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´╗┐Title: A Country Sweetheart
Author: Russell, Dora
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Country Sweetheart" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                A COUNTRY SWEETHEART

                         BY
                     DORA RUSSELL,
                      AUTHOR OF
     "HIS WILL AND HERS," "THE BROKEN SEAL," "THE
                  LAST SIGNAL," ETC.

                 CHICAGO AND NEW YORK:
               RAND, McNALLY & COMPANY,
                      PUBLISHERS.



THE SONG OF THE "No. 9."

    My dress is of fine polished oak,
    As rich as the finest fur cloak,
    And for handsome design
    You just should see mine--
                                    No. 9, No. 9.

    I'm beloved by the poor and the rich,
    For both I impartially stitch;
    In the cabin I shine,
    In the mansion I'm fine--
                                    No. 9, No. 9.

    I never get surly nor tired,
    With zeal I always am fired;
    To hard work I incline,
    For rest I ne'er pine--
                                    No. 9, No. 9.

    I am easily purchased by all,
    With installments that monthly do fall,
    And when I am thine,
    Then life is benign--
                                    No. 9, No. 9.

    To the Paris Exposition I went,
    Upon getting the Grand Prize intent;
    I left all behind,
    The Grand Prize was mine--
                                    No. 9, No. 9.

At the Universal Exposition of 1889, at Paris, France, the best sewing
machines of the world, including those of America, were in competition.
They were passed upon by a jury composed of the best foreign mechanical
experts, two of whom were the leading sewing machine manufacturers of
France. This jury, after exhaustive examination and tests, adjudged
that the Wheeler & Wilson machines were the best of all, and awarded
the company the highest prize offered--the GRAND PRIZE--giving other
companies only gold, silver, and bronze medals.

The French government, as a further recognition of superiority,
decorated Mr. Nathaniel Wheeler, president of the company, with the
Cross of the Legion of Honor--the most prized honor of France.

The No. 9, for family use, and the No. 12, for manufacturing uses, are
the best in the world to-day.

And now, when you want a sewing machine, if you do not get the best it
will be your own fault.

Ask your sewing machine dealer for the No. 9 Wheeler & Wilson machine.
If he doesn't keep them, write to us for descriptive catalogue and
terms. Agents wanted in all unoccupied territory.

                             WHEELER & WILSON MFG. CO., CHICAGO, ILL.



  [Illustration]  _SCOTCH_
                 _ROLLED OATS_

                 ARE GOOD OATS

                 Packed in
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                 only.

                        ALL GROCERS
                        HANDLE THEM.



  [Illustration]     THE
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                   AND THE
                  _Josephine_

  Have an established reputation as

       WHEELS
    OF HIGH CLASS.

  This reputation has resulted from a combination
                       of the

                   Best Materials,
                 Superb Finish, and
             Conscientious Workmanship.

               The Jenkins Cycle Co.,
                      18-20 Custom House Place,
  Write for Catalog.                      CHICAGO.



[Illustration: Ride a MONARCH and keep in front
    MONARCH CYCLE MFG CO
    CHICAGO
    NEW YORK
    LONDON]



                 CHEW
[Illustration] "Kis-Me" [Illustration: IMPORTED KEY RING]
                 Gum

Send us 3 cents and 3 "Kis-Me" Gum wrappers, or 10 cents in stamps or
coin, and we will mail you an elegant imported steel key ring as shown
by above cut. Throw your old ring away and get a fine one.

                                                KIS-ME GUM CO.,
                                                     Louisville, Ky.



                    _READ_
               Sons and Fathers
          BY HARRY STILLWELL EDWARDS.

    The Story that won the _$10,000 Prize_ in
    The Chicago Record's Competition.

  Bound in English Linen with Gold Back and Side
              Stamps. Price $1.25.



         RAND, McNALLY & CO., PUBLISHERS,
              CHICAGO AND NEW YORK.

        Copyright, 1894, by Dora Russell.
        Copyright, 1895, by Dora Russell.



A COUNTRY SWEETHEART.



CHAPTER I.

THE NEW HEIR.


In the summer time, from the door of a darkened room, a gray-haired,
bent old man had just followed a great surgeon down the wide staircase
of Woodlea Hall.

The surgeon looked around when he reached the last steps, and there was
kindly pity on his grave face as he met the appealing eyes that were
fixed on his.

"I am sorry to say there is no hope, Mr. Temple," he said, in answer to
the mute inquiry on his listener's face.

Mr. Temple's bowed gray head bent a little lower when he heard this
verdict, and that was all.

"Is he your only son?" asked the surgeon, commiseratingly.

"He is our only child," answered Mr. Temple.

"Ah--that is sad, but there is no doubt football is a dangerous game."

"How--how long will he be spared to us?" now inquired Mr. Temple with
quivering lips.

"He will drift away probably during the night, or in the small hours of
the morning. He will not regain consciousness; the injury to the base
of the brain is too severe."

The great surgeon only stayed a few minutes longer in the
grief-stricken household after this, and then was driven away. And
when he was gone, with a heavy sigh--almost a moan--Mr. Temple began
to ascend the staircase, and on the first landing a lady was standing
waiting for him with terrible anxiety written on her pale face.

Mr. Temple looked up when he saw her, and shook his head, and as he did
this the lady sprang forward and gripped his hand.

"What did he say?" she asked in a hoarse whisper.

"Come in here, my poor Rachel," he answered gently, and as he spoke he
led her forward into a room on the landing, the door of which chanced
to be open, and then closed it behind them. "My dear--I grieve very
much to say--Sir Henry's opinion is not very favorable."

His voice broke and faltered as he said these words, and a sort of
gasping sigh escaped the lady's lips as she listened to them.

"What did he say?" she repeated, with her eyes fixed in a wild stare on
Mr. Temple's face.

"He--he said we must prepare--"

"No, no! not to lose him!" cried the lady with a sudden passionate
wail. "Phillip, I can not, I will not! He was so bright a few hours
ago--so bright and well--my Phil, my boy--and now, now--it will kill me
if he dies!"

She flung herself on the floor in a frantic passion of grief before
her husband could prevent her, and lay there writhing in a terrible
paroxysm of despair, while the gray-haired man beside her bent over
her, and tried in vain to comfort or soothe her. She was his wife, but
fully twenty years younger than he was; a handsome dark-eyed woman, of
some thirty-five years, and the injured boy lying in the darkened room
was her only child.

"Who did it?" she suddenly cried, raising herself up. "Who murdered
him? Which of the boys?"

"My dear, it is so difficult to tell in a scramble--so difficult to
find out."

"I will find out!" went on Mrs. Temple, passionately. "I do not believe
it was an accident; someone must have struck him on the head. Oh! my
boy, my darling!" she continued, rocking herself to and fro; "the one
thing I had to love; the only one that loved me--must, must I lose you,
too!"

"It is a terrible blow, Rachel--but--"

"Why not try someone else? Do you hear, Phillip?" said Mrs. Temple,
now starting to her feet, and grasping her husband's arm. "Send or
telegraph for another doctor at once."

"My dear, it would do no good," answered Mr. Temple, sadly. "You heard
what Doctor Brown said; Sir Henry Fairfax is one of the first surgeons
in town--and--he said there was no hope."

A wild shriek broke from Mrs. Temple's lips as she heard this fatal
verdict. Her agonized grief was indeed pitiful to behold. Again and
again she repeated that her boy was the one being that she had to love;
was the only one she loved, and the gray-haired old man sighed deeply
as he listened to her frantic words.

She never seemed to think of his grief, nor even to remember it. It
was her own loss she harped on; her own misery. But Mr. Temple did
not reproach her with this. He did not say my heart, too, is broken;
the spring of my life is gone. Yet this was so. The poor lad Phillip
Temple, drifting away so fast from life, had been the center of all
his hopes, the pivot of all his joy. And he, too, was telling himself
sadly, as he listened to his wife's moans, that the boy had been the
only one who had loved him, or who had cared for his love.

"She never loved me," he thought, looking at the handsome
grief-stricken woman before him; and as he did so his memory went back
to fifteen years ago; back to the days when he, the squire, had gone
wooing to the whitewashed parsonage house, and had won the dark-eyed
girl on whom he had set his heart. He had not asked himself then if her
heart was his. She seemed to like him; she smiled on him and accepted
his presents, and her mother hinted at the advantages of an early
wedding-day.

So they were married, and by and by Mr. Temple found out his mistake.
She had never loved him, and one morning fell fainting from her chair
when she read the news that a soldier cousin had been killed at some
distant Indian outpost.

And in the days that followed he learnt the truth. Her cousin had been
her lover, but the old hindrance, want of money, had stood between
them, and thus Mr. Temple had won his wife. She made very little secret
of this to her husband, and did not affect love she could not feel.
Her child became her idol, and from the time when the baby boy began
first to lisp her name she worshiped him with the whole strength of her
passionate, ill-regulated heart.

The boy, however, had been a bond between the husband and wife, and
they had got on fairly well together for his sake. They used to talk
to each other of his future, and it was a subject equally dear to them
both. He was a fine, healthy, clever lad of fourteen when he went out
to play football on the fatal day when he was carried back to his
father's house insensible. He had somehow fallen, and a rush of boys
had swept over him, and when they raised him up he never spoke again.
They took him back to Woodlea Hall; the village doctor was sent for
in all haste, and at once advised further advice to be telegraphed
for. This was done, and Sir Henry Fairfax arrived from town only to
pronounce the case to be hopeless.

It was a terrible affair, people said, terrible for the poor mother
and for the poor squire, who somehow was the most popular of the
two. Country neighbors called at the lodge gates, with commiserating
inquiries, while the parents hung over the speechless boy, waiting in
terrible anxiety for Sir Henry Fairfax's arrival. He came late in the
afternoon, and did not stay long. He carefully examined the unconscious
lad, heard what the country doctor had to say, and then told the father
the truth.

The boy was dying; the little heir to the broad acres and the old
name was about done with earthly things. It had been a beautiful day;
the sun had blazed down from a cloudless sky on the wide park, the
glowing flower-beds, and the green lawns of Woodlea Hall. It seemed
a mockery; outside so bright, inside so full of gloom. Still, until
Sir Henry Fairfax's arrival, there had been hope. Doctor Brown, the
country doctor, had spoken of "returning consciousness" to the anxious
mother. They had watched and waited, however, for that "returning
consciousness" in vain. The lad lay white and still, breathing slowly,
with closed eyes. He took no notice of his mother's tender words, of
her fond appeals. He did not hear them, and his bright eyes were closed
to smile no more.

"Rachel, my dear, will you leave him any longer alone?" at last Mr.
Temple ventured to say, as his wife wept and moaned, and he laid his
hand on her shoulder as he spoke.

She started and looked up.

"Did you say no hope?" she asked, wildly.

"Sir Henry said--" faltered Mr. Temple.

"Then there is none for me--none, none!" went on the wretched woman,
in her despair. "Why should I lose everything? Why should God take
everything from me? I have been a good woman for Phil's sake, and He
is going to take him--all the good that is in me will be buried in his
grave!"

"Hush, hush, my poor girl; do not talk thus."

"What do you understand," continued Mrs. Temple, yet more wildly, "of
love like mine? You are old--you do not suffer--"

"I do, God knows I do!" cried the unhappy man, and tears rushed into
his eyes, and ran down his furrowed cheeks as he spoke.

"When George Hill died, I bore it for Phil's sake," went on Mrs.
Temple, regardless, or forgetful, of the useless pain she was
inflicting; "and now--and now, my darling, my darling, must I lose you,
too?"

"Come to him now, at least," urged Mr. Temple; "you would wish to be
with him, would you not, Rachel? There may be some--parting word."

Mrs. Temple moaned aloud.

"You mean before he--"

"Before he leaves us. Come, my poor Rachel, for his sake try to compose
yourself."

These words seemed to have some effect on the unhappy mother. She made
an effort to be calm, and a few minutes later, leaning on her husband's
arm, and tottering as she went, she returned to the bedside of the
dying boy.

Those standing round it moved back as she approached it. There were
present the village doctor and Mrs. Layton, Mrs. Temple's mother, and
the poor lad's nurse. No one spoke. Doctor Brown had already told Sir
Henry Fairfax's opinion to the two weeping women, and Mrs. Layton
silently put her hand into her daughter's as she neared the bed. But
Mrs. Temple shrank from this mark of sympathy. Without a word she fell
on her knees and fixed her eyes on the face of the unconscious boy.

No wonder she had loved him. He had inherited her own handsome
features, and dark marked brows, and lithe slim form. But his
disposition had not been like hers. He lacked her waywardness, her
excitability. He had been a sunny-faced, sunny-hearted lad, and to see
him lying thus--mute, white, and still--was inexpressibly painful.

They watched him hour after hour. The sun dipped behind the green hills
that lay to the west, and slowly the summer daylight began to fade, and
still there was no change. Mrs. Layton crept noiselessly out of the
room to go down to the vicarage to see after her husband and household,
but all the rest remained. The gray-haired father sat at one side of
the bed, and at the other the mother knelt. From time to time the
doctor felt the small brown wrist that lay outside the coverlet, and
the old nurse by the window was praying silently.

But Mrs. Temple breathed no prayer. In her heart was hot revolt
and despair. She never took her eyes from her boy's face, and her
expression told her anguish. Once the doctor poured her out some wine,
but she put it from her with a gesture of loathing.

And so the numbered hours stole on. Presently a new light shone into
the room--a soft pale radiancy--and the moonbeams lit the dying face.
They fell on it more than an hour, and then a faint change took place
in the breathing. The doctor bent down and listened; the father drew
a gasping sigh. It was the passing away of the young soul; and a
moment or two later they were forced to tell Mrs. Temple that she was
childless.

Then the pent-up anguish broke loose. The bereaved mother caught the
dead boy in her arms, and called to him by every endearing name to come
back to her.

"Come back, my darling, my darling; do not leave me alone!" she
shrieked in her despair.

They sent for her mother, but the very presence of Mrs. Layton seemed
still further to excite her.

"But for you," she cried, turning on her mother in her frantic grief,
"he would never have been born! But for you I would have been with
George--George Hill, from whom you parted me!"

It was a most painful scene. Mrs. Layton drew the gray-haired old
squire out of the room, and tried to whisper some words of comfort in
his ear.

"Grief has made poor Rachel beside herself," she said. "Fancy her
talking of George Hill now, when the poor fellow has been dead over ten
years. They were children together, you know."

But Mr. Temple made no answer. He knew very well that his wife was
speaking the truth, and that his mother-in-law was not. He turned from
Mrs. Layton and went into his library, and sat there alone, thinking.
The boy's death had changed everything. Mr. Temple was a rich man, for
besides his own large property, he had in his youth married for his
first wife the daughter and heiress of Sir Richard Devon, whose estates
marched with his own. At her death this lady had left everything she
possessed to her husband, and thus Mr. Temple was one of the largest
land-owners in the country.

The old man sighed when he thought of all this, and covered his face
with his hands. He was thinking who would now come after him; thinking
of his heir. He knew who it must be. The Woodlea estates had been
entailed by his father in the event of his having no children, beyond
him. The late Mr. Temple had left two sons, Phillip, the heir, and
John, who had gone into the army and died young. But he had married,
and left a son, also named John. This John Temple the squire knew was
now the heir to Woodlea. He was a man of some thirty years old, and
occasionally had visited his uncle, but no great intimacy had existed
between them.

John Temple had a fair fortune, and had not sought to increase it. He
had been educated as a barrister, but he had never practiced. He had
lived a good deal abroad, and led a roving life, it was said, but his
uncle knew very little about him. He had had in truth small interest
in him. But now all this was changed. His bright young son, his hope
and pride, had passed away, and the old squire, sitting with his bowed
head, knew that John Temple was his heir.



CHAPTER II.

THE MAYFLOWER.


Three days later they carried young Phillip Temple to his grave, and
the new heir came to Woodlea as a mourner. His uncle had written to
John Temple to tell him of the sad and untimely death of his son, and
John Temple had received the news with a little shrug.

"Poor lad, what a pity, and he was such a fine boy," he said to the
friend who was dining with him, when the squire's black-edged letter
was placed in his hand.

"But this will make a great difference to you?" answered his friend.

It was then John Temple gave the little shrug.

"It will give me a good many more thousands a year than I have now
hundreds," he said, "but that will be about the only difference. The
poor lad with his youth would have enjoyed the old man's money more
than I shall. I am too old to believe in the pleasures of riches."

"I am not, then," replied the friend enviously; "you can buy anything."

"No," answered John Temple, and his brow darkened.

He was a good-looking man, this new heir of Woodlea, tall and slender,
and with a pair of keen gray eyes beneath his dark brows. He looked
also fairly-well content with life, and took most things calmly, if not
with absolute indifference.

"I have been able to pay my way, and what more does a man want?" he
said, presently, as his friend still harped on his new inheritance. "To
be in debt is disgusting; I should work hard to keep out of it."

"It is very difficult to keep out of it," was the reply he received.

"You must cut your coat according to your cloth," answered John Temple,
smiling. "Had I lived extravagantly I should now have been in debt, but
I have not, and therefore I have no duns."

What he said of himself was quite true. He had lived within his income,
and was not therefore greatly elated by learning that he would probably
soon be a rich man. Perhaps he affected to care less about his change
of fortune than he really did. He was cynic enough for this. At all
events he accepted his uncle's invitation to be present at his poor
young cousin's funeral, and he wrote in becoming and even feeling terms
of the sad loss the squire had sustained.

Mr. Temple read this letter with a sigh, but he was not displeased with
it. He did not show it to his wife, who was prostrate with grief. Mrs.
Temple's condition was indeed truly pitiable. Her one moan was she had
no one to love her now, and she refused to be comforted.

"She will be better," said Mrs. Layton to the squire, "when it is all
over. Rachel is, and always was, very emotional."

Mrs. Layton meant that her daughter would be better when her young son
was in his grave. But Mr. Temple did not consult his mother-in-law on
the subject. He fixed the day for the poor lad's burial himself, and
he invited the funeral guests. And it was only after John Temple had
accepted his invitation that he told Mrs. Layton that he expected his
nephew.

Mrs. Layton went home to the vicarage brimful of the news.

"Of course this young man is the heir now," she said to her husband;
"but surely Rachel will have the Hall for her life? We must see about
this, James."

The Rev. James Layton, an easy-going man, looked up from the
composition of his weekly sermon as his wife spoke.

"I dare say it will be all right," he said.

"But it may not be; this young man is sure to marry after the squire's
death, and he looks extremely ill and shaken, and I can not have
Rachel's home interfered with."

"You are always looking forward," replied the Rev. James, pettishly.
"I'm busy, I've my sermon to finish."

"The sermon can wait, and is of no consequence; but Rachel's future is.
You must speak to the squire about it at once."

"I consider it would be absolutely indecent, Sarah, to do so at
present."

"That's all very fine, but the poor old man may take a fit any day, and
then where should we be--with a new madam at the Hall, after all Rachel
has gone through?"

"She always seemed right enough till the poor lad died."

"Still, she married an old man, and should therefore have the benefit
of it."

"Well, wait until the poor boy is in his grave, at any rate."

"Dilatory as usual! I always said, James, you would never get on,
because you are not pushing enough. You do not court the bishop like
the other greedy parsons, and just look where you are. At sixty-nine,
in a small vicarage like Woodlea, with under four hundred a year! You
can not expect me to have patience; and how about poor Rachel? You'll
allow this young man, John Temple, to come down to the funeral, and
perhaps obtain power over a silly old man, and your own daughter may be
left out in the cold! And all because you won't speak a few words, and
insist on the Hall being settled on her."

"Speak yourself," said Mr. Layton, impatiently.

"I would at once, only I know he won't listen to me. He's got some
stupid grudge into his silly old head, and never consults me about
anything. You are the person to do it, and you must do it."

"Well, go away for the present, at any rate."

"Oh, yes, just like you! Wait till young Temple arrives; wait until it
is too late, and then you will be satisfied!"

Having thus reproved her husband at the vicarage, Mrs. Layton crossed
over to the hall for the purpose of reproving her daughter. And as
she entered the wide domains, and looked around at the luxuries and
beauties of the place, she naturally felt anxious to keep them in the
family.

"Rachel must rouse herself," she mentally reflected, as she ascended
the broad staircase. "Now the poor boy is gone, she has lost a bond
between herself and the old man, and therefore she must exert herself
to keep up her influence."

She thought this again as she walked along the wide, softly-carpeted
corridor that led to her daughter's room.

"What a nice house!" she reflected. "No one must come here. No
interloper; no new squire and his wife!"

She knew that Mrs. Temple's marriage settlement was everything that was
satisfactory. She had seen to that herself when the gray-haired man
had gone courting her dark-haired girl. She had taken full advantage
of an old wooer's folly, and seen that he paid a heavy price for his
bargain. But nothing had been said about the Hall. Then, when the boy
was born nothing naturally was said of it. His mother would live, of
course, with the young heir. But now the young heir was dead, and some
new arrangement must be made.

Mrs. Layton knew she had no easy task before her, when she rapped at
the door of her daughter's bedroom. Rachel Layton had been difficult to
manage, but Rachel Temple had developed into a very wayward woman. As
a rule, she was on fairly good terms with her mother, but she brooked
no interference. Mrs. Layton derived many benefits from her connection
with the Hall. Her mutton, her butter, her eggs, her vegetables, all
came from the same source. The remembrance of this inspirited her. The
Hall must remain Rachel's, she told herself, cost her what it would.

It was the day before the poor boy's funeral, and John Temple was
expected at Woodlea early on the following morning. There was,
therefore, no time to lose. So Mrs. Layton plucked up her courage and
entered her daughter's apartment, determined to speak her mind.

Mrs. Temple was standing at one of the windows gazing listlessly out.
She could not rest, and her handsome face was lined and drawn with her
mental sufferings. She looked years older since her boy's death, and
she glanced round as her mother entered the room without speaking.

"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Layton, "how are you feeling now?"

"How can you ask?" answered the unhappy woman, "when everything is
ended for me--that is how I feel."

"But, my dear Rachel, this is folly; everything is not ended for you,
and you have, I am sure, many years of happy life before you yet."

"Happy life! Very happy life--alone in the world."

"You may not always be alone, Rachel, and I have come here just now,
my dear, especially to speak of your future."

"I have no future."

"My dear child, yes; you have had a great loss--"

"No one knows what he was to me!" interrupted Mrs. Temple,
passionately, and she began to wander up and down the room wringing
her hands as she went. "My darling, my boy, and to think that after
to-morrow I shall see him no more--that they will take away from me
even what is left!"

"Rachel, has Mr. Temple told you that--his nephew is coming to-morrow?"

"No," replied Mrs. Temple, listlessly.

"He is, then--Mr. John Temple--who, of course, is now Mr. Temple's
successor."

"Is he coming so quickly to take my darling's place!" cried Mrs.
Temple, with a sudden flash of indignation. "But what matter, what
matter!"

"It is a matter, my dear, and it is about this that I wish to speak to
you. When you married, the Hall was not included in your settlement, as
I now see that it ought to have been, but--we could not foresee your
sad loss. Now this young man will succeed Mr. Temple, but he ought not
to have the Hall in your lifetime. That must be secured to you, and
before this young man arrives I think Mr. Temple ought to be spoken to
on the subject, and I should advise you to exert yourself, my dear, and
prevent young Mr. Temple gaining an undue influence over your husband."

Mrs. Temple fixed her large dark eyes on her mother's face.

"What are you talking of?" she said.

"I am telling you, my dear Rachel, only you do not seem to attend
to what I am saying, that this young man is coming, who is now your
husband's heir, and naturally he will try to obtain power over his
uncle, which you should not allow. And, as I told you before, this
house is not settled on you, therefore--"

"Be silent, mother, be silent!" cried Mrs. Temple with strong
indignation, lifting up her hands. "What, when my darling's not gone
from it yet--when he is still under the roof--you talk of such things!
You always were a wicked, worldly woman, but this is too much--too
much!"

Her tone and manner frightened Mrs. Layton. "I only meant, my dear--"
she began.

"Go away, leave me alone!" went on Mrs. Temple, and Mrs. Layton thought
it best to go.

"She has no common sense," she reflected as she went back to the
vicarage. "However, I have done my duty, and whatever happens I am not
to blame."

But in spite of this "little disagreement" with her daughter, as she
called it, Mrs. Layton did not fail to appear the next day at the Hall.
She went early, "as of course I must see after the sad arrangements,"
she told her husband, "as Rachel is quite incapable of doing so, and I
consider Mrs. Borridge, the housekeeper, anything but what she ought to
be."

So she interfered in the sad arrangements, and she saw John Temple,
the new heir, arrive with jealous eyes. She admitted, however, that he
was good-looking, "which makes it worse," she mentally added. She saw
also the squire receive him, and introduce him to the funeral guests as
"my nephew," with a certain sad emphasis on the words that Mrs. Layton
fully understood.

All the gentlemen in the neighborhood had been invited, and nearly all
arrived at the Hall to follow poor young Phillip Temple to his grave.
The squire of Woodlea was universally respected, and the guests looked
at his bowed gray head, and grasped his thin trembling hand with deep
sympathy. It was a truly affecting sight as the slim coffin was borne
into the churchyard followed by the childless old man. As on the day of
the poor lad's death the sun was shining brightly, and in the pretty
spot where they laid him, green trees were dappling the green grass.

Groups of the villagers stood around to watch the sad procession,
and talk of the dead boy. They had all known him; he had grown up in
their midst, and the tragic accident that had ended in his death had
occurred in a field close to the churchyard.

John Temple stood by his uncle's side during the service, and he
noticed just at its close a girl dressed in white, and wearing white
ribbons, step forward and approach the open grave.

She was carrying a large white wreath, and her eyes were full of tears,
and she hesitated as if she did not like to go through the group of
mourners around the grave. She was close to John Temple, and he turned
round and addressed her.

"Do you wish to place that wreath in the grave?" he said, kindly.

"Yes, but I--" faltered the girl.

"Shall I place it for you?" asked John Temple.

"Oh, thank you, if you would," she answered, gratefully.

He took it from her hands, and laid it gently and reverently on his
young cousin's coffin. There were many other flowers, and as John
Temple placed hers, the girl took courage and went up close to the
grave and looked in.

"He was so fond of flowers," she said in a low tone, and her tears fell
fast.

"Poor boy," answered John Temple, and then he looked at the girl and
wondered who she was.

But the service was over and the mourners turned away, and John went
with them. He glanced back and saw that the girl in the white frock was
still standing by the grave. Others, too, had now approached it; gone
to take a last look at the young heir.

The funeral guests did not return to the Hall, except John Temple, who
drove there with his uncle. The squire was deeply affected, and John
not unmoved.

"He--he was everything to me," faltered the squire.

"I feel the deepest sympathy for you," answered John Temple, and his
words were actually true.

It was a short but dreary drive, and when they reached the Hall the
squire asked John Temple to excuse him until dinner time.

"I feel I am unfit company for anyone," he said, "but make yourself
quite at home in the house that will be yours some day," he added, with
melancholy truth.

Thus John was at liberty to pass the time as best he could. He went
to the Hall door, and looked out on the green park. It was a tempting
vista. His uncle's words not unnaturally recurred to his mind. So this
was his inheritance; this wide wooded domain, this stately mansion
house. The son of a younger son, he had been brought up in a very
modest home, and he remembered it at this moment. It was certainly a
great change, and John Temple thought of it more than once as he walked
straight across the park, and finally reached a long country lane
scented with meadow-sweet, and its hedges starred with the wild rose.

Temple lit a cigarette, and sat down on a rustic stile. The whole scene
was so rural it half-amused John. The hayfield near; the cows standing
in another field beneath some trees for shelter from the sun; the
distant gurgle of a brook.

"It only wants the pretty milkmaid," thought John, with a smile.

This idea had scarcely crossed his mind when he saw advancing down the
lane the same girl in the white frock that he had seen by his young
cousin's grave. She was gathering the roses from the hedge rows, and
placing them in a small basket whenever she saw one that struck her
fancy. She was intent on her task, and never saw Temple seated on his
stile until she was quite close to him. Thus, he had an opportunity of
watching her, as she stretched out her hands to pluck the flowers.

It was a charming face, fresh, young, and beautiful, and Temple was
half sorry when, with a little start and a blush, she perceived how
near she was to him. He rose and raised his hat, and the girl looked at
him half-shyly, and then addressed him.

"You are the gentleman, are you not," she said, "who so kindly placed
my wreath in dear Phil Temple's grave?"

"Yes," answered John Temple, "it was very kind of you to bring one."

"Oh, no," said the girl, quickly, "we knew him so well, you know. He
was the dearest boy, and--and his death was so dreadfully sad."

"Most sad, indeed; I am truly sorry for his poor father."

"Oh! it is terrible; terrible for every boy that was playing in the
field."

"How did it happen?" asked Temple.

"They were running after the ball, all the boys at Mr. Carson's school,
and Phil, they think, fell, and there was a rush of boys, and someone
must have struck his head with his foot. No one will say they did,
but some one must. My young brother was playing, but no one seems
to be able to say how it happened. But he never spoke again; he was
unconscious from the first."

"It must have cast quite a gloom over the neighborhood."

"It has been dreadful for everyone; everyone loved him, and to think
now--"

"Well, his sufferings are over."

The girl raised her beautiful eyes with a look of surprise to John
Temple's face.

"But life is not suffering," she said. "His life was all
brightness--but you did not know him?"

"Yes, I did, slightly; he was a fine boy, and I was very sorry indeed
to hear of his death. I am his cousin, John Temple."

"I did not know; I heard the squire's nephew was coming--but of course
I did not know--"

"And you? Do you live near here?"

"Yes, at Woodside Farm; that white house there, yonder in the fields."

She pointed as she spoke to a long, low house standing some half a mile
distant. As she did so John Temple looked again at her lovely face.
Never in all his wanderings, he was telling himself, had he seen one
half so fair. The coloring and features were alike perfect. Perhaps his
gaze was too steadfast, for she dropped her eyes and suddenly turned
away.

"I must be going now," she said; "I came to get those roses to make
another wreath--good-morning." And she bowed and turned away.

Her manner was so simple and dignified that John Temple felt it would
be a liberty to follow her, or try to detain her. Therefore he turned
his footsteps once more in the direction of the Hall, and on his way
thither he encountered Mr. Layton, the vicar of Woodlea, who had read
the service over poor young Phillip's grave.

The vicar had noticed John Temple among the mourners; he was a
connection of the family, and he stopped.

"I think I have the pleasure of addressing Mr. John Temple?" he said.

"Yes," answered John, touching his hat.

"I am the vicar here; my daughter married your uncle. Ah--this has been
a sad affair."

"Most sad--can you tell me the name of the young lady you must have
just met?"

The vicar smiled.

"Ah, that is our village beauty," he said; "they call her the
Mayflower."



CHAPTER III.

A SAD FLIRT.


John Temple was too much interested on the subject to be content with
such crude information.

"The Mayflower," he repeated, smiling. "What a pretty name for a pretty
girl! But I suppose that is not her real name?"

"No, her real name, for I christened her, and so should know, is
Margaret Alice Churchill, but she was born in May, and that is how she
got her pet name, I suppose."

"She has a lovely face."

"Yes, yes, she is well-favored, and is a good girl, too, I believe--a
very good girl. They say young Henderson, of the Grange, wants to marry
her, but this may be just gossip."

"And who is he?"

"Oh, he's a well-to-do young man, very well-to-do. His father died
about a year ago, and he came into the family property. It's not a
large estate, but a snug bit of land, and the old man had saved money."

"Quite an eligible young man then," said John Temple, a little
mockingly.

"Yes, Miss Margaret might do worse. And he's a nice lad, too; fond of
sport and that kind of thing. But you'll be meeting him, for I suppose
now we will often see you at the Hall?"

Mr. Layton looked at John Temple with slight curiosity in his mild face
as he said this, for he was remembering the lecture his wife had given
him on the subject of the Hall.

"I do not know, I am sure," answered John; "of course nothing has been
said yet on any such subject."

"Still, Mr. Temple, you are the direct heir, you know, to the squire
after poor young Phil is gone. I always understood the Woodlea property
was strictly entailed by the squire's father, on the surviving children
of his sons, and you are now the only surviving child, I believe?"

"I believe there was some such arrangement," said John, rather
repressively. He considered it too soon to speak of heirs or heirships,
and he was getting rather tired also of the vicar's company.

"I think I must be going on my way," he added; "good-day, Mr. Layton,"
and he touched his hat.

But the vicar was somewhat loth to be shaken off.

"We will meet again at dinner-time; the squire has asked me to dinner;
it's a sad occasion, but these things must be."

It was not only a sad occasion, but a very tiresome occasion, John
thought, some hours later, when he did meet the vicar again at the
squire's table. And not only the vicar, but Mrs. Layton also, who
dined unasked at the Hall. She had indeed spent the day there, and was
not a woman to know there was a meal going on in her son-in-law's house
without joining it. She, therefore, took her daughter's place at the
head of the table, also unasked, and talked a good deal to John Temple.

She was a brisk little woman, with a small thin face, and a sharp
tongue. She might have been pretty once perhaps, when her eyes were
not so hard, if that ever had been. Now she was certainly not pretty,
nor sweet with any womanly grace. She had an eager, watchful look, as
though always on the alert. She was watching John Temple, as she sat at
the squire's table, and talked to him; watching and speculating as to
what he would do after the squire was gone.

"How is Mrs. Temple?" asked John, in a low tone, while the vicar was
prosing on to the poor squire.

"Poor dear, what can I say?" answered Mrs. Layton; "she was wrapped up
in him; yes, wrapped up. I consider it wrong myself, Mr. Temple, to
make an idol of anything; all may go, all may go! My dear squire, may I
trouble you for a little more of that salmon? It's delicious."

Mrs. Layton got her salmon, and ate her green peas with relish, and all
the time went on enlarging about her daughter's grief. She also tried
to extract some information from John as to his past life, but here she
signally failed. John was reticent and repressive, and probably, as she
remarked afterward to her husband, "he had good reason to be."

"And the vicar tells me you met Margaret Churchill to-day," she said,
presently. "Well, she's a pretty girl, but I fear a sad flirt, a very
sad flirt."

"Pretty girls often get that character," answered John, "because men
naturally admire them."

Mrs. Layton shook her head.

"But Margaret really goes too far," she said. "Now there's young
Henderson of Stourton Grange, an excellent match for her, and far
beyond what she might expect. Yet after letting him run after her
for months, and encouraging him in every way, I'm told she's actually
refused him."

"She may not like him."

"But then why did she seem to like him, Mr. Temple? Her encouragement
was marked, positively marked. And then there's our curate, Mr.
Goodall--certainly he is not much in anyway, and has nothing to offer
her, but still she flirts with him. I consider it unwomanly, degrading
in fact, to make so little of herself as to take up with everyone, yet
this is what Margaret Churchill does."

"You are very hard on the pretty Mayflower."

"Yes, now look at that--Mayflower indeed! Such an absurd name. And
I'm told she always likes to be called May, but I make a point of
addressing her always as Margaret, the name she was christened by."

"If ever I have the privilege I shall call her Miss May."

"It's a privilege you will share with a good many young men, I'm
afraid, Mr. Temple. Yes, Margaret Churchill, to my opinion, is a very
indiscreet young woman."

"She's very handsome, at all events."

"Yes, in a way; everything depends on taste, you know. James," this was
to the footman, "hand me the stewed chicken again. Try this entree, Mr.
Temple; it's excellent."

John Temple was exceedingly glad when the dinner was over. Mrs. Layton
wearied him to death. She went into small parish details and squabbles,
and gave the minutest description of her wrongs.

"A clergyman's wife has many trials, Mr. Temple, but I try to bear
them, and it is such a poor parish, too. My husband and I have toiled
here for over thirty-nine years, and we barely can live, and certainly
the laborer is worthy of his hire."

"Certainly," said John, with a laugh.

"And talking of labor, I do not know what the working classes are
coming to," continued Mrs. Layton, with extraordinary rapidity; "I
assure you, Mr. Temple, I can not get a man--just a common working
man--to plant and dig my little bit of potato ground, under half a
crown a day! I've tried a shilling, which I consider fair, eighteen
pence, two shillings, all in vain. It's absurd."

Thus Mrs. Layton talked on, and then, after having taken two glasses of
port wine, she finally withdrew, "to see after my poor dear," she said,
alluding to her daughter. After she was gone John asked leave to go out
on the terrace to smoke, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he found
himself alone.

The terrace ran round one side of the house, and below it were the
gardens. The haze of evening was lying over the glowing flower-beds,
and the dew upon the grass. It was all so still; the drone of a late
reveler returning from the flowers, the rustle of a bird's wing among
the trees, were the only sounds.

Up and down walked John, thinking of many things. "If this had only
happened ten years ago," he was reflecting; "happened when I was young."

He did not look very old in the soft light, with the evening breeze
stirring the thick brown hair above his brow, for his head was
uncovered. A man in his prime; a handsome man, and one well-fitted
to please a woman's eyes. Perhaps he knew this, and somehow his mind
wandered to the fair-faced girl he had seen and admired in the country
lane.

"So she is a little flirt, is she?" he thought, with a smile. "The
pretty Mayflower."

The name pleased him almost as much as the girl's beauty had done. She
reminded him of the roses he had seen her gather from the hedge. She
was so fresh and sweet, he thought, and it amused him to hear of her
lovers.

"Of course she has lovers--what girl worth looking at has not?--but I
wonder if she has ever loved," he reflected.

By and by he began thinking of another woman, and as he did so he
frowned. He began to whistle to distract his thoughts, and then
suddenly remembered how lately this had been the house of death. He
felt sorry for the poor mother, with her fresh grief, upstairs; sorry
for the gray-haired old man.

"I suppose I should go in and talk to him," he said, and he did. He
found the squire alone.

The vicar had gone home with his wife, and there was no one in the
dining-room but the desolate old man.

John tried to talk to him, but he found it very difficult. When two
lives have run in completely different grooves, the conversation is
apt to be strained. The squire had always lived in the country, John
Temple always in towns. They spoke a little on politics, and John
easily perceived his uncle's opinions were opposed to his own. But he
did not intrude this on his attention, and it was a subject at least to
converse on.

They parted on friendly terms for the night, and the next morning the
squire called his nephew into the library, and spoke to him seriously
of his change of position.

"It is only right that you should have an allowance out of the estates
now, John," he said, "when you will probably so soon inherit them."

"Please do not speak of such a thing," answered John, with an earnest
ring in his voice which pleased the squire.

"I must both speak of it and think of it," he said. "My poor boy's
death has been a great shock to me, and shocks at my age are not easily
thrown off. I wish to feel to you, and treat you now as my heir, and
I wish you to be quite open to me as regards your affairs. Like most
young men I suppose you have debts?"

"No," smiled John, "I have none."

"I am glad to hear it," answered the squire, "though I was quite
prepared to pay them if you had. I also propose to allow you one
thousand a year out of the property, and I hope you will look on this
house in the future as your home."

"You are most kind and generous, uncle."

"I am simply just; this house, you know, and the Woodlea property are
entailed on you. I have other property which came to me through my
first poor wife." And here the squire sighed.

"But why speak of things which must be distressing to you so soon?"

"Things of this kind are always best settled--life is so
uncertain--look at my dear boy."

"That was a very exceptional case."

"No doubt, but still I wish everything to be arranged between you and
me. I am sorry we have not seen more of each other, but it is not too
late. For the present you will stay on here, at least for a time?"

"If you wish it, yes."

"I do wish it;" then the squire went into further business details, and
John Temple knew that he would be a richer man some day than he had
ever dreamed of. The squire had saved out of his large rental, and he
had not been communicative to his wife's family as to the real extent
of his income. He disliked Mrs. Layton exceedingly, and was barely
civil to her for his wife's sake. If she had known the extent of his
wealth her encroachments would have been even greater than they were,
and Mr. Temple considered he had quite enough of Mrs. Layton as it was.

During this conversation the uncle and nephew were mutually pleased
with each other. And after it was over John Temple went out for a
stroll, and with a smile at his own folly, turned his footsteps in the
direction of the country lane where he had met "the Mayflower."

But no pretty girl was to be seen. The lane somehow looked very empty
to John, though the roses were still blooming on the hedge-rows, and
the meadow-sweet scenting the air. He therefore walked on and on. He
saw a belt of trees in the distance, and he determined to walk until he
reached them.

He found when he did so a wooded hillside with a gurgling streamlet at
its foot. A rustic narrow bridge spanned the rivulet, and ferns grew
on either side of it in great luxuriance. It was a pretty shady spot,
with a winding dell on one side of the little bridge. Along this John
Temple had proceeded a few yards when he caught a glimpse of something
white beneath one of the trees. He looked again and saw it was a girl
sitting on a camp-stool reading. He drew nearer; the girl heard his
approaching footsteps, even on the mossy turf. She looked up. It was
the Mayflower, and John Temple felt he had not had his walk in vain!

He stopped when he reached her, and took off his cloth traveling-cap.

"Forgive me addressing you, Miss Churchill," he said, smilingly; "but I
have lost my way."

The Mayflower smiled, too.

"You are a long way from the Hall," she said.

"I wanted a good walk, and now will you tell me where I am?"

"This place is called Fern Dene, and the wood beyond, up the hill
there, is called Fern Wood. It is famous for its ferns, and there are
some very rare kinds growing about here, and there are also some rare
kinds of moths, but I never can bear to catch them."

"No, it's better to let them have their lives in peace."

"Yes, and they look so beautiful fluttering about. But I admit I steal
the ferns. This is part of the squire's property, so you must not tell
him."

"You would doubtless be arrested as a poacher."

"Not quite so bad as that," laughed the Mayflower; "indeed, I think he
knows. Dear Phil Temple," and her expression changed, "often came here
with me to help me to collect them, for I have a fernery at Woodside of
which I am very proud."

"I wonder if we could find some now?" asked John. "I know something
about ferns, and can tell the rare ones."

The Mayflower did not speak; in truth she was considering whether it
would be quite proper for her to go fern hunting with a young man of
whom she knew so little.

Perhaps John Temple saw, or thought he saw, the reason of her
hesitation. He smiled; he looked in her bright fair face, and then he
condescended to a subterfuge.

"I feel quite tired with my walk," he said. "I wonder if you would
think me rude or lazy if I were to sit down on the turf?"

Still the girl did not answer, but she smiled.

"May I?" asked John, emboldened by the smile.

"The turf is not mine, but the squire's," answered the Mayflower, still
smiling; upon which John flung himself on the mossy grass not far from
her feet.

"I call this luxury," he said, stretching out his long limbs. "Fern
Dene--so this is Fern Dene? Do you often come here, Miss Churchill?"

"Yes, very often; it's a nice walk from home."

"And you read here. May I ask what you were reading when I interrupted
you?"

"A novel, of course," answered the Mayflower, with a blush.

"Yes, of course; that is only natural."

The Mayflower looked quickly down at the good-looking brown face raised
to hers, as John Temple said this, for something in his tone made her
think he was amusing himself at her expense.

"Yes, it is only natural," she answered, with a spirit; "I like to read
of lives that I suppose are very often drawn from life."

"With all its tragedies, its comedies, its subterfuges, and its
lies--it's always the same old story."

"But there are some lives in which there are no tragedies--nor even
comedies?"

"About these, if there be such, there are no stories to tell."

Just at this moment there appeared coming down the hill through the
trees behind them the stalwart form of a young man, carrying a gun, and
followed by two dogs. He paused a moment when he saw the white dress
of the Mayflower, and smiled; but in another moment, perceiving John
Temple lying on the grass at her feet, he frowned.

The dogs ran forward and were approaching the Mayflower's camp-stool in
the manner of welcome and familiar friends, when their master harshly
called them back, and, hearing his voice, the Mayflower looked round
just in time to see the young man savagely strike one of the dogs with
a whip which he had drawn from his pocket.

The poor beast yelled and shrank back, and the Mayflower rose
indignantly, her fair face flushing as she did so.

"Oh, Mr. Henderson, what a shame!" she cried. "What are you striking
the poor dog for?"

The young man, on being thus addressed, came forward, and there was a
flush on his handsome face also, as he approached the girl. John Temple
did not move; he lay looking up at two figures before him.

"Why did you strike Juno?" repeated the Mayflower, as the young man
drew near.

He raised his cloth cap as he answered, and his brown eyes fell.

"One must keep them in order," he said, half-sullenly.

"But Juno was doing nothing. Come here, poor Juno; I hate cruelty."

"Yet you sometimes practice it," retorted the young man in a low tone.

He was singularly striking looking. Tall and splendidly formed, with
features--though he was as brown as a gypsy--of remarkable regularity.
It was indeed impossible not to remark on his personal appearance.
The one defect on his face, perhaps, was his mouth, which was sensual
looking, though shaded by a thick, crisp, brown mustache. Still, he was
a splendid specimen of young manhood, and John Temple, from his vantage
ground, mentally, distinctly admitted this. Yet, in spite of all his
physical advantages; in spite, also, of being undoubtedly well-dressed,
there was a certain countrified look about him which was almost
indescribable.

The Mayflower turned her pretty head away when he spoke of her
cruelty, and his brown eyes followed this slight movement with
unmistakable eagerness. But she made no answering sign of interest. She
looked down at John Temple lying on the grass, and he rose as she did
so.

"So you are fond of God's dumb creatures?" he said.

"I am very fond of horses and dogs," she answered; "indeed, I think, of
all animals."

"And, no doubt, they are fond of you?"

The girl laughed softly and blushed a little, and then stooped down and
stroked poor Juno's fawn head, who had once more crept to her side, in
spite of her master's lowering looks.

"What a handsome creature!" said John Temple; "and she evidently knows
you."

"Oh, yes; we are old friends," answered the Mayflower, and she half
glanced at the young man she had called Mr. Henderson as she spoke, but
he did not look pleased.

"Perhaps you like new friends better?" he said. "Well, good-morning,
Miss Churchill," and once more touching his cap he strode away,
whistling for his dogs to follow him.

"Who is the country Adonis?" asked John Temple, smiling.

"Oh, he is called Mr. Tom Henderson of Stourton Grange," replied the
Mayflower, demurely.

"Ah!" said John, still smiling. He understood now, he thought, the
cause of Mr. Henderson's clouded brow and sullen words.

"He is a handsome fellow, don't you think, Miss Churchill?" he asked.

"People call him good-looking," answered Miss Churchill, and she cast
down her eyes a little consciously. "But I don't think he has a nice
temper; fancy him striking the poor dog!"

"Perhaps he was jealous because she seemed fond of you."

"That was very foolish then."

"Ah, but jealousy is a devouring demon," said John Temple. "But, of
course, you never felt it?"

"Oh, yes, I have!"

"I can not believe it, Miss Churchill, though I am sure you have caused
much."

Again that puzzled look stole over the girl's face. She could not help
feeling as though she knew Mr. Temple very well, and would like to talk
nonsense to him, and yet she was conscious that perhaps she should not.

"Do you know Mrs. Layton, the vicar's wife?" now inquired John Temple,
remembering the character she had given Miss Churchill.

"Oh, yes, and she's such a spiteful old woman!"

"She's an awful old woman, I think. She bored me to death last night
when she dined at the Hall."

"Did she mention me?" now asked the Mayflower, with a glance of fun in
her dark blue eyes.

"Well, to tell the truth, she did," answered John Temple.

"And she abused me, of course?"

"That was impossible."

"Oh, but I know she did if she mentioned me. I am one of her pet
aversions. She says all sorts of hard things about me, and because they
call me May at home she always addresses me as 'Miss Margaret,' as she
thinks it is an ugly name, and I hate it."

"The vicar told me they called you the Mayflower," said John, looking
earnestly at the girl's lovely face.

"Oh! that is a foolish name," she answered, with a blush and a smile
rippling over her rosy lips.

"I think it is a charming name, and forgive me if I say--"

"Please don't say any nonsense--at least I mean--"

She paused here, and blushed more deeply than before.

"You mean I have not to pay you any compliments? What I was going to
say is no compliment, but the simple truth. But I will not tell you
even the truth unless you like it."

"I--I do not care for compliments."

"You do not need them."

"That is all right then," smiled the Mayflower. "And--now I must say
good-by, Mr. Temple; it is time I was going home."

She put out her little hand quite timidly, and John Temple took it in
his own.

"May I see you again sometimes?" he said. "Will you come here again?"

"I--do sometimes come here."

"I shall hope to see you then. Good-by, Miss Churchill."

He took off his cap and stood bare-headed before her, and as with her
light feet the Mayflower turned homeward, she was not thinking of her
lover, young Henderson, but of the stranger who had just crossed her
path.



CHAPTER IV.

THE OLD LOVE AND THE NEW.


After Mr. Tom Henderson had left the Mayflower with John Temple in Fern
Dene, he walked onward with a frowning brow and an angry heart. He was
in love with the pretty girl he had just seen sitting with another man
lying at her feet; in love with her, and jealous of her very words, and
moreover he knew who this other man was.

He had seen John Temple at poor young Phil Temple's funeral the day
before, and knew therefore that this good-looking, pleasant-tongued man
was the new heir of Woodlea.

"And how on earth did Margaret Churchill pick up his acquaintance?" he
asked himself, scowlingly. He felt savage at the very thought. He was a
hot-tempered man, and had been brought up at home, and always had had
very much his own way at Stourton Grange. And now he was master there,
and had no small opinion of his own importance.

He knew that in point of family and position he was a good match for
Margaret Churchill. Margaret's father was a tenant farmer, and Tom
Henderson a land-owner, and he quite appreciated the difference. But
the beauty of the neighborhood apparently did not. She did not treat
the young squire of Stourton as he expected to be treated, and perhaps
this really only added to her attractions in his eyes.

At all events he felt very angry at seeing her with John Temple. He
walked on with hasty steps, and never noticed that presently he was
followed by a woman. By and by he came to a field of tall uncut corn,
which was swaying in the summer breeze. Then she made haste to overtake
him. She quickened her steps, she almost ran, and a few moments later
she called out his name.

"Tom!" she cried, and young Henderson hearing her voice turned quickly
round, and a dusky flush rose to his face as he did so.

"Well, Elsie," he said, stopping and looking by no means well-pleased,
"where have you cast up from?"

"Ah! I've followed you ever so far, Tom," panted the girl; "I've been
waiting about all the morning trying to see you."

"That was wasting your time then, Elsie."

"No, don't say that, but I could not rest till I saw you. Why did you
not come last night, Tom, as you promised?"

"I could not get away; some one came to the Grange."

"Well I've got something to tell you; something that's nearly driven me
mad, though I know it's nothing but lies--oh, yes, I know that, Tom."

She looked up in his handsome face as she spoke--the half-averted
face--and there was beseeching love and tenderness in her eyes.

"And what is this wonderful thing then, Elsie?" he asked.

"It was Elizabeth Jenkins, and she said--"

"Well, what did she say?"

"I know it's all nonsense, and you mustn't be angry, Tom--but she said
you often went to Woodside Farm; that you--were running after Miss
Churchill, in fact."

The flush deepened on young Henderson's face.

"Oh! that I was running after her, was I? Well, I haven't caught her
yet, Elsie," he said, with an uneasy laugh.

"Oh, don't jest about it, Tom, don't laugh; it was a cruel thing to
say--cruel to me."

The young man did not speak; he cast his brown eyes down on the path;
he moved the arm restlessly with which he was carrying his gun.

"Of course she just said it from spite--just because she knew--"
continued the girl, hesitatingly.

Then Henderson looked up.

"What does she know, Elsie?" he said, glancing at the girl's face.

Her lips quivered and her bosom heaved as he asked the question.

"What everyone must soon know, Tom," she answered; "what you are and
must be to me."

An expression of great annoyance contracted Henderson's features.

"And you mean to say you have talked to this woman?" he said, angrily.

"I have not said much," she replied, half-sullenly, "but she knows."

"Then you are a fool for your pains."

He said this roughly enough, and a sudden rush of tears filled the poor
girl's eyes as he spoke.

"It can't go on, Tom!" she cried, piteously, "your father's dead now;
you know you always promised to marry me when your father died."

"This is folly," muttered Henderson, under his thick mustache.

"What is folly?" asked the girl, sharply, looking up.

"This talk about our marriage--it's an old story, Elsie, and we may as
well drop it."

The change in her expression was something terrible, as she listened
to these heartless words. She grew deadly pale, and her whole frame
trembled.

"Drop it--never!" she repeated, with passionate earnestness. "Tom, if
you hate me now you must marry me; I will kill myself or you if you
don't."

"It's no good talking folly."

"It's not folly; it's truth, as there is a God above us it is truth!
What, after all, after all," and she wrung her hands, "you would go
back! But you shall not, Tom! You may think to throw me over because
you are tired of me, and take up with another girl, but there are two
words to that--I will go to Miss Churchill myself--"

"If you do," interrupted Henderson, with a fierce oath, "I will strike
you dead!"

"You can't strike me worse than you've struck me now, but strike me or
not, I'll do what I say unless you keep your word."

She stood there defying him, with her eyes gleaming and her hands
clenched. She was a handsome woman, of a certain type, with a clear
brown skin and thick, coarse black hair. She looked also determined and
passionate, and perhaps Henderson was afraid to excite her further. At
all events he moderated his tone.

"Well, don't make any more row," he said; "we can talk it over some
other time."

"But it must be settled, Tom; I can't wait," she answered.

An evil look came over Tom Henderson's face.

"You are always worrying a man," he said; "there's no such wonderful
hurry about it, and there's my mother to consider."

"There's always something to consider; first it was your father, now
your mother. But I am to be considered too, I--I and something besides."

Henderson did not speak for a moment; he stood as though irresolute.
Again he looked at the excited face before him; at the gleaming dark
eyes and full quivering lips, and then he said more soothingly:

"Well, go home now, Elsie, and keep quiet, and we'll see what can be
done."

"I am not going to be put off."

"I must consider things, and see what I think best. If you go home now
I'll come and have a talk with you to-night at the old place about nine
o'clock."

"Will you be sure to come?"

"Yes, I'll be sure. And now, good-by, Elsie; you go your way and I'll
go home."

He nodded to her carelessly, and then turned away, and the girl stood
looking after him as he went. And there was infinite pain in her
expression, infinite distress.

"And he loved me once," she muttered; "he loved me once."

These words seemed like an epitaph on her life's happiness. She knew it
was all over, and that the young man to whom she had given so much was
weary of her; weary of the frail bondage by which she held him.

And, in truth, never was man more weary. Young Henderson's face was
black as night as he strode on after he had left the girl he called
Elsie. She was a chain around his neck, an intolerable burden, from
which he could see no way to free himself.

And yet he must be free! Margaret Churchill's lovely face rose before
him as he passed down the fields of waving corn. He would not give her
up, he told himself; he would not let this folly of his almost boyhood
come between himself and his fair love.

He remembered the days when he had first known Elsie Wray; the days
when he used to ride past the pretty, rather picturesque wayside public
house where her father lived, and where the handsome, motherless girl
occasionally acted as barmaid.

He was just about nineteen when he had first spoken to her--a handsome,
dark-browned lad--and, having been caught in a passing storm, he
had taken shelter at the wayside house. Elsie was about his own
age--perhaps a year younger--and these two had drifted first into a
flirtation, and then, on the girl's part at least, into a deep and
passionate love.

It went on for years, always, young Henderson believed, in secret, on
account of his father. The squire of Stourton was an irascible old
gentleman, and would have allowed "no folly," as he would have called
it, between his son and a barmaid. Alas, for the poor girl! The young,
ardent, handsome lover came night after night in the gloaming, and
the two wandered together in the dewy fields, and sat on the lone
hillsides, and talked of the days when they would be free to wed, and
when there would be no partings between them any more.

So it went on until, in an evil hour for poor Elsie, young Henderson
saw Margaret Churchill's (the Mayflower's) fairer face, and his first
love-dream was over. Over for him but not for Elsie Wray, with all its
bitter fruits. She could not believe at first that he had changed;
it seemed impossible, and she so fond. Then his father died, and her
hopes of speedy marriage revived. But there was always some excuse from
the once ardent lover. It was too soon after his father's death, his
affairs were not settled, and so on.

And now for the first time she had heard from some friend that he went
to Woodside Farm, and, naturally, as Miss Churchill was considered the
prettiest girl in all the country round, her jealousy was aroused. She,
however, little guessed how far her false lover had committed himself
with his new love. He had, in fact, asked Margaret Churchill to be his
wife, and though she had said him nay, he still held determinately to
his purpose.

"No one and nothing shall come between us," he muttered, with gloomy
emphasis, with his teeth set hard, as he walked on homeward after his
stormy interview with Elsie. And there was a look on his face, a dark,
savage look, that boded ill for the poor girl who had loved him too
well.



CHAPTER V.

MRS. TEMPLE.


"I can not get that girl's face out of my head," John Temple thought
more than once, as he walked back to the Hall. Her beauty had indeed a
wonderful charm for him. He had seen and known many pretty women, but
to his mind none so fair and sweet as the Mayflower. And he liked to
think of her by this name.

"She is just like a flower," he told himself. "Ah! that such a face
should ever fade!"

This idea made him more thoughtful. He began to muse on the brief
tenure of earthly things. And as he approached the stately house that
in all probability would one day be his, he was thinking thus still.

"I may never come here," he thought, looking at the old Hall, with the
summer sunshine falling on its gray walls; "never, nor child of mine."

A shadow passed over his face; he struck impatiently with his walking
stick at a tall thistle growing by the wayside, and there was a cloud
still on his brow as he entered the hall, and went up the broad
staircase that led to the bedroom appropriated to his use.

As he passed down one of the corridors, a tall lady in black suddenly
opened one of the doors and appeared before him. She was very pale, and
her dark eyes were gleaming as though she were laboring under strong
mental excitement.

She looked at John Temple, and then came out on the corridor and
confronted him.

"So," she said, "you have come to take my boy's place?"

Then John knew at once who she was. This was his uncle's wife, the
bereaved mother, who had lost her only child. He bowed low, and a look
of pity came into his gray eyes.

"I have felt very much," he said, "for your great grief."

"It has benefited you, at any rate," she answered, bitterly.

"I can not feel it a benefit at such a cost."

She looked at him keenly as he said this, and then her faced softened.

"You can not tell what he was to me," she murmured in a broken voice;
"my only one, my only one!"

A sudden passion of tears here came to her relief. Her bosom heaved
and her whole form was convulsed, and John Temple naturally felt
exceedingly disconcerted. He tried to say some consoling words; he
endeavored to take one of her trembling hands. But the sound of her
sobs soon attracted the attention of someone within the bedroom from
which she had come out. A respectable maid appeared and endeavored to
persuade her to return.

"Oh, madam! do not give way so," she said; "I was sure it was a pity
you should see--this gentleman so soon. But she would see you, sir,"
she added, looking at John Temple.

"If my presence distresses you," said John, courteously, looking
pityingly at the weeping woman, "I shall leave the Hall at once."

"What matter is it, what matter is it!" moaned Mrs. Temple; "nothing
matters to me now!"

With this she turned away and went back into the bedroom, and the
maid hastily closed the door after her, and John saw her no more.
But the incident affected him; her grief was evidently so deep and
heartrending; her bitter words to him only the natural outpouring of
her troubled heart.

"Poor woman," thought John, and he said nothing to his uncle of this
meeting when they dined together in the evening.

The squire again spoke to John of the property and his tenants.

"I have improved some of the farm holdings very much during the last
few years," he said; "at Woodside Farm especially the whole of the
outbuildings have been renewed."

"Ah," said John, interested, "at Woodside Farm?"

"Yes, that is one of the best farms on the property, and is let to a
very respectable man named Churchill. Suppose we walk over to-morrow
morning, and I will show you the place?"

John, nothing loath, at once assented.

"The house is old and somewhat picturesque," continued the squire, "and
now that the outbuildings are in such good order, I consider Woodside a
sort of model place."

John expressed himself desirous of seeing it, and he doubtless was. He
had not forgotten that Woodside was the Mayflower's home, and he wished
again to look on her fair face.

"There can be no harm in it," he thought; "it is a very innocent
pleasure indeed to admire a pretty girl."

Accordingly at breakfast the next morning he reminded the squire of his
proposition of the night before.

"Didn't you say, sir," he said, "that we had to go over and see some
model farm or other this morning?"

"Yes, to be sure, Woodside Farm," answered the squire, "but it had gone
out of my head, as things sometimes do now. I am glad you reminded me
of it."

The uncle and nephew accordingly started together almost immediately
breakfast was over.

"We will get there, I think, before Churchill gets away among his
fields," said the squire. "I should like you to see him, for I believe
him to be a highly respectable man."

It was a bright, fresh morning, and John Temple enjoyed the walk.
The waving mazes of uncut corn; the hedge-rows scented with the
meadow-sweet; the cattle standing under the trees, made to his mind a
pleasant picture.

"After all, the country is charming," he said, raising his head as
though more freely to inhale the air, and looking round at the green
and fertile landscape.

"Do you think you would not tire of it?" asked the old man by his
side, lifting his sad eyes and looking steadfastly at his nephew's
good-looking face. He was wondering what his life had been; how the
last decade of his thirty years had passed. Not in riotous living he
told himself, for John Temple's features bore no marks of dissipation
nor sin. His eyes were clear and resolute, his whole bearing that of a
man who had led at least a fairly good life.

"He looks honest," thought the squire, and then he sighed, thinking of
his dead boy, and all the fond hopes which lay buried in his untimely
grave.

"I might tire of it," answered John, smiling in reply to his uncle's
question, "if I never had any change, for I think we all want change.
It is human nature, part of our heritage, to desire it."

Again the old man sighed.

"You must marry now, John," he said, and as he spoke a flush rose to
his nephew's face.

"I think not," he answered.

"You will think differently I hope, some day," continued the squire.
"But here we are at Woodside; it is a pretty spot."

It was indeed a pretty spot; a long, low, white house, standing amid
a large old-fashioned garden, with trim box-borders, and fruit trees
laden with their ripening crops. They approached the house from the
front, but at the rear the squire pointed out with some pardonable
pride the new and expensive outbuildings.

"I wish every farm on the property was in such good order," he said.
"But we will go into the garden, and I dare say will find the farmer
somewhere about, or perhaps his daughter can tell us where he is."

As he spoke the squire opened the garden gate and passed down the
walks, accompanied by John Temple and followed by two dogs. A little
summer house stood on the path, and a moment later a pretty scrimmage
ensued. A very handsome gray kitten was disporting itself at the
entrance of the summer house, and at the sight of the avowed enemies of
its race, the kitten prepared for battle. With tail erected and every
hair on end, it stood to receive the charge it evidently expected.
The dogs saw it, and with vicious yells ran forward, and the brave
kitten's moments had been numbered had not its mistress with a cry
sprang forward from the interior of the summer house and caught it to
her breast. The squire and John called back the dogs; the Mayflower
protected her kitten, and then stood smiling and blushing to receive
her visitors at the entrance of the summer house.

"Oh, Mr. Temple, your dogs frightened me so!" she said, as the squire
offered her his hand.

"I am very sorry," he answered, "but they have not touched your kitten,
have they?"

"In another instant they would," smiled the Mayflower, holding her pet
tightly in her arms.

"What a pretty creature it is," said John Temple, now stroking the
kitten's striped head, whose large eyes were wide open with terror.

"Yes, isn't he a beauty?" answered the Mayflower. "Poor Jacky! and
would the naughty dogs have eaten you?"

Jacky looked as if he decidedly thought that they would, and clung to
his mistress' white frock, who soothed and comforted him. The Mayflower
certainly was a lovely creature as she stood thus, with her fair head
uncovered. She had been sewing in the summer house; trimming a white
straw hat, and ribbons and flowers lay strewn about, and as a man of
taste John Temple found it impossible not to admire so pretty a picture.

"Is your father in the house?" now asked the squire.

"He was in the garden five minutes ago, looking at the apple trees,"
replied the Mayflower. "Shall I call him, Mr. Temple?"

But at this moment Mr. Churchill, the farmer, was seen advancing toward
them, as he had heard in another part of the garden the squire and
John Temple calling back their dogs, and now came to see what was the
matter. He took off his low-crowned hat when he recognized the squire,
but Mr. Temple held out his thin hand to his favorite tenant.

"Well, Mr. Churchill, how are you?" he said. "I have brought my nephew
to see you; my nephew--and now my heir."

His voice faltered a little as he said the last few words, and a look
of respectful sympathy passed over the farmer's brown face.

"Glad to make your acquaintance, sir," he said, looking at John Temple
with a pair of very intelligent gray eyes.

Altogether he was a good-looking man, and was, moreover, an excellent
farmer. He had gone with the times, and instead of grumbling at the
price of corn and foreign competition, grew on his land the crops he
found to sell best. He was a great breeder of horses also, and his
stud was quite a famous one. He was also a keen man at a bargain, and
prosperous. He had married a lady in a superior social position to
himself, whom he had won by his good-looking face, and he had given his
only daughter Margaret Alice Churchill (the Mayflower) an excellent
education. Mrs. Churchill had died two years ago, but as yet he had
taken no second wife, so May, as she was always called at the farm, was
the mistress of the house.

He had two other children, both schoolboys, and Willie Churchill (the
second boy) had been one of the players in the fatal game of football
when poor Phil Temple, the little heir of Woodlea, had met his death.
The squire knew this fact, but no particular blame had been laid on the
boy. A rush had taken place, and the little heir had fallen, and it was
said to be impossible to tell who had given the actual kick or blow
that had destroyed Phil Temple's life.

"I think it will interest my nephew to have a look at your stud,"
continued the squire; "he's lived mostly in towns, and knows nothing of
farming, I dare say, but horses interest nearly all men."

"To be sure," answered Mr. Churchill. "But won't you come in,
gentlemen, and rest awhile first, and have a glass of claret, or a
taste of our home-brew or cider?"

The squire accepted the farmer's offer, and said he would have a glass
of the home-brewed ale, as he knew it of old. He therefore walked on
toward the house, accompanied by Mr. Churchill; and May Churchill,
still carrying her kitten, followed the two, with John Temple by her
side.

"I was quite glad when my uncle proposed to come here to-day, Miss
Churchill," he said; "I wanted to see your pretty home."

"You are very welcome," answered the Mayflower, with such a charming
grace of manner that John Temple could not help wondering where she
could possibly have acquired it.

"You must show me your fernery," he continued; "and," he added hastily,
for they were now nearing the house, "will you come one day to Fern
Dene, and let me try to find some rare ones for you? Will you come
to-day--this afternoon?"

May blushed to her pretty white brow.

"This afternoon?" she repeated with hesitation.

"Yes, why not? It is fine; promise to come?"

"Very well," said May, and as she spoke her father turned round and
addressed her.

"May, my dear," he said, "give me the cellar keys."

"At three o'clock," remarked John Temple in a low tone, but May had
heard the words.

She hurriedly entered the flower-festooned porch of the house, which
opened into a long low hall with windows on either side of the door,
which also were filled with flowers.

The whole place, indeed, had an air of comfort and refinement, and
the dining-room into which Mr. Churchill ushered the squire and
John Temple was not only substantially but handsomely furnished. A
rich turkey carpet lay on the polished oak floor, and the sideboard
and mantel-piece were of carved oak. John Temple looked around with
astonishment. He had pictured a tenant-farmer's house to be so very
different. For, from the silver flagon in which a neat hand-maiden bore
the home-brewed ale, to the fair young daughter, everything at Woodside
was of the very best.

May Churchill lingered in the room a few minutes, and then when the
squire began to talk of the stud and their accommodation, she went
out, and John Temple saw her once more enter the garden. But he did
not see her again during his visit to the farm. The farmer was intent
on his different breeds of horses, and had made a good bargain with
the government during the last months for mounts for the troops. John
got a little weary, it must be confessed, to all this, but the squire
was interested. John was thinking of the sunny garden not far away,
and wishing he was wandering with fair May among the flowers. However,
he made no sign of this. He left Mr. Churchill with the impression
that he was a sensible, well-bred young man, and likely to make a good
landlord, and this last idea was an important point to Mr. Churchill's
mind.

The uncle and nephew left Woodside in time to be back to the Hall for
lunch, and when they entered the dining-room, to their great surprise
they found Mrs. Temple awaiting their arrival.

It was the first time that she had been down-stairs since her boy's
death, and the squire went forward with some emotion, and took her hand
when he saw her.

"My dear," he said, "I am very glad you are able to come down
to-day--this is John Temple, my nephew."

John bowed low, and Mrs. Temple fixed her dark eyes on his face, but
did not speak, or make any allusion to their meeting on the corridor
the day before.

"We have had a long walk," continued the squire, a little nervously,
"and you must be hungry, John?"

"Please sit down, then," said Mrs. Temple, still looking at John with
her restless eyes, and waving him to take a seat at the table. "It's a
fine day outside, isn't it?"

"A charming day," answered John. "Do you think you will feel well
enough to venture out a little?"

"I don't know," she replied; "I am weary of being indoors. I feel as if
I can not breathe, and yet to go out so soon, so soon"--and she covered
her face with her hand.

"My love, I entreat you not to agitate yourself," said the squire, yet
more nervously.

She took her hand from her face; her eyes were dry and hard, and she
smiled a bitter smile.

"I did not mean to make a scene," she said. "I meant to be as if
nothing had happened--as if I had still something to live for. I
apologize to you, Mr. Temple."

Again John bowed low his comely head.

"I wish you could understand," he said, "how deeply and truly I
sympathize with your grief--I do, indeed, Mrs. Temple."

There was the ring of truth in his voice; the gleam of truth in his
gray eyes, and Mrs. Temple seemed to understand this.

"Do not let us speak of it," she said, and as she spoke she seated
herself at the table. "Now, tell me where you have both been?"

"We have been over some of the farms," answered the squire, hastily,
and John understood that for some reason or other he did not wish to
speak of their visit to Woodside to his wife.

But John was an easy conversationalist, and the lunch hour passed not
unpleasantly. After it was over Mrs. Temple rose, restlessly.

"Come with me into the garden for a short time," she said, addressing
John; "it will occupy my mind a little to talk to you."

"I shall be most happy," he answered, and for the next half-hour he
walked up and down the garden walks with his uncle's wife. She was
evidently trying to keep herself under control, but occasionally she
grew excited.

"You must have thought me mad yesterday," she said once, "to waylay you
as I did. But I felt so restless to see you; I hated you, you know,
because--because you had come to take my darling's place."

"I hope you will not hate me any longer," replied John, gently.

She looked at him searchingly.

"No," she said, "I do not think I shall. But bear with me for a little
while, for I have suffered so much. Mine has been a life of suffering,"
she added, impetuously. "No one knows, none but my own heart, what I
have gone through."

"We all suffer at times, I believe," answered John, gravely.

"But men do not suffer as women do," continued Mrs. Temple, excitedly.
"Men can go out into the world, can fight, can struggle, while we sit
breaking our hearts at home. But why speak of it? Anyone can tell what
my life has been--look at my marriage?"

"But my uncle is most devoted to you?"

"A young woman married to an old man! Take my advice, Mr. Temple, don't
marry an old woman."

She gave a harsh little laugh as she said this, and it jarred on John's
ears. He grew restless to go away. It must be nearing three o'clock, he
knew, and he wanted to be in the woods at Fern Dene, with someone who
was fresh and fair, not like this dark, handsome, spirit-torn woman.
And with quick intuition Mrs. Temple perceived this.

"You are tired of me," she said, "and I am getting tired of you.
Good-by for the present; we will meet again at dinner;" and with
this she nodded and turned away, and John was free to follow his own
inclinations.



CHAPTER VI.

CRUEL WORDS.


What these inclinations were we may easily guess. To walk as quickly
to Fern Dene as possible, yet when he arrived there he found that May
Churchill was just preparing to go home.

"I could not come before," he explained, hastily; "my uncle's wife took
into her head to go into the garden, and asked me to go with her, and
what could I do?"

"Poor Mrs. Temple!" said May, pityingly.

"Yes, indeed, she is greatly to be pitied."

"Her loss was terrible, most terrible. Phil was such a dear, bright
boy, and to die unconscious, as he did, must have nearly broken his
mother's heart."

"Do you know her?" inquired John Temple.

"A little; merely through things connected with the schools and the
church, you know. I used to teach at the schools once," added the
Mayflower, with a smile rippling over her rosy lips; "but Mrs. Layton
made herself so disagreeable that I left off, and since then I have
been one of her black sheep."

"I hope I shall be one of her black sheep, too."

"It has its disadvantages though, I assure you. If you have any little
peccadillos or failings, Mrs. Layton will find them out and preach them
on the housetops, unless you are in her good graces."

"I am sure you have neither peccadillos nor failings."

"Ask Mrs. Layton," laughed May.

"Mrs. Layton's opinion would never change mine."

"Then you are stanch to your friends," said May, looking at him with
her beautiful eyes.

"I know I shall always be stanch to you."

May laughed and turned away her head, and John saw the white throat
color and the lovely bloom on her smooth cheeks deepen.

"We are forgetting the ferns," she said.

"So we are; tell me the best place to find them."

She led him up a green arcade, through which a shallow stream went
bubbling on. By the marge of the water strong, hardy ferns were
plentiful, but these were principally of the larger kinds. But here
and there in little mossy dells, the rarer fronds in their delicate
greenery grew, and John Temple, pen-knife in hand, was speedily engaged
in cutting them from the earth. The Mayflower stood by his side, while
John knelt on the ground, and John felt conscious that the situation
was a dangerous one. Alone in the woods with a beautiful girl,
kneeling practically at her feet! Yet he felt wonderfully happy. His
years seemed to roll back; he was a youth again, with all the hopes and
aspirations of youth.

He looked up at the fresh, bright face bending over him, and he forgot
many things that he ought to have remembered. As for May Churchill she
also felt perfectly happy. She had never known anyone she liked half so
much as Mr. Temple, she was thinking. "And he is so good-looking, too,"
pretty May also reflected, glancing down on John's brown head.

These two, in truth, were fast drifting into that dangerous stream
where too often lives are wrecked and hearts are broken. Standing
on the marge the golden tide flows by, and we only see the shining
surface, not the rocks below. But sweet are these hours; sweet the
dawn, the dream, of joys to come! The dawn may cloud, the dream be
broken, but the coming shadows seem far away.

It was only the early dawn for John and May. Neither of them, indeed,
had for a moment reflected that this meeting would make any difference
in their lives. Feelings are strange and subtle, and creep in unawares
to the human heart. They only both felt very happy, and the world
seemed very bright. Bright to them, and dark and black to jealous eyes
watching them from the higher ground above.

These jealous, fiery brown eyes were those of young Henderson of
Stourton Grange. He had hoped to meet May Churchill during the
afternoon in Fern Dene, as she often went there, and to his rage, when
he arrived at the crest of the hill above the Dene, he saw May again
with John Temple.

He could see John look up in her face, as he knelt on the ground, and
May look down and smile on his. Henderson had gone to the Dene in a
most unhappy and unsettled state of mind, and this sight seemed to
half-madden him. His brow grew black as night, and a bitter curse broke
from his lips.

"But if I swing for it, this shall not be," he muttered.

Then he thought darkly of his interview with Elsie Wray the night
before, and now this girl stood as an obstacle in his way. He had not
dared openly to refuse to marry her, yet he never meant to do so.
He feared her; she might fulfill her threat, and write or go to May
Churchill, and then he knew that in that case all hope of winning May
was over.

"I must try to get her to go away," he thought, frowning and knitting
his black brows. "But then there's that confounded old fool, her
father."

It was certainly a miserable enough position in which he found himself.
Bound by his honor, by a hundred promises, to marry one woman, and
passionately in love with another! He stood mentally cursing his folly,
his fate, and the unhappy girl who had trusted him too much. But give
up May he would not. There was a dogged obstinacy about this young
man; the sullen, unreasonable obstinacy of a low order of mind, and
when once he had determined on a thing nothing would turn him from his
purpose.

So gnawing his thick, red underlip beneath his brown mustache, and
grinding his strong white teeth in his wrath, he watched the two below
dallying on the green sward. He did not seek to interrupt them. He had
already learnt to hate the smiling indifference of John Temple's manner
to him, and he knew he could not rely on his own temper. No; he saw
them arrange the ferns they had got in May's little basket; he saw them
stand side by side, looking at the bubbling stream, and then he watched
them leave the Dene and cross the rustic bridge which led to it.

They were still together when he lost sight of them, and then he turned
homeward, with a gloomy brow and an angry heart. As he strode on,
various plans crossed his brain. But of one thing he was determined.
Cost what it might, he would get rid of Elsie Wray.

As he neared Stourton Grange, a substantial square stone house,
standing in an extensive well-kept garden, he encountered a tall,
good-looking lady in deep mourning. This was his widowed mother, and
Tom Henderson was her only son. Her face brightened when she saw him,
and she put out her hand when she met him, and laid it on his arm.

"My dear, how lucky that I should come upon you," she said, smiling
affectionately.

Young Henderson's smile in return was a somewhat forced one, and her
fond eyes instantly perceived this.

"Something is worrying you, Tom," she said, quickly. "What is it?"

Tom did not speak; something was worrying him, more than worrying him,
but it was not a thing he could exactly tell his mother.

She looked up fondly into his eyes.

"My dear," she asked, "can I help you in anything? I am sure there is
something wrong."

"You are quite right," he answered abruptly.

"What is it, Tom? Surely you can trust your mother."

"Oh, I can't tell you about it."

He said this very impatiently, and Mrs. Henderson looked at him
anxiously.

"Is it about some woman, Tom?" she said.

Tom replied by a sort of a groan.

"I wish you would marry, Tom," continued Mrs. Henderson, earnestly.
"Many mothers don't wish their sons to marry because they say it takes
them away from themselves, but I don't feel this. Your happiness would
be mine. Tom, a little bird has whispered to me that you run after a
certain very pretty girl; is this true?"

"You mean May Churchill?" answered Tom Henderson; "well, I certainly do
admire her very much."

"And--are you engaged to her?"

"No; there are always worries in the way."

"Not surely--"

"Mother, I may as well tell you that I have made a fool of myself, but
I must get out of it."

"But Tom--"

"There! don't talk of it like a good old woman; I'll get out of it,
that I'm determined."

Mrs. Henderson did not say anything more. She walked on with her
hand through her son's arm, feeling very anxious. Tom Henderson had
been a wayward boy, and he was a wayward man, and his mother was
conscious perhaps that she had spoilt her only child. She had heard a
rumor--got one of those painful hints which friends do not scruple to
give--about her son's connection with Elsie Wray of the Wayside Inn.
But she had never spoken of it to Tom. She was a delicate-minded woman,
and extremely attached to him, and there were subjects on which Mrs.
Henderson felt she could not speak to her boy.

The mother and son walked home together and then parted, Mrs. Henderson
to see after some household arrangements, Tom to retire to his own room
to write a letter to Elsie Wray.

Let us look over his shoulder as he sat, pen in hand, with his black
brows knitted and his handsome face distorted with the angry passions
in his heart. He began:

"Dear Elsie," and then paused. He did not in truth know what to say.
He knew he was acting shamefully, but he told himself it was folly to
sacrifice the happiness of his whole life because a foolish girl had
loved him too well.

Again he began "Dear Elsie," on a fresh note-sheet, and this time
continued his letter:

"DEAR ELSIE: Our interview of last night was very unsatisfactory,
and I want to see you again, and I hope we will come to some lasting
agreement. I am quite willing to come down handsomely for any supposed
wrong I may have done you, and I hope you will act like a sensible girl
and accept my proposition. Will you meet me to-night at nine o'clock,
on the ridge above Fern Dene? It's a quiet place, and we can have
our talk out there without being interrupted as we were last night.
There is always someone about near your house, seemingly. But do act
sensibly, and don't make a row about what can not be helped now.
                                             "Yours sincerely,
                                                            "T. H."

He finished this letter, and then put it in his pocket and walked to
the stables, and gave it to his groom. This man was engaged rubbing
down a horse when his master appeared, and he seemed quite accustomed
to receive such missions.

"Take that over to Miss Wray, Jack," said young Henderson; "make some
excuse--have a pot of beer or something--but give it into her own
hands, and no one else's, and here's a shilling for the beer."

"Very well, master," answered Jack, pocketing the note and the shilling
with something between a grin and a nod, and then touching his
forelock. "Must I go directly?"

"Yes," said Henderson, and then he turned away, and went whistling out
of the stables with his hands in his pockets.

Upon which Jack took a rough towel and rubbed his own face and hands,
and otherwise improved his appearance, and then started off on his way
to the wayside public house.

"The game's nearly up," he thought, with another grin, as he went
shambling on. "Miss Elsie will ha' to look a bit lower than the young
master before she's done."

He speedily arrived at his destination. It was a pretty spot--this
wayside house, with its trellised walls, covered with creepers and
roses, and its open porch. In the porch the master of the house, James
Wray, was sitting smoking a long white pipe, and he took it from his
mouth and nodded in a friendly manner when the groom from Stourton
Grange appeared.

"Well, Jack, my lad," he said, "and how are ye all at the Grange?"

James Wray was not unaware of the intimacy of his daughter with the
young owner of the Grange, or without his private hopes that some day
he might see Elsie the mistress there. He therefore made room for Jack,
the groom, to take a seat beside him in the porch, but this did not
suit Jack's views.

"No, master," he said, "I'm that dry I must ha' a drop o' beer first,
and I'll go in and get it, and then come out and ha' a bit crack."

The landlord nodded his head and resumed his pipe, and Jack entered the
house. Two or three men were sitting drinking, and a good-looking smart
girl was acting as barmaid, but Elsie Wray was not visible. Jack looked
around, called for his beer, but had a word to whisper in the barmaid's
ears as she was serving it.

"Where's the young missis?" he asked.

"She's in the parlor, I think, Mr. Impudence," answered the smart
barmaid, tossing her head.

"Tell her one of the lads fra' the Grange wants a word wi' her," said
Jack, winking one eye, upon which, with another toss of the head, the
barmaid vanished; and a few moments later Elsie Wray, who looked pale,
agitated, and handsome, appeared.

Jack touched his forelock and went up to her, and produced Tom
Henderson's letter.

"The young master sent this for you, miss," he said.

Elsie put out a shapely brown hand and eagerly caught at the letter,
and then without another word retired with it and ran hastily upstairs
to her own little bedroom to read it.

When she got there she tore it open with trembling fingers, and, as her
eyes fell on the insulting words it contained, the poor girl turned
deadly pale, and staggered back as if something had struck her.

"How dare he! How dare he!" she cried aloud, in sharp bitter tones of
anguish.

Again she read the cruel words. She stared at them as though they
burned into her brain, and then with sudden passion she flung the
letter on the floor and trampled it beneath her feet.

"The coward! The base coward!" she muttered. "So he would buy me off,
would he? Me! But he shall see; he shall see!"

She began to pace up and down the room after this, evidently revolving
some question in her mind. Then she suddenly remembered that the groom
from Stourton would probably be waiting for an answer. And with her
eyes flashing, and her head thrown back, she returned to the bar in the
room below.

Jack was still sitting there drinking his beer, and he rose when Elsie
appeared.

Without a moment's hesitation she went up to him.

"Tell him," she said, in concentrated tones of suppressed anger and
passion, "that I will be there."

That was all; without another word she turned and left the bar, and the
men sitting there looked at each other as she did so. The expression of
her face was so tragic that it seemed to forebode evil. Jack Reid--the
groom's surname was Reid--said nothing. He looked rather frightened,
and shortly afterward left the Wayside Inn, declining the offer of the
landlord, who was still sitting on the porch, to remain any longer.

Meanwhile in her room upstairs Elsie Wray was in a state of mind
bordering on distraction. All the hopes of her future life seemed
dashed to dust. But with hard-set teeth she told herself that she would
not give in. Tom Henderson must keep his word and marry her, even if he
never spoke to her afterward.

"Or he or I shall die for it," she muttered with bated breath.

Then she stole to her father's room, and from a locked cupboard there
drew out a loaded revolver. Elsie, a favorite daughter, and one whom he
completely trusted, always kept the landlord's keys.

Having thus secured the weapon, about two hours later she started with
a determined heart to keep the tryst that Tom Henderson had given her.

By this time a fitful moon had risen, the light being constantly
obscured by drifting clouds. It was a wild-looking night, and seemed to
suit the mood of the unhappy woman who went out to meet her false lover
under such cruel circumstances.



CHAPTER VII.

THE LAST TRYST.


Before Elsie Wray quitted the Wayside Inn, however, she had a word to
say to the young barmaid who had brought her the message that the groom
from Stourton Grange wished to speak to her.

She beckoned this girl to her, who was officiating at the bar, and
whispered a few words to her in the passage outside the room.

"Alice," she said, "I am going out, but don't tell father. Say, if he
asks after me, that I have gone to bed with a bad headache. Do you
understand?"

The barmaid nodded; she quite understood that her mistress was going
out to meet the young squire from Stourton Grange. This affair was
known and had been much commented on by the small circle round the
inn-keeper's family. Some had shaken their heads over it, and wished
it might end well. Others took a more charitable view. But Alice, the
barmaid, had seen the look in Elsie's face when she had given her
message to Jack Reid the groom, and her expression did not bode well.

"You won't be late, mistress?" whispered the girl.

"No," answered Elsie, in a low, slow tone, and she clutched the
revolver she held beneath her cloak yet harder as she spoke. "I will go
out by the back door," she added.

"I'll watch till you come back," said Alice, and Elsie nodded and then
glided away into the darkness, and the barmaid looked after her for a
moment, but was quickly recalled to her duties by her master's voice.

Elsie having quitted the house and closed the door softly behind her,
passed down through the kitchen garden, and speedily found herself on
the high road.

She had a long walk--at least two miles and a half--before she could
reach the high land that lies above Fern Dene. Stourton Grange stands
about a mile to the west of Fern Dene, and once or twice in the early
days of their love, Elsie had met young Henderson in the Dene. But this
was before Henderson had discovered that this shady and romantic spot
was the favorite walk and resort of pretty May Churchill. After this
there were no more meetings in the Dene with his lowly-born sweetheart.
Henderson chose another direction, and ran no risks of encountering May
Churchill while walking with Elsie Wray.

Now swiftly and silently beneath the drifting clouds the forsaken woman
went on to what Henderson meant to be her last tryst with him. She
never looked up nor around. She knew the way well, and every feeling of
her heart was concentrated on one object.

"He shall die unless he does me justice," was the thought that entirely
possessed her. She was desperate, and in her desperation she was
capable of anything.

In the meanwhile Tom Henderson was feeling anything but comfortable.
The groom, Jack Reid, had returned and had given Elsie's message to his
young master, and added what he called a hint of his own.

"She looked mortal bad," he said, significantly.

Tom Henderson whistled, but he by no means liked the prospect before
him. He drank more wine at dinner than was his wont, and his mother
again and again looked at him anxiously. She did not like his restless
movements, his somewhat disjointed words. At last he rose and said he
would go out for a smoke and a stroll.

"Don't be late, my dear," answered his mother.

"No," said Tom, and then she watched him walk down the avenue till the
red tip of his cigar disappeared in the darkness.

He went on slowly enough. He knew he was going to meet an angry,
disappointed woman, and he knew he had done Elsie the worst wrong
a man can do, yet he never swerved from his purpose. But he wished
it was over; he was essentially selfish, and he was thinking of his
own feelings of discomfort and not of the poor girl's, as he went on
through the gusty night.

Presently he came to the ridge of high land above Fern Dene. This is
rather a remarkable piece of ground; the dip of the hill from it down
to the Dene being exceedingly steep, even precipitous. This descent is
thickly studded with trees, brambles, and undergrowth. On the ridge
there is a narrow walk, with the fall of the hill on one side and
stretching fields on the other.

Along this walk Henderson went, still slowly, and as he did so the moon
suddenly broke forth from the drifting clouds, and showed him dark and
distinct the figure of a woman on the pathway before him.

It was Elsie Wray wrapped in a long cloak, and standing on the very
verge of the descent below, gazing down into its gloomy depths.
Henderson could see her face in the moonlight; could see the sharply
cut profile and the black brows, for the hood of her cloak had fallen
back, and her head was uncovered. She looked a weird and tragic figure
in this lonely spot, and for a moment Henderson hesitated to approach
her. Then he pulled himself together.

"It must be done," he told his sinking heart, and he therefore began
to walk more quickly forward, and at the sound of his footsteps Elsie
turned her face away from the ravine and looked around.

But she made no forward movement to meet him. She stood there awaiting
his approach, silent, motionless, and something in her attitude made
Henderson yet more uneasy.

At last he neared her.

"Well, Elsie," he said, holding out his hand, "I'm afraid you've had a
long walk."

She did not answer, nor did she attempt to take his proffered hand.

"I asked you to come here, Elsie," continued Henderson, somewhat
hurriedly and nervously, "because I want to have a good talk with you.
I want in fact to make some arrangements, some permanent arrangement.
You see all that talk about our marriage is nonsense. I've others to
consider, my mother to consider, and a marriage between us would never
do, that's a fact."

"When did you first learn this fact?" asked Elsie, bitterly.

"Well, you see, I was only a lad when I first knew you, Elsie, and lads
do and say a lot of foolish things. But I want to make it all square
and act handsomely, as I told you in my letter, if you will only be a
sensible girl."

"And how much do you propose to buy my silence for?" said Elsie, yet
more bitterly.

"Oh, well, it's no use speaking in that tone. I mean to do what I say,
and settle enough on you to make you comfortable for life. Why not
emigrate, and you could marry some fellow out there with the money I
give you? I thought of even as much as two thousand pounds."

"Not for ten hundred thousand pounds!" cried Elsie, raising her voice
in passionate accents. "Not for all the money that was ever coined, Tom
Henderson!" she went on. "What do you take me for? Do you think I would
sell my rights, the rights of my unborn child? Never! You must marry
me, or you will rue the day."

"I can not marry you," answered Henderson, doggedly. "Don't you see
it's impossible for a fellow in my position to do so? How can I take
a wife from a public house? You should look at things more sensibly,
Elsie!"

"You should have thought of all this before--before it was too late.
Now it is. If not for my sake, for the sake of the child--"

"Oh, bother the child!" muttered Henderson, brutally.

The face of the woman he addressed turned absolutely livid. Her eyes
dazed, her breath came short, and her hand convulsively grasped the
revolver hidden beneath her cloak.

"It shall not be the child of shame," she cried in a low fierce tone.
"If you do not promise to do me justice, Tom Henderson, as sure as
there is a God above us I will shoot you dead first, and then myself."

She lifted the revolver as she spoke, and Henderson saw the gleam of
steel in the moonlight, and his face grew pale.

"Will you promise?" repeated Elsie, sternly, and her blazing eyes
never left the changing face of the man standing before her. Henderson
faltered. He saw she was in earnest, and he changed his manner.

"Do not be foolish, Elsie," he said.

"It is not folly," she answered in a determined voice. "Long have I
borne with you; borne with your neglect, your insults; but now I have
made up my mind. Either you marry me, or we both shall die."

"Think for a moment--"

"I will think no more; I have nearly gone mad with thinking; now I
shall act. Tom Henderson, will you marry me?"

"Oh, well, if you put it in that way I suppose I must."

Elsie's raised hand, with which she had been pointing the revolver at
Henderson's throat, fell at these words, and a sigh of relief escaped
her lips.

"Let it be so then," she said, in a strange, weary tone. The strain had
been so great; the struggle was over. Her arm dropped; her head fell
on her breast. But in a moment--in this moment of weakness--the coward
before her sprang upon her, grasping her arm, and wrenched the revolver
from her grasp.

He did it so quickly that Elsie had not time to resist, nor to realize
his action. He held the revolver in the air; he gave a brutal laugh of
triumph.

"Now," he cried, "will you shoot me now? So you were going to force me
to marry you, were you, by your silly threats? But I won't, there; do
you hear, I won't!"

He almost shouted the last words, and they fell on the ears of a woman
stunned with misery.

"What!" she gasped forth. "What!"

"I'm not going to be bullied into doing anything I don't mean to do
by your tragedy airs," continued Henderson, his passions rising as he
spoke. "I've made you a fair offer; most of women would consider it a
handsome offer, but you're a fool."

She looked in his face with a stony look of despair.

"Do you mean to go back from what you promised?" she said.

"I never promised! Once for all, Elsie, make the best of the situation;
take my money, and go away."

"Coward!"

She hissed out this word with bitter emphasis. She stood there facing
him pale to the very lips. Henderson held the revolver high in his
strong hand, and she knew she could not reach it. He had robbed her of
her weapon, but he had not conquered her soul.

"You have lied then," she said, with concentrated scorn, "as you have
done a thousand times. I might have known! But for all that you shall
not marry Miss Churchill. I will go to her to-morrow, and tell her the
whole story; tell her what you are, and how you have treated me, and I
will tell my father."

"You will do this?" cried Henderson, in sudden fury. "You never shall!"

"I will do it," repeated Elsie, doggedly.

"I swear you shall not live to do it!"

"I will!" again said Elsie.

"Then I'll shoot you dead before you do it!" cried Henderson, fiercely,
pointing the revolver at Elsie as he spoke.

The woman did not flinch as the man had done. Perhaps she felt that all
her life was ended that was worth living for. At all events she did not
swerve.

"Swear that you will not go near Miss Churchill; that you will never
tell your father anything of what has been between us," continued
Henderson, still pointing the revolver at Elsie's head, "or by the
heavens above us I'll shoot you!"

"I will tell my father to-night; I will see Miss Churchill to-morrow."

These were almost the unhappy woman's last words. Henderson, maddened
by anger, by the wine he had drunk, and by her obstinacy, with a savage
oath pulled the trigger of the weapon he held, and the next moment
Elsie, with a cry, made a little spring forward, and a moment later
fell fatally wounded at his feet.

Then Henderson began to realize what he had done. He laid the revolver
on the grass; he knelt down at Elsie's side.

"Elsie, you are not any worse, are you?" he said; "I only meant to
frighten you, I only--"

As he was speaking the moon, which had hitherto been partly obscured
and hidden by the drifting clouds, suddenly shone out in its full
radiancy. It shone on the face of a woman struggling in her death
throes; on a ghastly wound which had torn open one side of her shapely
throat, and from which a stream of blood was pouring fast.

Henderson, horror-stricken, drew out his handkerchief and tried to
stanch this, but with a dying effort Elsie pushed his hand aside. She
opened her eyes; she struggled for breath.

"Tom Henderson," she gasped out, for each breath was a gasp, "God will
bring you to account for this--I curse you with my dying breath."

After this she spoke no more. Henderson, appalled by his own deed, felt
powerless. He knelt there and watched the last struggles of the woman
he had shot. He knelt there when it was all over, and when the loving,
passionate heart that he had broken had ceased to beat. Did some dim
memories rise before him as he did so? Did he think of Elsie as the
bright young girl he once had loved? If so, he uttered no word. He
waited till the last quiver was still, the last moan hushed, and then
pale, trembling in every limb, he rose.

Elsie Wray was dead, and he had killed her! The night breeze seemed
to whisper this, as they rustled in the ravine below; strange voices
muttered it in his ears. Good God! And she had cursed him as she died!

Henderson shuddered as he remembered this. Again he glanced tremblingly
at the dead woman's face. The flickering shadows of the moonlight
still played on it; the half-open eyes were full of scorn.

       *       *       *       *       *

But something must be done, yes, something must be done, Henderson told
himself after a brief interval of horror. He must try to hide this deed
that he had committed, this murder that his hand had wrought. Murder!
The horrid word seemed to ring in his ears; it seemed written in flames
before his eyes. Suddenly it all grew dark; the moon had hidden her
light, and in the gloom Henderson stood alone with his dead.

Then it flashed across his brain that he had shot Elsie with the weapon
that she had brought. This seemed to offer a hope of deliverance to
his mind. She would be supposed to have shot herself. Who was there to
tell? Henderson listened a few moments with bated breath. There was not
a rustle, but the trees below stirred with the night wind; not a sound,
and it was now dark, very dark.

Summoning all his courage, he once more approached the dead woman's
body. He meant to throw it down the ravine, where chance might hide
it. With a sickening feeling of loathing he stooped and raised it in
his arms. Bah? As he did so something still warm ran over his hand. He
dropped the body with a suppressed cry; it was Elsie's blood, and when
he remembered this, it added new horror to his soul.

But it must be done. With a great effort he once more bent down. He
pulled it along this time--this lifeless thing he feared to touch.
He dragged it to the edge of the ravine; he rolled it over the sharp
descent. He heard it fall, then stop. He thought it had found a resting
place. But suddenly the crash of a branch giving way fell on his ears.
Again came a ghastly fall, then another, then a third, and then all was
still.

Henderson stood listening, spellbound with fear and horror. Great drops
of moisture fell from his forehead, his very hair seemed to bristle
with affright. Then after a time of unbroken silence, he slightly
recovered himself. He sought for, and found, the revolver he had laid
on the grass. This he flung down the ravine after the dead woman, and
having done this he turned and fled from the spot with the black curse
of murder on his soul.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE DEW ON THE GRASS.


When people have been very happy one day, they naturally wish to be
happy another. John Temple and May Churchill had been very happy
collecting the ferns in the Dene, and before they parted John expressed
a wish that this pleasure might be repeated.

"We have had a charming afternoon, have we not, Miss Churchill?" he
said, when May stopped at a short distance from her home and suggested
that here they had better part.

"Yes, I think we have," answered May, half-demurely, half-coquettishly.

"I don't think, I'm sure," smiled John. "And an idea has just struck
me, how lovely that place, Fern Dene, would be in the early morning,
when the dew is on the grass?"

"How romantic you are, Mr. Temple!"

"I was, but the weight of my years has crushed it all out of me."

"You do not look very old. How old are you, really?"

"I am thirty, but I feel forty."

"Thirty," repeated May, with a little laugh. "Just ten years older than
I am!"

"Oh, that decade, what I would give to forget it," said John Temple,
half-seriously. "To go back to my lost youth; to be like you--"

May shrugged her pretty shoulders.

"But I shall get old, too," she smiled.

"And cease to be the Mayflower," said John, with a genuine sigh. "Ah,
that is very sad."

Again May Churchill laughed. She stood there a picture of youth and
beauty; a girl in the prime of her girlhood, and conscious perhaps that
John Temple's gray eyes were fixed admiringly on her lovely face.

"Yes," he repeated, "that will really be very sad. Age makes no matter
to ordinary-looking people, you know, but to a flower--"

"When shall I begin to wither?" asked May, archly.

"Oh! do not speak of it! And yet," he continued more seriously, still
looking at May, "there are some faces that must always be beautiful;
some eyes that can never grow dim."

"I plainly perceive that age has still left you romantic, Mr. Temple."

"You inspire me, I was going to remark, to say foolish things. But on
reflection I perceive the speech lacks politeness. But how about the
dew on the grass! Will it lie till ten o'clock? Do let us meet in Fern
Dene to-morrow morning, Miss Churchill, at ten o'clock to see?"

"How can you be there so early?" smiled May.

"I would rise with the lark, I would soar, I would do anything, if you
will go."

"It would be fun, certainly. Very well, if you will be there by ten, I
will, but I do not expect to find you."

"We shall see," said John Temple, fervently.

"Yes, we shall see," answered May, with a gay little laugh. "And now
good-by, Mr. Temple."

They shook hands and each went their separate way, thinking of the
other. May Churchill was amused, excited, and flattered. How much more
agreeable was this well-bred man, she was thinking, than country-bred
young Henderson. In truth the Mayflower had never taken very kindly
to this admirer of hers. But her father often invited Henderson to
Woodside Farm, and his shrewd eyes were not blind to the young man's
love for his pretty daughter. The squire of Stourton Grange was a good
match for May, Mr. Churchill had decided in his practical way, and
certain ulterior views of his own made him wish to see May married.

May, however, was very happy at her home, and her father had never
mentioned anything of Henderson's attentions to her. Her young brothers
sometimes rallied her about the young squire, but May took it all very
good-naturedly. But if Henderson ever had had any chance of winning her
affections, the time was past after she had met John Temple.

She went home smiling and happy after parting with him, but as she was
entering the pleasant garden at Woodside, to her consternation she met
Mrs. Layton coming out of the gate. The vicar's wife did not approve of
the Mayflower, nor of her pet name, but this did not prevent her asking
small favors from her, when it suited Mrs. Layton's convenience to do
so.

"Oh, here you are, Miss Margaret," she said, holding out a thin, meager
hand; "I'm very glad I've met you, as I've had a long walk, and the
servant said you were out. I wanted to see your father, but I dare say
you will do as well. It is our school feast on Thursday, though, as
you do not attend now, of course you do not know. But still I hope Mr.
Churchill will supply the milk and cream gratis, as he kindly did last
year?"

"I've no doubt that he will," answered May, smiling.

"Thank you, then I may look on that as settled. Any little thing helps,
you know; fruit or eggs, or anything. Indeed, speaking of eggs, could
I have half a dozen fresh-laid ones to take away with me now, as the
vicar is very fond of a fresh-laid egg?"

May Churchill blushed. Mrs. Layton knew perfectly well that May had
nothing to do with the selling of eggs, nor the management of the
poultry-yard. But she simply chose to ignore this; she liked "to
keep people in their proper stations," she used to say, and as she
considered a farmer's daughter ought to know about the selling of eggs,
she was determined to let May Churchill know this.

"Of course I mean to purchase them," Mrs. Layton added, as May
hesitated.

"I will inquire if we have any to spare," replied May, just a little
haughtily; and as she spoke she turned and went in the direction
of the dairy, and a few minutes later reappeared, carrying a small
basketful of fresh eggs.

"I have brought you a few eggs, Mrs. Layton," she said, "and I trust
you will accept them."

"Oh, dear, no; please tell me how much they are?" replied Mrs. Layton,
fumbling for her purse.

"We do not sell eggs," answered May, coldly.

"Not sell eggs! Dear me, I thought all farmer's daughters sold eggs.
But as you are so kind, I will accept them; and you'll not forget to
tell your father about the milk and cream? Well, good-afternoon, Miss
Margaret; I think I must steal one of your roses, though, before I go."

It must be admitted that May Churchill entered the house after this
interview feeling a little ruffled. She had felt so happy before, and
had enjoyed her afternoon so much, and then to be snubbed in this
fashion!

"She's a vulgar old woman," she consoled herself by thinking, and
tried to forget her annoyance in arranging the table prettily for her
father's tea.

This meal was of a very substantial order. The farmer dined early,
but between seven and eight partook of a heavy meat tea. Cold lamb, a
fowl, and a home-cured ham, and various other good things awaited him,
to which he presently did ample justice. He was a very sober man, and
healthful, and he laughed heartily about Mrs. Layton asking for the
milk and cream.

"She's not troubled with modesty, the parson's wife, is she?" he said.
But somehow May did not tell her father what Mrs. Layton had said about
the selling of eggs.

May's two young brothers were spending some days with a neighboring
farmer's son, and the father and daughter were thus alone. And after
tea was over Mr. Churchill, having lit his pipe, looked more than once
reflectively at his pretty girl.

"I've got something to say to you, May," he said, at last.

"Yes, father," answered May, looking up. She was not afraid of
anything her father might have to say to her. He was always kind and
generous in the matter of household expenses, and there had never been
any squabbles between them regarding weekly bills.

"I'm thinking of marrying again, May," continued Mr. Churchill,
somewhat abruptly. "You see you're sure to marry, and the boys are
young, and will want someone to look after them--and so shall I," added
the farmer, with an uneasy laugh.

May did not speak for a moment, for she was completely astonished. Her
lovely wild-rose color deepened, her eyes fell, and her hands played
nervously with some embroidery she held in her dainty fingers.

"It's Mrs. Bradshaw of Castle Hill," proceeded Mr. Churchill; "you see
she's a handy woman, and has a nice bit of money, and there's some very
good grass land at Castle Hill."

"Mrs. Bradshaw!" repeated May in dismay. She knew the buxom widow
her father spoke of, both personally and by repute, and had never
considered her a person fit to associate with. Her own mother had
been a lady, the daughter of a clergyman, and May had certainly hoped
that if her father married again he would not marry a woman like Mrs.
Bradshaw, who had first been the wife of a country shopkeeper, and
then of Mr. Bradshaw, a farmer at Castle Hill. Altogether it was a
great blow to May Churchill, and she did not attempt to offer any
congratulations to her father.

"I would not have thought of it," continued Mr. Churchill, glancing at
his young daughter's changing face, "but that you are certain to marry
soon, May. There's young Henderson of Stourton; anyone can see what he
wants."

"I do not care for Mr. Henderson," replied May, hastily, and without
another word she rose quickly and left the room, leaving Mr. Churchill
much disappointed by the conversation that had passed between them.

Then May went to her own room, and sat down to think, with a galling
sense of annoyance in her heart. First Mrs. Layton and now her father
had made her feel her social inferiority to the man of whom she had
thought so pleasantly during the earlier part of the day.

"It's absurd, my going to meet Mr. Temple," she reflected, not a little
bitterly. "No doubt he regards me as a milkmaid, a pretty milkmaid."

She rose a few moments later, and stood looking at her own likeness in
the mirror. No milkmaid type this, but a lovely young Englishwoman,
with refined, delicate features, and the most charming expression in
the world. May unconsciously smiled as she looked at herself in the
glass. It was very trying certainly to have a stepmother like Mrs.
Bradshaw thrust upon her, and to be reproached for not selling eggs by
Mrs. Layton, but these things did not make her less fair.

She therefore decided that she would go and meet Mr. Temple the next
morning. And she did. She said nothing to her father at breakfast about
this early expedition, but started as early as half-past nine o'clock
for Fern Dene, without telling anyone in the house where she was going.

She walked quickly and her spirits rose as she passed through the
fields in the fresh morning air. Yes, the dew was still on the grass,
she thought, smilingly, as she glanced at the herbage growing beneath
the hedge-rows. Then presently she came to the little bridge across the
brook that led to the Dene. How the water sparkled in the sunshine!
Everything looked so bright; the blue sky, the wavering boughs of the
green trees dappling the grass.

May walked on with a sense of exhilaration and pleasure pervading her
whole being. She walked on until where the Dene narrows, stopped for a
moment and glanced up at the steep-wooded declivity at its side. What
made her suddenly start and turn pale? A little cry broke from her
lips; a ghastly sight met her horror-stricken eyes.

A woman's body, with head hanging downward and dark hair unbound, was
suspended from a branch of one of the largest trees. May made a step
nearer with shrinking dread. She thought first the poor creature had
hanged herself, but a second glance told her this was not so.

There was a red stain of curdled blood around the drooped throat, from
which the handkerchief had fallen, and the face, with its sightless,
half-open eyes, nearly touched the ground. May went closer--then she
saw the wound in the throat--the broken branches above; she recognized
the face! It was the handsome girl from the Wayside Inn, the landlord's
daughter, and with a cry of horror May turned and fled from the spot.

She ran until she came in sight of the little bridge at the entrance
of the Dene. On this, as he was in the very act of crossing it,
John Temple saw her come hurrying on, evidently in a state of the
greatest excitement and agitation. Instead of the pretty smiling
girl he expected to meet, here was a woman who came toward him with
outstretched hand and a white, shocked face.

"Oh! Mr. Temple," she gasped out, as they met, "something so dreadful
has happened!"

"My dear Miss Churchill," he answered, taking both her hands, "what has
happened?"

"A poor girl, a poor woman, is lying I think murdered farther up the
Dene--"

"Murdered?" repeated John Temple.

"I think so, I fear so," continued May, who was trembling in every
limb. "She is hanging from a tree--she may have fallen--"

"Are you sure she is dead?" asked John Temple, gravely. "This has given
you a great shock, I fear; but I had better go at once and see if I can
do anything."

"Yes," answered May, with a shudder. "Oh! her face is so awful, awful,
Mr. Temple! I think I know who it is; a poor girl I knew by sight. What
shall we do?"

"We must see at once if help can be given. Are you afraid to show me
where she is?"

"No," said May, in a low tone, and again she shuddered.

"You need not go all the way, you know," said John Temple, kindly and
gently. "Come, lean on me; you are trembling so that you can scarcely
stand."

He drew her hand through his arm and spoke soothingly to her, and
May felt thankful that he was there. His presence seemed to give her
courage, and presently she was able to show him where the poor girl's
body was hanging from the tree. John Temple left her for a few minutes
and went on. Then he, too, saw the terrible sight that had filled May's
heart with horror. He went up and touched one of the poor girl's hands;
he felt for the stilled pulse. But he knew too well it was useless.
The ghastly face told its own tale. The woman was dead; had probably
been murdered, and the miserable affair must, of course, at once be
investigated.

He returned, therefore, to May and asked her if she were afraid to go
home as quickly as possible and give the alarm.

"I do not like leaving the poor woman's body quite alone," he said,
"but if you are afraid--"

"Oh, no," answered May; "I will run home. Father will most likely be
about the place, and he will come at once. I will go now."

She hurried away, while John Temple kept his dreary watch. Presently
she reached the homestead, and met her father almost at the gate.
Almost breathless and panting she told the dreadful news, and Mr.
Churchill listened, surprised and shocked.

"But are you sure it is Wray's daughter, my dear?" he said.

"I am almost sure," answered May. "Oh, father, it is such a dreadful,
dreadful sight!"

"In that case I had better ride over and break it to poor Wray. Why,
she was a fine, handsome, merry girl; how ever can such a thing have
happened?"

While the father and daughter were speaking, and Mr. Churchill was
considering what it would be best to do, to their surprise and pain
James Wray, the landlord of the Wayside Inn, was seen approaching in
a small dog-cart in great haste toward the house. He pulled up when
he recognized the Churchills, and they saw that his face was pale and
agitated.

"You've not seen or heard anything of my girl, have ye?" he asked,
excitedly, addressing Mr. Churchill, whose eyes fell uneasily as he
spoke. "She left home last night, and has never come back. I'm on my
way to the station, and if I hear nothing of her there I must get the
police."

"Come into the house a few minutes, Mr. Wray," answered Mr. Churchill,
feelingly; "perhaps I may have some news for you."

James Wray sprang from the dog-cart and grasped the farmer's hand.

"Not bad!" he cried, "don't say bad news about my girl! What is it,
man? What do you know?"



CHAPTER IX.

DRAWN CLOSER.


"You had better come into the house," again urged Mr. Churchill; "my
daughter here may have something to tell you."

Then James Wray looked eagerly at May, whose face grew very pale.

"I fear there has been an accident," she faltered.

"Not to Elsie? Not to my girl!" cried James Wray.

"I--saw someone lying in Fern Dene--as if she had fallen," said May in
a trembling voice; "I am not sure--who it was--not sure it was Miss
Wray--I ran to tell father--"

"Fallen!" repeated Wray, aghast. "Where could she have fallen from? How
could my girl be in Fern Dene?"

"Suppose I send one of the men to bring Doctor Graham, he's the
nearest," suggested Mr. Churchill. "I will go with you to Fern Dene if
you like, Mr. Wray."

"It can't be my girl there!" said Wray, in violent excitement. "She
went out about half-past eight o'clock, the barmaid says--how could she
be there?"

"It's better to ascertain at any rate, and I'll send for Doctor Graham
at once. This poor young woman in Fern Dene, whoever it be, may require
some assistance," answered Mr. Churchill, quietly.

He therefore at once dispatched one of the farm servants for the
doctor, who only lived a quarter of a mile distant, and he whispered a
word in May's ear.

"Are you well enough to go with us, May?" he said. "And tell some of
the women to bring brandy and blankets; the poor soul may not be dead,
you know."

May made no reply. She had looked at the landlord's agitated face, and
great pity for him was in her heart. But she was not quite sure of the
dead woman's identity. She thought it was Elsie Wray, but the face was
so awfully changed she could not be certain.

"It may not be your daughter, Mr. Wray," she said, tremulously, "who is
lying injured--but we had better see."

"It can not be my daughter," affirmed Wray, "but we can see, we can
see."

"I will drive May to Fern Dene," said Mr. Churchill. "It will take less
time, and then we can take with us what is necessary, and will you
drive the doctor, Mr. Wray?"

"Why wait for the doctor? Let us go at once," answered the landlord,
with nervous, eager impatience. "It can't be my girl there, and I must
find her."

"Very well; he can follow. My horse will be harnessed in a minute, and
then we can start," said Mr. Churchill; and very shortly afterward they
did start. Mr. Churchill's horse was a young and powerful one, and they
quickly drew in sight of the wooded dell that hid so drear a sight.
Here Mr. Churchill assisted May out of the high dog-cart, and then
fastened his horse to a tree, and took out the brandy and blankets they
had brought. By this time Wray, who had been urging his pony to its
utmost speed, overtook them, and the three together--May, her father,
and the landlord--crossed the little bridge and found themselves in the
shady Dene.

May went on, naturally with shrinking dread, and the landlord with
trembling footsteps. They had not gone far when they met John Temple;
he had heard their voices in the silence around, and now advanced to
meet them, and as he did so his face was very grave.

"This is a sad affair, Mr. Churchill," he said.

"I hope nothing very bad, Mr. Temple?" answered the farmer.

"It looks very black, at least," continued Temple; "there is a revolver
lying near the body among the undergrowth, but I thought it best not to
touch it until the police arrive."

"The body!" gasped the landlord, with staring eyes fixed on John
Temple's face, who did not know he was the father of the unhappy Elsie.

"Yes, the poor woman is quite dead, has been dead apparently for
hours," answered Temple, and as he spoke a sort of cry escaped the
landlord's lips.

"Where is she?" he asked in a hoarse voice. "It's not my girl, but
still--"

"She is suspended from a tree a little farther up the Dene," said John.
"I can show you the spot."

"Oh, no, no, Mr. Wray!" now cried May, laying her hand on the
landlord's arm. "Let father and me go first--it's no sight for you--"

But the landlord pushed aside her detaining hand.

"Let me go," he said, hoarsely, and he ran forward, followed by the
rest. Then when he beheld the ghastly sight, the streaming black hair,
the half-open eyes, a great cry escaped his lips.

"My girl, my girl!"

His words rang through the woods. He flung himself on his knees;
he raised the head; he looked wildly in the face. Yes, it was his
girl--his Elsie--lying foully murdered in this lone spot!

"Elsie, who has done this?" he asked in passionate grief.

"Father, help me to disentangle her; to lift her down," now said May,
with streaming eyes. "Oh! help us, Mr. Temple!"

"Yes," answered John Temple, "I will climb the tree and disentangle her
dress. You help to hold her head and body, Mr. Churchill, while I go
up."

He was slight and active, and soon the poor still form was loose from
the branch which had caught and held it in its fall. They laid her
gently on the grass. May Churchill knelt down and covered the ghastly
face and the blue-edged wound on the shapely throat, and she tried also
to draw away the landlord from his dead daughter's side.

"Oh, come away, come away, Mr. Wray," she said, pitifully; "this is no
place for you--I will stay with her--you go with father."

But the unhappy man took no heed of her words. He knelt there holding
one of Elsie's cold hands; his eyes were staring from his head with
sorrow.

"Who killed thee, my lass?" he asked again and again; "thee who had
wronged none."

"It may have been an accident," suggested May, tearfully and soothingly.

But at this moment the doctor and some others arrived on the spot, and
the doctor at once knelt down and removed the handkerchief from the
face and throat.

"This looks like murder," he said, in a low tone, carefully examining
the wound.

"There is a revolver lying there among the undergrowth," pointed out
John Temple.

Mr. Churchill went forward at these words to the spot John indicated,
and picked up the revolver and looked at it attentively.

"Why, Mr. Wray," he said, "this is your revolver--here is your name
engraved on it."

Then James Wray raised his stony, grief-stricken face, and looked at
the revolver in the farmer's hand.

"Yes," he said, "it's mine--how did it come here?"

"It looks as if she--"

"She never brought it--she has been lured here and shot. Oh! my girl,
my girl, that I should have lived to see this day!"

Nothing could exceed his heartrending grief. Elsie had been his only
child, and for her he had worked and saved. He was well off, and for
long had nourished a secret hope that his daughter would marry the
young squire of Stourton Grange. And now it was all over; she lay dead
before him--had died a tragic death--and a dark suspicion crossed his
mind as he looked at her motionless form.

"Whoever's done it, I'll hunt him down!" he swore, inwardly. "I'll ha'
his life for thine!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It is useless to write of the painful details that followed. The
police arrived and Elsie Wray's body was carried away, followed by her
heart-broken father; May Churchill also walked close to the bearers of
the dead, as they bore her down the Dene. But before this was done,
with gentle, womanly hands May had again covered the face, and rolled
up the long hair, and arranged the dress in seemly fashion. And John
Temple stood by and watched her do this, with strange emotion.

"She is not a mere pretty girl, then," he was thinking, and he turned
away with a restless sigh.

Then, when the sad procession had crossed the little bridge at the
commencement of the Dene, May and her father returned to Woodside, and
Elsie's body was carried on to the Wayside Inn, for the inquest which
was necessary to be held on it. May was very much overcome as she stood
and watched them bear away the poor girl whose tragic end she had been
the first to discover. She wished even to follow the dead the whole
way, but Mr. Churchill would not hear of this, and John Temple also
advised her not to do so.

"Let your father drive you home," he whispered; "you look quite done up
as it is."

So May was handed into her father's dog-cart, but just as they were
starting Mr. Churchill asked John Temple to go with them.

"Can't I give you a lift, Mr. Temple?" he said.

"Thanks, very much," answered John, with alacrity, stepping up into
the back seat of the dog-cart, and when they reached the nearest road
to Woodlea Hall, he made no offer to descend, but accompanied Mr.
Churchill and May the whole way to Woodside Farm.

When they arrived there Mr. Churchill insisted that he should remain to
lunch.

"It's our early dinner, you know, Mr. Temple, but we can offer you a
fair slice of mutton."

John Temple accepted this invitation also, and then judiciously began
talking to the farmer of his horses.

"My uncle has given me a good allowance," he said, "and I want a good
horse. Have you anything you think would suit me?"

Mr. Churchill, who was a man with a keen eye to a bargain, immediately
led John away to inspect his stables and paddocks. And it ended by
John buying a valuable riding-horse and the farmer feeling that he
had done an excellent morning's work. Then came the early dinner, at
which May presided, looking in John's eyes more lovely still from the
light pallor of her smooth cheeks, and the faint violet rim round
her beautiful eyes. The tragic affair of the morning was scarcely
mentioned, but the meal was hardly over when a summons was served at
the farm for May and her father both to attend the inquest on poor
Elsie Wray's body, which had to be held on the following morning.

Then some one came to see Mr. Churchill on business, and John Temple
and May were left alone.

"Let us go into the garden for a little while," he said.

So the two went out together and walked side by side on the trim gravel
walks, between the blooming flower-beds, which were May's especial
care. May made some allusion to Elsie Wray's death, but after a word or
two on the subject John Temple changed the conversation.

"She probably committed suicide, poor girl," he said; "her appearance
indicated that she was a woman of strong and passionate emotions."

"In any case it is so terribly sad."

"Yes, but do not think of it; we all must do so to-morrow; let us put
off the evil day."

Then he began talking to her of a little tour he had had in Normandy at
this very time last year, telling her of the quaint old French towns
that he had sojourned in, with their wide ramparts, spreading orchards,
and rosy pippins. He spoke well and graphically, and somehow both
forgot the time. Suddenly, however, John glanced at his watch and gave
an exclamation.

"Why, the day has flown!" he cried. "Do you know it is actually five
o'clock, and I left Woodlea at half-past eight. My good uncle will
naturally think I have run away."

"You must tell them--" began May, and then she paused embarrassed.

"I will tell them I went out for an early walk, and by accident met
you, who had just made the sad discovery which you did. There is no
need to say anything else."

"No, of course not," answered May, relieved.

"And I will add that I went back with you to Fern Dene, and saw the
poor girl and remained there while you ran home for assistance to your
father. This affair is sure to be greatly talked of."

"Yes, it is most painful to be mixed up in it, and I feel so dreadfully
sorry for her poor father."

"The whole thing is painful--but I must go. Good-by, Miss Churchill--I
wonder if you would give me a rose?"

"Oh, yes," answered May; and she stooped down and plucked a crimson
bud. "Will you have this one?"

"A thousand thanks--once more good-by."

Then their hands met, and for a moment May looked up in John Temple's
face, and she blushed softly as she did so.



CHAPTER X.

THE WAGES OF SIN.


It was a dark night when Henderson slunk home after his accursed deed;
dark and late, yet his mother was waiting up for him and anxiously
listening for his return. She heard him turn the latch-key in the door,
and went out into the hall to meet him.

"You are late, Tom," she said.

He started violently when he saw her.

"You up!" he said, hoarsely.

"Yes, I waited to say good-night. Why, Tom," she added the next minute,
lifting her lighted candle higher, "whatever is the matter with your
coat? Where did you get that stain?"

A shudder ran through his strong stalwart frame as she asked the
question, and his guilty eyes fell on the red stain on his coat sleeve.

"I stumbled and fell; it is nothing," he said, yet more hoarsely;
"good-night, mother," and without another word he turned and hurried
up the unlighted staircase, leaving his mother looking after him in
absolute astonishment.

He always smoked before he went to bed, and usually he drank some
whisky, and therefore she could not account for his conduct. She grew
anxious about him, and after she had retired to her own bedroom she
thought she would go quietly to his room-door and see after him. As
she approached it she thought she felt a faint smell of burning. She
was afraid to go into his room, for he was spoilt and wayward and did
not care to be interfered with, so she knelt quietly down and peered
through the key-hole.

A strange sight met her startled gaze. Her son was standing by the
fireplace, without his shirt on, and he was burning it by degrees
in the grate! She saw him cut out one sleeve and then the other and
burn them, adding matches to the flaming linen to make it consume
more quickly. The coat that he had worn during the evening--a light
cloth summer one--was lying on a chair near. Presently he took this
up, and shuddered as he did so. Then he cut off the lower part of one
sleeve--and consigned this also to the flames. He watched it burn, and
then rolled up the coat, and put it into the drawer of his wardrobe and
locked the drawer. After this, he put on a dressing-gown and approached
the door of the room from which his mother had scarcely time to fly,
when he opened it and came out on the landing with a lighted candle in
his hand.

Mrs. Henderson had hurried unseen into an empty room next door, and she
now watched her son descend the staircase, and could see that he was
ghastly pale, his whole appearance denoting great agitation. A great
terror crept over the poor woman's heart, and a nameless dread took
possession of her mind. She dare not follow him, but stood hidden in
the shadow, and in a few minutes she heard him returning up the stairs.
This time he was carrying a bottle of whisky and a glass, and Mrs.
Henderson saw his hands were trembling as he did so.

He entered his bedroom and at once began drinking the whisky. He drank
glass after glass, though he was by no means in the habit of doing so,
and at last flung himself, half-undressed, stupefied, on the bed, and
speedily fell into a heavy slumber.

But Mrs. Henderson herself could not sleep for thinking of him.
Something had happened, at all events, greatly to disturb him, and Mrs.
Henderson felt ill at ease.

The next morning he did not come down to breakfast at the usual time,
and finally his mother went up to his room-door and rapped.

"It's late, Tom; are you not well?" she called.

"I've a beastly headache. I'll be down directly," he answered, and when
he did appear Mrs. Henderson was quite shocked at his appearance. He
looked ill, haggard, and nervous, and ate nothing, drinking his tea, in
sullen silence.

All the rest of the morning it was the same thing. He did not go
out, but seemed in a state of restless excitement that he could not
suppress. Then about twelve o'clock a rumor reached Stourton Grange
that a murder had been committed in Fern Dene. The gardener heard it
outside and hurried into the kitchen to tell his news. It was not
known at first who it was. A woman's body had been found in the Dene,
that was all, and when Mrs. Henderson went into her larder to inspect
its contents and order the dinner, her cook followed her and told her
mistress what she had heard.

Mrs. Henderson turned actually faint as she listened. Tom's strange
conduct instantly recurred to her mind. But no, what folly, she
told herself the next minute. But, nevertheless, she went into the
breakfast-room where Tom was sitting pretending to read the newspapers,
with trembling footsteps.

"Tom," she said, "they say something dreadful has happened in Fern
Dene--"

She was looking at her son's face as she spoke, and the ghastly pallor
that at once spread over it filled her own heart with terror.

"What has happened?" he asked, hoarsely.

"They--say a murder," answered Mrs. Henderson in a faltering voice.

"A murder! What folly!" repeated Tom, and he rose hastily and flung the
newspaper on the floor as he did so. His whole manner indicated extreme
agitation, and his mother grew pale as she watched him.

"What cock-and-bull story have you got hold of now, I wonder?" he went
on harshly, a few moments later.

"They say a woman's body has been found in the Dene," answered Mrs.
Henderson, slowly, and Tom Henderson visibly started as she spoke.

"I don't believe it," he said, abruptly, and a moment later he hastily
left the room, leaving his mother greatly agitated.

Henderson had not left the house the whole morning, but after pacing up
and down his own bedroom for some minutes an extreme restlessness came
over him, and he went toward the stables, and in the stable yard he
found Jack Reid, the groom, rubbing down a horse.

The man did not look around as his master approached him, but went on
with his task, while Henderson stood a moment or two looking on without
speaking.

"Billy looks very fresh this morning," he said, presently, with
affected carelessness, and the groom, still without looking around,
only nodded his head in answer to his master's remark.

Henderson moved uneasily, and then, after another pause and in an
uneven voice, he said:

"What's this story, Jack, my mother's been telling me about some woman
or other being found in Fern Dene?"

Then Jack did look around, and Henderson's eyes shifted and fell as he
did so.

"It's Miss Wray," he said, in a sullen tone; "she's been found dead in
the Dene."

"Miss Wray! Dead!--impossible!" exclaimed Henderson.

"It's true enough, though," answered Jack, roughly.

"How do you know? Who found her?" queried Henderson.

"Miss Churchill, from Woodside Farm, they say, and she ran and met the
young squire from the Hall. Anyhow, she's dead--she's been shot, and
they say an inquest will be held on her to-morrow."

Henderson turned absolutely livid as he listened to Jack's information.
He took two or three hasty strides down the stable yard, and then he
once more returned to the groom's side.

"Jack," he began, and then hesitated.

"Well," asked Jack, not over-respectfully.

"You remember," went on Henderson, forcing himself to speak, "taking a
note to her from me?"

Jack laconically nodded his head.

"That note," went on Henderson, desperately, "was to ask her to meet me
in Fern Dene, but I changed my mind and did not go. She had got some
folly into her head about marrying me, and so I thought afterward it
was better not to go. But she may have gone--do you see, Jack? Yes, to
be sure she may have gone," continued Henderson, wiping his dark brow.

"And, Jack, about that note? Did anyone see you give it to her?" he
went on.

"Yes, there were some fellows sitting at the bar saw me," answered
Jack, coolly.

"That's a pity--but it can't be helped," said Henderson, in increasing
agitation. "But--did anyone hear the answer she sent me?"

"Yes, she walked straight back into the bar with your letter in her
hand after she had read it, and her eyes were just blazing in her head.
'Tell him I will be there,' she said, and the fellows heard it as well
as me."

Again Henderson wiped his brow.

"She may have gone--I can't say anything about it, you know. I never
went near, but that note may get me into some trouble. Jack, I'll make
it worth your while to hold your tongue--to say nothing about the note,
as only you knew it was from me."

"I knew," answered Jack, doggedly.

"Yes, of course you knew, but you must not mention this to anyone. I'll
give you as much as five pounds--"

"Ten would suit me better."

"Well, I'll make it ten, then. If anyone asks who gave you the note,
say a stranger you met on the road gave you a shilling to deliver it to
Miss Wray. Do you understand? Put it on a stranger, and you shall have
ten pounds, for I do not wish to be mixed up in this matter at all."

"I can well understand that."

"You see, Jack, she may have gone to meet me, and when she found I was
not there she may have shot herself. She is shot, you say?"

"Yes, dead as a herring."

"It's a shocking affair; really a shocking affair," continued
Henderson, hastily; "poor girl!"

"Ay, poor lass!"

"It might have happened so--in her disappointment, you know, she may
have shot herself, that is if she had anything to shoot herself with?"

"They say her father's revolver was lying nigh her."

"Then I fear it has happened so. Don't you think so, Jack? How lucky
for me that I did not go near."

"Quite a close shave."

"Yes, quite a close shave indeed. Well, Jack, now we've arranged it,
I'll go into the house and get you the ten pounds--but remember you
were to say a stranger--that a stranger gave you the note."

Jack nodded and Henderson hastily returned to the house, and speedily
reappeared with two crisp five-pound bank notes in his pocket, which
he soon placed in Jack's horny hand, who at once deposited them in
his corduroys. But when they were safely there, he looked up with his
shrewd brown eyes in his master's face.

"About that note," he said. "Maybe the poor lass left it behind her,
and it was in yer writing."

Henderson's face fell.

"The devil it was!" he muttered.

"And maybe she's other letters, put by that ye wrote? I've taken other
letters, perhaps, signed by yer name. No, master, the story about the
stranger giving it to me won't wash. It would only make me out a big
liar, and not help ye. You'll ha' to face the letters, and stick to the
story that you did not go to meet the poor lass when she met her death."

"Of course, I did not go. After I wrote the letter, I got afraid to
meet her," said Henderson, in great agitation.

"Stick to that; ye got afraid to go, and the poor lass must ha' shot
herself because ye broke yer word; ye may make them believe that, not
the other, for lots o' folks knew what was between ye and poor Elsie."

Henderson's teeth almost chattered in his head.

"You think so?" he said, tremblingly.

"I'm sure; Alice the barmaid knew and others. Stick to the story that
ye did not go."

Jack's manner as he said this was very determined, and Henderson begun
to see the prudence of his advice.

"Perhaps you are right," he said, after thinking a moment or two. "The
letter I sent yesterday was not signed in full--only my initials--but
I have sent letters signed in full, and she may have kept them. It's a
confounded business altogether, and I wish I had never seen her."

"It's too late to wish that," replied Jack, significantly; and then he
resumed grooming the horse, while with a moody brow and an uneasy heart
Henderson returned to the house, feeling that he would be almost sure
to be called to account for the letter he had written the day before to
poor Elsie Wray.

And he was. The afternoon had not passed when a police-constable
arrived at Stourton Grange and asked to see Mr. Henderson. With a
sinking heart he went to this interview, and the policeman informed
him that he was the bearer of a summons for him to be present at the
inquiry to be held on the death of Elsie Wray during the following
morning.

"And I've one for your groom, Jack Reid, Mr. Henderson," continued the
policeman, with his eyes fixed searchingly on Henderson's changing
face; "he delivered a letter it seems to Miss Wray on the day of her
death."

"Yes," faltered Henderson; "but I did not go near."

"You must reserve your evidence until you are before the coroner, and
you had better give it carefully," and with these warning words the
policeman took his departure, leaving Henderson a prey to the most
morbid dread.

And scarcely had the constable gone when Mrs. Henderson crept into the
room with an almost colorless face.

"Tom," she said, in trembling accents, "what has that man been here
for?"

"I've to attend the inquest on that girl found in Fern Dene to-morrow
morning," answered Henderson, huskily, turning away his head.

"They say it's the girl from the Wayside Inn. Oh, Tom, did you go and
meet her?" asked Mrs. Henderson, piteously.

"I never went near her; but, mother, a confounded thing has happened.
I was ass enough to write to her to ask her to meet me; I wanted to
buy her off, in fact. When I was almost a boy I got entangled with
her, and she was always urging some claims or other that she thought
she had against me, and I wanted to pay her a big sum and be done
with it. Well, I asked her to meet me last night, but I did not go.
I went out for a short time, as you remember, and then I turned back
and came home. If you are questioned you must say I was home early, or
never out. Do you understand? They will want to throw suspicion on me
on account of the confounded letter I wrote. The girl must have gone,
I suppose, and shot herself because I did not go, for her father's
revolver was lying beside her."

Mrs. Henderson had turned absolutely white during this garbled
narrative. From this hour she never doubted her son's guilt. She looked
at him with terror-stricken eyes, but no word came from her trembling
lips.

"You must say I was home early; only out a few minutes," repeated
Henderson, doggedly, and almost with a gasp Mrs. Henderson whispered
out a few words.

"You were--at home early," she said.

"That's it; you mayn't be asked, but that's your answer, and now I'll
go out for a walk, for I've a disgusting headache still."

He turned and went out of the room as he spoke, and Mrs. Henderson
leaned against the table for support.

"Oh! my unhappy boy," she murmured with her white lips; "my miserable
boy!"

In a few minutes she saw him go down the avenue smoking, and then with
feeble, trembling footsteps, as though suddenly aged, she proceeded
to her son's bedroom. She locked the door, and then drew out her
housewifely bunch of keys. With these, one after the other, she tried
to unlock the drawer in Henderson's wardrobe, where she had seen him
hide the coat he had worn the night before, and from which he had cut
the stained sleeve. At last one of her keys opened the drawer, and with
shaking fingers Mrs. Henderson drew out the coat she had seen him roll
up and place there. With a sickening dread she now unrolled it. Half of
one of the sleeves was gone as she knew, but a faint stain--a smudge,
as it were, on the breast--quickly attracted her attention.

She shuddered as she looked at it; shuddered and turned faint, but with
an heroic effort she conquered this failing of her bodily powers. She
relocked the drawer, and wrapped her son's mutilated coat in some brown
paper she found lying on the table. She carried this parcel to her
own room, after carefully brushing out the grate in Henderson's; and
wrapping the burnt fragments it contained in paper, she carried these
away also.

When she reached her bedroom she concealed these two parcels, and then
rang for her housemaid. She bade this maid make up and light the fire,
for, as it was summer time, there were no coals in the room.

"I feel so chilly, Jane," she said; "I must have got cold, and will be
all the better for a fire."

The fire was soon lit, and when it had burnt up and the servant was
gone, Mrs. Henderson at once commenced to cut her son's coat to pieces,
and burnt it gradually. She was afraid to make a smell of burning by
doing it altogether. But every shred of it was at last consumed, and
Mrs. Henderson watched it disappear with a miserable heart.

In the meanwhile Henderson had once more strolled toward the stables,
and there, as he expected to find, was Jack Reid. The groom looked up
and nodded when he saw his master approaching.

"I wanted a word wi' ye, sir," he said; "I've been hanging about, and
all the country-side's up about the murder."

"I know nothing about it," said Henderson, doggedly, "but--you were
right, Jack, about the letter; the policeman who served the summons
about the inquest said something about you having taken one."

"I knew I was right; folks saw me gi' it to her, and there's a great
talk over it. And the police ha' been examining where she was found all
the day, and they say she must ha' shot herself, or been shot, on the
high ridge above the Dene. There's blood there, and she must either ha'
fallen into the Dene or been thrown, as the branches are broke all the
way down from the top to where she was found."

Henderson's face grew literally ghastly as he listened to these words,
and his groom watched him with a certain grim humor in his expression.

"I never went near," said Henderson, huskily.

"Ay, stick to that; ye never went near; ye only asked her to go; and
one good job is that the old man's pistol was found beside her."

"She must have shot herself. My mother will tell them I was in the
house all night; I never was out."

The groom made no answer to this, and after a few moments' silence
Henderson turned sullenly away. There was something in the groom's
manner that frightened him; a suppressed insolence and unbelief in the
man's tone.

And later in the day, as he sat moodily smoking after dinner, he
received a message by one of the maids that Jack Reid wished to speak
to him. He rose and went to the hall door, where he found the groom.

"May I ha' a word wi' ye, sir, about one of the horses?" he said, with
a significant look, and Henderson followed him out as he spoke.

"It's not about the horses, sir," he continued, as soon as they were
a little distance from the house, "but I didn't want any o' the women
folk to hear what I have got to say. But the missus mustn't say ye were
never out last night. Ben Wood, the carter, saw ye out about half-past
eight, and is ready to swear it. But I've sent for ye to say that ye'd
best say ye were down at the stables then, and I'll back ye out. Say ye
were on yer way to the stables when Ben met ye."

"Very well, Jack, you must swear this, or there'll be no end of
trouble," answered Henderson.

"Ay, trouble enough, anyhow; for, master, I've another word for
ye--ye're watched. The police ha' their eye on ye, and ye'll not go in
or out of the house now unless they know."



CHAPTER XI.

A SILENT WITNESS.


Tom Henderson returned to the house after this last interview with
his groom in a truly pitiable state of terror and alarm. And a man,
a stranger, passed him in the avenue. This was no doubt one of his
watchers; his footsteps were dogged; he was a free agent no more.

He turned cold and shuddered when he thought of it. Dread visions rose
before him, and the terrible penalty of his crime grimly haunted his
mind.

As he entered the house he suddenly remembered the coat he had worn the
day before, when he had gone to meet the hapless Elsie. He had cut out
and burnt the stained sleeve, but what if the house was searched and
the coat discovered in its--as he supposed--present condition? No, it
must be destroyed entirely, he told himself.

But how to do this? If he burnt it the smell of the burning cloth would
spread through the house. He would bury it in the garden somewhere, he
finally decided; but he must wait to do this; must be sure that no one
was loitering about, spying his actions.

He waited until midnight. Mrs. Henderson had not come down-stairs to
dinner, nor during the whole evening. She had sent a message to her son
that she had a cold, and was unable to appear. Henderson, therefore,
had only his own miserable company. And to sustain his courage he
kept drinking glass after glass of whisky, and by twelve o'clock had
certainly had more than enough.

When the clock pointed to this hour he rose, and quietly as possible
stole upstairs for the purpose of bringing down the coat that he
intended to conceal. He unlocked the drawer in the wardrobe where he
knew he had placed it, and started back with sudden astonishment and
dismay, to find it was gone! He absolutely shook with fear. Where and
how had it disappeared? He turned everything over in the drawer twenty
times with trembling hands, but did so, as he knew, in vain.

He never thought of his mother about the matter for a moment. Either
it had been taken as evidence against him, or--and his guilty soul
shivered within him at the idea--some supernatural agency had been at
work, and the restless spirit of the dead Elsie had carried away the
blood-stained garment.

This thought filled him with absolute horror. He glanced furtively
at the dark corners of the room; he fancied that unseen things were
near, and at last, unable to endure the strain any longer, he once
more hurried down-stairs, and spent the night as best he could on the
dining-room couch, after first stupefying himself with whisky.

In the morning he felt in a wretched state alike of mind and body.
The inquest on the unfortunate Elsie Wray was to be held at eleven
o'clock at the Wayside Inn, and thither Henderson knew he must go. He
had to face this ordeal, however ill he was prepared for it, and Jack
Reid, the groom, drove him over in the dog-cart at the appointed hour.
Henderson was conscious that the people who met him in the country
lanes glanced at him with suspicious and lowering looks. His connection
with the unhappy Elsie had been whispered about, and many were ready to
take the blackest view of the case.

Jack Reid did not fail to impress on his young master during this drive
that he must give his evidence with the greatest caution; telling
him again and again that it was useless to deny sending the letters
that lured Elsie to her untimely end. They agreed between them, in
fact, what each had to say, and with this understanding they at length
arrived at the Wayside Inn.

May Churchill and her father were there before them, and after the jury
had viewed the body, May was the first witness called. She gave her
evidence clearly and simply, and her remarkable beauty as she did so
excited great admiration. When he first heard her sweet low-toned voice
a thrill passed through Henderson's whole frame, and for some moments
he could not find courage to look in her face, as she spoke of her
ghastly discovery in Fern Dene. Not so John Temple! He could not take
his eyes away from this fair girlish witness, and once May looked at
him when she described meeting him after she found poor Elsie.

John Temple corroborated her words, and then her father. After this
James Wray, the landlord, gave his evidence with deep emotion, and then
Alice, the barmaid. She had waited up for her young mistress, who had
never returned, and she had waited for Elsie on previous occasions.

"Did you know who she went to meet?" one of the jurymen asked.

The barmaid hesitated, and then glanced at Henderson's changing face.

"I understood it was Mr. Henderson," she answered.

"Did she ever tell you so?"

"No," replied the girl, and then she detailed how the groom from
Stourton Grange had brought a letter for Miss Wray in the afternoon,
and how her mistress had seemed greatly upset at receiving it, and how
she had gone into the bar and said to Reid, the groom, "Tell him I will
be there."

Reid then gave his evidence, saying that his master had given him this
letter to take to Miss Wray and that he had delivered it into her own
hands.

"Have you ever taken other letters to Miss Wray?" he was asked.

"Yes, once or twice," replied the groom.

"From your master, Mr. Henderson?"

"Yes."

"Did Miss Wray seem upset when she gave you the message for your
master?"

"She seemed a bit flurried like, I thought," answered Jack.

After this Henderson himself was called, and every eye in the room was
fixed on his tall, stalwart form and handsome face as he went forward.
He was cautioned in the usual manner, but with a great mental effort he
said calmly enough:

"I do not wish to conceal anything."

"You wrote the letter that your groom delivered to Miss Wray, and which
was found in her room after her death?"

"I did."

The letter was then handed to the jury, and after they had read it
Henderson's examination was continued.

"You asked her to go and meet you on the ridge above Fern Dene?"

"I did, but afterward I made up my mind not to go. I got frightened,"
answered Henderson, in a low tone, and with downcast eyes. "There had
been some talk of a marriage between us, as you may see by what I wrote
to her, and I wished to be done with it, that was why I wrote. But I
thought afterward I would write again the next day instead of going--I
was afraid to meet her."

"Were you out during the evening of Miss Wray's death?"

"Yes, for a short time; I went down to the stables."

"And you never went near Fern Dene?"

"Never; I was in early; my mother and Jack Reid were the only persons I
spoke to during the whole evening."

Jack Reid was recalled, and confirmed this statement.

His master came down to the stables about half-past eight, he said,
"and stayed a good bit;" and then he saw him walk toward the house.

Then came the medical evidence. The wound in the throat might have
been self-inflicted, or it might not, the doctor deposed. That the
fatal shot had been fired quite close to the dead woman there was
abundant evidence to prove, but whether inflicted by her own hand it
was impossible positively to say. She had been shot on the ridge above
Fern Dene, and had either staggered back and fallen over the declivity
to the Dene below, or been thrown down. The evidence altogether was of
so unsatisfactory a nature, that the inquest was adjourned to enable
the police to endeavor to obtain some more positive information. James
Wray swore that the revolver found near his daughter's body was his
property, and this was a fact that naturally pointed to suicide. No one
else could have obtained this weapon, as Wray deposed he had seen it in
its usual place on the morning of Elsie's death. In her despair at her
false lover not keeping his appointment she had probably shot herself,
many were inclined to believe, while others did not give credence to
Henderson's statement that he had not been to Fern Dene on the night
of her death. At all events neither the coroner nor the jury were
satisfied, and the adjourned inquest was appointed to take place in a
week. Henderson heard this in sullen silence, and then, after beckoning
to Reid, he left the house, without attempting to exchange a word with
any of those present. Once he looked at May Churchill as he passed her,
but the girl's eyes fell as they met his. She did not believe that he
had shot poor Elsie, but she believed that he had broken her heart, and
a strong feeling of womanly indignation filled May's breast.

In silence still, Henderson mounted his dog-cart, and in silence also
his groom commenced to drive him homeward. They had gone quite a
quarter of a mile before either of the men spoke. Then Henderson said
uneasily:

"How do you think it went off, Jack?"

"Fairly well," replied Jack, laconically.

After this there was very little said between them until they reached
the Grange. But as Henderson was descending from the dog-cart, Jack
Reid suddenly addressed him:

"After ye've had a drink, sir," he said, "will ye come down to the
stables?"

"Why?" answered Henderson, testily. "I've got a beastly headache, and I
don't want to talk of this hateful affair any more to-day."

"But I do," answered Jack Reid, doggedly.

"It's a nuisance--" began Henderson.

"I must see ye, sir," interrupted the groom, determinedly, and
Henderson, after glancing at him, seeing the expression of his face,
nodded and went into the house.

"I'll come down presently," he said, and this apparently satisfied
Reid, as he drove the horse at once on toward the stables.

Henderson then proceeded to the dining-room, where he found his mother
sitting pale and trembling.

"Tom," she said, tremulously, and then she paused.

"It's adjourned," he answered briefly, and then he went to the
sideboard and poured out some spirit, which he eagerly drank, and
his mother had not courage to ask him any further questions. She
kept looking at him fugitively, her heart filled with the direst
apprehensions. She saw him drink more spirit, and then he left the
room, going toward the stables with a lowering brow and an angry heart.

"Confound the fellow," he muttered, thinking of his groom. He believed
that Reid wished him to pay for the evidence he had given at the
inquest, and Henderson considered the ten pounds that Reid had already
received ample reward.

When he reached the stables he found the groom smoking in the yard.
Reid went on with his pipe as his master approached him, and this
increased Henderson's feeling of anger against him.

"Well," he said, addressing the groom sharply, "what do you want?"

Then Reid took his pipe out of his mouth and looked straight in
Henderson's face.

"That was good evidence I gave for ye to-day," he said.

"Yes, yes, I am quite ready to acknowledge that," answered Henderson
somewhat impatiently.

"For a word of mine might have hanged ye, may hang ye yet," continued
the groom.

"What do you mean?" asked Henderson, turning pale to the very lips.

"This," said Reid, emphatically, "that yer hand, and yer hand alone,
spilt that poor lass' blood. I've held my tongue, but I saw ye shoot
her, and then fling her down the bank."

"It's a lie!" faltered Henderson, with his white lips.

"It's no lie, but God's truth. I watched ye that night, and followed ye
to the ridge above Fern Dene, and heard every word ye spoke, and what
the lass said to ye."

"I--I was not there."

"Yes, ye were there sure enough, master," answered Reid with a scornful
laugh. "Poor Elsie carried her father's pistol wi' her to make yer
promise to keep yer word, and make her yer lawful wife. She threatened
ye, and ye did promise, and then snatched the pistol frae the poor
lass's hand. And when she said she wad tell her father and Miss
Churchill, yer shot her. It's no good denying it, for I can prove each
word I say, and hang ye as easy as hold up my hand."

Henderson's tall form absolutely tottered, and he leaned back against
the yard pump for support.

"You--can prove nothing," he faltered.

"Can't I? I saw the moon come out and shine on her dead face, and I
heard her curse ye before she died. I saw her blood run over yer hand
and stain yer shirt and the coat ye wore. Where is that coat now,
master; ye have not worn it since?" And again the groom laughed.

Henderson shuddered; this man had stolen the coat then, he thought, and
was thus able to produce this damning evidence against him.

"How much--?" he began.

"How much will I take to hold my tongue?" continued Reid, as Henderson
hesitated and paused.

"Why, a man should pay a long price for his life anyhow? I heard ye
offer poor Elsie two thousand pounds to settle yer debt to her, and
I'll take not a penny less."

Henderson did not speak. Great drops of dew broke out on his forehead;
he felt powerless in his servant's hands. He looked in the groom's
sharp face, and the man knew he could make his own terms.

"I call it cheap," he said, "dirt cheap; two thousand pounds for yer
life. Well, master, think it over, and if yer wise ye'll not think
long--I've told ye my price."

Henderson made no answer; he turned away and went staggering to the
house like a drunken man. He knew now what his position would be, and
that this man was his master for his whole life.



CHAPTER XII.

DANGEROUS MOMENTS.


When the first inquiry as to the cause of Elsie Wray's death was ended,
and the adjournment announced, something which he could not resist drew
John Temple to the side of the room where May Churchill and her father
were standing.

"Well," he said, addressing May, "one part at least of a very painful
affair for you is over."

May looked gratefully up in his face.

"Yes, it has been most painful, but I am so very, very sorry for Mr.
Wray. I should like to go and shake hands with him, but he has never
looked at me," answered May.

"Still, I think I should go," advised John; "the feeling that true
sympathy is given to us is always grateful."

"Then I will go."

The landlord was standing with a stern face and kindling eyes as she
approached him. He had just watched the departure of Henderson and his
groom, and he believed now that Henderson had, to say the least of it,
been the cause of Elsie's death. He had read the insulting letter the
young man had sent her, and with his own tongue he had acknowledged
there had been "some talk of a marriage" between them. Deceived and
betrayed, the poor girl might have put an end to her own life. But not
less did James Wray consider him Elsie's murderer, and he was vowing
vengeance in his heart when May Churchill, with her flower-like face,
drew near him and placed her small hand timidly in his.

"Mr. Wray," she said, and that was all. But the landlord needed not
words to tell him of the true feelings of her heart. In that gentle
touch, in those beautiful eyes, he read her great sympathy and regret.
He felt sure she did not despise nor scorn his dead Elsie, and that her
womanly tenderness forgave all her shortcomings. His hard eyes grew
dim, and he placed a horny brown hand in her white pretty one.

"Thank you, my dear," he said, and turned away to hide his emotion.

John Temple had watched this meeting, and fully appreciated it. Mr.
Churchill was busy talking to one of the jurymen, a neighbor, and John
once more speedily found himself at May's side.

"Let us go outside," he said, and May went. They stood talking together
until Mr. Churchill joined them, and Mr. Churchill spoke very cordially
to John.

"I want you to come over to Woodside again, Mr. Temple, and try the
mare before I send her to the Hall stables," he said. "When will it be
convenient for you to do so? This afternoon?"

"Yes; that will suit me very well," answered John; and while a few
moments later her father went to see after his trap, John had a word to
half-whisper into May's willing ears.

"I will see you again, then," he said, and May smiled her answer, and
as her father drove her back to Woodside, John Temple's words and
looks recurred again and again to her mind.

As for John, he walked back to the Hall, thinking only of her.

"She is the dearest little girl," he told himself, and he wished the
afternoon were already come. But he found when he arrived at his
uncle's house that he was eagerly awaited for, and that he was expected
to give a complete account of all that had taken place during the
inquest.

The news of Elsie Wray's tragic death had indeed created an immense
sensation in the neighborhood. Young Henderson of Stourton Grange was
so well known, and had frequently visited at Woodlea Hall, and when
John Temple entered the dining-room he found both Mrs. Temple and her
mother, Mrs. Layton, eagerly talking of him.

"Well, here you are at last," said Mrs. Temple. "Now come and tell us
all about it, and what had Tom Henderson to do with it?"

"A good deal, I fear," answered John, seating himself at the luncheon
table.

"But what?" asked Mrs. Temple, sharply.

"By his own account he wrote to the unfortunate girl to ask her to meet
him on the ridge above Fern Dene on the night of her death, and he also
said there had been some talk of marriage between them."

"Of marriage!" repeated Mrs. Temple, incredulously, and at the same
moment Mrs. Layton emitted a dismal groan.

"He wanted to be out of it; fling her off, I understand," continued
John.

"I should think so," said Mrs. Temple, scornfully. "A girl of that
class!"

"He should have remembered that when he made love to her," remarked
John, coolly.

"The depravity of the girl, to think of such a thing!" cried Mrs.
Layton.

"Do you mean of marriage?" smiled John.

"I mean of marriage with a young man in a perfectly different position
of life to her own, Mr. Temple," replied Mrs. Layton, with injured
dignity.

"Yet we have heard of such things," said John.

"There is but one end to such connections," groaned Mrs. Layton,
"disgrace and shame, and in this case death; in my opinion she deserved
to die."

"I do not believe Tom Henderson shot her," said Mrs. Temple.

"He said in his evidence he never went near the place, and his groom
corroborated this. He said he got afraid to go, and that he intended
writing to her again to try and make some arrangement. Altogether it is
a very shady affair for him," replied John.

"Other young men have shady affairs, too, Mr. Temple," said Mrs.
Temple, with a toss of her handsome head, and John's face turned a
dusky red as she spoke.

"We can't all pose as perfection, you know, my nephew John,"
continued Mrs. Temple. "For my part I do not intend to give up young
Henderson--he is too good-looking."

"Unless they hang him," said John.

"Hang him! Impossible."

"Not at all impossible, I assure you. He will have to prove he was not
near the place, or he will run a pretty good chance of it. I did not
like the groom's face; it was shifty, and he gave me the idea he was
not speaking the truth."

"And your own evidence, Mr. Temple?" said Mrs. Layton. "How did you
account for your chance meeting with Margaret Churchill at such an
early hour?"

"By my love for the morning air, Mrs. Layton," answered John, smiling.

"Margaret Churchill, in my opinion, is a most designing young person,"
continued Mrs. Layton. "Rachel, my love, may I trouble you for a little
more of that delicious curry. Yes, a most designing young person. I am
told that she did everything to attract young Henderson, and that her
father also tried to entangle him, and then when she had led the poor
young man on to a certain point, she turned round."

"I do not believe he ever proposed for her," said Mrs. Temple. "I
suppose you think her handsome?" she added, looking at John.

"I think she has a beautiful face," answered John, decidedly.

"Beautiful! That's a strong term," remarked Mrs. Temple, scornfully.

"Yet it is one I should apply to her."

"It may account, then, for your early walk, Mr. Temple," said Mrs.
Layton, with a little sneering laugh.

"My meeting with Miss Churchill was simply accidental, Mrs. Layton,"
said John, coolly. "Naturally the poor girl, after such a dreadful
discovery, stopped the first person she met to tell him of it."

"But you knew her before?" asked Mrs. Layton.

"I had spoken to her before; I have bought a horse of her father, and I
saw her then."

"A very convenient transaction for the Churchills," said Mrs. Layton,
with a sneer. "She is a person with no idea of her own position in
life, I consider. Would you believe it, I went the other day to the
farm for the purpose of buying some eggs, and when I asked Margaret
Churchill the price, she looked quite offended, and said she did not
sell eggs! Fancy a farmer's daughter not selling eggs! However, she
presented me with a few, and I took them."

"A very convenient transaction for you, Mrs. Layton," scoffed John, who
was getting out of temper, and an angry gleam shot into Mrs. Layton's
light eyes as he spoke.

"I always do what I consider my duty, Mr. Temple," she said, drawing up
her spare little form. "My husband is fond of fresh-laid eggs, and as
this misguided young person would not sell them, I had to consider him."

John made a sarcastic little bow.

"Wifely duty!" he said; and Mrs. Layton always spoke of him after this
passage of arms with great bitterness.

"He is a dangerous person," she remarked later in the day to her
daughter. "Mark my words, Rachel, a dangerous, designing person, and I
believe he is carrying on, or will carry on, an intrigue with Margaret
Churchill, and how would you like that?"

"I hate the whole lot of the Churchills!" answered Mrs. Temple,
passionately. "But his uncle will never allow him to carry on an
intrigue with this girl."

"My dear Rachel, you forget that your husband is elderly, and that this
young man is his heir," said Mrs. Layton. "I do not like to speak on
unpleasant subjects, but I think it my duty to tell you this, that when
at my earnest suggestion your father spoke to the squire about settling
the Hall, furniture, and carriages on you for life, after poor little
Phillip's death, that the squire said he had no power to settle the
Hall; that it was entailed on the heir."

"Oh! don't, don't, mother!" cried Mrs. Temple, rising in strong
excitement, and beginning to pace the room. "I try to forget my
darling's death; try to put it out of my mind, or I think I should go
mad, and now you begin to harp on it again. Let everything go; what
matter is it when I have lost him!"

"My dear Rachel--"

"It has made me reckless," continued Mrs. Temple, "and I often wonder
now, mother, where it will end. But on the whole I rather like John
Temple, and--he must have nothing to do with this Churchill girl. I
will speak to Phillip about it. Both those boys played in that fatal
game--who knows? one of them may have been my darling's murderer."

She burst into passionate sobs as she ended this speech, and her mother
saw it was useless to say anything more. When these fits of excitement
came over Rachel Temple, no one had the least control over her. She
became, as she had said, reckless, and in this mood she continued the
whole of the remainder of the day.

In the meanwhile John Temple was against his will being detained by his
uncle, who had been out on business in the morning, and only returned
to the hall after his wife and Mrs. Layton had left the luncheon table.

The squire, as the ladies had been, was eager to hear all about the
inquest, and John, though inwardly impatient to start for Woodside, was
obliged to go through the whole details again to his uncle.

It was late in the afternoon when he found himself free, and then he
at once proceeded to the farm. But when he arrived there he found Mr.
Churchill was from home.

"When will he be back?" he inquired of the neat maid-servant.

But as he spoke, May Churchill, who had been watching for him, came
across the hall from the drawing-room.

"My father was obliged to go out at four o'clock, Mr. Temple," she said
in her sweet-toned voice, "but I do not think he will be very long
away. Will you come in and have some tea?"

John gladly accepted this invitation. He followed May into the
drawing-room, and sat there drinking tea and looking in her fair
face. It was a very pretty room, sweet with flowers, and gracefully
furnished. Everything seemed to suit the young mistress, and John
was half-unconscious how long he stayed there. The shadows began to
lengthen, the sun dipped behind the hills, and still he remained. Then
presently the moon rose, and still Mr. Churchill had not returned.

"Am I tiring you?" asked John.

"Oh, no," answered May, with a smile and a blush.

John went across the room, and for a moment stood looking out of
the open window at the garden beyond, on which now the cold, white
moonbeams fell. May had been leaning there before, and an irresistible
impulse seemed to draw him closer to her. It was one of those moments
when a strange subtle knowledge comes to two human hearts. He bent
his head until it nearly touched the lovely face; he took a little
fluttering hand in his.

"Come," he half-whispered, and led her through the casement which
opened from the ground, to the silent dewy garden outside. Pale
fantastic shadows lay on flower and leaf, the breeze rustled through
the lilac bushes, and stirred the fruit-laden boughs. John forgot
everything but the sweet and strong emotion which stirred his heart. He
put his arm around the slight girlish form; he drew her to his breast.

"Dear one," he murmured, and May felt too happy to resist his caress.
Her breath came short, her bosom heaved, and her hand lingered tenderly
in his.

"Mayflower," whispered John, "may I call you by that sweet name?"

"Yes," came fluttering from May's rosy lips, and the little
monosyllable was breathed very near to John's.

Click went the garden gate at this moment, and the two heard it, and
started quickly apart. Then a heavy, determined footstep sounded on
the gravel walk, and a second or two later Mr. Churchill appeared.
He looked surprised but not displeased to see John Temple with his
daughter, and apologized for his absence.

"I waited as long as I could, Mr. Temple," he said, "but I had some
business I was forced to attend to."

"My uncle delayed me," answered John, "talking of that unfortunate
business; but," he added, smiling, "Miss Churchill has been very good;
she has given me some tea, and the night is so lovely we were taking
advantage of it."

"All right," answered the farmer, "but come in now and have something
to eat. I fear it is too late to go down to the stables."

"I will come over to-morrow and see the mare," said John; "but thanks,
very much, I can not go in now. Good-night Miss Churchill."

Mr. Churchill hospitably pressed him to go into the house and have
supper with them, but John declined. He felt somehow that he could not
eat. He was too much excited, and those brief moments with May had
moved him deeply. He had realized for the first time how dear she was
to him; he knew now that he felt for her what he had never felt for any
woman before.

They shook hands and parted, and John walked home alone in the
moonlight. There was a delicious sense of life and love in his heart,
and he smiled softly as he went on.

"I think she likes me," he was thinking; "my little country
sweetheart--my country sweetheart."

He repeated these words to himself again and again. And again and again
also he mentally saw the girl's lovely profile on which the moonlight
glimmered as she stood in the window. It was a picture in his mind's
eye which never again faded away. There are such pictures that Time's
hand can not touch. And this was one of them to John Temple; the sweet
girlish face glorified by the pale white beams.

When he reached the Hall dinner was over, but we may be sure the
heir was not allowed to suffer by this. The butler speedily spread a
tempting repast before him, but John did not feel hungry still. He lit
a cigar and went out on the terrace, and there his excitement sobered
down. Other scenes rose up before him; other hours of passion and love.

"I am a fool," he reflected; "a girl's beautiful face has made me feel
like a boy."

In the meanwhile the girl with the beautiful face was receiving a very
unpleasant surprise. She had gone into the house to order her father's
supper with a new feeling of joy and radiant hope glowing in her heart.

"He loves me," was the sweet thought that flushed her smooth cheeks,
and made her bright eyes sparkle. May never doubted this after those
brief moments in the moonlight. And she felt a modest pride in the
thought. That this good-looking well-born gentleman should care for
her made her very happy. He was the first man also that she had really
liked. So pretty a girl, of course, got admirers on every side. But
admiration does not necessarily win love. A woman may feel flattered
when her heart is totally untouched.

She ordered her father's supper therefore with a light heart, and went
into the dining-room to share it with him gratified and glad. Mr.
Churchill also seemed in fairly good spirits, and ate his food with
excellent appetite. Then, when the meal was over, he commenced to
smoke, and May was just contemplating leaving the room to indulge in
her sweet thoughts alone, when her father looked up and addressed her.

"May, I went to see Mrs. Bradshaw this afternoon," he said.

"Yes," answered May, somewhat indifferently, for the subject of Mrs.
Bradshaw was very unpleasant to her.

"And we have fixed to be married to-morrow morning," continued Mr.
Churchill, in his quiet, determined way.

"To-morrow morning!" echoed May, utterly surprised.

"Yes, what is the good of waiting? But it is to be quite quiet; she did
not wish you even to know until it was over. But you have been a good
little daughter to me, and therefore I do not care to keep it a secret
from you, and I hope also you will be a good daughter to your new
mother."

May's face flushed painfully.

"She can never be a mother to me," she said.

"My dear, that is folly. To-morrow she will be your father's wife, and
will take her place here, of course, as mistress. And I hope you two
will get on well together. If you are wise you will do so."

May did not speak.

"We will only be away for a few days, a week at most, as I shall have
to be back, I suppose, for the adjourned inquest. We are going to
London, and if you are a good girl I will bring you back a smart gown."

"But father--to-morrow you agreed--for Mr. Temple to come here."

"Mr. Temple must wait; I did not like to tell him I was going to be
married to-morrow when he proposed to come. I will leave a note for
him, and give orders that he can have the mare over on trial whenever
he likes. Well, May, come and give me a kiss, and wish me happiness."

The girl rose up at her father's bidding and kissed his brow.

"I wish you happiness, father," she said, in a low, faltering voice,
and then she turned away and suddenly left the room.

She went to her own, and stood at the window looking out on the moonlit
garden.

"Will this make any difference to him?" she was thinking, and a vague
uneasiness stole into her heart.



CHAPTER XIII.

GOOD RESOLUTIONS.


John Temple went early to Woodside the next morning, after first making
up his mind that he must indulge in no more lovemaking to May Churchill.

"It's not fair to the dear little girl," he told himself. "I was led
away last night; any man would--a saint would have been, and I am not a
saint."

He kept this determination in his mind all the way to the farm. He was
going to see Mr. Churchill about his horse, and not to look at the
sweet Mayflower. Nevertheless, his pulses beat a little more quickly
when he thought of her, and when he rang at the doorbell of the house
his heart was throbbing fast.

In answer to his inquiry if Mr. Churchill were within, the maid
replied, with rather a peculiar smile, that her master had left home
for some days.

"But," she added, "he left a letter for you, sir, with Miss Churchill,
and she told me to tell you this if you called."

"Then can I see Miss Churchill?" asked John.

"Yes, sir; will you step this way?"

John accordingly followed the maid to the dining-room, and when she
announced Mr. Temple, May rose to receive him with a shy smile and a
charming blush.

"I called to see your father about the horse," began John as he took
her pretty white fluttering hand in his.

"Yes, he left a letter for you," answered May; "a--very strange thing
has happened, Mr. Temple."

"What has happened?" asked John, smiling, and thinking the while how
lovely she looked.

"After you left last night," and the blush deepened as she spoke, "he
told me he was going away to be married to-day."

"To be married!" echoed John, in great surprise.

"Yes, it has upset me very much; I do not like the person; I do not
like it at all."

"And you knew nothing about it?"

"He told me a few days ago he was thinking of going to be married
again; but this is so sudden--I am very much distressed about it."

"You must not let it worry you."

"But I can't help it worrying me; I can't bear the idea of it--it has
made me very unhappy."

May was standing with her hand leaning on the back of the chair from
which she had risen at John's entrance, and somehow it seemed only
natural that he now should put his brown hand over her white one in a
consoling manner.

"I am very sorry," he said; "and I can not bear to think of you being
unhappy."

"It's very good of you," began May, "but--"

"I won't allow you to be unhappy," continued John; "come, you must
cheer up--you dear little girl."

He really did not mean to do it, but when a man has once nearly kissed
a pretty girl, it seems very natural for him to do it again. At all
events John did kiss the lovely blooming face before him, and all the
rebuke he got was:

"Oh! Mr. Temple, you should not do that!"

"I know I should not," answered John, penitently; "but you are so
sweet, so dear, I could not help myself--and then you are unhappy, you
know, so you must forgive me."

"I am really unhappy."

"Don't think about the horrid woman," consoled John, taking the two
pretty hands in his; "think of something else--think a little bit about
me."

The last few words were half-whispered, and they seemed to console
May somehow. She began to smile again, and she looked softly at John,
though she drew her little hands away from his grasp.

"It seems such a thing," she said, "for him to forget my mother."

"Ah--well; he is only mortal, I suppose."

"Then do you think everyone forgets, Mr. Temple?"

"I think men--" and then he paused. "I know someone that I never could
forget," he continued.

May did not inquire who this "someone" was.

"Someone whose face I would dream of if I did not see it for twenty
years," went on John, energetically.

"It would be changed in twenty years," replied May, with a little sigh.

"Not in my eyes; in my eyes it could never change."

This was the way in which John kept to his resolution. They went into
the garden awhile after this, and sat listening to a black bird singing
to his mate. Then they went to May's fernery, and walked beneath the
shadow of the trees, and talked fond foolish words. May forgot all
about her father's marriage and her hated stepmother. She was with the
man she liked best in all the world, and she believed he loved her.
What happiness is like this? The golden hours of youth and hope; the
vague foreshadowings of still greater joy.

Before they parted John had promised to call again.

"I shall be so lonely," May had said softly, and how could he leave her
lonely? Yet he did not mean any wrong; it was the drifting tide bearing
him on to he knew not where.

At all events during the next few days he went constantly to Woodside.
Mr. Churchill's marriage had taken place, and the wealthy widow from
Castle Hill would, no doubt, soon be installed at the farm. May tried
not to think of it, and she tried also to tell herself that she must
not think seriously of Mr. Temple. But do what she would she did think
of him. After all, if he really loved her, would not that sweep away
the social difference between them?

And he did love her. May felt sure of this, and this surety alone
brought her great happiness. People might try to separate them; his
uncle probably would try, but true love can overcome all obstacles. In
these sweet dreams the girl lived during the few days following her
father's marriage. Then the time for the adjourned inquest approached,
and in due course May received a letter from her father to tell her
that on the following evening that he and his newly-made wife would
arrive at Woodside.

The preparations for this event were intensely disagreeable to May.
John Temple also heard the news with great annoyance. No more quiet
walks in the lonely garden then; no more tender hand-clasps, nor long,
uninterrupted interviews. He gathered from May that her stepmother was
not a lady; that she was bustling and interfering.

"Perhaps it is better," John told himself.

May's two young brothers, Hal and Willie Churchill, had been away for
their holidays for a week or two also during this time, so that John
Temple and the Mayflower practically had been able to see each other
whenever they liked. They knew now this state of things would end. The
boys were coming home; Mr. and Mrs. Churchill were on the point of
arriving, and moreover, John Temple had received a hint from his uncle
that his visits to Woodside Farm had been remarked on, and that it
would be well that they should cease.

"It can end in nothing, you know, John," the squire had said, not
unkindly.

"Certainly it will end in nothing, uncle," answered John, gravely. "I
think, if you do not mind, after the adjourned inquest on that poor
girl is over, I will leave Woodlea for a month or two."

"My dear boy, you are your own master, and must guide your own
actions," said the squire; "only I do not think it quite fair to this
pretty girl that you should pay her so much attention when you can not
marry her."

"No, I can not marry her," replied John, and after this the subject was
not mentioned again, but the conversation was not without effect on
John Temple.

So he went to see May for the last time before her stepmother's arrival
in a very sober frame of mind. It was a dull, wet day, and when May saw
him crossing the garden she went to open the house door for him, and
gave him her hand with a warm clasp of welcome.

"Thank you for coming to cheer me, as I feel so dreadfully dull," she
said, smiling.

"I feel dreadfully dull, too," answered John, putting down his wet
umbrella and hat on the hall stand, and the next moment he put his hand
through the girl's arm.

"Come into the drawing-room," said May, softly; "I have been making it
all smart, and there is a fire there; it is so wet."

They crossed the hall thus, John lightly leaning on May's arm, and
entered the drawing-room together. There was a bright fire burning in
the grate, and the room was fresh and sweet with flowers. Altogether
May had done her best to make it look cheerful, but still John felt
very dull.

May went up to the fire, and John held out his chilled hands to the
blaze.

"When do you expect these people to arrive?" he asked.

"Father said about six o'clock," replied May.

John took out his watch and looked at it.

"It's just four now," he said, "and I must go by five; only one hour,
May!"

May sighed softly, and John turned round and looked at her earnestly,
and then also sighed.

"The last few days have been very bright, haven't they, May?" he said.

"Yes," half-whispered May.

"Too bright, I am afraid," went on John; "it will make the coming ones
seem dull."

"There may be some bright ones still," said May, in a low tone, with
downcast eyes and blushing cheeks.

Again John looked at her. How pretty she was in her white frock and
crimson ribbons! She had a crimson rose in her waistband and another at
her throat. "Truly a fair picture," John was thinking, and it was hard,
very hard, to say the word he meant to speak.

"I am going away, May, for a bit," he said at length, with an effort.

"Going away?" repeated the girl quickly, and her face flushed, and then
grew a little pale, and John saw this.

"Yes," went on John, still with an effort, "I think I shall go abroad
for a month or two."

May did not speak; her pallor increased, and her agitation was visible.

"But I shall never forget Woodside," said John, after a moment's pause,
"nor you--Mayflower--I wish I could."

"Why?" asked May, in a trembling voice, and she put out her hand as if
for support.

"Because I would be happier if I could," answered John, also much
moved; "I will pay a bitter price, I am afraid, for the bright hours I
have spent with you."

"Oh, do not go away, Mr. Temple!" cried May, suddenly, looking at him
with imploring eyes. "I--I shall be so lonely--I shall--"

"We must try to forget all this," said John, and he put his arm around
her and pressed his lips on hers. "Dear little girl--dear Mayflower--it
is hard, it is bitter to go from you."

Tears rushed into May's eyes, and John kissed them away.

"Do not grieve, darling," he whispered, "it would make me more sad if I
thought I had done any harm to you."

"But you will come back?" said May, in a broken voice.

John did not speak. He did not mean to come back, but he could not
bear to see her distress. He kissed her again; he called her by every
endearing name, and May put her hand in his and held it fast.

"Promise me to come back," she whispered, with her cheek against his.

"I promise," said John, after a moment's pause, for he felt he could
not resist her appeal.

"And do not quite forget me when you are away."

"Forget you!" cried John, and he caught her passionately to his breast;
"would that I could, May! It would be better for you and me--but the
die is cast!"

She was still in his arms, with her head on his breast, when the sound
of carriage wheels on the gravel outside was distinctly heard in the
room. May lifted her head and gave a cry; John looked sharply around.

"If it is your father, whatever shall we do?"

May, girl-like, ran to the mirror; John, man-like, stood helpless.

"My hair is not very disorderly, is it?" she said, trying to smooth her
soft bright curls. "How odious that they should come!"

"What shall I do?" asked John.

"Stay until they come in, and then I suppose--"

"I will go--good-by, dear May."

He clasped her hand for a moment, and then May went to the door to
receive her father and his bride. Mrs. Churchill was already in the
hall, and was giving orders to the coachman and servants about her
luggage; Mr. Churchill was giving orders about the horses.

As May went forward Mrs. Churchill saw her, and advanced toward her and
kissed her face.

"Well, my dear," she said, "here we are. We have had a wet day to
travel in, but it makes it all the pleasanter to get home. And how are
you?"

She was a good-looking, middle-aged woman; robust and dark, with marked
dark eyebrows, and a firm, hard mouth. She looked a person of strong
will also; somehow her very voice told you this.

"William," she called out in a loud tone to her husband, "here is your
daughter."

Upon this Mr. Churchill came into the hall, and kissed May also.

"Well, my dear," he said, kindly, "and how have you been getting on?"

"Mr. Temple is in the drawing-room, father," said May, nervously.

"What--the squire?"

"No, Mr. John Temple."

But John by this time had appeared. He went up to Mr. Churchill and
shook hands with him.

"Well, Mr. Churchill, I hear I have to congratulate you," he said, with
a smile.

"Thank you, Mr. Temple," answered the farmer. "Sarah, my dear, this is
Mr. John Temple, our landlord's nephew and heir."

Upon this Mrs. Churchill bowed graciously, and after a few more
pleasant words, John Temple went away. Then Mrs. Churchill began
bustling about the house as if she had lived in it for twenty years.
She remarked on the furniture, and decided where she would place her
own "things," as she called them. She made no pretense about consulting
May in any of her arrangements, but took her place at once as mistress
of the house and all that it contained.

"But what matter," thought May, softly, as she stood looking out on
the still garden on the night of her stepmother's arrival at Woodside.
"What matter does anything here now make to me?"



CHAPTER XIV.

MAY'S STEPMOTHER.


The next time that May saw John Temple was at the adjourned inquest on
the death of Elsie Wray. They both then simply repeated their former
evidence, and the only fresh witness on the occasion was Mrs. Henderson.

In faltering and broken words the unhappy mother told what she knew
to be untrue. Her son had only been out for a very short time on the
night of Miss Wray's death, she said, and he had returned to the house
much earlier than usual. He said he had just been down to the stables,
and spoke about the horses.

"Did you know of any engagement existing between your son and Miss
Wray?" asked the coroner.

"No, I did not," truthfully replied Mrs. Henderson.

She was then questioned as to the time of Tom Henderson's return to the
house, but, though very nervous, she had carefully prepared her story.
If her evidence and the evidence of the groom, Jack Reid, were true, it
was impossible that Henderson could have been in the neighborhood of
Fern Dene. At all events the jury gave him the benefit of the doubt.
They returned a verdict that Elsie Wray had destroyed her own life when
in a state of temporary insanity, and though every one in the room
believed that this condition of mind had been brought on by the conduct
of young Henderson, there were some ready to blame the poor girl for
her folly in fixing her affections on a man so superior in rank to
herself.

Among these was Mr. Churchill of Woodside, and after the inquest was
over, as Henderson was handing his mother into the dog-cart, Mr.
Churchill, in passing to seek his own trap, held out his hand to
Henderson, and then to Mrs. Henderson, who was trembling visibly. He
only said a word or two about the weather, but his manner showed a
certain amount of sympathy and kindness which was very welcome to both
mother and son.

May Churchill, on the other hand, who was following her father, passed
them with downcast eyes. She scarcely, indeed, noticed them. A moment
or two before she had had a brief interview with John Temple, and he
had slipped a note into her hand, and she was thinking of this note and
of his words, and not of the Hendersons.

"I have come to say good-by," John Temple had said, in a low tone,
clasping her hand and leaving the note there at the same time; "this
will explain."

"When--" began May, much agitated.

"To-day," replied John, who understood, and answering her unspoken
question, "but--I will not forget."

Not another word was exchanged between them. Mr. Churchill called to
his daughter to come to him, and several people were around them, but
May saw no one, and heard no words but John's. He did not follow her to
her father's dog-cart, but he stood watching her as her father helped
her in, and when May turned to look at him he lifted his hat.

Thus they parted, and May went back to Woodside feeling both agitated
and depressed. But she had her letter! With this firmly clasped in her
hand she sprang from the dog-cart and ran upstairs to her own room
without waiting to speak to her stepmother, who was standing in the
hall to receive her husband.

When May reached her room she tore open John's letter with trembling
fingers, and read the following words, failing at the time to
comprehend their full meaning:

"MY DEAR MAY--SWEET MAYFLOWER: I am writing this because I think it
right to do so; I am going away because I also think it right. I want
you, in my absence, fully to comprehend your feelings toward me. If two
people truly love each other I think nothing should separate them, but
in the mutual attraction between men and women there is much which is
not the love that can not change.

"Dear child, dear sweetheart! you are so much younger than I am that
I must warn you against myself. I am world-worn, and until I met you
I could not have believed that such a deep, tender, and passionate
affection as I feel for you could have arisen in my heart. Yet this is
so, but, on the other hand, there are strong and powerful reasons to
keep us apart. You must make your own decision when I return. In the
meantime believe that I love you, and that I am ready to sacrifice much
for your love.
                                                          "JOHN TEMPLE."

May read and re-read this letter, and could not quite follow its drift.
She naturally thought that the strong and powerful reasons to keep them
apart were social ones. His uncle, of course, would naturally object to
his heir marrying the daughter of one of his tenants.

"But he loves me," May whispered softly to herself; "and I love him,
and will sacrifice anything for his sake--mine is the love that can not
change."

But her sweet dream was speedily interrupted. Her stepmother's loud
voice was heard calling to her on the stairs:

"May! dinner is ready; come down at once."

May had still her hat and cape on, and it took her a few minutes to
divest herself of these, but when she went into the dining-room she
found her stepmother had not waited for her. Mrs. Churchill was sitting
carving a large boiled leg of mutton and turnips, and she looked at May
with her bright dark eyes disapprovingly as she entered the room.

"You are late for dinner, May," she said, sharply. May made no answer.
She sat down at the table, but the two thick slices of boiled mutton
that her stepmother handed her was impossible food for her. In fact she
could not eat it, and played with a little potato.

"Why are you not eating your mutton?" asked Mrs. Churchill.

"I do not like boiled mutton," replied May, smiling.

"Not like excellent boiled mutton! Then what do you like? I did not
know you were such a dainty eater as that."

"May never eats very much," said her father, kindly enough; "you like
birds best, don't you, May?"

"Oh, I don't mind," answered May.

"It's impossible to have birds every day," remarked her stepmother,
decidedly, and then nothing more was said on the subject, and May went
without her dinner, for which, however, she did not care.

But she did care about her stepmother's constant interference. She had
been accustomed to be her own mistress for years; to go out when it
pleased her, and to read or write just as it took her fancy. Now Mrs.
Churchill wished to change all this. She insisted on her going out
shopping with herself; she found fault with her dress; and when she
read, said she was wasting her time.

May tried for her father's sake to put up with all this, but it was
very annoying; then the two boys, Willie and Hal, returned home, and
Mrs. Churchill tried to manage them also. Willie, who was a spoilt,
rather passionate boy, was furious, but Hal suggested that as she kept
the key of the jam closet, they had better be civil.

Then another disturbing element arose in the household for May. This
was no less than the renewal of Tom Henderson's now most unwelcome
attentions. Henderson's passion for her had by no means diminished in
the changed circumstances of his life. Nay, he told himself that it was
for her sake that he had acted as he had done. And taking advantage of
Mr. Churchill's known love for making a good bargain, he arrived at
Woodside one day under the excuse that he wanted to buy a horse.

Mr. Churchill received the would-be purchaser quite civilly. And
Henderson gave a long price for a very ordinary animal. Mr. Churchill
was so pleased that he invited the young man into the house to have a
glass of wine, and Henderson was only too delighted to avail himself of
the chance of once more seeing May.

And he did see her, and also her stepmother. Mrs. Churchill was
a shrewd woman, and her sharp, dark eyes speedily perceived that
Henderson was deeply in love with May. He sat with his handsome dark
eyes fixed on her fair face during the whole time he was in the room,
and after he was gone Mrs. Churchill made particular inquiries about
him.

"So," she said, "this is the young man, is he, for whose sake that
foolish girl at the Wayside Inn shot herself?"

"I have no doubt he behaved very badly to her," replied May.

"How can you possibly tell that, my dear? A girl in her position could
not expect him to marry her; he is a very nice, fine-looking young man.
Does he often come here?"

"He used to come a great deal," said May, coldly, and then she left the
room, but Mrs. Churchill did not forget the subject.

"William," she said, the same night to her husband, "do you know I
believe that young Henderson admires May extremely?"

"I used to think so too," answered Mr. Churchill, who was smoking his
pipe complacently, and thinking of the good bargain he had made in the
morning; "but it's rather an awkward business, about that girl."

"Oh, that will soon be forgotten, and I think it would be a remarkably
good match for May, don't you?"

Mr. Churchill gave one or two more puffs at his pipe before he answered.

"Stourton is nice property," he said, at length.

"Yes, and he's a nice-looking young man, suitable in age and
everything, and girls are far better married young. I would encourage
him to come here if I were you."

But Henderson needed very little encouragement to go to Woodside.
He began to do so from the day he had bought the horse, and he made
very little secret of what was his attraction, and after awhile Mrs.
Churchill made up her mind to bring the affair to a conclusion.

"May," she said, quietly, after one of Henderson's visits, "I think
there is no doubt what that young man comes here for."

May did not reply. She had always been very cold and distant to
Henderson since Elsie Wray's death, but she also knew very well the
reason why he came to Woodside.

"Both your father and I think it would be an excellent match for you,"
continued her stepmother.

"Nothing would induce me to marry him," answered May, quickly and
sharply, and Mrs. Churchill saw a hot flush rise to her lovely skin.

"My dear, it is folly to talk in that way. Girls in these things must
be guided by their elders, their parents. I married before I was your
age, and I married because my father and mother wished me to do so, not
that I was what is called in love with poor Mr. Jones. He, however,
made me an excellent husband, and left me in comfortable circumstances.
Mr. Henderson is well off, and it is your duty to your father to accept
him, as, of course, your keep is a great expense to him."

"Has my father complained of the expense I am to him?" asked May,
angrily.

"He has not absolutely complained, but he is naturally anxious that
you should settle and marry well. He was speaking to me about it only
yesterday. He is not a rich man, and has, of course, many expenses. We
both think young Henderson is the very man for you, and as he has a
nice, independent property, it is an exceedingly good match."

"I will never marry him," repeated May; "please do not mention this
again."

But Mrs. Churchill did mention it again. She dwelt on it. It became
her pet subject of conversation, and on one occasion when May was out,
she--as she expressed it--"sounded" Mr. Henderson on his intentions
toward her stepdaughter.

The young man did not require a second hint.

"I would give anything to marry her, Mrs. Churchill," he said, "but May
gives me no opportunity of speaking to her alone; she has changed to me
since--"

A strange pallor spread over Henderson's handsome face as he left his
sentence incomplete, and Mrs. Churchill instantly observed this.

"Since that poor girl committed suicide, I suppose you mean?" she said,
calmly. "It was an unfortunate occurrence, no doubt, but one that I
think no sensible woman could blame you for. You could not be expected
to marry her."

Henderson gave a kind of gasp.

"I am glad to hear you say that, Mrs. Churchill," he said, "but perhaps
May--"

"Oh, May will get over it. Come and have tea with us to-morrow, Mr.
Henderson, and I will give you the opportunity of speaking to May
alone."

Henderson was only too glad to promise to avail himself of this
invitation. And on the following day he arrived at Woodside, excited
and eager. And after tea was over Mrs. Churchill proceeded to carry out
her little plan. She sent May into the garden alone, under the pretense
that she wanted her to gather some flowers, and presently she sent
young Henderson after her.

May was in the very act of cutting some roses when she heard his step
on the walk behind her, and she was returning to the house to avoid
him, when he suddenly caught her hand.

"Don't go, May," he said, in an agitated manner, "I want a few words
with you."

"I am busy," answered May, "I can not stay."

"You must stay," went on Henderson, almost roughly. "May, how long
is this to go on? How long are you going to play with me as you are
playing with me now?"

"I never played with you, Mr. Henderson," said May, with some dignity
of manner.

"Oh, yes, you did. But play or not play, will you listen to what I have
got to say?"

"I don't wish to listen, Mr. Henderson; nothing that you can have to
say to me--"

"Don't drive me mad, May!" cried the young man, passionately. "You know
I love you; that I love you too well, and yet you are always cold to
me."

"I am sorry if--if you care for me--for I can give you nothing in
return."

"Nothing!"

"Mr. Henderson, it is best to speak the truth."

"Your parents wish it," interrupted Henderson, eagerly; "your mother
sent me to speak to you."

"I have no mother," said May, raising her head, proudly; "if you mean
my father's wife, she has no right to interfere with my affairs."

"And this is all you have to say to me?"

"Yes, except to hope you will never speak of this to me again."

A half-suppressed oath broke from Henderson's lips.

"You carry things with a high hand, I must say; but if this means that
that fellow Temple has come between you and me, he had best take care!
No one shall come between us--you have cost me too much!"

An evil look came over his face as he spoke--such an evil look that May
half-shuddered and hurried away, and as she entered the house she met
her stepmother in the hall, who looked at her searchingly.

"Have you seen Mr. Henderson? Has he spoken to you?" she asked.

May felt very angry.

"I wish you would not send Mr. Henderson to speak to me," she said; "I
told you it was no use."

"You are a foolish girl, and you should not speak to me in that
manner," retorted Mrs. Churchill.

"It has annoyed me very much," continued May, "about these things. I
may certainly be allowed to manage my own affairs."

"We shall see, but you are very impertinent, and I shall speak to your
father about your conduct."

May said nothing more. She went to her own room, and after locking
the door sat down to do what she did every hour of the day--to think
of John Temple. Oh! how she longed for his return. She had made her
decision; the decision that he had asked for in his letter, and was
ready to brave everything for his sake. But he had been gone nearly
a month, and she had heard nothing of or from him. Still she did not
doubt his word nor his love. He would come back and then how different
everything would seem.

But she had not heard the last of young Henderson's visit. When she
went down to supper both her father and her stepmother received her
very coldly. Then when the meal was over her father spoke to her very
seriously.

"May," he said, after he had taken a few puffs at his pipe, "your
mother tells me you have been acting very foolishly and not treating
her with the respect which is her due, and which I will insist on from
everyone in this house."

"If you mean about Mr. Henderson," answered May, turning very red, "I
refuse to have anything to say to him."

"You should take the advice of those older than yourself; your mother--"

"Mrs. Churchill is not my mother," said May, hotly; "poor mother, I am
sure, would never have urged me to encourage a man with Mr. Henderson's
character."

Mr. Churchill got very angry.

"Don't be so impertinent, girl!" he said. "I'll tell you what it is,
May, if you go on in this way you may find another home for yourself,
for I won't have you in mine!"

"Very well, father, I will," answered May, and she rose and left the
room, and the husband and wife were alone.

"I am afraid you have spoilt her, William," said Mrs. Churchill.

"I'll unspoil her, then," swore the farmer. "I can not think what's
come over her of late."

This was the first serious quarrel that May had ever had with her
father. Mr. Churchill was, indeed, both fond and proud of her. But his
new wife had already gained a strong influence over him. She was a
clever woman in her way, and good-looking, and very well off, all of
which qualifications Mr. Churchill thought much of, and of the last
the most. Therefore, the next day he scarcely spoke to May, and her
position in the house was exceedingly disagreeable.

But on the day following there came a change. It was Sunday, and May
went to church with her two young brothers, her father and stepmother
remaining at home, as Mrs. Churchill had a cold. And when May lifted
her eyes, and looked at the squire's square pew, she saw seated there
John Temple and Mrs. Temple, his uncle's wife.



CHAPTER XV.

THE PICTURE HAT.


The squire of Woodlea's pew was at one side of the old-fashioned
country church, and Mr. Churchill's family occupied seats in the
gallery. Therefore John Temple, looking up, saw the entrance of May
Churchill and the two boys, and saw also the blush, the look of
unmistakable joy, with which she recognized himself.

Other eyes saw this, too; a pair of handsome dark eyes that belonged to
Mrs. Temple, who had followed her nephew-in-law's upward glance, and
watched, half with amusement, half with scorn, his brown face color
slightly, and a soft look steal over his good-looking face. She also
had seen the entrance of the three young Churchills, and drew her own
conclusions from John's expression. He had only arrived at the Hall the
evening before, and had in the morning expressed a wish to attend the
service at the parish church, somewhat to Mrs. Temple's surprise.

"I thought going to church would not have been in your way," she had
said at the time.

"I have never heard your father preach," answered John, smiling.

"You will fall asleep during the sermon--I warn you," answered Mrs.
Temple, also smiling.

"I am a bad sleeper, so that will be delightful," said John.

The squire was ailing, and had a cold, and therefore did not go to
church, so Mrs. Temple and John alone occupied the Hall pew. And when
she saw the look on May Churchill's face, and the look on John Temple's
as their eyes met, she understood why her husband's nephew had wished
to hear her father preach. That look indeed had thrilled through both
their hearts. Yet, as John's eyes fell, he sighed softly, and Mrs.
Temple heard the sigh.

But May did not sigh. He had come back; she would see him again, and
when she did see him she would tell him she had made the decision he
had asked for. She sat there between her two young brothers with her
heart beating tumultuously, beating with joy and hope.

Presently Hal Churchill gave a little kick at her small foot.

"I say, May," he said in a loud whisper, bending his head toward his
sister's ear, "d'ye see who's in the squire's pew?"

May made no answer. She frowned, or rather pretended to frown, and Hal
went on unabashed:

"I heard he'd come back last night, but forgot to tell you," continued
Hal.

"Horrid boy," thought May, remembering some sleepless hours she had
spent grieving over John Temple's absence.

The service went on; the weak-eyed curate, who also admired May
Churchill, looked up to the gallery occasionally, and so did Mrs.
Layton. This good lady repeated the responses in a loud tone, so as to
let all those around her know how pious she was, yet she was not above
worldly thoughts at the same time. She disapproved of May Churchill's
picture hat and picture face. She was wondering what the world was
coming to when tenant farmers' daughters dressed as May was dressed.
She repeated, "Have mercy upon us miserable sinners," but she did not
really include herself in that category. She prayed for her neighbors,
but not for herself, and she was greatly troubled in spirit concerning
May Churchill's picture hat.

Presently the vicar ascended the pulpit, and in his usual monotonous
under-tone proceeded with his usual platitudes. A worthy man this, but
misty, and perhaps his brain was mercifully clouded. It made his daily
life more bearable, his scolding eager wife more endurable, and, taking
all things into consideration, it was well for the Rev. James that he
was not a clever nor keen-eyed man. His congregation, who expected
nothing new from him, each settled him or herself to their private
thoughts. The men, as a rule, mentally did their weekly accounts over,
the women the cost of their neighbor's dress and their own proposed new
personal adornments. John Temple moved his seat to a convenient corner,
whispering smilingly to his aunt-in-law as he passed her:

"It is true, I am actually going to sleep."

Mrs. Temple smiled in return, and looked at John as he closed his
eyes and leaned back his head against the curtained pew. But though
he closed his eyes he did not go to sleep, nor had the slightest
inclination to do so. Through those closed lids he still mentally saw
the lovely face in the gallery beyond; still saw the glad look with
which the Mayflower had greeted his return.

Mrs. Temple noticed his face flush, though he never opened his eyes.
She kept looking at him and wondering what his life had been before her
own terrible loss had made him the heir of Woodlea. She had expected
to dislike him, almost to hate him, but she did not. His good looks
favorably influenced her for one thing, and his pleasant, sympathetic
manner for another. There is really no such lasting charm as this. But
it is born with the man or woman who possesses it. It is the reflection
from their hearts as it were; the outcome of the inner sense that
understands the feelings of others and never wounds them.

John Temple possessed this gift, to some extent at least, though not in
the highest sense. But at all events he never said unsuitable things,
nor hit the wrong nail on the head. Some people seemingly can not help
doing this. With the best intentions they ruffle our tempers, and we
are glad when they go out of our sight.

So Mrs. Temple kept looking at John, and speculating as to his past.

"He is good-looking, but scarcely handsome," she thought, and then she
sighed, and her memory went back to the days of her soldier-lover, now
lying in his Indian grave.

"If I had married George Hill, I would have been a good woman," she was
thinking. "Now what have I to be good for?"

She glanced contemptuously, as the thought struck her first, at her
poor misty father in the pulpit, and then at her eager, watchful mother
in the vicar's pew below.

"They sold me," she was reflecting, "and what I can give them is all
they care for. Ah, it is a weary world."

She moved, so impatiently that John Temple opened his gray eyes. The
sermon was now drawing to a close, for one good quality the Rev. James
Layton really did possess was not to preach too long sermons. And the
moment the blessing was over Mrs. Temple rose hastily and signed to
John to follow her. She wished to leave the church before her mother
had an opportunity of joining her, for Mrs. Layton seldom ordered a
Sunday dinner, but in general, and always if she could manage it, dined
when the family at the Hall had luncheon in the middle of the day.

John looked up at the gallery as he followed Mrs. Temple out of the
church, and half-smiled as his eyes met May's, and this smile was
reflected on her rosy lips. A moment later Mrs. Layton also looked up
over her clasped hands, and to her consternation when she glanced at
her daughter's pew, she saw she was gone. Then she rose hastily from
her knees and hurried out by the vestry door, only to be in time to see
the Hall carriage disappear out of the churchyard, with her daughter
and John Temple seated in it.

She ran to the churchyard gate; she frantically waved her umbrella, but
all in vain. Mrs. Temple either did not, or pretended not to see her
mother, and with a rueful heart Mrs. Layton had to turn and face the
out-coming congregation, who were greatly amused at her discomfiture.

And she had very good cause for this feeling. She had in fact ordered
no dinner for herself nor her husband at the vicarage, having securely
reckoned on lunching at the Hall.

"Rachel should be ashamed of herself," she reflected, angrily, as she
returned to the vestry, "to treat her parents so, after all I have done
for her."

Only broken her daughter's heart! This was what Mrs. Layton had done,
and she considered her conduct meritorious. But she had no time for
further reflection. In the vestry the vicar was divesting himself of
his limp surplice, and his wife felt she must act.

"James," she said, "I am just going to walk over to the Hall for lunch,
and you must follow."

"Did Rachel ask us?" inquired the vicar, weakly, for he also had been
looking forward to the good things on the squire's table, and a glass
or two of the squire's good wine.

"Yes," replied Mrs. Layton, mendaciously, "but I stayed behind to tell
you not to be long. I will walk on, as they always have lunch much
earlier on Sundays."

And Mrs. Layton did walk on. She went at a brisk rate, for she was
determined not to be cheated out of her dinner by her ungrateful
daughter. She therefore arrived at the Hall somewhat heated in mind and
body.

"The family are at lunch, madam," the footman who opened the door
informed her, but, nothing daunted, Mrs. Layton walked coolly to the
dining-room, and entered unannounced.

The gray-haired squire, who was sitting at the table, rose to receive
her, after giving one inquiring glance at his wife, who shrugged her
shoulders slightly in reply.

"I wished to see you, Rachel," began Mrs. Layton, who was very hot,
"but you hurried away from church so quickly that I had not the
opportunity, and so I followed you on here."

"Pray be seated, Mrs. Layton," said Mr. Temple, courteously. "James,"
this was to the footman, "place a chair for Mrs. Layton."

"I must say I feel rather tired," continued Mrs. Layton, "and shall be
glad of a glass of wine. Thanks, Mr. Temple, I know your good wine of
old, and I hope you will excuse me when I tell you that I have taken
the liberty of asking the vicar to follow me here. I wished to see
you, Rachel, on a little business that I could not defer."

"I dare say it would have waited," answered Mrs. Temple, coolly. She
was annoyed at her mother's appearance, and she did not care to hide
this, nor did she extend any warm welcome to her father when the good
vicar came shambling in.

"Your mother said you had kindly invited us, my dear," explained the
vicar. "I am sorry I am late, but there were several things I had to
see about before I could leave the vestry."

"Oh, it is all right," said Mrs. Temple. At this moment she felt sorry
for her poor down-trodden father. She heaped good things on his plate,
and ordered some of his favorite old port to be placed on the table.
She took very little notice of her mother; she had in truth an immense
contempt for the scheming, untruthful little woman who had given her
birth.

Mrs. Layton still felt angry, but her anger did not interfere with her
appetite. She ate and drank to her heart's content, and then she began
talking to John Temple.

"So you were at church this morning, Mr. John?" she said. "Well, it's a
poor place, and needs a great deal of alteration, but all these things
cost money."

The squire turned a deaf ear to his mother-in-law's remark, but John
answered courteously:

"I thought it all seemed very nice," he answered. "Of course, you can
not expect everything in an old-fashioned country church."

"Yes, old-fashioned, that is the word," echoed Mrs. Layton, eagerly.
"Look at those galleries! Did you ever see such things? They should
come down, but as I said before it all costs money, and people won't
give it, and the vicar won't rouse himself."

The vicar looked mildly up from his plate at this remark, and that was
all.

"And talking of the galleries," went on Mrs. Layton, speaking with
great rapidity, "did you notice that absurd hat that Margaret Churchill
wore this morning? Absolutely preposterous! I suppose that is what you
call a picture hat?" she added, looking at her daughter.

"I thought it seemed a very elegant affair!" scoffed Mrs. Temple. "What
did you think of it, my nephew John?"

"Don't be shocked at my bad taste when I confess I never noticed it,"
replied John Temple, smiling.

"You only saw the face beneath?" questioned Mrs. Temple.

John made a sarcastic bow.

"Now you compliment my good taste," he said.

"Well, people call her handsome, and she may be good-looking; I suppose
she is," said Mrs. Layton, viciously, "but I have a very poor opinion
of Margaret Churchill. If you believe it, I am told she is now once
more endeavoring to entangle young Henderson of the Grange, in spite of
the terrible scandal about him. I hear they invite him to the house,
and that he buys horses of the old man, and that the new Mrs. Churchill
is bent on the match."

John Temple felt a strong wave of anger rise in his heart, but he
prudently checked it before it reached his tongue.

"Well," he said, rising from the table, "I will leave you two ladies
for the present, if Mrs. Temple will excuse me? I have some letters to
write, and afterward I think I shall go out; it is too fine a day to
spend indoors."

"Of course, please yourself," answered Mrs. Temple, carelessly. She did
not like John leaving her thus, to be bored by her mother's company,
but she stood on small ceremony.

"I am tired; I will lie down and read in my own room for an hour or
two, I think," she said. "Good-day, mother."

She just extended the tips of her slender fingers to Mrs. Layton as she
spoke, and then rose languidly and left the room.

The squire was thus left alone with the vicar and his mother-in-law.
But he also was tired of both. He retired into an easy chair, and put
his handkerchief over his face to announce that he wanted a little rest.

"Ah, I see you want a little doze, squire," cried Mrs. Layton,
observing this. "Well, James," she continued, addressing her husband,
"I will just take another glass of port and then we must be off. It's
well for those who can afford to take rest, but a poor parson and his
wife can not."

The squire made no reply to this, and Mrs. Layton, having drank her
port, took her leave, remarking to her husband as they quitted the
house together:

"Poor man, he is evidently failing fast."

"Thank heavens she is gone!" exclaimed the squire with energy, pulling
the handkerchief from his face as he heard their retreating footsteps.
"What a woman! She's enough to drive anyone mad."



CHAPTER XVI.

THE LOVE THAT CAN NOT CHANGE.


John Temple went up the staircase toward his own room, after quitting
the luncheon, saying some very hard things indeed below his breath of
Mrs. Layton. She had made him intensely angry about May Churchill and
young Henderson. Not that he believed a word of it, but it enraged him
to hear the girl's name coupled with this ruffian's, for so he mentally
designated Henderson.

John indeed had always had serious doubts as to Henderson's actual
guilt regarding Elsie Wray's death. That he had broken the poor girl's
heart he never doubted. But there had been something in the evidence of
the groom, Jack Reid, something in his face that made John believe he
was not speaking the truth.

And that Henderson dare go near May! "It's that disgusting stepmother,
I suppose," thought John; "my poor little girl, my poor May, you will
be happier with me."

So John sat down to write to his poor little May when he got to his own
room, and then started out across the park to post his letter at the
nearest post office. He walked on with a bent head and a thoughtful
brow. He was dissatisfied with himself, irresolute, and yet his heart
was warm with love. In his letter he had asked May to fix some place
where he could see her, but he was fated to meet her earlier than he
expected.

May and her brothers had walked home from church, May feeling somewhat
disappointed that she had not had an opportunity of exchanging a word
with John Temple, but still she was ready to excuse him.

"He could not help himself; he was obliged to go with his uncle's
wife," she told herself. But still it made her a little sad. It marked
the social difference between them, as it were. If she had been his
equal, and John had meant to make her his wife, he would assuredly have
lingered to speak to her. As it was he could not help himself, but May
sighed when she thought of it.

Then, when they reached home, Mrs. Churchill made herself purposely
very unpleasant to her stepdaughter.

"That's a very absurd hat of yours, May," she said. "I don't know what
the folks in church would say to it."

It was in truth a charming hat, though only suited to a lovely face. It
became May exceedingly, and she had been conscious of this when she had
started in the morning with her brothers; conscious perhaps of it when
she saw John Temple's gray eyes looking upward to the gallery, for she
loved to think that she should seem fair in his sight, and now to hear
it descried!

"I think it is a very pretty hat," she answered, somewhat indignantly.

"To go on the stage with, perhaps, but not for a respectable farmer's
daughter to appear at church in," continued Mrs. Churchill.

May slightly tossed her pretty head, and walked indignantly out of
the room. She had no idea of leaving off wearing her new hat, which
had just cost her two pounds, on account of her stepmother's remarks.
And immediately the early dinner was over she called to her two young
brothers to go out for a walk with her, and wore the picture hat in
spite of Mrs. Churchill.

During their afternoon ramble they went along the country lane where
May Churchill had first met John Temple in the summer time, when she
was gathering wild roses to make a wreath to place on poor young Phil
Temple's grave. It was autumn now, and the cobwebs on the grass and
the chill in the breeze told of the shortening days. The wild roses
were gone, and the meadow-sweet scented the air no longer, but there
was a serene and sober beauty in the changing leaves, in the creeping
brambles growing amid the hedge-rows. And quite suddenly the three
young people encountered John Temple in this very lane. John had been
thinking, also, of that first meeting when he had sat on the stile,
and thought, smilingly, that this rural scene only wanted "a pretty
milkmaid" to complete the picture. He remembered May as he had seen her
thus, so fresh, so fair, in her white frock and her dainty basket of
roses. And now with glad surprise he once more encountered her.

They smiled and clasped each other's hands, but said very few words,
and then John looked at the two boys.

"So these two young gentlemen are your brothers, I suppose?" he asked.

"Yes," answered May, while Willie and Hal grinned responsively.

"I am so glad to have met you," continued John, looking extremely happy
to have done so, "as I was just going to post--" and then he paused and
looked again at the boys.

Upon this Hal, who was the youngest, though the sharpest of the two,
administered a sharp kick at his brother's ankle.

"I say, Will," he said, "I saw some awful jolly blackberries at the
other side of the hedge; let's go in for some?"

Will took the hint, and the two boys ran together to the stile, so as
to get to the other side of the hedge, and John Temple and May were
alone.

"I was on my way to post a letter to you, May," John said; "now I will
give it to you--here it is."

He drew out his letter, and put it into May's hand as he spoke, but he
still held her hand fast.

"It is to ask you to meet me, May," he said. "To meet me, and tell me
what your answer to my last letter is to be."

May's face flushed, and her breath came sharp; she remembered John's
last letter only too well.

"We can not talk of it to-day," continued John; "we must be alone. In
my letter to you to-day I asked you to fix some time and name place, on
Tuesday, as I thought you would only get my letter to-morrow morning.
But now as you, have got it to-day, can we meet to-morrow?"

"Yes," half-whispered May; John was still holding her hand, still
looking in her face, and May's heart was beating very fast.

"I have heard something about you to-day, May," presently said John;
"something that made me very angry--only I did not believe it."

"And what have you heard?" asked May, raising her beautiful eyes to his.

"That you are flirting--yes, that was the horrid word--flirting with
that brute, young Henderson."

May's fair face flushed angrily.

"What a dreadful untruth!" she cried, indignantly; "I have been so
miserable about this; that woman my father has married has taken it
into her head that I should marry this dreadful man, and she asks him
to the house, and the other day sent him into the garden after me, and
he asked me to marry him, and I told him I never should."

"I should think not," said John Temple, quietly.

"I detest him, and can not bear to be in the room with him," went on
May; "and Mrs. Churchill has been so rude to me about it, and makes
my home and my life quite miserable. My father seems to believe
everything she says, and when I got angry and said she was no mother of
mine, he took her part, and said if I did not choose to treat her with
proper respect, that I should not remain in his house."

John smiled.

"And what did you say?" he asked.

"I said, 'Very well, father; I will go.'"

"Brave little girl! And do you mean to say that your father--actually
your father!--could contemplate giving you to that brute Henderson?"

"Oh, his wife can persuade him to do anything, and she has persuaded
him that Mr. Henderson would be a very good match for me. It's too
disgusting," continued May, her fair face flushing and her eyes
sparkling, "and I told them both that my own mother would never have
allowed such a person to come near me."

"He shall never come near you, my dear child."

"And he threatened--oh, don't go near him or speak to him, Mr. Temple."

"Did he threaten me?" asked John, disdainfully.

"He said some folly or other--he is horrid. He looks like a murderer,
if he isn't one."

"I have a very great idea that he is one."

"At all events he behaved shamefully to that poor girl, and yet my
father's wife praises him, and makes up to him in every way."

"Let us forget that charming lady for awhile. What time can you meet me
to-morrow, May, and where?"

"I heard my father's wife say she was going somewhere to-morrow
afternoon with my father, so I can come any time."

"Come here at three o'clock, then, my dear little girl."

John Temple spoke very tenderly, and felt very tenderly to the fair
young girl by his side. He took both her hands in his; he smilingly
admired the offending hat.

"So this is the new picture hat, is it?" he said. "By Mrs. Layton's
account, May, you are going straight on the road to perdition for
wearing it."

"And my father's wife found fault with it, too," answered May, smiling.
"What do you think of it?"

"I think it charming; only the face beneath it is so much more charming
that I can not admire it long."

"How you are flattering me!"

At this moment Hal Churchill's rosy face appeared above from the other
side of the hedge, and though it did not remain long, his observations
induced him to remark to his brother Willie:

"I say, Willie, I believe those two are spoons."

"What makes you say that?" asked Will.

"He's holding her hands, and going on, anyhow. Blessed good thing it
would be if they are, as then May would marry the young squire, and we
would get no end of tips, and get out of the way sometimes for a bit of
that awful woman at home."

"She's disgusting," answered Will, emphatically.

"Beastly," said the younger brother, equally emphatically; and then the
two boys re-crossed the stile, and May and John Temple seeing this,
advanced to meet them.

"Have you got lots of blackberries?" asked John.

"Barely ripe," replied Hal, amiably, to his proposed brother-in-law.
"Have a few?"

He opened his stained cotton pocket handkerchief as he spoke, and
offered the luxuries it contained to John, who, however, shook his head.

"I am too old to eat blackberries," he said, with a smile; "I wish I
were not."

"Not do you any harm," hospitably pressed Hal; "here's a good 'un."

Again John shook his head, with a little laugh.

"When I was a boy," he said, "I adored blackberries and tips," and he
put his hand into his pocket and drew out two golden coins.

Hal grinned from ear to ear.

"Buy what you like with it," continued John, pressing a sovereign into
Hal's somewhat dirty little hand.

"Oh, thank you, sir," answered Hal, delightedly, but when John
presented the other sovereign to Will Churchill, the elder boy drew
back.

"No, thank you, sir," he said, and colored deeply.

"Not take a tip!" laughed John. "Oh, nonsense; come, take it, my lad."

Will hesitated and looked at May.

"Tell him to take it," said John, also looking at May.

"As Mr. Temple is so kind, Will, I think you ought to accept his
present," answered May, with a little laugh, and then Will, as though
half-unwillingly, took the golden coin.

"I will walk to the end of the lane with you, and then say good-by,"
said John, next moment, and so the boys fell behind, and John had time
to half-whisper to May as they walked on:

"Do not forget; to-morrow, here, at three o'clock."

After this they parted, and the three young Churchills returned
together to Woodside Farm.

"That's rather a nice chap," remarked Hal, patronizingly.

"Yes," answered May, with embarrassment; "but, boys, don't mention at
home that we met him."

Hal winked his blue eye.

"Mum's the word," he said. "I'll tell you what, May, he's a deal better
fellow, I am sure, than that surly brute, Henderson."

May gave no opinion as to the comparative merits of her two admirers.
She walked home feeling intensely happy. All her troubles seemed
to have melted into air. John Temple loved her; she was to see him
to-morrow, and for the present she needed no more than this.

Both at tea and supper Mrs. Churchill noticed the lovely bloom on her
stepdaughter's smooth cheeks, and the glad, bright look in her eyes.
She was an observant woman, this, and took an opportunity of inquiring
of Hal Churchill during the evening if they had met anyone they knew
when they were out walking.

"Not a soul," answered Master Hal; "we met two pigs, that was all the
company."

"How absurd you are, boy," said Mrs. Churchill, crossly. She had not
been used to children, and their ways worried her. But Hal, with his
sovereign in his pocket, and May, with her love in her heart, were both
too happy to care about Mrs. Churchill. They were each thinking of
their treasures, and all their stepmother's shafts fell harmless.

May was up betimes the next morning; up to watch the rosy clouds in the
west heralding in the day, and the sun rise over the green meadows and
the yellow fields of ripening corn. It was a beautiful morning, but
would it keep fine, May asked herself anxiously again and again, as she
stood there gazing out on the misty blue sky. If it rained it might
prevent her stepmother starting on her expedition; it might prevent her
own meeting with John Temple.

But up rose the sun in cloudless splendor, and presently its rays fell
on May's bright head; on her sweet, up-turned face, and bare white
throat. They fell on no fairer picture in all that bright autumn day!
It was something beyond mere earthly beauty that radiated the girl's
face as she stood watching the rising sun. All that was best and
noblest within her was stirred, as it were, with a deep wave of strong
and unchanging love.

How the rest of that morning passed she scarcely knew. Mrs. Churchill
fussed and scolded, but it all fell on deaf ears. May was living in a
world of her own, and Mrs. Churchill's sharp voice could not reach it.
Then came the early dinner, and after this was over her father and her
stepmother drove away. They were going to Castle Hill, Mrs. Churchill's
own place, and as it was some distance from Woodside, May knew it must
be nightfall before their return.

She breathed a soft sigh of relief as she saw them disappear. Then she
went up to her own room and moved about restlessly until it was time
for her to go to keep her tryst with John Temple. She saw the two lads
leave the house also from her window, and so she felt absolutely free.

At half-past two o'clock she started. She walked quickly--perhaps
unconsciously--yet when she reached the place of meeting John was
already there. He was not sitting on the stile this time, as he had
done when they first had met in this country lane. He was walking to
and fro, with a bent head and a somewhat anxious brow; but his face
brightened when he saw May. He advanced quickly to meet her; he took
both her hands.

"I was half afraid you might not be able to come," he said.

"My father and his wife have gone out for the day," answered May, "and
the boys also are out. I have a whole afternoon to myself."

"For me?" asked John.

"Yes, all for you," smiled May.

"My sweetheart!" said John, and he bent down and kissed her. "Now, will
you give me your answer--the answer I asked in my letter--is yours the
love that can not change?"

She did not speak; she looked at him for a moment, and then nestled her
sweet face against his breast.

"Tell me, my dear one," urged John; "will there be no change in your
love?"

Again May looked up, and this time her rosy lips parted.

"Mine is a love that can not change, John," she murmured below her
breath.

"Be it so, then," said John Temple, almost solemnly, and he looked up
to the blue sky as he spoke, and made an inward vow. "Neither will my
love change," he said aloud the next moment; "for weal or woe then,
May, our future will be together."

They did not speak for a short while after this. John drew May closer
to his breast, and she leaned there at rest and happy. A great content
seemed to overflow her being. She was with John. John had just said
they should never part.

Presently John broke the sweet silence that seemed like heaven to the
girl's heart.

"It will not be all smooth sailing, you know, May," he said.

She looked up inquiringly.

"I mean," continued John Temple, with a sort of effort, "that our
marriage, for a time at least, will have to be a secret one. There are
several reasons for this; one is that my uncle would oppose it, and the
other that Mrs. Temple has taken a very absurd prejudice against your
family on account of the death of her boy."

"How is that?" asked May, quickly.

"It seems that one or both of your brothers played in the game of
football when poor young Phil Temple was killed, and his mother
foolishly--for she is a foolish woman--has taken it into her head that
one of your brothers gave him the fatal blow on the head. She has had a
dream, or some nonsense or other, and she assured me gravely last night
that she heard her boy's voice say distinctly twice in one night, 'One
of the Churchills killed me.' It's fancy, no doubt," continued John
Temple, as he saw May's rosy bloom beginning to fade; "but you see it
makes things for us more difficult."

"Yes, I see," said May, slowly.

"In fact, my dear one, there is nothing for it but a secret marriage,"
went on John, decidedly. "I have thought it all over--what would be
best for us both--that is if you truly love me, May?"

"I do, I do!" answered May, with such emotion that her eyes grew misty
with unshed tears.

"Then I will tell you my plans. They are that you should leave here at
once; go up to town alone. Do not be frightened; a home will be ready
for you with two very respectable old ladies, who keep a lodging-house,
or rather did, in Bayswater. I lodged with them once when I was much
younger, and I was such a favorite of theirs we have always kept up
a kind of acquaintance. They have retired from the lodging-house
business, but I will write and ask them to receive my young cousin,
Miss Churchill, for a short time, and I know they will gladly do so. In
a fortnight I will join you, and we will be married from their house,
and all the good people here will be none the wiser. Will you consent
to this?"

"I will do whatever you wish me," said May, trustfully, and she put her
hand in his.

A slight change passed over John's face.

"You are not happy at home, May, are you?" he asked.

"I am most unhappy. Mrs. Churchill makes me miserable about that
wretched Mr. Henderson."

"It is all right then; when can you start for town--to-morrow?"

"To-morrow?" repeated May, startled.

"Yes, the sooner the better, for then the sooner I can join you. I will
write to the Miss Websters at once, and give you their address--and
May, I have brought fifty pounds with me for you."

"Oh! I can not take that," answered May, with a sudden blush.

"My dear one, you must! You are my little cousin, you know, until you
are my wife, and my little cousin must pay her way. Here it is, May,
and do not be foolish. Now what train will you start by to-morrow? I
can not, I am afraid, see you off on account of the confounded gossip
it would cause."

"Oh, no, you must not do that. I will go in what train I can get
quickly away by--and you will join me, John?" she added, wistfully.

"I swear it," said John Temple, earnestly, "and I will write to you.
But be cautious, dear May, for both our sakes. This is the Websters'
address. Drive straight from the station to their house."

"Yes--and John, oh, John!--you do not repent liking me--you do care for
me?"

"I care for you with all my heart and soul, May! I love you as deeply
as a man can love a woman; do not, at least, doubt my love."

He took her in his arms and kissed her again and again, and with
tenderest words of affection at length they parted; May returning at
once to Woodside to make her preparations for leaving it, and John
Temple going back to the Hall.

On her road home May determined what to do. She would take her young
brother Hal partly into her confidence, and tell him she was about to
run away from home on account of her stepmother's treatment. But when
she arrived at the farm she found that a letter from her father awaited
her, which had been sent by hand. This letter informed her that on
account of the length of the drive to and from Castle Hill, that he and
his wife had determined to remain there all night, but would return on
the following afternoon or evening.

This made everything much easier for May. She said nothing to Hal that
night, but packed up her small belongings ready for an early start in
the morning. Then when the boys had gone to bed she went to her own
room, and stood there looking wistfully around. She had slept here in
her childhood; she had slept here in her blooming young maidenhood, and
she knew that after the night was past she would sleep here no more.
She was going to take a leap in the dark; a leap into the unknown, but
there was no fear in her heart, for "perfect love casteth out fear."

She knelt down before she went to bed, and prayed for John Temple;
prayed that there should be no change in their love in all their future
lives.



CHAPTER XVII.

DISAPPEARED.


Mr. and Mrs. Churchill returned to Woodside late on the following
evening, and were both somewhat surprised not to find May up to receive
them. The two boys, however, were.

"May has gone to bed with a bad headache," said Hal, with a grin, for
the information of his stepmother.

"I think she should have sat up; it is only proper respect to us,"
retorted Mrs. Churchill.

"Not if she is ill, my dear," said Mr. Churchill, who somehow missed
seeing his pretty daughter.

Mrs. Churchill said nothing more on the subject. She ate her supper
and arranged "the things" that she had brought from Castle Hill to her
own satisfaction, and then retired for the night, well satisfied with
herself and what she had done during the day.

And the next morning she rose early, as was her usual practice, and
began her healthful daily life with her accustomed energy. At half-past
eight o'clock she and her husband and the two boys were seated at the
well-spread breakfast table, but still May had not appeared.

"Ring the breakfast bell again, Hal," directed Mrs. Churchill
presently. "I can not have May lying in bed all day."

The breakfast bell was rung for the second time, but it failed to bring
May down-stairs. Therefore, after she had finished her own excellent
breakfast with excellent appetite, Mrs. Churchill said she would go
upstairs to see after her stepdaughter.

"I'll not take her up any tea, as she may be only idling," she
remarked, as she rose from the table; "but I'll see what is really the
matter with her."

She accordingly went upstairs and rapped at May's bedroom door. There
was no reply, so Mrs. Churchill opened it and went in.

One glance at the bed showed her that it had not been slept in; another
glance around the room told her it was empty.

Mrs. Churchill felt half-frightened. Again she looked around, and
this time her eyes fell on a letter lying on the toilet-table. She
approached the toilet-table and took up the letter. It was directed to
her husband, and it was sealed, and Mrs. Churchill knew at once that
something very serious had happened.

She hurried out of the room carrying the letter with her. As she
descended the staircase she saw her husband in the hall, about to open
the front door, for the purpose of leaving the house.

"William!" she called, and waved the letter, and when Mr. Churchill
noticed the expression of her face he at once turned back to meet her.

"Come in here," she said, opening the dining-room door, and putting her
hand on her husband's arm as she spoke. The dining-room was empty and
Mrs. Churchill closed the door behind them.

"William," she said, when they were alone, "May is not in her room; the
bed has never been slept in, and she has left this letter lying on the
toilet-table for you."

"Good heavens! What can be the matter?" exclaimed Mr. Churchill; and he
proceeded to tear open the letter, and read it eagerly, while his wife
peered over his shoulder trying to do so too.

And this was what he read:

"MY DEAR FATHER: You told me once that you did not wish me to remain in
your house if I could not treat your wife with the respect which you
considered was her due. I find I can not do this; nor can I endure any
longer the, to me, odious visits of Mr. Henderson. I am, therefore,
going away, and you need not be afraid for my future life. I should not
have left you if I did not know that you had someone to look after you
and care for you, but this I am sure you have. Be kind to the two dear
boys, and believe me to remain still, your affectionate daughter.
                                                                  MAY."

Mr. Churchill's clear bronzed complexion flushed darkly as he read this
letter and comprehended its meaning.

"What do you think of that?" he asked, handing it to his wife.

Then Mrs. Churchill read the letter fully, and her clear skin also
flushed as she did so.

"She has run away with someone," she said, as she finished the letter.
"She tried to put the blame on me, but that is an excuse--she has gone
with some lover."

"She has no lover that I know of but young Henderson," replied Mr.
Churchill, somewhat hoarsely. He was terribly upset by May's letter,
remembering the words which he himself had used to his young daughter,
and to which she had referred.

"She was sure to have lovers," continued Mrs. Churchill. "You may not
know of them. Who can tell? It may be someone beneath her."

"You don't know May when you say that!" said Mr. Churchill, angrily.
"May is a thorough little lady whatever she is. She would not look at
anyone beneath her."

"Yet such things have been."

"May would do nothing of the sort; I know that," positively asserted
her father. "And how do we know that she has gone away with anyone?
Most likely gone on some wild-goose chase because she could not get on
with you."

"Oh! try to blame me. That's just like a man."

"I am not blaming you; but I won't have anything of that kind said of
my girl. May held herself too high for that."

Mrs. Churchill did not speak. She drew in her firm lips. She bore a
fresh grudge against May.

"Where are the boys? The boys may know something about this?" now said
Mr. Churchill.

The boys were accordingly called into the dining-room. Will went
innocently, but Hal with a guilty conscience, which, however, he was
prepared to disguise.

"When did you last see your sister yesterday?" asked Mr. Churchill,
sternly.

"We had tea with her at five o'clock," answered Will; "and after that I
did not see her."

"And you, Hal?"

"I saw her a bit later, and she was going out for a walk then," replied
the boy; "and she said she had a headache and would go to bed directly
she came in, and would not sit up for you--and that I was to tell you
so."

"And you did not see her again?"

"No, I went out, and when I came back I supposed May had gone to bed as
she said she would, for I saw nothing more of her."

"And she said nothing to you about going away?"

"Not a word," untruthfully affirmed Hal.

"Yet she is not in the house; she has written to say she has gone
away," said Mr. Churchill.

"Gone away?" repeated Will, in great surprise. "Where has she gone?"

"She does not say where," answered his father. "This must be seen to at
once. Sarah, go and ask the servants if they know anything."

Mrs. Churchill obeyed her husband, but the servants knew nothing.
"Miss," the housemaid said, had told her she had a headache, and would
not sit up to supper. She had not seen her go out, and "miss" had
requested her not to go into her room, as she hoped to go to sleep and
did not wish to be disturbed.

This was all Mrs. Churchill learned in the kitchen, but when she again
went up to May's bedroom she found that a small leather trunk, that
belonged to her, and nearly all her best clothes, had also disappeared.
Her flight, therefore, had been clearly premeditated. Someone also must
have assisted her, as it was almost impossible that she could have
carried away her trunk herself.

Mrs. Churchill went down and told her husband all this, and he once
more questioned the boys, but both denied they knew anything about it;
Willie truthfully, Hal untruthfully.

"Take my word for it, she has run away with someone," repeated Mrs.
Churchill.

Mr. Churchill now began to think there must be some truth in this.
It could not be young Henderson, as she disliked him so much; and
then there was Mr. Goodall, the curate--but no, May always laughed at
him--and then suddenly Mr. Churchill remembered John Temple, and seeing
May and him in the garden together in the moonlight.

He gave a sort of exclamation as the idea struck him, but he said
nothing. Mr. John Temple was his landlord's nephew and heir, and it was
a very serious thing to bring any such accusation against him unless he
had good grounds for it.

"I will drive over to the station, and see if I can hear anything
there," he said, hastily, and he accordingly did this, and was received
in a friendly manner by the station-master, with whom he was well
acquainted.

"I want a word with you, Mr. Johnson," said Mr. Churchill, in some
agitation.

"Certainly, sir. Come in here," replied the station-master, leading Mr.
Churchill into his private office.

"Did you see anything of my daughter, yesterday?" now asked Mr.
Churchill, in an anxious voice.

"Oh, yes, sir, of course; I put her into the quarter-to-six train
myself, on her road to London. She told me she was going to pay a visit
there."

"To London?" repeated Mr. Churchill; and he turned so pale that the
station-master grew alarmed.

"Nothing wrong, I hope, sir?" he said.

"No," answered Mr. Churchill, with a sort of gasp. "The truth is,
Johnson--don't mention this--but I'm afraid my daughter and my new wife
did not get on over-well, and I think the foolish girl must have run
away from home. Was she alone when she came to the station?"

"Quite alone, sir," answered the station-master. "In the afternoon a
boy brought a trunk and said it had to wait for a young lady who was
coming to catch a train. And I just happened to look at the address,
and it was 'Miss Churchill, London.'"

"And that was all?"

"That was all, sir--'Miss Churchill, London.' I wondered at the time
there was nothing more, but there was not."

"And the boy who brought the trunk; it was not one of my boys, was it?"

"Oh, dear, no, sir! I know both your boys quite well. This was a common
sort of lad in a fustian jacket, and I don't think I'd know him again."

"And she came to the train? How did she look?"

"She came into the station quite cheerful, sir, and she took a
second-class fare to London, and I put her into the carriage myself. I
asked her if she was going for a long visit, as you see I've known her
ever since she was a child, and she smiled in her pretty way. 'Yes, Mr.
Johnson,' said she, 'a long visit;' and those were her last words to
me."

Mr. Churchill groaned aloud.

"I fear she has run away," he said, "and as well seek for a needle in a
bundle of hay as find anyone in London if they went to hide. Thank you,
Johnson. Don't say anything, but I fear it's a bad business."

So Mr. Churchill left the station with a heavy heart, but on the way
home he saw the gray walls and towers of Woodlea Hall standing amid the
trees in the distance, and again the thought of John Temple recurred to
his mind.

"I'll make some excuse and go and see if he's there, at any rate," he
decided, and accordingly he turned his horse's head down the avenue
that led to the Hall, and a few minutes later drew up at the back
entrance.

"Can I see the squire?" he asked in some agitation.

It was yet early morning, and the squire was still at breakfast.
But Mr. Churchill was known to be a favorite tenant, and one of the
servants took up a message that he was waiting until the squire could
see him. A message came back, would Mr. Churchill go into the library,
and Mr. Temple would join him immediately.

This the squire did, and in his quiet, courteous manner held out his
hand to Mr. Churchill, who took it nervously.

"I am in sad trouble, sir," he began.

"I am extremely sorry to hear this, Mr. Churchill," answered the
squire, with real interest.

"It's about my daughter, sir--"

"What, that pretty girl?" interrupted the squire.

"Yes, May--well, sir, the truth is that May and my new wife didn't
get on over-well together, and we--my wife and I--have been away from
home for a couple of days, and when we went to seek May this morning
we found she was not in the house. Then I went to the station--I have
just been there--and Johnson, the station-master, he says May left last
evening by the quarter-to-six train for London, and that's every word
we know about her."

"And she left no letter? Told no one she was going?"

"Yes, she left a letter for me, to say she was going, and that was all;
not a word where she was going to."

"This is very distressing. Did she say nothing to her brothers?"

"Not a word--and squire, there is something I wanted to ask you--" and
then Mr. Churchill hesitated.

"Pray ask me, Mr. Churchill, and if there is anything I can do for you,
you may depend on me."

"Well, sir, you see May and your nephew, Mr. John Temple, were a good
bit together about that unfortunate girl's death at Fern Dene, and I've
been wondering if he could tell us anything? No offense, you know,
squire, only sometimes girls tell their troubles or fancied troubles to
other young people, and I thought perhaps she might have said something
to Mr. John Temple--that is, if he is at the Hall."

"He is certainly at the Hall," replied the squire, gravely. "He
returned last Saturday, and is now in the breakfast-room. Would you
like to see him?"

"If I might make so bold."

Mr. Temple rose and rang the bell, and when the footman answered it he
said quietly:

"Ask Mr. John Temple kindly to come to the library for a few minutes."

The footman bowed and disappeared, and a few moments of uncomfortable
silence passed between the squire and his tenant. The squire was
remembering his advice to John on the subject of May Churchill; her
father seeing the two together in the moonlit garden.

Then John Temple appeared, calm, assured, and a little pale.

He shook hands with Mr. Churchill, and then looked at him inquiringly.

"John," said the squire, as the farmer hesitated, "Mr. Churchill
has called here about his daughter; it seems that the young lady
disappeared from her home yesterday in the absence of Mr. and Mrs.
Churchill, and as you were a good deal thrown with her about that
unfortunate affair at Fern Dene, Mr. Churchill wishes to know if she
ever gave you any hint regarding her intention of leaving her home?"

"Yes, Mr. John, that's just it; just as the squire says," put in Mr.
Churchill, eagerly.

"Certainly not," replied John Temple, calmly. "I was, as you say, a
good deal thrown with Miss Churchill regarding that unfortunate affair,
but she never mentioned anything whatever to me about leaving her home."

"And she made no complaints?" asked Mr. Churchill.

"None. I think she once said she disliked that young Henderson very
much; that was at the inquest."

"And when did you last see her, Mr. John?"

"I have been away, but I saw her last Sunday at church."

This was a bold speech, yet John Temple never faltered as he spoke it.
He had made up his mind that these inquiries were sure to be made, and
he risked the chance that no one had seen his interviews with May on
Sunday or Monday.

At all events he convinced both his uncle and Mr. Churchill that he had
nothing to do with May's disappearance. The farmer thanked him and the
squire, and then withdrew, and John and his uncle were left alone.

"It's a strange business," said the squire, "but I suppose it is the
fault of the new wife. This pretty girl has perhaps gone to try her
fortune in London, in preference to living at home in uncongenial
company. But it's a pity."

"Someone told me, I forget who," answered John, "that the new wife, as
you call her, was bent on marrying this pretty girl to that brute young
Henderson. In that case one can not wonder at her running away."

"Well, I hope she'll come to no trouble; she's a very pretty girl."

"Very," replied John, laconically, and then he turned away; but his
uncle noticed that during the rest of the day there was a cloud upon
his brow.

Mr. Churchill, in the meanwhile, had returned home, and had told his
news to his wife. May had gone to London alone, and the station-master
had seen her off, and a strange boy had taken her trunk to the station.

"Then it has been all planned beforehand!" exclaimed Mrs. Churchill.
"How deceitful!"

Mr. Churchill said nothing, and was certainly looking anything but
happy.

"Will you put it into the hands of the police?" asked Mrs. Churchill.

"No," answered the farmer, decidedly. "May would have some little money
with her--a matter of twenty pounds or so, at least, and she can't
starve for a week or two with that. And when she wants money she can
come home. Remember that, Sarah," he added, emphatically, "whenever my
girl wants to come back, she's welcome here."



CHAPTER XVIII.

AT PEMBRIDGE TERRACE.


While these inquiries about her flight were going on, May Churchill was
safely sheltered in the home John Temple had provided for her in town.
This she found to be an extremely comfortable one, and the two ladies
of the establishment the most amiable of women.

May had arrived at King's Cross terminus nervous, yet determined. She
had left a home where she was no longer happy, and she was going to be
married to the man she loved. What matter was it, she told herself,
that for the present this marriage had to be a secret one? She had a
perfect trust in John Temple, and she knew he would never deceive her.

She easily got her small belongings collected, and then directed the
cab driver to convey her to the address in Bayswater that John Temple
had given her. She found herself there before she expected, and after
the cabman had rung the doorbell it was quickly opened, and no less
than four people appeared to welcome her. A servant first; behind, two
middle-aged ladies; and behind the middle-aged ladies, a tall young man.

This young man, however, hurried to the front, opened the cab door, and
said, in a pleasant voice:

"Miss Churchill, I presume? My aunts are expecting you."

"Yes," gasped May, nervously. "Is this Miss Webster's house?"

"Yes, my dear, it is!" screamed one of the middle-aged ladies from the
top of the door-steps. "This is our house, mine and sister Eliza's, and
we expect you are Mr. Temple's cousin."

"Yes," faltered May.

By this time the young man had handed May out, and she was standing on
the flags, purse in hand, ready to pay the cabman.

"Never mind the cabman!" again screamed the lady from the door-steps.
"Nephew Ralph will pay him, and get in your luggage. Come in, my dear,
and welcome; any friend of Mr. Temple's is most welcome here."

May accordingly ascended the door-steps, and her hand was shaken most
warmly, first by Miss Webster, and then by Miss Eliza. They were thin,
elderly women, with pleasant faces, and were evidently pleased to see
their young guest.

"You must be tired with your long journey, and hungry, too," continued
Miss Webster. "We have a little bit of hot supper ready for you. Jane,"
this was to the servant, "tell cook to dish up the partridges, and mind
she has the plates hot. Come in, my dear--this is the dining-room--or
would you rather go upstairs and take off your hat first?"

May accepted the last offer, and was accordingly ushered into a most
comfortable bedroom, where everything was ready for her occupation.
After pointing out the hot water, and telling her to be sure to ring
for what she wanted, Miss Webster then withdrew. Upon this May bathed
her face, and let down her long hair, and in a few minutes appeared
down-stairs, looking so fresh and bright no one would have supposed
that she had just had a long journey.

The tall young man was standing on the hearth-rug as she entered the
dining-room, for a cheerful fire was burning in the grate, and he bowed
when May appeared, and offered her a chair.

"This is our nephew, Mr. Ralph Webster," said Miss Eliza, for Miss
Webster happened to be out of the room, looking after the supper. "Miss
Churchill, Mr. Webster."

Miss Eliza having accomplished this introduction to her satisfaction,
sighed softly, and looked first at May's blooming face and then at her
nephew's.

"What a handsome couple!" she was thinking, and again she sighed. By
some mischance, Miss Eliza's proper destiny had never been fulfilled.
She ought to have been one of the couple, and her whole nature
pointed in that direction. She was sentimental, tender-hearted, and
affectionate, and yet in her middle-age she was still unwedded. But
she had no jealousy of younger women. On the contrary, the suppressed
maternal instincts in her heart seemed to bloom forth when she beheld a
fair young face. She also regarded her tall nephew with something like
the affection of a mother.

But though he might be so in her eyes, Mr. Ralph Webster could not
justly be called "handsome." He had, however, an intelligent, clever
face, with marked features and dark gray penetrating eyes. His manner
was self-reliant and quick. Altogether a keen-looking man, with a face
well-suited to his profession, for he was a barrister; a hard-working
barrister, who had already accomplished a fair amount of success.

"And you have had a long journey?" he said, leaning on the back of a
chair and addressing May Churchill.

"Yes, rather," answered May, moving uneasily, for she did not know
what John Temple had said to the Websters about her home, and Ralph
Webster noticed this slight uneasiness.

"The country must be looking beautiful just now," he continued, with
his keen eyes fixed on her changing face; "this is the season of
holidays, and I am longing for mine."

"I like the autumn, too," said May.

"Well, I think I like the spring best," mildly remarked Miss Eliza; "in
the autumn one feels that the winter is so near; you should like the
spring best, too, my dear," she added, looking at May; "you, who are in
your spring-time."

"Dear sentimental Aunt Eliza!" laughed Mr. Webster. "I am sure you are
thinking of the lambkins skipping about the green fields, while I am
thinking--"

"Of what, my dear?"

"I dare hardly say--lamb in another form, I am afraid."

"Oh! Ralph," gently rebuked Miss Eliza.

But here the conversation was interrupted by the entrance of the supper
and Miss Webster. Miss Webster was the managing lady of the house, and
though only two years older than Miss Eliza, regarded her as greatly
her junior. She was more energetic and practical than the younger
sister, but their affection for each other was very strong.

"I hope you are hungry, my dear," said Miss Webster, now addressing
May. "Ralph, will you set a chair for Miss Churchill, and carve the
partridges?"

Ralph did both. He carved well, for he nearly did everything well that
he tried, and he had the good sense if he did not do a thing well soon
to leave off trying.

"One should never go on failing," he used to say, "or you get into the
way of it. If one thing doesn't succeed, another may; there should be
successful careers for us all--even for crossing-sweepers."

He, in fact, had made up his mind to succeed in life, and he knew the
way was to work hard. He spent his evenings as a rule in reading dry
books, instead of amusing himself like many of his compeers. He was
equipping himself for the legal battles he meant to fight, and was
determined to have his armor ready when it came his turn to put it on.
And he knew his turn would come. A man like this has sometimes to wait
for his chance, but as a rule he does not wait long. Sagacious eyes
mark the rising juniors, and are glad to push them on. Ralph Webster
was already by no means an unknown man in legal circles.

"He will rise, and rise high," a good judge of human nature had
predicted of him, and certainly he was doing his best to fulfill this
prophecy.

His good aunts were not a little proud of him, and he was in a way fond
of these two simple, kindly women. They were the only relatives he had
in town, and he sometimes used to stay with them, though as a rule he
lived in the Temple. He was staying with them now, and to his great
amusement had been told of the expected arrival of Mr. John Temple's
"country cousin" before May Churchill came. Now, when she had arrived,
he sat looking at her with admiration and curiosity.

"She's the prettiest girl I ever saw," he said to his aunts, after he
had lit his pipe, and May had retired for the night.

"It's a sweet face certainly," sighed Miss Eliza.

"It's more than a sweet face," answered Ralph Webster, in his energetic
way; "it's a beautiful face. What did Temple say about her to you, Aunt
Margaret, when he wrote?"

"He said she was his cousin, his young cousin, and would we take her
in, and be kind to her for a fortnight or so, when he would come up to
town to join her."

"Lucky dog!" laughed Ralph Webster.

"And," continued Miss Webster, with a sudden blush spreading over her
faded complexion, "he inclosed a check, a ridiculously large check, for
her expenses, and asked us to take her out a little to see the sights,
as she has never been in London before. It's a bad time of the year
certainly for sights; but still perhaps you will help us a little,
Ralph, to amuse her till you go on your holiday?"

"For a young woman who has never been in town there are always plenty
of 'sights,' as you call them, to be seen in London. Yes, Aunt
Margaret, I shall be glad to escort you and Aunt Eliza and the country
cousin anywhere you like during the next few days."

"How good of you, Ralph!" exclaimed Aunt Margaret.

"So good!" chimed Aunt Eliza.

"Good to myself, I should suggest," said Ralph Webster. And then after
one or two vigorous puffs at his pipe he drew it out of his lips for a
moment or two.

"By the by," he said, "how was it you got to know this Mr. Temple? I
forget."

"Oh, my dear," answered Aunt Margaret, with another sudden blush
spreading over her faded skin, which was also reflected on Aunt Eliza's
gentle face, "it was at the time--well, when our dear father was taken
from us, and of course the pecuniary advantages of his living expired
with him. We were thus left very badly off, and had our dear mother to
consider. Therefore, when Mrs. Mason, our dear mother's only sister,
heard of our position she proposed that we should take a house in
town, and bring the furniture up, and--well, try to take in lodgers
or boarders. It was, of course, a great trial to my dear sister and
myself, but we felt it was our duty, and we did it, and Mr. Temple,
who was a much younger man then, stayed with us three years, and we
have regarded him with sincere friendship ever since. He is quite a
gentleman, in word and deed, and it was a pleasure to have him with us,
though, considering poor Aunt Mason's ample means, and that she had
no family of her own, I almost wonder she liked her nieces to receive
strangers under their roof; particularly when she meant to leave us
independent a few years afterward, which she did."

"So this was how you got to know Mr. Temple?" said Ralph Webster, after
listening to Miss Margaret's long explanation. "He's a barrister, you
say, but does not practice? I must look up his name."

"He never practiced; he was well off, but not rich, and then some
months ago he came into a great windfall. A little boy, the heir of the
head of the family, Mr. Temple of Woodlea Hall, was accidentally killed
at football, and Mr. John Temple became the heir of the property, and
when he called the last time he was in town he told us that some day,
if he lived, he would be a very rich man; but his good fortune did not
seem to elate him, did it, Eliza?"

"No, indeed," replied Aunt Eliza, "Mr. Temple is quite above anything
of that kind."

"I wonder where he picked up the country cousin?" said Ralph Webster,
thoughtfully.

"Most probably at his uncle's, the squire of Woodlea. Where do you
think we could take her to-morrow, Ralph?"

"Wait until we see what to-morrow brings forth in the way of weather,"
answered Ralph Webster, and they settled it thus, and shortly afterward
the two sisters retired to rest, and their nephew was left to his
reflections.

The next morning was fine, and when Ralph Webster saw May Churchill by
daylight he decided she was prettier than ever. She had rested well;
she was fresh and fair, and she carried on an animated conversation
with Ralph Webster during the whole of the breakfast time.

"I suppose you row, play tennis, and hunt, and have all sorts of
country occupations?" asked Ralph.

"I play tennis, but I neither row nor hunt," answered May, smiling.

"What! you are not one of those manly young ladies who intend to
annihilate us poor male creatures off the face of the earth, or at
least our occupations and professions?"

"Not quite; but I think it a very good thing that women nowadays can
find occupations and professions for themselves."

"It's not fair to men, it's really not," answered Webster, smiling
also. "Just take my profession, for instance, which I fully expect will
be invaded by the female element in no time. Now I ask you what chance
has a judge to be just, to say nothing of the susceptible bosoms of the
twelve good men in the jury box, when confronted with a lovely creature
in silk pleading the cause of some ruffian? She'd talk them all over.
She'd paint the blackest crimes white, and it would certainly come to
this, that the handsomest female barristers would get all the briefs,
because it would be only too well known that no man could resist them."

"But I thought," said May, who was very much amused, "that before
barristers wear silk that they are not quite so young as they once
were? Suppose, then, an elderly female barrister, with her brow
wrinkled with thought, and her sallow cheeks lined with study, were to
confront the jury, do you think that she would have any more effect
than a man?"

Webster laughed.

"You draw an appalling picture," he said; "for my part I can only
answer I don't think she would."

"Yet you see she would be earning her living; and what can poor women
do?"

"They should marry, and men should work for them."

"But they can't all marry; hundreds of things may prevent them
marrying. I often wish I had been brought up to a profession."

"Please turn your eyes away from mine; I do not wish to be cut out."

"My dear, you are sure to marry," said Aunt Eliza, mildly.

"Nothing is sure, Miss Webster," laughed May, but she blushed so
charmingly at the same time that Ralph Webster felt a new strange
sensation that he did not quite understand.

"The day is lovely," he said, starting up from the breakfast table and
going to the window. "Suppose we all go down the river?"

The expedition was soon settled after this. The river was all new to
May, and its reedy, willowy shores, its shining waters, and placid flow
seemed delightful to her as she sat side by side with Aunt Eliza, or
dipped her little hands into the cool stream.

Ralph Webster was a good oarsman, and presently he insisted that May
should try to learn to row, and began instructing her. The girl was an
apt pupil, and her strong young frame was quite capable of the fatigue.
She enjoyed it, and when Aunt Eliza produced her luncheon basket,
and they rowed in to have lunch, May declared she had never been so
hungry before. Altogether they had a very pleasant day, and returned to
Pembridge Terrace for dinner, where Aunt Margaret awaited them with a
substantial and well-cooked repast.

"The day is not done," said Ralph Webster, when dinner was over; "let
us go to one of the theaters."

His aunts looked at him in mild surprise.

"My dear," they said, almost together, with a slight variation of
words, "Miss Churchill will be tired."

But May declared she was not tired, and her blooming face betokened the
truth of her words. So to one of the theaters they went, though Aunt
Eliza was tired if May was not. And the next day they went somewhere
else, and Ralph Webster suddenly ceased to talk about going on his
holiday. But on the third day of May's stay in Pembridge Terrace Miss
Webster received a letter which caused her to look a little grave.

It was from John Temple, and inclosed a letter for May. And it struck
Miss Webster's simple mind at once to wonder why he should not write to
his "young cousin," as he called her, direct. And something--she knew
not what--induced Miss Webster not to give this letter to May in the
presence of Ralph Webster.

Perhaps she felt that his keen eyes would see more in it than there
really was. At all events she put it into May's hand when they were
alone, and she noticed the quick blush and the glad look with which the
girl received it.

May retired at once with her new letter to her own room, and when she
got there she read as follows in John Temple's handwriting:

"MY DEAR ONE--MY DEAR LITTLE SWEETHEART: I have been thinking of you
so much to-day that I must write. But I think it safer to send it
under cover to dear kind Miss Webster, as one never can tell what
spies there are about, and your disappearance from home has naturally
created a great sensation here. The morning after you left your father
came to Woodlea, and asked to see my uncle, and then me. He questioned
me pretty sharply, and asked when I had last seen you. I risked it,
and said at church, and that you had said nothing to me about leaving
your father's house. Then Mrs. Temple attacked me on the subject, and
finally yesterday I met that brute young Henderson, and I wish you
had seen the desperate look he gave me as he passed me on the road.
They say he drinks heavily, and is altogether going to the bad, and
that he made a frightful scene when he heard you were gone. So you see
altogether we can not be too careful. I dare not in fact leave here
at present, or people--Henderson, and Mrs. Temple I am certain--would
suspect I was going to join you.

"Therefore, my dear one, we must wait a little while yet before I can
go to you. For the reasons I told you of our marriage must be a secret
one for the present, though this is very hard both on you and me. But
I hope you are happy with Miss Webster, and I need not tell you that
the moment I can do so with safety that I will join you, and then we
can be married at once. Brighter days are, I am sure, in store for us,
my Mayflower, but in the meantime when you write will you give your
letters to Miss Webster to inclose to me, as it would not do for your
letters to come here. Always devotedly yours,
                                                         JOHN TEMPLE."



CHAPTER XIX.

THE BIG LETTER.


A vague sense of disappointment stole into May Churchill's heart as
she read this letter of John Temple's--a vague sense of disappointment
and pain. He seemed so terribly afraid that people should talk about
them, and then, her father--for the first time May felt remorse about
her father--and began to realize that she might have caused him great
anxiety.

And her own position, too, unless they were to be married soon, would
be very trying. John had said that in a fortnight at latest he would
join her, but now he did not seem at all certain of this. Altogether
the letter disturbed her exceedingly, and she was sitting still and
silent in her own room, when kind Miss Eliza rapped at the door and put
in her head.

"My dear," she said, "our nephew Ralph wishes to know if you would like
to go to one of the picture galleries this morning?"

"I think not, Miss Eliza," answered May in a constrained voice.

"Are you feeling tired?" now asked good Miss Eliza; "Ah, I was afraid
you were doing too much."

"I think I do feel a little tired, but it is nothing; only I should
rather not go out this morning," said May, gently. "But please thank
Mr. Webster for his kindness in offering to take me."

"I am sure it gives him pleasure; but I'll go now and tell him you do
not wish to go."

After this Miss Eliza went away, and presently May heard the front door
of the house shut sharply. It was Ralph Webster going out, with also a
feeling of disappointment in his heart of which he was half-ashamed.

"What can have tired her, I wonder?" he was reflecting. "She seemed as
bright as possible last night."

May in the meanwhile was thinking of what she should do about answering
John Temple's letter. She had seen that gentle look of surprise in
Miss Margaret's mild eyes when she had placed John's letter in her
hand, and no doubt she would be yet more surprised when she asked her
to inclose her own to him. Yet John had requested her to do this, and
she must, of course, do as he wished.

So after awhile she sat down to write to him. She had never written to
him before, and this first love letter was therefore a very serious
affair. She began it three times.

"Dear John"--no, that was too cold. "My own dearest John"--no, that was
too warm! "Dearest John;" yes, May thought that would do. Was he not
her dearest John? Not only her dearest John, but the dearest to her of
all on earth.

May thought this as she went on with her letter. She told him how good
and kind Miss Webster and Miss Eliza were to her, and she told him also
of all the places and amusements they had taken her to see.

"Their nephew, Mr. Ralph Webster, has gone with us generally, also,"
she added; "but oh! how I wish you were here, John. It all seems like a
beautiful new world to me, but I miss you always. Still you must run no
risks for my sake. And John, dear John, do keep out of the way of that
wretched Mr. Henderson. Somehow I am afraid of him, though I know he
can do you no harm. But he is a passionate-tempered man, I am certain,
and cruel, as we know after the way he behaved to that poor, poor girl
who shot herself. I wonder if her spirit ever haunts him? Her memory
must, I am certain, for no doubt he broke her heart."

After she had once begun her letter May found it quite easy to go
on. It seemed almost as if she were talking to John; telling him her
thoughts as she had done in the still garden at Woodside, when no one
was by to listen. Note-sheet after note-sheet she filled with this
fond prattling, until she suddenly remembered with dismay that hers
would be such a big letter for Miss Webster to inclose to John. Still
she could not part with one word. She pressed her sheets together as
tightly as she could, and then went somewhat nervously down-stairs
with her letter in her hand to seek Miss Webster.

Miss Eliza had gone out to change her novel at the nearest library,
for Miss Eliza was a great lover of fiction, and thus May found Miss
Webster alone in the dining-room industriously engaged in marking some
household linen. May felt that she colored painfully when Miss Webster
raised her kind eyes as she entered the room and greeted May with a
smile.

"Well, my dear," she said, "Eliza says you feel rather tired this
morning, and I am sorry for that. Is there anything you would like? A
glass of port wine before lunch?"

"Oh! no, Miss Webster," answered May with a smile and a pretty blush.
"There is really nothing the matter with me--only I had a letter to
write--to Mr. Temple."

"To Mr. Temple?" repeated Miss Webster, looking at the fair face of her
young guest.

"Yes, he asked me to write," went on May, nervously; "and--and--Miss
Webster, he--"

"Well, my dear, what is it?" asked Miss Webster, gently, as May paused
and hesitated.

"He said if you would be so kind as to inclose my letters to him
he would like that best," said May, taking courage. "You see he is
staying with his uncle, and I believe his uncle's wife is rather an odd
woman--so he thinks it best that she should not know that we write to
each other at present."

Miss Webster did not speak for a moment or two after May had made this
somewhat confused explanation. But she was thinking very seriously.
So this young girl's visit to London was evidently a secret, she was
reflecting--a secret from Mr. John Temple's relations; probably from
May Churchill's own. The knowledge of this made Miss Webster somewhat
nervous. She had the greatest belief and trust in Mr. John Temple--had
they not known him for years?--and she was quite sure he would not do
what was wrong to anyone. Still, May was a young girl--and once more
Miss Webster's gentle eyes rested on the young girl's face.

"Please do this for me, Miss Webster," pleaded May, in her pretty way,
laying her little white hand on Miss Webster's thin, bluish-tinted one.

"It must seem funny to you, I know, but it won't some day--some day,"
she added, a little proudly, raising her head, "you will know that
neither John nor I are doing any wrong."

"I am sure you are not," answered Miss Webster, taking the little
fluttering hand in hers. "I have a great regard for Mr. John Temple,
and so has sister Eliza. Yes, my dear, I will inclose your letter. You
will find some large envelopes lying on the writing-table there."

So the large envelope was duly directed to John Temple, Esq., in the
rather old-fashioned, shaky handwriting of Miss Margaret Webster, and
was carried to the nearest post office by May herself, and sped on its
way, until the next morning it was lying on the breakfast table at
Woodlea Hall, near the seat that John usually occupied while he was
staying there.

The squire always opened the letter-bag, and passed on the letters to
their different owners, but it chanced this morning that John Temple
was not yet down when his big letter arrived, neither was Mrs. Temple.
Presently, however, Mrs. Temple appeared, and looked first at her own
letters, and then at John's large one.

"What old woman, I wonder, is writing to John Temple?" she said,
holding up the letter to attract her husband's attention. "Perhaps it
contains one from a young one." And she laughed.

"You should not say such things as that, Rachel," answered the squire,
rather reprovingly.

"Why not?" went on Mrs. Temple.

At this moment John Temple opened the dining-room door, and walked up
to his place at the table, while Mrs. Temple still had his letter in
her hand.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Temple; good-morning, uncle," said John,
pleasantly.

"Good-morning, nephew John," answered Mrs. Temple, with just a touch of
defiance in her tone. "Do you see I am meddling with your property?"
And she placed the letter in his hand. "I have just been admiring the
handwriting of your lady correspondent, and the size and fullness of
her epistle."

John's brown face colored slightly, and he put out his hand for his
letter, but that was all.

"Ah," he said, looking at it with affected carelessness, "this is from
my landlady in town, and no doubt contains all my unpaid bills."

"I thought you had no unpaid bills," retorted Mrs. Temple, smiling.
"Your uncle, on my suggesting that he should pay some of mine, held you
up as a pattern in the matter of bills. 'John owes nothing,' he said;
now it appears to me that if that envelope contains nothing but bills,
that John must owe a great deal."

"Rachel, do not talk nonsense," interrupted the squire, moving his
newspaper restlessly. "John, what will you take?"

John put his letter into his pocket before he made his choice.

"Let me hide my bills first," he said. "Thanks, uncle," he said, "I'll
have some cold grouse."

Thus the subject of John's letter was dropped for the present, but Mrs.
Temple had not forgotten it. She waited until the squire went out of
the room, and then went up to John, smilingly.

"Well, my nephew John," she said, "I'll leave you now to study your
unpaid bills; or," she added archly, "to read your love letters from an
old woman, and one, maybe, from a young one, too!"

"I wish it were so," replied John, as Mrs. Temple laughed and moved
toward the door of the room; "but I am not so fortunate as you think."

But the moment she had disappeared his expression changed, and he
hastily drew out the envelope Miss Webster had directed, and found
inside the letter from May. This also he quickly opened, and his face
softened strangely as he read the tender words it contained.

"May, dear little May," he murmured to himself, half-aloud, "and you
miss me, darling, do you? but not more, not half so much, May, as I
miss you."

He read her long letter twice, and then put it into his pocket, and
going into the hall, took a cap from the hat-stand, and strolled out
into the park. The mist lay on the dewy grass and floated in the air,
blurring the landscape somewhat, and hanging shadow-like around the
trees. But John Temple scarcely noticed the atmosphere. He was trying
to unravel some of the problems of his life; to make a crooked path
straight for the sake of his young love.

"But for May I should not mind," he was thinking, "but I must shield
May; she must never know."

Then he thought of her as he had first seen her by his young cousin's
grave; thought of the day when he had met her in the country lane
gathering the hedge roses; and of those other meetings when they had
drifted nearer and nearer to each other's hearts.

"A good man would have fled from temptation, I suppose," he replied,
gloomily enough. "But I did not, and now--it is too late."



CHAPTER XX.

A HARD BARGAIN.


It was quite true that young Henderson had made a terrible scene when
he first heard that May Churchill had disappeared from her home. He
heard it from his groom, Jack Reid, whom he now regarded with the most
bitter hate and fear, though he was obliged to suppress these feelings.

Reid had, indeed, proved a hard task-master, and had insisted on his
price to the uttermost farthing. Henderson had, no doubt with some
difficulty, paid him one thousand pounds, and had tried in vain to
avoid paying him the other thousand, at least for a time.

"This won't do, you know, master," he had said, insolently enough on
Henderson making some excuse about the money; "that's all very fine,
but our bargain was for two thousand, and you must keep your part of it
if I keep mine."

"But I tell you, man, I can not raise the money without old Ormsby,
the lawyer, being most inquisitive about it, and asking all sorts of
questions," answered Henderson.

"It's your money, not his, isn't it?" retorted Reid, coolly. "And it's
your debt, too, isn't it? Maybe if the lawyer knew the truth he would
think it wasn't much to pay for your life?"

"You are always bringing that up," said Henderson, gloomily.

He was looking very ill; people said he drank heavily, and certainly
his naturally clear brown complexion had a different hue now to what it
used to have. He was irritable, too, and excitable to a painful extent,
and his unhappy mother lived in constant dread of some outbreak.

"The truth is, master," went on Jack Reid, quite coolly, a few moments
later, "I really want this money down, and I must ha' it too, for I am
thinking of starting a race-horse or two in a small way, and capital I
must have."

"You never would be so mad!" cried Henderson, in a sudden passion. "You
would just throw away the money and get into all sorts of debts and
troubles."

"Many a man has begun on less," continued Reid, contemplatively. "I
know a good horse when I see one, and anyhow I mean to try--now Tom, my
boy--"

"How dare you speak to me thus?" almost shouted Henderson, growing pale
with rage.

"A good many folks would say how dare you to speak to me so?" replied
Reid, significantly.

Henderson did not speak; he stood there quivering with passion, glaring
at the man who was his master and made him feel it.

"Now, Tom, my boy," repeated Reid, with a short and somewhat scornful
laugh, "it's no good for us two to quarrel. We both know too much, and
we may as well make the best of the situation. And what I was about to
propose is this: My two thousand pounds I will ha'; but what about you
going into partnership with me and making the capital four thousand? We
could do something with that, and then old Ormsby, the lawyer, would
not be surprised any longer at yer wanting the money."

Henderson swore a bitter oath, and cursed the man before him.

"Do your worst!" he cried. "I'd rather go to the bottomless pit as have
anything more to do with you."

"Ye'll find yer'self there most likely, whether ye have anything to do
wi' me or not," retorted Reid. "It's no good swearing and cursing, my
friend Tom; ye've got the rope round yer neck, remember, if I choose
to pull it."

Again Henderson swore a tremendous oath.

"Come, come, it's all very fine using big words," continued Reid, "but
they're not business, and I mean business. I think we could start very
well on four thousand, and ye'd best think it over, for I've been
looking about me, and I think I know a fellow who would let me his
place cheap, as he's a bit down in his luck at present."

"And you've been talking about this to other people, have you?" asked
Henderson, savagely. "What do you suppose they will think? Where did
you get the money? they will ask."

Reid winked one of his shrewd brown eyes.

"I've thought of all that, my boy," he answered, "and I've been
throwing out hints lately that a relation in Australia has died and
left me money."

"I wish you would go there," said Henderson, eagerly catching at the
idea of getting rid of his incubus. "Australia's just the country for
you, Reid. With your capital you are sure to do well there, whereas
this racing stable business is an immense risk."

"I mean to try it, for all that," answered Reid, sturdily, "and I
don't mean to be got rid of so easily as to be pushed off to Australia
or anywhere else. No, I mean to try my luck where I am, and you'd
best think over the proposal I've made. However, partnership or no
partnership, I must ha' the second thousand by next week, so ye must
raise it as best ye can."

A savage, almost murderous, gleam shot from Henderson's eyes as the man
spoke, and Reid noticed this.

"That kind of thing won't do for the like o' me," he said,
significantly. "It's all very well with a poor helpless lass, but it's
man to man wi' us, and I'd back myself against ye."

Again that terrible look passed over Henderson's face, but with a great
effort and an inward oath he suppressed the words that rose to his lips.

"This man and I shall not live together on the earth," he silently
swore, and from this hour he never forgot his vow.

But Reid, reckoning on his own personal strength perhaps, had no
fear of his master. Nay, he seemed to take a sort of grim pleasure
in irritating him, and after a few moments' silence he began on the
subject of May Churchill's disappearance, of which he had just heard,
the report not having yet reached Henderson's ears.

"Well, ha' ye heard the last news?" he asked.

"What news?" answered Henderson, sullenly.

"About that bonnie lass fra' Woodside Farm--"

"What!" cried Henderson, springing up erect, for he had been leaning
against one of the stable stalls during the rest of this interview.
"What do you say?"

"It's just hearsay wi' me," replied Reid, "but I've been told that Miss
Churchill's run away fra' home, and no one can hear tell of her."

"I don't believe it; it's a lie," said Henderson, every particle of
color dying out of his face. "It's just some confounded bit of gossip
like the rest--but at all events I'll ride over and see. Saddle Bob for
me, Reid."

The groom proceeded leisurely to obey this order, while Henderson stood
by impatient and excited. He kept repeating, "It's a lie; nothing but
a lie;" but Reid could see that every limb of his body was quivering,
and that the report had agitated him almost beyond control. The moment
the horse was ready Henderson sprang on his back and galloped out of
the stable yard. Nor did he draw rein until he reached Woodside Farm.
Then he hastily dismounted, and after giving his horse in charge of one
of the grooms, he strode to the house door and violently rang the bell.

The maid who opened it said the master was out, but the mistress was in.

"Can I see Mrs. Churchill?" asked Henderson, hoarsely.

At this moment Mrs. Churchill herself appeared at the dining-room door.
She had seen Henderson arrive from the window, and now went forward to
receive him.

"Good-afternoon, Mr. Henderson," she said, with extended hand. "Come in
here. I suppose you have heard what has happened?"

"About May?" gasped Henderson, who was pale and trembling in every limb.

"Yes, about May," replied Mrs. Churchill, calmly. "May has behaved in
the most extraordinary manner; she has run away from home."

Henderson did not speak; he staggered against a chair; he grasped its
back to support himself.

"Mr. Churchill and I," continued Mrs. Churchill, still calmly, "had
been away from home for a couple of days, to my place at Castle Hill,
and when we returned the night before last, May had left a message
with one of the boys that she had a headache, and had gone to bed.
Well, yesterday morning she did not come down to breakfast, and I went
upstairs to look after her. Her room was unoccupied, her bed had not
been slept in; in fact, she had disappeared. Her father went at once
to the station, and it appears from the station-master's account she
started for London in the afternoon of the evening of our return. The
whole thing had been planned beforehand."

"And," faltered Henderson, for he could scarcely speak the words, the
violence of his emotion was so great, "was she--alone?"

"Perfectly alone. She had engaged a strange boy to take her trunk to
the station, and she had taken all her best things with her. And she
left a letter for her father lying on the toilet-table of her room, in
which she falsely endeavored to blame me for her conduct. She said she
could not get on with me, so she had gone away. But I don't believe a
word of it; I believe I was only a blind."

Henderson gave a sort of sigh of relief; after all, May had gone alone.

"How do you mean about a blind?" he asked, after a moment's silence.

"Well, Mr. Henderson, I will trust you; I know you liked this foolish
girl, and you know what I wished concerning yourself and her.
Therefore, I expect this will go no farther. But my belief is, that
though she certainly ran away with no one from here, that someone will
join her, and this is why I trust you. Do you know of any lover--any
admirer she had?"

A dark-red dusky flush rose to Henderson's pale face.

"No--" he said, "unless--"

"Unless whom?"

Henderson began moving restlessly up and down the room with irregular
footsteps.

"There is that fellow," he said, at length, "that is to be Mr. Temple
of Woodlea's heir, they say--well, I've seen May with him more than
once. I saw her with him just after the boy's death, and another time,"
and then he suddenly paused, remembering that it was in Fern Dene that
he had twice seen May with John Temple.

"I know she knew him; she was thrown with him, you see, when that
unfortunate girl committed suicide, but I scarcely think there could be
anything between them, though certainly on the very day of our return
here after our marriage trip, we found him here."

"You found him here?"

"Yes, but Mr. Churchill seemed to think nothing of it, and I have never
seen him here since; still, one never can tell."

"She changed to me from the day he came," went on Henderson, in a
broken voice; "before that she was always pleasant and friendly, if
nothing more. If I thought this fellow had induced May to leave her
home I would be even with him, that is all."

"My dear Mr. Henderson, do not speak in that way. We have really
nothing to go on regarding Mr. John Temple. As I have told you, I never
saw him here except that once, when we came home, and I have no reason
to believe she ever met him outside, and he certainly did not run away
with her. She went alone for one thing, and for another Mr. John Temple
is at present at the Hall; Mr. Churchill saw him when he went to tell
the squire of May's disappearance on the morning when we found she was
gone."

"And what did he say?"

"I don't think anything particular. Oh, yes, he said May had never said
anything to him of her intention of leaving home. No, I think we may
leave him out of the question; now what I want to ask you is, is there
no one else, do you think, likely? Is there any young farmer about
here, or even in a lower class?"

"May never would look at them."

"That's what her father said, but one never can tell."

"I don't believe it," answered Henderson, roughly. "No, if it's anyone,
it's this Temple! He's a sly, quiet fellow, with a sneer on his face
always, and if he's done any harm to May he had best look to himself.
He came between her and me, I know; and he'll rue the day, I swear it
on my soul, if he's done any wrong to the girl."

"My dear Mr. Henderson, this is folly," began Mrs. Churchill.

But with a suppressed oath Henderson broke away from her, leaving Mrs.
Churchill not a little alarmed at the wild recklessness of his whole
manner and bearing. And when she told her husband of his visit he was
not over-well pleased.

"It will never do, you know, Sarah, for this young fellow to go raving
about the country side, talking of May and Mr. John Temple. We must
remember the squire is my landlord, and that Mr. Temple will be, and
I'm told Henderson has been drinking heavily lately, and has never been
the same since that poor girl's death. My opinion is we will hear of
May some day soon, and that she's gone off in a huff and taken some
situation or other, not with any young man or lover at all."

And Mrs. Churchill saw the prudence of her husband's advice, and talked
no more of May's probable lovers. Henderson, on the contrary, rode home
with every nerve in his body tingling, and his brain surging with rage.
His life, in fact, had become utterly unendurable to him; his position
with his groom, Reid, and now the loss of May Churchill seemed actually
to madden him.

And the very day after he had seen Mrs. Churchill he met John Temple
riding along the road. It was to this meeting that John had alluded in
his letter to May, and there was something in the dark, lowering look
of hate on Henderson's face, as he passed, that John was not likely
quickly to forget.



CHAPTER XXI.

MISS WEBSTER'S HINT.


Though Miss Webster had acceded to May's request, and addressed her
letter to John Temple, she did not entirely forget the incident. In
fact, it remained on her mind, and she began to believe there was
something much more serious between John and May than mere cousinship.

May's manner, too, had been very serious when she had said that some
day she would know there was nothing wrong between herself and John.
Miss Webster, in fact, began to believe that there was a secret
engagement between them, and this belief disturbed her, because she was
getting anxious about her nephew, Ralph Webster.

She did not know what made her think so, but still she did think that
Ralph was becoming very much attached to their young guest. May was
such a pretty girl, and he was constantly thrown with her, so after all
it was only natural. Another thing, Ralph, who had been so eager about
his vacation holiday before May's arrival, now seemed to have forgotten
its existence.

Little things do not escape eyes sharpened by real affection, and
one evening shortly after she had addressed May's letter to John
Temple, Miss Webster found the "young people," as she called them,
together at the piano in the drawing-room, May playing and Ralph
Webster, with violin on shoulder, performing a very fair accompaniment
to May's music. True, Aunt Eliza was also present, industriously
knitting a violet silk sock for her nephew Ralph, but still Miss
Webster felt uneasy. And presently when they paused they both laughed
good-naturedly, and Ralph looked around and jokingly asked for applause.

"Aunt Margaret, Aunt Eliza, why don't you clap your hands?" he said.
"I have never touched the violin since I was a boy at school until I
persuaded Miss Churchill just now to allow me to try to accompany her.
And don't you think it was lovely?"

"I think it was lovely," laughed May Churchill.

"It seemed very nice, my dears," answered Aunt Margaret, gravely.

"Very nice," sighed Aunt Eliza, mildly.

"To call anything 'very nice' is an insult, I consider," went on Ralph
Webster, with a laugh. "It means you don't admire my performance, but
that at the same time you do not wish to hurt my feelings. Pretty girls
are told they look 'very nice' by jealous sisters and rivals, and
there is no warmth in such an opinion! Never mind, Miss Churchill, see
if we can't do better next time--what have you here?"

He stooped down and began to turn over May's music as he spoke, asking
for this piece or that. But May naturally had no great assortment, as
she had brought no music with her, and all she possessed was what she
had bought in town since her arrival.

She turned round on the music-stool, however, and bent down to assist
Webster in his search, and as she did so for a moment, partly by
accident, he laid his hand on hers. It was only a touch, but Aunt
Margaret, watching them, saw a glow, a sudden light gleam in Ralph
Webster's eyes, and a flush rise to his somewhat sunken cheeks. Then,
she looked at the girl's fair face, but it was calm and placid as a
summer's day. She had scarcely noticed the touch that had thrilled
through his strong frame. Aunt Margaret fidgeted in her seat; she was
one of those quiet women who we forget have once been young; forget
that they too have had their deep joys, their silent sorrows, their
withered hopes. Yet with Margaret Webster this had been so, and there
was a green grave in a distant country churchyard, where the one she
had loved best lay still in his unbroken sleep. Only a common story,
but it made Margaret Webster understand the glow on her nephew's
cheeks, and the unruffled pale pink bloom on May's. The man loved and
the girl was indifferent, and Miss Webster's gentle heart shrank from
the probable pain that Ralph Webster would endure.

The idea nerved her to take some action. She waited till May and Aunt
Eliza also had retired for the night, and while her nephew went on with
his pipe she suddenly broached the subject of his holiday.

"Are you not going away at all this year, Ralph?" she asked, "for you
see September is drawing to a close."

Ralph drew his pipe from his firm lips, and looked steadily at his aunt.

"Have you any motive for asking that, Aunt Margaret?" he said.

Miss Webster hesitated. Her faded cheeks flushed slightly; her thin
hands moved uneasily.

"I think you have," went on Ralph Webster.

"Well, Ralph, I have," replied Miss Webster, with an effort. "You see
Miss Churchill is still with us, and for the present likely to remain,
and I am not quite easy in my mind about something. I know nothing, you
know, my dear; but still something a little strange, I think, occurred
the other day, and I think it better to tell you. You remember Mr. John
Temple wrote to ask us to receive his young cousin for a short time? A
fortnight, I think he said."

Ralph Webster nodded his head; he was listening intently to his aunt's
words.

"We were only too happy to do this, both Eliza and myself," continued
Miss Webster. "We have both the greatest regard and friendship for Mr.
John Temple; but the other day I got a letter from him inclosing one
for May Churchill, which, of course, I at once gave her, and the same
day May gave me a very large letter to inclose to Mr. John Temple. It
seemed strange, did it not? As if there were some secret?"

Still Ralph did not speak. His dark, marked brows were knitted; he was
evidently thinking deeply.

"And," proceeded Miss Webster, "when I hesitated a little, just a
little, about inclosing her letter to Mr. John Temple, May suddenly
said, 'I know all this must seem strange to you, Miss Webster, but some
day you will understand it; some day you will know that neither John
nor I are doing any wrong'--or words to that effect at least."

"And you addressed the letter to Temple?" asked Ralph Webster, in a
low, concentrated voice.

"Yes, my dear, I did. I addressed it to him at Woodlea Hall, and May
went out and posted it herself--and--and, Ralph, I have considered it
over, and I thought it best to tell you."

Again Ralph Webster nodded his head.

"I understand," he said, briefly.

"You see you have been a good deal thrown with her," went on Miss
Webster, apologetically, "and May is such a pretty girl--"

"You thought I might lose my heart to someone engaged to another man,
eh, Aunt Margaret?" interrupted Ralph Webster, as his aunt paused, but
though his lips smiled, there was a ring of pain in his voice. "Well,
Aunt Margaret, perhaps I am safer away--thank you for the hint."

"Good-night, my dear," said Miss Webster, rising, and gently kissing
his brow. But though she listened and waited long to hear the sound of
Ralph's footsteps also going to his room, she did not hear them. For
it was morning, and Miss Webster was sleeping her placid sleep, when
a pale, haggard-faced man stole quietly up the staircase, afraid to
awaken the other inmates of the house.

Yet later in the day Ralph Webster went down to breakfast with no sign
of any inward conflict on his resolute face. Perhaps he was a shade
paler than usual, but that was all. His manner at least showed nothing.
He talked in the same fashion to May as he had talked the night before,
and to his aunts. But just when breakfast was over, he made a little
announcement.

"Do you know, I am obliged to tear myself away to-day from your
pleasant society," he said, without addressing anyone in particular;
"Bedford, a friend of mine, is starting to-day for a fortnight's trip
to Switzerland, and I proposed to go with him; I can not very well get
off."

"It will be a pleasant change, my dear," said Aunt Margaret, in a
faltering voice.

"Yes, very pleasant," echoed Miss Eliza, in a disappointed tone.

"How you will enjoy it!" said May Churchill, heartily, looking frankly
in his face.

"I hope so," answered Ralph Webster. "Shall I bring you some edelweiss?"

"Oh, yes, do; bring us all some," replied May, brightly.

"The ice-flower," said Ralph Webster, slowly, with his deep, serious
eyes fixed on her face. But the next moment he roused himself and held
out his hand.

"Well, good-by, Miss Churchill; I suppose I shall find you here on my
return?"

"I suppose so," said May, and a slight fluttering blush rose to her
smooth cheeks.

Then Webster took leave of his two aunts, who followed him to the
street door, and waited until the cab he whistled for arrived. But just
before he left the room he looked back at May; there was a look on her
face as if she were thinking of something, but Webster felt vaguely it
was not of him.

"I am better away," he thought, as he seated himself in the cab and
waved his hand to his aunts. But all the same he sighed deeply as he
lost sight of Pembridge Terrace.

And the week after he was gone seemed very quiet without him to the
three ladies there. His comings and goings had made a little stir each
day, and he had brought in the news, and it certainly was not so lovely
as before. Miss Eliza, however, found consolation in gazing into the
shop windows down Westbourne Grove, and Miss Webster in her household
duties. And just ten days after he left, news came to May which filled
her whole being with excitement.

It was contained in a letter from John Temple; a letter duly forwarded
under cover to Miss Webster, and placed in May's hand by that lady with
a little tremulous sigh. But five minutes after she had received it May
returned to the room with a face beaming with joy, and cheeks covered
with blushes.

"Oh, Miss Webster!" she cried, and ran up impetuously and kissed that
kind lady; "John is coming! He is coming to-morrow; there is only one
more day to wait, and he will be here!"



CHAPTER XXII.

NEWS.


May was in a state of great excitement all the day after receiving
John Temple's letter. She was so restless she could not stay in the
house; but it was evidently a happy restlessness. She went out to shop,
and bought all sorts of pretty knick-knacks, and sorely troubled Miss
Eliza's mind by her extravagance.

"Never mind, it won't matter now," she said, sweetly, when Miss Eliza
ventured to remonstrate, and there was such a glad look in her eyes as
she spoke that her gentle companion had not the heart to say anything
further.

The truth was that John Temple was not only coming, but in his letter
he had told May that they would be married at once.

"I am weary of waiting, my Mayflower," he had written, "and am longing
for the sight of your dear face and the touch of your dear hand."

Sweet, welcome words that thrilled through the girl's heart, making the
world all sunshine! May had always trusted John, but she had felt that
in her position waiting was very trying, though she had never for a
moment blamed him for the delay. She judged his love by hers; his heart
by her own. But now it was all over--the anxiety, the uncertainty. John
would be with her to-morrow, and her life henceforth would be full of
joy.

She counted the hours until they should meet, as many a fond, foolish
woman has counted them before. She brought out her prettiest frocks;
she smiled at her fair reflection in the glass.

"How will he think I am looking?" she thought, and she wondered, too,
if she would see any change in him.

The two quiet sisters down-stairs looked at each other with sympathetic
sighs. Miss Margaret had never told Miss Eliza about her conversation
with Ralph Webster but somehow Miss Eliza had vaguely understood that
some such conversation had taken place. She, too, had been afraid for
the son of their love; she, too, had watched Ralph's dark eyes follow
the slender girlish form, whose heart was now beating so joyously at
the prospect of meeting another man!

But they did not speak of it. Miss Webster had said quietly to Miss
Eliza during the morning, "Mr. John Temple is coming to-morrow," and
therefore Miss Eliza concluded that May's happy looks and excitement
were somehow connected with this event.

She, indeed, made no secret of this, and when the day actually came she
went out the very first thing in the morning, and returned laden with
flowers, with which she proceeded to fill Miss Webster's blue china
vases all over the house.

"My dear, you have quite a flower show," said Miss Webster, kindly,
looking at the glowing blossoms.

"He is very fond of flowers," answered May, with a soft happy blush,
going on with her task; and Miss Webster turned away thinking sadly
enough of Ralph Webster at some Alpine village among the snow.

But May Churchill never thought of him. Her whole mind was taken up
with one idea. "John is coming to-day; John is coming!"

The thought made her go singing about the house; it deepened the lovely
rose-bloom on her cheeks, and made her eyes shine like stars.

"She is beautiful," whispered Aunt Eliza to Aunt Margaret, when the
girl came down dressed for dinner in her white frock, with moss-rose
buds at her breast and throat.

John Temple was expected a little before seven o'clock, and a little
after seven o'clock he came. We may be sure May was waiting and
watching for him, and when she heard a cab stop before the house door
she ran into the hall to welcome him. And a moment or two later John
came in, and the two clasped each other's hands in silence, and then
John drew May into the dining-room, the door of which was standing
open, and clasped her to his breast.

"My own love, my own dear love," he whispered, with his lips on hers.

But presently May drew back.

"Let me look at you," she said softly, raising her beautiful eyes and
looking into his gray ones. She had pictured his face so often in her
day-dreams; pictured it looking down at her as it was looking now,
full of love, and with a little sigh of rest the next moment her white
eyelids fell.

"You are not changed," she murmured below her breath.

"Did I not tell you I would never change?" answered John Temple. "My
Mayflower, I will not change."

By this time Miss Margaret in the kitchen was getting exceedingly
uneasy that her turbot would be over-boiled and her ducks over-roasted.
She therefore put up her head from the kitchen stairs and called to
Aunt Eliza, who speedily came to her.

"Eliza, if without disturbing them, you know, dear, do you think you
could give them to understand that dinner is ready?" she whispered.

Aunt Eliza nodded her head.

"What shall I do?" she said. "Knock at the door, or cough?"

"To knock would be too marked, I think," answered Aunt Margaret. "I
should just give a little cough, or a gentle sneeze outside."

It is all very well to be told to sneeze when you do not want to do so,
but it is almost an impossibility. Miss Eliza, however, proceeded to
the dining-room door and tried to do her best. She, in fact, emitted a
most extraordinary sound which was intended to represent a sneeze. But
at all events it had the intended effect. The lovers started apart as
if they had been shot.

"What is that?" said May.

"Sounds as if someone was choking outside," answered John; "shall I see
what it is?"

He accordingly opened the door, and there stood poor Aunt Eliza in the
very act of preparing to attempt to sneeze again!

"Miss Eliza," said John, warmly grasping her hand, "and how are you?"

For a few moments Miss Eliza could make no answer. She gasped for
breath; she struggled to regain her ordinary expression.

"And how is Miss Webster?" went on John, kindly. "I am very pleased
indeed to see you both again, and thank you very much for taking such
care of my dear little girl."

He looked back at May tenderly as he spoke, and May smiled and went
forward. By this time Miss Eliza had partly recovered her speech.

"My dear," she said, addressing May in a slightly choking voice,
"if--if Mr. John Temple--is ready--dinner is." And then a violent fit
of coughing interrupted her utterance.

"John, you have forgotten to take off your overcoat!" said May, with a
little laugh.

"So I have," answered John, going out into the hall to remove it; and
when he went back into the room he once more shook Miss Eliza's kind
hand.

"She looks very well," he said, with a smile, and a glance at May.

"Sweetly pretty," answered Miss Eliza, with a little gentle sigh.

Then presently Miss Webster appeared, followed by her parlor maid,
with the dinner. Everything was well cooked, to Miss Webster's great
satisfaction, and John Temple did fair justice to her good things. May,
however, could not eat. "I am too happy," she was thinking, as time
after time she raised her eyes shyly to John's good-looking face.

Then, when dinner was over and the ladies were about to retire to the
drawing-room, John laid a detaining hand on Miss Webster's arm.

"Can I have a few words alone with you?" he said.

"Oh! yes, certainly," answered Miss Webster, nervously.

By this time Aunt Eliza and May Churchill had left the room, for they
also had heard John Temple's request, and Miss Webster having resumed
her chair, John drew his close to her.

"It's about May Churchill, Miss Webster, that I want to speak to you,"
he began. "I do not know whether you have guessed the truth, but May
and I are engaged, and are going to be married immediately."

"I thought there must be something--" answered Miss Webster, and then
she paused.

"We are going to be married at once," continued John, speaking as
though he had planned beforehand what to say, "but I am sorry to tell
you our marriage for the present must be a secret one. My uncle, Mr.
Temple of Woodlea, is an old-fashioned man, with many class prejudices,
and May is not what he would consider, nay does consider, exactly in my
position of life. Her father, in truth, is a tenant-farmer, one of my
uncle's tenants, and he never would give his consent to our marriage.
Her young brothers also, unfortunately, played in the game of football
when poor young Phil Temple was killed, and Mrs. Temple, my uncle's
wife, has an extraordinary prejudice on this account against the whole
family. Thus you see it would never do for me, during my uncle's life,
to marry May openly."

"Does she know this?" asked Miss Webster, quickly, her delicate
complexion flushing as she spoke.

"Certainly she knows it; knows that only on these conditions we could
be married--do you understand, dear Miss Webster? I admit I deceived
you; I called May my cousin, and she is not my cousin, but I could not
explain all this to you at the time, and my object was naturally to
get a respectable home for May until I could marry her; and I knew she
would have this with you, and so will you forgive me?"

"And her parents?" asked Miss Webster, moving her hands uneasily.

"Her mother is dead, and her father recently married again, and his new
wife has made May's home life wretched since she has been at Woodside.
She is a vulgar person, I believe, and, moreover, she has taken into
her head that May ought to marry a brutal young man who lives in those
parts, and who very narrowly escaped being tried for murder lately.
He certainly behaved disgracefully to a poor girl he had treated
most cruelly, and who either shot herself, or whom he shot. At all
events, this Henderson is a person not fit to speak to May. Yet this
Mrs. Churchill pestered her continually about him, and finally May
determined to leave her home to escape her persecution."

"And--do they know about--you?"

"Not a word, nor must they know. May left a letter for her father
to tell him she was leaving because she could not get on with her
stepmother, and this is enough explanation for her to give. The rest
is between ourselves. I mean to marry May at once, and take her abroad
for a short time, and then, Miss Webster, I have a proposition to
make to you, to which I most earnestly hope you will agree. I can not
acknowledge my marriage to May for the present, and she is too young to
live alone. So will you allow her to remain an inmate of your house?
Of course, she shall have a handsome income, and I know she is fond of
both you and Miss Eliza, and my mind would be at rest regarding her if
I knew she was under your kindly care."

Miss Webster had given a sort of gasping sigh more than once during
this long speech of John's. In fact, it nearly took her breath away.
A secret marriage! The bride to be left with them! No wonder gentle
Miss Webster's soft gray hair nearly rose on end at the idea. It was
so completely against her ideas of propriety and against dear Eliza's
also. Miss Webster, in fact, did not know what to say; she fidgeted
in her chair; her thin fingers moved nervously; her whole appearance
denoted her mental distress.

"I know all this must be a little startling to you," continued John
Temple, "but just consider the circumstances, and how the poor girl
was actually compelled to fly from home to escape a hateful marriage
that was being forced on her! We--May and I--love each other very
dearly, and she is content to accept this sacrifice for my sake, and
she shall never regret it. My whole future life shall be devoted to
her; and at all events, Miss Webster, even if you won't help us, I am
sure our secret will be quite safe with you?"

"Your secret will be quite safe," replied Miss Webster, still rather
stiffly. She was thinking she was a clergyman's daughter, and wondering
what would be her duty under such extraordinary circumstances. And then
suddenly the remembrance of Ralph Webster flashed across her mind, and
her faded cheeks colored.

"I--I think this arrangement would hardly be suitable, Mr. Temple,"
she said, with hesitation and downcast eyes. "You see, our nephew, Mr.
Ralph Webster, almost lives with us, and--and of course, though May--I
beg your pardon, the future Mrs. John Temple--is a dear sweet girl,
and both of us, my sister Eliza and myself, are, if you will excuse
me saying so, very fond of her. Still, though Ralph has rooms in the
Temple, he looks on this as his home; and, indeed, it ought to be, as
he is our poor dear brother's only child, but still, as he is a young
man--"

John Temple laughed softly as Miss Webster concluded her confused
protest against his proposal that May should live with them.

"I shall not be jealous," he said; "your nephew, I presume, is only a
very young man?"

"Oh, dear, no! Our poor dear brother was very much older than we are,
you know. Ralph is past thirty."

"Past thirty?" replied John Temple, thoughtfully. "Still," he added,
and he smiled as he spoke, "I should not be afraid of May."

"It is not of May--" began Miss Webster, and then she paused, painfully
confused.

"Well," said John, rising, "talk it over with Miss Eliza. I will send
her to you, and go and talk to May."

"That will be best," answered Miss Webster, relieved, and a few
moments later Miss Eliza entered the room, and Miss Webster in an
awe-struck whisper told her news.

"It would never do; you see it would never do," she concluded.

"It would never do," echoed Aunt Eliza, dolefully, shaking her head and
sighing dismally.

"It would be unjust--to Ralph," said Miss Webster.

"Terribly unjust," repeated Aunt Eliza, heaving another sigh.

"Then we must agree to decline. I am sure she is a sweet girl, and if
there was anything I could do for her I would do it, and you, too,
Eliza, but we must consider--others."

"Yes, dear," and after this the sisters kissed each other, and then
went together nervously toward the drawing-room. But when they entered
the room nothing was said of their consultation. John Temple was
sitting by May on a couch, looking perfectly content, and May was
smiling and looking perfectly happy. John rose with a pleasant smile as
the two trembling old ladies appeared.

"Ah, Miss Webster, and Miss Eliza," he said, "come and help May here to
decide a most knotty question. Where will you sit? Now, Miss Webster,
let us have your opinion first. What should May wear to be married in?"

"White, I should think," answered Miss Webster, somewhat feebly.

"There, John, I told you so!" cried May, triumphantly.

John made an awry face.

"You see, Miss Webster, to what I have to get accustomed," he said.

"But John, you know you like me in white best," continued May; "at
least you always said so."

"So I do, but as we are going on our travels straight from the church,
I thought something dark would be more useful. However, of course, have
your own way, and to-morrow these ladies perhaps will go out and help
us to buy a very smart traveling cloak and whatever else you require.
We are going direct to Paris, Miss Webster, as this young lady has
never seen that lively city."

John talked on thus until he rose to take his leave for the night, but
even then he said nothing of his proposition to Miss Webster. But the
next morning he did.

"Have you thought over what I said last night, Miss Webster?" he asked.

"Yes, Mr. Temple," answered Miss Webster, falteringly, "and we
think--sister Eliza and I think--that it would be better if--the future
Mrs. John Temple did not live in this house--"

"That is settled then," said John Temple, calmly; "but perhaps you will
kindly help May to find a suitable house?"

"Only too delighted to do anything for such a sweet young creature,"
replied kind Miss Webster; "I assure you, Mr. Temple; both sister Eliza
and myself have the greatest regard for her."

"Thanks, very much, and now we must see about the preparations for the
marriage at once. She must be married in this parish, of course; so
will you kindly tell me who your parson is, and give me an introduction
to him?"

After this the preparations for the marriage went on as quickly as
possible, both Miss Webster and Miss Eliza assisting in every way that
they could. But we will let Miss Webster describe that event in a
letter which she addressed to her nephew, Ralph Webster, a few hours
after it was over. She wrote this letter with a sad heart somehow, but
she little guessed of the bitter and intense pain with which it was
received.

"MY DEAREST RALPH: I have some strange news for you," one midday Ralph
Webster read at the Swiss chalet where he was staying. "Our young
guest, May Churchill, was married this morning to Mr. John Temple, and
both sister Eliza and myself were present at the ceremony. But what I
most regret to have to tell you is that this marriage is a secret one,
and neither Mr. Temple's relatives nor her own have the slightest
knowledge of it. We have indeed promised to reveal it to no one, but we
make an exception in your case, as you are our near and dear relation,
and also because we are quite certain we can trust this secret with you.

"The reasons for secrecy are, Mr. John Temple informed us, that his
uncle, Mr. Temple, of whom he is the heir, would not hear of the
marriage, and also that May's parents, her father and stepmother,
desired her greatly to marry another gentleman who lives in their
neighborhood, and who, by Mr. John Temple's account, is of bad
character. May seemed very happy, and looked sweetly pretty during the
marriage service, which was performed by our vicar, Mr. Mold, and we
can only pray and hope that every blessing and happiness may attend the
young couple who are beginning life together under what, to our poor
human foresight, do not appear very fortunate circumstances.

"They started immediately after the ceremony was over for Paris, but
before leaving Mr. John Temple made, what we considered, rather a
strange proposal to sister Eliza and myself, which was, that on their
return to England, that Mrs. John Temple should come back to reside
with us in this house, while he proceeded to his uncle's residence. But
after due consideration, sister Eliza and myself came to the conclusion
that this arrangement was not desirable. But we have agreed to endeavor
to find her a suitable house during their sojourn abroad.

"And now having told you my news, and with kindest love from sister
Eliza and myself, I remain, my dearest Ralph, your ever affectionate
aunt,
                                                     "MARGARET WEBSTER."

"P. S.--We were exceedingly glad to learn from your letter that you were
in good health, and enjoying the invigorating air of the mountains.
                                                                  M. W."

Ralph Webster read this long letter through, and his strong face grew a
little gray-tinted as he did so. He had never realized until now what a
terrible blow this marriage was to him; never dreamed that the girl's
face that he had seen a hundred times in his mental vision amid the
glaciers and the snowdrifts had become so dear to him.

Now he knew that it was so, but he bore his pain bravely and silently.
He went out from the chalet alone, down a rugged stony slope, with the
snow deep on either side, and the green ice glistening at his feet.
He was thinking of the woman he loved--now when he knew he loved her,
when he knew she was utterly lost to him--with strange, even pathetic
tenderness.

"I have not thought much of women nor love before," he was reflecting.
"She has been the only one," and he drew his firm lips closer, "and the
only one she shall remain."



CHAPTER XXIII.

ILL-WILL.


The ill-will between Tom Henderson and his groom Reid did not diminish
as time went on. For one thing, to raise a sum like two thousand
pounds was not an easy matter to the young squire of Stourton Grange;
for another, Reid's manner when alone with his master grew almost
intolerable.

He was insolent and overbearing, and bought horses and sold them, often
actually using the stables at Stourton for his own purposes. In vain
Henderson stormed and swore.

"I've the whip hand of ye, ye know, master," Reid would say in reply,
with a significant look, and Henderson swore to himself many a time
that this state of things should not go on.

And there was another element in his life--a dark, threatening
dread--of which Henderson was only too conscious. This was the bitter
animosity that the landlord of the Wayside Inn, James Wray, was said
to nourish against him. Reid had warned him of this, for Henderson's
life was too valuable to himself not to be taken good care of, and with
brutal frankness the groom had told Henderson of his danger.

"I say, master, ye had best look out," he said. "I'm told, and the
fellow who told me knew what he was about, that old Wray swears he'll
ha' a shot at ye the first time ye cross his way. And they say he
carries his pistols about wi' him wherever he goes."

Henderson made no reply to this piece of information. But it came to
him also from another source, for one day he received an ill-written,
badly-spelt letter from Alice, the barmaid of the Wayside Inn, warning
him "for God's sake not to go near their place, as master has sworn to
have your blood if ever he sets his eyes on you, and this would make
more trouble than has already been."

The letter went on to say that at times "the master was like one
dement," and that they were afraid of their lives. Henderson did not
doubt that the girl's words were true, and that this dark shadow hung
like a suspended sword over his head. At times he grew almost reckless,
but at others the grim penalty of his hidden crime filled his soul with
shuddering dread.

After May Churchill's disappearance he more than once gave way to
frightful paroxysms of passion and rage, terrifying his unhappy mother
with his mad words and frantic gestures. But weeks passed--three weeks,
nearly a month after May's flight--and still John Temple remained at
the Hall, and even the jealous Henderson was forced to admit that this
did not look as if Temple had anything to do with it. Then one day as
Henderson was moodily riding down one of the country lanes he suddenly
met Mrs. Temple, of the Hall, who was driving, and to his great
surprise, she pulled up her ponies.

Henderson had never seen her since the great scandal about himself
and poor Elsie Wray had occurred, and he was by no means sure that
she would take any notice of him now. He put up his hand nervously
therefore to take off his hat, but Mrs. Temple stopped, and so he also
drew rein.

"Good-morning," she said; "it's a long time since I last saw you, Mr.
Henderson."

"Yes," he answered, rather huskily, while a dusky flush spread over his
face.

"Why don't you come and see us?" continued Mrs. Temple.

"I was not sure you would care to see me."

Mrs. Temple gave a little airy shrug of her handsome shoulders. She was
looking very well, and had apparently got over her deep grief for the
loss of her boy, and at one time Henderson had been rather a frequent
visitor at Woodlea Hall.

"Oh, yes, I shall be glad to see you," she said.

"I lost my nephew yesterday, you know," she added; "John Temple has
gone away."

"Gone away?" echoed Henderson, sharply, and the dusky flush faded from
his face.

"Yes, he has gone for a week or so, I believe; abroad, I think, but he
was rather vague about his movements."

Henderson did not speak. Had he gone to May, he was thinking, with a
sharp and bitter pang.

"By the by," continued Mrs. Temple, "has anything ever been heard of
that pretty girl, Miss Churchill, who ran away from home? You were one
of her swains, were you not, Mr. Henderson?" And Mrs. Temple laughed
and showed her white teeth.

"I knew them very well, at all events," muttered Henderson, with
downcast eyes.

"Oh, you were one of her many admirers, they told me," said Mrs.
Temple, with a smile. "Well, she certainly is pretty; such a fine
complexion. John Temple called her beautiful; do you?"

"She is handsome," said Henderson, hoarsely.

"Well, I am rather curious about her flight, or disappearance, or
whatever it was. Will you call to-morrow at four o'clock and tell me
all about it?"

"I know nothing," began Henderson, but Mrs. Temple stopped him with a
little wave of her driving whip.

"Never mind; call to-morrow at four; and now good-morning, Mr.
Henderson," and she nodded her head and drove on.

But for a moment or two Henderson sat still on his saddle after she had
passed him. What did she mean, he was asking himself. Did she suspect
that there was anything between John Temple and May Churchill? that he
had anything to do with her flight?

This idea which had haunted Henderson in spite of himself now recurred
to his mind with threefold force. At all events he would go to the Hall
and hear what Mrs. Temple had to say. And he did go, and was received
by Mrs. Temple, who smilingly held out her hand to him.

"You see," she said in that half-reckless way which was one of her
characteristics, "I have not turned my back on you in spite of your
troubles."

"It is very good of you," answered Henderson.

"Oh, being a parson's daughter, I have naturally a spice of the devil
in me, and a certain fellow-feeling to sinners. All men are sinners,
you know," she added, with a laugh; "even my paragon of a nephew, John
Temple!"

"What about him?" asked Henderson, sharply.

"Oh, he posed a great deal as a saint, but I don't quite believe in it
all. Now sit down and tell me about Miss Churchill. Do you suppose she
was induced to run away by John Temple?"

"How can I tell?" answered Henderson, darkly, with lowering brow.

"There was something in his manner--I don't know what--that led me to
believe that he knew more of the matter than he chose to say. Of course
he didn't run away with her; but I wonder if he knows where she is."

"I know nothing."

"Well, I want to find out. He promised to write to his uncle when he
went away, and if I get you his address, do you think you would do
something to oblige me, Mr. Henderson?"

"I will do anything," replied Henderson, eagerly, grasping at the
meaning of her words.

"Well, you see, a lady can't make certain inquiries, but a young man
can. If I got you John Temple's address could you go and find out what
he is doing? If in fact he has joined Miss Churchill? If he has been
seen with her?

"Get me the address and I will go," said Henderson, with such a fierce
gleam in his brown eyes that Mrs. Temple drew back rather alarmed.

"Mind, I'll have no quarreling," she said; "only I want to know if John
Temple is speaking the truth. His uncle spoke to him about this Miss
Churchill, of course, disapprovingly, and he said there was nothing
between them, and would not be. But how can we tell? He may have
married her secretly for anything we know."

"If I thought--" began Henderson, passionately.

"Now don't speak and look like that, or I won't give you the address! I
am going to have no throat-cutting. All I want to know, is John Temple
speaking the truth? If you can find out this quietly, I will regard you
in future as a friend, and treat you as such in spite of Mrs. Grundy."

Henderson's lips moved convulsively, but with a great effort he
controlled himself. He could only find out Temple's address through
Mrs. Temple, and therefore he must not frighten or quarrel with her.

"Very well," he said, "get me the address, and I'll find out all I can
about him. And--if you'll treat me as a friend I will be grateful--for
I want one." And he held out his hand, which Mrs. Temple took.

"You'll live it down, no fear," she answered; "I've always pitied you.
But you had better go now, for my lord and master sometimes does not
hold my views. But when John Temple writes to his uncle I will forward
his address to you at once. And now, good-by."

So Henderson left Woodlea Hall with a new hope in his heart. At
all events he would be able to find out, if Mrs. Temple gave him
John Temple's address, whether there was any truth in the haunting
suspicion which had pursued his own mind. But a week passed and he
heard nothing from Mrs. Temple. And during this week an incident
occurred that roused to fury his smoldering resentment against his
groom, Jack Reid.

He had paid the man the two thousand pounds, and heard rumors of Reid
swaggering at markets and meetings, but had declined to enter into any
horse-racing establishments with him. Reid had tried to bully, but here
Henderson was firm.

"I've no money, so it's no good speaking of it," he had said.

What was his indignation, therefore, when one day Reid coolly asked him
to advance him another hundred pounds.

"There's a little mare I must have, and I'm short a hundred of her
price; so, Henderson, my boy, ye must shell out."

Henderson's brow grew black as night.

"She's to be sold at Skidder's to-morrow," continued Reid, "and I
thought I would take the dog-cart and drive over in the morning, and
borrow Brown Bess for the occasion; for it's well always to make a good
appearance." And Reid gave an insolent laugh.

"Borrow my trap and horse if you dare!" shouted Henderson, hoarse with
passion.

"Well, I dare; and I must have the hundred pounds, too," answered Reid.
"Come, it's no use swearing; ye may as well make things pleasant for us
both."

Without another word Henderson turned on his heel and strode away. The
men had met in the avenue and Reid saw Henderson walk rapidly back to
the house and disappear from his view. But it was impossible almost to
describe the furious rage that possessed Henderson's soul as he did so.

"This is too much," he muttered darkly between his bitten lips, and he
at once proceeded to his own room, vowing vengeance as he went.

"He shall not live to insult me again," he swore fiercely; and then he
sat down deliberately and tried to think how he could best carry out
his murderous intentions.

Reid saw nothing more of him during the day, but after nightfall,
about eight o'clock, Henderson walked down to the stables, where he
was almost sure to find Reid at this hour. The groom was there engaged
in looking after the horses, and he turned around and nodded as his
so-called master entered.

"There's the money you asked for," said Henderson, in a sullen tone,
holding out a check, "and I hope it's the last you'll want for some
time."

Reid took the check and glanced at it, and then put it in his
pocket-book.

"That's all right," he said, and then he proceeded to discuss the
points of the animal he proposed to purchase.

"She's a real beauty," he said, and so on.

Henderson took very little notice. Presently, however, he addressed the
groom.

"You talked of taking the trap and Brown Bess," he said; "if you do,
what time will you be back, as I want the trap to drive over in the
evening to Captain North's?"

"What time do you want to go?" asked Reid.

"I have to be there by nine. It's a kind of sporting supper he has on,
and I promised to go."

"It'll not take ye more than an hour to go to Newstead? Well, I'll be
back by seven, and ye better drive one of the other horses."

"All right," answered Henderson, shortly, and then without another word
he left the stable, and Reid looked after him curiously.

"He looked uncommon vicious," he thought; "I wonder if he can be
planning any mischief?"

And this idea recurred again to his mind when he saw Henderson the next
morning. There was a dark, lowering, determined look on his face that
Reid did not like, and as he indulged in no strong language the groom
began to think it looked suspicious.

"Be sure you are back by seven," was all Henderson said in allusion to
their conversation of the night before; and when he had turned away,
Reid began whistling softly to himself.

And all the day after Henderson was restless and strange in his manner.
He told his mother that he would not be at home at dinner-time, as
he was going to Captain North's, and accordingly about half-past six
o'clock he left the house, and proceeded on foot to a lonely spot in
the road, that he knew Reid must pass on his return from Skidder's, the
horse dealer's.

This part of the road ran through a little wood, and there were trees
on either side of the horse path. Here behind the trunk of a great
spreading oak Henderson stationed himself with murder in his heart. He
meant to shoot Reid, cost him what it might, for the man's insolence
had become to him utterly unbearable.

It was nearly seven o'clock when he reached the little wood, and it was
a cold, gray, drizzling evening, with a fog floating over the lowlands,
and there was a general air of bleakness and discomfort in the whole
scene. But Henderson with his black passions roused felt none of this.
He stood there hidden, with his revolver ready in his hand, and with
his ear alert to catch every sound. But none came; only the melancholy
moan of the wind through the trees, or the cry of the curlew winging
its way over the sedges on the marsh below.

Henderson began to get impatient. Would he never come, he thought. He
looked at his watch again and again; half-past seven, eight, and then
the autumn day began to close, and the night to gather in.

It was quite dark--just nine o'clock--when at last he did hear the
rumble of wheels and the sharp trot of a horse's hoofs on the stony
road. Henderson stood breathless, his revolver raised ready to fire,
his eyes peering eagerly through the darkness and the mist. The sounds
came nearer.

"It is Brown Bess' trot," he told himself with savage glee; "I'll have
him this time and no mistake."

The dog-cart passed the spot where he was standing a moment later, and
Henderson fired. There was a cry; the horse swerved violently aside,
and then started off in a furious gallop, and Henderson stood panting
on the roadway, wondering if his enemy were dead.



CHAPTER XXIV.

A GUILTY SOUL.


He listened eagerly until the sound of the horse's gallop grew fainter
and fainter, and then Henderson proceeded to carry out the plan which
he had laid down for himself. This was actually to go to Captain
North's supper, who was a somewhat disreputable sporting man in the
neighborhood, who, for reasons of his own, had not given the cold
shoulder to Henderson during the time of the great scandal about him.

Henderson therefore turned and walked on quickly in the direction of
Captain North's place, Newstead. It was only about a mile from the
little wood where he had fired the shot at Reid, and it did not take
him long to arrive there. A sort of savage exultation filled his breast
as he proceeded on his way. At all events, he had wounded Reid, for
he had heard the man's startled cry. And the shot could not be traced
to him, he believed, for he would be known to be at North's supper at
the time, and in the darkness it was impossible that Reid could have
recognized him.

At Newstead he received a warm welcome.

"How late you are, old fellow!" cried the host, a dissipated red-faced
man of fifty, rising from the table and grasping Henderson's hand.

"Am I?" answered Henderson. "Well, my mother was not well, and so I did
not start so early as I intended."

After this he sat down to supper with the rest, and seemed in high
spirits. They were a rough lot altogether, and they all seemed bent
on enjoying themselves. They drank, laughed, joked, and sang, and
Henderson joined in the thick of it. It was indeed after two in the
morning before they began to talk of dispersing.

"I wonder if my trap is here?" asked Henderson.

"No, sir," answered the servant he addressed; "there is nothing here
from Stourton Grange."

"Confound that fellow. I wonder why he has not come; got drunk, as
usual, I suppose," said Henderson.

"Do you mean that groom of yours, Reid?" asked Captain North. "I'm told
he's quite a swell now, and goes about buying horses, and blustering
about some money he has had left him, or that he has power over you, or
something. I would get rid of him if I were you, Henderson."

"He's a lazy dog," swore Henderson, and then the conversation dropped.

One of the guests who was going Henderson's way offered to give him a
lift, and Henderson accepted the offer. This man drove Henderson nearly
to the avenue at Stourton, and there they parted, Henderson proceeding
on foot in the direction of the Grange. As he walked on in the darkness
and the gloom, for the first time since he had fired the shot at Reid,
a sort of dread, of shrinking from the consequences of what he had
done, stole over his soul. But he braced himself up to conquer this
feeling.

"He deserved it. I hope he is dead," he thought, and in this mood he
neared his home.

He had to pass the stables on his way, and as he did so he saw they
were fully lighted. He hesitated, then nerved himself to go in and
inquire why this was so. He entered one of the open doors, and a
peculiar gasping sound fell on his ears. He passed two of the stalls,
and he saw the horses in them were restless and uneasy. Then he came to
the third stall--Brown Bess' stall--and such a sight met his eyes that
he never forgot it to his dying day.

Reid was standing there and a farrier whom he knew, and on the straw
of the stall lay Brown Bess, panting and struggling in her death
agonies. Blood was flowing from her nostrils; blood from her distended
jaws, while convulsive tremors ran through her sleek and glossy form.

"What is this? What has happened?" asked Henderson, hoarsely.

The two men, who had not noticed his approach, as they were watching
the horse, now turned around and saw Henderson.

"Some scoundrel shot her on the road as we came through Henley Wood,"
answered Reid, gloomily. "She's shot through the lungs, Mr. Roberts
here says--and it's all up with her, poor beast."

"Yes, Mr. Henderson, I fear nothing can be done," said Mr. Roberts, the
farrier, shaking his head.

Henderson gave a kind of cry, and knelt down on the straw beside the
dying horse.

"Bess! Bess! My poor Bess! don't you know me?" he exclaimed, and his
words were broken by a sob.

The dumb creature in her death throes knew her master's voice. She
opened her fast glazing eyes a little wider; she tried to whinny
her welcome, but the exertion killed her. A rush of blood came from
her mouth, a terrible struggle convulsed her limbs, and the two men
standing behind seized Henderson and pulled him forcibly away from her.

"She might kick you without knowing it, sir," said the farrier. "Ay,
poor brute, it will be all over in a moment or so."

His words were true; there was another plunge or two, then a faint
quivering ran through her frame, and then all was still. Henderson
stood watching her, and then with a groan he covered his face with his
hand, and turned away.

"It's a bad business," said the farrier. "Who on earth could have shot
her?"

"It was just at the turn in Henley Wood," repeated Reid; "we were
coming home as nicely as could be when I heard a shot close at hand.
Poor Bess a-kind o' jumped in the air, and then started galloping, and
never stopped till we got to the stable door."

"And you saw no one?" asked the farrier.

"Not a living soul; it was too dark," answered Reid.

"And what were you doing out so late?" asked Henderson, in a strange,
hollow voice, now looking at his groom.

"Well, ye know, master, I'd been buying that mare I told you of, and
Skidder and I wet the bargain, and I got a bit tight. But I waited till
I was all right, and then I was driving away quietly home--"

"You sacrificed her life," interrupted Henderson, darkly and sternly,
"the best horse a man ever rode," and then without another word he
strode out of the stable, his heart full of inexpressible bitterness.

For he knew that his own hand had killed the creature he had loved.
Brown Bess had been his favorite horse, and had been given to him by
his father shortly before his death, and Henderson remembered at this
moment his pride and pleasure when he received the gift.

And another memory, too, rose before him; a memory fraught with remorse
and shame, and the face of the dead girl, Elsie Wray, seemed to hover
near him in the darkness, as he had seen her in the days of her early
love. He had ridden Brown Bess to the Wayside Inn shortly after his
father had presented her to him, for the purpose of showing Elsie his
new possession. And when he was leaving the girl had followed him out
of the house, and laid her dark head against the mare's glossy neck and
kissed her.

He saw this little scene again now, and groaned aloud in his misery. He
had killed them both, he was thinking--the two who had loved him--and
bitter and unavailing regret and remorse filled his heart. His mad
passion for May Churchill had blinded him to all sense of justice and
right, and he had flung away the love which was truly his for the sake
of a fair face that had always looked coldly at him.

And now it all came back to him! Elsie's vain appeals and awful death,
and he shuddered as he walked on; shuddered and stumbled amid his
haunting visions of the past.

A pale-faced woman was standing, candle in hand, watching for him as he
staggered toward the open door of Stourton Grange. This was his mother,
who had grown uneasy at his prolonged absence, and was now peering into
the mist and darkness looking for her only son. Presently she saw him;
saw his haggard face, and his eyes full of remorse and gloom. She went
forward to meet him; she took his cold, damp hand.

"My dear, are you not well?" she said, tenderly, as she led him into
the hall, and put her candle down on the table. "You look ill, Tom,
what is the matter?"

For a moment he looked at her, and then suddenly broke down, and a
choking sob burst from his lips.

"Tom, come in here; I've a fire here," went on Mrs. Henderson, putting
her hand through his arm and leading him into the drawing-room. She
made him sit by the fire; she got him what he required, and hung over
him and tended him with her mother's love strong in her breast, as
though he had been the sinless child she had once cradled there.

She asked no questions, but presently she gathered from his
half-incoherent words that Brown Bess was dead, and that he was weary
of his life. She soothed and comforted him, and finally persuaded him
to go to bed, but she did not leave him that night, nor for many nights
to come.

Either the shock he had received, or some subtle poison floating in the
damp, dank air, had struck him down, but before the morning he was in a
high fever. And with extraordinary courage and devotion Mrs. Henderson
nursed him alone. She sent for no doctor; she sought no help. She knew
she was risking his life by doing this, but she knew also that his
babbling tongue might reveal the dark secret of which she was only too
sure. So no ears but hers heard the ghastly details of the tragedy on
the ridge above Fern Dene.

Over and over again in the still hours of the night he related the grim
story. Sometimes he fancied Elsie was standing by and would entreat her
to take away her dying curse.

"I did not mean it, Elsie! on my soul I did not!" he more than once
cried, and his miserable watcher fell on her knees and prayed to God
that his words might be true.

But it was a terrible time. Mrs. Henderson's thick brown hair grew
gray, and her once comely face lined and haggard. She let it be
understood in the household "that the young master" was suffering from
delirium tremens, and as Henderson was known to have been drinking
heavily lately, this account of his illness was universally believed.

The groom, Jack Reid, went up to the house each morning to ask after
him, but he made no attempt to see his master. The events of the night
on which Brown Bess had died seemed to have had a sobering effect on
this man. For in his own mind Reid now never doubted that Henderson
had intended to kill him when by mischance he killed the horse. Their
frequent quarrels, and something in Henderson's lowering looks when he
had proposed to borrow the dog-cart and Brown Bess, had rather alarmed
Reid at the time, and for this reason he had purposely delayed his
return home until he thought his master would be absent at Captain
North's supper party.

Then, when Henderson had gone into the stable, and flung himself in his
grief down by his dying horse, Reid had seen the muzzle of a revolver
suddenly appear from one of the pockets of his overcoat. It instantly
struck the man at this moment who had shot Brown Bess. The bullet
intended for himself had destroyed the animal that Henderson loved
best, and Reid gave a little shudder when he thought of his own narrow
escape.

But he said nothing of his suspicions. But a day or so afterward he
walked over to Captain North's place, and after telling some of the men
about the stables of his master's illness, he casually inquired what
time the "young squire" had arrived at Newstead on the night of the
Captain's supper party.

"Late," was the reply he received. "Nearly an hour later than the other
gents. It wouldn't be less than a quarter to ten o'clock when he came,
and he had a strange sort of look when he did. Ay, it was the d. t.
coming on, no doubt."

This answer satisfied Reid that he had not been mistaken. Henderson had
had time then to reach Newstead after he had fired the shot in Henley
Wood that had killed Brown Bess. And the idea frightened Reid. He had
not, in fact, believed Henderson before capable of deliberate murder.
He knew he had not gone to the ridge above Fern Dene intending to shoot
poor Elsie Wray. The girl's threats and taunts had maddened him, and in
a moment of uncontrollable passion he had killed her. But this attempt
on Reid's own life was a very different affair. It showed the man that
he had to deal with a stronger and more savage and vindictive nature
than he had expected. He had bullied and traded on Henderson's secret,
never supposing that he dare attempt to throw off the yoke. But he had
gone too far, and Reid now admitted this to himself, and determined to
be more careful and more prudent in the future.

But Henderson was ill for many days, and it was weeks after Brown
Bess' death that Reid first saw his master. They met in the avenue by
chance, while Henderson was walking with his mother, and leaning on her
arm, for his strength was completely shattered. The faces of both men
flushed when they saw each other, but Reid respectfully touched his hat
as he approached the mother and son.

"I hope you are feeling better, sir?" he asked, and for a moment he
stopped.

"Yes, I am better," answered Henderson, briefly, and he scowled and
walked on, but there was a look in his sunken eyes that Reid did not
care to see.

Henderson, in fact, still nourished the bitterest animosity against
the man who held his secret, and who had treated him with such
insolence and disrespect. Nor as his health returned did he forget the
loss of Brown Bess. He blamed Reid for this, and hated the groom with a
deadly hatred that grew and grew.

And during the days of his convalescence a letter came to him which did
not tend to make him any happier. It was from Mrs. Temple, but was of a
very vague and unsatisfactory nature.

"I am sorry to hear you have been ill," it began, "but the address we
talked of was not forthcoming, so I could not send it. J. T. wrote
to his uncle certainly, but the sole address he gave was Paris, and
moreover he said he was leaving that city next day. I can not help
thinking it looks suspicious, but on his return we may learn more, as
he mentions that in another week or so he would arrive at Woodlea. If
I hear anything I will let you know; in the meanwhile perhaps you had
best not come here. Yours very truly,
                                                               "R. T."



CHAPTER XXV.

THE BRIDE.


Miss Webster was agreeably surprised when she received her nephew
Ralph's answer to her letter in which she had told him of May
Churchill's marriage.

It was a quiet, ordinary letter, and mentioned that affair in the most
commonplace manner.

"My dear Aunt Margaret," Miss Webster read with a considerable feeling
of relief. "I received your letter telling me of the marriage of your
pretty young friend, and I am sure we will all join in wishing her
every happiness. But what I don't quite like about the matter is its
secrecy. A secret marriage is, I think, always unfair to the woman; and
I understood from you that this Mr. Temple was his uncle's heir, by the
will of his grandfather, in the event of the elder Mr. Temple leaving
no children. Now, if this is so, why should your Mr. Temple be afraid
of his uncle, and prefer to cast a slur on the woman he has married,
when his uncle can really (I presume) eventually do him no harm?
However, it is no affair of ours.

"The weather here has been all that we could desire, and if I was not
afraid of boring you with the oft-told description of Alpine scenery,
I could tell you of some wonderful bits of coloring from the effect of
the sunshine on the snow. However, as I hope soon to see you, I will
not write a long letter to-day. In another fortnight I must be back to
town, and hard at work at the old grind.

"With love to yourself and Aunt Eliza,
                                    "Yours affectionately,
                                                       "RALPH WEBSTER."

Miss Webster silently put this letter into her sister Eliza's hand,
and after Miss Eliza had read it she returned it with one of her usual
gentle sighs.

"Dear boy!" she said, and that was all. Still both the sisters felt
relieved, and were glad to think no great harm had been done. The way
in which Ralph had taken the news in fact made it easier for them to
answer their other letters which they had received from the bride and
bridegroom. In his, John Temple asked Miss Webster very kindly to look
out for a suitably furnished house in their neighborhood for May. This
Miss Webster had done, but she could not hear of one that was to be
let at once. There was a house in the same terrace, but it would not
be vacant for two months. Could Mrs. John Temple wait that long, Miss
Webster had inquired.

To this John answered no. He could not be absent longer from England
than another fortnight, and he must see May settled in town before he
left her. Again the sisters went out house-hunting, but were still
unsuccessful. At last, half-nervously, Miss Webster proposed to Miss
Eliza to ask May to come to them until she could see about a house for
herself.

"I have thought about that, too," answered Miss Eliza; "but I did not
like to suggest it."

"It seems so unkind," said Miss Webster, "when her room is standing
empty."

The offer was therefore made, and was gratefully accepted both by John
Temple and May.

"It is more than good of you," wrote John, "but I will leave May to
thank you herself."

May's letter was a pretty bride-like epistle, in which "dear John's"
name occurred and re-occurred in every other line. "I am quite, quite
happy," she wrote; "but how could I be otherwise when dear John is so
good to me, and when I am with him, for that alone means happiness to
me. We wander together about this wonderful city, and dear John shows
me beautiful things of which I had never dreamed, and which but for
him I should have never seen. I tell him he is like some prince in the
fairy tales, who found his poor little country sweetheart in the green
woods. I feel so unworthy of him, but he will never listen to this, and
his generous, noble words are very dear and sweet to my heart. I will
tell you some day what he says on the subject, though I know it is only
his great goodness that makes him speak thus. Still he says I make him
very happy, and I pray to God night and day that I may always be able
to do so."

"Sweet young creature!" said Miss Eliza, wiping away a tear as she read
these tender, loving words.

Miss Webster also was not unmoved. But when Ralph Webster arrived they
did not show him May's letter.

"She is very happy," Miss Webster said, gently, and then for the first
time she noticed the change in her nephew's appearance.

"Why, Ralph!" she exclaimed, and then paused.

"You are looking at my gray hairs," said Ralph, quietly. "Yes, isn't it
funny? It must have been the air of Switzerland."

Miss Webster said nothing, but she thought the more. Not only had the
air of Switzerland sown many white hairs round Ralph Webster's broad
brow, but it had visibly lined and aged his face. He, in fact, was
looking ill, and not like a man who had just returned from his holiday.

"I am glad to get back to my work," he said, and he was. Work was good
for him, and his strong, firm mind recognized this.

"And," he said, presently, "when do the bride and bridegroom return?"

Then Miss Webster and Aunt Eliza told their little story. They had
tried in vain to find a suitable house for Mrs. John Temple at the time
she required one, as Mr. John Temple was obliged to be back in England
almost immediately. But they had heard of a house that would be vacant
in two months.

"And so, dear Ralph, we thought we could not help offering her a home
here until she finds one to suit herself," explained Miss Webster. "And
we expect her to arrive the day after to-morrow."

A dusky flush rose to Ralph Webster's face.

"The day after to-morrow?" he repeated, "and--Mr. Temple?"

"Oh! Mr. Temple will not stay here at all, dear, at present. He
proposes to bring his bride here on Thursday afternoon, and he will
stay to dinner, and then start for the Midlands by the night train. You
must come to dinner on Thursday, Ralph, to meet him."

But Ralph shook his head.

"No," he said, "I have a case to work up on Thursday which will take me
until the small hours of the morning. Besides," he added, "it would not
do, you know, for me to meet them, as I am not supposed to know that
they are married at all."

"I forgot that," replied Miss Webster, nervously. "Dear me, dear me;
these secret marriages are very trying!"

"Perhaps I will look in on Friday," continued Ralph Webster, "and by
that time you must find out how I am to address her--by her maiden or
her married name."

This was a complication that poor Aunt Margaret had never reckoned on.

"Yes, we must find out," she said; "we must ask Mr. John Temple; really
it is very awkward."

But when Thursday arrived, and the sisters saw the bride's sweet, happy
face, they forgot at first to make any inquiries on the subject. May
was looking quite charming; her dress, her beauty, even her manner was
improved. She was indeed a lovely young woman that the kindly sisters
took in their thin arms, and pressed their faded lips against her rosy
ones. As for John Temple, he also looked exceedingly well, and his gray
eyes rested again and again on the beautiful face of his fair bride
with unmistakable affection.

He remained to dinner at Pembridge Terrace, but explained how he was
obliged to start on his journey to Woodlea Hall almost immediately
afterward. May knew this, but her face saddened a little when John
repeated it, and her lips quivered.

"My uncle would never forgive me if I disappointed him," said John, and
then the little party began talking of other things.

"And how is Mr. Webster?" presently asked May. "Has he returned from
abroad yet?"

This question at once reminded the sisters of their nephew's wish
to know by what name he should address May, and they looked at each
other significantly; and then Miss Webster--the stronger minded of the
two--after a little nervous hesitation spoke.

"Yes, he has returned, and is very well," she said; "and--oh! my dear
Mrs. John Temple, there is something I wish to ask you."

"What is that?" answered May, smiling.

"Well, you see it is rather awkward--but--but I believe it was your
wish, and--your husband's for your marriage at present to be kept a
secret?"

"Certainly," said John Temple, rather quickly.

"And--my nephew knew Miss Churchill, you know, Mr. Temple, before her
marriage, and when he meets her again--" hesitated Miss Webster.

"He had better know her as Miss Churchill still," answered John,
gravely. "For both our sakes, Miss Webster, for the present our
marriage must be kept an absolute secret."

Miss Webster stirred uneasily, and May blushed deeply, and also made a
slight restless movement.

"It is absolutely necessary," repeated John; "but if you wish, May,
that Miss Webster's friends should know you are married, why not take
another name?"

"We will talk of it afterward," said May, gently.

"But, my dear," he answered, and he looked at his watch as he spoke,
"we shall not have very long to talk of anything this evening. I must
go upstairs and look after my traps, if Miss Webster will excuse me,
for the cab I ordered will be here in half an hour. You had better come
with me, May."

So the two left the room together, and when they were alone John put
his arm around May's waist and drew her to his breast and kissed her
face.

"I know this must seem hard to you, darling, about the name--and having
to part so soon--but you see, it would never do to offend my uncle."

"Oh! no, no, John!" replied May, fondly, and she flung her arms round
his neck as she spoke. "Do you think I would wish to do you any harm?
You who have been so good to me, and married me when I was so different
in every way to you? Of course, your uncle naturally would resent your
marriage to me, but the only thing is--"

"What, dear?"

"I think I should rather be known to be married among Miss Webster's
friends; you see when people are not married--"

"Young men are rather apt to fall in love with a very pretty girl, eh,
May? Is that what you mean? Well, darling, perhaps you are right; call
yourself Mrs. Somebody-else--or no, a brilliant idea has struck me;
call yourself Mrs. John!"

"Oh, yes, that will do!" cried May, smiling. "Mrs. John! that is
charming--then I will bear John's name still--my own John!"

She nestled closer to him, and John Temple murmured something about
"being unworthy," of which May took no heed. Then in wifelike fashion,
she began packing what he required, and he stood watching her with a
strange dimness in his eyes, which, however, May did not see. She was
thinking all the time how good and noble he was; how he had risked his
inheritance for her sake; for May did not know that the Woodlea estates
were in truth strictly entailed on John Temple, in the event of the
present owner, Mr. Philip Temple, leaving no children. She might have
heard this at the time of young Phil Temple's death, but girl's ideas
on such subjects are very vague. But she knew John's marriage with her
would offend his uncle, and therefore it behooved her for his sake to
keep it a secret as long as his uncle lived.

By and by they heard a cab stop at the house-door, and the bell rang,
and they knew their parting hour had come. May clung to John, and her
eyes were wet with tears when they went down-stairs together, and a few
minutes later he was gone! And a great blank seemed suddenly to fall on
the heart of the poor young bride.

But she tried not to show this, and presently said she was tired with
her journey, and asked Miss Webster's leave to retire to bed. She
kissed both the sisters before she left them, and thanked them in her
pretty way for giving her for the present the shelter of their roof.

"And Miss Webster," she said, still holding Miss Webster's kindly hand,
"I talked over the name with John--I mean the name I am to be called
by--and we fixed on Mrs. John. You see there is nothing extraordinary
in that, and it is still John's name. I can not take his full name on
account of his uncle, as we must run no risks; but I will be Mrs. John.
Do you think you can remember Mrs. John?"

"Yes, my dear, I can remember," answered Miss Webster, and she kissed
May's fair face again. "And it is better that you should be known as a
married woman."

"Much better," said May, and then she left the sisters and retired to
her own room to think there and pray for John with all her heart.

The next day, of course, she wished to write to John, but he had told
her not to do so unless Miss Webster directed her letter. And it seemed
almost too soon to ask Miss Webster to do this. Still she wrote,
telling him all her sweet thoughts, and prattling to him on paper as
she had done when nestling by his side. This letter would be sent
the next day, she decided, after she had added this and that to it.
Then after lunch she went out to walk with Miss Eliza, and when they
returned they found Ralph Webster sitting in the dining-room with his
Aunt Margaret.

Miss Webster had by this time told Ralph Webster that it had been
decided that their young guest had for the present to bear the name of
"Mrs. John." Ralph had listened in somewhat grim silence, and when May
and Aunt Eliza appeared Miss Webster rose in a little flurry.

"This is Mrs. John, Ralph," she said, hastily.

Ralph Webster rose quietly and held out his hand.

"How are you, Mrs. John?" he said. "I hear I have to congratulate you."

"Yes," answered May, with a charming blush, taking his hand; "I have
been married since I saw you last."

"So my aunt has been telling me. Well, I did not forget the edelweiss,
and have three separate packets of it at this moment in my coat pocket
which is hanging in the hall."

May had forgotten about the edelweiss. But she did not tell Mr. Webster
this, and accepted her portion of the ice-flower smilingly. She thought
he looked graver and older, but supposed he had been working very hard.
She said something about this after dinner in the drawing-room, and
Ralph Webster admitted it was true.

"Yes," he said, "I have rather an important case coming on to-morrow,
and have been burning the midnight oil over it. And as it is about
jewelry I suppose it would interest you ladies. I do not know whether
you have ever heard of Miss Kathleen Weir, the actress?"

May, to whom he addressed this question, shook her head.

"An actress?" echoed Miss Webster.

"Yes, and I am told a very fascinating and handsome young woman. But
I shall see her to-morrow, as I am junior in the case, and have to
examine the witnesses."

"And are you for the prosecution or the defense?" asked May.

"For the prosecution. It is, in fact, rather a remarkable case.
It seems Miss Kathleen Weir is a lady who owns a great number of
diamonds, or rather, supposed she did. Well, a month or so ago she
was either hard up, or she had a mind to change some of her diamonds
for something else. At all events, she took what she supposed to be a
valuable diamond brooch and earrings to the jeweler, of whom they had
been purchased, for the purpose of disposing of them. The jeweler and
his assistants examined the stones, and told her they were everyone
paste--not diamonds at all in fact. The cases were theirs, and the
settings, but the diamonds had been removed and replaced by false ones.
They at first supposed Miss Weir had wished to impose on them, but the
rage she flew into soon satisfied them that this was not the case. She
entreated one of the jewelers to return with her to her flat to examine
the rest of her diamonds. A nice discovery awaited her; half, nay more
than half, were gone, and paste diamonds had been substituted in place
of the real ones."

"What a dreadful thing!" exclaimed May.

"Dreadful for Miss Weir at least. These diamonds were worth thousands
of pounds, and someone must have stolen them. The question was who did
it, and the affair had been in the hands of the detectives ever since.
Now they have got hold of someone, and Miss Weir's confidential maid,
a certain Miss Margaret Johnstone, has to be put on her trial to-morrow
for robbing her mistress. I am told there is a strong defense, but I
think we hold the trump card."

"We shall be interested in the result," said May.

"Half the women in London will be interested. There is, I believe, an
extraordinary fascination in jewels to your sex, and in diamonds in
particular. However, by this time to-morrow Miss Margaret Johnstone
will probably know this to her cost. But now I must go; I have my
notes to look up on the case. Good-night, Mrs. John; good-night, Aunt
Margaret and Aunt Eliza."

He left the house a few moments later, after his aunts had pressed him
to return the following evening to tell the news about the trial. And
he did this, entering the drawing-room at Pembridge Terrace the next
night about nine o'clock with a slight flush on his somewhat haggard
face.

"Well," he said, quietly, but still with the air of a man who has
gained something he had fought for, "we have won our case."

"Do tell us all about it, dear!" cried his aunts in chorus.

"Will it bore you?" asked Ralph Webster, looking at May.

"No, indeed, it will not," she answered.

"I will make it as short as possible, then. The case of the prosecution
was simple enough so far. Miss Kathleen Weir discovered that more than
half her diamonds had been stolen and false ones substituted. She
discovered this, as I told you, by taking some of them to a jeweler's
to dispose of--the defense made a point of this, as you will hear.
Well, Miss Weir gave evidence that no one ever went into her jewel-case
but her confidential maid, Margaret Johnstone. This woman had been in
her service five years, and she completely trusted her. She admitted
she sometimes left money lying about, but it was never touched.
Margaret Johnstone used to take off Miss Weir's jewels on her return
from the theater, and restore them to the case, and bring them out
the next day when they were required. Generally Miss Weir carried the
key of her jewel-case with her, but sometimes she forgot it, and she
remembered one night in particular Margaret Johnstone telling her she
had done this. No suspicion, however, entered her mind as regards her
maid. But no one else had access to the jewels, and when she discovered
her loss she naturally told her story to the police, and Margaret
Johnstone was arrested.

"The defense was peculiar. Margaret Johnstone admitted taking Miss
Weir's diamonds to a certain somewhat contraband diamond dealer, but
by her mistress' orders. This diamond dealer gave evidence. The woman
on trial had from time to time brought diamond ornaments to him for
sale. He was suspicious at first, he said, but Margaret Johnstone gave
distinct answers. The diamonds belonged to her mistress, Miss Kathleen
Weir, the actress, and she was short of ready money, and wished to sell
the diamonds for the best price she could get, and have false diamonds
substituted in their place in the same settings. He still hesitated,
and requested the maid to bring a letter from her mistress authorizing
him to carry out this project. This Margaret Johnstone did, and the
dealer produced the letter in court, which Miss Weir swore was never
written by her, but the handwriting slightly resembled her own.

"After this constant transactions took place between the diamond dealer
and the maid. The dealer swore that he had paid thousands to Margaret
Johnstone and received receipts for the money signed Kathleen Weir. He
swore also he never doubted that he was dealing with the real owner
of the jewels. 'Many ladies,' he said, 'did the same thing, and the
diamonds their husbands and friends gave them at their marriage were
frequently exchanged in after years for fictitious ones.'

"Then the counsel for the defense pointed out that Miss Weir herself
admitted she was going to try to dispose of some of her diamonds when
the so-called fraud was discovered. This looked as though she was in
the habit of doing so, and so on. This was the defense, but of course
I have not told it in legal language. All the time, however, as I
told you yesterday, I was sure we held the trump card, which was that
in one of the woman's boxes, after she was arrested, a half-finished
letter was found. It was to a lover in Australia, asking him if he had
received safely the eight hundred pounds she had forwarded to him by
the last mail. 'She will never be the wiser,' Margaret Johnstone had
written to the lover, 'and the paste do quite as well for her as the
real.'

"The handwriting of this letter, and the letter signed Kathleen Weir,
held by the diamond dealer, and the receipts also signed Kathleen
Weir, were then submitted to experts. These men decided they were all
really written by the same person. To make a long story short, Margaret
Johnstone totally broke down under cross-examination, and began crying
hysterically.

"'It was the devil tempted me!' she finally cried, and so no doubt it
was, but he played her a scurvy trick, for she got a sentence of eight
years' penal servitude for listening to his voice."

"Oh! poor creature!" said May, pitifully.

"My sympathies, I confess, lie with Miss Kathleen Weir," continued
Ralph Webster, smiling. "She has lost her diamonds, worth thousands of
pounds, which she will never see again, and she might have had a very
awkward reflection cast on her honesty. But I admit I am prejudiced
in her favor, for just before I started to come here a note in the
prettiest language imaginable was handed to me from Miss Kathleen
Weir. My modesty forbade me to bring it, or to repeat all she had
written. But she paid me a great many compliments on my 'masterly
cross-examination'--please remember I am quoting--which, no doubt, she
said, 'elicited the truth from that wretched woman.' And, moreover, she
wanted me to go to see her to-morrow afternoon, and I mean to go."

"Oh! Ralph, to see an actress!" said Miss Webster, in dismay.

"Oh! do go," cried May, laughing. "I am dying to hear all about her."

"I will go," said Ralph Webster, slowly, not knowing that the hand of
Fate was leading him into a pitfall beset with doubt and anxieties from
which there was no escape.



CHAPTER XXVI.

KATHLEEN WEIR.


Ralph Webster did as he said he would, and went on the following
afternoon to call on the actress, Miss Kathleen Weir.

She was expecting him, and her pretty flat was charmingly arranged to
receive him, and herself charmingly dressed for the same purpose. She
had admired his strong, earnest, dark face in the court the day before,
and she was not in the least afraid of showing this. As she rose to
receive him--a tall, graceful, slender woman--she held out a shapely
white hand.

"I am very much pleased that you have come to see me, Mr. Webster," she
said.

"Thanks, very much, for your kind permission to do so," replied Ralph
Webster.

She was really scarcely handsome, and yet she gave you the impression
that she was so. She had large, restless gray eyes, and rather a
pretty, piquant nose, but her mouth was not good. It was too wide, and
her smile somewhat saucy and defiant. Yet altogether her appearance was
attractive, and many men, it was said, had fallen victims to her charms.

"I owe you a debt of gratitude," she went on in her airy fashion,
smiling on Ralph Webster; "but for you my character for honesty would
be gone."

"I trust not quite that."

Miss Weir held up her pretty white hands.

"I wish you had seen the senior Mr. Jordon's face then, when I
offered my poor paste diamonds for his inspection, telling him how
much the brooch and earrings had cost. He looked, 'Woman, dare you
attempt to impose on me!' if ever a man's thoughts were written on his
countenance."

"Do you think they often are?"

"Yes. All our thoughts are written on our faces at times, but I try to
wear a mask when I can; do you?"

Ralph Webster laughed a low, soft laugh.

"We are forced to hide our thoughts and feelings sometimes," he said.

"Do you know I could imagine your doing that with a very strong curb,"
went on Kathleen Weir, fixing her large gray eyes on Webster's face. "I
can fancy you crushing down your strongest feelings and putting your
heel on them allegorically. You have a strong will power."

"I am not so sure of that."

"Oh! yes, you have! If you were in love with a woman, and did not mean
to tell her so, you would go away from her, and not flutter around the
flame like a weaker man would do."

"Suppose my wings were already singed?" laughed Webster.

"You would bear the pain and still go. I envy your strength."

"But you are imagining it."

"No! But here I am forgetting the duties of hospitality to you on your
first visit. What will you take; tea, coffee, or some more masculine
refreshment. They are standing there in the inner room." And she
pointed to the draped archway between the two small drawing-rooms as
she spoke.

"Thanks, I will not take anything," answered Webster.

"May I ask if you wear a concealed bit of blue ribbon? If you are a
total abstainer, as I believe they call themselves?" smiled Kathleen
Weir.

"I can truthfully answer no," said Webster, also smiling.

"Have some champagne then."

"I will have nothing, thanks."

"What were we talking of? Ah, about being able to conceal one's
feelings. I can't; I wish I could; I must speak my mind, and it's
brought me no end of trouble."

"But you are clever enough, I am sure, to get out of trouble."

"Not always; I had once to deal with a very peculiar nature, or mine
was peculiar perhaps--so he said--but we could not pull together, and
that brought me no end of trouble--but I have got over it." And Miss
Weir shrugged her handsome shoulders.

"You showed your wisdom," said Webster, a little grimly.

"I know that; what is the use of grieving and fretting and losing one's
good looks for the sake of a person who has ceased to care for one?
Love is never rekindled, you know; its ashes never again take fire."

"Do you speak from experience?"

"Yes," answered Kathleen Weir, sharply. "I've watched the flame die
out, and the last flicker expire. It's an unpleasant experience, when
the ice has not already touched your own heart."

"I could never imagine it happening to you."

"You say that because I am an actress; a woman used to, and who loves
flattery, you are thinking. But it did happen to me, Mr. Webster!
Perhaps it was my temper, perhaps it was his, but my gentleman turned
cold and disagreeable--and in the end we parted."

Ralph Webster felt slightly embarrassed.

"And, now," went on Miss Weir, throwing back her well-shaped head,
crowned with its thick chestnut hair, "he is no more to me than last
year's snow! He changed first, but I afterward. But why need I bore you
with all this? Perhaps you do know that I am a married woman parted
from my husband?"

"I certainly did not know it."

"Yes, nine years ago I married a young man called Temple--"

"Temple?" interrupted Webster, quickly.

"Yes, John Temple; he was then a very young man, studying for the bar,
but he never practiced, for he had some money, and he had no ambition.
I think he thought I had spoiled his life."

A physical pain seemed to thrill through Webster's heart, and he bit
his lips to hide his emotion.

"And," he said, after a moment's pause, "do you never see him? What is
he like?"

"I have not seen him for these six years, but I know he is still in
the land of the living, and that I am not entitled to a widow's cap,
for each six months his lawyer regularly sends me one hundred and
fifty pounds. He allows me, in fact, three hundred a year, and perfect
liberty. I do whatever I like." And Kathleen Weir laughed a little
bitterly.

"And you chose the stage?" said Ralph Webster, in a low tone.

"I was on the stage when he had what I suppose he calls the misfortune
to marry me. He was a young fellow--barely twenty-one--and I was three
years older. We lived together for about three years, principally
abroad, and then he tired of it. That is, he had been tiring of it all
the time; we did not pull together somehow."

Ralph Webster drew a long breath.

"What is he like, I may have seen him?" he asked.

"Like? Good-looking, with gray eyes and a very taking manner when he
chose. But to me he was often eminently disagreeable."

"And you do not know where he is now?"

"Not in the very least; abroad most likely, for the sunny south suited
his pleasure-loving nature best. He had no energy, and I hate men
without it. Men are born to fight in the battle of life, but John
Temple stood smiling at it; he will never succeed in anything, and I
love success."

"And you have achieved it."

"Not as much as I wish, but I am fighting for it, and will fight to the
end. John Temple is a dreamer; but we can not live in dreams. Had he
been worth anything his name would have been known now at the bar, as
yours is."

"And--" hesitated Webster, "you have heard nothing of him lately?"

"Not a word. But you seem interested? Have you ever met him?"

"I think not," answered Webster. "Do you know to what family of Temples
he belongs?"

"I can not even tell you that. He told me he was a younger son's son,
I remember, and he was fairly well off, and by no means given to
extravagance, though in his first ardor he actually gave me the diamond
earrings that so nearly got me into trouble--but for you."

"It is kind of you to say so."

"It is true; that woman Margaret Johnstone, who was as brazen as brass,
broke down under your cross-examination like a reed with the strong
wind. How powerful you were! Every word told."

"You must not flatter me."

"I never flatter; but the truth is that you have deservedly made a
name, and will make a still greater one. I shall swagger some day that
my case was won by the great Q. C., Sir Ralph Webster."

Ralph Webster laughed, and a faint color stole to his dark face, and
then he rose to take his leave.

"Going so soon?" said Kathleen Weir. "Then I must conclude you are
tired of my company."

"Please conclude nothing of the sort, but I am going to dine with two
very kind old aunts at Bayswater, and I must not keep them waiting."

"No, of course not," and Kathleen Weir held out her white hand. "I am
coming out in a new piece to-morrow; will you go and see me act, and
then have supper with me afterward?"

"It is a most tempting invitation--"

"That is settled then, and now I will give you a ticket, or tickets,
whichever you like. But I warn you not to bring the aunts, as the piece
is a trifle fast."

"Still I should like to see it--and to see you act."

"Of course you must say that!" And Kathleen Weir rose and laughed as
she did so, and, having crossed the room, she opened an inlaid cabinet,
and brought out some stall tickets and placed two in Webster's hand.

"One is for to-morrow; the other for Friday--and good-by for the
present; this has been your first visit to me, but I trust it will not
be your last."

"I am quite sure it will not if you give me permission to come."

"I do give you permission; you will always be welcome here."

They shook hands and parted; and after Webster was gone Kathleen
Weir went to a mirror at one side of the room and looked at herself
attentively.

"I wonder if he thinks me good-looking," she was reflecting. "What
a clever face he has! He is a man I think that a woman could be
desperately in love with; that she could give up everything for, though
more fool she! Luckily, I never fall in love, and I mean to stick to
this in spite of Mr. Webster."

In the meanwhile Ralph Webster had called a cab, and was being driven
to Pembridge Terrace in--for him--a strange state of excitement.
The story he had just heard--the story of a wife forsaken by a John
Temple--had filled his mind with a sudden suspicion. Could this be the
John Temple who had married the fair girl in secret, now living under
his aunt's roof? Was this the cause of his secrecy? This other wife,
of whom he had tired, had left to fight her own way in the world. It
seemed feasible, and if it were so, how was he himself to act? Could he
throw a bombshell in this poor child's path, and in a moment destroy
all her happiness and hopes? But on the other hand--and Webster frowned
and bit his lips.

"He must be a cursed scoundrel if he has wronged her so cruelly," he
muttered, and he determined during the evening to obtain from his aunts
a complete personal description of the John Temple who had married May
Churchill.

"No doubt Miss Weir has some portrait of her lost husband," he thought
a little scornfully; "but at all events he did not break her heart. Her
description of a dead love was not bad. However, she is a woman I could
not love."

The woman he could love was in Miss Webster's drawing-room alone when
he entered it, and as he did so May held out her hand with a smile.

"You have come to tell us all about your visit to the pretty actress?"
she said.

"Yes," he answered a little grimly.

"And is she very pretty? Does she look as well off the stage as on?"

"She looks very well off, at all events, and I have never seen her on,
but I am going to see her to-morrow."

May laughed her sweet girlish laugh.

"And is she nice?" she said. "How does she talk?"

"I don't think you could call her nice. She talks in a hard, worldly
fashion, but she is clever. She puts things in a quaint, original way
that somehow has a certain charm in it. No, nice is not the word for
Miss Kathleen Weir."

"And what did she talk about?"

"She discoursed on the folly of loving anyone if they had ceased to
love you."

The rose-bloom deepened on May's cheek.

"But," she hesitated, "if--if you had really loved anyone I do not
think you could cease to love them because they had tired of you."

"And you really think," went on Ralph Webster with a ring of pain in
his voice, and with his dark, searching eyes fixed on May's fair face,
"that if you had cared for anyone and found out they were unworthy,
that you would not change?"

"I think love can not change," answered May in a low tone, and Ralph
Webster suppressed a sigh as she spoke.

"Perhaps not," he said, slowly, but at this moment Aunt Eliza entered
the room, and hurried up to him with her kind welcoming hand.

"My dear Ralph," she said, "I did not know you were here, or I should
have been down before."

"I have been hearing all about Miss Kathleen Weir, the actress, Miss
Eliza," said May, smiling.

"Oh! my dear--well, it may be an old-fashioned prejudice, I dare say it
is--but I do not like actresses," sighed Miss Eliza.

"It's all a matter of training," said Ralph Webster; "fancy Aunt Eliza
on the stage!"

"Oh, Ralph, how can you say such things?" said Miss Eliza,
reproachfully.

Ralph Webster laughed, and then the conversation changed. But before he
left Pembridge Terrace for the night he took an opportunity of speaking
to Miss Margaret Webster alone.

"Aunt Margaret," he said, "what is Mr. John Temple like who married
your pretty guest?"

"Good-looking; yes, I should say very good-looking indeed," answered
Miss Webster; "he has such a pleasant expression, and nice gray eyes."

"Gray eyes," repeated Webster, thoughtfully; he was remembering Miss
Kathleen Weir's description of her husband.

"Yes, gray eyes with dark lashes. But Ralph, my dear, if you would like
to see it, I have a photograph of him?"

"I should like to see it," answered her nephew; and Miss Webster at
once rose and produced her old-fashioned photograph book.

"This is our dear father," she said, turning to one page, and pointing
out a mild-faced old gentleman in clerical garb; "and this, Ralph, is
your dear father--ah! looking at this book always makes me a little
sad, and brings back old times."

"Yes," said Ralph Webster, glancing somewhat impatiently at his
grandfather and father; "but where is this wonderful Mr. Temple?"

Miss Webster then turned over several more pages of her book; pages
where she and Miss Eliza were represented as young girls, then as young
women in costumes of other days. Finally, she pointed to the smiling,
good-looking face of a young man.

"This is Mr. John Temple," she said, "and is exactly like what he was
when--he resided here; but he looks rather older now."

"He is certainly good-looking," answered Webster, slowly, looking
steadily at the face portrayed before him.

"There is no doubt of that, and he has a very pleasant manner, and one
can not wonder at his young wife being so much attached to him. There
is only one thing I do not like; that I can not approve of."

"You mean that the marriage was a secret one?"

"Yes, and he made such a point of the secrecy. He said for both their
sakes it must not be mentioned."

"Perhaps he had good reason to keep it quiet," said Ralph Webster.

"Oh! my dear, I hope not! Only he is afraid of his uncle's anger, I
suppose."

"Perhaps so," and then Ralph Webster shook hands with his aunt and went
away; but as he walked down the quiet street he made up his mind to
make further inquiries about Miss Kathleen Weir's husband.



CHAPTER XXVII.

AN OLD PHOTOGRAPH.


The next evening, or rather in the early hours of another day, four
people were seated around the hospitable board of Kathleen Weir. One
of these was the actress herself, her eyes bright with joy, her cheeks
flushed with excitement, for the new play had been a great success, and
the character of the heroine--passionate, loving, and impulsive--had
suited her, and had won genuine applause from a crowded house. And
her three guests consisted of Ralph Webster, another actress, and her
present lover.

This other actress was of a very different type to Kathleen Weir. If
she had not been beautiful she would have been nowhere on the stage.
But she was beautiful; a sleepy, languid beauty, with a skin of snow,
and shadowed dreamy eyes whose power she knew. And seated near her at
the round supper table was young Lord Dereham, with his eyes fixed
eagerly on her face.

Lord Dereham--the Earl of Dereham--had only very lately come into his
great possessions. He was rather good-looking, with an honest, open
expression, and the fair woman by his side had made up her mind, in her
cold-hearted, calculating way, that she would become his wife. She was
not in the least in love with him, but she wished to be a countess, and
have nothing to do but amuse herself, and she was doing her best to
obtain these luxuries.

Her name was Linda Falconer--the lovely Falconer the men called
her--and her intended quarry at the present moment was Robert, Lord
Dereham. Kathleen Weir had invited these two with a motive. She knew
Linda Falconer would devote herself to Dereham, and that thus without
being alone with Ralph Webster, that she would virtually be so.

They had laughed and jested about the new play; Kathleen, in her quick
way and with her strong sense of humor, had brightly related little
incidents that had occurred during the evening. She was not afraid of
Linda Falconer's white skin and dreamy eyes; she knew Linda had no wit,
and that her beauty was all she had to depend on. Kathleen, on the
other hand, had many resources. She was handsome, or seemed so; she was
clever, and somehow she fancied that Ralph Webster was not a man who
cared only for charms that were skin deep.

Suddenly she sprang to her feet in her lithe way.

"As all you good people seem to have finished supper," she said,
"suppose we go into the other room and I will sing you a song."

Ralph Webster at once rose.

"I am too weary to move," said Linda Falconer, with a languid glance at
Lord Dereham.

"Stay where you are then, my dear," replied her hostess; "and you will
still have the advantage of listening to my warblings. Will you stay,
too?" And she looked directly at Ralph Webster.

"I will go with you, if I may?" he answered.

She smiled her saucy smile.

"Come then," she said, and the two passed together through the draped
archway that divided the two rooms.

"How sentimental that young idiot looks," she remarked as she opened
the piano.

Webster smiled, and slightly shrugged his shoulders.

"It's his calf-love, I suppose," he said.

"From which he will speedily awake, if he does what Linda Falconer
means him to do. But what matter! Yet, poor boy, I half pity him with
his round, honest brown eyes fixed on her face."

"She is a beautiful woman."

"Yes, she is," answered Kathleen, sharply, "with a heart of stone.
There is no thought of human affection in her; neither love nor hate.
She means to marry Dereham because he is Dereham, and I dare say she
will succeed. She holds the whip hand, you see, because she gives him
nothing."

"And you call that holding the whip hand?"

"I mean the more a woman gives a man the less he gives her. There, sir,
that is my experience, and I hope you will profit by it."

"I will endeavor to do so."

"Don't sneer; that expression does not suit your face. You look best
when you look earnest, and put on what I call your fighting look. But I
am forgetting my song; stand here and turn over the leaves, and be sure
you do not turn two together."

Webster did as she bade him; he stood by her side and arranged her
music, and the next minute or so a sweet flood of melody filled the
room. Kathleen Weir had a ringing voice; a voice that somehow kept
you spellbound until its last notes had died away. There was a thrill
of passion in it too, as if the singer's soul were echoing her words.
Webster leaned on the piano, and drooped his eyelids listening, for
these passion-swept strains stirred a strange emotion in his own
breast. A flower-like face rose before his mental vision, and he sighed
restlessly, and Kathleen Weir, glancing at him quickly, saw that she
had touched some hidden chord in his heart.

"This man has loved someone once," thought the keen-eyed woman,
"or--does my voice charm him?"

The last thought pleased her best. Fuller and sweeter became her song;
brighter and more radiant her eyes. But Webster was not looking at
her. He gave a little jerk and pulled himself together when it was all
over, and then for the first time since she had commenced singing he
remembered he was standing by the side of Miss Kathleen Weir.

"Did you like that?" she asked, softly.

"I more than liked it," he answered. "Miss Weir, you have the voice of
a siren, and could charm any mariner down into the deep sea."

"And how about a landsman?" she asked, archly.

"I would ask mercy for a landsman, but would advise him not to listen
to your voice too often."

"Then--you do not wish to be charmed?"

"As I am already, it is too late for me to express such a wish."

"Then I shall sing you another song for making such a pretty speech."

So she sang again, but the two in the next room remained where they
were; the boy happy and entranced, the woman calculating and cold. Then
Kathleen Weir tired of singing, and turned around on her music-stool
and talked to Webster.

"Bring a chair," she said to him, "and let us have a chat--or no, I
will sit on the rug; I am like a cat, and love the warmth."

She was like a cat, also, in the extraordinary suppleness of her limbs.
She curled herself up now on the soft, white rug before the fire, and
leaned back on a couch near, and fanned herself with a great feather
fan.

"Now tell me something of your life," she said, looking up at Webster,
who had drawn a chair toward the fire also.

"What part of it?" he asked, looking down smilingly at the graceful
woman before him.

"Oh, all of it! Were you a good boy, or a bad boy?"

"Distinctly a bad boy."

"And a good man, or a bad man?"

"I've had no time to be either; I am simply a working man."

"And--and--how shall I put it? You are not married, I presume?"

"No, I am not."

"Nor engaged?"

"Nor engaged."

"Happy man! You are free, then--absolutely free to do what you like?"

"I have at least no one to control me."

"I have no one to control me, and yet I am not free," said Kathleen
Weir, half-bitterly. "I think I ought to look up that husband of mine,
and see if he has not given me good cause to get rid of him altogether.
What do you think, Mr. Webster?"

"I think it would be only fair to yourself."

"I am beginning to think so, too. There is the three hundred a year to
be considered, certainly, but I can command a good income now. Yes--I
should rather be free."

"And would you marry again?"

"How can I tell?" And a wave of color rose to her face. "If I did I
would not marry as Linda Falconer wishes to do. I would not marry some
titled boy for the sake of his name; I would marry--well, a man who has
made his own."

"You love ambition in men, then?"

"Yes, distinctly yes! I should like to look up to the man I married,
not down."

"What is your present husband, Mr. Temple, like?" asked Webster,
somewhat abruptly. "Have you a portrait of him?"

"I believe I have, somewhere; as to looks he was all right."

"May I see his portrait? I may know him by sight; I may help you to be
free."

Kathleen Weir rose from her lowly position, and crossing the room,
opened an unlocked marquetry cabinet.

"There used to be one here somewhere," she said, "but I have not seen
it for ages. The last time I saw it I remember I turned its face to the
wall. Ah, here it is--yes, this is John Temple." And she shook a little
dust off the photograph as she spoke.

Webster eagerly crossed the room and took the photograph from her hand.
For a moment he did not recognize the face; it was certainly not a
copy of the same photograph that Miss Webster had shown him. It was a
picture of a young man--almost a boy--but as he closely scanned the
features he became convinced that the John Temple he was now gazing at
was the same John Temple who had married May Churchill.

He muttered something between his teeth which made Kathleen Weir look
quickly up in his face.

"Do you know anything of him?" she asked.

"I may; I don't quite know. Will you let me keep this photograph for
one day? I wish to compare it with another."

"Keep it forever, if you like. How strange if you should know anything
of John Temple!"

"There are many strange things in life."

"That is true; strange sympathies; strange hidden ties. We are drawn
to some people, are we not, and repelled by others? We are wonderful
creatures."

"Yes," answered Webster, slowly. He was scarcely listening to her; he
was still gazing at the photograph he held in his hand, and wondering
how he ought to act.

"May I ask you a question?" he said, a moment later, looking at
Kathleen Weir.

"Of course you may."

"Where were you married?"

"Do you mean in what church?"

"I mean in what place. Were you married in London?"

"Yes, certainly; I was married in an old city church called St. Jude's.
We were married there because it was out of the way, I suppose. John
Temple chose the church, and I went and lived a fortnight in the parish
before it took place."

"And--forgive me--you cared for him then?"

"Yes; more fool I! But why do you ask all these questions? You make me
curious."

At this moment the curtain dividing the two rooms moved, and the
beautiful actress, Linda Falconer, stepped between them, followed by
her young lover.

"We have come to ask you for another song, Kate," said Miss Falconer,
languidly. "Dereham, here, is quite enchanted with your voice."

"He will not be enchanted any more to-night, then," answered Kathleen
Weir; "this man and I," and she nodded at Webster as she spoke, "have
been talking of old times, and singing would seem frivolous after our
conversation."

"Ah! I did not know you knew Mr. Webster long ago." And Miss Falconer
rested for a moment her dreamy eyes on Webster's dark face.

"I knew him in some spirit-land, I believe," said Kathleen, with a
light laugh. "I really feel as if I had known you somewhere else, do
you know, Mr. Webster. Where can it have been."

"In some spirit-land, perhaps, as you say," answered Webster, with a
smile. "But I must go now, and may I really take this photograph with
me? I will return it the day after to-morrow."

"Take it by all means, and come to supper the day after to-morrow. You
may have something to tell me," she added, significantly.

"I may; I can not tell. Good-night, Miss Weir."

He shook hands with the others after this, and went away carrying the
photograph with him. He was now almost convinced that the John Temple
who had married May Churchill was the same John Temple who had married
Kathleen Weir. If this were so May was not his wife, and Kathleen was!
Webster's dark face flushed, and his heart beat faster as he thought
of it. But suddenly he remembered May's words about faithfulness in
love. Would she change even if she knew the man she had married to be
completely unworthy? She might and she might not, and greatly disturbed
in mind Ralph Webster returned to his chambers, and when he got there
drew out the old photograph and examined again the somewhat faded
likeness of the man he had never seen.

But the next morning brought him a letter, which more surely confirmed
his suspicions. This was from Kathleen Weir herself, and the subject of
it was her husband, John Temple.

"DEAR MR. WEBSTER," she wrote, "you had scarcely gone to-night, when
I heard something that has surprised me greatly. It seems that Linda
Falconer, in the pleasant way that we all talk of our friends' sins
or sorrows, had been telling Lord Dereham, when I was singing to you,
all about my unfortunate marriage, of which he had never heard. When
she mentioned John Temple's name Dereham pricked up his ears. 'Is
that the man,' he said, 'who not long ago came into a fortune by his
young cousin being killed at football?' Now if this is my John Temple
who has come into a fortune, it is a very plain fact that he should
increase my allowance to something more respectable than a paltry three
hundred a year. And I want you to find out this for me. I receive my
income from him through a certain Mr. Harrison, a solicitor, and I
inclose Mr. Harrison's address. Will you go to him and make inquiries?
I will think it most awfully good of you if you will, and I shall be
eternally grateful to you if I were not so already! I am treating you
as a friend, for I feel somehow that you are one, and the thought is
very pleasant to me. Write after you have seen Harrison, and come the
day after to-morrow to supper.
                                        "Yours most sincerely,
                                                       "KATHLEEN WEIR."

There was no longer any doubt in Ralph Webster's mind after he had
read this letter as to the identity of the John Temple who had married
two women. But there was a doubt; a strange vivid doubt as to how he
should act under such painful circumstances. Before him rose the sweet,
girlish face of May Churchill, with her glad eyes and quiet happiness;
and then he thought of the change this cruel news would bring. The
light would fade from her eyes, and the color from her smooth cheeks,
and a crushing sense of shame and sorrow overshadow her young life.
He tried to put his own feelings out of the question. The passionate
beating of his heart he would not listen to.

"I must think what would be best for her," he told himself; "but at all
events I will go and see Harrison, and learn the whole story, as far as
he knows of it."

Mr. Harrison, the solicitor, was a personal acquaintance of his own. He
had given him a couple of briefs, and they always exchanged friendly
nods when they met. He only needed some slight excuse to pay Harrison a
visit, and he soon found one on some point of law which he affected not
quite to understand.

The solicitor received him almost with effusion. He was a little
bustling man, and had a large business, and a rising barrister was
always a person of consideration to him. He had not seen Webster
since Kathleen Weir's diamond case had been in court, and he quickly
proceeded to compliment Webster on the way he had conducted the
cross-examination of the maid.

"Ah, very good, very good indeed, Mr. Webster," he said rubbing
his hands together to express his satisfaction. "You tackled her
splendidly, and it was a somewhat awkward affair for the handsome
actress unless it had been cleared up. Very good-looking woman Miss
Kathleen Weir, though of course, that isn't her real name."

"Is it not?" answered Webster, trying not to show his eager interest.

"No, no, no; there's a bit of romance connected with Miss Weir's life
that, strange to say, I've been connected with for some years. She's
a married woman in fact; married to a certain Mr. John Temple, who is
a client of ours; but they are separated by mutual consent, and Mr.
Temple allows her a fair income to live on, but, of course, she does
not need it; I am told she commands high prices on the stage, but still
it is only right that Mr. John Temple should allow her something."

"Mr. John Temple," repeated Webster, quietly; "is that the man who
became heir to a large fortune not long ago, by the death of his young
cousin during a game of football?"

Mr. Harrison nodded his head.

"The very man, Mr. Webster! Yes, Mr. John Temple has been born under a
lucky star I think. He is now heir to his uncle Mr. Temple of Woodlea
Hall, a large land-owner, and a rich man to boot. But I have not told
Miss Kathleen Weir of this windfall; you see she might be setting up
claims that would annoy Mr. John Temple; asking for a larger allowance
perhaps, or even to take his name."

"To which I suppose she has a legal right?"

"Yes, unfortunately I fear so; nay it is so. In his hot young days you
see he was led away to hang a millstone round his neck, just like many
young men, and now, no doubt, he bitterly repents it. Ah, it's a great
mistake--a great mistake when a young fellow marries beneath him."

"No doubt, but, Mr. Harrison, I am keeping you from your work and must
no longer detain you. Thank you for answering my question, and now I
must say good-morning."

"Good-morning, Mr. Webster; very pleased to have seen you," and the
little man bustled about saying many pleasant things. But Webster soon
cut him short and went away. He had learned all that Mr. Harrison could
tell him.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A DISCOVERY.


Women in general have a strong interest in jewels, and in stories
connected with them, and Mrs. Temple of Woodlea was no exception to
this rule. Thus the day after Kathleen Weir's diamond case had been
decided she was reading it in the morning papers, when her husband's
nephew John Temple entered the breakfast-room.

He shook hands with her and then with his uncle in his usual pleasant
fashion, but had scarcely begun his breakfast when Mrs. Temple
commenced talking about the actress' diamonds.

"There is such a strange case in the papers this morning," she said,
addressing John Temple; "an actress, Kathleen Weir, has had her
diamonds stolen in a most extraordinary manner."

John Temple was in the act of helping himself to some toast from the
toast-rack as Mrs. Temple made the remark, and for a moment his hand
remained suspended, and a dusky wave of color rose to his face.

"Do you know her?" asked Mrs. Temple, quickly, instantly noticing these
signs of agitation.

"No," answered John Temple, a little huskily, and then he took the
toast, but left it untasted on his plate.

"Have they recovered the diamonds then?" asked the squire.

"No, I suppose not; her maid had taken them and substituted false ones
in the same settings. But here is the account; you had better read it."
And Mrs. Temple handed the newspaper to her husband.

John Temple said nothing; he began slowly eating his breakfast, but
apparently without appetite, and then he opened another newspaper and
turned to the column containing the trial of Margaret Johnstone for
diamond stealing.

"So," he said, a little scornfully, after he had read it, "this young
lady, Miss Kathleen Weir, seemingly was tired of some of her diamonds,
and wished to dispose of them?"

"Perhaps she was tired of the man who gave them to her?" replied Mrs.
Temple.

"Very likely," said John, with a little shrug of his shoulders; "of the
poor fool who perhaps impoverished himself to give her gauds."

"And then perhaps also tired of her?" retorted Mrs. Temple.

Again John Temple shrugged his shoulders and sat somewhat moodily
glancing over the newspapers, while his uncle's wife followed his
movements with her handsome dark eyes. He interested her, this
good-looking man who had taken her dead boy's place, and having him at
Woodlea made the house seem less dull. She had a strong craving for
excitement, and to her anything was better than the wearisome company
of her old husband. And she could not understand John Temple. He was
always gentle and friendly in his manner to her, but he was never
confidential. And this annoyed her. Unconsciously almost to herself she
was beginning to regard him with warmer feelings than she would have
cared to own. At all events she was jealous of him, and half-believed
that for his sake May Churchill had left her home.

So when breakfast was over, and the squire after his usual fashion had
retired to his library, Mrs. Temple went up to John, who was still
reading the newspapers, and lightly touched his shoulder.

"If the truth were known, sir," she said, smiling, "I believe you could
tell us something about Miss Kathleen Weir's diamonds."

Again a flush rose to John Temple's face, but this time it was an angry
one.

"What makes you say such a thing?" he answered quickly.

"Because I was watching you when you first heard of the robbery. Ah, my
nephew John, I fear you are not as good as you look."

"You have a most brilliant imagination, my handsome aunt!"

"Do not call me by that odious name! But perhaps I have more
discernment than you give me credit for."

"I gave you credit for every good quality; discernment among the rest."

Mrs. Temple nodded her head and stood by his side looking down at his
face. She saw he was more annoyed than he cared to show. And she knew
there must be some cause for this, for as a rule John Temple was very
even tempered. But she did not say anything more about the diamonds,
and after a moment or two she turned away, and John Temple was left to
his own reflections.

His expression changed after she left the room, and he frowned, stirred
uneasily, and once more read over the evidence given at Miss Kathleen
Weir's jewel case. And a bitter look came over his face as he did so; a
look of contempt and scorn, and flinging down the newspaper he went to
the window of the room, and stood looking out moodily at the wide park,
which one day would be his own.

"I have paid pretty heavily for a boy's folly," he muttered, "and some
day, my sweet flower, it may fall on you."

And this thought stung him sharply. He loved his Mayflower, as he
called her, with a true and passionate love, and he would have given
up almost anything for her sake. Her beauty, her tenderness, and her
devotion to himself had entirely won his heart. Before he had met May
Churchill he had been almost indifferent to the consequences of the
"boy's folly," which now galled him so deeply. But he little guessed
how near the shadow of it was stealing across his path.

Yet this knowledge came to him only a day later after the conversation
about the actress' demands had taken place between himself and his
uncle's wife. He went down to breakfast on this particular morning
rather earlier than usual, but the letters and newspapers had already
arrived, and placed near his usual seat at the table was a large letter
directed in the now well-known handwriting of Miss Webster.

He knew that this would contain an inclosure from May, and so he
quietly put the envelope into his pocket without any comment.

"More bills?" said Mrs. Temple, looking at him with a curious little
smile.

"I am afraid so," he answered, and his uncle glanced up at him over his
newspaper with some uneasiness in his expression as he spoke.

John Temple, however, did not seem at all disconcerted. He was always
glad to hear from May, and the very fact that he had a letter in his
pocket from her gave him a feeling of quiet happiness. He, therefore,
talked cheerfully during the rest of the meal, but as soon as it was
over he left the room, carrying his letters away with him, and Mrs.
Temple looked after him as he went.

Let us follow him upstairs to the small suite of rooms which had
been set apart for him by his uncle's wish. These consisted of a
sitting-room where he smoked, a bedroom adjoining, and a little
ante-room which had a stone balcony overlooking the park.

John Temple went into his sitting-room, which opened from a corridor,
and having pushed the door nearly close behind him, he pulled out his
letter and began reading May's fond tender words with a smile.

Then suddenly his face darkened.

"We have been all greatly interested," he read, "about a diamond
robbery, which, I dare say, you have seen in the newspapers. The maid
of the popular and, I believe, pretty actress, Miss Kathleen Weir, had
stolen her mistress' diamonds and substituted false ones instead of
them. How we came to hear so much about it is that Mr. Webster, the
nephew of the Miss Websters, was one of the barristers in the case for
the prosecution and Miss Kathleen Weir was so pleased by the way Mr.
Webster conducted it that she invited him to her house. He says she
is handsome and clever, but not exactly what he calls 'nice.' But all
the same I think he rather admires her, and their acquaintance seems
to progress, in spite of the alarm of his dear old aunts! Did you ever
see her? Some time when you are in town--and when is that dear time to
be?--you must take me to see her act."

John Temple went on frowning as he read these innocent words. Here was
a mine under his feet indeed! He knew the nature of Kathleen Weir; the
outspoken frank nature, that was just as likely as not to confide her
whole history to a stranger. What if she told of her early marriage
to this Webster, who might repeat it to his aunts? He had warned the
Misses Webster to keep his marriage to May a secret, and May did not
bear his name. Still in some moment the old ladies might reveal it to
their nephew, and then no one could tell where the mischief might end.

John Temple flung the letter on the table and began walking restlessly
up and down the room, thinking what it would be best to do. "She must
leave Pembridge Terrace at once," he decided. But then, how could this
be arranged? If he went up to town he might meet Webster, and May was
too young and girlish to go about house-seeking alone.

"That confounded woman," he thought bitterly of Kathleen Weir, "is
forever in my way."

He was full of impatience, chafing against fate and the mad folly
of his youth. The door of the bedroom beyond was standing open, and
farther still he could see from the balcony window of the ante-room a
green patch of the park. He went into this ante-room, opened the window
and stepped out on the balcony, still cursing his ill-luck. He did not
see, as he leaned over the balustrade, that someone had entered his
sitting-room, on the table of which the letter from May was lying open.

Yet this was so. Moved by curiosity, and a more subtle feeling still,
Mrs. Temple had followed him upstairs, shortly after he had left the
breakfast room. She sometimes--not often--went into his sitting-room
if she had anything that she wished particularly to say to him, and
something prompted her to go into it now. The door was very slightly
ajar, and she pushed it open and entered the room, and in a moment her
eyes fell on the open letter on the table.

She made a step forward and looked at it. Then she read the words with
which it commenced:

"My dearest, dearest John."

Her breath came fast, her heart beat quickly, and she put out her hand
as if to take it up, but glancing to the open bedroom door she saw John
Temple leaning on the balustrade of the ante-room balcony beyond, and
her hand shrank back.

But again she looked at the letter; looked at the address in Pembridge
Terrace, which was neatly printed on the paper. She noted this in an
instant, but as she did so John Temple turned his head, and Mrs. Temple
quickly moved back, and left the room, without his having ever been
conscious that she had been there.

But she had made a discovery; a discovery which filled her heart with
jealous anger. As she walked on to her room she decided in her own mind
that it was the missing girl, May Churchill, who had addressed John
Temple as "My dearest, dearest John."

"Shameful!" she thought, bitterly; "absolutely shameful; and what a
liar he is, but his uncle shall know--he shall bitterly repent the part
he has played."

She walked up and down her room in a state of the greatest excitement.
It seemed to her as if John Temple had done her some personal wrong,
which he certainly had not. She had allowed herself to be attracted
by him--to fill the waste in her heart--but he had never for a moment
forgotten she was his uncle's wife. He had pitied her in her grief
about her dead boy, and his manner was always gentle and kindly to
women, but he did not even admire her; she was too excitable, too
uncertain in her temper, for his taste.

"But I must bring it home to him," she now told herself; "it's no use
striking until I can bring it home--I will send for young Henderson."

She accordingly sat down at her desk and began a letter to Henderson.
At first she thought of asking him to the Hall, but afterward
remembered that this might look strange to her husband and John Temple.
No, she must meet him somewhere about the country, and she paused, pen
in hand, thinking where it should be.

She decided in a few minutes, and then addressed the following letter
to Henderson:

"DEAR MR. HENDERSON: Will you meet me to-morrow in the lane that leads
to the West Lodge, at half-past three o'clock? I shall be walking, as I
do not wish anyone to know of this appointment, and if I am not there
at the time I mention, it will only be that it is absolutely impossible
that I can manage to go. In that case I will go on the following
afternoon, at the same time. At last I have something to tell you on
the subject we talked of before; it is almost a certainty this time. In
haste, yours very truly,
                                                           "R. TEMPLE."

She took this letter with her own hands to the nearest village
post-office, not caring to place it among the other letters in the
post-bag lying on the hall table, and as she was returning from her
errand she encountered John Temple on the road, who was also going to
the post office.

Her face flushed deeply as she met him, and a scarcely repressible
feeling of anger rose in her heart; while John Temple, ignorant of the
cause, looked at her with his usually pleasant smile.

"So you are taking a walk?" he said.

She hardly answered him. She was a very passionate woman, and could not
hide her feelings. She stood looking at him, burning to accuse him of
what she deemed his treachery and deception.

"And are you," she said, presently, very bitterly, "carrying a letter
to some hidden lady-love; a letter that you do not wish the household
to see?"

John Temple was conscious that he slightly changed color.

"You are always accusing me of something or other," he said.

"Perhaps I have good cause," she retorted, with such marked emphasis
that John Temple felt somewhat uneasy.

"I hope not," he replied; "I have always done my best to avoid
offending you."

Mrs. Temple deigned to make no reply. She gave a little toss of her
head and walked on her way, and John went his, reflecting what a sad
thing it was for a woman to have a bad temper!

And all the rest of the day it was the same thing. When Mrs. Temple
spoke to him at all, it was either in taunting or bitter words. Her
husband even noticed this, and asked why she spoke thus to his nephew.

"You will soon learn," she answered, and the squire said nothing more.
He was accustomed to the changeful temper of his handsome wife, but all
the same he was sorry that her manner had changed to John Temple.

And the next morning, at breakfast, John noticed how restless she was.
There was some disturbing element in her mind he plainly saw, though
he had no idea it was caused by himself. He had, as we know, his own
anxieties and troubles, but he never dreamed of Mrs. Temple's being
connected with them.

In the meantime at Stourton Grange her letter had caused the strongest
excitement in young Henderson's breast, for she had discovered
something about May Churchill, he told himself; something connected
with Temple, no doubt. He waited impatiently until the time she had
appointed to meet him came, and then walked to the lane that led to the
West Lodge at Woodlea Hall. Here he waited nearly half an hour before
Mrs. Temple appeared. At last, however, he saw her, and went eagerly
forward to meet her.

"You got my letter?" said Mrs. Temple, as she shook hands with him.

"Yes, this morning," answered Henderson, quickly, and his brown face
flushed as he spoke. "You have something to tell me?"

Mrs. Temple gave a little scornful laugh.

"I have discovered, I think, where the beauty that all you men raved
about is hidden; but I must be sure," she said. "You guess what I mean?
A letter came for John Temple yesterday morning--a passionate love
letter--from this address," and as she spoke she drew out the address
that she had seen on May's letter to John, and placed it in Henderson's
hand. "I am almost sure this letter was from Miss Churchill."

"Did you see it?" asked Henderson, eagerly, and with quivering lips.

"I saw the first lines of it. It was lying open on a table in his room
when I went in, and I have no doubt it was from her. But I want you to
find out this; to go up to town and see this girl yourself--I mean to
watch the house until she comes out of it. Do not speak to her or call
upon her, or perhaps she would again disappear. But if what I believe
is true John Temple shall bitterly repent the gross deception he has
practiced on us all."

Henderson ground his strong white teeth together.

"And you believe," he said, hoarsely, "that--that May Churchill--is
anything to Temple?"

Mrs. Temple laughed bitterly.

"I believe she is everything to him," she answered. "The letter I saw
began, 'My dearest, dearest John.'"

A fierce oath broke from Henderson's lips.

"If I believed he had wronged this girl--" he began.

"He may have married her," replied Mrs. Temple, scornfully. "At all
events, if she wrote this letter there is no doubt of the connection
between them."

"Some other woman may have written it."

"That is what I want you to find out. Will you go to town to learn the
truth, and when?"

"I will go to-morrow; no, I will go to-night; I will be at the bottom
of this, and if it is as you think, Mr. Temple will find his mistake."

"Do not act like a fool, and get into any trouble about her. But find
out, and then write to me at once all particulars. If you see her,
follow her at a distance, and ask at the nearest shops what name she
goes by. Keep the address safe, and now good-by."

"I am not likely to lose the address," answered Henderson, sullenly, as
he placed it in his pocket-book. "Good-by, Mrs. Temple, I will let you
know what I find out, and then--"

"Do nothing until you have heard from me. Good-by; I believe now you
are on the right track."



CHAPTER XXIX.

MRS. JOHN.


Henderson parted from Mrs. Temple with every nerve in his body
throbbing with excitement. In spite of May Churchill's rejection of his
love, his unreasonable passion for her remained unchanged. There were
times when he felt he hated her; when he cursed her memory, and blamed
her for the undying remorse that overshadowed his soul. But for her, he
often told himself, the miserable girl who had loved him too well might
have been living still, and he himself free from the galling chains
held by his groom, Jack Reid.

But if he hated May, it was a sort of loving hatred, while his feelings
to John Temple were of the bitterest description. He believed but that
for Temple, May would ultimately have become his wife; and as he strode
down the lane, after parting with Mrs. Temple, he seemed to see again,
in his mental vision, John lying at May's feet in Fern Dene in the
early days of their first acquaintance.

And that he should have induced her to leave her home; that she was
writing to him in the terms described by Mrs. Temple, positively
seemed to madden him.

"But it may be some other woman," he told himself, as he had told Mrs.
Temple. But at all events he would find out, and on his return to the
Grange, to his mother's great surprise, and not a little alarm, he told
her he was about to start for London in a few hours.

Hidden anxiety and grief had wrought their baneful work now on Mrs.
Henderson's face. The terrible knowledge of her son's crime, the awful
dread of its punishment, were ever present in her mind. She had grown
old before her time, and watched Henderson with unceasing eyes of fear.

Thus when she heard of his sudden journey she could scarcely suppress
her nervousness. Henderson, too, was moody and reserved, and hurried on
his preparations for departure.

"Will you be long away?" inquired Mrs. Henderson.

"But a few days at most," he answered, and he told the same story to
his groom, Jack Reid.

"This is something sudden," said Reid, looking at him suspiciously.
It crossed the man's mind, indeed, that his master was about to leave
Stourton for a much longer time than he stated.

"I'll be back probably the day after to-morrow," said Henderson, with
affected carelessness; and Reid felt he could say nothing more, for he
had grown certainly more respectful in his manner to his master after
the episode of the shooting of Brown Bess.

"A man who would try his hand at that kind of thing might do it again,"
self-argued the groom; and Reid was not one who cared to be shot at if
he could help it.

So Henderson left Stourton, and having arrived in town, he went for
the night to an hotel, and the next morning drove in the direction of
the address which he had received from Mrs. Temple. And Fate actually
favored him, for quitting his cab before he reached Pembridge Terrace,
he walked up the terrace, and after passing Miss Webster's house for a
few yards he turned back again, and as he did so he saw, in a moment,
descending the steps in front of the house a figure and face that he
only remembered too well.

It was May Churchill, and closely following her came the prim, neat
form of Miss Eliza Webster. They opened the garden gate and then went
on the street, and Henderson was so near them that had May turned her
head she must have recognized him. But she was smiling and talking
to Miss Eliza, and never looked back, but Henderson distinctly saw
the face that had cost him so dear. He paused a minute or two, and
then slowly followed the two ladies before him. They went on to
Westbourne Grove, and into a large bonnet and hat shop at the corner
of the street. Henderson lingered outside at a little distance from
the shop, and after waiting about a quarter of an hour May and Miss
Eliza once more appeared, and turned their footsteps homeward. Again
Henderson followed them, his heart throbbing violently and his eyes
never leaving May's form. They went straight back to the address Mrs.
Temple had given him, and Henderson now knew Mrs. Temple's surmise had
been correct. John Temple had persuaded her to leave her home, and had
hidden her away, and Henderson could scarcely suppress the passionate
rage that swelled in his breast when he thought of it.

He was tempted to go on; to speak to May, and heap reproach on her
head. But he knew he had no right to do this. She might be John
Temple's wife, for anything he knew, and what good could his hard words
do? None, he felt. He might, he would, punish John Temple, but what
could he do to the girl? With a curse between his bitten lips he turned
away, and walking back to the shop he had seen May and Miss Webster
enter and leave, he went in under the pretense of buying a bonnet for
his mother.

"I want a bonnet for an old lady," he said to a pretty, smiling
shopwoman, adding immediately afterward: "Who were the two ladies who
have just been here--I saw them go out--a young lady and an old one?"

The pretty shopgirl smiled pertly, and instantly understood the motive
of the purchase of the bonnet for "an old lady," by this handsome
young man.

"You mean Mrs. John, I suppose, sir?" she said. "She is a very handsome
young lady, and it is astonishing how many gentlemen admire her and ask
about her, but she is certainly very pretty."

"And does she live near here?" inquired Henderson.

"She lives in Pembridge Terrace with the Misses Webster. She is a
newly-married lady, but I believe her husband is a good deal away. She
is a customer of ours, and is often in the shop."

"And her name is--"

"Mrs. John; rather a strange name, isn't it, sir?"

"Mrs. John," repeated Henderson, beneath his breath, but he did nothing
more. He understood it all now; she had run away with John Temple, and
was called Mrs. John, and he needed no further information.

He forgot all about the bonnet for his mother until the shopwoman
reminded him of it.

"Choose what you like," he said, "the lady is elderly--my mother--and a
widow."

"But does she wear a widow's bonnet, sir?"

"I think not," answered Henderson, indifferently. "Something dark and
good--what will it cost?"

This matter was soon settled. The shopwoman chose a bonnet, and
Henderson paid for it, and then drove back straight to his hotel. When
he arrived there he at once addressed the following letter to Mrs.
Temple:

"DEAR MRS. TEMPLE: You were quite right. May Churchill is living at
the address you gave me in Pembridge Terrace, and is called Mrs. John.
I saw her leave the house and go into a shop, accompanied by an old
woman. I went into the shop after they left it, and one of the girls
there told me that she--May--was a Mrs. John, and that she was a
newly-married woman, which I greatly doubt. I shall return to Stourton
to-day, and go to-morrow morning with my news to Woodside Farm. May's
father shall know how his daughter has been treated. And I remain,
                                            "Yours sincerely,
                                                       "T. HENDERSON."

This letter reached Woodlea Hall on the following morning, and when
the squire opened the letter-bag, as was his wont, he rose and placed
Henderson's letter in his wife's hand.

"Here is a letter from London for you, Rachel," he said.

Mrs. Temple's handsome face flushed, and then grew pale. She had not
expected to hear for a few days, at least, from Henderson, yet she
knew this letter was from him. She gave once glance of her dark eyes
at John Temple's face, who was sitting at his usual place at the
breakfast-table, and then without a word she rose and left the room,
carrying her letter in her hand.

But she was scarcely outside the door when she opened it. She read it
in the hall, and a hard and bitter look came over her expression as she
did so. She had been prepared for this news, yet it fell like a fresh
blow upon her heart. That subtle feeling, whose existence she would not
even admit, filled her with indignation against John Temple.

"He shall leave here and go to his Mrs. John," she whispered to herself
vindictively. "I will wait until Philip leaves the breakfast-room, and
then I shall go to him and tell him all. John Temple had better have
trusted me--now he shall have to pay the fullest price for his folly."

And she only waited until she heard her husband go, as he was
accustomed to do, into the library after breakfast before she descended
the staircase with Henderson's letter in her hand. She went direct
to the library and entered it, without knocking at the door, and the
squire who was sitting before his writing table looked up as she did so.

"Were you not well at breakfast, Rachel?" he said, kindly. "Or," he
added, noticing the expression of her face, "did anything in that
letter that you got vex you?"

"I was not ill," she answered, "but this letter confirmed some shameful
news that I have come to tell you about John Temple."

"Shameful news about John Temple!" repeated the squire, pushing back
his chair and looking straight at his wife's pale, determined face.

"At least I call it shameful," she went on, "to induce a country girl
to leave her home--a daughter of one of your own tenants--to deceive
you, his best friend. Philip, you remember the girl, May Churchill, who
ran away? I suspected at the time that John Temple had something to do
with it, and now I know. This girl is living at an address in London,
and is called there Mrs. John, and she writes to him here, and if she
is not married to him she ought to be--and I do not believe she is."

"I will never believe this!" said the squire, rising in great emotion,
his aged face growing pale. "What! John Temple wrong May Churchill; the
little girl I have known since she was a child; the daughter of a man
like Churchill, whom I respect, and who has lived on my land since he
was a lad, and his father before him! Rachel, what folly is this? Who
has been telling you this wicked, this insane story?"

"My own eyes told me first," answered Mrs. Temple, in a hard,
concentrated voice, "and every word that I have told you is true. Do
you remember when he used to get large letters which he said were from
some late landlady of his, and contained his unpaid bills? I suspected
at that time he was not speaking the truth, and a day or two after I
learned this was so. He got one of these large letters at breakfast,
and he put it in his pocket unread. I said at the time, 'more bills?'
and he answered, 'I am afraid so.' Well, after the breakfast was over,
I went upstairs, and passed his sitting-room door, and it was standing
ajar. I wanted to speak to him about going to call at Homelands, and I
went into the room. He was not there, but an open letter was lying on
the table. I went up to the table and read the first lines. It began:
'My dearest, dearest John.'"

"But what of that?" said Mr. Temple, angrily. "You had no right to read
or look at his letters for one thing, and for another, how could you
tell by whom this letter was written?"

"I looked at the printed address on the paper, and I remembered it,
and just at this moment I saw through the open bedroom door that John
Temple was on the balcony of the little ante-room beyond. So I turned
and left the sitting-room and he never knew that I had been there. Then
I considered what to do, for I was determined to bring this home to
him, and I suddenly remembered young Henderson of Stourton Grange--"

"What on earth had he to do with it?" interrupted the squire.

"He had been in love, was in love, like the rest of them, with this
girl," answered Mrs. Temple, scornfully, "and so I used him for my
purpose. He had spoken to me once about his suspicions that Miss
Churchill had eloped with John Temple, or rather that he had persuaded
her to run away from home, so that he might join her afterward. So I
wrote to ask Henderson to meet me--"

"You wrote to ask young Henderson to meet you?"

"Yes, what harm was there in that? I met him near the West Lodge for
a few minutes the day before yesterday, and I gave him the address I
had seen on Miss Churchill's letter to John Temple, and I asked him to
go up to town and find out the truth about this girl. He went the same
night, and this is the letter I received from him this morning."

She handed the squire Henderson's letter, with a trembling hand as she
spoke, and her husband's hand trembled also as he took it. Then he read
the words it contained, and a terribly shocked look came over his face.

"If this be true--" he said, with faltering lips.

"It is true," answered Mrs. Temple, positively. "Don't you remember she
ran away, and then after a week or so he said he was going abroad? He
went no doubt to join her; she was with him all those weeks abroad,
and then he must have brought her back to town, and no doubt would have
gone up from time to time to see her. The whole thing is perfectly
plain."

"Then in that case all I can say is that it is a shameful affair. Most
shameful--but he may have married her--probably has, and if he has not
done so, he must."

Mr. Temple went hastily to the bell of the room and rang it as he
spoke, and when the footman answered it, he said sharply and distinctly:

"Ask Mr. John Temple to come here at once; tell him I wish to see him."

The footman disappeared with his message, and Mrs. Temple stood still.
She was excited, pale, and determined, and she did not flinch when she
heard John Temple's step outside the door.

Then he entered and looked at his uncle.

"You wish to see me, Johnson says," he began, but something in the
squire's face told him it was no ordinary message that he had received.

"Yes," answered the squire, "I wish to see you, for I have just heard
a tale which, if it be true, will make me bitterly regret that I ever
asked you under my roof."

"And what is it?" asked John Temple, and he drew himself up to his full
height.

"It is that you induced the young girl May Churchill to leave her
home; that you took her abroad with you, and that she is now living in
London, I presume, under your protection, and is called Mrs. John. Now
answer, is this true?"

A dark wave of color spread to John Temple's very brows.

"Who has told you this?" he said, looking steadily at his uncle.

"My wife has just told me," answered the squire. "It seems she
suspected this, and she saw a letter lying on your table bearing a
certain address in town. She told young Henderson of this, who it seems
is, or was once, a lover of this poor girl's, and she gave him the
address, and this is the letter she has received this morning."

The squire handed Henderson's letter to John Temple as he spoke, and
John read it through and then laid it down quietly on the writing-table
before him.

"A truly honorable transaction altogether, I must say," he said,
scornfully, fixing his gray eyes on Mrs. Temple's face.

"It is true," she answered defiantly.

"True or false, it was an action that I thought no gentlewoman could
have been guilty of. What, to send one man to watch and spy on another
man's actions; to read a letter not intended for your eyes! I could not
have believed you capable of such conduct."

Mrs. Temple's eyes fell before John's reproaches, and a vague feeling
crept into her heart that she had left her work undone.

"It is useless to talk thus," said the squire, with some dignity of
manner; "my wife should not have read your letter, and I have told her
so, but this does not alter the matter. You have not denied this grave
charge, and if you have done this girl any wrong--a girl I have known
since her childhood--you must undo that wrong as far as lies in your
power. I mean you must marry her, if you have not already done so."

John Temple made no answer to this; he stood there facing his uncle,
and Mrs. Temple watched him fugitively.

"Have you married her, or have you not?" urged the squire.

"I decline to answer that question," then said John Temple. "But you
said you had regretted that you had asked me to stay under your roof.
You need regret it no longer, for I will leave to-day."

"But your leaving will not undo the wrong that you have done. Think
for a moment who this poor girl is, the daughter of one of my oldest
and most respected tenants; a beautiful girl, of blameless character
hitherto, who perhaps in her foolish love for you has wrecked her young
life. John, you are my nephew, you are my heir, and I entreat you to
act now as an honorable man should do, and make her your wife."

Still John Temple made no promise.

"You have read in that letter," continued the squire, pointing to
Henderson's open letter lying on the writing-table, "how this young man
is going to her father. Can you suppose that a respectable man like
Churchill will, for a moment, sit down tamely under such an insult? No,
you will have to answer to him for your conduct, as well as to me."

But at this moment a rap came to the room door, and the squire paused.

"Come in," he called, and the footman entered.

"If you please, sir," he said, addressing the squire, "Mr. Henderson,
of Stourton Grange, and Mr. Churchill have called, and wish very
particularly to see you."

"Where are they?" asked the squire.

"In the hall, sir," replied the footman.

"You can show them in here," said the squire, and he looked at John
Temple as he spoke.

But John Temple made no sign; he had grown a little pale, and that was
all.



CHAPTER XXX.

JOHN TEMPLE LEAVES WOODLEA.


A minute later Henderson and Mr. Churchill entered the room.
Henderson's face was flushed a dusky red, but Mr. Churchill's looked
pale, angry, and determined. He gave a quick, sharp glance around, and
then advanced toward the squire, who gravely held out his hand, which,
however, his tenant scarcely touched.

"I've come on unpleasant business, Mr. Temple," he said, quickly; and
then he looked at John Temple.

"You mean about--" began the squire in faltering tones.

"I mean about my daughter, sir! This gentleman," and he turned to
Henderson, "has come to me this morning with a fine tale; he says my
girl is living in London, and that your nephew has placed her there."

For a moment or two no one spoke. Mr. Churchill was looking indignantly
at John Temple, and the dark flush on Henderson's face had deepened,
while his eyes also were fixed with an angry scowl on Temple.

"John," said the squire, in a firmer voice, after a brief silence; "you
hear what Mr. Churchill says; is this charge true or false?"

John Temple looked slowly round at each man in turn.

"I decline to answer any questions on the subject," he said, in a
clear, firm voice.

"But I've a right to ask questions on the subject, sir!" almost shouted
Mr. Churchill, angrily. "This girl, my daughter, disappeared from her
home and nothing has been heard of her since; and now I hear she is
writing to you in a way that if she isn't married to you she ought to
be."

"I admit your right to ask questions, Mr. Churchill," answered John
Temple, still firmly; "but I have no right to betray the secrets of
others. And if this spy," and his eyes kindled, and he stretched out
his arm in the direction of Henderson, "has already told you so much,
he had better tell you more."

"You dare to call me a spy, sir!" cried Henderson, in a voice hoarse
with passion.

"Yes, and something worse," answered John Temple, fiercely; "because
this young lady rejected your insolent advances--advances which were an
insult to her from a man like you; a man who had betrayed and broken
another woman's heart, and then, as I believe there is a God above us,
murdered her--!"

For an instant Henderson turned ghastly pale, as this terrible
accusation reached his ears, and then, with a scream of rage, he sprang
forward and struck John Temple a violent blow on the chest. But he had
met his match. For the next moment a swift, hammer-like thud from
John's clenched fist hit his brow, and he reeled back, and striking his
head as he did so against the sharp corner of the writing table, he
fell heavily on the floor.

Mrs. Temple gave a cry, and both Mr. Temple and Mr. Churchill ran
forward to his assistance. They lifted up his head, but he was
seemingly unconscious, and a sudden fear darted into the squire's heart.

"He--is not dead," he said, falteringly.

"What matter if he is?" said John Temple, still fiercely; and then
without another word he turned and left the room, while the others
raised Henderson on a couch, and Mrs. Temple violently rang the bell
for further help.

In the meantime John Temple had gone to his own rooms, and for a moment
stood there, panting still from his recent encounter, thinking how he
should act. But his hesitation was very brief. He would go to May; in
her hands alone now lay the course of their future lives.

"If she loves me as I love her, we shall not part," he thought; "the
world is wide."

This was his decision, and he quickly acted on it. He pulled out a
portmanteau, and was thrusting into it some things that he would
require, when a rap sounded at his sitting-room door, and the next
moment Mrs. Temple, pale and excited, entered the room.

In a second she saw the preparations for his departure.

"You are going away?" she said, quickly.

"Do you think I would stay?" he answered, scornfully.

Mrs. Temple made no answer; she stood there looking at him, and a
strange revulsion of feeling swept through her breast.

"I--I do not want to drive you away," she said.

"Yet you have done so," answered John Temple, looking up at her, for he
was kneeling on the ground, packing his portmanteau. "But for you this
never would have happened."

Mrs. Temple's tall form swayed restlessly, and her pale, handsome face
quivered.

"I hated to think," she said, with sudden passion, "of your degrading
yourself so."

"I have not done so," replied John Temple, rising to his feet and
looking at her steadily.

"You have! This girl should have been nothing to you, nothing! And if
in some hour of madness you had been betrayed into any folly, if you
had trusted me I would have helped you if I could."

"I have been betrayed into nothing," answered John, coldly; "whatever I
have done is by my own will."

Mrs. Temple began walking restlessly up and down the room, and then she
suddenly stopped before John.

"You came here," she began; "you took my boy's place--"

"You know how deeply I grieved for you," said John Temple; "in
everything I wished to consider you."

"Yet you made love to this girl--this girl, a farmer's daughter, whose
brothers were playing in the fatal game when my boy was killed! One of
them may have been his murderer; was I believe; and this is how you
showed your consideration for me!"

"Mrs. Temple, this is unreasonable."

"What is she to you? Answer this question at least; is she your wife?"

"As I told them down-stairs, I will betray no one's secrets without
their leave."

"If she is, you need never bring her here! You heard what your uncle
said about your marrying her, but I will not receive her here."

"You shall never be asked to do so, nor will I ever return. What my
uncle said was worthy of him--the words of a good man, whom I most
heartily like and respect--but I will trouble you with my presence here
no more."

Again Mrs. Temple began those restless pacings up and down the floor;
in her anger she had done what she did not wish to do--driven John
Temple away--and now she was sorely repenting her own action.

"And there is one thing I wish to say before I go," continued John
Temple, "that I thank you for all your kindness to me while I have
been here. I came to your house under most painful circumstances, but
you over-looked this--"

"Do not go!" broke in Mrs. Temple, impetuously; "at least, not yet; let
us think what can be done, what it will be best to do."

"I know what it is best for me to do," answered John Temple, who was
now in the act of locking the small portmanteau he meant to carry away
with him, "and that is to leave Woodlea at once--good-by, Mrs. Temple."

He did not offer her his hand, but she took it almost against his will,
and held it.

"I have been so lonely," she said, in a broken voice; "so miserably
lonely--and now I will be more lonely still."

John Temple made no answer to this appeal.

"Bid good-by to my uncle for me," he said, "as I do not care, in my
present temper, to encounter again those two men down-stairs."

"What if you have killed Henderson? They were sending for the doctor
for him as I came upstairs."

"If I have I can not say I shall deeply regret it, and I am ready to
answer for this, as for the rest. But not he! A brute like that is not
killed by a blow on the head; and now once more good-by."

He was gone before she could speak again, and Mrs. Temple sat down and
looked around the desolate rooms. She had admired him during the last
half-hour; admired his bravery and independence.

"After all he had a right to choose a woman he liked best," she
thought; "but it is a terrible mistake. A man who marries a woman of
inferior birth and position always repents it--and with such relations!"

After awhile, however, she pulled herself together, and went
down-stairs, and when she entered the library she found the village
doctor there, as well as her husband and Mr. Churchill.

Henderson was lying on the couch ghastly pale, with a handkerchief
bound around his head, and still insensible, and the doctor was
bending over him holding his wrist.

Then when the squire saw his wife, he stepped back toward her and
half-whispered in her ear:

"Where is John Temple?" he said.

"He is gone," she answered, "and he says he will never return."

Mr. Temple upon this beckoned to Mr. Churchill.

"Mrs. Temple says my nephew has left the house, Mr. Churchill," he said.

"Then I'll follow him," answered the farmer, sturdily; "you have told
me, squire, that if he has not already done my girl justice that you
wish him and authorize him to do so?"

"Most certainly," replied Mr. Temple; "I am ready and wishful to
receive your daughter as his wife."

"I thank you, sir, with all my heart. Will you give me the address,
madam, where she is, for all this has well-nigh put it out of my head,"
he added, addressing Mrs. Temple, "and I'll go up to London to-night,
or to-morrow at latest."

Mrs. Temple went to the writing-table without a word, and wrote down
Miss Webster's address in Pembridge Terrace, which she remembered only
too well, and handed it to Mr. Churchill.

"Thank you kindly, madam," he said, "and now, as the doctor's here,
and the squire, I think I'll go, as I leave Mr. Henderson in such
good hands, and I have my missus to consult a bit, and some business
to see about before I can get off to London. Good-morning, madam;
good-morning, squire."

So Mr. Churchill went away, but he was scarcely gone when Mrs. Layton
rushed hastily into the room. She had heard a report somehow that there
had been a quarrel between young Henderson and John Temple, and that
the doctor had been sent for, so she had hurried up to the Hall to see
and hear all about it.

"What is this, Rachel!" she cried, looking at the prostrate figure on
the couch. "Whatever has happened?"

Mrs. Temple shrugged her shoulders.

"It means a fight," she said, scornfully, "and there is the fallen
one!" And she pointed to Henderson.

"But what on earth did they quarrel about?" asked Mrs. Layton, eagerly.

"The village beauty," answered Mrs. Temple, still more scornfully; "it
seems my nephew, John Temple, had run away with Miss Churchill, and his
uncle has given his consent to his marriage with her, so we may expect
her here."

"What!" almost screamed Mrs. Layton.

"Rachel," said the squire in grave reproof, "is this a way in which to
speak of a most painful affair? If John Temple did induce this young
lady to leave her home, as you say he did, he is bound in honor to make
her his wife."

"To make Margaret Churchill his wife!" screamed Mrs. Layton. "Why,
squire, you must be mad to dream of such a thing!"

The squire gave a contemptuous bow.

"You may have your ideas, madam," he said, "and I have mine. I have
told you what mine are, and in my own house. I'll see they are
respected."

Mrs. Layton's face fell; the squire might be mad, was mad to talk thus,
but still he was the master of the house from which so many good things
went to the vicarage, and she could not afford to quarrel with him.

"Of course, I did not mean that," she began, but with another bow Mr.
Temple left the room, and Mrs. Layton was alone with her daughter,
except for the presence of the doctor and the unconscious Henderson,
who were quite at the other end of it.

"Did I not tell you long ago," hissed Mrs. Layton in her daughter's
ear, "what this John Temple was? A viper, a scorpion, and now he's
turned and stung you! Oh! that I should ever live to see that upstart
here! Margaret Churchill indeed!"

"She's not here yet," answered Mrs. Temple, bitterly; "ten to one John
Temple will never marry her--why should he?"



CHAPTER XXXI.

TOO BITTER TO BE BORNE.


It was still very early in the day when John Temple left Woodlea, in a
state of strong though suppressed excitement. It had come so suddenly,
this discovery, this exposure, that he had dreaded far more on May's
account than his own. But he must face the situation; he told himself
this as he strode across the dewy park, as he went on with rapid steps
toward the nearest railway station.

He looked at his watch; there was a train passed for the south at a
quarter past eleven o'clock, and he made up his mind to endeavor to
reach the station in time to travel by this. He had not a moment to
spare. On he went with a pale, set face and compressed lips, running
a race, as it were, with the train. And as he entered the station the
engine puffed up on the metals outside. But John Temple was known to
the station-master, and when he called out for a ticket to London, the
station-master told him to hurry on the platform, and that he would
follow with the ticket.

All this happened so quickly that John Temple had little time to think.
It was not until he found himself actually in the train, speeding on
his way to town, that he began quite to realize what was before him.

"Poor May, my poor, sweet May!" he almost groaned. For well he knew
that the news he was bearing her would well-nigh break her heart. And
he could not now keep it from her. Her father was certain now to find
her, and the only thing in John's favor was that he had the start of
him. There was not another train south for some hours, and in the
meanwhile John determined to see May, to try to induce her to seek a
new home in another land.

"We can go to Australia," he told himself; "who is to know anything
there? and I have enough to live on, and as for Woodlea, what is that
to my poor, poor girl?"

But it was a terrible task that he had before him, and he shrank from
it with utter loathing.

"Why was I so weak?" he muttered. "I should have told her the truth. I
was led away by her beauty, by her love, and went drifting on, and now
she must know everything. But if she loves me best of all it may still
come right."

He tried to buoy himself up with this idea. He thought of May's
tenderness; her devotion, and remembered how she had told him hers was
"the love that can not change." The test had come; the bitter test she
had never dreamed of, and he had to face the most painful ordeal of his
life.

All too soon it seemed to him he saw the smoke of the great city; all
too soon he was speeding through tunnels, and being carried rapidly
over housetops. Then came the rush and hurry of a great terminus. John
Temple had reached his destination, and as he entered a cab and told
the driver to convey him to Miss Webster's house in Pembridge Terrace,
it was with a sinking heart and faltering tongue.

In the meanwhile at Pembridge Terrace everything seemed as quiet and
peaceable as usual. Yet there was secret anxiety in the hearts of the
two kind women of the house. For there had been something in their
nephew's manner during his visits of late that had certainly alarmed
them. Ralph Webster had in truth been so restless, so unlike himself,
that they could not understand him. He was indeed in a state of mind
most unusual to his strong and determined nature, for he knew not how
to act. His duty and sense of right urged him one way he told himself,
and then, when he looked on May's sweet, happy face he felt it almost
impossible for him to be the one who could strike her so dire a blow.

But of one thing he had no doubt, which was the certainty of John
Temple's early marriage to Kathleen Weir. He had even gone to the
city church she had named and examined the register of the ill-suited
marriage which had ended so disastrously. He had seen Kathleen Weir
since his interview with Mr. Harrison, the solicitor, but he had not
told her that Mr. Harrison knew of the identity of the John Temple who
had married her, and paid her a yearly allowance, and the John Temple
who had become the heir of the Woodlea property through the death of
his young cousin.

He had left this point in doubt purposely, thinking it might hasten the
catastrophe if it were known for the unhappy girl who in his eyes had
been so shamefully deceived. But the actress seemed determined to learn
the truth.

"Very likely the old fox is keeping it back," she said; "he would be
sure I should want more money if I knew, and Dereham was so positive
about the matter. What do you think it would be best for me to do? To
write to Mr. Harrison himself, or send a letter to John Temple through
him; for, of course, he knows his address?"

"I should do nothing immediately, I think," answered Ralph Webster, and
the handsome actress looked at him and wondered what was his motive as
he spoke.

"I don't want to see him, mind," she continued; "to see him now would
be as disagreeable to me as no doubt to him; it's a mere matter of
money, nothing more."

"Yes, of course. Well, I'll try to find out all about it for a
certainty in the course of a few days; and now I must go, for I
promised to dine with my aunts in Pembridge Terrace this evening," and
Webster rose and held out his hand as he spoke.

"What a wonderfully attentive nephew you are!" said Kathleen Weir, also
rising, with a light laugh. "Do you know I'm beginning to believe there
is something behind these two respectable old ladies? A pretty cousin,
eh? Or, perhaps, even a housemaid?"

Webster's dark face colored.

"There is no cousin," he answered; "and as far as I remember the
housemaid is a remarkably plain-featured young woman, so you see you
are wrong."

"It's like my interest in John Temple then, a mere matter of money,"
smiled the actress, showing her white teeth. "Ah, well, my friend, such
is life!"

"Such, indeed," thought Webster, bitterly, as he descended the stone
flight of steps that led to Miss Kathleen Weir's flat; "here is a
tragedy and a comedy combined."

He did really dine with his aunts, and it was during the evening that
both Miss Margaret and Miss Eliza became convinced that, as they
expressed it, he had "something on his mind." His dark, resolute eyes
lingered on the sweet face opposite him, and his usually fluent tongue
was seldom heard. He went away early, and he went away as irresolute
how he should act as when he arrived.

"Ralph doesn't look well," said Miss Margaret, as the door closed
behind him.

"No, indeed," sighed Miss Eliza.

"And how silent he was!" smiled May.

But the day after this visit, the very next day, she knew what had made
him silent and sad. It was a dreary day, dull, and at times wet, and
during the afternoon, about four o'clock, Miss Margaret, Miss Eliza,
and May were all sitting in the dining-room at Pembridge Terrace,
where a cheery fire helped to exclude some of the gloom outside. Miss
Margaret was knitting, Miss Eliza reading a novel, and May seemingly
reading a novel, but really thinking of John Temple. The sound of a cab
stopping at the door, however, interrupted all their occupations.

"Can that be Ralph?" said Miss Margaret, looking up.

May also looked up and turned her head so that she could see out of the
window, and the next moment rose with a glad cry.

"It's John!" she said, and as she spoke she ran out of the room into
the hall, just as John Temple was entering it.

"John! dear John!" she cried, and without a word he took her in his
arms and pressed her, nay crushed her, against his breast.

"John!" again May murmured, and then she raised her head and looked in
his face.

It was pale and agitated, and he spoke no word. And as she looked
at him he pressed his lips on hers and something in his expression,
something even in his touch, with the swift and subtle knowledge of
love, thrilled her heart with sudden fear.

"Is anything the matter?" she whispered. "John, are you ill?"

"I am not very well," he answered, slowly and painfully.

"Oh, I'm so sorry--how long have you been ill?" asked May, anxiously.

"I am only tired, I think; I will tell the driver of the cab to stop--I
want you to go out with me for a little while, May."

"Yes, of course, but first come in and rest," answered May, uneasily,
for his manner was so strange.

John Temple went down the steps to speak to the driver, and May stood
at the open door watching him. Then he reascended the steps, and she
shut the door behind him and put her arm through his, and together
they entered the dining-room where Miss Webster and Miss Eliza were
standing, full of expectation and excitement.

"John is not very well, Miss Webster," said May, a little tremulously;
"I think he wants nursing and being taken care of."

"Oh! I'm so sorry," said the two kind ladies, almost with one breath.

"It is nothing," answered John, nervously, as he shook hands with them;
"I am tired, that is all."

"You must have some wine or some tea. You must stay to dinner, of
course?" the next moment suggested hospitable Miss Webster.

"Thanks, I will take a glass of wine," answered John, "but I will not
stay to dinner; I am going to take May out to dine with me."

Both the sisters protested against this, but John Temple was firm, and
after he had taken his wine he looked at May, and asked her to get
ready to go out with him. May rose at once to obey his wish, but she
still felt uneasy. John was not like himself; his smile was strained,
his very voice was different.

"Something is worrying him dreadfully, I am sure," she told herself
as she hurried on her hat and cape, and when she turned to the
sitting-room and told John she was ready, to her surprise John put out
his hand to take leave of Miss Webster.

"But you'll bring May back; we will see you, then?" said Miss Webster,
also surprised.

"Oh! yes, I forgot," answered John, and then he led May to the cab,
and, having placed her in it, took his seat by her side.

May slid her little hand into his as the horse started.

"John, I am sure something is vexing you," she said, tenderly and
anxiously, looking at his half-averted face; "have you any bad news to
tell me?"

"I have some news," he answered, with an effort.

"Is it bad news?" urged May.

"I can not tell you here; wait until we get to the hotel--I will tell
you then."

"But John--"

"Hush, hush, dear; you will hear it soon enough."

He spoke huskily, almost hoarsely, and he turned away his head from
her tender gaze. After this they drove on almost in silence until they
reached the Grosvenor Hotel, where John usually stayed when he was in
town. When he arrived there he ordered rooms and dinner, and then when
they were alone May once more looked at him questioningly.

"Tell me now, John, what is it?" she asked.

"May--" began John, and then he paused, absolutely unable to find words
to tell her the truth.

"Oh! do tell me, John!" she prayed, and she laid her hand beseechingly
on his arm.

Then he looked at her, and there was great pain in his eyes and on his
pale face.

"I should rather be dead--I swear it, though you may not believe
it--than say to you what I am forced to say to-day."

"Oh! you frighten me! What can it be?" cried May.

"Do you remember when--when I went away and left you, May," went on
John Temple, in a broken voice; "when I wrote to you and told you that
you were to be quite sure of your feelings toward me if I were to be
anything more to you; when I told you that I believed that if two
people truly loved each other that nothing should part or change them?"

"I remember," answered May, lifting her head and looking with steadfast
eyes in his face, "when you wrote that there were other feelings
between men and women besides the love that can not change, and that I
was to question my heart. I did--I told you then my love could never
change, and now I tell you again--it can never change."

"My darling!"

He caught her to his breast, he kissed her eyes, her lips, her brow,
and then in hurried, agitated words he tried to tell her all.

"May, I loved you then, and I love you now, how dearly none but my own
heart can tell--but I should have told you the truth. I told you there
were obstacles to our marriage, and that it must be a secret one, and
you agreed to this. Our secret is now known. Mrs. Temple, my uncle's
wife, it seems, saw one of your letters to me, and she actually sent
that brute, young Henderson, up to town to spy on you. He saw you enter
Miss Webster's house, and he went back and told your father."

"Oh! John!" cried May.

"My uncle sent for me this morning, and questioned me, but I would tell
him nothing; and while I was with him your father and young Henderson
arrived at the Hall. Your father asked me if I were married to you, and
I refused to tell him also, and then when Henderson spoke I called him
a murderer and a spy. He sprang at me and struck me, but with one blow
I sent him reeling to the floor, and when I left Woodlea he had not
recovered his senses."

May gave a sort of cry.

"And--and what followed?" she gasped out.

"Then I left Woodlea. I was determined to see you first before I said a
word to one of them--for, May, it was not for fear of my uncle's anger
that I wished our marriage to be a secret one--but there was another
reason--"

"Another reason?" echoed May, with fast whitening lips.

"Yes, when I was a boy, a mere lad at least, I met a woman older than
myself; a woman who took advantage of my boyish infatuation, and led me
on to do what I have cursed ever since I met you. May, do not look so
white! My dear one, this need not, shall not, part us. Our love is too
deep and strong for a tie, broken years ago, to come between us. But in
an hour of madness, I married--"

May started back as if she had received a sudden blow.

"I married," went on John Temple, nerving himself to speak the words,
"the actress, Kathleen Weir--"

But he said no more; May's lips parted, she gasped as if for breath,
and then as John Temple caught her in his arms she sank senseless on
the floor.

"My God! has it killed her!" he cried in sudden anguish, looking at
her white and clammy face. He lifted her up, he placed her on a couch,
he rang the bell wildly for assistance. But May lay like one dead. One
arm fell motionless at her side; John grasped her wrist and could feel
no pulsation. Again he rang madly at the bell, and this time it was
answered.

"The lady has fainted!" he cried to the astonished waiter. "Bring
water, brandy--send some of the women here, and get a doctor at once."

In a few minutes several people were in the room, and some of the
female servants began bathing May's brow and hands with water, while
John Temple tried to wet her lips with the spirits they had brought
him. He knelt down at her side; he called her by every endearing name,
but still May made no sign. Then a doctor hurried in and proceeded to
use remedies to revive the senseless girl. And at last, with faint,
gasping sighs, a tinge of color stole back to the white face, and
presently May opened her eyes.

"My dearest, my darling, are you better now?" whispered John Temple,
bending over her, and holding one of her cold hands fast in his.

May tried to speak, but no words came from her pale lips.

"Do not crowd round her," said the doctor, looking up; "let her have
plenty of air."

Those standing near fell back, but John Temple did not stir.

"Did the attack come on suddenly, sir?" asked the doctor, addressing
John.

"Yes," he answered slowly.

"Ah, well, she will be better presently. Try to swallow this, madam; it
will do you good."

May tried to swallow the restorative the doctor held toward her, and
its effect was soon visible. It brought back memory--infinite pain! She
looked at John Temple, and he saw she was remembering his words. He
bent closer to her; he whispered that nothing should ever part them; he
asked her for his sake to get well; and the doctor, watching her face,
slightly touched John Temple on the shoulder.

"I will give you some directions," he said, and as John rose, he drew
him to one side of the room.

"She must not be excited," he said; "as far as I can judge, this attack
has been brought on by some mental shock. Is there any tendency to
heart affection?"

"I know of none," answered John, with quivering lips.

"Is she your wife?"

"Yes."

"Well, keep her very quiet for the next few hours, and do not talk to
her of anything that would be likely to disquiet her. Are you staying
here?"

"Yes," again answered John, briefly.

"I will look in this evening then. For the present, everyone but
yourself is best out of the room. But be sure you keep her quiet."

Then he gave some further directions, and finally left the room, and
presently John and May were once more alone. She lay quite still, but
that terrible look of pain never left her face. John went and sat by
her, and took her hand, but he dare not talk to her after what the
doctor had said. And so the time passed on, and after an hour or so,
May herself broke the silence.

"John," she said in a feeble voice, "I have something to say to you."

"What is it, my darling? But you had best not talk of anything just
now."

"I want to say--I can not go back to Pembridge Terrace," went on May,
still in those faltering accents; "I can not see my father."

"You shall not, May--I swear you shall not! This was why I brought you
away. You shall see no one, and we will go to Australia together; go
anywhere you like, and you shall be my own dear wife always; my own
sweet, dear wife."

A faint shudder ran through May's frame.

"Nothing shall ever part us, May," continued John Temple, and once more
he knelt down by her side and took both her hands in his. "We could not
live apart."

May looked in his face with strange wistfulness, and a quiver passed
over her pale lips, and then she drew John's hand closer to her.

"We could not live apart," she murmured, and then she sighed.

"We will not, but I want to spare you all possible annoyance and worry,
May. When you feel a little better, I think it would be best for me to
drive over to Miss Webster's, and tell her that as you are not feeling
very well, you are not going to return there this evening, and that
to-morrow you are going away for a few days with me, I will ask them to
give me what you will require, and I will not tell them where you are;
or rather I shall not give them the right address. Thus, if your father
goes there to-morrow, he will not find you, and to-morrow I think we
had better cross to France, and we can settle our future plans there,
out of the way of everyone. What do you think of this?"

May lay silent for a moment or two; then she said, slowly:

"Yes, John, that will be best; you had best go now."

"But are you well enough for me to leave you? I do not like leaving
you."

Again May sighed wearily, and then raised herself up and put her arms
around his neck.

"You had better go," she said; "and--and John, will you remember
that--that I will always love you!"

"I am sure of it; you give me fresh life, May--well, then, good-by,
though I shall soon be back."

Their lips met in one long, tender, clinging kiss, and then John Temple
reluctantly left her. But on the whole his mind was somewhat relieved.
She had borne it better than he expected; at all events she had said
they could not live apart.

But scarcely had the door of the room closed behind him when a great
change came over May's face. There came over it despair--blank, bitter
despair. She sat up and thought. She put her hand to her brow.

"I can not bear it," she said, half-aloud; "it is too hard to bear."

She remembered all her sweet love-dream in these brief moments;
remembered John Temple standing with her in the moonlit garden of
Woodside; remembered his looks, the touch of his dear hand! And it had
been all folly! He, the husband of another woman, must have known she
could never be his wife. He had been amusing himself; she had been his
plaything; what else could she be now?

"I can but die," she thought; "I could not live without him--I will
die, and then he will know I loved him to the end."

She rose and tottered to her feet. She felt a great bodily weakness as
though every nerve were unstrung. The restorative the doctor had left
was standing on the table, and she drank some of this, and it seemed to
give her strength. Her hat was lying near her, and she put it on and
tried to walk feebly across the room. She had no plans, but somehow she
thought of the river gliding through the great city, and hiding dark
sin and sorrow beneath its murky flood.

"It would hide me," she murmured; "hide my shame forever."

She opened the room door and went out on the corridor, and then walked
feebly down the broad staircase. No one stopped her or interfered with
her, and in a few moments she reached the hall. One of the servants
here came forward and asked her if she required a cab. But she shook
her head, and went down the steps into the lighted streets, alone with
her broken heart.



CHAPTER XXXII.

DESPAIR.


The noise and glare outside almost overwhelmed May as she went
tottering feebly on. She knew not which way to turn, and felt that her
weary feet would not bear her much farther. She stopped and looked
half-dazed around. And as she did so a lamplight fell on her white and
haggard face, showing it plainly to a man who was just about to pass
her when she paused. This was Ralph Webster, but he did not recognize
her. This pale-faced, miserable looking woman, whose features somehow
reminded him of the beautiful, blooming girl he had seen last night at
his aunt's house, however, interested him. He, too, stopped after he
had passed her, and looked back. She was beckoning for a cab, and a
moment later one drew up.

The driver bent forward and asked her where she wished to go. The woman
Webster was watching hesitated, got slowly into the cab, and then he
heard her voice. He started; it was the voice of May, and the words she
uttered sounded strange and ominous to his ears.

"Take me to one of the bridges," she said.

"Which one, miss?" inquired the driver.

Once more there was a pause before the answer came. Then again he heard
May's voice.

"Westminster," she said, and in an instant--swift as a flash of
lightning--it darted across Ralph Webster's acute brain that this
actually might be May Churchill; that she might have learned the secret
of which he was but too sure!

He made a hasty step toward the cab, but as he did so it started. But
Webster was not a man to hesitate with such a doubt on his mind. At
once he, too, hailed a cab, and bade the driver follow the one before
him at his utmost speed.

"To Westminster Bridge," he called as he leaped in, "and do not lose
sight of the cab before us."

The driver nodded and the race began. It was easy enough at first, but
in the more crowded parts it was very difficult. One hansom cab is so
like the other that to keep one particular cab in view was no easy
task. The driver, however, did his best, but, unhappily, a slight block
stopped them for a minute or two. Webster sat burning with impatience,
but there was nothing for it but to wait. At last they were off again,
and at last, too, they came in sight of the bridge. Then when they
reached it Webster sprang out of the cab, and flung half a sovereign to
the driver.

"Wait for me here," he said; "I may want you again."

Then he went on along the footpath, and, halfway across the bridge,
he saw another cab drawn up at one side of the roadway, and as he
approached this cab the driver beckoned to a passing policeman, and for
a moment Webster paused to listen to what he said.

"I say!" called the cabman, "there's a lady just got out of this 'ere
cab that I think ye'd best look after. She looked uncommon queer, and
she told me to drive to one of the bridges; I wish she may not be after
some mischief or other."

"Which way did she go?" asked the policeman, interested.

"Straight ahead, and she'd a wild, dazed look I didn't like."

Webster listened no longer. With swift steps he walked on, peering
around him as he went. The bridge was fairly crowded, but he pushed his
way, and in a little while he saw the figure of a woman before him; of
a woman whose form reminded him of the slender girlish one of whom he
was thinking. Some passer-by went roughly against her, and she reeled
to one side, and leaned panting against the parapet of the bridge.

In an instant Webster was at her side.

"Did that man hurt you?" he asked, quickly.

Then the woman turned her head, and Webster saw the white, despairing
face, and the large, violet-rimmed eyes.

"Are you Miss Churchill?" said Webster, in a low tone, and he laid his
hand gently on her arm.

A cry broke from May's white lips.

"Oh! don't speak to me, Mr. Webster. Oh! leave me alone--please leave
me alone!" she gasped out.

"I can not leave you alone," answered Ralph Webster firmly; "I can not
leave you here--"

At this moment the policeman the cabman had spoken to came up to them,
and stopped and looked at May suspiciously.

"Is this the young woman the cabman was speaking of, sir?" he said,
addressing Webster. "I saw you pass when he was telling me to look
after her."

"No," said Webster, quietly; "this young lady is a friend of mine; and
a man pushed against her, and she has turned rather faint. You had best
take my arm," he added, addressing May, and without any permission he
drew her arm through his, and led her quietly on.

For a few moments May did not speak, nor did he. Then, with his voice
full of feeling, he said:

"You have heard some bad news--I fear I know what it is."

May's whole form quivered.

"Oh! go away and leave me alone, Mr. Webster," she once more prayed.
"Don't tell anyone you've seen me--I only wish to be alone."

"You are not fit to be alone," answered Webster; "you have received
a great mental shock, a shock that I have feared for days must come
to you--you have learnt the truth, somehow, about Mr. Temple and Miss
Kathleen Weir."

May gave a sudden cry.

"How do you know?" she asked, in a broken voice. "What do you know?"

"Miss Weir told me--of her early marriage to Mr. Temple."

"And you knew this and never told me!" cried May. "You let me live on
in my--fool's happiness--you let me--"

But here her voice broke; she covered her face with her hand; a moan
broke from, her parched lips.

"I could not bear to disturb your happiness," said Webster, gently.
"I was distressed above measure when this strange knowledge came to
me. I did not know how to act, and last night when I was at Pembridge
Terrace--"

"I will never go there again!" broke in May, passionately. "I will
never see anyone again that I have known. You must forget this meeting,
Mr. Webster; you must never tell anyone that you have seen me. Will you
promise me this?"

"Only on one condition--that you will try to bear this bitter blow with
fortitude--otherwise it is my duty--"

"How can I bear it?" moaned the unhappy girl. "He--was everything to
me--I believed he loved me--and now, and now--"

"There is no blame to be attached to you. It is a most painful and
trying position, and I do not wonder at you shrinking back from it, yet
I am sure that both my aunts--"

"Mr. Webster," interrupted May, "do not speak of this. I will never see
your aunts again--never! My father is going there to-morrow--do you
think I could face him?"

"Pardon my asking you, but how do you know all this?"

"He--he came to-day," answered May in broken accents; "he took me
out--and told me. He--said our secret marriage was known--for we were
married--"

"I know you were; Mr. Temple has rendered himself liable by his
conduct--"

"To what?" asked May, quickly, as Webster paused.

"To an action for bigamy--"

"No!" said May, sharply and quickly, and for the first time she raised
her bowed head. "I will do nothing against him; I will say nothing
against him--I will disappear--and you must keep my secret."

"I will do anything for you. Will you trust me?" answered Webster,
earnestly. "I know at the present time you are overwhelmed with the
suddenness of the blow, and no one can wonder at it. But how did you
come to be out here alone?"

"He--Mr. Temple," faltered May, "left me for a little time, he
supposed, and went to your aunts. He--he did not wish me to leave him;
he did not know I never meant to see him again."

"And then you went out?"

"I went out never to return. I will never return! I will never return,
Mr. Webster--I--I--have not strength--"

"My poor, poor girl," said Webster, very pityingly.

"And now will you leave me, Mr. Webster?" went on May, who was
trembling in every limb; "I--I am better now--good-by."

"I will not leave you," answered Webster, quietly and firmly. "I will
stay with you until I see you in some safe shelter. I do not wonder at
your decision not to return to Mr. Temple, and it is natural that just
at first you should shrink from seeing those that you have known. But
Fate has thrown me in your path, and it is my duty to watch over you.
Turn with me now; I have a cab waiting at the other end of the bridge,
and we can settle as we drive where you shall go."

"Oh! I can not go, I can not go!" moaned May.

"You must," said Webster; "do you think I would leave you alone in the
miserable, desperate state you are in? I do not ask you to go back to
Pembridge Terrace, or to see your father or Mr. Temple; all I ask you
to do is to come with me, and I will take the best care of you that I
can."

"And--and you will tell no one where I am?"

"I solemnly promise I will tell no one where you are, if in return you
will promise to do nothing rash. Miss Churchill, no man is worth it,"
he added, half bitterly. "But come, now, let us go back to the cab."

But by this time May's trembling limbs had well-nigh failed her. She
tottered on for a few minutes more, clinging to Webster's arm for
support, and then a deadly faintness suddenly overcame her, and she
would have fallen to the ground had not Webster held her in his arms.

But when he saw her condition, he at once made up his mind. He called a
passing cab; he lifted May in.

"Drive as direct as you can to St. Phillip's Hospital," he told the
cabman.

At the great hospital which I here call St. Phillip's Webster had
suddenly remembered that he was a personal friend of the house surgeon,
Doctor Brentwood. He remembered also that private patients could find
accommodation there, and that there were private rooms where May could
be nursed and taken care of.

Until she had fainted he had not known where to take her. Now her
illness settled the matter, and half an hour later May was borne into
the great gloomy building, where the sick and suffering spent their
weary hours. But first Webster had a short, whispered conversation with
his friend the house surgeon.

"Remember, money is no consideration, Brentwood," this conversation
ended with; "but she must not be left alone; a nurse must never leave
her."

Doctor Brentwood nodded his head and went to look after his new
patient. Webster had told him as much of May's story as he deemed
necessary, and the doctor quite understood.

"She is a woman in terrible grief," Webster had said, "and she might do
something desperate unless she is well looked after."

Thus when May regained complete consciousness she found herself in a
small, neat, clean room, with a bright fire burning in the grate, and a
neat hospital nurse standing by her bedside. Doctor Brentwood was also
in the room, and when May looked round and asked the nurse where she
was, he too went up to the bedside.

"Well, you are better now, I see," he said, cheerfully.

"Where am I?" asked May again. "I think I must have fainted."

"You are in the private patients' ward in St. Phillip's Hospital. Yes,
you fainted, but I hope you will soon be all right after you have had a
night's rest."

May put her hand over her face; she was recalling her interview with
Ralph Webster on the bridge.

"Who brought me here?" she asked, presently, in a low, pained tone.

"Mr. Webster--Ralph Webster; you are a friend of his, he tells me."

For a moment or two May said nothing, and the doctor was turning away
to give some directions to the nurse, when she once more addressed him:

"Can I see Mr. Webster?" she asked.

"Certainly, if you wish it. I will bring him to you at once," replied
Doctor Brentwood; and a few minutes later Webster was in the room.

He went up not unmoved to the bed on which May was lying, with her
white face and her loosed hair.

"Doctor Brentwood says you are better, and that you wish to see me?" he
said, in a low tone.

"Yes, I wish to see you alone for a few minutes," answered May.

Webster looked at the doctor, and the doctor looked at the nurse, and
then they both left the room.

"Mr. Webster," began May, brokenly and agitatedly, "you have brought me
here against my will--but will you promise me at least one thing?"

"I will promise you anything you wish."

"Will you tell no one where I am; remember, no one?"

"I faithfully promise you I will not. You are in a safe refuge here,
and no one shall come near you nor molest you unless you wish it."

"I wish them to think me dead," said May, in a low, emphatic voice; "I
wish everyone to think me dead."

"I will not betray your secret," answered Webster, and he stretched out
his hand and took hers. "Will you trust me?"

"Yes; and--and do not tell them my name here. You have not told them my
name?"

"I have not; Doctor Brentwood is an old friend of mine, and I know you
will be well looked after under his care. Try to sleep, and forget what
has happened; and what name shall I call you by?"

"Oh, anything; it is no matter."

Webster thought for a moment or two, and then he once more took May's
hand in his own.

"I will call you Mrs. Church," he said; "that will do, and now
good-night."



CHAPTER XXXIII.

REMORSE.


After John Temple had left May he drove straight to Pembridge Terrace,
feeling that the worst of a most painful day was over. At all events
May would not leave him, and in another country they would both forget
the past.

"And who knows what may happen?" he thought. "That woman," and his brow
darkened, "is not likely to lead, or to go on leading, an immaculate
life. I may be able to get a divorce, and the moment I can I will marry
May. My dear little May, if I have wronged you, it was because I loved
you so well."

So thinking of her tenderly, fondly, he arrived at Pembridge Terrace,
and when he entered the dining-room where the two sisters were alone,
they both almost at once exclaimed:

"Where is Mrs. John?"

"She is not very well, I'm sorry to say," answered John Temple, "and I
persuaded her to stay at the hotel, and let me come on alone to you. I
am going to take her to-morrow for a day or two to the sea, as we both
want a little change, I think, and I have come to tell you this, and
ask if you will kindly let your maid pack a few things that May will
require, and I will take them back in the cab with me?"

"Well, this is sudden!" cried Miss Webster.

"But she is not ill, is she?" inquired kindly Miss Eliza.

"No, but she was tired, so I thought she was better where she was than
driving through the streets. She will write to you to-morrow, most
likely, and I scarcely know how to thank you for all your kindness to
her--poor child."

There was a tender ring in John's voice as he said the last two words
that both the gentle-hearted women noticed.

"It has been a great pleasure to us to have her here," said Miss
Webster.

"She's a sweet flower," sighed Miss Eliza.

"She's a dear girl," said John Temple; and for a moment--just a
moment--a sort of moisture stole over his gray eyes.

After this Miss Webster hurried out of the room, to pack, or
superintend the packing of, what she thought May would require during
her few days' proposed excursion to the sea. Thus Miss Eliza was left
to entertain John Temple, which she found by no means easy to do. He
was absent-minded and silent, and rose quickly when Miss Webster and
the maid returned with May's packed portmanteau.

"I have put everything in I thought she would want," said Miss Webster;
"but if I have forgotten anything, if she will telegraph I will send it
at once."

"I am sure it is all right," said John, and he held out his hand to
Miss Webster, thinking that most likely it would be the last time for
years that he would press that kindly palm. "Good-by, Miss Webster;
good-by, Miss Eliza; and thank you for all your great kindness."

He left the house a few minutes later, and it was strange that both the
sisters were somewhat impressed by his manner.

"He looked very serious," said Miss Webster. "I am sure I hope nothing
is wrong?"

"Perhaps it has come out about their marriage, and he has quarreled
with his uncle?" suggested Miss Eliza.

In the meanwhile John Temple was driving back to his hotel, his
thoughts still dwelling very tenderly on May.

"I will make it all up to her," he was thinking; "my little Mayflower
shall never regret her choice, nor her love."

He had grown almost cheerful by the time he had reached the hotel.

"After all, it was dull enough at Woodlea," he was reflecting; "and
I can't quite understand Mrs. Temple's attitude. We shall be happier
out of it all; out of civilization for awhile--I think I shall like a
different life."

He soon arrived at the hotel, paid his cab fare, and then ran lightly
up the staircase, after giving May's portmanteau to one of the waiters
to carry. He knew the number of the sitting-room where he had left May,
as he was well-acquainted with the hotel, and when he reached the door
he opened it without rapping. One glance round the room told him it was
empty. But this did not make him uneasy.

"She has been too tired to sit up," he thought, "and has gone to bed,"
and he turned round to the waiter who was following him with the
portmanteau and asked the number of the bedroom he had engaged.

The man told him, and John Temple took the portmanteau from his hand
and went in the direction the waiter indicated. When he arrived at the
bedroom door he rapped, but there was no answer. Then he opened the
door and went in, but, like the sitting-room, he found it empty.

"You have made a mistake; this is not the room," he said, sharply, to
the waiter, who was still following him.

"Yes, sir, this is the bedroom you engaged," replied the waiter.

"But the lady--my wife is not here?"

"No, sir; the lady in sitting-room No. 11 left the hotel some time ago."

"Left the hotel!" repeated John Temple, blankly. "Are you sure of this?"

"Yes, sir; I saw her go down the staircase and go out. I felt sure it
was the lady from No. 11, as, if you remember, I lit the room after the
lady took ill? And I fetched the doctor up for her also."

A strange, cold feeling crept into John Temple's heart.

"And you saw her go out?" he repeated.

"Yes, sir; and as she passed through the hall I asked her if she
required a cab."

"And did you get her one?" interrupted John, hastily.

"No, sir; she just shook her head and went out; and you'll excuse me,
sir, mentioning it, but I thought the lady looked very ill."

"Went out alone! I can not understand it!" exclaimed John Temple; and
then he once more entered the bedroom and looked around. Could she
have left some letter, some message, he was thinking. But there was
nothing; no sign that she had been there. After this he went back to
the sitting-room, and here he found May's cape lying on the floor. He
had unfastened it when she had fainted, and flung it over the end of a
couch. But her hat was gone! The poor girl, in her despair, had never
remembered her cape, and as John Temple lifted it up a sudden fear, a
sudden anguish, struck his soul.

"Had she left him?" he was asking himself, with white lips. "But surely
not without some word, some line."

He went up to the table; water was standing there, and some brandy
which had been brought when May was ill, and the doctor's prescription.
And her handkerchief and gloves. She had forgotten these too, but there
was no letter, nor penciled note. He looked everywhere, but it was in
vain. In the short time that he had been away she had disappeared, and
the greatest anxiety naturally filled John Temple's heart.

Again he recalled the waiter who had seen her leave the hotel, but the
man had nothing more to tell. Then he himself went out and wandered
restlessly up and down the street, looking at every one he met in a
miserable state of uncertainty and doubt. He thought once of returning
to Miss Webster's, but no; she had positively refused to go there, and
besides she might return at any moment. He tried to buoy himself up
with this hope, but hope grew well-nigh to despair when hour after hour
passed and there was no news of May.

When the last post came in he again went out into the streets. He
inquired at the nearest cab-stand, but no one seemed to remember
anything of a lady such as he described. He shrank from applying to the
police, and spent a night of terrible misery and remorse.

"I should not have left her," he moaned aloud as he wandered up and
down the sitting-room where he had seen her last. He refused to go to
bed, and more than once went down to question the night porter. But the
gray dawn stole over the city, and the noise and murmur of the day
began, and still nothing was seen or heard of the unhappy woman who had
disappeared.

The first post arrived and there was no letter for John Temple, and
then he knew that May had forsaken him. He realized this with the
bitterest pain. He recalled her words and looks before he had left her,
and suddenly--like a dagger--a memory smote him. She had said as she
lay in his arms, "We could not live apart."

"Good God! did she go out to die then!" burst from John Temple's
pale, quivering lips. The anguish of this idea was almost too great
to bear. He hesitated no longer about going to the police. He went--a
white-faced, agitated man--to the nearest station and told his story.
His wife had disappeared from the hotel, he said, and he was in a state
of the utmost misery and anxiety about her.

The inspector took notes and made certain inquiries. "Had he had any
quarrel with the lady? Was there any reason that she should leave him?"

"No quarrel," answered John Temple, huskily, "but I told her some bad
news."

"Did this seem to upset her greatly?"

"Yes, at the time, but when I left her she was calm and composed."

"And she said nothing about going away?"

"Nothing, or I should never have left her."

The inspector then asked if she had any friends in town where she was
likely to take refuge, and with a groan John Temple answered, "None."

Inquiries, however, were at once commenced, and during the day a cabman
came forward and stated he had seen the lady leave the Grosvenor Hotel,
and had followed her, hoping for a fare. That she had stopped and
beckoned to him, and that when he had asked her where she had wished to
go, that she had answered: "To one of the bridges." That he had then
said, "To which bridge?" and she had replied, "Westminster."

When this was repeated to John Temple he grew ghastly pale, and
staggered back, but the police inspector tried to reassure him.

"No suicide had been known to have occurred from Westminster bridge
last night," he said, "and at the time the lady had been driven there
the bridge would be crowded, and, besides, the cabman had called the
attention of a policeman to her. This policeman had also been found,
and had made a statement. He said the cabman called his attention to a
lady who had just left his cab, and he therefore at once walked along
the bridge. He came on a gentleman speaking to a lady, who looked very
ill, and he asked the gentleman about her, but he made a satisfactory
answer, and they went away together, and he lost sight of them. The
policeman, however, had kept looking out during the time of his beat,
and as far as was known no tragedy had happened on the bridge."

With this cold comfort to his heart, John Temple was forced to be
content. He saw the cabman who had driven the lady to Westminster, and
from this man's description John believed it had been May.

"She had a lot of bright, light hair, all ruffled-like," the cabman
said, "and a pretty, pale face, and looked in great trouble, and had no
gloves on, but he noticed some rings."

The policeman on the bridge also gave rather a similar description
of the lady he had seen talking to the gentleman, whose arm she took
before they went away. But John Temple told himself, as he listened,
that it had not been the same. He went back to the hotel with a bowed
head and a remorseful, miserable heart. Went back to wait in vain for
news that never came.

And during the same day an incident occurred at Pembridge Terrace which
greatly upset both the kind ladies there. They had been struck with
John Temple's manner when he parted with them the night before, and
naturally thought it strange that May should leave home even for a few
days without bidding them good-by. And they were actually talking of
this; speculating in their mild, kindly way on the cause, and hoping
nothing had gone wrong with their young friends, when the servant came
upstairs, and having rapped at their bedroom door told them that a
gentleman was waiting in the dining-room to see them.

"A gentleman?" said Miss Webster, surprised. "Did you ask his name,
Jane?"

"Yes, ma'am, I did," replied Jane, "and I think he said Mr. Churchill,
but I'm not quite sure."

"Churchill?" repeated Miss Webster, and the two sisters looked at each
other in some consternation.

"We will be down directly, Jane," then said Miss Webster after a little
pause, and when the maid disappeared they again exchanged rather
alarmed glances.

"I am afraid something has happened; that their secret is known,"
suggested Miss Eliza, nervously.

"Do you think it will be May's father?" asked Miss Webster, as she tied
her bonnet strings with trembling fingers.

The two sisters were dressing themselves to go out on a little shopping
excursion when they heard of their unexpected visitor, and they both
felt very much upset. However, there was nothing for it but to go down
and receive "Mr. Churchill," whoever he might be. They accordingly did
this together, and when they entered the dining-room they saw a tall,
good-looking, middle-aged man, with a somewhat countrified appearance,
standing there.

He made a bow as the sisters appeared, which they nervously returned.

"Excuse my calling, ladies," he said, "but I have come to make some
inquiries about my daughter, May Churchill, who, I understand, has been
living with you for some time."

Both the poor ladies gave a gasp, and for a moment or two stood silent.
They did not in truth know what to say; did not know how much Mr.
Churchill knew, or how far May was committed in his eyes.

"My girl," went on Mr. Churchill, seeing their hesitation, "disappeared
from her home some time ago, and we have heard nothing of her till
yesterday. But yesterday I had sure information that she is living
with you, and that she is now called Mrs. John. Is this so?"

Miss Webster drew herself up a little proudly.

"Yes, Mr. Churchill," she said, "your daughter has been here, but she
is not here at present."

"Where is she now, then?" asked Mr. Churchill, somewhat roughly. "For
I mean to find her. I have come up to London to find her, and also to
find Mr. John Temple, who, I suppose, has taken her away if she has
gone from here."

Again both the sisters gasped. This big strong man seemed to overwhelm
them, and they felt themselves almost powerless in his hands.

"The long and the short of it is," continued Mr. Churchill, "I mean to
call Mr. John Temple to account for his conduct to May. He induced her,
I believe, to leave her home, and she writes to him in a manner, I am
told, that if she isn't married to him she ought to be."

Both the faded faces before him were now suffused with a sudden blush.
But a moment later Miss Webster plucked up her courage.

"Sir," she said, with not a little indignation in her tone, "I think
you speak of your daughter, who is everything that a young lady should
be, in a very unbecoming manner."

"I do not know, madam, what you think a young lady should be," retorted
Mr. Churchill; "but I think when a girl leaves her father's house, and
carries on an intrigue with a young man, that it is her father's duty
to learn whether she is married or not, and if she is not, to see that
she is."

"But she is married, sir!" replied Miss Webster, raising her head with
dignity. "I and my sister Eliza here were present at her marriage,
which was performed by the clergyman of the parish, Mr. Mold. It was
kept a secret on account of Mr. John Temple's uncle, and if it will
do him any harm I hope you will still keep it a secret, but I can
positively assure you that they are married."

Mr. Churchill's expression changed considerably while Miss Webster was
speaking.

"Then all I can say, madam, is, that I am heartily glad to hear it," he
answered. "Naturally I was put out about my girl, and anxious to hear
that it was all right with her. However, Mr. John Temple need not be
afraid of his uncle, the squire. I saw the old gentleman yesterday, and
he told me May would be welcomed there when his nephew brought her to
the Hall."

"I am, indeed, glad to hear this; indeed, most glad!" said Miss
Webster, with a ring of genuine pleasure in her voice. "We have the
greatest respect and regard for Mr. John Temple, both my sister Eliza
and myself, and we have grieved a little that his marriage and your
sweet young daughter's should have been kept a secret. But now it is
all right. This is delightful news, is it not, dear Eliza?" she added,
turning to her sister.

"Most delightful!" replied Miss Eliza, with emotion, "Really quite
affecting!" and she drew out her handkerchief as though preparing for
tears.

"Well, ladies, I am sure I thank you very much for your information,"
said Mr. Churchill, heartily. "It's a great relief to my mind; a very
great relief," and Mr. Churchill wiped his brow with his handkerchief.
"You see my poor little lass lost her mother when she was only a child,
and though I'm married again, a stepmother's not the same somehow,
though I've nothing to say against my missus. But about May? Where is
she now, for I would like to kiss her before I go, and shake Mr. John
Temple by the hand?"

"She left yesterday afternoon, and has gone for a few days to the
seaside with her husband," answered Miss Webster. "Mr. John Temple came
yesterday and took May away with him."

Mr. Churchill looked rather puzzled.

"It's a strange thing," he said, "but Mr. John Temple would say nothing
when he was questioned yesterday whether he was married to May or not;
I suppose it's all right about the register, and that sort of thing?"

"Certainly right!" exclaimed both sisters. "We saw it signed."

"Still, I think I should like to have a look at it, so if you ladies
will kindly tell me the name of the church and the clergyman--"

"With pleasure," replied Miss Webster. "And now, Mr. Churchill, will
you take some refreshments, and have a glass of wine to drink to the
health of the young couple?"

Mr. Churchill accepted this hospitable offer, and shortly afterward
took his leave. But scarcely was he gone when the sisters began to be
afraid of what they had done.

"I am sure I hope we have done right in telling about the marriage,"
said Miss Webster, looking at Miss Eliza for comfort.

"I am sure I hope so," replied Miss Eliza, in an apprehensive tone.

"But you see he cast such aspersions on May?"

"It would have roused anyone to defend her--but still--"

"What do you think, dear Eliza?"

"I think it would be as well if Mr. John Temple knew that we were
almost forced to tell the truth. Do you think you could write to him,
dear Margaret?"

"Yes, if I knew his address. He usually stays at the Grosvenor, but
then he said they were going to-day to the seaside, you remember?"

"But he might have left his address at the Grosvenor. I think I would
try, dear Margaret. Let us ask Jane where he directed the cab to drive
to last night when he left here?"

Jane was accordingly summoned to the dining-room, as she had carried
poor May's portmanteau down to the cab when John Temple had left
Pembridge Terrace the evening before.

"He said the Grosvenor, ma'am, I'm nearly certain," Jane answered to
her mistress' inquiries. So after the maid had left the room, Miss
Webster decided to write to tell John Temple of Mr. Churchill's visit
and its consequences.

"DEAR MR. TEMPLE," she began, somewhat nervously. "Sister Eliza and
myself have been somewhat upset this morning by receiving a visit from
Mr. Churchill, your sweet young wife's father. He had heard she was
living with us, and had come to seek her, and was very anxious to learn
the truth about her. And he said some things--made some remarks--that
neither sister Eliza nor I could hear unmoved. In fact, we were almost
forced, in defense of your dear wife, to tell him that you were married
to her, and this seemed a great relief to his mind. But we begged him
still to keep the secret, if he thought it would injure you at all with
your uncle, Mr. Temple of Woodlea Hall. But to our great joy he told
us that he had seen your uncle on the subject, and that he had said he
would gladly welcome dear May as his nephew's wife. I need not tell you
how delighted we were to hear this, as Mr. Temple's sanction seemed the
one thing wanting to your great happiness.

"With our united love to your dear wife, and best regards to yourself,
I remain sincerely yours.
                                                    "MARGARET WEBSTER."

This letter was delivered to John Temple during the evening, as he sat
alone and desolate, in his great remorse and pain.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

MR. CHURCHILL'S NEWS.


Early on the next morning after Ralph Webster had left May at St.
Phillip's Hospital, he called there to inquire after her, and saw his
friend the house surgeon, Doctor Brentwood.

"You have come to ask after the poor little woman you brought here last
night," said the doctor, as he shook Webster's hand. "Well, I'm sorry
to say I can't give a very good account of her. She has had a bad,
restless night, and is very feverish this morning."

"I am very sorry," answered Webster, gravely, and a slight quiver
passed over his lips.

"She seems extremely low, almost in a hopeless state," went on the
doctor. "She's had some tremendous heart-break or other, poor soul; I
suppose it's not possible to give her any mental relief?"

"I fear not," said Webster, in a low, pained tone. "She has lost at one
blow all that made the happiness of her life."

Doctor Brentwood looked somewhat curiously at his friend.

"She is decidedly pretty, at least she must be even remarkably so when
she is well. I don't want to seem curious, Webster, but suppose the
poor young woman gets worse--and it is possible--what other friends has
she besides yourself?"

"I promised her faithfully not to mention anything of her past."

"Then I presume her name--Mrs. Church--is an assumed one?"

"I can not even answer that question. But let her have everything
she can possibly require; I shall be answerable for all the expenses
connected with her case."

"And yet--you can do nothing to relieve her mind?"

"Nothing; I only wish I could."

"Well, I must try to pull her through; poor young thing, it seems a sad
case."

"It is a terribly sad case."

After this Ralph Webster went away, but each morning before he began
his work he went to inquire at the hospital about "Mrs. Church." And
May was very ill. The shock had affected her physically as well as
mentally and she lay prostrate, hopeless, wishing the life was ended
that Webster had done his best to save. There were times when her mind
wandered, and the fever ran high. But as a rule her great weakness was
what the doctor feared most. It was as though the spring of youth were
broken--the flower blighted in its bloom.

Meanwhile as days and weeks went on naturally the friends of the absent
girl began to grow again uneasy concerning her fate. Mr. Churchill had
returned to Woodside after his visit to London and the Misses Webster,
an elated, almost overjoyed man. He had examined the register which
recorded the marriage of John Temple and May Churchill, and he had seen
the clergyman who had performed the ceremony. Therefore, his mind was
set at rest regarding May. He did not write his news to his wife. He
wished personally to carry it to her, and felt a sort of secret triumph
when he remembered the remarks Mrs. Churchill had made regarding May's
disappearance.

He accordingly telegraphed to her the hour that he hoped to arrive at
home, and desired the dog-cart might be waiting for him at the station
to meet the train which he intended to travel by. It was waiting for
him, and he was driven home, and standing at the open hall door when he
reached Woodside was his wife ready to receive him.

She went quickly forward to meet him, and looked eagerly in his face.

"Well, William?" she said.

William kissed her, but there was triumph in his heart as he pressed
his mustache against her firm lips. He was thinking of his girl, and
thinking of her with pride.

"Have you heard anything?" half-whispered Mrs. Churchill, as she tried
to lead him into the hall. But Mr. Churchill seemed in no hurry to
impart his news. He gave directions to the groom who had driven him
from the station regarding the horse in the dog-cart, and inquired
about another animal that was ill. Then, at last, he turned and entered
the house, and Mrs. Churchill having closed the door behind him,
followed him into the dining-room.

"Have you heard anything of May?" she again inquired quickly.

"Yes," answered Mr. Churchill, nodding his head, while a pleased smile
spread over his face; "it is all right; May is now Mrs. John Temple,
and I saw the register of the marriage and the clergyman who married
them myself."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Mrs. Churchill, genuinely astonished.

And for a moment or two--so strange is the human heart--she felt a
pang of disappointment at the good news. She had always prophesied
evil things of May, and to hear that she was suddenly raised in social
position so far above herself, gave her an unpleasant sensation.

"Yes," continued Mr. Churchill, somewhat boastfully, "my girl has done
well for herself, hasn't she, Sarah? I went first to the ladies where
she lived after she left here, until she married Mr. John Temple. They
were two real ladies, clergyman's daughters, and elderly, and had known
Mr. John Temple for years, and he asked them to take charge of her
until he could make her his wife. And you should have heard how they
spoke of her, in the highest terms, and they went to the church when
she was married, and so it's all on the square."

"Then why was there all this secrecy?" asked Mrs. Churchill, for she
had not yet got over her chagrin.

"It seems he thought the old squire and madam wouldn't like it,"
answered Mr. Churchill. "But that's all right now, for the squire
himself told me he would welcome May as his nephew's wife. And as for
madam, well, madam will just have to take it as best as she can. My
girl will step into her shoes when the old gentleman dies, for the
Hall goes to the heir I'm told, and I'll have my son-in-law for my
landlord--but I was always proud and fond of May."

Mrs. Churchill composed her lips and tried to swallow her
mortification. But after all she was a sensible, though a hard woman,
and she saw it was no use trying to throw cold water on her husband's
elation at the good fortune of his daughter. She therefore went up to
him and kissed him.

"Well, my dear," she said, "I am glad it has ended well, and that you
are pleased. But you have forgotten to let me know one thing; did you
see her?"

"No; as ill-luck would have it, Mr. John Temple had taken her away
to the seaside for a few days, and she was out of London when I was
there. But I expect we shall be hearing from her shortly; and to-morrow
morning I'll go over to the Hall and see the squire, and tell him the
news. Ay, and in spite of madam, I expect we'll be having her staying
at the Hall in no time, and what will you think of that, Sarah?" And
Mr. Churchill laughed aloud, and patted his wife's comely chin.

This was, however, a little more than Mrs. Churchill's temper could
bear.

"Well, I hope it will end well," she said, tartly; "unequal marriages
rarely do."

"I don't see that it's so unequal," retorted Mr. Churchill. "What
was madam herself, who holds her head so high? Only a poor parson's
daughter, with a skin-flint mother, who begs for milk and eggs of
everyone who is fool enough to give her them. My girl is as good as
madam any day, and as for looks there's no doubt May has the best of
them."

"You are too uplifted, William," answered Mrs. Churchill,
reproachfully; "remember pride may have a fall." And having
administered this rebuke, Mrs. Churchill left the room, leaving her
husband seriously offended.

He was indeed so offended that he would not speak again on the subject
during the whole evening. But early the next morning he ordered his
best horse to be saddled, as he thought it behooved him to make a good
appearance on such an important occasion as carrying the news of his
nephew's marriage to the squire.

"I am going to ride over to the Hall, Sarah," he said, as he rose from
the breakfast table, and he felt as he spoke that he was master of the
situation. And Sarah felt this too. It was disagreeable that this
little "chit" should be raised above her, but Mrs. Churchill knew very
well it was true. Her property consisted of one good farm, besides some
savings of her first husband. But what was this to the large estates of
the squire's of Woodlea? And Mr. John Temple was heir to these estates,
and May was his wife. So Mrs. Churchill had made up her mind to make
the best of it. She had also offended her good-looking husband, and
Mrs. Churchill did not like being on bad terms with him.

"Very well, my dear," she therefore answered meekly, to her spouse's
announcement that he was going to the Hall, "and I am glad you have
such good news to tell the squire."

"It is good news," replied Mr. Churchill, still stiffly; but he felt
mollified, and deigned to kiss his hand to his wife, as she stood at
the hall door and watched him mount his good horse and ride away.

And it was no doubt with an uplifted heart that Mr. Churchill rode on
his errand to the Hall. He knew, indeed, that Mr. Temple's approval,
or disapproval, would ultimately make no difference to John Temple's
position. The estates were strictly entailed on the next heir, in the
event of the squire dying without children. The one child of the house
was dead, and John Temple was the next heir, therefore the Woodlea
property must some day be his, and his children's after him. Mr.
Churchill looked proudly around, as he went on, at the wide grass-lands
and wooded slopes of the familiar landscape. He seemed to see them in
a new light. His grandson might become their possessor, and he, the
grandsire, would no doubt reap the benefit. He was a man who loved
money and success in life, but to give him his due he was also not
thinking only of worldly advantages. He was thinking that no one could
now throw a stone at his "little girl, and that she would be able to
hold up her head with the best of them."

And his heart was still full of pride when he drew rein at the Hall. He
could scarcely ask if he could see the squire in the same tone as was
his wont. But he tried to do this, and not to show any undue elation,
when the squire received him in the library.

"Well, Mr. Churchill, have you any news?" asked Mr. Temple, gravely, as
he held out his hand to his tenant.

"Yes, squire, I have," answered Mr. Churchill, cordially grasping his
landlord's hand in his own.

"And what is it?" asked Mr. Temple, somewhat nervously.

"Well, sir, I went up to London, as you know, the day before yesterday,
and yesterday morning I went to the house in Pembridge Terrace,
Bayswater, where the ladies live whose address Mrs. Temple kindly gave
me, and where my daughter May has been staying since she left her
home. And, squire, I found two real ladies, elderly, and clergyman's
daughters, and they seemed very fond of my girl, and had known your
nephew, Mr. John Temple, for many years. And to make a long story
short, squire, Mr. John Temple and May were married from their house;
the ladies going to the church to witness the ceremony, and then the
young people went abroad."

Mr. Temple's delicate, rather pallid complexion slightly flushed at
this announcement, and for a moment he was silent. The pride of birth
and station were not absent from his nature, but, on the other hand, he
was a good and just man, and he knew that John Temple had only acted
rightly.

"Well, Mr. Churchill," he said, rather slowly, "I am glad to hear this
is so. If my nephew induced your daughter to leave her home, he has
only done what a gentleman ought to do in making her his wife."

"She left her home to become his wife, sir," answered Mr. Churchill,
rather quickly. "That was the arrangement between them, and in the
meanwhile my girl went to these ladies, who are friends of his, and
remained with them until her marriage. And that there might be no
doubt about it, squire, I went to the church where they were married,
and I saw the clergyman who married them, and examined the register;
and this--" and he drew a sheet of paper from his pocket-book as he
spoke--"this is the copy of the register of their marriage, and if
you'll kindly look at it you will see it's all on the square."

The squire settled his gold-rimmed glasses on his nose, and took
the paper in his hand. In it were duly set forth the date and other
particulars of the marriage of John Temple and May Churchill, or rather
of Margaret Alice Churchill, for May had given her full baptismal name
on the occasion of her marriage.

Mr. Temple read the copy through and then returned it to Mr. Churchill.

"Well, then, there is no mistake, Mr. Churchill," he said, "and we
must earnestly hope that the young people may be happy together. Your
daughter, from what I have seen of her, is, I am sure, a charming and
very pretty girl--and I will write to my nephew to congratulate him.
But where are they now?"

"Well, sir, I am sorry to say I missed them. Mr. John Temple had taken
May away to the seaside for a few days when I arrived in town. But no
doubt we will be hearing from them soon."

The squire looked rather puzzled.

"It was strange," he said, "that my nephew would say nothing before he
left here. However, there is no doubt about their marriage, and when
you hear from your daughter, Mr. Churchill, will you let me know, and
then I will write to my nephew?"

"That I will, sir," answered Mr. Churchill; "and thank you kindly for
the way in which you have spoken of my girl. You might have looked
higher, naturally, for your nephew, but this I will say for my daughter
May--that a sweeter or bonnier lass does not live! There's no vice
about her, sir, and she's been a blessing and a comfort to me always,
and I'm sure she will be one to her husband. Her mother was a lady--a
clergyman's daughter--and May has taken after her in all her ways."

"She is no doubt a very sweet-looking girl," said the squire, "and I
shall be glad to welcome her here. But now I am afraid I must say
good-morning, Mr. Churchill, as I have an engagement I must keep." And
the squire looked at his watch.

Upon this hint Mr. Churchill took his departure, and scarcely was he
gone when Mr. Temple proceeded at once to the breakfast-room, where he
had left his handsome wife.

Mrs. Temple was listlessly reading the newspaper, and she looked up
somewhat surprised when he entered the room, as she did not know of Mr.
Churchill's visit.

"I have got some news for you, Rachel," said Mr. Temple.

"News?" asked Mrs. Temple, quickly.

"Yes; John Temple is married to Miss Churchill; must have married her
two days after he left here in the autumn, when he said he went to
Paris--that must have been his wedding trip."

Mrs. Temple started to her feet, and her face flushed and then grew
pale.

"Is this possible?" she said. "Are you sure?"

"Mr. Churchill has just been here, and he brought with him a copy of
the register of their marriage. There can be no mistake, and yet I do
not understand John's conduct, or why he was so reticent about it, when
I distinctly told him that if he had induced her to leave her home that
it was his duty to make her his wife."

"There is something to hide, something he is keeping back!" cried Mrs.
Temple, excitedly. "But you say they are actually married?"

"They are certainly married, and Rachel, now that the thing is done, we
must try to make the best of it. Naturally it is not what I wished for
John--still--"

"I should think not!" interrupted Mrs. Temple, scornfully. "A tenant
farmer's daughter--truly her pretty face has made her fortune!"

"Well, it is done, and when I hear from John I mean to write to him;
after all the girl is good and pretty, and he might have done worse."

"Not well, I think," answered Mrs. Temple, bitterly, and then she left
the room, full of excitement and anger.

The news of John Temple's marriage was indeed very bitter to her.
Unconsciously she had learnt to like him too well for one thing, and
for another she disliked, nay hated, the whole Churchill family. The
boys had played in the fatal game when her little son was killed, and
she had always felt a strange jealousy of May's beauty. And now she
was Mrs. John Temple, the wife of the heir of Woodlea! reflected Mrs.
Temple, with curling lips.

But she was too much excited to keep the news to herself. She therefore
hastily put on her hat and cloak, and started for the vicarage to tell
her mother. She felt a sort of grim pleasure in thinking what a rage
Mrs. Layton would be in when she heard it. And she certainly was not
disappointed in this. Her arrival was most unexpected and inconvenient,
for she rarely went to her father's house, and on this unfortunate
morning Mrs. Layton was engaged in what she called "dressing her
feathers," that is, all the feathers that she could collect from the
fowls eaten at the Hall or at the vicarage were eagerly saved and
stored away by Mrs. Layton until she had acquired a sufficient quantity
to have a grand assortment of them. She was therefore sitting covered
with feathers in her store-room, when she was told that her daughter,
Mrs. Temple, was waiting below to see her.

She tried to shake herself free of the feathers, but with many still
clinging to her hair and dress she finally descended, by no means in a
good humor. Mrs. Temple was standing looking out of the window as she
entered the room, and she gave rather a hard laugh when she saw her
mother's extraordinary appearance.

"Whatever have you been doing?" she said.

"I've been dressing my feathers, my dear," replied Mrs. Layton, "my
half-yearly dressing, you know, and I don't believe, Rachel, that your
cook or your scullery-maid have sent me half what they should."

Mrs. Temple slightly shrugged her handsome shoulders.

"We've had a wedding in the family," she said, scornfully, "and I've
come to tell you the news."

"A wedding!" repeated Mrs. Layton, blankly.

"Yes, my nephew John Temple has entered the distinguished family of
Churchill," continued Mrs. Temple, yet more scornfully. "Nice for us
all, isn't it?"

"It can't be true?" gasped Mrs. Layton.

"Perfectly true, I assure you! The respected head of the family has
just been to the Hall to tell Phillip, and he brought a copy of the
register of the marriage, and everything is all correct. My beloved
nephew, it seems, was secretly married when he went away in the autumn,
he said, to Paris. No doubt he did go to Paris, but it was with his
highly-born bride!"

"Well, whatever is the world coming to!" cried Mrs. Layton with
uplifted hands. "It will be destroyed--no doubt the end is coming--such
monstrous things occur! To think that this girl, a girl I've bought
eggs of, a girl whose character I consider to be far from what it ought
to be, should make such a match! But I warned you, Rachel, against John
Temple; a snake in the grass, I considered him; but I never thought he
would be such a fool as this."

"I think he must be more a fool than a snake," answered Mrs. Temple,
contemptuously. "Fancy marrying a girl like this! And Phillip says we
must make the best of it, which I suppose means inviting the bride
and bridegroom to stay at the Hall! However, we shall see. But,
good-morning now, mother; I'll leave you to digest my news." And with
a little nod Mrs. Temple turned away and left the house, while Mrs.
Layton stood absolutely speechless with disgust.

But both Mr. Churchill's elation and Mrs. Temple's indignation cooled
down during the next few weeks. For, to the great surprise and
disappointment of Mr. Churchill, nothing was heard at Woodside either
from John Temple or his supposed bride. Each morning Mr. Churchill said
he could not understand it when the letters came in and there was
none from May; and Mrs. Churchill--though with caution--began again to
insinuate that she feared it was not all right. And the squire himself,
just a week after Mr. Churchill's visit to the Hall to announce the
marriage, walked one morning over to Woodside, to ask Mr. Churchill the
whereabouts of the bride and bridegroom.

"Well, squire, it's the strangest thing, but we have not had a word
from them," answered Mr. Churchill, somewhat disconcerted.

"It is certainly very strange," said the squire, slowly.

"Can't understand it, because I told the ladies--the Miss Websters
that she had been staying with, and who saw her married to Mr. John
Temple--that you had been kind enough to say you would receive her as
his wife."

"Which I certainly shall do. Well, Mr. Churchill, why not write to
these ladies and ask if they know their address? They probably do."

"I never thought of that, sir; but I'll write to them this very day.
Thank you very much for thinking of it, squire."

And Mr. Churchill accordingly did write to Miss Webster, and after
apologizing for troubling her, told her that he was getting anxious
at not hearing from his daughter, and asked her to be good enough to
give him Mrs. John Temple's address, if she knew it. And he added, "Mr.
Temple, the squire of Woodlea, was here this morning, and will be glad
also to hear from his nephew."

An answer to this letter was most anxiously expected at Woodside, and
after two days one came, which was as follows:

"DEAR SIR: I am sorry I can not give you the information you require
regarding the address of Mr. and Mrs. John Temple, as we have heard
nothing from them since the day Mr. John Temple arrived here and took
your daughter away for a proposed short visit to the seaside. But the
same day that you called and told us Mr. Temple of Woodlea Hall would
be glad to receive the young people, I felt it was my pleasing duty to
write a few lines to Mr. John Temple to tell him of your visit, and
also of his uncle's sanction to his marriage. I sent this letter to the
Grosvenor Hotel, where he sometimes stays while in town, but I have
received no reply. And therefore we--my sister and myself--can only
conclude that Mr. and Mrs. John Temple must have gone abroad, and have
not received my letter.

"Trusting, however, that you will soon hear from them, I remain,
                                           "Yours sincerely,
                                                    "MARGARET WEBSTER."

"Yes, that's it; no doubt they are abroad," said Mr. Churchill, after
he had read Miss Webster's letter, handing it to his wife.

"Of course, they may be," replied his wife.

But Mr. Churchill was quite sure that they were, and took over Miss
Webster's letter to show it to the squire. But the squire still thought
it very strange, and so did Mrs. Temple when her husband told her of it.

"There is something to hide. John Temple is keeping something back,"
she said. And she thought again and again, "What can it be?"



CHAPTER XXXV.

KATHLEEN WEIR'S GHOST.


And during this time, also, Miss Kathleen Weir had felt very much
disappointed that she had neither seen nor heard anything of Mr. Ralph
Webster. That is, she only received two brief notes from him, both
declining her invitations to "a merry supper after the play to meet
Linda Falconer, as you admired her so much--and her swain, Dereham."

But Webster, with the ever-present memory of that despairing face on
the bridge, and the constant anxiety for the unhappy girl lying in St.
Phillip's Hospital, nigh unto death, had felt it was impossible for him
to encounter the gay and lively sallies of the actress. Not that he had
lost interest in the woman who stood between poor May and happiness,
but his mind was too much out of tune to go into such vivacious
company, and he therefore had refused Miss Weir's invitations.

But nearly three weeks after he had taken May Churchill to St.
Phillip's, a change came over her condition. Her physical health
decidedly improved, and one morning when Doctor Brentwood was paying
his usual visit to her she spoke to him of her future life.

"I am going to live now, doctor, am I not?" she said, in a low, pained
tone.

"Certainly you are going to live," replied the doctor. "I hope for many
years; until you are quite old," and he smiled.

"That will be a long time," said May, with a weary sigh; "I am not much
past twenty now--a long, long time."

"It seems long to look forward to, but time passes quickly enough,
especially when it is fully employed."

"It is about this that I meant to speak to you of, doctor," continued
May, and a faint color stole to her pale cheeks. "If I am going to live
I must do something to gain my own living; I must find some employment."

"Everyone is better employed," answered the doctor, cheerfully; "it's
good for mind and body alike. Now what do you think you would like to
do?"

"Since I have felt a little better I have thought of this constantly.
I--I should like to see Mr. Webster about it, as he might be able to
help me."

"I am sure he will do anything to help you; he is your sincere friend,
and has been most anxious about you during your illness, and has called
each morning to inquire for you. Therefore you may depend on his
assistance, I am certain, and, I may add, on mine."

"You are very good--"

"And now I am going to ask you a question which is not a medical one,"
interrupted the doctor, "and, therefore you need not answer it unless
you like. But have you no friends, no relations, to whom you can now
apply?"

"None!" answered May, with sudden emotion; "I wish to be as one dead to
everyone I know--they must think me dead, and I would have been, but
for--"

"Forgive me for having pained you, and I will promise never again to
allude to the subject. So you would like to see Ralph Webster? Well,
you shall see him to-morrow, and I am truly glad to find you so much
better." And then he smiled kindly and went away.

He felt interested in this forlorn and broken-hearted young woman, who
he was sure his friend Webster had saved from some tragic fate; and not
the less interested on account of May's fair face. He therefore wrote
to Webster during the day, and told him of the improvement in May's
health, and also of her wish to find some employment.

"Don't throw cold water on this, my dear fellow," he added; "it will be
the very best thing possible for her, and will give her an interest in
life which she has well-nigh lost. Can you call to-morrow afternoon?"
And so forth.

Doctor Brentwood's letter was a great relief to Webster's mind, and he
received another by the same post from Miss Kathleen Weir. This was a
highly characteristic epistle.

"DEAR MR. WEBSTER: For the third and last time, unless you come, will
you take supper with me this evening; or if suits you better will you
call in the afternoon? Wire which. Yours ever sincerely.
                                                      "KATHLEEN WEIR."

Webster read this note with a smile; thought it over, and then decided
to call during the afternoon, and he accordingly telegraphed Miss Weir
to that effect. And as he drove to the actress' flat he was wondering
if she had any news to tell him, and he found that she had some.

She received him in her usual airy fashion, and she was charmingly
dressed in a most becoming tea-gown.

"Well, you have come at last," she said, holding out her hand as
Webster entered her drawing-room.

"Yes," he answered, taking it, "and I should have come before, but I
have been a good deal worried of late."

"About money or love?"

"About neither, as it happens."

"I thought there were only two things worried men, and the want of
money was the worst. Well, we must all have it; but I have been more
than worried, I have been upset; I have seen a ghost!"

"A ghost?"

"Yes, the ghost of a dead love! There, can you guess what I mean? Well,
I suppose not, so I must tell you. But I have really been shocked; I
have seen John Temple in the flesh, though looking so awfully ill that
he was much more like a dead man than a living one."

"Where did you see him?" asked Webster, quickly.

"I will tell you. Yesterday morning I drove down to see Mr. Harrison,
the solicitor, as I wanted to be quite certain whether John Temple is
the man who has come into the fortune, as Dereham was so positive that
he was. Well, you know Harrison's offices are at Westminster, and I
saw the old boy sure enough, but he was as sly as a fox. He did not
deny that John Temple was the man 'that ultimately, mind ultimately, my
dear madam,' he kept repeating, would succeed to his uncle's estate or
estates. 'But his position at present is unchanged,' he added, and he
threw ice on my suggestion that I should have an increased allowance.
'When Mr. John Temple succeeds to the property the question can then be
mooted,' and so on. In fact I got no satisfaction for my trouble, and
when I came out of the office in a very bad humor I told the cabman to
drive over Westminster bridge and back again, as I thought the river
air might improve my temper."

"And you went?" asked Webster, eagerly.

"I went; I was in a hansom, and when we got to the other end of the
bridge I told the man to turn back. He did so, and there was a block
as we re-crossed, and I was bending out of the cab to see what was
going to happen, when my eyes fell on the figure of a man leaning on
the parapet of the bridge, and staring into the river below. As I
was looking at him, he lifted his head and looked around, and I saw
a ghost--the ghost of John Temple! But, oh, so horribly changed! He
looked haggard, worn, and old, and a sort of pity--such fools are
women--crept into my heart as I looked at him. I felt sorry for him;
I thought he must be in some terrible trouble, and so I felt I should
like to speak to him. I pulled out my handkerchief and waved it to
attract his attention, and someone told him of this, for he looked
quickly up at the cab, and our eyes met! I wish you had seen the
look of horror that came over his face, of shuddering horror, as he
recognized me. It was hatred! He glared at me just for a moment, and
then turned and fled as if the devil himself were after him. There,
what do you think of that? The end of a dead love!"

"I think it is very dramatic," said Ralph Webster, slowly. He forced
himself to speak the commonplace words, but he was not thinking
commonplace thoughts.

"Now, there was something in this man's face," went on the actress,
"that told me a story. John Temple is grieving about something that
has cut his heart-strings. It can't be money in his case because for
one thing he never cared very much about it, and for another he will
ultimately, as Mr. Harrison described it, succeed to his uncle's
property, and with such prospects he could borrow as much as he liked,
I suppose. No, it is about some woman! He was looking down into the
dusky river when I first saw him. Can he have driven some poor soul to
seek for refuge in its gloomy depths?"

Ralph Webster inwardly shuddered, but Kathleen Weir little thought how
near she was to the truth.

"He is miserable about some woman," she repeated, "and that is why I
have sent for you to-day. I am in the way, I suppose, and I don't want
to be in the way any longer. I want to be free, and of course he does.
Now, how can I find out about his life, for if I could find out, I
expect I could go triumphantly through the ordeal of the divorce court."

Webster was silent for a few moments; he was thinking the knowledge of
John Temple's second marriage would not free him from his first. It
would bring disgrace to him, but not liberty to her.

"You would have to show a case against him besides this supposed
woman," he said, slowly. "Did he ever treat you cruelly?"

"You mean did he ever punch my head, or pull my hair?" answered
Kathleen, with a hard, little laugh. "No, I can not truthfully say he
ever did; but I might say it untruthfully, and he would be too glad to
get rid of me to contradict me."

"But it would be very dangerous; you would have to prove it."

"At all events he forsook me?"

"I thought you parted by mutual consent?"

"How horrid you are, Mr. Webster! At all events I mean to get quit of
him. I am weary of a tie which is no tie; of a bond which galls me, and
I would do anything, even something desperate, to break it."

She started to her feet, and began walking up and down the room as she
spoke, swaying her tall, fine figure with a restless movement as she
did so. She was looking very handsome, her excitement had flushed her
face and brightened her bright eyes, and involuntarily Webster admired
her.

"There!" she said, presently, "now I have told you my news, so please
rouse your sharp legal brains to help me. I don't mind about the three
hundred a year now, or the ultimate reversion of some bigger sum. I
want to be free. I don't want John Temple to cut his own throat or
mine--and upon my word he looked as if he could do it--but I want to
scrape out of my marriage some other way."

"Well, let me have time to think it over."

"Thanks, and now let us drop a disagreeable subject, and tell me what
you have been doing with yourself all this long time? You look thinner,
and you say you have been worried?"

"Yes; we all have worries and troubles, you know, Miss Weir."

"That is true; but still I think life might be bright, might be sweet
and worth living for."

"I am sure yours is."

"Oh! don't pay me those commonplace compliments; I don't want to hear
them from you."

"You despise my best efforts to be agreeable."

"What a disagreeable humor you are in! I declare I think I shall send
you away."

"Well, must I go?" said Webster, rising with a smile.

"Not yet; unless you will promise to come again very soon. Come to
supper to meet Linda Falconer and Dereham the day after to-morrow."

"I will see if I can, if you will allow the invitation to remain open.
By the by, how is that affair progressing?"

"Oh, swimmingly, I believe, but Linda is fearfully bored with him. 'My
dear,' she said to me the other day, 'he is too silly.'"

"Poor boy!"

"Poor boy, indeed! However, that is settled, and you will come the day
after to-morrow to supper? In the meantime, you know, don't forget my
ghost and his probable misdoings."

"Very well," said Webster with a laugh. Then he took leave of the
actress, and Kathleen Weir was alone.

As she had done once before after he had left her, she immediately went
up to one of the mirrors in the room and gazed at her own reflection in
the glass.

"Am I so weak?" she thought. "Do I actually like this man, perhaps
better than he likes me? But if I were free I think he would like me--I
must be free!"



CHAPTER XXXVI.

BY THE SEA.


The next day Ralph Webster went to see a very different woman to the
sprightly actress. He went to see pale, sad-faced May Churchill,
propped up in an easy chair, with the unmistakable attitudes of
weakness and languor in every movement.

A sudden flush, however, rose to her very brows as Webster entered the
room, and she nervously held out her hand. She was remembering that
momentous meeting on the bridge; remembering her terrible misery and
despair.

And the ordinarily calm Webster was also ill at ease. He took the thin,
trembling little hand in his, almost without a word; he looked at the
altered face, and a strange, painful emotion stirred his heart.

"You are better?" he said a moment later, but not in his usual firm
tones.

"Yes, much better," she answered.

It was the same sweet, low voice that he had listened for too eagerly
at his aunts' house; that had touched some hidden chord in his heart
that hitherto had been mute.

"Doctor Brentwood told me you were much better," he went on, still
nervously, "and I hope soon to see you quite well."

May made no reply for a moment or so, then she looked up in his face.

"And did Doctor Brentwood tell you anything else?" she asked. "Did he
tell you that I wish to find some employment at once?"

"He told me something of this," answered Webster, taking a chair and
drawing it nearer to her; "but for you to do anything at once is, I am
sure, impossible."

"But I must, indeed I must, Mr. Webster," said May, earnestly. "I can
not any longer be a burden to you--I know I have been--"

Here she paused, and tears came unbidden into her eyes, and she turned
away her head to hide her emotion.

"Do not, I entreat you, speak thus," said Webster, also much moved. "I
have only been too happy, too thankful, to have been of any use to you.
And anything I can do for you, anything that a most sincere friend can
do, I am sure you know I will do."

"You have been most kind, most good," faltered May. "But--but do not
let us speak of the painful past; it upsets me, and unfits me for what
I have got to say, for what I must do. What I want is to find some
work, some employment."

"And what have you thought of?"

"I have thought of many things," answered May with a wan smile. "I am
not sufficiently educated to be a governess, I fear, for I have never
been at any college nor passed examinations as they do now. I could go
into a shop--"

"Certainly not," interrupted Webster, quickly.

"Why not? It is a means of livelihood, and what matter is it?" said
May, quietly.

"It is a life you are quite unsuited for, and one utterly unsuited to
you. That is out of the question."

"Then there are telegraph and post office clerks, are there not, who
are women?"

"Yes, but--"

"But Mr. Webster, I must do something. And--there is another thing I
have thought of--what I should like best, I think--to be a nurse."

"Do you mean a hospital nurse?"

"Yes, like Nurse Margaret, who has attended upon me. I am sure I should
like this best, and if Doctor Brentwood would give me a chance--"

"I am sure he will do anything for you that he can. Yes," continued
Webster, after a moment's thought, "I think that life would suit you
best. You are naturally gentle and kind, and to help poor, sick people
would be a congenial task to you. But nursing, like other things, has
to be taught. I will talk to Brentwood about it."

"Yes, they receive what they call probationers at some hospitals, and
perhaps Doctor Brentwood would kindly use his influence to get me
admitted at one of these."

"I will see about it, and I think it is the most likely thing to suit
you. But before you do anything, or think of anything, you must have a
complete change of air. You must go to the seaside for awhile."

"I can not do this, Mr. Webster."

"Forgive me saying so, but you must. Nothing will make you strong but
that. How could you nurse anyone when you still want nursing yourself?
You must go to Hastings, or one of these places."

"I--I have no money to do so--it is impossible."

"Have I not asked you to regard me as a sincere friend? Do you think
the trifle it would cost is not most heartily at your service? When you
become a very swell nurse, you know," added Webster, smiling and trying
to speak lightly, "you must repay me."

"If--if I only could," said May, with emotion.

"You can, and will. Now that is all settled, and tell me where would
you like to go--Hastings?"

"But, Mr. Webster--"

"What sort of person has waited on you here? A nice woman?"

"A very nice woman, Nurse Margaret, Sister Margaret, they call her. She
has been so good to me."

"Then you shall go to Hastings with Sister Margaret to take care of
you. And I shall expect to see quite a rosy face when I go down to see
you. And now I am not going to stay any longer to-day and tire you. We
have settled that you are to become a nurse, but first you must get
quite well. I will see Brentwood and make all arrangements. For the
present, good-by."

He held out his hand, which May took tremulously. She dare not ask him
any questions, nor even inquire after his aunts. She knew if she did
she would break down, and he knew this also. They both ignored the
past, or at least did not speak of it.

And when she next saw Doctor Brentwood after this interview with Ralph
Webster, he told her that everything was settled. She was to go to
Hastings in three days, and Sister Margaret, the hospital nurse, was to
accompany her.

"And when you return I will see about receiving you here as a
probationer," said the doctor, "as Webster tells me you wish to become
a nurse. Would you rather stay here, or go to another hospital?"

"I should rather stay here if I may," answered May, gratefully.

"I think I can manage it. Yes, the sea-cure is the very thing for you,
and I expect you will come back quite well."

"But--but, Doctor Brentwood, about the expense? I can not--"

The doctor moved his well-shaped hand.

"That is all settled," he said; "don't you trouble your head about
anything. Sister Margaret has instructions to arrange everything for
you."

And May found that Sister Margaret had instructions to go out and
purchase everything she required in the way of dress or outfit. She
was a nice, kind, sensible woman, whose own brow was not unlined
with sorrow, and she felt great pity for the poor young widow--so
May was supposed to be in the hospital--whom she had nursed through
her grievous illness. She was also instructed to ask Mrs. Church no
questions regarding her past life.

"She has had great troubles; let her try to forget them," the doctor
told the nurse. "She has youth to help her, and thinking of the past
will do her no good."

Ralph Webster saw May again before she left town for Hastings, but when
she tried to thank him for all he had done for her he would not listen.
To do anything for her indeed was his greatest happiness. But he tried
to hide this, and did hide the strong, deep feelings of his heart.

But a painful incident occurred before he parted with her. Webster
noticed that May was agitated, and suddenly her delicate skin flushed,
and with quivering lips she asked him a question:

"Have you," she said, in a broken voice, "seen or heard anything
of--him?"

Webster hesitated, but he saw it was only cruel to prolong her suspense.

"I have heard nothing," he answered, "of Mr. Temple; except I know a
person who saw him one day."

"Then he is still in London!" cried May, with deep emotion; "still--he
must have made inquiries--he--he was sure to make inquiries--but no
doubt he believes me dead. It is best that he should believe me dead!"

She suddenly broke down and burst into passionate sobs. In vain Webster
entreated her to try and compose herself. It seemed as though the
flood-gate of her emotion was let loose, and the long strain of silence
broken.

"I am dead!" she kept on repeating; "dead to every one; no one knows I
live but you."

"And yet you pain me so deeply," said Webster, in a low tone.

"Forgive me," sobbed May, "but I thought I would ask."

"Hush, hush! try not to think of all this. A new life is opening to
you; try to go into it with a brave heart. Believe me, there is nothing
like work; it deadens pain."

There was an irrepressible ring of sadness in his voice as he said the
last words, which told of his own hard struggle, the struggle of which
May knew nothing. But something in his voice made her dry her tears and
look at him. He was very pale, and his face had grown thinner and more
marked, she noticed, and her heart reproached her for adding to his
troubles.

"Forgive me for being so selfish," she said, gently; "I--will not give
way any more. But have you been ill? You do not look very well."

"I have been too hard-worked, I suppose," answered Webster, trying to
smile. "I shall go down to Hastings for a day's holiday while you are
there, and that will freshen me up. And now, is there anything else I
can do for you?"

"Nothing, nothing indeed! You have only been too good."

"That is all right then, and now good-by."

He stooped down as he spoke and pressed his lips upon her hand, and
then turned quickly away. And May looked after him gratefully.

"How good he is!" she thought; "what a noble heart he has! I wonder
what made him look so sad."

But a few minutes later Sister Margaret bustled into the room, and she,
also, was full of Mr. Webster's praise.

"What a thorough gentleman he is!" she said, quite enthusiastically.
"Have you known him long, Mrs. Church?"

"For some time," answered May, and her tone reminded Sister Margaret
she had been instructed to ask Mrs. Church no questions regarding her
past life.

Yet the good woman naturally felt curious, and had decided in her own
mind that Mr. Webster must have been an old lover of the young widow's,
and she began to hope that it might end in a marriage. This was, of
course, entirely her own theory, for she had certainly nothing to go
on. For she and May were quite a fortnight at Hastings before they
either saw or heard anything more of Mr. Webster.

She took comfortable rooms for May overlooking the sea, and the change
of scene and fresh air soon began to revive the drooping invalid. And a
strange change came over May's mind also at this time. Sister Margaret
had many a sad tale to tell her; tales of forsaken wives and broken
hearts. Her experience of life had not lain along its smooth paths. She
had trod the rough roads, and the sick and sorrowful had been her daily
companions. And listening to her May began to learn that her case was
not worse than others; her wound not more terrible than some of her
fellow sufferers.

"I loved him too much," she told herself; "it blinded me, and I
believed he loved me as I loved him. But it was not the same."

She did not even give John Temple his due, for he had not felt for her
a brief passion that soon would pass away. He had loved her with a
selfish love, no doubt, but with a love that made him put everything
else aside for her sake. He thought, also, that she cared for him
beyond and above all earthly things; that nothing would have torn her
from his side.

She had not realized the shock, the horror of her awakening. It seemed
to end everything for her, and now slowly struggling back to life, she
told herself that John Temple had never really loved her. She had been
his plaything; his "country sweetheart," as he had often called her in
his fond hours of love.

Sitting watching the long, rolling waves breaking up against the white
cliffs, or the sea-birds winging their way above the foam, May told
herself again and again that her life was done--that is, her life of
happiness and hope. There remained but for her a cold and colorless
existence, toiling for her daily bread. Yet she did not shrink from her
fate. She accepted it as inevitable, and, after the first bitterness
was passed, bore herself with a certain amount of heroism and calmness.

"I was mad that night, and but for Mr. Webster--" she sometimes thought,
and would shudder as she did so.

"I wonder he has never been down to see us?" at last one day said
Sister Margaret, at the very moment when May was vaguely thinking of
the past.

The two were sitting together on the pier, in a bright, fresh day in
the early winter time, when Sister Margaret made this remark. All
around them was the deep blue sea, white-crested and sparkling in the
sun. Visitors were strolling about, and the whole scene was cheerful
and invigorating. May roused herself from her sad day-dreams to answer
Sister Margaret.

"You mean Mr. Webster?" she said. "I dare say he is too busy to come."

She looked up as she spoke, looked across the pier, and with a little
start the next moment she recognized Ralph Webster. He was leaning
back against the railing watching the two women he had come to see, and
when his eyes met May's he raised his hat and crossed over to speak to
them.

"Good gracious, Mr. Webster!" cried Sister Margaret, when she saw him.
"What a start you gave us! we were just speaking of you."

"Were you?" he answered, and he shook hands with them both, and then
sat down by May's side.

"May I sit beside you?" he said, as he did so.

"I have been wondering," he went on the next moment, smiling, "how long
I should stand opposite to you without your seeing me? Do you know I've
been quite five minutes over there?"

"Really!" said May. She felt nervous and agitated. Seeing him again so
suddenly had brought the past more vividly before her.

"But I have not been wasting my time," continued Webster, still
smiling; "I have been seeing, and with great and sincere pleasure, how
much you are improved. The sea air has made a wonderful difference in
you."

"Yes; doesn't she look well?" said Sister Margaret, proudly.

"Indeed she does. This is a charming day," went on Webster, looking up
at the blue sky, and then down at the blue sea. "It seems like a rest
to sit here; a rest from the worries of the world."

"And have you been very busy?" asked May, half-shyly.

"I always work fairly hard, you know," answered Webster.

May did not speak again for a few minutes. She was thinking of what she
had often thought--how she had been first interested in Webster's work
in the case concerning Kathleen Weir's diamonds. She was wondering if
he ever saw her now--the woman he knew to be John Temple's wife.

And Webster, watching her delicate profile, almost guessed what
was passing in her mind. But he tried to change the current of her
thoughts. He pointed out a white-sailed little vessel scudding before
the wind; he talked of the sea and of the sky, and May listened, and
for the time her troubles faded from her mind.

Suddenly, however, Sister Margaret seemed uneasy, and began to fidget
with her silver watch, twice unhooking it from her waistband. She
looked at May, but May did not notice her. At last she said, in a
slightly marked tone:

"It is a quarter-past one o'clock, Mrs. Church."

"Is it?" answered May, dreamily.

"Yes, and I am sure Mr. Webster must require some refreshment after his
journey," said Sister Margaret, in a very pointed manner.

May now understood.

"Oh! yes," she said, rising. "Will you come and have lunch with us now,
Mr. Webster?"

"I shall be very pleased, if you will allow me to do so," he answered.

"Then, in that case, I will just hurry home and see that it is ready,"
said Sister Margaret, with alacrity. She was a handy woman, and
instantly made up her mind to add considerably to the usual chops at
their midday meal, on her way through the town, in honor of their
guest. But she did not wish him to know this.

"I will leave you in charge of Mr. Webster," she went on, and in a
moment later hurried away so quickly that Webster looked after her with
a smile.

"I hope Sister Margaret is not going to give herself any trouble on my
account," he said.

May smiled; almost the first smile he had seen on her face since she
had left Pembridge Terrace.

"I think she must wish to improve our usual lunch on your account," she
answered. "She is such a good, kind woman," she continued, "and she has
gone through so much trouble, Mr. Webster."

"Her face rather gives you that impression. But she looks happy enough
now--or at least content."

"It would be a great thing to feel content."

"A great thing, indeed; to know no longer the restless craving for
something we can not obtain."

"And--and do you think--" began May, and then she paused, hesitated,
and slightly colored.

"Do I think what?" said Webster, and he turned round his head and
looked at her.

"Do you think we could ever feel happy again--after a great blow, a
great shock?"

"I think we could feel happy, but not the same happiness. A sort of
sobered, perhaps, a wiser happiness, no doubt, might come to us."

"It's dangerous to be too happy," said May, with downcast eyes and
quivering lips.

"Not many of us have the chance of being so," answered Webster, rising.
"But, come, we must not keep Sister Margaret waiting."

"No," and May also rose, and together they walked down the pier, but
Webster merely talked of the people that they passed on their way. He
wished her to forget, for a time at least, the shadow on her young
life; the grief that had made it so hard to bear.

Sister Margaret had not exerted herself in vain. In addition to the
usual dish of chops, she had purchased a pigeon pie, a lobster, and
various trifles on her way through the town. In fact, she looked on
the repast she spread before Webster with pardonable pride. And he
tried to make the whole thing pleasant. He told some good stories; he
complimented Sister Margaret on her pie, and the good woman thoroughly
enjoyed herself. And when lunch was over, Webster, after going to the
window and looking at the smooth sea and the sailing boats scudding
on its blue breast, proposed that they should go out for a sail, and
Sister Margaret was quite delighted with the idea.

"I have not been out for a sail since I was a girl," she said; "it will
make me feel young again."

"And you?" said Webster, looking at May, "would you like to go?"

"I think I should," answered May, gently.

So they went down to the beach and engaged a sailing boat, and were
soon flying on white wings before the light gale. It was a beautiful
day, sunny, cloudless, almost warm, and yet with the crisp touch of
the early winter in the clear air. That crisp touch brought a wild-rose
bloom back once more to May's fair oval cheeks; it brightened her eyes,
and she smiled more than once as she sat by Webster's side.

"I have never been on the sea before," she said to Webster. "Do you
remember when--" and for a moment she paused--"when we rode on the
Thames?"

Yes, Webster remembered that day too well; remembered the beautiful
girl sitting opposite to him in the boat, on the reedy river, and
dipping her white hands in the stream. There was no shadow on her face
then, nor sorrow in her heart. Only sunshine and hope, with the unknown
future lying before her bathed in golden light.

But he made no allusion to these memories.

"I like the sea better than the river," he said, and there swept over
his heart a strange and passionate emotion as he spoke; a wish to bear
May away from her troubles forever; to carry her to a new haven of rest
and peace.

But by and by the short winter day began to close, and Sister Margaret
drew her cloak nearer to her throat with a little shiver, and glanced
uneasily at the distant shore.

"It is time we were returning, is it not, Mr. Webster?" she said.

These words roused Webster from his love-dream.

"Yes, I suppose it is," he said, and he gave directions to the boatmen
to set sail for the shore. But it was nearly dark when they reached
Hastings, and there was a silver track from a half-moon on the rippling
tide.

They crossed this in the boat, and Webster hailed it as a good omen.

"It means a silver lining to our clouds," he said; "a sign that we must
always hope."



CHAPTER XXXVII.

A SUDDEN CHANGE.


May and Sister Margaret stayed another fortnight at Hastings after
this sea excursion, and Webster went twice down to see them during
this time, and Sister Margaret was satisfied in her own mind that
everything was progressing as she could wish. Then the weather broke
up, and storms and gales swept around the coast, and the sea-foam
flew into the town. And it was only when this happened that Webster
yielded to May's repeated requests for them to return to London. She
wished now most earnestly to commence working to earn her own living,
and had had some correspondence with Doctor Brentwood on the subject.
He had arranged that she should join the staff of nurses at St.
Phillip's, as probationer, and Sister Margaret had already given her
some instructions. But twice during this time a strong temptation rose
in Ralph Webster's heart; a temptation, however, which he checked, and
this was to ask May to be his wife, and so shelter her all her future
life.

"It would but frighten her, and make her uneasy," he told himself; "no,
it is too soon."

So May went back to St. Phillip's with Sister Margaret, and when
Webster saw her again she was dressed in the black gown and white cap
and apron of a nurse. She looked, however, so charming in this costume
that he could not conceal his admiration.

"You look like--well, what shall I say?" he said, smiling. "A sister of
light."

"Do you mean an angel?" answered May, smiling also. "Ah, I wish I felt
like one."

"And how do you really like the life?" went on Webster, with his dark
eyes still fixed on her fair face.

"There are painful things, of course," hesitated May, "but still you
always feel that you are helping someone, and that is something."

"But I hope they do not give you any hard work; any disagreeable work?"

"They are very good to me," answered May, softly; "everyone has been
very good, and as for you, Mr. Webster--"

"Being good is not in my way," answered Webster, hastily turning away
his head.

"I do not know what you call good then; I can not tell you what I
think."

May's voice faltered a little when she said this, and Webster's
self-imposed reserve perhaps might have broken down, but just at this
moment Doctor Brentwood entered the room, as it was in his sitting-room
that the interview between May and Webster was taking place. Indeed, it
must be admitted that "Mrs. Church" was treated with some favoritism
by the house surgeon; and there were some plain nurses and some plain
probationers who made their private comments and remarks on this fact.
But May was so gentle and unassuming that as a rule she disarmed
criticism.

"It's her pretty face," they said, shrugging their shoulders; "well,
men are all alike."

And her pretty face had no doubt a great deal to do with it, and her
pretty manner, and her sad, sweet smile. Doctor Brentwood openly said
to Webster she was too handsome for a nurse, but he knew, as all men
who looked at her knew, that she never sought or desired attention or
admiration of any kind.

And so the quiet, dreary months drifted away, and May stayed on at
St. Phillip's Hospital, and only Ralph Webster knew that she lived
there. Of John Temple, Webster heard nothing, except that one day,
when Christmas was past and gone, he accidentally met Mr. Harrison,
the solicitor, who told him smilingly that he had had a visit from the
actress, Miss Kathleen Weir.

"She had heard somehow," he said, "that Mr. John Temple is now heir to
his uncle's estates, and she therefore wished her allowance increased.
But I put her off, my dear sir, I put her off; quite time enough when
Mr. John Temple does succeed."

"And where is Mr. John Temple now?" asked Webster.

"He is abroad; he went abroad shortly after I had the visit from Miss
Kathleen Weir, and he looks shockingly ill; really shockingly. I wish,
I am sure, he may live to come into his inheritance."

"What sort of man is he?"

"He used to be a remarkably nice fellow; pleasant, and rather
philosophical in fact. But when I saw him last he had a most shattered
appearance, like a man who had gone through some great mental strain,
or bodily illness. I fancy, you know, Mr. Webster," added the little
man, shaking his head, "that that early and unfortunate marriage of his
has been a most tremendous worry to him. At least when I mentioned Miss
Weir having called at my offices he scowled, and muttered something
about wishing he had never seen her face. He may, you see, now want
to form a more reasonable marriage, but there is this millstone--a
handsome enough millstone though, ha, ha, ha! hanging about his neck."

"He should not forget that he hung it himself though," answered
Webster, grimly; and then he left Mr. Harrison. But when he next saw
Kathleen Weir, in reply to her eager inquiries, he was able to tell her
that he had heard that Mr. John Temple had gone abroad.

"But where and when?" asked the actress quickly.

"That I can not tell you."

"But, Mr. Webster, I am anxious to know. That old rogue, Mr. Harrison,
the solicitor, of course knows very well. But if I went to him he would
not tell me. How am I to find out?"

"But what good would it do you to find out?"

"Because I am convinced John Temple has something to hide! I want to be
divorced from him, that's the truth, and if I knew where he was I could
set detectives to watch his movements. Don't you see?"

"Unfortunately I can not tell you where he is."

"I wonder if old Harrison would tell you? Oh! do be a good soul and
help me if you can," and she laid her pretty, white, be-ringed hand
on his arm and looked into his face. "It's so stupid to be bound like
this to a man who is perfectly indifferent to you, and, moreover, who
actually detests you! I swear to you he looked as if he really hated me
that day on Westminster bridge. And why should I waste all my youth and
my life? His money is not worth it."

"It is a very hard case, certainly."

"I have felt this lately," said Kathleen Weir, in rather a marked
manner; "before, I think I did not care."

Again she looked in Webster's face, and with a sort of discomfort his
keen dark eyes fell before her large, restless, gray ones. He was not
a vain man, but a vague consciousness smote into his heart that this
handsome woman had begun to regard him with different feelings to his
own. This idea made him more chary of his visits and colder in his
manner. And Kathleen Weir, quick to perceive this, also drew back.
Thus some weeks passed without him seeing her, when one morning an
announcement in the _Times_ brought her affairs more prominently before
his mind.

This was no less than a notice in the obituary column of the sudden
death of the squire of Woodlea:

"On the 21st inst., at Woodlea Hall, Phillip Temple, Esq., aged 75, of
heart disease."

Webster read the announcement twice over, thinking all the while of the
great changes it might bring. Not to the fair black-robed probationer
at St. Phillip's Hospital, though, he decided; it could not touch her
very nearly now, but to John Temple and Kathleen Weir.

And yet on second thoughts he remembered it would bring Temple back to
England, and would make the friends of the missing girl more eager in
their inquiries to learn her fate. John Temple would probably now be
forced to tell what he knew, and the fact of his first marriage might
be brought home to him. Therefore, the knowledge of the squire's death
disquieted Webster exceedingly, and the day did not pass without his
receiving further news concerning it.

The evening post in fact brought him a letter from Kathleen Weir, and
the notice from the _Times_ of Mr. Temple's death fell out of it when
Webster opened the envelope. The actress had evidently written in a
state of great excitement.

"DEAR MR. WEBSTER," he read. "The inclosed cutting from the newspaper
will tell you what has occurred. This Mr. Temple, whose death it
records, is the uncle of John Temple, who is his heir. John Temple is
now, therefore, a rich man, and as I am unfortunately his wife, he can
not prevent (I suppose) my benefiting by his accession to fortune. But
though money is a great thing, an immense thing, it is not everything!
John Temple, looking like a ghost, with misery stamped on every feature
of his face! There was, I am sure, some strong reason for this, for
as a rule he is an easy-going man, inclined to make the best of
everything, as he used to think it not worth while to strive with fate.

"There I did and do disagree with him. It is worth while at any rate
to try and make the best of one's life, and it is not making the best
of mine, I think, to remain the wife of a man I never see. He is a
rich man now, can afford to pay a long price for his freedom, and his
freedom I am certain he desires. What I mean is this: He will now be
coming to England, and will, of course, go down to the place he has
inherited. I want, therefore, someone to go to him and make him a
proposition; to say in fact, Kathleen Weir, the wife of whom you are
tired, is also tired of you, and wishes to be free from so galling a
tie. I am certain it might be arranged, only it is so difficult to
write on such matters, and one can only do so to someone in whom you
have complete confidence. I have complete confidence in you, though I
have seen so little of you of late, but I think I can understand the
reason of this. At all events, will you come to see me now, and we can
talk the matter over? Will you come to-morrow evening? I shall be
alone, as I have a whole host of things to tell you.
                                      "Ever sincerely yours,
                                                       "KATHLEEN WEIR."

Webster read this letter, and at once understood its meaning. Kathleen
Weir wished to be free, and she believed that John Temple had given her
cause to seek a divorce, and that if she were anxious to obtain one,
that he would offer no opposition; nay, gladly aid her in her desire.
She also meant, and Webster smiled a little scornfully as he thought
this, that she intended to make him pay for his freedom. They were to
play into each other's hands in fact, and she wished some confidential
friend or agent to approach him on the subject.

"I wonder if she intends this honor for me," he reflected, bitterly.
And he thought of May Churchill with a quick pang of pain.

If this woman could obtain a divorce, and would accept money to be
divorced, which no doubt John Temple would gladly pay, he would be free
to marry May. Webster bit his lips and frowned angrily at this idea.
This no doubt was Kathleen Weir's design; she would not scruple, she
had said, to invent a charge of cruelty against him, and for the rest
she had a perfectly good case.

Webster began walking restlessly up and down the room after he had
considered the actress' letter, but he determined to do nothing to aid
her.

But if she succeeded, what should he do? What would be best and kindest
to the poor girl whose heart John Temple had nearly broken?

It was a painful question, not easy to answer or to solve, but at all
events Kathleen Weir had not yet obtained her divorce.

"I will go and see her," he decided; "I will learn exactly what she
means to do."

Therefore on the following evening he did go to see her, and she was
very pleased to welcome him. She started up as he entered the room,
and held out her little white hand.

"How good of you to come," she said. "I have been wishing so much to
see you."

"I came to talk over your great news," he answered with a smile.

"It is great news, isn't it? Great and good news, for I hope soon it
will free me of John Temple."

"But--what have you to go upon?"

"I will find something to go upon," said the actress, half
impatiently. "I have his address, at all events, now, for he is sure
to go to Woodlea Hall and look after his property, and I must find
someone--or--" and she paused and thought for a moment, and then
clapped her hands. "I must find someone," she repeated, "to go to him,
or go myself. There, Mr. Webster, what do you think of that? What do
you think of my going to visit my lord in his new state? I would be a
welcome visitor, wouldn't I, and no doubt could make a splendid bargain
with him in his eagerness to get rid of me."

"But--it would expose you to a very painful scene."

"I am accustomed to scenes, you know," answered Kathleen Weir, with
a little laugh. "Do you know I think it is a splendid idea. At all
events, we might mutually agree to meet somewhere, and arrange also
mutually to get rid of each other."

"But what about the Queen's Proctor intervening?"

Kathleen Weir gave an airy shrug of her shoulders.

"We must manage to be too clever for the Queen's Proctor, and John
Temple, I'm certain, will be only too glad to back me up in anything I
say. I shall have some handfuls of hair ready, and swear he tore them
out of my head." And Kathleen Weir laughed.

But Ralph Webster did not laugh. He was thinking of May Churchill, and
how her fate might hang on the false words of this woman's tongue, and
he looked very grave when he rose to go away.

"Going so soon?" cried Kathleen Weir, gaily. She was disappointed at
his leaving so early, but she did not wish to show this.

"I can wait," she thought, after he had quitted the room; "they say
everything comes to those who wait."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE DEAD MAN'S BELONGINGS.


Mr. Temple's sudden death had also naturally created great excitement
both at Woodlea Hall and at the farm at Woodside. The squire had
breakfasted with his wife as usual on the morning it occurred, and
about an hour later Mrs. Temple had gone into the library to ask him
for some money she required, when to her surprise and alarm she found
him with his gray head lying on the writing-table before him, and his
arms hanging limply by his side.

"Phillip!" she exclaimed, and ran up to him, and laid her hands on his
shoulder.

But the face that had ever looked gently at her did not stir. Then
Mrs. Temple raised his head, and the moment she did so she gave a
wild shriek. For there was no mistaking the pallid gray hue of the
complexion, or the dull, glazed, half-open eyes. Mr. Temple was dead,
and Mrs. Temple, ever impulsive and excitable, ran screaming to the
door of the room to tell the news and summon the household.

They sent for the doctor, and the newly-made widow knelt by the
squire's side and chafed his cold hands, and wailed and wept for the
man to whom in his lifetime she had given no love. Now she regretted
this, she clung to him, and would fain have recalled him to her side.

And presently her mother arrived on the scene and then her father.
Mrs. Layton's first thought when she heard the squire was dead was to
speculate on how much he had left behind him, and to groan in spirit
at the idea that now her daughter would probably have to leave the
Hall.

"And that John Temple will be coming, I suppose," she whispered to her
husband, "and where will we all be?"

"My dear, to speak of such things in the presence of death--" began the
vicar, mildly. But Mrs. Layton turned her little eager face away from
him before he could complete his homily.

"I must see after things," she said, which meant a great deal to Mrs.
Layton's mind. First she had to induce her daughter to leave the dead
man's side and go to her own apartments. Then she ran from room to
room, picking up little things here and there that she thought at such
a time she could collect without remark. Nothing came wrong to Mrs.
Layton! A few sheets of note-paper, an envelope or two, anything in
fact that she could lay her hands on.

"They will never be missed; they are of no value," she told herself as
she gathered her spoil together. She was haunted by the idea that John
Temple might arrive at any moment, and that she would not have such
another opportunity.

The servants were all down-stairs talking of their master's sudden
death, and the whole household naturally disarranged. Mrs. Temple was
in a state of half-remorseful grief and excitement, and she also was
now thinking of the coming of John Temple.

"He will be master now, I suppose," she thought bitterly, "and I shall
be turned out."

She remembered, too, the morning he had left Woodlea through her
interference, and mentally saw again his pale, set face as he had told
her he would never return. He would return now, and would that girl
come with him? Mrs. Temple kept asking herself. For up to the time of
the squire's death nothing had been seen or heard at the Hall of John
Temple since the morning he quitted it. Mr. Temple had felt naturally
offended by his nephew's reticence, but at last, at Mr. Churchill's
earnest request, he had written to John Temple's bankers to ask if
they could tell him of his nephew's whereabouts. The bankers wrote to
inform the squire, in reply, that Mr. John Temple was abroad, and that
before leaving England he had taken out a considerable sum of money in
letters of credit. They wrote nothing more; they had, in fact, been
instructed by John Temple before he left England to give no information
if any inquiries were made about him. He had gone away a moody and
remorseful man, but Mr. Harrison, the solicitor, knew where to find
him, and also some officers of the police force. With these he had
left orders, which he believed now to be useless, that should anything
ever be heard of the lady who had disappeared from the Grosvenor Hotel
on such a date that he was at once to be communicated with. But John
Temple believed that May was dead; believed that in a sudden frenzy of
grief and shame she had destroyed herself. And many a dark and dismal
hour he had stood looking down into the murky river, moodily thinking
it was sweeping over the fair head of his young love. It was on one of
these miserable occasions that Kathleen Weir had seen him, and a sudden
feeling of hate and anger had swept through his heart at the sight of
her. And shortly after this encounter he had left England. He felt,
in truth, that he could bear the strain no farther; that the terrible
haunting memory of the young life he believed he had destroyed would
overthrow his reason if he remained any longer on the spot.

In the meanwhile Mr. Churchill, in spite of his own secret anxieties,
had gone about telling his neighbors that his daughter and her husband,
Mr. John Temple, were abroad. There was no one to contradict this, yet
somehow the impression got about that everything was not quite right.
Perhaps it was the way in which Mrs. Churchill drew in her firm lips
when her husband spoke of his daughter. At all events, she never spoke
of her, nor did she encourage her stepsons to do so.

At first the boys had been overjoyed when they heard of May's marriage,
and looked forward to many a happy day at the Hall. But when week
after week passed, and May never wrote to them, they could not
understand it.

What was to prevent her writing? they asked each other, doubtfully,
even if she were twenty times abroad. Then the banker's letter
confirmed the news that John Temple was abroad, and after that, all
through the winter months, neither at the Hall nor at the homestead,
was anything more heard of John Temple or May.

The squire died in the early spring-time, and the news reached Woodside
in less than an hour after Mrs. Temple had found her husband dead.
It naturally threw Mr. Churchill, and even his wife, into a state of
excitement.

"Now, we must hear from them!" cried Mr. Churchill.

"We will know the truth at last," said Mrs. Churchill, in a more
subdued tone.

"What truth?" answered her husband, sharply. "They were married, and
now Mr. John Temple is the squire of Woodlea, and May is his wife--but
all the same, I am sorry to hear the old squire has passed away."

"How will they let Mr. John Temple know that his uncle is dead, if they
do not know where he is?" suggested Mrs. Churchill in her practical way.

"I will see to that," replied Mr. Churchill, determinedly. "There
will be no one, I suppose, to look after things at the Hall now but
the stupid old parson and his skin-flint of a wife. Madam won't know
anything about business, so as May's father I will ride over at once,
and of course Mr. Temple, as heir, must be immediately telegraphed for.
His bankers, by this time, probably really do know where he is."

"I think you are quite right to go, William," said Mrs. Churchill, who,
in truth, was full of curiosity to know all about the matter.

So Mr. Churchill mounted his horse and speedily reached the Hall in
a state of scarcely suppressed excitement. And his coming was not
unnoticed. Mrs. Layton, from one of the upper windows, peered down
into the court-yard when she heard the sound of his horse's hoofs
below, and gave a kind of cry when she saw who it was.

"Here is the first of them!" she exclaimed aloud to herself, and then
she hastily looked round the room to see what she could pick up before
"the others arrived."

She caught up some trifle, and then hurried down to her daughter's
bedroom.

"Rachel!" she cried, "that Churchill has arrived; you must rouse
yourself, and lock up all the jewels and silver, or they will be laying
hands on everything."

"I'll do nothing of the sort," answered Mrs. Temple, coldly.

"What, you'll let them have the diamonds!" screamed Mrs. Layton, in
absolute despair.

"The diamonds are heirlooms, so I suppose John Temple's wife--if he has
one--has a right to wear them," answered Mrs. Temple, contemptuously.
"I will have nothing touched until John Temple arrives."

"Then you'll lose everything! Do you suppose that low people like these
Churchills will not seize whatever they can get? At all events, secure
the jewels and the money in the house."

"Will you go away and leave me alone!" cried Mrs. Temple, passionately.
"Surely on a day like this--" And then she suddenly burst into tears.
Even to her wayward mind, this greed was shocking in the house of death.

Her mother left her with uplifted hands after this outburst. But Mrs.
Layton was still determined not to waste her time. She therefore
hurried into the poor squire's dressing-room and snatched up and
secured on her person his diamond studs, which were lying in a tray on
the toilet table. Then she looked eagerly around for his keys. He was
sure to have money locked away somewhere, she was thinking. But she
could not find the keys, and after a vain search for them she opened a
linen drawer and turned out half a dozen or so of pocket handkerchiefs.

"Poor man, he will never want them more," she reflected; "and I have
such bad colds every winter they'll come in nice and handy, and the
servants were sure to have stolen them."

Having pocketed these also, she went down-stairs to see Mr. Churchill.
She found him closeted with her husband, the vicar. The two men were
discussing the best plan how immediately to inform John Temple of his
uncle's death. Mr. Churchill had told the vicar of the banker's letter,
and had suggested this as a means of communication with the new heir.

The letter would probably be in the drawers of the writing-table in the
library, Mr. Churchill had said, but the vicar--a timid man--had shrunk
a little back from approaching a spot where so lately had lain the poor
squire's gray head. Mr. Churchill, however, urged that it should be
done, and they were talking it over when Mrs. Layton entered the room.

She extended her thin, claw-like hand to Mr. Churchill, but coldly.

"This is a sad affair, madam," said Mr. Churchill as he took it.

"Not for everyone," she could not help replying, spitefully.

"I think for everyone," answered the farmer, sturdily; "we all have to
go, but the squire was a good man, and a good friend to all who knew
him. There was but one opinion about the squire."

"But one, I am sure," said the vicar, weakly.

"I have been talking to the vicar, madam," went on Mr. Churchill, still
sturdily, "about the best and quickest way of communicating with Mr.
John Temple."

"But you have not his address, I understood," said Mrs. Layton, quickly
and viciously.

"That will be soon found, madam."

"But I thought not," replied Mrs. Layton, yet more viciously. "I
understand that since Mr. John Temple quitted this house in such an
extraordinary manner, that neither he nor--your daughter have ever been
heard of."

Mr. Churchill's clear, brown face turned a dusky red.

"You are mistaken then," he said, sharply. "I saw and heard of them
both. I saw the register of their marriage and the clergyman who
married them and the two ladies who were present at the ceremony! But
I won't discuss it. Vicar, will you go with me to seek the banker's
letter in the squire's writing-table, or shall I go alone?"

"Of course you must go, James?" exclaimed Mrs. Layton. "There may be
family affairs in the writing-table not intended for Mr. Churchill's
inspection. But I think this haste is most indecent; the poor man not
cold yet, and everyone in such a hurry to get what is left! But we
could expect nothing else."

With this parting shot Mrs. Layton quitted the room, and half an hour
later the letter from John Temple's banker informing the squire that
his nephew was abroad, was found by Mr. Churchill and the vicar in one
of the drawers of the writing-table in the library. By this time the
dead man had been borne away, yet there were traces of his familiar
presence all around. The pen he had been using when his summons came;
an unfinished letter lying on the blotting pad; the keys Mrs. Layton
had coveted; the chair on which he had died!

Yet Mr. Churchill sat down there, and deemed he was doing his duty as
he did so, and deliberately wrote to John Temple, his successor. He
also wrote to the bankers, requesting them to forward the inclosed
letter to Mr. John Temple at once when they received it, if they knew
his address, and, at the same time, suggested that a telegram might be
sent immediately. Then, having done this, he looked around a little
sadly.

"Poor man," he said to the vicar, "everything reminds one of him--ah,
well, it's very sad."

But his heart was not sad as he rode home. He felt almost as though he
himself had come into some portion of the dead man's inheritance.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

JOHN TEMPLE'S RETURN.


When a rich man dies the news soon spreads. Mr. Churchill had not
neglected when he wrote to John Temple and the bankers, also to send an
announcement of the squire's death to the _Times_. This announcement
was read on the following morning, as we have seen, by Ralph Webster,
by Kathleen Weir, and also by Mr. Harrison, the solicitor, as well as
the bankers.

Both Mr. Harrison and the bankers knew at this time where to find
the heir. John Temple, after various restless wanderings, had gone
to Cairo, and had written from there to his bankers, and also to Mr.
Harrison, on business. Mr. Harrison read the news of Mr. Temple's
death, and at once telegraphed the information to his now rich client.
And during the day the firm of bankers also telegraphed, and forwarded
Mr. Churchill's letter.

These two telegrams were a great shock to the lonely and unhappy man
to whom they were addressed. John Temple had gone to Egypt to try and
divert his mind, and the change had no doubt been good for him; but
to learn that his uncle was dead, that Woodlea was now his, seemed to
bring all the past back to him with fresh pain.

At first he determined not to return to England; not to accept the
fortune and position which were now his. Then came Mr. Churchill's
letter--a distinct, explicit letter--and he knew as he read it that it
was useless any longer to hide the truth. Mr. Churchill would insist
on learning his daughter's fate; would no doubt, now that he knew his
address, find him out and force it from his lips.

With an intense feeling of shrinking pain John Temple therefore
accepted the position thrust upon him. He telegraphed to Mrs. Temple at
Woodlea that he would arrive there, he expected, on such a date, and
he telegraphed also to Mr. Harrison. He did not, however, write to Mr.
Churchill; he felt this was beyond his strength.

"I will tell him the truth," he told himself, and tried to nerve
himself for the bitter task. "They may do what they like," he thought,
gloomily; "I can not, I think, suffer more than I have already done."

Mrs. Temple was greatly excited when she received this telegram. Her
husband already lay in his grave, and had been followed there by
his friends and tenantry. His young widow, however, did not go. She
watched the long procession leave the Hall with dry eyes. She had got
accustomed to the idea and was not even thinking of the dead when they
bore him away.

Mr. Churchill was one of the mourners, and he could not help having a
certain uneasy feeling in his mind as he listened to the solemn words
of the service, while the old squire was laid by his young son's side.
He had heard from the bankers, who had informed him that Mr. John
Temple was at Cairo, and that they had forwarded his letters to him
there. But no word had come from John Temple in reply. Mr. Churchill,
therefore, could not understand it. But surely soon the mystery would
end; in fact it must end, Mr. Churchill determined, when he turned away
from the squire's grave.

And a day later brought John Temple's telegram to Mrs. Temple. Her
mother, who had not left the Hall since the squire's death, carried it
to her, and Mrs. Temple tore it open with trembling hands.

"He is coming home!" she cried, and that was all.

"John Temple?" asked Mrs. Layton, aghast, who had secretly begun to
hope that something might have happened to the new owner of Woodlea.

"Yes," answered Mrs. Temple, without looking up.

She was re-reading John Temple's telegram, which was couched in his
usual somewhat graceful language. In it he expressed his deep regret
for "your, may I say our, great loss." Then came the day and date that
he expected to arrive in England, and on the following day, after he
had done so, he proposed to go to Woodlea, "if quite convenient to
yourself."

Mrs. Temple smiled a little scornfully as she read the last words.

"He has the whip hand now," she thought; "he said I turned him out of
the house, and now he can turn me."

Mrs. Temple, in fact, knew this to be the case. The squire's will had
been read, and though she was most amply provided for, the Hall and its
contents went to the heir. This arrangement was only in accordance with
the original entailment of the property. Mrs. Layton, as we know, had
tried hard to have this clause set aside, but the squire would listen
to no such suggestion. The Hall went with the estate, and John Temple
was now its owner.

"And--does he mention anything about bringing anyone home with him?"
now inquired Mrs. Layton.

"Not a word; I don't believe that girl is his wife."

"Yet Mr. Churchill assured your father and myself that she is. And your
father knows by name the clergyman who he says married them, Mr. Mold."

"Well, we shall see, at all events; he will soon be here."

Mrs. Temple, however, sent no message to Mr. Churchill that John was
expected shortly at Woodlea. She desired her mother not to mention it;
she wished to be the first, at all events, to know the truth about John
Temple's marriage.

And until the day of his arrival she was very restless. A second
telegram came on the morning of that day to tell her he expected to
be at Woodlea by about seven o'clock in the evening. A carriage was,
therefore, sent to the station to meet him, and Mrs. Temple wandered
about the house after this in a state of great excitement. At last she
heard the sound of the carriage wheels returning, and, looking very
pale and handsome, she went into the hall to meet the new owner.

But when John Temple entered the house, and the lights fell on his
altered face, she gave a little start and a sort of cry.

"What is the matter?" she said, as she went forward and took his hand.
"Have you been ill?"

John Temple scarcely answered her. He looked brown, lined, and haggard,
and naturally returning to Woodlea was very painful to him. Yet he bore
himself with a certain calmness and dignity. He nodded to some of the
servants that he knew, and then, on Mrs. Temple beckoning him to do so,
he followed her into the morning room, and she hastily closed the door
behind him.

"Well," she said, after she had done this, looking quickly up in his
face; "are you alone?"

"Yes," answered John Temple, and his eyes fell.

"Where is she then?" went on Mrs. Temple, excitedly. "The girl you took
away?"

John Temple's pale face grew a little paler, and his lips quivered.

"Would to God I could tell you," he said, in a hoarse and broken voice;
"but I know nothing."

"Know nothing!" repeated Mrs. Temple in the greatest surprise. "What do
you mean by this, John Temple? You can not expect us to believe you;
her father, I am certain, will not."

"I have returned here to tell what I know," continued Temple, still in
that broken voice; "and I would give all I possess in the world to be
able to tell more. But I can not--she--she left me one night--"

"Left you?" interrupted Mrs. Temple, sharply.

"Yes, the night I left Woodlea. I went up to town; I saw her, and I was
forced to tell her what I feared would break her heart."

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her that the man she had trusted--the man that she had loved,
and believed to be her husband--for we were married--had yet deceived
her."

"What do you mean? How did you deceive her?"

"Because when I was a very young man, almost a lad, I had hung a
millstone about my neck; I had married another woman, an actress, and
I knew that this now must come to May's ears."

"John Temple!" exclaimed Mrs. Temple, starting back.

"You may well look startled, yet this was so. I had induced this poor
girl to leave her home; to go to some old friends of mine, and from
their house we were married."

"When you said you were going abroad?"

"We did go abroad immediately after our marriage. I intended it to be
a secret marriage until the time came I hoped to be able to obtain a
divorce from the woman I had first married. Until I met May I had not
cared nor thought of this. I made her an allowance, and never made any
inquiries about her life. But the nephew of the ladies with whom I had
left May got to know this woman, this actress, Kathleen Weir--"

"Kathleen Weir!"

"Yes, Kathleen Weir; and I knew after you had discovered through young
Henderson where May was that the whole story could no longer be kept a
secret. But I believed she cared for me too well to part from me--"

Here Temple's voice broke and faltered, and he paused.

"But she did part from you?" asked Mrs. Temple, quickly.

"I will tell you," went on John Temple, speaking with a great effort.
"I took her to an hotel, and I told her the truth, and after the first
shock, which nearly killed her, was over, I thought she had become
reconciled to the idea. I said we should never part; that I would take
her to Australia, anywhere, and devote my whole life to her, and that
I hoped some day to be free. I left her for a short time to get some
things that she required before we went away, as she did not wish to
see her father, and--and when I left her she said we could not live
apart. I was not away more than an hour, but when I returned to the
hotel she was gone. She had left no note, no address--not a word--and
from that day to this I have heard nothing," and Temple covered his
face with his hand, deeply affected.

"But you sought her, surely? You made inquiries?"

"Every effort was made to find her. I employed the police, I wandered
about the streets of London day and night, but it was all in vain. One
thing only I heard--that someone like her, on the night she disappeared
from the hotel, had taken a cab and asked to be driven to Westminster
bridge--"

"But surely you did not think--"

"What could I think?" went on John Temple, with deep emotion. "I
believed she had loved me too well to leave me, and--and perhaps in her
misery--her despair--"

"Oh, my poor fellow, I am sorry for you!" exclaimed Mrs. Temple, and
she went up to John Temple and laid her hand on his arm. "So this is
the story, is it? A sad, sad story!"

"I left England, meaning never to return," continued Temple, after a
short pause. "Even when the news came of my poor uncle's death I did
not mean to do so. I received a letter from Mr. Churchill; a letter
he had a right to write, and to which I was bound in honor to reply.
I have come back for the purpose of doing this; I will tell him the
truth--"

"Do not talk of it any more just now," interrupted Mrs. Temple. "This
is your own house now, but let me, for once at least, act as hostess.
You will find your old rooms all ready for you, and we dine at
half-past eight."

"I think I am too tired to dine; will you excuse me?" said Temple,
wearily.

"Nonsense, nonsense, I won't excuse you. We shall be quite alone.
My good mother has been with me since your poor uncle's death until
to-day; but to-day I insisted on her departure. I was not going to have
you annoyed by her."

"Thank you for being so considerate."

"Oh! you know I always wished to be good friends with you; it was not
until--well, never mind, let us forget the past."

"I fear that is impossible," said John Temple, sadly.

"At all events do not let us talk of it. Good-by for the present then;
I will see you in half an hour."

After this she left him, and John Temple went slowly upstairs to his
old rooms. These were all lighted and ready for him, with bright fires
burning in the grates, and obsequious servants eager to attend on their
new master. But John Temple felt unutterably depressed. Everything
reminded him of the lovely face he believed now was befouled and
stained by the river's slime, and when he was alone he covered his face
and moaned aloud.

But presently the dinner-gong sounded, and he was forced to go
down-stairs and act his part. To do Mrs. Temple justice, she tried in
every way to divert his mind. She made him tell her about Egypt, and
spoke to him about books and travels, and talked to him as best she
could. She felt, in truth, sorry for the gloomy-faced man opposite to
her, and in her impulsive way she showed this very plainly.

And when the dinner was over, and the servants had left the room, John
Temple asked her the particulars of his uncle's death. She told him how
sudden it had been, and that she had gone into the library and found
him dead.

"It was a great shock to me," she said, and for a moment her lips
quivered.

"It was a terrible shock to me also," he answered; "he was a good man."

"He was very fond of you," said Mrs. Temple, turning away her head.

"I was not ungrateful," replied John Temple, in a low tone, and his
gray eyes fell; "though I fear--"

"I suppose you know this house is yours, and everything in it?" went on
Mrs. Temple, the next moment.

"I shall not live here, and if you wish to do so I hope you will
remain."

"Oh, we can settle all that afterward."

"And that Henderson, what became of him?" now asked John Temple.

"Well, after that blow he got, you know, he was very ill. He had brain
fever, or something like it, and when he got a little better his mother
took him away. They have not been at home all the winter, and Stourton
Grange is shut up. Some people say Henderson is in a lunatic asylum,
but it may not be true."

"He drank, did he not?" said Temple, coldly.

"So they said. I can not tell, but I think he never got over the death
of that girl."

But a moment later Mrs. Temple wished her words unsaid. John Temple
rose restlessly and began walking slowly up and down the room, and a
few minutes later asked leave to retire. It was more painful even than
he had expected, coming back to Woodlea, and he felt that it would be
impossible for him to remain. In the meanwhile the news of his arrival
had reached Woodside Farm. One of Mr. Churchill's neighbors had called
during the evening, and told Mr. Churchill, not without motives of
curiosity, that he had seen "the new squire at the station."

"What! are you sure?" asked Mr. Churchill, eagerly.

"Quite sure," answered the neighbor; "I went to the station about
getting the turnip seed, and saw one of the Hall carriages standing
there. I know the coachman, and I asked if anyone was expected, and
he said Mr. John Temple, the new Squire, was coming home from foreign
parts, and he was waiting for him."

"And," said Mr. Churchill, with faltering tongue, and his bronzed face
grew a little pale, "did you see him arrive?"

"Yes, I thought I might just as well hang about till the train came in;
I was waiting for the seed, you see; and when the train did come, Mr.
John Temple came with it, and he got into the carriage from the Hall
and drove away."

"And was he alone?" asked Mr. Churchill, with scarcely suppressed
agitation.

"Yes, quite alone; he had no servant or nothing. The porter carried
his portmanteau to the carriage; I am quite certain he had no one with
him."

Mr. Churchill asked no more questions. He also now understood the
motive of his neighbor's call, but he was not a man to gratify idle
curiosity. He drew in his firm lips; he made up his mind at once to see
John Temple.

He did not even tell his wife the news he had just heard. Mrs.
Churchill had more than once annoyed him by the way she had spoken,
or rather insinuated, her doubts concerning May's marriage. So he was
determined to say nothing more about it until he knew the true cause of
May's long silence and absence.

It was too late to go to the Hall that night, but as early as ten
o'clock next morning he mounted his horse and rode to Woodlea. John
Temple had prepared his mind for this visit; had told himself that
if Mr. Churchill did not call on him, that he himself would go to
Woodside, and tell the truth as far as he knew it. Yet, while he and
Mrs. Temple were still sitting at the breakfast table, when a servant
entered the room and announced that Mr. Churchill had arrived and was
waiting to see him, John Temple was conscious that his heart sank
within him. But the next moment, with an effort, he nerved himself for
the meeting, and rose quietly from the table.

"Ask Mr. Churchill to go into the library," he said.

The servant bowed and disappeared, and as he did so Mrs. Temple started
up excitedly.

"How horrible for that man to come," she half-whispered. "Whatever will
you say to him?"

"What can I say but the truth?" answered Temple, gloomily.

"But surely you will not," and she went nearer to him and laid her hand
on his arm, and raised her dark eyes to his face; "you will not tell
him--of your other marriage?"

"I must," said Temple, hoarsely; "how otherwise could I account
for--what he must know?"

"But consider--he may be violent--a hundred things may happen. John,
I would not tell him that--say that you quarreled, and that she left
you--anything but that."

John Temple hesitated, and Mrs. Temple saw this in an instant.

"Take my advice, at least about this," she went on eagerly. "Telling
him could do no good, and might bring much harm. Just say you
quarreled--say about another woman, if you like--and that then she left
you, and that you have never seen or heard of her since. I do not think
as you do about it; she probably did only leave you, and some day you
may hear more."

"If you think this--"

"I do, John Temple; you can not tell what this man might do if he knew
the whole story. Leave it to time at least, and say nothing rash."

"I meant to tell him everything."

"And I repeat it will do no good; it would only make a violent scene,
and no end of trouble might come of it."

Still John Temple hesitated, while again and again Mrs. Temple urged
him not to tell Mr. Churchill more than he could possibly help. And
at last her arguments, coupled with the natural shrinking of his own
heart, prevailed.

"For the present then I will say we quarreled, and that she left me,"
he said in a faltering voice. "To tell him more would do no good--and
yet--"

"That is right; tell him you quarreled about some woman, and tell him
how you have sought for her; how you could hear nothing."

John Temple had no answer to this, and then slowly, with a bowed head,
he left the room and went toward the library to face the man whose
daughter he had wronged.



CHAPTER XL.

A WOMAN'S BARGAIN.


As John Temple entered the library, Mr. Churchill, who was standing by
the fireplace, looked quickly up in his face, and then crossed the room
to meet him.

"Well, Mr. Temple," he said, "I heard you had arrived last night, so I
rode over early this morning to ask if May is with you?"

He had fixed to say this during his ride to the Hall, and he blurted it
out in the forced way that prepared speeches are often made.

"Unhappily she is not," answered John Temple, in a low voice, and with
downcast eyes.

"Not with you! That's odd; then where did you leave her?"

For a moment Temple did not speak; a quiver passed over his face, and
his lips trembled.

"Mr. Churchill," he began, and then he paused.

"Well, Mr. Temple, what is this mystery about?" now asked Mr.
Churchill, sharply. "I know you are married to her, so what is wrong?"

"We quarreled and she has left me," said Temple, forcing himself to
utter the words. "She left me without a line, or word--I can not tell
you where she is."

"Can not tell me where she is! Quarreled with you and left you!"
repeated Mr. Churchill in the utmost astonishment. "Mr. Temple, I can
not believe such an incredible story."

"Yet it is most unhappily true, Mr. Churchill. I would give everything
I possess in the world to be able to tell you more--to tell you where
she is."

Temple's voice broke and faltered as he uttered the last words, and Mr.
Churchill looked at him in absolute amazement and consternation.

"And do you mean to tell me," he said, in a hard, angry voice, "that
this girl, who was so fond of you that she left her home for you, has
forsaken you after a few months of marriage? I can not, I will not
believe it; you are keeping something back."

"An incident came to May's ears--an incident of my early life,"
faltered Temple.

"About some woman, I suppose?" interrupted Mr. Churchill.

"Unfortunately about a woman, and--and after that we quarreled, and she
left me. She did not tell me she was going; she gave me no hint, or I
should never have left her alone. But one night when I returned to our
hotel I found she was gone, and though I sought her everywhere, though
I put it into the hands of the police, no trace of her, no reliable
trace at least, has ever been heard of her, and sometimes--I fear the
worst."

Here Temple broke down; he covered his face with his hand; his
agitation was unmistakable.

"You mean that my girl has put an end to herself, though you may have
given her great cause for quarreling with you and leaving you? Then I
don't believe it, sir, I tell you that." And Mr. Churchill struck his
hand heavily down on the writing-table as he spoke. "She may have left
you, I suppose she has, but she had too much spirit, my May had, to
take her life for any such folly."

"If I could only hope this."

"You may not only hope it, but be sure of it! But this must be
investigated at once. I'll move heaven and earth to find my girl; ay,
and I'll find her!"

"Would to God that you could."

"I will; there, I've said it, and I seldom say what I do not do. When
and how did she disappear? Who saw her last? Tell me everything."

Then John Temple, in broken and faltering words, did tell Mr. Churchill
everything he knew of May's disappearance. Only he kept back the true
cause. He gave him the address of the inspector of the police who had
conducted the inquiry; he told even the cabman's story of the lady he
had driven to Westminster bridge. But Mr. Churchill would not listen to
any such suggestion that May had taken her young life.

"You may have broken her heart, perhaps you have," he said, harshly,
"but my lass was no weak fool to destroy herself for a worthless man!
No, she is hiding herself somewhere, and her father will find her. But
it's a pity, Mr. Temple," he added, bitterly, "that you did not leave
her alone."

"I loved her very dearly. Since she left me my life has been one
unending regret."

"Yet you let another woman come between you! This may be the way of
fine gentlemen, but my poor girl, I suppose, would not stand it."

Temple did not speak; he stood there facing the angry man before him;
his heart was full of shame and pain.

"The long and the short of it is, I suppose," continued Mr. Churchill,
"that May believed that you had ceased to love her; or had never loved
her as she thought you had, and so she left you. But she should have
written to her father! If I had not positively ascertained that you
were married to her, if I had not seen the register of your marriage
with my own eyes, I would have found you both out long before this.
However, as it is--"

"Go to whatever expense you like, Mr. Churchill; find May, and you will
lift a weight off my heart that is almost too heavy to bear."

John Temple spoke earnestly, almost passionately, and Mr. Churchill
could not but believe him.

"It's a queer business," he said; "if you were fond of her why did you
not stick to her? But I'll start to-night for London."

"Let me hear from you every day; I will join you if you like."

"No, I'm best alone; I'm more likely to find her alone. But what am I
to go back and say at home?"

"Say anything; what matter is it?"

"But it is matter to me, Mr. Temple! I'll say you've had a difference,
and I'm going to London to try to make it up--yes, that will do, and I
must make it up."

Mr. Churchill left the Hall shortly after this, and John Temple
returned to the morning-room, where Mrs. Temple was eagerly awaiting
him.

"Well," she said, excitedly, "is he gone? What did you tell him?"

"What you bade me; I told him everything--except why she--"

"Left you? That was right. Oh! I'm so glad, so glad, John Temple, you
did not tell him that."

"It will probably come out."

"It may and it may not. At all events you may not be here if it does;
it is a thousand times best kept quiet. And what is Mr. Churchill going
to do?"

"He is going to London--going, I fear, on a vain search."

"That may not be also. Come, we must hope for the best."

But John Temple only sadly shook his head. It remained his fixed idea
that May was dead, as he believed she had loved him too well to live
apart from him.

But he felt grateful to Mrs. Temple for her kindness and consideration
for his feelings; grateful perhaps that she had spared him telling
May's father all the bitter truth. And Mrs. Temple told the same story
to her mother. Mrs. Layton, we may be sure, was not long in arriving at
the Hall, but her daughter would not allow her to see John Temple.

"You worry him, and he and his wife have quarreled about some old love
of his or other, and she has actually left him," she said.

"Left him!" cried Mrs. Layton, triumphantly. "I knew no good would come
of it; no good ever does come of unequal marriages. But I don't believe
she has left him; I believe he has left her."

Mrs. Temple shrugged her shoulders.

"At all events they have parted," she said; "and naturally he does not
wish to be asked any questions on the subject, so while he is here
please do not come."

Mrs. Layton drew her meager little form up to its full height.

"Rachel, is it possible," she said, "that you forbid your mother to the
house?"

"It is John Temple's house now, not mine, and he does not wish to be
worried; so please stay away," replied Mrs. Temple, coolly; and Mrs.
Layton departed, feeling that "a judgment" was sure to descend on her
daughter's head.

Mrs. Temple told John Temple of this quarrel, and laughed a little
scornfully at the recollection of it.

"My mother is a woman," she said, "on whom all delicacy of feeling is
wasted, for she has none;" and John Temple certainly agreed with her.

But on the third day after his arrival at Woodlea something occurred
which worried and disturbed him more than twenty visits from Mrs.
Layton. It was a fine spring day and Mrs. Temple had gone out for a
drive, but John Temple had refused to accompany her. However, about
four o'clock, tempted by the sunshine, he lit a cigar and strolled out
into the park.

He walked on moodily enough with bent head, when his attention was
attracted by the sound of carriage wheels approaching down the avenue.
He supposed it would be Mrs. Temple returning from her drive, and so he
walked on. But when the carriage drew nearer and he was about to meet
it, he saw it was not one of the Hall carriages, but evidently a hired
one. He therefore turned hastily into a side path, for he was in no
mood to encounter strangers. Then he heard the carriage stop, and a few
moments later, when he again looked around, he perceived a lady on the
side path, who was evidently following him.

He stopped, and for an instant the thought, the wild hope, crossed
his brain, could it be May? But no; the lady who was approaching him,
though closely veiled, was taller than the slender girlish form of his
lost love. She advanced quickly, and in another minute they met; and
John Temple started back as they did so.

For it was the woman to whom he had not spoken for long years; the
woman he had wedded in his early youth, and whose existence had been a
curse and a stumbling-block in his way!

"You!" he said, sternly. "Why are you here?"

"From a natural feeling of curiosity," answered the actress, who bore
the professional name of Kathleen Weir. "I wished to see you in your
new home!" And she gave a little laugh.

"It is useless--" began John Temple; but with a little airy wave of her
hand she interrupted him.

"Pardon me," she said, "it may be very useful to us both. I have come
with a purpose; a purpose which I am quite sure will be a welcome one
to you; I want you to help me to get rid of you."

Again she laughed, and then flung back her veil and stood looking
steadily at the husband who had forsaken her. She was a handsome woman,
but John Temple saw no beauty in the large, bright, restless gray eyes;
in the mocking, saucy lips.

"I do not understand you," he answered, coldly.

"Not yet; but you will by and by. So this is your new inheritance?" she
continued, looking round at the wooded park, with the fine gray old
mansion standing in its midst. "My friend John, I had no idea I had
made such a good match," she added, mockingly.

"If you have come to talk thus, our interview must end."

"What! grudge me a word or two, after these long years? Well, come,
that is mean of you. But I have not come to talk nonsense, but sense. I
have come, in fact, to talk business."

"I suppose you want your allowance increased?"

Kathleen Weir nodded.

"That I certainly do," she said, "and my terms have gone up since I
have seen what a fine place you have got. But it is not only about
my allowance I want to talk; I want to know if we can not arrange a
divorce between us?"

John Temple looked at her quickly.

"My bait takes, I see," went on Kathleen Weir, coolly. "Now, you can't
get a divorce from me; I've been too careful for that; perhaps too
cold, for a burnt child dreads the fire; or maybe I was too prudent to
run the risk of losing my allowance. No, you can not get a divorce from
me; now, the question is, can I get one from you?"

John Temple was silent; he looked down, he moved his hands impatiently.

"By the wonderful justice which the male law-givers deal out to women,
I am perfectly aware that you could run away with anyone; with a
dozen if you had a mind to, and I could get no redress unless you had
committed some act, or acts, of cruelty, to which I could swear. Now,
to be free, I am ready to swear falsely; I am ready to swear that you
tore handfuls of hair out of my head, and I have a false tress or two
out of which you can tear them--if you will make it worth my while."

"What do you mean?"

"My friend John, you are a rich man now, and I've no doubt will be
ready to pay handsomely for your liberty. You wish, I suppose, to be
free of me, and be able to marry someone else?"

"Some months ago," answered John Temple, with quick emotion, "I would
have given anything to have been so--now it is too late."

"Why is it too late?"

"It is useless to tell you; to tell you how our miserable marriage
spoilt a young life."

"But is it spoilt? And even if it is, I think you should show a little
consideration for me. I am tired of leading the life I lead; I want
someone to care a little for me. I wish, in fact, to be divorced from
you."

"Do you wish to marry again?"

"Well, if you will have it so, I think I do. But then, you know, you
must consider my position. You talk of a spoilt life, but you spoilt
and wasted my youth."

"It is easy to put it so," said John Temple, bitterly.

"Well, you married me and left me, did you not?"

"We agreed to part."

"Yes, after you had made my life so unpleasant that there was no
standing it. But I don't want to fight, or say disagreeable things.
I really want to come to an arrangement with you, an arrangement by
which you will benefit by being free; and I shall benefit by being free
also--only you must remember you are a rich man."

John Temple was silent for a moment or two; he was turning it over in
his mind whether to accept her proposition; then he remembered he had
not told Mr. Churchill of his marriage to Kathleen Weir, that he could
not be divorced without this being publicly known.

"Now I'll be quite frank with you," she went on, looking at his moody
face. "I'll want either a lump sum down, or a largely increased
allowance for swearing falsely and exhibiting in court the three
handsful of beautiful hair that you tore out of my unfortunate head.
You must pay, you see, for these little freaks of temper."

"Your jesting is out of place."

"Not at all, my friend; life has always its comical side. For instance,
it is comical my coming here to make a sensible bargain with you,
instead of talking of my broken heart."

"I presume it is not broken."

"No, it is not, thank goodness. It is a tough heart, and a man's
inconstancy and changeableness will never even make a crack in it. For
me to love and grieve now," and she looked at him straight, "a man must
be worth loving and grieving for."

"What is the bargain that you want to make, then?" asked John Temple,
impatiently, a moment later.

"It is this: You are a rich man now, and I am your wife, so I ought
to be a rich woman also. I have a right, you know, to come here if I
choose; to claim you before your new friends; in fact, to make myself
generally disagreeable. But I don't want to do this. I have my own
ideas of happiness, and it is not to force my company on an unwilling
man. But if you will give me ten thousand pounds I will bring an action
of divorce against you; I will show the hair you tore out of my head,
and swear to a black bruise or two on my arms, and perhaps a little
playful box on my ears. Mind, I am not jesting, though I talk as if I
were."

"And if I refuse your modest request?"

"Oh, well, then I must have a big allowance; and I will talk to
everyone of my husband, Mr. John Temple of Woodlea Hall, and I will buy
diamonds and have them put down to you; in fact, it will be worse for
you than if you give me ten thousand pounds and were done with me. I
really advise you to think it over."

And John Temple actually stood and did think it over.

"Let me have time to consider," he said, at length.

"Which means you will accept my terms," cried Kathleen Weir,
triumphantly. "I'm so glad. I really feel quite friendly toward you,
and we must help each other in this business, you know, and keep our
own secrets, and no one will ever be the wiser."

John Temple made no answer; he was thinking that he would in truth be
glad to be free, and yet--

"I'll see about getting a good man to manage the case," went on
Kathleen Weir, "and I will write to you, and we must get up the
evidence, you know, and have everything on the square. We'll hoodwink
the dear old judge, and I will play the injured wife to such perfection
that it will be one of my best parts. I'm glad I came to see you,
but you're not looking well, my friend; you are not as good-looking
as you were. Well, never mind, someone, I dare say, will think you
good-looking enough, particularly when she sees your grand house;
though, by the by, you have not yet asked me into it."

"My uncle's widow is there, but--"

"Oh! never mind; I brought a luncheon basket with me from town, as
I did not know whether I could depend on your hospitality; and,
besides, it might look like collusion if we were caught hobnobbing
together. No one knows of my visit here, and no one need know of it. I
will go straight back to town by the next train, and will write all
particulars to you as soon as I have arranged my case, and, as I said
before, I shall depend on your friendly assistance. So now if you will
escort me back to the very shaky hired carriage that I picked up at the
station, I will take leave of Woodlea Hall--and its new owner."

Again she laughed and showed her white teeth, and without another word
John Temple walked by her side back to the carriage which was waiting
for her in the avenue, and when they reached it he handed her in.

"Good-by," she said, holding his hand for a moment and looking at him
smilingly. "Make a better choice the second time; you are a man who
should marry a woman who thinks you perfection--I never did!"

Then she nodded, smiled again, and was driven away.



CHAPTER XLI.

A WOMAN'S OFFER.


She returned to town in the highest spirits, and the first thing she
did was to write to Ralph Webster.

"Come and dine with me to-morrow night," she wrote. "I have some
wonderful news to tell you. I shall be alone, and we will dine at eight.
                                                                  K. W."

Ralph Webster received this tiny note the next morning, and after
a little consideration he determined to accept her invitation. He
naturally felt a strange interest in Kathleen Weir's proceedings, and
wondered what her news could be; wondered if in any way it could affect
the one woman of whom he ever thought.

He had seen May Churchill the day before, and had noticed on her fair
face a certain new serenity; a new peace, as if her bitter pain had
passed away. And he had heard also from his friend, Doctor Brentwood,
that the young probationer was learning to be a most excellent nurse;
that she took interest in and studied her duties, and that some of the
patients had said that her face was like an angel's as she stood by
their bedsides.

May, in truth, was learning something besides nursing. She was learning
the stern, sad lessons of life. The sick and sorrowing taught her
these; taught her to look beyond the passing joys and hopes of earth.
She knew now that her sorrow had not been greater than that of others,
nor her cross heavier to bear. So patiently and bravely did she do the
work that lay nearest to her hand.

To Ralph Webster she naturally felt very grateful, and she had said
something of this the last time he had seen her. But he still had never
spoken of his strong, deep feelings toward her. He had not, in fact,
the same opportunities of doing this at the hospital as he had at
Hastings. But he was only biding his time. "Some day I will try to win
her," he told himself each time he saw her; "some day she will forget,
and cease to grieve."

He was thinking of her as he drove to the flat occupied by Miss
Kathleen Weir; thinking of her, as he always did, with tender and
protecting love. But the handsome woman who rose to welcome him amid
her flowers and the ornate decorations of her room, naturally knew
nothing of this secret of his heart. Kathleen Weir received him with
smiles and real pleasure. She looked in his dark, earnest face and
compared him mentally with the man she had seen the day before.

"He is worth winning," she thought; "worth everything--at least to me."

"And what is your wonderful news?" asked Webster, smiling, after they
had shaken hands and Kathleen Weir had once more sank down on the satin
couch from which she had risen at his entrance.

"Wait until we have dined," she answered, gaily. "It is so wonderful it
would take away your appetite if we did not."

"Very well, I am content to wait," said Webster, and a few minutes
after dinner was served. It was a luxurious little meal. Kathleen had
spared nothing to make it attractive and agreeable, and during it she
was bright and charming, and Webster thought he had never seen her look
so well.

Then, when it was over, she rose in her lithe way and returned to the
drawing-room, followed by Webster.

"Now, I am going to give you a great surprise," she said; "where will
you sit?"

He drew a chair and placed it near her.

"Well, I am prepared to be surprised," he answered, with a smile.

"Yet you will never guess where I was yesterday. You will never guess
who I saw. I went down to Woodlea Hall; I had a long interview with
John Temple, its new owner."

A dark flush rose to Webster's face as he listened to these words.

"I went, in fact, to try to do a stroke of business, and I did it. You
did not seem inclined to do it for me, and there was no one else in
whom I had absolute trust but myself. I went to Woodlea for the purpose
of seeing John Temple, and making him a polite offer to get rid of me.
It is a splendid place, and I told him that I had no idea I had made
such a good match."

"And you saw him?" said Webster, with a great effort.

"Of course I saw him. I told him I was quite as tired of being married
to him as he could be of being married to me. And I told him also it
was no use his trying to get a divorce from me, as he had nothing to go
upon. 'But,' I added, 'I can get one from you. I have only to invent
that you tore the hair out of my head, and beat me black and blue, to
win my case' and my gentleman did not deny it."

"But surely you will not--"

"But surely I will," went on Kathleen Weir, as Webster paused and
hesitated. "However, I have not told you all. 'And as you are a rich
man,' I continued, 'you must pay for your freedom. I am ready to
swear falsely; to rid you of a wife to whom you are indifferent, and
who is perfectly indifferent to you, but I must be paid for it.' He
made no objections, and I named the sum I would accept--ten thousand
pounds--and to this also he made no objections. Now, don't you think it
was very clever of me?"

"But--have you any case against him?"

"Of course I have a case, and we can arrange the particulars between
us. He won't deny the hair-pulling and the beatings, and the judge will
believe me to be an injured woman, and give me the release I am dying
for. I will be free--free and rich--and perhaps then--"

Her voice faltered as she said the last few words, for the first time
during this interview, and her eyes fell. Webster's eyes also fell, and
he moved uneasily, and then he rose and went toward the fireplace and
stood leaning against the mantel-piece.

Kathleen Weir glanced after him; then also rose and followed him to
where he was standing.

"Do not think me hard, or cold, or mercenary," she said, "in making
this bargain. I--I was not thinking of myself when I did so. I make
a large income by my profession; more than I need. But I wanted this
sum--Ralph Webster, shall I tell you why?"

She put out her white hand as she spoke, and laid it on his arm. It
was trembling, and Webster saw it tremble, and an embarrassed silence
followed for a few moments between them.

"Shall I tell you why?" she presently repeated, in a soft, low voice,
and she looked up in his face. "I wanted it for you--for you, for whose
sake I wish also to be free."

"Hush, hush, do not speak thus," said Webster, in great agitation. "I
thank you very much for your kindness, your friendship--but--"

"But what?" asked Kathleen, quickly, and her face grew pale.

"There--there is a girl, a woman," faltered Webster, "whom I may never
marry--who--who does not love me, yet--"

"You love her?" said Kathleen, with a sort of gasp.

"Yes, and I shall love no other--forgive me, Miss Weir--but this is
true."

Again there was a few moments' painful silence, and then with a strong
effort the actress recovered herself.

"Well, there is no harm done," she said, and she turned away. "And for
the matter of that," she added, with a harsh little laugh, "I am not
divorced yet; I may never be!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ten minutes later--after Webster was gone--Kathleen Weir was pacing
up and down her drawing-room in a state of intense and concentrated
excitement.

"Am I so mad," she said, speaking aloud to herself, "to let this folly
utterly upset me? I have wasted my affections then for the second
time, but it won't kill me! Webster shall not think he has broken my
heart any more than the other one did. Yet I like him," and her face
softened; "he has a great heart--and the girl, the woman, whoever she
is, may be proud of her conquest. But I am not going to pine; life
isn't long enough to waste on a vain regret."

After this she went back into the room where they had dined and took up
one of the half-emptied champagne bottles and poured some of it into
a glass and drank it. Then she rang the bell and ordered her brougham
to come around for her in half an hour, and having done that she sat
down to her desk and wrote and dispatched telegrams to Linda Falconer,
to Lord Dereham, and to two other men that she knew, inviting them to
supper that evening at half-past eleven o'clock. Presently she sent out
and ordered an elaborate supper to be sent in from a confectioner's;
ordered everything she could think of; the most expensive luxuries she
could buy.

When she had completed her arrangements she drove to one of the
theaters to pass the time until her expected guests would arrive. A
man she knew joined her there, and she invited him also to return with
her to supper. She seemed in the wildest spirits; she laughed and
jested, and showed her white teeth; all the while a cold sharp pang lay
pressing on her heart.

The supper was a great success, and never had Kathleen Weir been so
witty or so gay. She sang, she coquetted, and played her part so well
that Linda Falconer looked at her with her shadowed, dreamy eyes, and
asked her if she had come into a fortune.

"I have the prospect of one, at all events," answered Kathleen; "and
there is nothing like money, you know, Linda--nothing, nothing!"

"I think there is something better than money," said Dereham, with his
honest brown eyes fixed on Linda Falconer's lovely face.

"You mean love!" And Kathleen Weir shrugged her white shoulders.
"My friend, that is because you are young and innocent. Love is a
delusion, a pitfall into which we stumble only to find it full of
disappointments. We love a man or a woman whom at the time we think
perfection, but it is not the true man or woman, but an idealized
creature of our own imaginations. We find this out when it is too late,
and we blame the unfortunate recipient of our deluded affections, not
our own folly in being deluded."

"Well, I believe in love," answered Dereham, sturdily.

"Long may you believe in it, then," said Kathleen, with a light laugh.
"But, Dereham, you won't. You too will wake up and find your idol
shattered."

"How spiteful you are, Kathleen!" remarked Linda Falconer, calmly.
"Have you had a disappointment in love lately?"

"No, my dear, for I have not been in love. I love myself too well to
waste my affections on an ungrateful man."

"But you might find a grateful one?" said one of her friends, smiling.

"I doubt it, greatly. However, I do not mean to try. I mean to amuse
myself, and if you are always thinking of one person it is impossible
to do so."

She talked in this strain a little longer and then rose and went to
the piano, and presently her wonderfully clear and ringing voice filled
the room. The men present stood around her, except Lord Dereham, who
remained in the supper-room with Linda Falconer.

"How excited Kathleen Weir is to-night! Do you think she has taken too
much champagne?" remarked Linda of her friend.

Dereham laughed.

"Can't tell," he said; "but that was all rot she talked."

"Do you mean about love?" asked Linda, softly, and for a moment she
looked in Dereham's face, and then cast down her beautiful eyes with a
sigh.

"Yes," he answered, ardently, and he bent forward and took her white
hand. "I believe in it--and--and Linda, don't you?"

"I--try not to think of it," she half-whispered.

"But why?"

"Because--ah, Dereham, you must not ask;" and again she sighed.

"But I do ask, and I want you to answer me. Why do you try not to think
of love?"

"Because--the--the person I could love is not as I am."

"How do you mean?"

"His rank is different to mine," answered Linda, in a low, sad tone.

"His rank! What has rank to do with it? If a man really loves he never
thinks of these things. Linda, who is the person you could love? Will
you tell me?"

Again Linda looked in his face, and their eyes met; Linda's said very
plainly--at least she intended them to say--"You are the person I could
love"; and thus Dereham understood their meaning.

"Then--then do love me, dearest," he said, bending closer, and
half-whispering in her ear. "Let my rank be yours; your life be
mine--be my wife?"

Linda Falconer smiled gently as she listened to the words. She had
wished to listen to them for some little while, but she had not been in
a hurry. She was too wise, too cold, to allow the young man to think
she was in any haste to receive his proposal. But as he had proposed,
she was also too wise to allow the opportunity to pass.

"But are you sure, quite sure, of your own heart?" she asked,
pensively. "You heard what Kathleen Weir said--and--and unless you
really love me--"

"I do most deeply, most truly; I have thought of this almost ever since
I met you, but I was never sure of you; you do not make a rush at a
fellow like some women do, and--and though I was afraid I liked you all
the better for it."

He made this ingenious confession to a woman who knew very well he was
speaking the truth. She had intended to win this young lord, and she
had won him, and no doubt had done it cleverly.

"I was afraid too," she said, softly, "afraid to love you--at least to
show my love--but not now."

And before the party broke up she had time to whisper her news to
Kathleen Weir.

"It is all settled," she said; "we are engaged," and her eyes were
bright with triumph.

Kathleen Weir listened, and somehow another woman's success and
happiness gave her a fresh pang.

"So this cold, selfish woman has won, and I have lost," she thought,
bitterly, after her guests had left her. All her high spirits had
now died away; she sat wearily down, but after a while returned to
the supper-room and drank several glasses of champagne to benumb the
aching pain at her heart. As a rule, she was a very sober woman, and
the unusual quantity of wine that she had taken quickly affected her.
She walked, but not very steadily, back into the drawing-room, and as
she did so her foot tripped on a cushion that someone had accidentally
thrown and left on the floor. She stumbled, and to save herself from
falling caught hold of a brass floor-lamp, and in doing so overturned
it. And in an instant--before her first agonized cry could escape her
lips--the burning oil streamed over her bare neck, throat, and arms,
and the light dress that she wore was in flames.

She uttered shriek after shriek, and ran--a burning mass--to the door
of the room. A gentleman who lived in the flat above her heard her
cries and quickly came to her assistance. He promptly wrapped her in
a coverlet that he caught up, and succeeded, after a few minutes, in
crushing out the cruel flames; but she was terribly burned, and the
decorated room where the accident occurred, which she had made so
bright with flowers when she had awaited Webster's coming, was one
blackened ruin ere the fire died out.



CHAPTER XLII.

WEBSTER'S STRUGGLE.


Late in the afternoon of the following day, as Webster was leaving one
of the law courts where he had been pleading, a gentleman, a stranger,
touched his arm and addressed him.

"You are Mr. Webster, the barrister, are you not?" he said.

"Yes," answered Webster, looking up.

"I am Doctor Lynton," continued the gentleman, who was a grave-faced,
middle-aged man. "I have been to your chambers at the Temple to seek
you, and have followed you here. I have come from Miss Kathleen Weir,
the actress."

An annoyed expression passed over Webster's face.

"And I have come on a sad errand," went on Doctor Lynton. "A terrible
accident happened to Miss Weir last night, and she is lying now in, I
fear--nay, I more than fear, I know--a hopeless condition."

A shocked exclamation broke from Webster's lips.

"How did it happen?" he asked. "What happened?"

"She accidentally overturned one of those tall floor-lamps, and is
dreadfully burned. And she wishes to see you; she sent me to say she
wishes to see you before she dies."

"How terrible!" exclaimed Webster. "Do you mean to tell me there is no
hope?"

"Conscientiously, I can hold out none," answered the doctor. "It is,
indeed, a sad case. But can you go to her now? My brougham is waiting
for me, and I am going to drive straight back to her house, and if
you will come with me I shall be glad--for, poor soul, I fear she is
drifting fast away."

"I will go," said Webster, unutterably shocked. It seemed almost
impossible, this sudden change. The bright woman of last night; the gay
rooms, the jests, the laughter, and now to hear of the approaching end.

He scarcely spoke after he entered the doctor's carriage. He covered
his face with one of his hands, and sat thinking what the death of
Kathleen Weir might mean. A fair face--sweet, serene, and sad--rose
before his mental vision, and unconsciously a sort of groan broke from
his lips.

"Did you know her well?" asked the doctor, in a commiserating tone.

"You mean Miss Weir?" answered Webster, trying to rouse himself. "Yes,
I have known her for some time."

"She has seen her lawyer," continued the doctor, "and made her will.
But I do not suppose she has much to leave; these actresses as a rule
spend their money as fast as they get it."

"I do not know," said Webster, indifferently, for he was not thinking
of the actress' will.

The doctor after this made a remark occasionally, and Webster just
replied; and presently the carriage stopped before the handsome mansion
where poor Kathleen Weir's flat was situated. Her own rooms were
wrecked, almost everything in them having been destroyed before the
fire was extinguished. But they had carried her to another flat in the
same house, and to a darkened chamber in this suite of rooms the doctor
now proceeded, followed by Webster, who was deeply moved.

The doctor faintly rapped when they reached the door of the apartment
where Kathleen lay, and it was immediately opened by a professional
nurse.

"I am glad you have come, doctor," she whispered; "she is very
restless."

Then the doctor went into the room and approached the bedside, and the
moment Kathleen saw him she said, in a faint, low voice, which Webster
heard:

"Have you brought him?"

"Yes," answered the doctor, gently; "he is here. Mr. Webster, will you
come and speak to Miss Weir?"

Upon this Webster, with faltering footsteps, also approached the bed,
where, swathed and bandaged, lay the once lovely form of Kathleen Weir!

"Send everyone away, doctor," continued Kathleen, in the same faint,
low tone; "I wish to speak to Mr. Webster alone."

The doctor and the nurse at once left the room, and then Kathleen spoke
to Webster.

"Well, this is a great change," she said.

Webster was deeply agitated, and his voice broke and faltered as he
strove to express his regret and sorrow.

"It came so suddenly," continued Kathleen; "like a bad dream--only
there was no waking from it."

"How did it happen?" asked Webster, much moved.

"I tripped and fell over a cushion someone had left lying on the floor,
and to save myself caught at a lamp and overturned it. I was like a mad
creature last night, I think. After you left I went to the theater,
and had people to supper, and we made merry, when--well, Mr. Webster,
I seemed to care for nothing more; when the world seemed for me--as it
is."

"Oh, hush, hush! do not speak thus, I entreat you!"

"Well, you have nothing to blame yourself for, at least. You acted like
an honest man, and I admired you when--you gave me a blow that was far
more bitter than you guessed of. But it is all over now. John Temple
will be free without his divorce; and if it was money that parted you
from the girl or woman you cared for, it need part you no longer--for I
have left you all I have to leave."

"Miss Weir--Kathleen! Why have you done this? I want no money; I can
not take it!"

"But you must, my friend; do not talk nonsense--what good can it do me
now? Yes, it does do me some good, to be able thus to show you what I
really think of you; to mark how I estimate you--and if it makes you
happy even with someone else--"

"No money will make me happy--it was not money," answered Webster with
inexpressible pain in his face. It flashed across his mind indeed at
this moment that the very death of this wayward, generous heart would
end all his hopes; would leave John Temple free.

"At all events, I hope you will be happy--some day," went on Kathleen,
after a little pause; "so I sent for you to tell you this, and--to bid
you good-by. But I don't believe it will be forever. I have a vague
foreshadowing of another life--another and a better one--even for a
poor sinner like me. And after all, one is often tired here--tired by
the shams and follies--I feel tired now--"

Her voice sank into a whisper as she uttered these last words, and
then died away. Webster bent nearer, and then grew alarmed. He rang
the bell, and the doctor and nurse reappeared, and Webster left the
room, but not the house. A profound feeling of melancholy seemed to
come over him. A sense of desolation filled his heart. The door of
poor Kathleen's wrecked drawing-room was slightly ajar, and he went in
and looked around. The flames had blackened and spoilt everything, and
the water poured in by the firemen had completed the ruin. He thought
of her as she had sat there yesterday--a bright, smiling, handsome
woman--and he thought of her now. And her generous words! Her having
remembered him amid her own agony touched his very soul.

"But she little knows, poor Kathleen--she little knows!" he murmured,
half-aloud, as he gazed at the desolate scene.

And then he asked himself what he must do. It Kathleen died, John
Temple would be free; free to right the wrong that he had done--but
would he do it? Naturally Webster thought ill of John Temple, and was
not sure how he would act when he heard the wife was dead whom he had
forsaken. And then, Temple knew not where to find May. "No one knows
where to find her but myself," reflected Webster, and a great struggle
took place in his heart.

"Shall I again destroy the peace that is just dawning? tell her the man
who treated her so vilely is now able to marry her if he will? It would
be cruel, and yet, on the other hand, what right have I to judge for
her?"

None, Webster told himself, as he paced restlessly up and down the
deserted room. If May still cared for Temple, he had no right to stand
between them; no right to think of his own happiness in comparison to
hers.

He was still thinking thus when Doctor Lynton entered the room, and
Webster looked quickly in his face as he did so.

"She has revived a little for the present," said the doctor, in answer
to the unspoken question written on Webster's face. "But the action of
her heart is extremely weak, arising from the shock to the system, and
she will not live over the night."

Webster heard this verdict in silence; but the fleeting breath was not
stayed even as long as the doctor had thought. A few minutes later the
nurse entered the room and addressed Webster.

"The poor lady upstairs, sir," she said, "has something to give you
before she goes, and I think it won't be long now."

"Will it do her any harm my seeing her?" asked Webster, looking at the
doctor.

"Nothing will do her any harm," answered the doctor, gravely; "from the
first there was no hope; and it is only from the original strength and
vitality of her constitution that she has lasted so long."

So Webster returned to the bedside of the dying woman, and even during
the short time of his absence her voice was weaker. It was indeed
only a husky whisper now, and he had to bend over her very closely to
understand what she said.

"I want you to have this ring--this ring," and a bandaged hand crept
out toward Webster's, who took it gently in his own, and stooping down
kissed it. "Keep it for my sake," went on those husky tones; "and if
you see John Temple--"

But the next moment she gave a kind of cry.

"What is this? What new pain is this?" she gasped out. "Lift me up--I
am choking--lift me up!"

Both the doctor and Webster at once raised her in their arms, but after
a few gasping sighs, she indicated that she wished to lie back again.

"It--is--all over," she murmured; "and--I die as I wished--with my hand
in yours."

They were her last words; there were a few faint struggles, a few long,
low sighs, and then all was still. But to the end Webster kept her poor
maimed hand in his, and when it was all over he again bent down and
kissed it, and when he raised his head his eyes were dim with unshed
tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

Late that night he sat alone in his chambers pondering still on how he
should act. A hard and bitter struggle was warring in his heart; how
hard and bitter he only knew. Unconsciously almost to himself he had
begun to hope that some day he would win May Churchill for his wife;
that some day she might return his love. He was not a man to love
lightly, nor one to change. His feelings were characteristic, strong,
and undivided; his life high-toned and pure. Until he had seen May's
flower-like face he had loved no woman, and indeed scarcely had given
the sex a thought. His profession, his career, had occupied his whole
time, and he hardly knew that there lay a hidden fire in his breast,
which had kindled and burst forth at the beauty of a country girl.

Now he did not deceive himself. He knew during that dark struggle in
the midnight hours when Kathleen Weir lay dead, that if he gave May
up he gave up also the best hopes of his manhood, the one love of his
life. But after a stout fight with the opposing passions of his heart,
the nobler part of his nature conquered.

"Shall I not give her back happiness at the cost of my own?" he
determined. "I will go to him, and if he is a cur, she shall never
know; if not--"

His face was very gray and pale, but he had made up his mind. He would
see John Temple, and he and May must decide their fate.



CHAPTER XLIII.

STRANGE NEWS.


The next day was a wet and dreary one, almost a storm. The wind sighed
through the budding trees at Woodlea Hall, and the rain beat against
the window panes. A bright fire was, however, burning in the library
during the afternoon, and the new master, John Temple, was there, and
Mrs. Temple, the widow of the old one.

John Temple was smoking endless cigarettes and reading. He was nearly
always smoking now, and Mrs. Temple declared she delighted in the smell
of tobacco. She in truth delighted to be in John Temple's company, and
nearly always contrived to be so.

Presently John Temple rose from his easy chair and flung the remains
of his last cigarette into the grate, and having lit a new one began
walking restlessly up and down the long room, and Mrs. Temple's dark
eyes followed his tall, slight form as he did so.

"What are you thinking of, John?" at last she asked.

"Can't tell," he answered somewhat listlessly; "the wind disquiets me,
I think."

"It is a storm," she said, and then she also rose, and went first to
one of the windows of the room and looked out. Presently she turned
around and joined John Temple, and slid her hand through his arm and
began walking by his side.

She had scarcely done this, however, when they both heard the sound of
carriage wheels approaching up the avenue, and a minute or so later the
hall doorbell rang.

"What a bore!" exclaimed John Temple. "If it is any visitors, say I'm
out."

"Very well," she answered, but still remained by his side. A few
moments later, however, a footman rapped at the room door and then
entered, carrying a salver on which lay a card, which he presented to
his new master.

John Temple put out his hand carelessly and took it up, but the instant
he saw the printed name a quick change came over his face.

"Who is it?" asked Mrs. Temple, sharply, who had noticed the change.

"A man I wish to see--you may show him in here," he went on, addressing
the footman; "and perhaps you," and he looked at Mrs. Temple, "if you
do not mind--"

"You wish me to go?" said Mrs. Temple, quickly. "Very well, I
will--only do nothing rash."

John Temple made no answer to this, and then Mrs. Temple quitted the
room, and in the hall she passed a tall, dark man, who was being
ushered to the library by the footman.

And a moment later Ralph Webster entered the room. He bowed gravely to
John Temple, who also bowed, and a slight flush rose to his face as he
did so.

"You are Mr. John Temple, I presume?" then said Webster.

"I am."

"I have come on a strange errand, Mr. Temple," continued Webster; "but
I have come because I believe it to be my duty to do so. I am the
nephew of two ladies whom you used to know; of the ladies to whose
care you confided the young lady whom you afterward married from their
house."

John Temple bowed his head; his face contracted as if with pain.

"I understand," he said in a low tone. "Have--have you anything to tell
me?"

Webster hesitated for a moment and then went on.

"I knew this young lady; I met her at my aunts', and I knew you also
by name, and had been told of your marriage. But in the course of my
professional career I met another lady--Miss Kathleen Weir--and from
her I learned the early history of her life and her connection with
you."

Temple's lip curled.

"Has she sent you to me?" he said. "I presume you know she came here,
and wished to make some arrangement?"

"Yes, I know," answered Webster, gravely. "No, she has not sent me
here--Miss Kathleen Weir is dead."

"Dead! impossible!" cried John Temple, and his face grew pale.

"She died yesterday afternoon; an accident had occurred the night
before, and she overturned a lamp and was terribly burned. I was with
her when she died; I saw her die."

"Good God! I can not believe it!" exclaimed Temple.

"It is nevertheless true--and I, knowing of her marriage to
you--knowing also of your other marriage--"

"What have you got to say to me, sir?" interrupted Temple, quickly. "I
am denying nothing; but what have you got to say?"

"This," answered Webster, with quiet dignity. "When I heard of your
first marriage I knew that you had also contracted a second marriage,
and that--the young lady was living under my aunts' roof."

"Well?" said Temple, sharply.

"But I could not--I did not feel that I was called upon to tell
this--to destroy her happiness."

Unconsciously Webster's voice faltered as he uttered the last few
words, and Temple looked at him with eager anxiety.

"But you yourself told the secret," went on Webster, recovering
himself; "you told this young girl what well-nigh broke her heart--that
she was no wife--that she was--"

"Be silent! How dare you speak thus!" cried John Temple, hoarsely and
passionately.

"I speak for a purpose," continued Webster; "you told her of your
early marriage to Miss Weir; and in her despair, her sudden shame and
anguish, she left you, never intending to see you more."

John Temple sprang forward; he grasped Webster's arm.

"Do you know anything?" he gasped out. "Do you know if--she lives?"

"Yes, Mr. Temple, she lives. That night, after she left the hotel in
her despair, by chance I saw her; she looked so ill, so strange, that
I, knowing her story, followed her. I followed her to Westminster
bridge, and then--when she was very ill--when she was unconscious, I
took her to St. Phillip's Hospital."

"And she is living? Oh! thank God! Thank God!"

There was no doubting his great thankfulness, and Webster's voice
softened a little as he went on.

"She is living, and now nearly well. She went through a long and
dangerous illness, and at times we almost despaired of her life. But
at last her youth reasserted itself, though only on one condition did
she struggle feebly back to life. And this condition was that her very
existence had to be kept an absolute secret; she wished everyone to
believe her dead."

For a moment John Temple did not speak; his lips quivered; he turned
away his head.

"I promised faithfully to keep her secret," continued Webster; "no one
knew at the hospital who she was but myself, and I have kept it until
now--until after the death of Kathleen Weir."

"And she left me to endure all this misery--a bitter, unending remorse
and regret," now said John Temple, in a broken, agitated voice.
"She--who said she loved me--who said that we could not live apart--it
seems that she could."

"Mr. Temple, you are unjust."

"It may be so, but--it was not thus that I regarded her. However, if
your news be true--if poor Kathleen is indeed dead--I will, of course,
at once remarry May. She knows, I suppose, that you are here; knows why
you came?"

"She knows nothing. I have not seen her since Miss Weir's death."

"And where is she living now?"

"At St. Phillip's Hospital. She has never left it. She is now one of
the nursing sisters there; she insisted on working for her daily bread."

For a few moments after this Temple did not speak. He stood with
knitted brows as if in thought. Then he held out his hand to Webster.

"I am very grateful to you," he said; "grateful to you for coming to
tell me all this; and for your kindness--to the poor girl to whom I
did so great a wrong. But I will be honest with you; I believed May
loved me so well that even had I told her of that early tie--broken
years ago--that she still would have shared my fortunes. I judged her
feelings by my own--but it seems I was mistaken."

Webster did not speak; he cast down his eyes; an angry throb passed
through his heart.

"However, we need not speak of this," continued Temple after a moment's
pause. "There is now but one course for me to take, which is at once
to go to her, and for us to be immediately remarried. Her father is in
London at this very time seeking her--he did not believe as I did."

Still Webster was silent.

"I shall, therefore," went on John Temple, "at once telegraph to him
that she is safe and well. As for you, Mr. Webster, I do not know how
to thank you."

"I need no thanks," answered Webster a little hoarsely.

"I have the highest regard and liking for your aunts, and I hope now my
poor little May will welcome them here. And you--you will dine and stay
all night here?"

But Webster shook his head.

"No," he said, "I must return by the next train to town; my mission
here is ended--I will see--"

"May? Then I will travel with you. Yes, kindly see her, and break
the news to her of poor Kathleen's death. But I feel yet as if I can
scarcely forgive May. If she wished to leave me she might have done so;
not cost me such bitter pain."

"We will not discuss it."

"No, it is useless. And now, Mr. Webster, will you kindly excuse me for
a few minutes? I will ring for some refreshments for you, and if you
really must return by the next train to town, it passes our station at
a quarter to six;" and John Temple looked at his watch. "I will go with
you, and to-morrow--you will see May?"

"Yes."

"Then that is all settled. I will rejoin you in a few minutes; I wish
to tell my news to my uncle's widow, and, Mr. Webster, I may depend on
your honor, I am sure, to keep all this a secret."

"You may quite depend upon me," answered Webster, a little bitterly.

After this John Temple left the room, and went straight to the
morning-room, where he expected to find Mrs. Temple. She was there,
looking pale and agitated, and she went forward quickly to meet him.

"Who is that gentleman, John?" she said. "I have been feeling quite
anxious."

"He has brought me strange news, Rachel," answered John Temple,
gravely. He called her now by her Christian name, as she had expressed
a wish that he should do so.

"Strange news?" she repeated, and her face grew paler.

"Yes; May is alive--and--"

"Then what will you do?" asked the agitated woman before him, almost
with a gasp.

"There is but one thing for me to do."

"You mean--"

"I will go to her; we must be remarried--for I have other news for you;
this gentleman, Mr. Webster, has brought me other news--my first wife,
Kathleen Weir, is dead."

A half-cry broke from Mrs. Temple's white lips, and that was all. She
stood there with wide-open eyes and heaving breast. John Temple's news
was a death-blow to her new hopes of happiness and love, but still she
could speak no word.

"It seems," went on John Temple, scarcely daring to look at her white
face, "that this Mr. Webster knew all the time where May was--at some
hospital or other--but by May's especial wish he kept this a secret."

"And she calls this love!" cried Mrs. Temple, wildly and passionately.
"Love! to make you endure such pain; to make your life a burden; each
day a fresh pang! If this is love, I know not what it is."

"It seems strange," said John Temple, and then without another word he
went away.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour or so later two men were sitting in the same railway carriage
together traveling to town, but they were not talking of the loves
or the tragedies of their lives. They were talking gravely of the
passing topics of the day, of politics, of books, and the names of May
Churchill and Kathleen Weir were never once mentioned between them. Not
at least until they reached the terminus and were about to separate for
the night. Then as they shook hands, John Temple said quietly: "At what
time will you see May in the morning?"

"Early," answered Webster; "about eleven o'clock."

"Then will you telegraph to me, and I will go to her? I will also see
her father."

"And--" hesitated Webster; "what will you say to him?"

"Best tell him the truth, I think, and Mr. Churchill will see the
wisdom and prudence of keeping it to himself. Besides he had better be
present at our marriage."

"And my aunts?"

"Is there any reason to say anything to them? They know nothing, and
they may as well continue in ignorance of a painful story. And now
again many thanks."

So they parted, and Webster went back to his lonely chambers, and
thought of what he had done.

"If it is for her happiness," and then he sighed wearily; somehow he
was not quite sure that it would be.

And early the next morning he sent a telegram to May at St. Phillip's
Hospital to say he would be with her by eleven o'clock. May received
this telegram with great surprise, for Webster never wrote to her,
nor sent telegrams, and when he called it was generally late in the
afternoon. But precisely at eleven o'clock a message was sent to her
that Mr. Webster was waiting to see her in the sitting-room of the
house surgeon, Doctor Brentwood.

She accordingly went there, and found Webster standing, looking grave
and pale, and so ill that she instantly remarked on it.

"Are you not well, Mr. Webster?" she said. "You do not look at all
well."

Webster scarcely answered her; he had taken her hand, and stood looking
in her fair face, and there was great pain and trouble in his heart.

"I have some news for you, May," he said at length.

He had never before called her "May," and she noticed this and blushed.

"News?" she answered. "Not bad news, I hope."

Twice he opened his lips, but somehow no words came forth. And his
manner was so strange that May grew really alarmed.

"What is it?" she said. "Oh! you frighten me--has anything happened?"

Then with a great effort he told her.

"May, Kathleen Weir is dead."

The blood rushed to May's face as she listened to these words, and then
died away, leaving her very pale.

"Dead!" she repeated; and in an instant it flashed across her mind all
that this might mean to her.

"Yes," went on Webster, trying to speak calmly, "she died the day
before yesterday. It was an accident; she was burned to death."

"How dreadful!--and does--he know?"

"Yes," again answered Webster. "I saw him yesterday--it was but right
that he should know--he is coming to you to-day."

May gave a little cry; a little start, as if she were half afraid.

"If it is for your happiness," continued Webster with faltering lips,
"otherwise, of course--"

For a moment or two May did not speak. She stood as if thinking, as if
in doubt. Then suddenly she held out her hand to Webster.

"It is but right," she said, speaking with an effort. "And you--how am
I to thank you for all you have done for me?"

Webster's lips quivered. He tried to say some commonplace words. He
stooped down and kissed her trembling hand.

"Your happiness is--everything to me," he faltered. "I have thought of
that alone."

And somehow at this moment she understood something of the unspoken
feelings of his heart. One of those glimpses into another's soul which
came unsought passed through hers. She trembled; she drew away her hand.

"May God bless you," murmured Webster, and the next moment he was
gone. And he left May strangely disturbed. His constant kindness, his
generosity in word and deed, and now his unselfish love, moved her
deeply. But she had not much time for thought. She had scarcely indeed
returned to her duties in the wards when another message was brought to
her that a second visitor was waiting for her in the house surgeon's
room, and the moment she heard this she knew who it would be.

It was in truth John Temple; and as she entered the room pale, nervous,
beautiful, he advanced toward her and took her in his arms.

"How could you give me all that bitter pain, May?" were his first
words, and then he bent down and kissed her lips.

"You know that I am free now," he said, presently. "I have seen your
father, and have arranged with him that we shall be married again
immediately. But May, I will never believe that you really loved me
now."

She looked at him with eyes full of reproach.

"I--I meant to die," she faltered. "But for Mr. Webster--"

"Do not, please, speak of it; you are looking very well; as pretty as
ever, I think, May; and you must forget all this like a bad dream. Do
you know my poor uncle is dead?"

"I never heard of it; I have lived here, and--never spoken of the past."

"He is dead, poor man; he died quite suddenly, and I was recalled to
England in consequence. I am living at Woodlea now, and you must go
there, May."

"Oh! it seems so strange--all so strange, John."

She put her hand half-timidly into his as she spoke, and as she said
it was all so strange. A long lifetime appeared to lie between her and
the early days of her fond love and happiness. She looked up in John's
face; it seemed changed, too, but he was very kind and gentle to her.

"You must change this becoming dress," he said, smiling, and laying his
hand on her black gown. "The cap suits you charmingly, but it won't do
for you now, you know. You will want some money, May, so I have brought
it for you."

"Oh, how can you talk of such things--just when we have met again."

"My child, it was your own fault that we ever parted. However, we had
best agree to drop this subject forever; no one knows of it but one
person, and for my sake I think she will keep the secret."

"And--my father?"

"Oh, I was forced to tell him a garbled sort of story, but, of course,
we may depend on his secrecy. He will be present at your second
wedding, May, and will give you away."

May gave a tremulous little sigh. She was remembering her first
wedding, and her infinite love and trust.

"Your father will be here presently, I expect," went on John Temple,
"and I think you had better stay with him until we are married. We
can be married the day after to-morrow by special license, but not
to-morrow."

Not to-morrow! for John Temple knew that on the morrow Kathleen Weir
was to be laid in her untimely grave. He did not mean to follow her
there; to him for long years she had been a burden and encumbrance. But
all the same he did not choose to marry on her burial day.

But he did not tell May this, and while he was still talking of their
future arrangements Mr. Churchill arrived. Both May and he were much
affected at this meeting. Mr. Churchill caught his "little girl" in
his arms and kissed her again and again, with something like a tear
glistening in his brown eyes. John Temple had not told him the whole
story of his first marriage; he had told him, however, that there was
some flaw in the marriage to May, and that they had better be married
again, and that Mr. Churchill also had better be present. And though
Mr. Churchill was an affectionate father, and really fond of May, he
was also a tenant. John Temple was his landlord, and it behooved him,
as a prudent man, to make the best of the situation. He, therefore,
accepted the explanation he was offered, and gladly agreed to keep the
whole affair of the second marriage a secret at Woodside.

Thus everything was very soon arranged between the two men, and before
the day was over May left the home that had sheltered her in her
cruel need. But both John Temple and Mr. Churchill gave gifts to the
hospital--John Temple, lavishly; Mr. Churchill, prudently. And May also
slid a handsome sum into the kindly hand of Sister Margaret.

"So you are going to be married to this other gentleman," said Sister
Margaret, rather in a disappointed tone. "Well, I thought it would have
been Mr. Webster."

"Oh! hush, hush!" said May, quickly; "Mr. Webster never thought of such
a thing."

"I am almost certain he did, though I have had so little experience in
lovers," replied Sister Margaret. "Well, my dear, whoever it is, I only
hope you may be happy."

So with the good wishes of all she had known, May quitted St. Phillip's
and went with her father to the hotel at which he was staying. And the
next two days were very busy ones, for May had a whole wardrobe to
purchase, and John Temple was very generous. And on the night before
their marriage, when they were sitting together, John Temple suddenly
put his arm round her and drew her to his breast.

"May," he said, "are you happy now? quite happy?"

"Yes," she answered, softly; "and very grateful."

She meant to God, but John Temple did not understand her, and kissed
her very tenderly.

And early the next morning they were married, and Mr. Churchill felt
sure at least that this time there was no mistake. And he was a proud
and happy man as he gave his young daughter to John Temple, though not
so elated as he had been when he returned to Woodside after seeing
the register of their first marriage. And scarcely had the bride and
bridegroom started to spend a few days at Brighton before going to
Woodlea when Mr. Churchill sat down and wrote the following letter to
his wife:

"DEAR SARAH: I shall be back to-morrow by the first train, and I am
happy to say the business that I came up to London for is now all
satisfactorily settled. May had had a slight disagreement with her
husband, and, like a foolish girl, quarreled with him. But it is all
made up now, and I think in about a week at latest they will be going
down to the Hall, and then I hope we shall often see them. May sends
her love to you"--here Mr. Churchill did not quite adhere to the
truth--"and to the boys, and best let all bygones be bygones. May is
now Mrs. Temple of Woodlea Hall, and can hold her head up with the
best of them; and Mr. John Temple, besides being my son-in-law, is my
landlord, and I therefore naturally wish to keep on good terms with
him. I have bought you a new silk gown, and I hope you will like it.
And I remain,
                                  "Your affectionate husband,
                                                   "WILLIAM CHURCHILL."

John Temple wrote a letter before he left town to tell Mrs. Temple of
his marriage, a letter which she received with deep emotion.

"DEAR RACHEL: I was remarried this morning to May, and Mr. Churchill
was present. And now I am going to ask you for the sake of the
friendship you have shown me, to keep the unhappy story I confided to
you and this second marriage a secret. No good would come of telling
it, and no one knows it but yourself, Mr. Webster (whom I can trust),
and May's father. Let us, therefore, try to forget it; but I shall
not forget your kindness to me during the unhappy time when I first
returned to Woodlea.

"And there is another thing that I wish to mention to you, which is
that once or twice you have talked of the Hall as my house, and of
your leaving it. I hope that you will do nothing of the sort, and that
you will always regard it as your home. Independently of the pleasure
that your company will give me, you will, of course, be the greatest
advantage and assistance to my poor little May in her new position.
She is looking very well, and is very sweet and gentle, but I fear her
people will be somewhat of a trial. However, we must make the best of
it.

"We are going down to Brighton for a few days, and I will then return
to Woodlea about to-day week, I think. But I will let you know when to
expect us. And with kind regards, I remain,
                                       "Very sincerely yours,
                                                          "JOHN TEMPLE.

"P. S.--Above all things say nothing to your mother.
                                                               "J. T."



CHAPTER XLIV.

MAY'S NEW HOME.


One evening nearly a fortnight after Mrs. Temple had received the
letter from John Temple announcing his marriage to May, the windows of
Woodlea Hall were all alight in expectation of their return.

Mrs. Temple had been in a state of great, though suppressed, excitement
all day. The rooms were bright with flowers, and by her orders the
whole place was arranged to appear to the best advantage. As for Mrs.
Temple herself she wore an evening dress of black velvet, having
discarded her deep mourning in honor of the occasion.

Yet she was feeling far from happy. This girl, this stranger, who
was coming to take her place, she thought, she naturally regarded
with hidden though deep resentment. John Temple could not have acted
otherwise, she told herself, but this did not lessen the bitterness of
her heart.

And when at last the carriage which contained John Temple and his young
wife drove up to the entrance of the Hall, Mrs. Temple went forward,
pale, handsome, and agitated, to receive them. She clasped John's hand
first, who warmly shook hers, and then--as though half-unwillingly--she
looked at the fair girlish face by his side.

"This is May," said John Temple, in kindly tones. "May, my dear, this
is Mrs. Temple, my poor uncle's widow."

The two women shook hands after this, and exchanged a few remarks on
the journey and the weather. May felt embarrassed and slightly overawed
by this handsome woman who looked at her so coldly. It was not like
going to her own home, somehow, she felt. John indeed referred to Mrs.
Temple about everything, and showed his uncle's widow the greatest
consideration and respect.

And when an hour or so afterward dinner was announced, John Temple
smilingly offered one arm to Mrs. Temple and the other to May.

"I must do double duty to-night, you see," he said; and when they
reached the dining-room he deliberately led Mrs. Temple to the head of
the table, and indicated to May to sit at the side. But Mrs. Temple
drew back.

"Nay," she said, "this is your wife's place."

"Certainly not," answered John Temple, decidedly; "this is your place,
as it always has been."

Mrs. Temple said nothing more at this time; she sat opposite to John,
and May, without any feeling of anger in her heart, took the chair her
husband had assigned to her. She was looking very pretty, but somehow
Mrs. Temple could not understand the expression of her face. There was
no elation there, nor pride in her new position. Now when the first
nervousness of her arrival was over, she looked very much as she had
done in the wards at St. Phillip's.

But there were no allusions made to the past. John talked of Brighton,
and of the theaters they had gone to in town, and to all outward
seeming this first evening at Woodlea might have been an ordinary
home-coming of a young couple from their bridal tour. But hidden in the
hearts of the three present was the knowledge that this was not so. The
storm was over, but its trace was there.

And the next morning a little incident occurred, which struck a
somewhat chill feeling into May's heart. Breakfast was just over, and
as John Temple rose from the table, he said pleasantly, looking at
Mrs. Temple:

"And how are you two going to amuse yourselves to-day?"

"In any manner you like, or that Mrs. John Temple likes," answered Mrs.
Temple.

"If you do not mind, John," said May, rather quickly, "I should like
to go over to Woodside this morning to see my father, as I think he
will expect me to do so. And," she added, with rather a wistful little
smile, looking up in his face, "I hope you will come with me."

But John Temple's brow clouded, and he slightly shrugged his shoulders.

"My dear child," he said, "that is a luxury which I am really not
prepared to encounter. And why be in such a hurry to go over to
Woodside?"

"I think my father would be disappointed if I did not go," answered
May, gently, but her face flushed and her eyes fell; "but I can go
alone."

"Then you had better drive over," said John Temple. "And what would you
like to do, Rachel?"

"Do you feel in the humor for a ride?" replied Mrs. Temple. "It is a
fine morning; suppose we have a ride, John?"

"All right; what time shall I order the carriage and the horses then?"

"Shall we say eleven?" said Mrs. Temple, and she looked at May, but
May's eyes were still cast down. They, however, settled it thus, and
when May returned to the morning-room about an hour later, she found
Mrs. Temple already there, dressed in her habit, and John Temple
talking to her.

"I hope May is not disappointed because I do not care to go to
Woodside?" John was saying.

"She could not expect you to do so," answered Mrs. Temple, just as May
entered the room.

She heard the words, and somehow felt that they had been talking of
her. But when a few minutes later the carriage and the riding-horses
came round John Temple led his young wife to the carriage and handed
her in, and nodded smilingly to her as he was turning away.

"Have you any message for my father?" said May, bending forward.

"Anything you like," answered John, still smiling; and then he went
back to the house, and May was driven in state to her old home.

And the arrival at Woodside of one of the Hall carriages, drawn by two
handsome horses, with their black rosetted heads, and the servants also
in mourning for their late master, naturally created quite a sensation
at the homestead. Mr. Churchill was not in the house at the time, but
one of the grooms hastily went in search of him to the stables. As for
Mrs. Churchill, she no sooner heard that her stepdaughter was in the
house than she hurried upstairs to change her dress, though she had
previously determined to make no difference in her manner to May.

But the two prancing horses outside and the handsome carriage
influenced her in spite of herself. She went into the drawing-room
quite in a flutter, to find May standing there looking a little
pensively around. What she had gone through since she had been in
this room May was thinking. But Mrs. Churchill's effusive welcome
interrupted her reflections.

"Well, my dear, welcome home," said Mrs. Churchill, and she kissed her
stepdaughter as she had never kissed her before. "We heard you had
arrived at the Hall last night, and your father was hoping that you
could come over to see us this morning; and it's very good of you to
have done so."

"Oh, I am very pleased to come," answered May, with her sweet smile.
"And the boys; how are the boys?"

"They are very well, my dear. They are both at school this morning, but
they are looking forward to seeing you. They have talked of nothing
else since your father was in London last."

"I have brought them each a present," said May, "and I hope they will
like them. Will you give my kind love to them both? The presents are
in the carriage."

At this moment Mr. Churchill hurried into the room and caught his fair
daughter in his strong arms, and kissed her vigorously.

"Well, May, my pet, and how are you? More like a Mayflower than ever,
eh, May?" he added, holding May a little apart from him, and looking at
her with eyes brimful of pride and pleasure. "Well, my girl, welcome to
your new home! It's kind of you to come over to see your old father the
very first day you have spent at the Hall."

"Dear father, of course I came," said May, gently.

"And madam? She is still there, I hear; but remember, May, you're
mistress now, so don't be put upon by any of them."

"Oh! she is very kind."

"Kind! I should think so; why should she not be kind? But you're the
squire's wife, you know, now, May, and you must show her that you quite
understand this. And how is your husband?"

"He is looking much better again; he has gone out for a ride with Mrs.
Temple this morning."

"Humph! Well, you should ride with him yourself, May. No one has a
smarter seat on horseback than you, and I'd let them all see this."

And during the rest of May's visit Mr. Churchill constantly harped on
this point. She was to assert herself, but May knew that, even had she
wished to do so, she would have found it very difficult.

For the night before, when they were alone, John Temple had spoken to
his wife on the subject of Mrs. Temple's position in the house.

"You see, May," he had said, "I came here and became heir of this
property under very peculiar circumstances. I stepped into the place
of Mrs. Temple's only child, and therefore I feel that to disturb her
in any way as mistress of the house, where she would have remained
mistress had her boy lived, would be at once ungentlemanly and
ungrateful of me. This is why I took her to the head of the table
to-night, and I am sure you have the good taste and the good feeling to
understand my wishes on the subject."

"Then is she going to live here always?" May ventured to ask.

"She will live here, of course, as long as she wishes to do so. She is
my uncle's widow, and this was his home, and I wish her to feel that it
is still her home."

Thus May had her own position clearly defined to her. And as she
listened to her father's advice she had no idea of acting on it. But
she did not tell him this; she parted with him affectionately, and Mr.
Churchill was a proud man as he led her to her carriage and handed her
in.

"I'll bring your stepmother some day over to dine with you, May," he
said, before he parted with his daughter. "I want to see you in your
own house; fix some day with your husband for us to come. And now
good-by, my pet."

Then, when May was gone, he returned to the house in a very boastful
mood.

"She's lovely, isn't she, Sarah?" he remarked to his wife. "But I gave
her a bit of advice about madam; madam must be taught her place, and
I'll see that she is too."

       *       *       *       *       *

But in the days that followed May was made to feel more than once that
Mrs. Temple exercised a considerable influence over her husband's mind.
John Temple was always kind to May, always gentle, but he had fallen
back into that easy-going frame of mind which had been habitual to him
before he was aroused from it by his bitter remorse and self-reproach.
Now, he thought, everything was right for his "little May." He had
made her his wife; he bought her a pony-carriage for herself, and two
handsome ponies, so that she could drive wherever she wished, and he
allowed her plenty of money, and did not object to her spending it
lavishly among the poor and sick.

"I know what suffering and sickness is now, you know, John," she one
day said to him, a little wistfully; but John did not encourage her to
talk on the subject. He, in fact, totally ignored, and tried to forget,
the miserable time after May had left him. It disturbed him to think of
it, and John Temple did not love unpleasant thoughts.

Thus weeks passed away, and May, with her sweet reasonableness of
conduct, had almost won some sort of regard from the woman who was yet
jealous of her, when one morning May received a letter from her father,
plainly expressing a wish that he and his wife should be asked to dine
at the Hall.

"It looks so odd to other people, you know, my dear," he wrote, "and I
hope you will not allow anyone to cast a slight on your own father,"
and so on.

This letter disturbed May exceedingly, for she knew John Temple would
not like to receive Mrs. Churchill at his table, and that Mrs. Temple
also strongly objected to the whole family. Once she had had her two
young brothers to spend the day with her at the Hall, and Mrs. Temple
on that occasion had refused to appear.

"It won't do, you know, May, my dear," John had said to her afterward;
"Rachel has a strong and natural objection to the boys on account of
the death of her own lad in the game where they were playing. So don't
ask them again."

May had never done so, though she knew they thought it was unkind of
her. She took them presents and gave them money, but she dare not ask
them to the Hall. And now about her father and stepmother she knew not
what to do.

At last she took courage and went to her husband, and put her father's
letter in his hand.

"I wish to ask them so much, John," she said.

John read the letter, shrugged his shoulders, and then put his hand
kindly on his wife's arm.

"It will be an awful bore, little woman," he said.

"Just for once, John," pleaded May, and John Temple finally allowed the
invitation to be sent.

But May never wished for her stepmother to be asked to dine at the
Hall again. Mrs. Churchill went determined to show--to use one of her
husband's phrase--that "she was as good as any of them." She went
overdressed, to be received by her stepdaughter and Mrs. Temple both in
black, and Mrs. Temple took a malicious pleasure in leading her on to
make herself ridiculous.

John Temple fidgeted in his chair, but Mrs. Temple enjoyed his
discomfiture. She wished to make him feel what sort of family he had
married into, and she certainly succeeded in her design. In fact the
dinner was a most uncomfortable one, and only Mrs. Temple was amused.

"My dear May, please never ask that good lady here again," said John
Temple, after his father-in-law and his wife had taken their departure;
"I really can not stand her."

"Well, I must say," remarked Mrs. Churchill to her spouse, as they
drove home together after the entertainment was over, "that a more
stupid evening I never spent; it seems to me that May can scarcely be
called the mistress of her own house, with Mrs. Temple sitting at the
head of the table, and that kind of thing. However, we've dined there,
and the neighbors can't say we've not, and we need not tell them it was
anything but pleasant."

"Well," answered Mr. Churchill, who was also much disappointed, "I
think it is a pity May does not make more of herself. However, Mr. John
Temple is my landlord as well as my son-in-law, so we must just make
the best of things."



CHAPTER XLV.

ANOTHER HEIR.


A whole year passed away after May's arrival at the Hall as John
Temple's wife; a year with its chances and changes, when it became
known in the neighborhood that it was hoped an heir was about to be
born to Woodlea.

The prospect of this event pleased John Temple greatly, but displeased
Mrs. Temple. She did not wish this new and tender tie to draw closer
the two she fain would part. But she was, of course, obliged to conceal
her feelings.

"But I hope," she one day said smiling to John Temple, "that when the
interesting event comes off that your charming mother-in-law will not
take up her abode here?"

John Temple laughed.

"Oh! nonsense," he said, "May would not care to have her here."

Mrs. Churchill had, however, already hinted to May that she would
like to be present, but May had her own ideas on the subject, and she
accordingly acted on them.

"John, may I invite Miss Webster to be with me when baby is born?" she
said to her husband, and John Temple immediately assented.

"Of course, my dear, invite whoever you like," he answered, kindly.
"Yes, I think Miss Webster would be a very good person for you to have
with you; she is a motherly woman, though she has never been a mother."

"Thank you, dear John," replied May; "I shall be so glad if she will
come."

"It's strange Webster will never come here," went on John Temple; "I've
asked him three times, you know, May."

"He's such a busy man, I suppose; then I will write to Miss Webster
to-day, John."

And May did write, and Miss Webster accepted the invitation. Both the
sisters had been previously asked to Woodlea, but an illness of Miss
Eliza's had prevented their going. Now, however, Miss Eliza was well
enough to be left, and Miss Webster wrote that she looked forward with
sincere pleasure "again to kiss the sweet face" she "so often thought
of."

May also was truly delighted to see once more the kindly woman under
whose hospitable roof she had once spent such bright hours of hope and
happiness. She drove to the station to meet Miss Webster. She showed
her, with modest pride, all the tiny treasures she had prepared, and in
which Mrs. Temple had no interest.

"And how is Mr. Webster?" she asked, shortly after Miss Webster arrived.

"Oh, Ralph is very well, I think, and desired to be remembered to you.
But he works too hard, I tell him; he is rising rapidly at the bar,
and has more briefs offered to him than he can possibly accept. And I
believe he is going to try to get into Parliament at the next election."

"I am very glad," said May, quietly. But she sighed softly as she
turned away. She was thinking of Ralph Webster, and her great debt to
him which she could never pay.

But a day or two after Miss Webster's arrival at the Hall, something so
terrible occurred that for many weeks May's life was as a bewildered
dream. It happened so suddenly that the blow fell with crushing force,
and it was well for May that she had by her side one so sincere and
faithful as her old friend.

They had all lunched together, and John Temple had been in one of his
brightest moods. He was going to ride after lunch, and when his horse
came round May followed him into the hall to see him mount. And as she
stood there--looking a little wan perhaps, but with her sweet, serene
face raised to his--a sudden impulse of affection induced John Temple
to stoop down and kiss her.

"Take care of yourself, little woman," he said; "I'm so glad you have
Miss Webster with you."

May smiled, and thus they parted. She was feeling a little tired, and
Miss Webster therefore advised her to go to her room and lie down, and
in a little while she fell into a placid sleep.

In the meantime John Temple was riding quietly along the country
lanes, with the hedge-rows on either side green with the hues of
the spring-time. And for no particular purpose, when he reached the
outskirts of Henley Wood he turned his horse toward the road through
it, admiring placidly as he went the trees just budding into leafage.

It was a peaceful scene, and there was no disturbing element in John
Temple's mind, when suddenly there sprang from behind the trunk of one
of the great oaks the figure of a man.

John turned his head to look at this man, and in a moment recognized
him. It was Tom Henderson of Stourton Grange, but a terrible change had
passed over the young man's face; and in an instant it flashed across
John's mind that he had heard that Tom Henderson had been, or was, mad.

And he could not doubt this now. Henderson stood straight before him
on the roadway, brandishing a huge, heavy, oaken bludgeon, which he
had probably cut from one of the neighboring trees. And as John Temple
approached nearer, with a frightful yell he sprang forward toward him,
and struck a severe blow on the head of John's horse.

The horse reared, and John lashed the madman with his riding-whip,
which was his only means of defense. But with a hoarse scream of rage
Henderson now closed with him, striking him also on the head with his
murderous weapon, and John reeled from his saddle and fell.

"Now I've got my revenge!" shrieked Henderson. "You who spoilt my life!"

By this time, however, John Temple had regained his feet, and a fierce
struggle ensued between the two men. John was blinded by the blood
flowing from the wound on his brow, but still he fought bravely for his
life. They wound their arms round each other; they tore, they strained,
but Henderson was a more heavily built man than John Temple, and his
madness gave him unnatural strength. Finally he forced John down on the
ground below him, and struck him with his clenched fist, once more on
the head. John Temple's arms relaxed their grasp; a deadly faintness
stole over him, and Henderson gave a hideous laugh. He had won the
fight, and he rose triumphant and spurned his enemy with his foot;
and then drawing his pocket-knife from his coat, plunged it into John
Temple's breast.

He had scarcely done the murderous deed when he heard hurried footsteps
approaching down the roadway, and he at once turned and fled. It was
his keeper, from whose care he had escaped, and the man had come out to
seek him. The keeper, horrified, now came on John Temple's prostrate
body. He knelt down, he raised the head, and for a moment or two longer
John Temple lived.

He breathed once or twice; he whispered one word--"May--" he murmured,
and as the name lingered on his lips he died.

       *       *       *       *       *

Late in the afternoon May awoke from her placid sleep. She had been
dreaming, poor child, but not of the dark tragedy that had been enacted
in Henley Wood. Yet she awoke with a start and sat up, and then
distinctly heard loud, piercing screams of grief ringing through the
house. She at once hastily rose, and was approaching the door of her
bedroom when it opened, and Miss Webster's gentle face appeared.

"Oh, Miss Webster, someone is crying so dreadfully; what is it?" asked
May.

"There has been an accident, my dear," faltered Miss Webster, who was
very pale.

"An accident?" repeated May, alarmed. "What has happened?"

"Your husband--Mr. Temple, has been thrown from his horse," answered
Miss Webster in an agitated voice.

"John! Oh! where is he?" cried May, and her face grew very white. "I
will go to him at once," and she grasped Miss Webster's arm.

"No, dear, you can not go just now," said Miss Webster, soothingly;
"you can not see him just now--you must think of the child, May--"

A cry burst from May's pale lips, and she looked eagerly in Miss
Webster's face, which was full of pity and distress.

"Tell me the worst!" gasped May. "I--I--see--Oh! God! it can not be!"

"My dear--" began Miss Webster, and then her kindly lips refused their
office.

"Tell me--" repeated May, huskily, "is he--is he--"

"My dear, he has passed away from all earthly troubles," answered Miss
Webster, in broken accents; "he has been thrown from his horse and
his head injured--but May, my dear, my dear, you have a duty before
you--be brave, and bear this great blow for your child's sake."

But with a moan May sank prone upon the floor; and as she did so the
frantic cries of Mrs. Temple still sounded in her ears!

Miss Webster at once rang the bell violently, and a moment or two
later the doctor appeared. It had been known in the household that
Miss Webster had gone to break the news to the poor widow, and there
were anxious listeners waiting outside. Among these were Mr. Churchill
and the doctor, who had been hastily summoned after John Temple's
death, and who had accompanied the body to the Hall. He now--assisted
by Miss Webster--lifted May on the bed, and he also spoke to May very
impressively.

"My dear madam, think of your unborn child; you may irreparably injure
it unless you control your grief."

And May understood. She lay there with her white face and her wide-open
eyes trying to keep calm. She had looked forward to her motherhood,
thinking it would fill a strange void in her heart, and she struggled
now as bravely as she could with her bitter pain.

That night her child was born; born amid such anguish that for long
hours they scarcely hoped the young mother would survive. But when the
pale spring dawn crept through the window-blinds the early beams fell
on the small, pinched features of the little heir of Woodlea. They fell
too on the pale, handsome face of the dead father; on the face of John
Temple lying in his unbroken sleep.

May was ill for many weeks after this. She had fever, and was happily
unconscious when the inquest was held on her husband's body. And at
this inquest the miserable mother of the madman Henderson was forced
to appear. She gave her evidence in a broken, faltering voice, telling
those present that her son had never recovered from the effects of a
blow he had received from the late Mr. John Temple; that he had had
brain fever, and that for some time afterward his reason was completely
overthrown, and he had been confined in a lunatic asylum. Lately,
however, he had appeared to be so much better that she had brought him
home, though one of the keepers from the asylum accompanied him.

This man then stated that Mr. Henderson had appeared perfectly well
and sane during lunch on the day of the murder, but that he afterward
suddenly missed him, and at once started out to seek him, and was
horrified by finding Mr. John Temple's body lying on the roadway with
Mr. Henderson's pocket knife thrust in his breast. He said Mr. Temple
was not quite dead when he found him, but expired a few moments later.
He also stated that when Henderson was recaptured that he was in a
state of raging madness, and boasted constantly of his murderous deed;
and that he was now once more confined in the asylum.

All these terrible details May was mercifully spared, and she never
knew the ghastly truth about John Temple's death. He had been killed by
a fall from his horse, she was told, and Miss Webster, and Miss Eliza,
who had now joined her sister, took good care she heard nothing more.

These two good ladies indeed watched over her with the most devoted
affection during the long days of her illness. And to their great
delight the child throve, and by and by May would look sometimes in
the baby's face and smile. As for Mr. Churchill his pride and pleasure
in the little heir was unbounded. He brought his wife to the Hall to
see him, and boasted, it must be confessed, a good deal of the babe's
future possessions.

In the meantime Mrs. Temple had left the Hall. Her violent grief at
John Temple's sudden death was characteristic of her nature, and
everything painfully reminded her of him. She hated, too, the "baby
worship," as she called it, of the two maiden sisters, and once or
twice Mr. Churchill had somewhat plainly hinted in her presence that
when May recovered that, as the mother of the heir of Woodlea, she
ought to act as mistress of the house.

So Mrs. Temple went away, and her absence was a relief to May, and
indeed to the whole household. May could see her father and brothers
when she wished now; and at her earnest request the Misses Webster
stayed on with her during the whole summer. They used to talk to her
sometimes of "dear Ralph," but the autumn was far advanced, and John
Temple had lain in his grave six months, before Ralph Webster saw again
the woman he had befriended in her bitter need.

He came quite unexpectedly--at least to May--one October
afternoon, when the three ladies were sitting together in the stately,
old-fashioned garden of the Hall. The leaves were floating downward
from the trees, but the air was scarcely chill. It was like a summer
day, yet the tints and hues of the fading year were stamped on flower
and leaf. And somehow May was thinking of this, of the change which
comes to every living thing, when the sound of a firm step on the
gravel behind the seat where she was sitting, made her raise her head
and look around.

And the two sisters did the same thing, at the same instant, and then
started to their feet.

"Ralph!" they both cried, and hastily went forward to meet their nephew
with outstretched hands.

But May only rose; a strange nervousness came over her; seeing Ralph
Webster again recalled so much.

"Will you pardon my intrusion?" he asked a moment later, as he took her
hand in his.

"Of course--I--I am very glad--" she faltered in reply.

"As my aunts have entirely forsaken me," went on Webster with a smile,
"I thought I might venture to look them up."

"We have often talked of you, my dear," said kind Miss Webster.

"Yes, my dear, often," sighed Miss Eliza.

"I--am afraid I have been very selfish, but I would not let them leave
me," continued May, with more self-possession. "I am very glad to see
you here, Mr. Webster."

"Thank you very much."

As he said these simple words he raised his eyes and looked in her fair
face, and it seemed more fair to him even than he had thought it was.

"I have often thought of coming," he said, in a low tone; and a faint
blush stole to May's cheeks as he spoke.

"We had better go into the house now," she suggested, the next moment,
looking at Miss Webster. "Mr. Webster will be tired with his journey."

Thus they all returned to the Hall together, and the first awkwardness
of the meeting was over. Ralph Webster stayed to dinner and remained
all night, but when he proposed to leave the next morning, May asked
him to spend another day with them.

"Can you not spare us another day?" she said, smiling.

Webster thought he could spare many, but he did not say this. He,
however, accepted the invitation, and May and Aunt Eliza took him a
long walk through the park, and as they trod the mossy paths somehow
both May and Webster were very silent. But Aunt Eliza was unusually
loquacious, and carried on the conversation with scarcely any
assistance.

"It seems almost like the delightful old days when May was with us at
Pembridge Terrace, does it not, Ralph?" said the good lady at length,
with a total absence of tact.

"Yes," answered Webster, briefly; and for a moment his brow clouded.

But presently it cleared again, and no further allusion was made to
bygone times. Nor did Webster during this visit make any allusion to
the unchanged feelings of his heart. They parted as friends part,
who know and feel the truth of that much-belied word. May knew how
true a friend Ralph Webster had been to her, how unselfish and
self-sacrificing, and she had not forgotten that parting before her
second marriage with poor John Temple. She had understood something of
his true feelings then, and perhaps a subtle instinct told her he was
not one to change. And before he went, he promised to return.

"May I come down for Christmas?" he said, and May softly answered,
"Yes."

And when Christmas came, a snowy Christmas, when all the outside world
was white, and at the Hall the laurels and fir-trees were weighed down
with the frozen rain, and the gates blocked with the sloping drifts,
Webster arrived.

His aunts hurried into the hall to welcome the chilled traveler, and
a little behind them stood the gracious black-clad figure for whom
Webster's eyes eagerly sought. Then May also went forward with a
welcoming smile, and the two clasped each other's hands and exchanged
good wishes, and Webster knew they were no empty words.

He arrived on Christmas Eve, and May had her two young brothers staying
with her, and the boys had made the hall and the rooms bright with
holly. Their presence, too, made the house more cheerful, for their
young voices rang with the tones that had known no grief. Webster was
soon on the most friendly terms with them, and the next morning went
with them out amongst the snow, and came back, his fond aunts declared,
"looking quite like a boy."

But it was not the snow nor the frost that made Webster's eyes bright
and glad. It was a sort of inward consciousness that the fair woman
he loved was not utterly indifferent to him. Yet he never had an
opportunity of speaking to her alone. Mr. and Mrs. Churchill came to
dinner, and as Mr. Churchill sat opposite his daughter at the foot of
the table it seemed to him that his cup of prosperity was nearly full,
and he could not resist glancing occasionally, somewhat triumphantly,
at his wife, who on the whole felt rather subdued.

Mr. Churchill also invited Webster over to Woodside on the following
day, but he declined.

"I am leaving to-morrow," he said. "My brief holiday will soon be
ended."

But before he left he spoke the words to May that he had been intending
to say. They were standing together in the afternoon, gazing out on the
snowy landscape, when he turned round and looked steadfastly at her
sweet, pensive face.

"I shall be leaving in less than an hour, May," he said. "Will you give
me something to take away with me?"

"What shall I give you?" asked May, in a low tone.

"Give me hope," answered Webster; "the hope that some day I may win
what to me is the dearest gift of life."

May did not speak. Her head dropped, and she slightly turned it aside,
but Webster could, still see the delicate profile.

"You know how long I have wished this," went on Webster, earnestly;
"almost from the first time I saw you I loved you--we were parted--"

"Hush, hush," said May, in a low, trembling voice, "it is too soon to
speak of such a thing--even to think of it--"

"But I can not help thinking of it."

"I--I--can never repay you," continued May in faltering accents. "Do
not think I forget because I do not speak of the past--but for you--"

"You can repay me a hundred-fold, if there were anything to repay,
which there is not, by giving me, before I leave you, the hope, even
the faintest hope, that you will not quite forget me in my absence."

"I can never forget you."

Webster stooped down and kissed her hand.

"For the present I will try to be content, then," he said; "but
remember, May, that I think of you every day and hour of my life."

Nothing more was said at the time; one of the boys rushed into the
room, wanting, of course, something from his sister, and May was never
again alone with Webster until he left. But she did not forget his
words. In the spring she went up to town for a short visit to Miss
Webster, and there she saw him constantly and at last--after a year of
widowhood--she promised "some day" to be his wife.

But two whole years passed after John Temple's tragic death before she
would consent to marry. By this time Webster had entered Parliament,
having won one of the by-elections, and in his profession he was
striding on apace. A busy, active, ambitious man; strong and faithful
in all things, and most faithful to his love.

They were married by Mr. Layton, but Mrs. Layton could scarcely
suppress the bitterness of her tongue on the occasion.

"It will be a lord the next time," she whispered to one of the
spectators; but from motives of prudence the moment the ceremony
was over, she rushed up to the newly-married pair and heartily
congratulated them.

As for the Misses Webster, they were so overjoyed that they wept
copiously--especially Miss Eliza--during the whole of the marriage
service. Then they too hurried up to kiss the sweet, grave face of the
bride, and May tenderly embraced them both.

"You have been my truest friends," she whispered, "except Ralph."

Mr. Churchill was also delighted with the match, and now superintends
the whole of his young grandson's property, receiving, we may be sure,
a handsome income for doing so. The boys, too, are having first-rate
educations, and the whole family are prosperous and well.

"And my poor daughter is now here," sometimes Mrs. Layton thinks
bitterly, sighing over the remembrance of the good things she used to
obtain from the Hall in the old squire's time. But Mrs. Temple never
returned to Woodlea, though May invited her to do so. She married
an officer, and went out to India with her husband; and on the rare
occasions that she does write to her mother she never mentions "the
new people," as Mrs. Layton calls them, at Woodlea Hall. Nor does she
inquire after "the heir," perhaps not having quite forgotten the time
when she waited and watched for the coming of poor John Temple!

THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *

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