *       *

To live in the enjoyment of fame and honour is not necessarily the
reward of a brave soldier, and how often is the bravest cut down in
the full flush of victory! When perhaps he has achieved some glorious
deed, and is revelling in the proud consciousness of having served his
country, the fatal blow falls, and with a last struggle he yields up
the life which had just become so doubly dear to him.

Even so is it with the bravest soldiers in the great battle of life
itself. The joys of earth were not the especial reward promised to
them, and as they too are revelling in delight over some victory,
so great that they had not dared to look forward to its achievement
upon earth, they are often called upon to relinquish the sweet human
happiness already within their grasp. It is the final test of courage
and sacrifice which the Divine Commander asks at their hands, in order
to crown all their past brave deeds, and entitle them to a still higher
place in the realms of unfading glory and bliss, where the souls of
those who have _truly_ loved here below will be united, to part no
more, but to endure for ever in God.... Such a triumph of the spirit
over the flesh is great indeed, but oh! how painful to our poor weak
human nature! Therefore we will not stay to witness it, but will bid
Flora Adair and Edwin Earnscliffe good-bye in their short hour of
ineffable happiness.


THE END.



Transcriber's Notes:

Italic text is represented by underscores. OE ligatures have been
expanded.

Chapter II is printed as Chapter XVIII in the original.

Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Inconsistent and archaic spelling choices have been preserved
(including hyphenation, use of both -ise and -ize, "Rudens"/"Rudenz",
"secresy", "doating", "overweaning", and "Promethus").

  Page 20, "mireuch" changed to "mir euch" (ihr mit mir euch in)
  Page 33, single closing quote added (hope of attaining it?'...)
  Page 81, "rocognise" changed to "recognise" (time to recognise them)
  Page 136, "recal" changed to "recall" (in mercy recall not)





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