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Title: Foxglove Manor, Volume III (of III) - A Novel
Author: Buchanan, Robert W.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Foxglove Manor, Volume III (of III) - A Novel" ***

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FOXGLOVE MANOR

A Novel

By Robert W. Buchanan

In Three Volumes, Vol. I.

London

Chatto And Windos, Piccadilly

1884



FOXGLOVE MANOR.



CHAPTER XXVIII. A MONKISH TALE (FROM THE NOTE-BOOK).


_Sunday, Sept. 19_. My wife has gone to church.

I can hear the bells ringing in the distance as I write.... Now
they cease, and at this very moment the clergyman, "snowy-banded,
delicate-handed," is ascending the pulpit stairs, amid the reverent hush
of his congregation.

Though several times of late she has suggested that a little
church-going would do me good, Ellen did not ask me to accompany her on
this occasion; indeed, I thought at first that she was going to stay at
home herself. At breakfast she was irritable and absent-minded, and she
did not dress or order the carriage until the last moment. There was
evidently a hard struggle in her mind whether she should go to church or
not. Ultimately, she decided to go.

Out of this and other unpleasant indications, I have made a discovery.
My wife, despite her purity, despite her lofty sense of honour, is
_jealous_ of the clergyman.

The day after my fishing expedition, I quietly told her what I had seen
in the woodland. It was not without due deliberation that I determined
to do so. One portion of the truth, however, I carefully concealed:
namely, the references made by the lovers to herself. For the same
reason, I showed no sign of personal suspicion, but treated the affair
lightly, as a thing of indifference.

I began the conversation in this way, while beating the shell of my
second egg at breakfast--

"By the way, my dear Nell, I have made a discovery."

She looked up and smiled unsuspiciously. "Something terrible, I suppose;
like Dr. Dupré's elixir?"

"Oh dear no, nothing nearly so scientific; a mere social discovery, my
dear. I have found out that I was right; that if your pet parson is not
married, he ought to be."

I saw her change colour; but, bending her head over her teacup, she
forced a laugh.

"What nonsense you're talking!"

"Don't call it nonsense till you hear my story. It will interest you,
being quite piscatorial and idyllic. Conceive to yourself, first, the
primaeval woodland; then two figures, a nymph in a frock and a satyr in
a clerical coat. The nymph, your friend Miss Dove; the satyr, your
other friend, Mr. Santley. She was crying; he consoling. I heard their
conversation; I saw them quarrel, make it up, embrace, kiss, and
disappear. I think you will agree with me that so pretty a pastoral
should have, in a moral country, but one sequel--marriage."

How white and strange she seemed! How nervously she fought with her
agitation!

"I don't believe a word of what you say!" she cried. "You saw all this,
but how?"

I told her how, and she uttered a cry of virtuous indignation.

"It is shameful!" she exclaimed. "I will never speak to him
again--never!"

"On the contrary, I think you _should_ speak to him, and, like a true
matchmaker, produce the _dénouement._ You need not tell him that
I played Peeping Tom; but, without doing so, you can act on the
information I have given you. After all, if he really loves the
girl----"

"But he does _not_ love her!"

She paused, trembling and flushing, conscious of her blunder.

"Then is he a greater scoundrel than even I suspected!"

"There must be some mistake. I am sure Mr. Santley would do nothing
dishonourable. As to marrying, his ideas are those of the High Church.
He does not think that a priest has any right to marry."

I looked at her in amazement. After what I had told her, could she
possibly be attempting to justify him? If so, the case was worse than I
had foreseen, and her moral sense had already been effectually poisoned.
She continued rapidly and eagerly, as if contending in argument with her
own thoughts.

"A clergyman's position is very difficult. If he is unmarried, as a true
priest should be, he is persecuted by all the marriageable girls of his
parish. His slightest attentions are misconstrued, his most innocent
acts exaggerated; and if he shows a friendly interest in any young
person, he is sure to be misunderstood. I have no doubt, after all, that
what you saw could be easily explained; and that, in any case, Miss Dove
is the person really to blame."

I was right, then: justification, and '--jealousy.

"You forget," I answered quickly, "that I heard the whole conversation.
Besides, though the language of words may be distorted, that of kisses
and embraces is unmistakable."

"He did not kiss her; he did not embrace her! I will never believe it."

"Then, you simply assume that I am stating an untruth?"

"I know how glad you are," she cried passionately, "to put this slur
upon him."

With some difficulty I mastered my indignation. Sick of the discussion,
I rose and prepared to leave the room; but before leaving I spoke, with
cold decision, to the following effect:--

"I have told you precisely what I saw; it is for you to impeach my
motives, if you please, and to think, in your infatuation, that I
dislike Mr. Santley because of the cloth he wears. If you doubt me,
question the girl; you can possibly get the truth from her. In any case,
remember that, from this moment, I forbid you to entertain that man in
my house."

So I left her, leaving my words to work.

The next day, i.e. yesterday, Santley called. She did not see him, but
sent out a message that she was engaged. I saw him creeping, pale and
crestfallen, past my laboratory door.

Since the conversation recorded above, Ellen and I have not alluded to
the subject; indeed, we have seen little of each other, and spoken still
less. Possibly our temporary estrangement might account for the fixed
pallor, the cold look of sorrow and reproach, on my wife's face; but I
am inclined to fear otherwise. At all events, the thing had gone so far,
and I knew so much, that the overtures to reconciliation could not come
from me. I had to conquer my struggling tenderness, and watch.

The great struggle came this morning. I observed it with sickening
suspense. Had honest indignation conquered, had Ellen held to her first
decision of not returning into that man's church, I think I should have
taken her into my arms and begged her pardon for suspecting her. But no!
she has gone; not, I am sure, to pray. Surely I am a model husband, to
sit so tamely here!

_Sunday Evening._--She drove home immediately after morning service, and

I saw by the expression of her face that she was greatly agitated. We
lunched in silence, and afterwards she took a volume of sermons and sat
reading on the terrace. Later on in the afternoon, while I sat writing
alone, she came in behind me, and before I could speak, put her arms
around my neck and kissed me.

"Forgive me," she cried, with her beautiful eyes full of tears. "Oh,
George, I am so unhappy! I cannot bear to quarrel."

And she knelt by my side, looking pitifully up into my face.

I returned her kiss, and for the time being, in her soft embrace, forgot
my suspicions. It was a happy hour! Neither of us spoke of the subject
of our disagreement.

_Tuesday_.--After a temporary calm, the storm has again broken, and the
weather is still charged with thunder. Let me try to record calmly what
has taken place.

This afternoon, as I sat at work, Baptisto entered quietly.

"I think you are wanted, senor; there is some one here."

"What do you mean? Who is it?"

"The clergyman, senor. He is with my lady."

I started angrily; then, conquering myself, I demanded--

"Did they send you for me?"

"No, senor," replied Baptisto, with his mysterious look; "but I thought
you would like to know."

I could have struck the fellow, for I saw that he had been playing the
spy. Nevertheless, I remembered that I had forbidden Ellen to entertain
Santley again at the Manor, and I felt my indignation rapidly rising
at the thought of her disobedience. Angry and humiliated, I rose to my
feet.

"Where are they?" I asked.

"In the drawing-room, senor."

I at once went thither, uncertain what to say or do; for I was
determined, if possible, not to make a scene. Now, the great
drawing-rooms of the Manor house consist of two old-fashioned
apartments, communicating with a curtained archway, where there was once
a folding-door. The inner room opens on a lobby communicating with the
house; the outer opens on the terrace. I approached from within, and
finding the door open, entered softly. No one was visible; but I heard
voices whispering in the outer room.

After a moment's hesitation, I sat down in an armchair, and took up a
book from the table. My back was to the curtained archway, and facing
me was a large mirror, in which the archway and the dimly lighted,
rose-coloured chamber beyond were clearly reflected.

The whispering continued.

I could bear the suspense no longer, and was about to rise and make my
presence known, when the voices were raised, and I heard the clergyman
exclaim--

"Ellen, for God's sake! I can explain everything!"

Ellen! My satyr was familiar. I crouched in my armchair, listening, as
my wife replied--

"Why should you explain to me? I have no wish to listen, Mr. Santley.
Only I am shocked and indignant at what I have heard."

"But there is not one word of truth in it. Who is your informant? I
demand to know his name."

I strained my ears in suspense, wondering how she would reply, for I
already guessed the bearings of the conversation. To my surprise, she
replied parabolically--

"It is the common talk of the place."

"Then it is a simple scandal!"

"You are not engaged to Miss Dove?"

"Certainly not. She herself can tell you that there is nothing of the
kind between us. I will admit freely that she has a great esteem for
me--that, in short, she is attached to me; and that possibly, if I
desired it, she would marry me."

There was a silence. Then I heard Ellen say, quietly and firmly--

"Will you answer me a question?"

"Certainly."

"Did you meet Miss Dove alone, last Thursday?"

I felt that her eyes were fixed upon his face as she put the question,
and I guessed how it startled and amazed him; but he was unabashed, and
replied instantly--

"Where?"

She waited a moment, like one pausing to give the _coup de grâce,_
before she said--"Close to the river-side, among Lord ------s
plantations."

Greatly to my astonishment, for I naturally expected a denial, the
answer came at once, in a clear, decided voice. "Yes, I did meet her."

I could imagine, though I could not see, my wife's start of virtuous
indignation. Almost instantly, I saw her image in the mirror before me,
as she rapidly crossed the room beyond; then he followed, black-suited,
like the devil. In the dim distance of the mirror, I now saw their two
figures reflected, floating faintly in the rose-coloured light beyond
the curtains. Their backs were turned to me, their faces were looking
out upon the terrace.

"I have nothing to conceal," he continued passionately. "Some enemy has
been spying upon me; but I repeat, I have nothing to conceal. Only, I
wished to spare Miss Dove. Now that you have made reserve impossible,
I will admit, frankly, that she has misconstrued certain harmless
attentions, and that, on the day you mention, she came upon me by
accident, and reproached me for my coldness, my want of sympathy. She
even went further, and asked me to marry her. I tell you this in sacred
confidence, for I have no right to inform others of the young lady's
indiscretion."

"Was that all that passed?"

"All, I assure you."

Ellen gave a peculiar laugh, the sound of which I did not like at all.
There is nothing more significant than a woman's light laugh--nothing,
sometimes, more horrible.



"She was reproachful, and you--consoled her?"

"Consoled her?"

"As a true lover should,--with kisses and embraces? You see, I know
everything!"

"It is a calumny," cried the clergyman, with seeming indignation.
"True, I was gentle with her, for I felt very sorry. I reasoned and
remonstrated with the foolish child: after all, she is a child only.
Oh, Ellen, how could you listen to such an accusation? You who know that
there is but one woman in the world who has my love, my life's devotion,
and that _you_ are that woman."

Did my eyes deceive me, or had he stretched out an arm to embrace her?
No, I was right!

"Take away your arm!" she cried. "I will not suffer it!"

She did suffer it, notwithstanding.

"Ellen! dearest Ellen!"

He drew her towards him, and I thought she was going to yield to his
embrace; but she shook herself free, and in a moment, before he knew
her purpose, had opened the window and glided out upon the terrace. He
followed her with a cry, and so--my mirror was empty. I rose to my feet,
sick and dazed with what I had seen, and prepared to follow.

What should I do? Should I at once avow my knowledge of what had taken
place, and seize my satyr by the throat; or, smiting him in the face,
fling him from my door? Should I stand by tamely, and see my hearth
violated, my wife tempted, by a common snake of the parish? If I had
been less angry with my wife herself, I am sure I should have taken
the violent course. But I saw now, to my horror, that she was neither
adamantine nor marble. She had allowed him to know his evil power upon
her, and to see that the knowledge of his power over another woman, so
far from shocking and repulsing her, had increased the fascination. If
I denounced him openly, it would be to admit his rivalry, and, by
inference, to complete her degradation.

Fortunately, I have been accustomed, from youth upward, to control my
strongest feelings, whether of tenderness or anger; and though I am
capable enough of strong passion, I have generally the power to disguise
it. In the present emergency, I found my habit of self-restraint stand
me in good stead. I advanced into the outer room. By the time I had
reached it, I was calm and cool to all outward appearances.

Quite quietly, I approached the window, and gazed out upon the terrace.
There they stood, he talking eagerly, she with face averted from him,
and looking my way. She saw me in a moment, and started in agitation. I
nodded grimly, and opening the folding windows, looked out. Then, all at
once, I drew back apologetically.

"Ah, there you are!" I said to my wife. "I was looking for you."

She stepped over to the window, looking strangely pale and scared. I
had not even looked at, much less addressed, her companion; but he
approached, with a ghastly smile.

"I'm afraid I interrupt you," I continued. "Some religious business, I
suppose? Shall I retire till it is settled?" He looked at me doubtfully;
but Ellen immediately replied--

"Do not go away. Mr. Santley is just leaving."

Still preserving my _sang froid_, I sat down in one of the garden seats
on the terrace, and opened the book which I had lifted at random from
the drawing-room table. Curiously enough, it was a work which is rather
a favourite of mine, one of Sebastiano's "Tales in Verse." I knew the
thing, particularly the passage on which the page had opened, and which,
strange to say, had a certain reference to the present situation.

"Pray proceed with your talk," I said. "I have something here to amuse
me, till you have done."

So I sat reading, or pretending to read. I did not even glance up, but
I felt that they were looking uneasily at one another. There was a long
pause. At last I lifted my eyes.

"I'm sure I'm in the way," I said; and rose as if to go.

"No, no!" cried Ellen, more and more uneasy at my manner, which I'm
afraid was ominous. "We were only discussing some foolish village
matters, on which Mr. Santley wished to have my advice."

"Very well," I replied. Then, turning to Santley, I inquired quietly,
"Do you read Spanish?"

He shook his head.

"That's a pity," I continued. "Otherwise, you might have been much
amused by this little work, written by a priest like yourself, though
not quite of your persuasion."

"Is it a tale?" asked Ellen, bending over me.

"Yes; one of old Sebastiano's 'Tales in Verse.' Its author, I may tell
you, was a Castilian monk, who abandoned the Church for the heretical
pursuit of story-writing, and took 'Sebastiano' as a pseudonym. The
story I am reading here is considered, by many, his masterpiece. The
verse is assonantic throughout, the subject----"

Here my satyr could not forbear a gesture of impatience and irritation.

"I'm afraid I bore you, sir," I said, smiling. "Your tastes are not
literary, I fear?"

"I seldom read fiction," he answered. "I consider it too trivial, and a
waste of time."

"Do you really think so? I grant you, if the work is not of a truly
moral nature, like the present. As I was going to tell you, the subject
of this story, or tragedy in narrative, is edifying in the extreme.
There was once in Castile a parish priest, an exceedingly handsome
fellow, who, in a moment of impulse, fell deeply in love with a Spanish
lady."

There was no need to look up now. I felt that they were both fascinated,
not knowing what was to come. Ellen's hand was on my chair, which
vibrated with the violent beating of her heart.

"Very prettily does Sebastiano describe the course of this amour. The
priest's first struggles to resist temptation, his frequent fastings and
spiritual purgings, his growing desperation, his final yielding to the
spell. To be brief, he at last spoke to her, avowed his passion, and
flung himself, despairing and imploring, at her feet."

"And she?" asked Ellen, in a voice so low that I scarcely heard her.

"Oh, the story says but little of her answer, though doubtless it was
to the purpose, as the sequel proves. They understood one another, and
might doubtless have been happy, but for one unfortunate impediment,
which both had forgotten. The lady had--a _husband!_"

Ah, that frightened, beating heart! how it leapt and struggled, as the
little hand still clutched my chair! I just glanced up, and meeting my
gaze, she made an appealing gesture; for she began to understand. As for
him, he stood pale and sullen, scowling at me with his seraphic face,
and as yet imperfectly comprehending.

"A husband!" I repeated, turning over a leaf. "He, poor devil, was an
alchemist, a dreary, doting seeker for the elixir of immortal life, and
they thought him--blind. In this they were mistaken. As the poor flat
flounder on the bottom of the sea, lying half buried and invisible in
the sand and mud, still with its watery jelly of an eye surveys the
liquid welkin overhead, so he, our alchemist, was marking much in
silence. Well, sir, the thing grew, till at last, out of that obscure
laboratory where the dreamer toiled there came a thunderbolt. One fine
morning the lady was found--dead!"

"Dead!"

They both echoed the word involuntarily.

"Yes; but the curious part of the affair has yet to be told. They found
her lying, as if sleeping, in her bed; so sweet, so quiet, so peaceful,
no one in the world would have dreamed that she had been destroyed by a
malignant poison. Such, however, was the case."

Santley buttoned his coat, and moved nervously towards the door.

"A horrible story!" he said. "I detest these tales of violence and
murder. Besides, though I am not a Roman Catholic, I look upon such
rubbish as a calumny upon the Christian Church."

I smiled.

"The Church's history, I am afraid, offers endless corroborations."

"I do not believe it; and I hold that the Church should be saved from
such attacks."

"Pardon me," I persisted; while Ellen's hand was softly laid upon my
shoulder, as if beseeching me to cease, "the Church may be sacred, but
so, you will admit, is the marriage tie. For myself, I am old-fashioned
enough to sympathize with that poor alchemist, and applaud his
rough-and-ready mode of vengeance."

"Then you justify a cowardly murder?" he returned, trembling violently.
"But, there, I must really go."

"Pardon me, I don't call it murder at all."

"Not murder?" he ejaculated.

"No, sir; righteous vengeance. Were such a state of things possible
_now_--though, of course, wives are now all pure, and priests all
immaculate--I should recommend the same remedy. What, _must_ you go?
Well, good day; and pray excuse a scholar's warmth. Actually, as I
discussed that old monkish nonsense, I almost thought it _real_."

He forced a feeble laugh, and then, with one long look at my wife, and a
murmured "Good afternoon" to us both, retreated through the drawing-room
doors. I sat still, as if intent on my book.

The moment he had gone, Ellen caught me wildly by the arm.

"George! look at me--speak to me!"

"Well?" I said, looking up quietly.

"What does it mean? Why did you tell that wild tale? You did not do it
without a purpose."

"Certainly not."

She stood pale as death, clasping her hands together.

"You did not think--you could not, dare not--that----"

"That what, pray?" I demanded coldly, seeing that she paused.

"That you suspect--that you can believe--that----"

She paused again; then she added pleadingly--

"Oh, George, you would never do me such a wrong!"

"I have done you no wrong," I replied. "You, on the other hand, have
disobeyed me?"

"How?"

"I forbade you to entertain that man in my house."

"He came unexpectedly. Indeed, indeed, I wish he had not come."

She looked so pretty and so despairing, that I should have straightway
forgiven her, had I not suddenly called to mind the conversation in the
drawingroom. Women are strange creatures.

At that moment, I am certain she fervently believed that she was
innocent, and I cruel. And yet.... I knew, by her humility and by her
sorrow, that she partially reproached herself for having awakened my
anger.

"Let there be an end to this," I said. "You must never speak to that man
again."

"Never speak to him!" she repeated imploringly. "But he is our
clergyman, and if I break with him there will be a scandal. Indeed,
George, he is not as bad as you think him. He is very earnest and
impetuous, but he is good and noble."

"What! do you defend him?"

She did not reply.

"You must choose between him and me; between the man whom you know to be
a hypocrite, and the man who is your husband. If he comes here again,
I shall deal with him in my own fashion; remember that! I spared him
to-day, because I thought him too contemptible for any kind of violence.
But I know his character, and you know it; that is enough. I shall not
warn you again."

With these words, I walked to my den. There, once alone, I gave way
to my overmastering agitation. I found myself trembling like a leaf;
looking in a mirror, I saw that I was pale as a ghost.

An hour passed thus. Then I heard a knock at the door.

Enter Baptisto.

"Well, what do you want?" I cried, angrily enough.

Before I knew it he was on his knees, seizing and kissing my hand.

"Senor, I know everything!" he cried. "I have known it all along. That
was why I remained at home when you were away--to watch, to play the
spy. Senor, give me leave! Let me avenge you!"

I shook him off with an oath, for I hated the fellow's sympathy.

"You fool," I said, "I want no one to play the spy for me. Stop, though!
What do you mean? What would you like to do?"

In a moment he had sprung to his feet, and flashed before my eyes one of
those long knives that Spaniards carry. His eyes flashed with homicidal
fire.

"I would plunge this into his heart!"

I could not help laughing,--a little furiously.

"Put up that knife, you idiot! Put it up, I say! This is England, not
Spain, and here we manage matters very differently. And now, let me have
no more of this nonsense. Be good enough to go about your business."

He yielded almost instantly to my old mastery over him, and, with a
respectful bow, withdrew. So ended the curious events of the day. I have
set them down in their order as they occurred. I wonder if this is the
last act of my little domestic drama? If not, what is to happen next?
Well, we shall soon see.



CHAPTER XXIX. HUSH-MONEY.

|Mrs. Haldane had not exaggerated when, in her cross-examination of the
vicar, she had described his intimate friendship to Miss Dove as the
common talk of the parish. There beats about the life of an English
clergyman a light as fierce, in its small way, as that other light
which, according to the poet,=

````"... beats about the throne,

````And blackens every blot!"=

Charles Santley was very much mistaken if he imagined that his doings
altogether escaped scandal. As usual, however, the darkest suspicions
and ugliest innuendoes were reserved for the lady; and before very
long Edith Dove was the subject of as pretty a piece of scandal as ever
exercised the gossips of even an English village.

Now, the thing was a long time in the air before it reached the ears
of the person most concerned. Tongues wagged, fingers pointed, all the
machinery of gossip was set in motion for months before poor Edith had
any suspicion whatever. Gradually, however, there came upon her the
consciousness of a certain social change. Several families with which
she had been on intimate terms showed, by signs unmistakable, their
desire to avoid her visits, and their determination not to return
them. One virtuous spinster, on whom she had expended a large amount of
sympathy, not to speak of tea and sugar, openly cut her one morning at
the post-office; and even the paupers of the village showed in their
bearing a certain lessening of that servility which, in the mind of
a properly constituted British pauper, indicates respect. Things were
becoming ominous, when, late one evening, her aunt boldly broached the
subject.

Edith had taken her hat and cloak, and was going out, when the old lady
spoke.

"Where are you going so late? I hope--not down to the Vicarage?" Edith
turned in astonishment.

"Yes, I am going there," she replied.

"Then listen to my advice: take off your things and stay at home."

The tone was so decided, the manner so peculiar, that Edith was
startled in spite of herself. Before she could make any remark, her aunt
continued--

"Sit down and listen to me. I mean to talk to you, for no one has a
better right; and if I can put a stop to your folly, I will. Do you know
the whole place is talking of you--that it has been talking of you for
months? Yes, Edith, it is the truth; and I am bound to say you yourself
are the very person to blame."

Almost mechanically, Edith took off her hat and threw it on the table.
Then she looked eagerly at her aunt.

"What do they say about me?" she cried.

"They say you are making a fool of yourself; but that is not all. They
say worse--horrible things. Of course I know they are untrue, for you
were always a good girl; but you are sometimes so indiscreet. When a
young girl is always in the company of a young man, even a clergyman,
and nothing comes of it, people will talk. Take my advice, dear, and put
an end to it at once!"

Edith smiled--a curious, far-off, bitter smile. She was not surprised
at her aunts warning; for she had expected it a long time, and had been
rather surprised that it had not come before.

"Put an end to what?" she said quietly. "I don't know what you mean."

"You know well enough, Edith."

"Indeed I do not. If people talk, that is their affair; but I shall do
as I please."

And she took up her hat again, as if to go.

"Edith, I insist! You shall _not_ go out to-night. It is shameful for
Mr. Santley to encourage you! If you only knew how people talk! You are
not engaged to Mr. Santley, and I tell you it is a scandal!"

Edith flushed nervously, as she replied:--

"There is no scandal, aunt! Mr. Santley----"

"I have no patience with him. In a minister of the gospel, it is
disgraceful."

"What is disgraceful?"

"The encouragement he gives you, when he knows he has no intention of
marrying you."

"How do you know that?" said Edith again, with that far-off curious
smile.

"He has not even proposed; you are not engaged? If you were, it would be
different."

With a quiet impulse of tenderness, Edith bent over her aunt and kissed
her. The old lady looked up in surprise, and saw that her niece's eyes
were full of tears.

"Edith, what is it? What do you mean?"

"That we have been engaged a long time."

"And you did not tell me?"

"He did not want it known, and even now it is a secret. You must promise
to tell no one."

"But why? There is nothing to be ashamed of."

"It is his wish," said the girl, gently.

Then kissing her aunt again, and leaving her much relieved in mind, she
went away, strolling quietly in the direction of the Vicarage. As she
walked, her tears continued to fall, and her face was very sorrowful;
for there lay upon her spirit a heavy shadow of terror and distrust.
With how different an emotion had she, only a year before, flown to meet
the man she loved! How eagerly and gladly, _then_, he had awaited her
coming! And now? Alas, she did not even know if she would find him at
all. Sometimes he seemed to avoid her, to be weary of her company.
All was so changed, she reflected, since the Haldanes came-home to the
Manor. He was no longer the same, and she herself was different. Would
it ever end? Would she ever be happy again?

The shadows of night were falling as she walked through the lanes, with
her eyes sadly fixed on the dim spire of the village church. Close to
a plantation on the roadside, she encountered a woman and a man in
conversation. She recognized the woman at a glance, as Sal Bexley,
the black sheep of the parish, who got her living by singing-from one
public-house to another; and she had passed by without a word, when a
voice called her.

"Here, mistress!"

She turned, and encountered a pair of bold black eyes. Sal, the pariah,
stood facing her, swinging her old guitar and grinning mischievously.

"I'm afraid you're growing proud, mistress. You didn't seem to know me."

There was something sinister in the girl's manner. Edith drew aside, and
would have passed on without any reply, but the other ran before her and
blocked the way.

"No, you don't go like that. I want a word with thee, my fine lady. Ah,
you may toss your bead, but you'd best bide a bit, and listen."

"What do you want? I cannot stay."

"No call to hurry," cried Sal, with a coarse laugh. "Thy man's out, and
don't expect thee. Belike he's gone courting some one else. Ah, he's a
rum chap, the minister, though he do set up for a saint."

Edith shuddered and shrank back.

"Go away," she said. "How dare you speak to me like that?"

"Dare? That's a good one! No, you shan't pass till I've done wi' thee."
Edith was getting positively frightened, for the girl's manner was so
rude and threatening, when she saw a tall figure approaching, and in
a moment recognized the clergyman. He was close to them, and paused in
astonishment at seeing the two together.

"Miss Dove! Is anything the matter? Why are you here, so late, and in
such company?"

He paused, looking suspiciously at Sal, who laughed impudently.

"I was passing by, and she stopped me. Do send her away!"

"Send me away?" cried the pariah. "I'll come when I please, and I'll
go when I please. I'm as good as she." Mr. Santley stepped forward, and
placed his hand on her arm.

"What are you doing here? I thought you were far away."

"So I were; but I've come back. Well?"

"Remember what I told you. I will not have my parish disgraced any
longer by your conduct. I have warned you repeatedly before. Where are
you staying?"

"Down by the river-side, master. I've joined the gipsies, d'ye see."

"Always an outcast," said Santley, with, a certain gloomy pity. "Will
nothing reform you?"

"No, master," answered the girl, grinning. "I'm a bad lot."

"I'm afraid you are."

"But mind this," she continued, with some vehemence, "there's others,
fine ladies too, as bad as me. Though I like a chap, and ain't afraid
to own it, and though I gets my living anyhow, I'm no worse than my
betters, master. You've no cause to bully _me_, so don't try it on,
master. I can speak when I like, and I can hold my tongue when I like.
Gi' me a guinea, and I'll hold my tongue."

She held out her brown hand, leering up into his face.

"What do you mean?" he exclaimed. "I shall give you no money."

She looked round at Edith, who stood by trembling.

"Tell him he'd best, mistress--for _thy_ sake! Come, it's worth a
guinea! There's many a folk hereabouts would gi' five, to see what I saw
t'other day, down to Omberley wood."

Edith started in a new terror, while her face flushed scarlet and her
head swam round. Santley winced, but preserving his composure, looked
fixedly and sternly at the outcast.

"You're a bold hussy," he said, between his set teeth, "as bold as bad.
But take care! Do you know that if I only say one word, I can have you
up before the magistrates and sent back to prison?"

"What for?" snarled the girl.

"For vagrancy, begging, and threatening a lady on the roadside!"

"A pretty lady. And I bean't begging, neither. Well, send me to prison,
and when I'm up before the magistrates, I'll tell'em why you were down
upon me. Come!"

Santley was about to reply angrily, when Edith interposed. Trembling and
almost fainting, she had taken out her purse.

"Here is some money," she cried; "give it to her and let her go!"

"She does not deserve a farthing," exclaimed Santley. "Still, if you
wish it----"

"Yes, yes! I--I am sorry for her."

Santley opened the purse, and took out a sovereign.

"If I give you this, will you promise to go out of the parish?"

"Maybe."

"And to conduct yourself properly--to turn over a new leaf?"

Sal grinned viciously from ear to ear.

"I take example by you, master, and your young lady there! Leastways,
if I _do_ go a-larking I'll be like you gentry, and say naught about it.
There, gi' me the guinea! Stop, though, make it two, and I'll go away
out o' Omberley this very night."

Santley and Edith rapidly exchanged a look, and a second piece of gold
was at once added to the first. Then, after giving Sal a few words of
solemn warning, in his priestly character, Santley walked away with
Edith. The pariah girl watched them until they disappeared; then, with a
low laugh, she rejoined her companion, a one-eyed and middle-aged gipsy,
who, during the preceding scene, had phlegmatically stretched himself on
his back, along the roadside.



CHAPTER XXX. "AND LO! WITHIN HER, SOMETHING LEAPT!"

|Santley and Edith walked along for some time without a word. At last,
after looking round nervously to see that they were not observed or
followed, the clergyman broke the silence.--:

"It is horrible! It is insufferable!" he cried. "I shall be ruined by
your indiscretion."

She looked at him in amazement. It was too dark to see his face, but his
whole frame, as well as his voice, trembled with anger.

"My indiscretion!" she echoed.

"Yes."

"But I have done nothing."

"I found you talking to that creature, and it is evident that she knows
our secret. I shall be ruined through you. What have you told her?"

"Nothing. I met her by accident, and she spoke to me; that is all."

There was a pause. Then Santley stopped short, saying in a whisper--

"Go home now. After to-day we must not be seen together."

But she clung to his arm, weeping.

"Charles, for Gods sake, do not be so unkind!"

"I am not unkind," he said; "but I am thinking of your good name, as
well as of my own reputation. What that woman knows others must know.
It will be the talk of the place. Edith, think of it. We shall both be
lost. Go home, I entreat you."

"Charles, listen to me!" exclaimed the weeping girl. "If there is any
scandal it will kill me. But there need to be none. You have only to
keep your word, as you have promised, and then----"

"What? and marry you?"

"Yes."

"I cannot--at least, not yet."

"Why not? Oh, Charles, have I not been patient? There is nothing
but your own will to come between us. Make me your wife, as you
have promised, before it is too late. Even my aunt begins to suspect
something. My life is miserable--a daily falsehood. I have loved you
next to God. For your sake I have even forgotten Him. I thought there
was no sin; you yourself told me there was no sin--that we were man and
wife in God's sight.. But now I am terrified. I cannot sleep,' I cannot
pray. Sometimes I feel as if God had cast me out. And you----"

She ceased, choked with tears, and, placing her head upon his shoulder,
sobbed wildly. He shrank from her touch, and sought to disengage
himself, gazing round on every side and searching the darkness; in dread
of being watched.

"Control yourself. If we should be seen!"

But she did not seem to hear, and his anger increased in proportion to
her terror.

"Do you want to compromise me?" he cried. "I begin to think you have no
discretion, no respect for yourself--I hate these scenes. They make me
wish that we had never met."

"If I thought you wished that from your heart," she sobbed, "I would
not live another day."

"There, again. You are so unreasonable, so violent. When I attempt to
reason, you talk of suicide or some such mad thing. If you really loved
me, as you say, you would be willing to make some sacrifice for my sake.
But no; you have only one cry--marriage, marriage!---till I am sick of
the very word. Cease crying. Dry your eyes, and listen to me. Go home
tonight, and I will think it over. Yes, I will do what I can--anything,
rather than be so tormented."

She obeyed him passively, and tried to stifle her deep sorrow. Child
as she was, and loving him as she did, she could not bear his words of
blame; and her soul shuddered at the strange tones of the voice that had
once been so kind. For it was as she had said. She had made an idol
of this man, next to God. She had offered up to him, at his passionate
request, her young life, her purity of heart, her very soul. He had been
God's voice and very presence to her; ah! so beautiful! She had been
content to lie at his feet, to obey him like a slave, to accept his will
as law, even when the law seemed evil. And now he was so changed. Not
base--ah! no, she could not bear to think him base; not base--still
good, but cruel. Was she losing him? Was she destined to lose him for
ever, and, with him, surely her immortal soul?

"Good night," she moaned. "I will go home."

And she held up her face for his kiss; then, as he kissed her, she
yielded again to her emotion, and clung, wildly crying, about his neck.

"Oh, Charles, be true to me! I have no one in the world but you."

With that fond appeal she left him, turning her tearful face homeward.
On reaching the cottage she found the door ajar, stole quietly up to her
room, and locked herself in. A few minutes afterwards her aunt knocked.

"Are you there, Edith? Supper is ready."

"I have a headache, and am going to bed," she replied, stifling her
sobs.

"May I not come in?" said the old lady. "I want to speak to you."

"Not to-night. I am so tired.".

She heard the feeble feet descending the stairs, and again resigned
herself to sorrow. Presently, when she had grown a little calmer, she
arose, lit a candle, and proceeded to undress.' The moon, which had
newly risen, shone through the cottage window, with its white blinds,
and the faint rays, creeping in, mingled with the yellow candle-light.
The room was like a white rose, all pale and pure; and the girl herself,
when she was undressed and clad in her night-dress, seemed the purest
thing there. But the night-dress felt like a shroud, and she felt ready
for the grave.

She knelt by the bed to say her prayers.

How long she remained on her knees she knew not. While her lips
repeated, half aloud, the prayers she had learned as a child, and those
which, in later years, she had framed to include the name of the man.
she loved, her tears still fell, and with her long hair streaming over
her shoulders, and her little hands clasped together, she sobbed and
sobbed. The moonlight crept further into the room, and touched her like
a silver hand--not tenderly, not pityingly; 'nay, it might have been the
very hand of the Madonna herself, bidding her arise to face her fate.

She arose shivering; and at that very instant there came to her a
warning, an omen, full of nameless terror. It seemed to her as if faces
were flashing before her eyes, voices shrieking in her ears; her heart
leapt, her head went round, and at the same moment she felt her whole
being miraculously thrilled by the quickening of a new life within her
own.

With a loud moan, she fainted away upon the floor.

When she returned to consciousness, she was lying, nearly naked, by
the bedside, and the moonlight was flooding the little room. She arose,
dazed, stupefied, and appalled. Her limbs shook beneath her, and she
had to clutch the bedstead for support. Then she tottered to the
dressing-table, and holding the candle, looked into the mirror.

Reflected there was a face of ghastly whiteness, with two great
despairing eyes, wildly gazing into her own.



CHAPTER XXXI. A LAST APPEAL.

|The night had passed away, and the chilly light of dawn creeping into
Edith's; room, found her quietly sleeping. During that night, when the
full horror of her situation had flashed for the first time upon her,
she had passed through hours of agony similar to those which have turned
pretty brown hair grey; then, overcome by a sense of thorough mental
exhaustion, she had laid her head upon the pillow and slept.

She slept long and soundly.

When she opened her eyes she saw that it was broad daylight; indeed, the
day was well spent, for her aunt, after tapping gently at her door and
receiving no reply, had determined not to disturb her rest.

Her first feeling on opening her eyes was one of pleasure, such
pleasure as is felt by a young matron, when the knowledge of approaching
maternity first dawns upon her; but this feeling was only momentary, and
was succeeded in this case by one of intense mental pain.

She lay for a time, thinking of the past, and trying to penetrate the
future. She recalled her interviews with Santley; the last interview
which had taken place only the night before. She remembered with
pleasure the promise he had made, and she tried to think that all would
yet be well. Yes, even when he knew nothing, he had yielded to her
solicitations; and as soon as he _knew_--for of course at their next
meeting she must tell him--he would not hesitate for a single day. He
had a double duty now: not only had he to save her reputation, he had
to think of the future of his child. He had said that he would think
it over; that the next day, this very day, she should hear from him. He
would appoint a meeting, then when she saw him, if he still hesitated,
she would tell him, and he would hesitate no longer.

All that day Edith remained in the house, pale, silent, but expectant.
At every sound she started and looked anxiously towards the door; but
Mr. Santley made no sign. At last, disappointed and heart-broken, she
went up to bed.

Several days passed thus. Edith fearing to cross the threshold,
shrinking in horror at the thought of meeting any of her
fellow-creatures, moved about the house in pale, sad silence; expectant
sometimes', at others crying her heart out in sickening despair. The
suspense was terrible; and terrible too was the thought of having to
bear her secret sorrow entirely alone. If she could only see him, tell
him, feel his passionate kiss, and hear his whispered words of comfort,
her trouble, she thought, would be lightened by one half. Never had she
needed him so much; yet never, she thought, had she seemed so utterly
alone.

And with this hopeless dread upon her, this sense of mental agony which
seemed to be wearing her very life away, she waited and waited for the
words which never came.

At last she felt she could wait no longer. Since it was evident he
did not: intend to send to her, she determined to send to him. So she
wrote--

"For Heaven's sake come to me. I must see you at once. Charles, for
both! our sakes, do not neglect my request:--

"Edith."

It was a mad letter to write, and at another time Edith would not have
written it; but now her trouble seemed to be turning her brain. She
determined to trust it to no hands but her own; so, having written and
sealed it, she put on her hat and cloak to take it to the post.

It was the first time she had been out! since that night when she
had fainted: upon her bedroom floor, and nothing but a sense of utter
desperation would have forced her from the house even now. For she felt
as if her secret was known to all the world; that curious eyes looked
questioningly into hers, and honest faces turned from her; and that by
one and all she was left to walk along her troubled path alone.

It was not late in the afternoon, but the time for long bright evenings
had long since passed away. Though the church clock had not long struck
five, darkness was coming on, and a keen north wind was blowing. Edith,
who was thickly veiled and well wrapped up in a large fur cloak, walked
quickly as if to keep herself warm. She reached the village, slipped
her letter into the post, then hurriedly turned to retrace her steps
homewards. She had accomplished about half the distance, and was walking
very hurriedly, when suddenly she stopped, and her heart gave a great
bound. There in the road, quietly walking towards her, was Mr. Santley.

Edith stood for a moment, feeling almost suffocated through the quick
beating of her heart; then, with the wild impetuosity of a child, she
ran forward and, seizing his hand, exclaimed--

"Oh, I am glad, so very, very glad that I have met you! Oh, Charles!
Charles! how could you leave me so long alone?"

Santley, utterly taken aback by this wild exhibition of feeling, stared
at the girl in calm amazement; then he said impatiently, shaking her
hands away--

"Edith, how many more times am I to tell you that these violent scenes
of yours will be my ruin!"

But this time Edith was not to be cowed. She said--

"I cannot help it, Charles. You bring it on yourself by breaking every
promise that you make to me."

"Every promise? What promise? What have I done now?"

Edith looked up at him, her tearful eyes full of amazement as she said--

"Do you not remember? Have you really forgotten, dear, the last time we
were together I asked you to do me justice--to reward my long patience
by making me your wife? You said, 'I will think of it. Yes, I think I
will do as you wish, and I will let you know tomorrow.' Well, Charles,
to-morrow never came. I waited and waited, and you never sent a word.
At last I could wait no longer. I have just been down to the village to
post a letter, asking you to come to me."

The clergyman's brow darkened ominously, and a very angry light shone in
his handsome eyes.

"It is ridiculous!" he exclaimed.

"Edith, you have no more reasoning power than a child. Why could you not
have waited? A matter like that required serious deliberation; it could,
not be decided in a day."

In point of fact, he had never once deliberated over the matter at all.
Having comfortably got rid of Edith that night, he had dismissed both
the girl and the subject of their conversation entirely from his mind.
It was not necessary to tell her this, however. So when, after waiting
to hear more from him, she asked quietly, "Have you considered, Charles?
Have you decided?" he answered--

"Yes. After thinking of it very deeply, and after having considered it
from every point of view, I have decided it would be much better for
us-both--to wait!"

She started, and the hand which lay on his arm trembled violently.

"No; you have not decided--that!" she exclaimed in a sort of gasp.

"I am not in the habit of lying to you, Edith."

The girl clung piteously to his arm.

"No, no; I did not mean that," she exclaimed. "But if you have decided
so, you will change your mind, dear, will you not? I have been very
patient. I have waited and waited, because you wished it, dear; but now
it is different. I can wait no longer!"

"I tell you, Edith, it will be better--for us both!"

"Charles, Charles!" exclaimed the girl piteously, trembling more and
more, "we have others besides ourselves to think of. We must not, dare
not, injure an innocent life which never injured us. If you will not
repair the wrong which you have done to me, you must think of--of--the
child!"

She lowered her head as she spoke, and hid her face on his bosom.

There was silence. Then Santley spoke.

"Is this so, Edith?"

"Yes, dear; it is so!"

Again there was silence. Edith, trembling and almost happy, with her
blushing face still hidden on his bosom, was waiting for him to bring
her comfort, by gathering her fondly to his heart. But she waited in
vain. The cold hands scarcely touched her shoulder; and the lovely eyes,
gazing over her head, were fixed on vacancy. He was not thinking of her.
Indeed, for the moment, he seemed scarcely conscious of her presence.
As usual, he was thinking of himself, wondering what, in this extremely
unpleasant emergency, it would be better for him to do. The news was
not altogether startling to him. It was an event which, under existing
circumstances, might reasonably have been expected; but hitherto it had
not been of sufficient importance to trouble the clergyman's thoughts.
"Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof," had hitherto been his
motto; consequently, for the moment he felt as if a mine had suddenly
sprung beneath his feet. So when Edith raised her head, and asked
tearfully, "Are you very angry, Charles?" he answered coldly, almost
irritably--

"You cannot expect me to be pleased, Edith. But there is no use in
talking about that. What we must discuss is, what is the next thing to
be done?"

What was best to be done? It seemed to Edith there was only one thing
that could be done, and she said so, quietly and firmly. But Santley,
frowning ominously, positively shook her in his irritable impatience.

"Always harping on the one string!" he exclaimed angrily; "and yet I
tell you it is impossible."

"But why is it impossible?"

"There are a dozen reasons why I cannot marry you just now."

"Then what am I to do? Am I to be publicly disgraced and brought to
shame? Is my whole life to be ruined because of my love for you? Oh, it
is cruel, and piteously unjust!"

"Edith, will you listen to reason? Will you have patience?"

"Will I have patience?" repeated the poor girl. "Have I not had
patience? And my forbearance is well-nigh gone; I cannot bear it.
Charles, think for a moment of what all this means to me, and have some
pity."

"Edith, will you listen to me?"

"Yes. Speak; I will listen," she returned wearily, trying to stifle the
sobs which almost choked her.

"If you will only control your violence and be guided by me, there need
be no disgrace in the matter--either to you or to me. No one knows of
this; no one need know. All you have to do is to remain quietly at home
until a further concealment of the truth would be impossible; then you
will leave home, as you have done before, to visit your friends. Once
free of the village, you will go to a place which I shall have found for
you; and, afterwards, return home."

She listened quietly while he spoke. When he ceased, she said nothing.
Presently he said--

"Edith, have you been listening?"

"Yes; I have heard."

"And what do you think?"

"I think," returned the girl, in a voice of utter and hopeless
despair--a voice which would have rent the heart of any man but this
one, "I think, Charles, that your love for me, if it ever existed, is
dead and buried. I think, nay, I am quite sure, that you have decided
never to make me your wife."

"This is folly."

"Charles, it is the truth. If you had any love, any feeling for me, you
would not, could not, speak as you have done to-night. If you meant to
make me your wife, you would not subject me to such utter shame."

The clergyman entirely lost his self-command. He uttered an exclamation,
and impatiently freed himself from her touch.

"Your shame," he said; "your disgrace--it is always that. But what of
me? Have I no caste to lose? You talk of my love, but what of yours? If
it exists, does it fill you with the least consideration for me? If you
talk like this, you will make me wish that we had never met."

"How much better it would have been for me!"

"You think so? Thank God, it is not too late to part."

"But it is too late!" cried the girl, wildly. "I tell you, it is too
late for me!"

"But it is not too late for me," said. Santley, between his set teeth.

"Charles, what do you mean? Answer me, for God's sake. Will you not make
me your wife?"

"No."

Without a moment's hesitation, without a tremor of the voice, the
pitiless-word was spoken. The girl staggered back, and clasped her hands
to her head.' It was as if a bullet had entered her brain. With a
wild cry, she stretched forth her hands towards him, but he pushed her
roughly away.

"You heard what I said. I mean it. You yourself have opened my eyes, and
I see. If I can help you as--as your pastor, I will do so; but I cannot,
I will not, make a sacrifice of my whole life. You always know where to
find me. I repeat, I shall always be glad to give you such assistance as
a clergyman can give."



CHAPTER XXXII. "FLIEH'! AUF'! HINAUS! IN'S WEITE LAND!"

|For several days after that meeting, it seemed to Mrs. Russell that
Edith was sickening for a fever. Edith herself was afraid that the
terrible trial through which she had passed, was likely to have serious
results. In her agony, the girl prayed to die; but for her there was
no such mercy. At the end of a few days the ominous symptoms had passed
away, and Edith was almost herself again. No doctor had been sent for.
Mrs. Russell in her anxiety, was eager for him to see her niece; but
Edith, driven almost distracted at the thought, had refused so-decidedly
to see him that her Aunt had yielded, and had promised to put off
sending to him for a few days. At the end of a few days Edith was
better, so no message was sent, and the doctor never came.

So the time wore on. Winter had fairly set in, and everybody in the
village was making preparations for Christmas, Mrs. Russell following
the fashion of all the rest. From morning till night she was herself
employed with the maid in the kitchen, chopping up mincemeat, and
preparing various other dainties for Christmas fare. But her kindly
face was troubled; she was always thinking of Edith, who was so sadly
changed. The illness which had been so much dreaded, had passed away,
it is true, but something almost as pitiable had been left in its
place. The girl looked pale and worn, and old before her time. She never
crossed the threshold, but sat at-home day after day, shivering over the
fire, and when questioned by her aunt, she merely said--

"I don't feel very well. But don't notice me, aunt dear; go on with your
preparations for Christmas. I like to think that you will make the house
bright, for I am sure I shall be better, so much better, when Christmas
comes."

Mrs. Russell, according to her usual custom, wanted to have company,
since it was dull, she said, for two lonely: women to spend their
Christmas together. So she proposed to her niece that she should write
to Mrs. Hetherington, asking her to come, with her son, and eat her
Christmas dinner at the cottage. But this idea was opposed by Edith as
vehemently as the doctor's visit had been; and in this case, as in the
other, the aunt had yielded.

"Well, Edith, shall I ask them for the New Year?" she asked; and the
girl, eagerly seizing the respite, had answered--

"Yes, aunt; for the New Year. For this once, you and I will spend our
Christmas alone."

So the time passed on, until one morning Edith opened her eyes, and lay
listening to the Christmas bells.

"Peace on earth, good will towards men!"

That was the message they were chiming forth; that was the doctrine
_he_ must preach to-day. _He_, through whose cruelty she, who only
last Christmas had been a happy, contented girl, now lay there a very
sorrowful, weary woman.

Would he think of her when he stood in his pulpit, gazing into the
enraptured faces of his flock, and preaching to them the gospel of faith
and love? Would he think for one moment of this poor girl, whom he had
made an outcast?

When mother and daughter sat at breakfast, Edith announced her
determination to stay at home as usual; so Mrs. Russell went alone
through the snow to hear the vicar's sermon. She was sorry Edith was not
with her, she said to herself again and again, as she sat in the church,
listening in rapt attention to the benevolent gospel which Mr. Santley
preached. He had never been known to have spoken so well before, and
when he had finished, one half of the congregation had been reduced to
tears.

Mrs. Russell told Edith all about it at dinner, and again expressed
her sorrow that Edith had not been there to hear. To this the girl said
nothing, but there passed over her face a look it was well the aunt did
not see.

Thus the day passed--a day so full of joy to some, so full of sadness
to others. Well, joy and sadness were ended. Mrs. Russell, following her
usual custom, reached down the old family Bible, and read from it; then,
taking her niece's hand in hers, she knelt down to say a prayer. When
they rose from their knees, Edith put her arms round her aunt's neck,
and kissed her fondly.

"Aunt dear," she said, "I have often been a great trouble to you--I
have often caused you disappointment and a deal of unnecessary pain;
but tonight, on Christmas night, when we should all forgive and love one
another, you will tell me, will you not, that you forgive me?"

With strange, wondering eyes, the old lady looked at her niece, so pale
and sadly changed; then she kissed her, as she said--

"My darling, what there is to forgive I forgive. We cannot all do as we
ought, Edith--we are poor creatures at the best of times--but you are a
good girl, Edith; and perhaps, after all, things have shaped themselves
for the best."

The old lady, all unconscious of the real state of things, was
thinking of the collapse of the pet scheme she had had of making Walter
Hetherington her son.

"Dear aunt," said Edith, fondly, "it was impossible."

"Yes, yes; I know that now, my dear: and perhaps, after all, as I said
before, it is for the best. There, don't think of it again to-night,
dear, but go to bed and rest!"

So Edith went to her room; and while the rest of the household were
falling into blessed, tranquil slumber, she sat, dressed as she was,
upon the bed and stared vacantly before her. She did not weep; her time
for that, had passed away, even as the greatness of her sorrow grew.
Her face was fixed and determined; her heart seemed to-have hardened
to stone. For days and days she had waited for she knew not what; but
a vague kind of hopefulness, had taken possession of her heart, and
she had allowed it to remain. Perhaps, during those terrible days of
agonizing suspense, she had thought that she might have received some
word or sign from him. It had been a vague, almost a hopeless, hope;
nevertheless, it had been that one spark which had kept life within her.
But now that hope was gone: he had made no sign. And with the knowledge
that she could no longer conceal her shame, came also the assurance that
the man for whose sake she had sinned, had pitilessly abandoned her.

Edith, sitting at home by the fire that day, had thought over all this,
while her aunt had been at church listening to the vicar's touching
sermon; and, after having forced herself to accept and acknowledge the
truth, she had finally decided what she must do. She had decided; it
but remained for her to act. She had determined to leave her home that
night; to walk whither her wandering footsteps might lead her, and leave
no trace behind.

So, having reached her room, she sat until the house was quiet; then she
rose, and began to make her preparations for departure. She went to
a drawer, and took from it what money still remained there--some
bank-notes and gold--and stitched it firmly in a fold of her dress; then
she put on her hat and warm winter cloak, and stood ready.

The village clocks were striking twelve.

She opened her door and listened. All was still; so she passed quietly
onwards, after securely locking her bedroom door--passed noiselessly
down the stairs, out of the house, and stood in, the darkness alone.

It was a bitter night. The snow lay thick all round her, and the cruel
wind which blew seemed to turn the life-blood in her veins to ice.

Edith stood for a moment, chilled to the heart. She gave one look at
the home she was leaving; then, as if fearing the strength of her own
resolution, she turned and quickly pursued her way.

Whither she went she knew not, nor did she care to know; she only knew
that every step was taking her further and further from her home, and
from the man who had broken her heart. So she walked on quickly, with
her cloak wrapped well about her, and bending her head to shelter her
face from the bitter breath of the wind.

She walked on and on, while the darkness gathered above her and the
snow lay thick all around. Sometimes she sat down to rest, and then the
thought came to her, that perhaps it would be better if she could end
it all; if she could but lie down on the frozen earth, with the snow
wrapped like a mantle around her, and sink to her eternal sleep.
Henceforth there would be no more sorrow and no more pain--The idea
having occurred to her, took possession of her mind, and held to
it tenaciously. "Oh, if she could only die!"--close her eyes in the
darkness, and feel for a moment that blessed peace which had passed
from her for ever! Yes, Edith knew it would be better; though, with the
instinct implanted in all human things, she shrank from death, she knew
that his presence would be-merciful. Henceforth, what would life be to
her--an outcast, a thing to be spoken of with pitiless contempt, to be
hidden for ever from the sight of all her fellow-men? Then she asked
herself, "Would it be a sin to take the life which God had given her,
and yield it up to Him?" No; she believed it would be no sin.

She walked on and on. Then once more, in the bitter anguish of
her heart, she cried on God to be merciful to her. For, weary with
travelling, cold and sick at heart, she cast herself down upon the snow,
and sobbed--

"Oh, if I could only die!"

But death did not come. The snow closed all round her as she lay
fainting and cold; but she did not die. Its icy touch, lying on her
parched lips and brow, revived her. With wild, wandering eyes, she
looked around.

The night was well-nigh spent, and the sky gave tokens of quickly
approaching dawn. As every hour passed on the air grew colder, and now
its touch chilled her to the very bone; she shivered, yet her brow, her
lips, and hands were burning. She tried to think, but could not; even
the events of the past were becoming strangely blurred and dim.

Where was she? She hardly knew; yet she must have wandered many, many
miles from home, since she was footsore, and growing very faint for lack
of food. She listened feverishly, and her ear caught the murmuring of a
running stream.

She rose; but her limbs were feeble, for she staggered and fell again
upon the ground. Then she cried from very weakness, and a sense of utter
helplessness and loneliness.

After a while she rose again. How her hands and lips burned! Her brain
was in wild confusion, and everything about her seemed fading into the
mystery of a dream. Was it coming, that death for which she had prayed?

Suddenly a wild fear seized her. If she fell and lay here on the snow,
she might be recognized by some passing traveller and taken home! That
must not be. She must never be found, and then no one would ever know.

As this new terror seized her, she heard again the rippling of the
stream. It seemed to lure her on. She thrust a handful of snow into her
mouth, and staggered forward. The sweet sound of the running water came
nearer and nearer. She stood now on the banks of the stream--a stream
deep and rapid, flowing between banks now laden with snow. Edith looked
down into the dark, cold water, and thought, "If I lay there, quiet and
cold, no one would ever find me and no one would ever know."

"Yes, yes; it would be better," she cried. "The water called me, and I
have come!" And, with a wild sob, she sprang forward, and sank beneath
the swiftly flowing waters of the stream.

When Edith opened her eyes, she found herself lying upon a bed of straw.
She was dressed in dry clothes, sheltered by a canvas roof, warmed by
a fire, and watched by a woman. Her eyes, after having carelessly noted
these things, remained fixed on the face of the woman, for she had
recognized the bold black eyes of Sal Blexley.

Edith remained dumb, but Sal broke the silence with a loud laugh.

"Yes, it's me, my lady," she said.

"I said we should meet again, and so we have, you see. I thought it would
come to this."

"Where am I?" asked Edith, faintly.

"Where are ye? Why, in a gipsy tent, with me and my pals. I was out on
the rampage with my chap, when we saw ye throw yourself in the river. I
got him to fish you out--more dead than alive, I bet--and between us
we brought ye here. There, don't shrink away, and don't look afeard.
I ain't agoin' to harm ye. Your man's deserted ye, I reckon. Well, ye
despised me once, ye know, and so did he; but I mean to let ye see that
'tain't only gentlefolks and clergy that can do a good turn to them as
wants it."



CHAPTER XXXIII. THE NOTE-BOOK AGAIN.

_December 15_.--The first snow fell yesterday. As I write, the air is
still darkened with the falling flakes. From here to the village
is spread a soft white carpet, ankle-deep. I am more than usually
interested in this common phenomenon, as I can tell, by the deep
footprints, exactly who is coming and going. One track interests me
especially--that of a shapely foot, clad in an elegant, tightly fitting
boot. Its holy owner came as far as the lodge gate, no further. To make
certain that I was not mistaken, I inquired of the lodge-keeper, and
found that the clergyman _had_ passed this morning.

As matters stand now, I can arrange everything with coolness and _sang
froid_, for I am really the master of the situation. I hold this man,
as it were, in the hollow of my hand. I know his life, his comings
and goings, his offences against social propriety, against his own
conscience; there is not a step of that poor instrument, his soul, of
which I am not master. Despite all this, he is still absolutely blind to
his danger. He thinks me sleeping sound, when I am wide awake. Imbecile!

Well, I mean to have my revenge, somehow or other; how and when, I have
not exactly determined. I should like to read my satyr such a lesson
as would last him for a lifetime; and of course, without any kind of
_public_ scandal. I have thought once or twice of a way, but it would,
perhaps, be playing with fire to attempt it; nor is it easy to carry out
without my wife's co-operation.

As for Ellen, she remains restless and bewildered; certain of the man's
unworthiness, yet fascinated by his pertinacity. She goes to church, as
usual; otherwise, she avoids Santley as much as possible. What would she
say, if I were to tell her all I know? I am afraid, after all, it would
not facilitate her cure; for, strange to say, women love a scoundrel of
the amorous kind.=

```"That we should call these delicate creatures ours,

````And not their ------ sentiments!"=

Yes, it is nothing but sentiment, I know. She is as pure as crystal, but
she cannot quite forget that she was once a foolish maid, and this
man an impassioned boy; and he comes to her, moreover, in the shining
vestments of a beautiful, though lying, creed. I shall have to be cruel,
I am afraid, very cruel, before I can quite cure her.... Pshaw! what am
I thinking, writing? Folly, folly! I am trying to survey Ellen Haldane
philosophically, to assume a calmness, though I have it not--though
all the time my spirit is in arms against her. I am jealous, damnably
jealous, that is all.

To talk about the crystal purity of a woman who has a moral _cancer_,
which must kill her if it is not killed! To describe her folly as mere
sentiment, when I know, more than most men, that such sentiment as that
is simple conscience-poisoning! If I did not save her, if I were not by
with my protecting hand, she would assuredly be lost. Well, I shall
cure her, as I said, or kill her in the attempt. Once, when a boy, in
a Parisian hospital, I saw an _ouvreuse_ operated upon, for a tumorous
deposit, which necessitated the excision of the whole of the right
breast. It was before the days of chloroform, and the patient's agony
was terrible to witness. But she was saved. For the moral cancer also,
the knife may be the only remedy; and it will be, as in the other case,
kill or cure.

Meantime, our domestic life goes on with characteristic monotony. We
have no quarrels, and no confidences. We eat, drink, and sleep like
comfortable wedded people. The greater part of my day is spent among my
books; the greater part of hers in simple domestic duties, in music, in
wanderings about the gardens. She seldom visits in the parish now; but
the poor come to her on stated days, and she is, as ever, charitable. At
least once every Sunday she goes to church.

A sombre, sultry state of the atmosphere, with gathering thunder!

_December_ 20.--I have been reading, to-day, Naquet's curious pamphlet
on "Divorce," a subject which is just now greatly exercising our
neighbours across the Channel. This study, combined with that of two
new attempts in Zolaesque (which a French friend has been good enough
to send me), has left me with a certain sense of nausea. Gradually, but
surely, I am afraid, I am losing that fine British faith in the feminine
ideal, which was among the legacies left me by a perfect mother. It
is dawning upon me, at middle age, as it dawns upon a Parisian at
twenty-one, that women are, at best, only the highest, or among the
highest, of _animals_, and that sanitary precautions of the State must
be taken--to keep them cleanly. It is this discovery which, perpetuated
in Art, makes the whole literature of the Second Empire so repulsive
to an English Philistine. "And smell so----faugh!" Are the days of
chivalry, then, over? Is the ideal of pure maidenhood, of perfect
womanhood, utterly overthrown? Is the modern woman--not Imogen, not
Portia, not the lily maid of Ascolat, not Romola, not even Helen
Pendennis?--but Messalina, Lucretia--nay, even Berthe Rougon, or the
shamble-haunting wife of Claude, or the utterable Madame Bovary? Surely,
surely, there cannot be all this literary smoke without some little
social fire. Thank God, therefore, that the wise Republic has taken to
the drastic remedy of crushing those vipers, the Christian priests, and
of abolishing the solemn farce of the marriage ceremony. Marriage is
a simple contract, not an arrangement made in heaven; it is social and
sanitary, not religious and ideal;--and when any of the conditions are
broken by either of the contracting parties, the contract is at an end.

Yes, I suppose it is so; I suppose that women are not angels, and
that married life is an arrangement. And yet how much sweeter was
that old-fashioned belief which pictured the wedded life as a divine
communion of souls, a golden ladder beginning at the altar, and
reaching--through many dark shadows, perhaps, but surely reaching--up to
heaven! Ah, my hymeneal Jacob's Ladder, with angels for ever descending
and ascending, you have vanished from the world, with Noah's Dove of
Peace, and Christ's Rainbow of Promise! All faiths have gone, and the
faith in Love is the last to go.

I find that I am philosophizing--prosing, in other words--instead of
setting down events as they occur. But indeed, there are no events
to set down. I am in the position of the needy knife-grinder of the
Anti-Jacobin:

"Story? God bless you, I have none to tell, sir!"

So, to ease my mind, I pour out my bile on paper.

_December_ 21.--I have made a discovery. During the last few days
my wife and Santley have been in correspondence. At any rate, he has
written to her; and I suspect she has replied.

Baptisto has been my informant. Despite my command that he should cease
to play the spy, he has persisted in keeping his eyes and ears open, and
has managed to convey to me, in one way or another, exactly what he
has seen or heard. This morning, when hanging about the lodge (still
fascinated, I suspect, by the little widow), he discovered that there
was a letter there addressed to his mistress, and he asked me, quite
innocently, if he should fetch and take it to her. I showed no sign of
anger or surprise, but bade him mind his own business. In the forenoon,
I saw Ellen emerge from the house, and stroll carelessly in the
direction of the lodge gates. I followed her at a distance, and saw, her
enter the lodge, and emerge directly afterwards with a letter, which she
read hastily and thrust into her bosom.

When she returned up the avenue, I was standing outside my den, waiting
for her.

She came up smiling, with her air of perfect innocence. Wrapped from
head to foot in furs, and wearing the prettiest of fur caps _à la
Russe_, she looked her very best and brightest. The sun was shining
clearly on the snow, and, as she came, she left soft footprints behind
her.

"What is my Bear doing," she cried, "out in the cold, and without his
great coat, too?"

"The day looked so bright that I was tempted out. Where have you been?"

"Only for a little stroll," she replied; "it is so pleasant out of
doors. By-the-bye, dear, they are skating down on Omberley Pond. I think
I shall drive over. Will you come?"

"Not to-day, Nell."

She did not look sorry, I thought, at my refusal.

"Is there a party?" I asked carelessly.

"I don't know; but I heard the Armstrongs were going, and some of the
people from the Abbey."

"And Mr. Santley, I suppose?"

She flushed slightly, but answered without hesitation--

"Perhaps he will be there; but I need not speak to him, if you forbid
it. I will stay at home if you wish it, dear."

"I don't wish it," I said. "Go and amuse yourself."

"_Won't_ you come?" she murmured, hesitating.

I shook my head, and turned back to my den. She looked after me, and
sighed; then walked slowly towards the house. What a sullen beast she
must have thought me! But I was irritated beyond measure by what I had
seen at the lodge. Not a word of the letter!

Half an hour afterwards I saw the pony-carriage waiting for her, and
presently she drove off, looking (as I thought) bright and happy
enough. No sooner had she gone than I was mad with myself for not having
accompanied her. Was it a _rendezvous?_ Had she gone, of set purpose, to
meet _him?_ I cursed my stupidity, my sullenness. At a word from me she
would have remained. I had almost made up my mind to walk over, when in
came Baptisto. He was wrapped up to the chin in an old travelling cloak,
and his nose was blue with cold.

"Have you any message in the village, senor?" he asked. "I am going
there."

I could not resist the temptation, though I hated myself for setting a
spy upon her.

"No, I have no message. Stay, though! While you are there, pass by the
skating-pond, and see if any of our friends are there."

He understood me perfectly, and went away, well satisfied at the
commission. More and more, as the days go on, the rascal intrudes
himself into my confidence, with silent looks of sympathy, dumb signs of
devotion. He says nothing, but his looks are ever significant. Sometimes
I long, in my irritation, to get rid of him for ever; but no, I may find
him useful. I know he would go through fire and water for my sake.

In about two hours he returned with his report.

"Well?" I said, scowling at him.

"The pond is covered, senor, with gentlemen and ladies. His lordship is
there, and they are very gay. It is pretty to see them gliding about
the ice, the ladies and the gentlemen hand in hand. Sometimes the ladies
slip, and the gentlemen catch them in their arms, and then all laugh! It
is a pity that you are not there; you would be amused."

"Is this all you have to tell me?"

"Yes, senor, except that my mistress is among them. She bade me tell
you-----"

"Yes! yes!"

"That she was enjoying herself so much, and would not be home for
lunch." He stood with head bent gently, respectful and submissive, but
his face wore the expression which had often irritated me before--an
expression which said, as plainly as words, "How far will you let them
go? Cannot you perceive what is going on? It is no affair of mine, but
is it possible that you will endure so much and so long?" I read all
this, I say, in the fellow's face.

"Very well," I said sternly, dismissing him with a wave of the hand.

He went lingeringly, knowing I would be certain to call him back. As I
did.

"Was Mr. Santley there?"

Baptisto smiled--darkly, malignantly.

"Oh yes, senor, _of course!_"

I could have struck him.

Damn him! does he think I am already ornamented, like Falstaff, with an
ugly pair of horns? I shall have to get rid of him, after all. He saw
the expression on my face, and was gone in a moment; but he had left his
poison to work.

All the devil was awake within me. I could not work, I could not read, I
could not rest in any place. When the lunch-bell sounded, I went in, and
drank a couple of glasses of wine, but ate nothing. Then for some hours
I flitted about like a ghost, from room to room, from the house to
the laboratory, upstairs and down. I went into her boudoir. The rosy
curtains were drawn, and the air was still sweet with perfumes, with
the very breath of her body. I am afraid I was mean enough to play the
spy--to open drawers, to look into her work-basket; nay, I even went so
far as to inspect her wardrobe, and examine the pocket of the dress she
had worn that morning.

I wanted that letter.

If I could have found it, and read in it any confirmation of my
suspicions, I would have taken instant action. But I could not find it.

In the drawer of the work-table, however, I found something.

A sheet of paper, carefully folded up. I opened it, and found it covered
with writing in a man's hand. At the top was written--"_I think these
are the verses you wanted? I have transcribed them for you.--C. S._" The
verses followed--some twaddle about the meeting in heaven of those who
have lived on earth; with incredible images of cherubs sitting on clouds
(blowing their own trumpets, I suppose, with angelic self-satisfaction);
descriptions of impossible habitations, with roofs of gold and silver,
and inspired rhymes of "love" and "dove," "eyes" and "paradise." The
paper was the pinkest of pinks, and delicately perfumed; the writing
beautiful, with ethereal curves and upsweeps, exquisite punctuation, and
a liberal supply of points of exclamation. I put the rubbish back in its
place. It had obviously been lying there for some time, and was not
at all the sort of document of which I was in search. So I quitted the
boudoir, not much wiser than when I entered it, and resumed my uneasy
ramblings about the house.

About four in the afternoon, I heard wheels coming up the avenue. I
looked out, and was just in time to see the pony-carriage pass. What was
my amazement, however, when I beheld, calmly driving the carriage, with
my wife seated at his side, the clergyman himself.

My head went round, and I felt positively bloodthirsty. Seizing my hat,
I hastened round, and arrived just as Santley was carrying Ellen up the
steps into the house. Yes, actually carrying her in his arms! I could
scarcely believe my eyes; but, coming up close, I saw that she was
ghastly pale, and that something unusual must have occurred.

He had placed her on a chair in the lobby, and was bending over her just
as I followed. I am afraid that the expression of my face was sinister
and agitated enough; I stood glaring at the two, like one gasping for
breath.

"Don't be alarmed," he said, meeting my eyes. "There has been a slight
accident, that is all. Mrs. Haldane slipped on the ice, and, falling,
sprained her ankle."

Ellen, who seemed in great pain, looked up at me with a beseeching
expression; for she at least read my suspicion in my face.

"It was so stupid of me!" she murmured, forcing a faint smile, and
reaching out her hand. "I could not come home alone--I was in such
pain--and Mr. Santley kindly volunteered to bring me."

What could I do? I could not knock a man down for having performed
what appeared a simple act of courtesy. I could not exhibit any anger,
without looking like an idiot or a boor. Santley had merely done what
any other gentleman would have done under the circumstances. For all
that, I had an uneasy sense of being humbugged.

"Let me look at your foot," I said gruffly.

She pushed, it from underneath her dress. The boot had been taken off,
and a white silk handkerchief tightly wrapped about the ankle.

"Mr. Santley bound it up," she explained.

I took the foot in my hand, and in my secret fury, I think I was a
little rough, for she uttered a cry.

"Take care!" cried the clergyman. "It is very tender."

I looked up at him with a scowl, but said nothing.

"Shall I carry you into the drawingroom?" he said, with tender
solicitude.

"No; I am better now, and George will give me his arm. Pray do not
stay."

She rose with difficulty, and, resting all her weight upon her left
foot, leant upon me. In this manner she managed to limp into the
drawing-room, and to place herself upon a couch. Her pallor still
continued, and I felt sorry, for I hate to see a woman suffer. Santley,
who had followed us, and was watching her with extraordinary sympathy,
now bent softly over her.

"Are you still in pain?" he murmured.

"A little; but----"

"Shall I send Doctor Spruce over? I shall be passing the surgery on my
way back. If he is not at home, I will procure some remedies, and bring
them on myself."

Here I interposed.

"Pray do not trouble yourself," I said, with a sneer. "A sprained
ankle is a trifle, and I can attend to it. Unless my wife is in need of
_religious_ ministration, you need not remain."

I spoke brutally, as I felt; and, meeting the man's pale, sad,
astonished gaze, I became secretly humiliated. A husband, I perceive, is
a ridiculous animal, and always at a disadvantage. I begin to understand
how the poets, from Molière downwards, have made married men their
shuttlecocks. A jealous lover has dignity; a jealous husband, none.
Nobody sympathizes with my lord of Rimini, while all the world weeps for
Lancelot and Francesca. Even Ford, ere he turns the tables on Sir John,
poses as an ass. All the right was on my side, all the offended dignity,
all the outraged honesty; yet somehow I felt, at that moment, like an
ill-conditioned cur.

"I am not here in a religious capacity," he replied courteously,
"so your sneer is hardly fair. However, since I can be of no further
service, I will go."

He turned softly to Ellen, holding out his hand.

"Good-bye. I hope you will be better to-morrow."

"Good-bye, and thank you," she replied. "It was so good of you to bring
me home."

And so, with a courteous bow to me, which I returned with a nod, he
retired victoriously. Yes, he had the best of it for the time being.
For some minutes after he left, and while the scent of his perfumed
handkerchief still filled the air, I stood moodily waiting. At last
Ellen spoke.

"I hope you are not angry. What could I do? I could not come home in
such pain, and no one else offered to escort me."

"I did not ask you to excuse yourself," I said coldly.

I saw the tears standing in her eyes. Her voice trembled as she
murmured--

"I did not think you could have been so unkind!"

As I did not answer, she continued--

"Of late you have not been like yourself. You used to trust me; we used
to be so happy! If this is to go on, we had better separate; it makes my
life a misery."

She had touched the wrong chord, if she thought to move my pity. My
jealous brain was at work at once. She was thinking of a separation,
then? Perhaps she wished it; and perhaps the true reason was her love
for that man?

I spoke out in the heat of the moment--

"If you wish to separate, it can be arranged."

She looked at me so pleadingly, so piteously, that I had to turn my
eyes away. In encounters of this kind the man has no chance against the
woman, especially if he is magnanimous. What are all his arguments, all
his indignation, against her battery of woeful looks, her tears, her
pseudo-innocence, and real helplessness? One feels like a coward, too,
in such an encounter. I did, I know.

Nevertheless, I was ready to give her the _coup de grace_.

"Show me that letter," I said suddenly.

"What letter?" she asked, as if she did not comprehend.

"The letter you received from that man this morning."

For a moment her cheeks went scarlet, then became deadly pale again.

"Pray do not attempt any subterfuge," I continued. "I know that you have
been in correspondence. Where is that last letter? I demand to see it."

She replied without hesitation.

"You cannot see it."

"Why?"

"Because I have burned it."

At this admission I lost my self-command, and uttered an execration.

"There was nothing in it," she said sorrowfully; "it was a mere request
for an interview. You have no right to be so violent."

"No right, woman!" I cried.

"There is nothing between us to make me ashamed. If I were the most
guilty woman in the world, you could not treat me more cruelly. You
have no pity, none. It is my fault, my punishment, to have married a man
without sympathy, without religion."

Religion again! How I hated the word! It stung me into retorting
fiercely--

"It is my misfortune, rather, to have married a sentimental hypocrite!"

I had gone too far. Her proud spirit rose against me. Pale and
indignant, she tried to rise to her feet. But she had forgotten her
sprained ankle. Her face was contracted with sudden torture, and, with a
low cry of pain, she fainted away upon the floor.

_December_ 23.--In two more days the Christmas bells will ring, with
their merry tidings of peace, good will, and plum-pudding to all the
world. Well, mine is likely to be a cheerful Christmas Day. The snow is
still on the ground, and more is falling; and outside the Manor, as I
write, the dreariest of dreary winds is wailing. Here, inside, there is
even greater gloom. A cheerless hearth, a husband and wife estranged.
Bah! the old story.

Things have come to a crisis at last between us. I know now that I must
either strike a cruel blow, or lose my wife for ever. Any mere armistice
is impossible. Either I must assault my enemy's camp, get him by the
throat, and cover him with punishment and confusion; or haul down my
matrimonial flag, capitulate, and let the Church and the devil come in
to take possession.



CHAPTER XXXIV. BAITING A MOUSE-TRAP (FROM THE NOTEBOOK).


|Let me write down, as calmly as I can, exactly what has taken place.

Yesterday, after that little scene, I carried my swooning-wife up to
her room, placed her on the bed, and sent her maid to attend to her.
Then I walked off to my den, to have my dark hour alone; for I was
thoroughly miserable. So far, I felt, I had been beaten with my own
weapons. Ellen was going to pose as a Christian martyr, and I had
committed the indiscretion of showing the full extent of my jealousy.
It would have been far better, on the whole, if, instead of storming and
grumbling, I had quietly kicked the clergyman out of my house; but then,
I could hardly deal in that way with a man who had simply, on the face
of it, performed an act of common civility. The time for kicking had
gone past; I had stupidly let it slip. If, when I caught him in the
act of trying to embrace my Ellen, and of addressing her softly by
her Christian name, I had calmly and decisively thrashed him, he could
hardly have accused me of impoliteness; nor would he have been able,
without exposing his own fatuity, to noise the affair about.

Now, I was not only angry with my wife for her indiscretion, I was in a
rage with myself for having behaved with so much brutality. The picture
of her pale, suffering face followed me to my den, and haunted me
reproachfully. She had really met with an accident, and was in sharp
physical pain; and I, who at another time would have cut off my right
hand to prevent her little finger from aching, had chosen the time
of her suffering to come upon her like a woman-eating tiger. Just the
husband's luck again--always at a disadvantage; for precisely to the
degree in which she felt herself treated unkindly and ungently by me,
would rise her sympathy for the man who had been so zealous and so
tender. Damn him, again!

The night passed wretchedly enough.

I sat up working till nearly daybreak. When I went upstairs, and entered
my dressing-room, I felt guilty and ashamed, yet angry still. But
she was asleep--I could hear her soft breathing from the adjoining
bedchamber. Lamp in hand, I crept in. Yes, there she lay, soundly
slumbering, her eyes red with weeping, her dark hair falling wildly
around her pallid face, her neck and throat bare, her arms outside the
coverlid, which rose and fell with her breathing. As I bent over her,
my shadow crossed her soul in sleep, and she moaned and stirred. Poor
child! I longed to kiss her, but I was ashamed.

I think we men, the strongest and coldest of us even, are weak as water,
where a woman is concerned. I used to fancy once that, if a wife of mine
failed in faith, or fell away from me in sin, I could strike her dead
without pity; or if I suffered her to live, pass an eternity with no
thought but loathing and detestation. But as I bent over that sad bed,
I seemed to understand how it was that husbands, in the fulness of time,
had pardoned even _that_, the foulest and deadliest of infidelities;
how, with a love stronger than sin, and a hope stronger than death,
they had welcomed back the penitent, in forgiveness, sorrow, and
despair--even as a father would take back an erring child, part of the
very blood and life within his veins. Weakness, I know; but weak as
water, in virtue of its very strength, is Love.

It was horrible, horrible, this falling away from each other. I wished,
just then, that I had had religion; perhaps then we might have been
happier together. Women love a sort of matrimonial Village Blacksmith,
who asks no questions, works hard all the week, and goes three times to
church, in an irreproachably white shirt, on Sunday. They cannot bear
revolt in any shape. They were the last to cling to the old gods, and
they will be last to cling to the dead Christ. Does the law which works
for righteousness, somehow or other, justify them? Was my dear wife's
alienation a curse upon me for dealing in occult scientific mysteries,
like an old necromancer, and forgetting, if I ever learned, the sweet
religion of the heart? Somehow, last night, I felt as if it were so.
There she lay, white as snow. I knew she had prayed to God before
sleeping; and I--I could not pray. I was an outcast, an unbeliever;
"atheist! atheist!" said the preacher.

I crept away to my own solitary bed, feeling more sad and lonely than I
had ever done in all my life.

Till midday to-day, she kept her room; but after lunch, she managed to
get downstairs. I had returned to my den, and we did not meet; nor was I
in the mood for meeting, for the gentle impulses of overnight had passed
away, and the morning had found me gloomy, quarrelsome, and atrabilious.
She did not send for me, though I secretly hoped that she might do so. I
learned from Baptisto that she was stretched upon the drawing-room sofa,
which was drawn close to the window, and was reading some religious
book.

Restless and wretched, I took my hat and walked out into the snow. The
great fir trees, loaded with the leaden whiteness, were ranged like
grim sentinels on each side of the dreary avenue, and beyond these the
leafless woods stretched white and cold. The sun had gone in, and the
air was full of a heavy lowering sadness--a sort of darkness visible.
It was cheerless weather; and as I thought of my domestic misery, and of
the clouded world, with all its sins and sorrows, I was more miserable
than ever.

Nevertheless, I walked on rapidly, till I came out among the frozen
fields of the open country. How desolate looked the snowy meadows, with
broad patches of green, thaw-like mildew, and the fallow fields, with
snow thick in the furrows and wretched low-lying hedges on every side!
Here and there a few miserable small birds were fluttering, starved
robins for the most part; and a kestrel was hunting the furrow, hovering
in a slow, dejected way, as if field-mice were scarce, and his whole
occupation, like the weather, cruelly forlorn.

Before four o'clock it was quite dark.

Through the windy darkness I made my way back to the Manor. By that time
I had thought it all over. Conquered by the utter desolation within and
without me, I had said to myself, "Life like this is worse than death. I
will try one way more; I will go to her, I will take her to my heart, I
will beg her to love and trust me, and to accept my tender forgiveness.
Perhaps I have been too hard, too taciturn and sullen. She has mistaken
my sorrow for coldness, my pride for cruelty and pertinacity. There
shall be an end to this. She shall understand the full tenderness of my
love, once and for ever." With these thoughts struggling wildly within
me, I hastened home.

Then, as the devil would have it, I saw Baptisto, waiting on the
threshold of my den. The moment I appeared he crept up to me, and
clutched my arm.

"Senor, senor! where have you been? I have been waiting for you."

"What is it, man?" I asked, startled by his manner.

"Come and see!"

He led me towards the house. I walked a few steps, then paused
nervously.

"What has happened?" I asked.

"Nothing, senor; but the clergyman is here again, with my lady."

That was enough. It turned my tenderness into anger, my lethargy into
passion. Shaking off the fellow's touch, I hastened to the house. As
I went I saw lights in the drawing-room; and, instead of entering the
house door, I ascended the flight of iron steps which leads to the
terrace. Then, with the cunning of jealousy, cold enough to subdue the
fever of rage, I crept along the terrace till I reached the folding
doors of the drawing-room. The doors were closed, the curtains and
blinds were drawn, but there was one small space through which I could
see into the room.

I looked in.

For a moment my eyes, clouded by the darkness, were dazzled by the light
of the room within; but despite the loud crying of the wind around me, I
heard a murmur of voices. Then I distinguished the form of my wife on
a sofa drawn up before the fire, and, bending over her, the form of the
minister. Her back was turned to me, but I saw _his_ face, noticed the
burning eyes fixed eagerly on hers.

What were they saying--doing? I strained my eyes, my ears. At last I
caught a sound. "Go now!" she was saying; "go now, I beseech you!"

Even as she spoke, he flung himself wildly on his knees, placing his
arms around her.

"Oh, you are mad, mad!" she cried.

"Not mad, but desperate," he answered. "I have thought it all over; I
have struggled and struggled, but it is in vain. Ellen, have pity! There
is no peace or happiness for me, in this world or the next, without your
love. My darling! my angel!"

"Silence, for God's sake! Oh, if you should be heard----"

"I do not care who hears me. I am beyond fear. As for that man, your
husband, he is busy, no doubt, with his blasphemous books, his sinful
investigations. Oh, my darling, that you should be linked to such a man!
A man without religion--a man without God! It was that which first made
me pity you, and pity is akin to love. You owe him no duty. He is a
heretic--an atheist, as you know."

As he clung to her and embraced her, she struggled nervously. Carried
beyond himself, he covered her hands-with kisses, and would have kissed
her lips, but she drew back.

"Go, go!" she moaned. "Hark! I hear footsteps. If you do not go now, I
will never speak to you again."

He rose to his feet, hot, flushed, and trembling like a leaf.

"I will go, since you wish it," he said. "Good night, my darling!"

He stooped over, and--kissed her? Yes, I was sure he kissed her, though
I think she shrunk away, with her face nervously turned to the door,
dreading a surprise. Then I saw his shadow cross the room, and vanish
through the door, which was closed behind him.

I was about to force open the French windows and enter, when a curious
impulse possessed me to delay a little, and see what she would do when
left alone. So I watched her. She sat trembling on her seat; then,
reaching to the table, took a flask of eau-de-cologne, poured some upon
her handkerchief, and bathed her face. Then, with momentary glances at
the door, she smoothed down her straggling hair, and adjusted the bosom
of her dress. Finally, she contrived, though not without pain, to rise
to her feet, and, leaning on the marble mantelpiece, to look at her face
in the mirror. I could see her face reflected, all flushed and warm,
and her eyes gleaming with unusual brightness. After again smoothing her
hair, she got back to the sofa, posed herself prettily, and, not without
another glance at the door, took up a book and pretended to read.

By this time I was diabolically cool; so cool that I could have killed
her just then in cold blood. Entering into the spirit of her hypocrisy,
I refrained from entering by the terrace, but, passing round to the
hall door, entered there. A few minutes afterwards, I entered the
drawing-room, with as unconcerned an air as I could possibly command.

There she sat, quite calm and self-possessed, her robe arranged decently
over her feet, her face pale, her hair smoothed down Madonna-like over
her temples, her eyes fixed upon a book.

As I entered, she looked up with a sweet smile, just as if there had
never been any quarrel between us.

"Well, dear? You see, I have got down."

I nodded, and sank into a chair.

"You don't ask me if my ankle is better? Well, it is nearly all right.
But, George, I hope you are not angry with me still for what occurred
yesterday. Do forgive me, dear!"

"Oh, I'm not angry," I replied; "only----"

"Only we both lost our tempers; I with my stupid sprained ankle, you
with your stupid books. I was so sorry you let Mr. Santley see you were
annoyed. He must have thought it so odd."

How light and free of heart she seemed! how bright and languishing her
eyes were! She could laugh, too, and she was not much given to laughter,
I looked at her with amazement, so little did I, or do I, understand
women. There seemed to be an ugliness, a guiltiness, about her tender
coquetry that evening, coming so close upon what I had seen.

"By the way," she continued, after a few minutes' pause, "I hope you
will not scold me again, but I think I ought to tell you--that Mr.
Santley has just called. There, now you are angry; but I thought it
right to tell you."

"Thank you," I said drily. "I was aware that he had called. What brought
him, pray?"

"He wished to ascertain if I had recovered from the effects of my fall,"
she replied, with a little more nervousness than before.

"Oh, a mere visit of politeness!

"Yes," she answered, faltering.

I rose quietly, and stood on the hearthrug, looking down upon her.

"Would it surprise you to hear," I asked grimly, "that I know exactly
what took place between you?"

Her face flushed scarlet, the book fell from her hands.

"Oh, George! what do you mean?" she murmured somewhat irrelevantly.

"Precisely what I say. He made hot love to you--embraced you--kissed
you, madam. He informed you that your husband was a heretic, and that
to make him a cuckold would be a certain way of getting an express pass
right through to paradise. Very polite indeed, you will agree!"

She saw that I knew everything, and wrung her hands in protestation and
despair.

"George, if you know so much--and some one has been playing the spy--you
know that it was all against my will; you know that I tried to silence
him, to thrust him from me, but, being ill and helpless, sick, and in
pain----"

Here her self-pity, coming sharp upon her consternation, quite conquered
her, and she fell into hysterical tears.

"O God! God!" she sobbed.

What kaleidoscopes are women! From light to shade, from brightness to
dimness, and back again to brightness; from one colour to another, from
the tints of the thunder-cloud to the hues of the rainbow, how suddenly
they can flit and change! Ellen, who had just before been so gay and
smiling, seemed now liked a broken woman. I watched her gloomily, almost
despairingly. I knew that ten minutes afterwards, she might change
again, scattering away her tears as the sunshine scatters the drops of
dew.

_Midnight._--I have just left my wife's bedside. Ellen has promised me,
if I spare the man and avoid any scandal, that she will never speak to
him again, or even enter his church. Can I trust her? I believe _not._
However, we shall see.

_Christmas Eve_.--My mind is now made up. To-day I intercepted a letter
from Santley to Ellen, left as usual at the lodge gate. It ran as
follows:--

"To-morrow is Christmas Day, and I have not a moment to spare. I
will call, however, next day, on the business about which we spoke
_yesterday_. Pray for me till then, as I pray for you.--C. S."

The italics are the satyr's own.

This letter, then, has decided me. My scheme of revenge is now perfectly
complete, and I shall no longer hesitate to carry it out. To make all
certain, I shall send a verbal message by Baptisto to-morrow to the
effect that Mrs. Haldane "will be glad to see Mr. Santley as arranged,
the day after Christmas Day." In the mean time I shall make my
preparations. All the servants but two have been given a holiday for
that day--I have taken care of that; and as they purpose going into
the neighbouring town, they will not return till very late. The two
remaining are the kitchen-maid, who is an idiot and notices nothing;
and Baptisto, who is for once to combine two functions--that of cook (he
cooks like an angel) and waiter at table. Ellen is quite satisfied with
this arrangement. She knows nothing of Santley's letter.

We see little or nothing of each other, and a shadow as of death hangs
over the entire house.

_Christmas Day_.--I astonished Ellen very much this morning, by
expressing my intention of accompanying her to church; but, instead of
rejoicing, as she would have done a little time ago, she seemed rather
frightened and startled. We drove over to the old church at Hamleigh,
seven miles off, and heard a drowsy sermon by the drowsiest of
octogenarians--the right sort of preacher, in my opinion, for a creed
so worn out, mildewy, and old-fashioned. Ellen did not seem to share
my appreciation of the old fellow's antiquated twaddle. She sat like a
marble woman. We drove home without a word.

A pretty Christmas! But, never mind, I am going to have my revenge.

Everything lends itself to my purpose. To begin with, Foxglove Manor
is miles away from any other habitation; and no one ever comes near the
"uncanny" place, except on special business. All the servants, but the
idiot of a kitchen-maid, leave early for their holiday. For a day at
least I can do as I please; and my intentions are simply murderous.
In the course of twelve hours a human creature may be disposed of, and
buried out of sight, if necessary, in these grounds. Baptisto knows my
terrible purpose, and approves it, with his usual bloodthirstiness, to
the full.

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and tomorrow!"

Come, then, my satyr, my wolf in sheep's clothing, and I shall be ready
for you--=

```"And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

````The way to dusty Death!"=



CHAPTER XXXV. THE ASSIGNATION.

|On the morning after Christmas Day, 18--, the Rev. Charles Santley,
vicar of Omberley, rose early from that sweet slumber which only the
righteous enjoy, and from those nightly visions of celestial bliss which
only the pure of heart are suffered to behold. Although, infant-like, he
had been "talking with angels in his sleep" all night, he looked pale,
careworn, and anxious. He dressed himself with unusual care, surveyed
himself again and again in the mirror, sighed softly, and descended
to the sitting-room, where his sister was already awaiting him at the
breakfast-table.

To his surprise, she looked unusually agitated, and addressed him
eagerly the moment he appeared.

"I am so glad you are come down. Rachel has just been here from the
cottage, where they are in a terrible state of alarm."

Rachel was the name of Miss Russell's maidservant.

"But what is the matter?"

"Edith went out early yesterday evening, and she has not returned. They
cannot guess what has become of her. Oh, Charles, go over at once! If
anything has happened to her!"

The clergyman listened in no little agitation.

"Did she leave no message?" he asked.

"None. She is such a strange girl; and lately, I am afraid, she has
been, unhappy. I am going down to the station to make inquiries, and
they fancy she may have taken the train to London."

"It is very strange!"

"Strange? It is horrible! Oh, Charles, she has never been quite the same
since her cousin came down here visiting. I thought that you were
her choice, and I hoped you would some day marry her; but since young
Hetherington was here----"

Santley, who had broken a little bread and drunk a cup of tea, rose
impatiently.

"You women think of nothing but marrying and giving in marriage," he
said. "Well, I will go over and speak to Miss Russell. I cannot think
that any harm has happened to Edith."

"I hope and pray not. But to be-away all night--it is unaccountable."

"Perhaps," suggested Santley, more troubled than he cared to show, "she
has gone to London."

"But why go without a word?"

"I really cannot tell. Young ladies-take strange fancies; and if, as you
suggest, there is anything between young Hetherington and herself----"

"I did not suggest anything of the kind."

"Excuse me, Mary, you did."

"I am sure she cares nothing for her cousin," returned Miss Santley.

Her brother shrugged his shoulders, and, putting on his hat and
overcoat, walked out of the Vicarage. On reaching the open air, where
all looked dark and cold, he trembled like a leaf. What could it mean?
What last freak had come over the infatuated girl? Could it be possible
that she had carried out her wild threat to leave the place, and take
her secret with her--perhaps to some nameless grave? He remembered their
last conversation, when she had first told him of her condition, and
beseeched him at once to make her his wife. He remembered how wild she
had seemed, how despairing, and of how little avail, to calm her, his
words had been. If any harm had come to her, the evil lay at his door.
It was horrible to think of! Although another woman had come between
them, although he no longer loved her with that wild frenzy which had
first urged him to evil, he had still a conscience, and he could not
bear to think that any harm had come to her. Then, again, he shuddered
at the thought of any exposure. He had meant to marry her, sooner or
later; and he had already made arrangements to' hide from the world, any
knowledge of her condition. She was to have gone away to a secret place;
and then, when her travail was over, he had meant to act honourably by
her. And now, by some act of madness, she had perhaps put it out of his
power! Surely, if she had gone away in accordance with the plan they had
made together, she would have sent him some intimation of her purpose.
It was extraordinary, altogether.

On reaching the cottage, he found Miss Russell in violent grief, and
quite bewildered what to do. He tried to console her, pointing out that
perhaps some little lover's quarrel with her cousin had taken her niece
up to town; and the old lady listened eagerly, hoping against hope.

'"Of late she has been so strange," sobbed the old lady, "so unlike
herself. Often, listening at her door o' nights, I have heard her crying
as if her heart was like to break; and she would never tell me what was
the matter. Do you think--do you really think, sir, it was her cousin
Walter?"

"I am almost certain of it," said the good shepherd. "Did they
correspond?"

"I think so--sometimes; but latterly they were estranged. Oh dear! Oh
dear!"

"Depend upon it, she has gone to London to see him. You will no doubt
have a letter from her in the course of the day. Keep up your spirits!
Miss Dove is a good young lady, and I am sure God will protect her. Is
there anything more that I can do for you?"

"It was so kind of you to come," said the poor soul. "Your words are
indeed a comfort."

"I am glad to hear you say so. Your dear niece was always a favourite of
mine."

"Oh, sir, I know that; and sometimes I thought---- But there, it's no
time to talk of that _now_. If she had only gone to you for advice, you
would have guided her for her good, and this would never have happened.
She was always pious-minded, but latterly, I'm afraid, she didn't go to
church as often as she ought."

"Don't say that, Miss Russell. She was most regular in her religious
duties--a pattern, indeed, to all my flock. There, there! I feel
satisfied there is no cause for alarm. I will go myself and make every
inquiry."

"Oh, sir, you are an angel!" cried the old lady, looking at him in
admiration. And she really meant what she said.

"Alas! no," he answered, shaking his head solemnly--"only a poor
miserable sinner. We are all miserable sinners. Good morning. Put your
trust in God."

"I do indeed, sir. But, sir, before you go, may I ask you a favour?"

"Certainly."

"If you would kindly kneel down with me a moment, and say a prayer for
my poor girl, I think it might help to bring her back. The Lord hears
the prayers of the righteous, Mr. Santley."

Thus entreated, Santley could not refuse. To do him justice, he felt
no little moral nausea at the proposal; but he was helpless under the
circumstances. So they knelt down in the parlour together, and the
good man extemporized a short but eloquent prayer for the occasion,
entreating the Lord to bring back the stray lamb to the fold, and
beseeching a blessing then and for ever on all that house. Miss Russell
wept profusely. His words were so beautiful, his voice so musical, his
manner so seraphic. At last he rose to his feet, looking pale and almost
scared at a proceeding which (to his own conscience) looked something
like blasphemy; and then, amidst profuse blessings from the distracted
old lady, he respectfully took his leave.

While on his way to make inquiries in the village, he met his sister
returning. She had discovered nothing, save that several persons had
gone on to London by the midnight train the previous night, and that one
of them was a lady who _might_ have been Miss Dove. There was nothing
for it but to wait out the day, and see if any communication came. In
the mean time Miss Santley said she would hasten up to the cottage, to
condole and consult with Mrs. Dove.

"Shall you be in to lunch?" she asked, as they parted on the roadside.

"No; not till evening. I think I shall walk over to Lewstone, to see
about some books. I will make inquiries on the way, in case Edith has
gone in that direction."

Lewstone was a small county town, seven miles off, where there was
a library, a newspaper, and a great brewery. The way to it lay past
Foxglove Manor. Santley did not care to tell his sister that he had
an appointment with Mrs. Haldane for that morning. He knew that Miss
Santley regarded with some anxiety her brother's relations with the
handsome lady of the Manor. Much as she admired him, and great as was
her faith in his spiritual purity, she knew him sufficiently well to be
aware that his weak point was his admiration for beauty in the opposite
sex. Not for a moment did she dream--indeed, she would have supposed
the idea as almost blasphemous--that that admiration was not perfectly
harmless and honourable; but it led him, she thought, to take delight in
feminine society generally, and to overlook the attractions of the woman
she wanted him to marry. He would marry some day--it was inevitable; and
she had made up her mind that he was to marry Edith, who was her friend,
and would doubtless allow her to keep her place at the Vicarage, whereas
another woman a stranger, might take possession of him and resent all
sisterly interference.

"Shall you call at the Manor as you pass?" she inquired.

"I think so; I am not quite sure."

"Perhaps it will be better," she said, thoughtfully. "They may know
something about Edith."

The sun was now high up in the heavens, but deeply veiled in wintry
cloud. It was a dark, dismal day-darkness in the sky and whiteness on
the ground. The road which led to the Manor was unusually cheerless and
dismal, and few people were abroad. Before long Santley came into the
shadow of the Manor woods, which skirted one side of the highway for
several miles. It was a gloomy walk.

Nevertheless, Santley soon forgot his anxiety, in the prospect of a
meeting with Ellen Haldane. He had been greatly troubled the previous
Christmas Day, by the fact that she had not put in an appearance at
church; but her message, making the appointment, which had been duly
conveyed to him by Baptisto had filled him with eager expectation. It
was the first time she had actually desired him to come to her, and
his hopes rose high. Perhaps his devotion had at last moved her heart;
perhaps she had at last discovered that true happiness was only to be
found, not with her heretic husband, but with the man whom she had loved
when a girl. In the eyes of the world, there might be wickedness in
tempting her from her wifely duty; but surely, in the eyes of heaven,
there was no great sin. By living on with an unbeliever, she was in
danger of losing her soul alive. The man was admittedly an atheist,
an enemy of the Church, and she was wretched in his society, without
sympathy, without conservation, without religion. And on one point the
clergyman's mind was now made up. If Ellen was willing, he would take
her with him to some foreign land, where he might labour in some way
useful to the Lord, and forget all the petty humiliations of an English
village. There might be, there would be, a scandal; but what need they
care, when they were far away? In any case, scandal was likely to come,
now that Edith Dove was in so sad a predicament. No; after all, he would
not marry Edith. She was a foolish girl, and would soon find a more
suitable husband; and whether or not, he had long ago discovered that
they were not at all suited to each other.

Thus musing, Santley drew nearer and nearer to the Manor gates.

From the glimpse we have given of his thoughts, it may be gathered that
the man's moral deterioration was at last complete. What had been at
first a mere religious amorousness, a soft sensuous delight in female
sympathy and female beauty, much the same as that which filled him
when the organ played, and the scented incense rose, and the
dainty congregation fluttered and flushed beneath him, had
gradually developed, through self-indulgence, into a determined and
uncontrollable sensuality. The devil, with a bait of warm nakedness,
had hooked him fast. And already, in his own heart, he knew that he was
lost; and so long as he reached the summit of his desires, he did not
care. One sign of his degeneration was unmistakable: he had lost
for ever his old faith in the chastity and purity of women. He could
remember the time, not long past, when a beautiful woman was to him a
spiritual thing, something sanctified, to be approached with awe--such
as fills the worshipper who gazes on the Madonna of some great painter.
Now he often found himself gazing on the Madonnas in his own study, with
a satyr's delight in their plumpness, their naked arms, their swelling
breasts. His nature was subdued to what it worked in, like the dyer's
hand. His easy conquest over Edith Dove, whose sin was in loving so
madly and so much, had degraded his whole nature. Once having snapped
the chain of conventional morality, which is the only band to bind such
men as this, he was reckless and exultant; and to possess Ellen Haldane,
in her superb beauty and glowing womanhood, was his daily thought and
his nightly dream.

This is speaking plainly, but it is a simple statement of the fact. As
for the ultimate consequence of his acts, he was quite unable to realize
them, having lost the power of reason and self-control.

He approached the lodge. How cold and chill it looked, in the darkness
of the overhanging, snow-clad boughs! He put on his stereotyped smile,
expecting to see little Mrs. Feme step out, as was her custom, and drop
him a country curtsey. But the lodge seemed empty that morning.

He passed through the side gate, which was unfastened, and stepped into
the avenue--the long, dreary colonnade of trees, a mile long, winding up
to the steps of the Manor house. Glancing up it, he fancied he saw in
the distance the figure of a man, looking his way; but in another moment
it was gone.

Bleak, lonely, and inexpressibly dismal looked the avenue, with its
white road of snow between the dark trees, and the one dark figure of
the clergyman slowly advancing. The gloom of the place seemed to settle
upon his spirit, and to dispel it he quickened his footsteps.

Suddenly, he heard from the distance a low, deep sound, like the tolling
of a church bell.

He started, listening, and at first he could not believe the evidence of
his ears. There was no church near, and the sound seemed unaccountable
and strangely ominous. After a pause, slow as the drawing of a deep,
long breath, it was repeated.

Toll! toll!

Santley was by nature a superstitious man, and, though no coward, he was
terrified. What could it mean? It was like a funeral bell, tolling for
the dead. Listening attentively, he found that the sound came down the
avenue, and that at every step he took it was more plainly heard. He
hastened on, with increasing wonder and alarm.

Toll! toll! toll!

Yes, there could be no mistake--it was the tolling of a bell. Hollow and
faint, yet filling the dark silence, it fell upon the wintry air. There
was no stir in the shrouded woods, which closed dismally on every side;
no answer from the dull, leaden, brooding sky--only the dull, dreadful,
dreary peal, like a chime from the very gates of the tomb.

It was horrible.

He advanced, coming ever nearer to the sound, and at last, to his
amazement, he discovered from whence it came. At a turning of the
avenue, he came in full view of the ruined chapel, and, looking up to
the naked belfry, he saw the old bell slowly swinging, while giving
forth that solemn, melancholy peal.

Toll! toll! toll! with measured intervals, just as those which are
counted when the bell rings for the dead.

Shocked and surprised, Santley hurried up to the chapel door, and looked
in. Standing in the doorway was Baptisto, dressed from head to foot in
solemn black, holding the rope, and with face turned upward, leisurely
ringing the bell.



CHAPTER XXXVI. A FUNERAL PEAL.


|Toll! toll! toll! toll! toll!

Heard from just underneath, the sound was hideous; for the bell was
rusty and old, and jangled with dull vibrations long after each peal had
ceased. The minister looked and listened with horror. Knowing as he did
that the place had been turned to unholy uses, and retained none of its
sacred character, he felt the whole proceeding to be diabolic.

He called to Baptisto, but the Spaniard, still keeping his sallow face
turned upward, and monotonously continuing his work, did not seem to
hear.

Toil! toll! toll! toll!--a sound to set the soul, as well as the teeth,
on edge; a peal worthy of Satan himself.

All at once it ceased, with a last quivering jangle of moribund moaning
notes.

Baptisto released the rope, took off his hat, and taking out his
handkerchief, quietly wiped his brow; then, turning his dark eyes as if
by accident towards the door, he perceived the minister.

He did not seem at all surprised, but sighed heavily, and turned up the
whites of his eyes; then with a bow of profound respect, he advanced.
In his suit of deep black, bound up with crape, and his high hat,
crape-bound also, he looked like a highly respectable English
undertaker. The resemblance was complete when he put his snow-white
handkerchief to his mouth, and coughed solemnly behind it.

"In Heaven's name, man, what are you about?" cried Santley, aghast.

Baptisto sighed again, turned up his eyes, and shook his head dismally.

"Senor," he replied in a low voice, "I was ringing the chapel bell."

"So I heard. But why?" the clergyman demanded.

"Hush! not so loud, senor," he said, sinking his voice still lower.
"Respect our sorrow!"

Santley's astonishment increased, and he gazed wildly at Baptisto.

"Have you gone mad?" he returned, unconsciously obeying the request and
sinking his voice. "Your sorrow? What sorrow? Be good enough to explain
this mystery."

"Will you step into the house, senor, and speak to my master. He will
explain to you, I do not doubt; oh yes, he will explain."

And Baptisto sighed again.

"He is at home, then?"

"Yes, senor!"

"And Mrs. Haldane?"

Baptisto groaned, and shook his head' from side to side.

"You know I have an appointment with your mistress to-day?"

"Yes, senor, I know that," answered Baptisto; then, as if greatly
affected he turned away and put his handkerchief to his eyes.

"In the name of God," cried Santley, "what does it all mean?"

Baptisto turned, and fixed his great black eyes on those of the
clergyman. "Senor, what do they say in your own church? 'In the midst of
life, we are in death!'"

As he spoke, he pointed upward solemnly. Santley started as if stabbed.
Then for the first time he began to understand. The dreary bell, the
servant's suit of black, the man's unaccountably solemn and mysterious
manner, all seemed to point to some horrible fatality.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed. "Is any one dead? Who is it? Speak--tell
me----"

Baptisto paused, still fixing his eyes on Santley, and preparing to
watch the full effect of his words.

"Alas, senor, my mistress! my poor mistress!"

Santley staggered back, and his face, which had before been very pale,
became livid.

"Not dead! no, no!" he moaned.

"Senor," replied the Spaniard, "it is true. She died last night."

Alas, the blackness of the wintry sky! That dreary darkness of the
earth, the snow-wrapt woods! Before that woeful message, delivered so
sadly yet so impressively by the Spaniard, the last brightness of the
light seemed to fade away! Though the bell had ceased to toll, its dull
vibration seemed still to ring on the air! The clergyman staggered back,
his heart stopped; for a moment he seemed about to faint, and he had to
clutch the doorway of the chapel for support. Baptisto saw the movement,
but made no sign; even if the other had been falling to the earth,
indeed, he would have offered him no assistance.

With one hand upon his heart, as if some sharp pain was there, the
clergyman struggled for speech. At last it came.

"It is a lie," he panted; "it _must_ be a lie. No, no! She is not dead;
it is impossible. Speak, man! If you have any mercy, say it is a lie!
She lives!"

The Spaniard, who with a very ugly expression had heard himself accused
of falsehood, and whose black eyes had gleamed very balefully, almost
smiled--the faint, wicked, inner smile peculiar to him.

"Yes, you are right, senor; she lives!"

Santley drew a quick breath of relief, and, coming closer, clutched the
Spaniard's arm.

"I knew it--I was sure of it. What did you mean by telling me that
falsehood?"

Quietly, but firmly, Baptisto took the other's hand and displaced it
from his arm. His air of cold respect did not change, but the expression
of his eyes and mouth was malignant.

"I did not lie, senor."

"What! and yet you said----"

"I said my lady lived, senor, and it is true. We Spaniards do not lie.
She lives indeed--not here, but _yonder_, senor, among the angels of the
sky. Ah yes, she is there! Her body is at rest; her soul, senor, lives
still for ever."

"Dead! O God!... When did she die?"

"Last night, senor, as I said."

It was true, then, though so inconceivable. There was no mistaking the
words, the manner of the man; and yet beneath them both, there was
a sinister appearance of horrible satisfaction. The grief seemed
simulated, the solemnity strangely false and treacherous. The cruel
black eyes, which shone so balefully, seemed to express a malignant
pleasure in the torture the tongue was inflicting. And yet, all the
while, Baptisto's manner was perfectly polite--the manner of a servant
to a superior, stately in the manner of his race, but characteristically
calm and respectful.

"Since you doubt me, senor," continued the Spaniard, "speak to my
master. He himself will tell you of his sorrow, and you will know from
him that, after all, I do not lie."

As the man spoke, he fixed his eyes on something beyond the doorway, and
bowed profoundly. Santley turned, and saw, standing close to him, the
master of Foxglove Manor.



CHAPTER XXXVII. THE DEATH-BED.

|Haldane, like Baptisto, was clad funereally. A long black travelling
cloak was wrapped around him, and a Spanish sombrero, also black, was
drawn over his forehead. He was ghastly pale. He stood with knitted
brows, gazing quietly at the clergyman.

Santley tried to speak, but could not. Again his left hand clutched his
heart, and he seemed about to fall. Then he heard, as if in a dream--for
the voice seemed far away--these words:

"I see, reverend sir, that Baptisto has told you everything. Yes, it is
quite true, and yet so sudden, that even I can scarce realize my loss."

"It is incredible," cried Santley.. "Only a few hours since, I know, she
was alive and well; and now----"

"And now," returned Haldane, in the same cold, clear voice, "the end has
come. It is strange that you, with your religious views, should be so
surprised at what is sadly common. We mortals, are like men travelling
in ships upon a great sea; we eat, drink, and are merry--too often
forgetting that there is only a mere plank between us and the grave."

Santley listened in wonder, less at the words than at the calmness,
the perfect self-control, with which they were uttered. He had always
thought Haldane hard and callous, but now he seemed to him a very
monster of cold-bloodedness.

"I cannot believe it," he cried; "and you--you seem so calm. Surely, if
she were dead, indeed----"

"What would you have me do?" interrupted Haldane. "Weep, wring my hands?
Will wailing and gnashing of teeth buy back the lost? If it would do so,
reverend sir, then I might rave and tear my hair? But no; philosophy has
taught me to contemplate the inevitable with resignation."

"But she was so young! So--so beautiful!"

"Alas! the young too often die first, and the prettiest flowers are the
first to fade away. She was always delicate, and latterly, I fear, the
spirit was too strong for the frail body. It is comfort to reflect, now
all is done, that she had at least the consolations of your holy faith.
Death comes to all. Life is but the business of a day. One dies at dawn,
another not till afternoon; another creeps wearily on till evening, when
the stars of the eternity twinkle down upon his sad grey hairs. She died
in her prime, and was at least spared the sorrows and infirmities that
attend the lingering decay of nature. So peace be with her!"

"It is too horrible!" cried Santley. "If this is true, life is a hideous
nightmare--a waking curse. She was too young, too good, to die!"

"It is strange," returned Haldane thoughtfully, "that you, with your
beautiful faith in immortality, should fear death so much. I have often
noticed this inconsistency in men of your religion. Strong as is
your belief in another life--a life, moreover, of eternal delight and
happiness--you cling with curious tenacity to this life, which, at the
same time, you admit to be miserable. We men of science, on the other
hand, who believe death to be the final dissolution of the creature into
his component element, can contemplate the change with equanimity."

Santley looked at him in positive horror. Cold as ice, the man discussed
his loss as if it were a mere matter for intellectual argument, a
question in which he felt merely the interest of a dispassionate
spectator of human affairs. And this, with the very shadow of death upon
him; with his wife lying dead in the house, struck down, as it were, by
the very thunderbolt of God. So far, then, he, Santley, was justified.
He had not wronged the man, when he thought him a creature devoid
of common tenderness and feeling, warmed out of his humanity by his
frightful creed of negation. Such a being was beyond the pale of
Christian brotherhood. He had done right; he had not sinned, when he had
sought to lead Mrs. Haldane from the martyrdom of an evil wedlock, to
the shining heights of a happier and more spiritual life.

"How did she die? It must have been very sudden. Tell me, for pity's
sake!"

"Calm yourself, reverend sir. Ah! you must have a tender disposition to
feel another's loss so much. You could not feel it more deeply, if you
had lost a person very dear to you--a wife of your own bosom, so to
speak."

"I--I esteemed the lady," stammered the clergyman, shrinking before the
others cold, scrutinizing gaze. "She was so good, so noble!"

"Ah! was she not? But you asked me how she died? I think it was some
obscure affection of the _heart_. She was always so emotional, so
impulsive; and latterly, I fear, she was under great excitement. You
will be grieved to hear she passed away in bitter mental pain."

Santley started. Haldane continued, in the same cold voice, always
keeping his eyes fixed steadily on those of the clergyman.

"There was something on her mind--some load, some trouble, some cruel
self-reproach. I gathered from her fragmentary words that she was
unhappy, that she sought my forgiveness for some fault of which she
considered herself guilty. Whatever that fault was, it preyed upon her
life, and hastened her end."

"Why did not you send for me? It is horrible to think she died without
the last offices of religion. I would have comforted her, prayed with
her; I-----"

He paused in confusion, shrinking before the other's steady gaze.

"There was no time," answered Haldane; "and besides, to be honest, I did
not care to have a clergyman."

"It was not an outrage!" cried Santley. "It was blasphemous!"

"Pardon me. I don't believe in confession, even at the extreme moment
and I thought that, if she had anything to reveal, it had better be told
to the person most interested, namely, her husband."

"Anything to reveal!" exclaimed

Santley, shuddering. "What do you mean?"

"What I say. I am aware you are not a Roman Catholic, but I am afraid
your sentiments lean dangerously to the offices of that pertinacious
priesthood. You would doubtless have asked her to pour her secret into
your ears, with a view to absolution. I preferred to keep her dying
message sacred to myself. If she had erred and was penitent, as I
suppose, no priest, Catholic or Protestant, lay or clerical, could
absolve her?"

Utterly bewildered and aghast, the unfortunate clergyman listened on.
Surely hell had opened, and the thick sulphurous fumes were rising up to
cover and darken the wholesome earth. That cold, grim figure, talking
so calmly and watching him so keenly; that other dark figure of the
Spaniard, still crouching near them in the doorway; surely, too, these
were not men, but devils, sent to torture him and drive him mad. He
looked around him. The snow-clad wood stretched on every side, save
where the white lawns opened, marked with damp black spots of thaw, and
stretching up to the doors of the gloomy mansion; but overhead the dark
heavens had opened for a moment, and one sickly beam, falling aslant
from the vaporous sky, was gleaming on the mansion's roof. Unconsciously
he fixed his eyes on that spot of brightness, in wonder and in terror,
for he was thinking of the piteous sight within the house.

Dull as his faculties seemed, paralyzed by the extraordinary shock he
had received, he had not failed to understand Haldane's statement that
his wife had suffered mental agony, and had made, or tried to make, some
kind of confession.. After a long pause, still fixing his eyes on the
sunbeam upon the roof, he murmured, almost vacantly--

"I am not quite myself, and do not seem to comprehend. Did you say that
Mrs. Haldane asked for a clergyman before she died?"

"Certainly. She asked--for _you!_" Had his eyes not been turned away,
he would have been startled by the expression on Haldanes face--so full
of cold satisfaction and contempt.

"For me?" he murmured; "for me?"

"Yes. You had great influence over her--a singular influence.
Perhaps, having been her spiritual adviser and knowing her thoughts so
intimately, you could help me to discover the cause of the sorrow, the
self-reproach, of which I have spoken."

"I--I do not understand. She always seemed so bright, so happy."

"She had no cause for secret grief? None, you think?"

"None."

Unconsciously, as he spoke, he turned and met the gaze of his
cross-questioner. He flushed nervously, and turned his eyes away. Did
Haldane suspect the secret of his love? Had Ellen, before she died,
spoken anything to incriminate him? Surely not; else his reception would
have been different. Yet in her husband's manner and look, despite his
frigid politeness, there seemed a strange suspicion. The cold, cruel
eyes never ceased to scrutinize him; they seemed to read his very soul.

"I see, reverend sir, that you cannot realize what has taken place."

"I cannot realize it!"

"You will at least believe the evidence of your own eyes. Step with me
to the house, and look upon her!"

As he spoke, Haldane moved towards the house. After a moment's
hesitation, Santley followed. Yes, he would look upon her for the last
time; he would kneel and pray beside her. As he walked, he staggered
like a drunken man.

They passed from the dismal shadow of the trees, crossed the snowy lawn,
and ascended the steps leading to the house door. How dark and funereal
looked the old mansion as they entered! All was silent; not a soul
stirred; their footsteps sounded hollow on the paven floor of the open
hall.

Haldane led the way into the drawingroom. The blinds were drawn, there
was no fire, and the chamber seemed like a tomb.

"Wait here one moment," said Haldane; and he retired, closing the door.

Santley sat and waited. His very life seemed ebbing away within him, but
the low, deep thud of his overburdened heart kept time like a clock,
and his ears were full of a sound like low thunder. His lips were dry as
dust, and he moistened them vainly with his trembling tongue. Even then,
as he sat shivering, he heard again from the distance the faint chime of
the desolate chapel bell.

Toll! toll! toll! toll!

The door opened.

Haldane, bareheaded, appeared on the threshold.

"Come this way," he said in a whisper.

Santley rose and tremulously followed. Through the dark lobbies, up the
broad staircase, he went in terror, till Haldane paused at the closed
door of the room on the first story, and, placing his finger solemnly on
his lips, turned a key and entered.

Santley followed, and found himself at last in the chamber of death.

It was a large bedchamber, dimly lighted by the faint rays that crept
through the blind, and scented, or so it seemed, with some sickly
perfume. In one corner stood the white, cold bed, snowy sheeted, snowy
curtained; and there, stretched out chill and stark, lay something
whiter and colder--the marble bust of what had once been a living
creature.

Yes, it was she, beautiful even in death. Her eyes were closed, her hair
was smoothed softly over her brows, her face was fixed like marble in
ghastly pallor, her waxen hands were folded on the sheet which covered
her from feet to chin. She almost seemed to be sleeping, not dead, she
was so calm, peaceful, and lovely, in that last repose.

On a small table beside the bed lay her Bible (Santley knew it well; it
was a present from himself, with his own name written on the flyleaf),
and a waxen taper, unlighted. Lying on the coverlet, close to her
fingers, was a wreath of immortelles.

And through the window, which was left open at the top to admit the pure
air, came again, wafted by the wind, the low, dreadful tolling of the
chapel bell.

Toll! toll!

Haldane stood close by the bedside, not looking at his wife, but always
keeping his stern eyes fixed upon the clergyman. Step by step, horrified
yet fascinated, Santley crept nearer and nearer to the bed, his eyes
dilated, his face even more ghastly than the face on which he gazed. He
noticed everything--the marble features, the folded hands, the closed
eyes beneath their waxen lids; he felt in his nostrils the sick perfume
of death.

Then, overmastered by the piteous sight, he raised his arms wildly in
the air, uttered a cry of anguish and despair, and fell, moaning and
sobbing, on his knees by the bedside.



CHAPTER XXXVIII. TORTURE AND CONFESSION.

|For some minutes he remained kneeling, his strong frame shaken by deep
sobs, his lips murmuring some incoherent prayer. Then he felt a touch
upon the shoulder. He looked up, shuddering. "Come!" said Haldane,
looking darkly down upon him.

"No, no!" he cried, in the extremity of his agitation. "Let me stay
here! Let me pray by her side a little while!"

"Come away!" answered Haldane, more sternly. "This is no place for you."

Santley rose trembling to his feet, and gazed again upon the cold
sleeping face and form.

"Leave me! leave me!" he exclaimed, turning wildly towards his torturer.
"Leave me alone with her!"

The face of the master of the house became terrible in its sternness, as
he responded--

"Command yourself, man, and follow me! You forget yourself. This place
is sacred.'

"My office is sacred. I desire you to leave me alone with the dead."

"And I refuse. I do not want your prayers, nor does she need them.
Come!"

With a low moan, Santley turned again towards the bed, stretching out
his arms; but this time Haldane interposed, with angry determination--

"Are you mad? I command you to come away."

"O God! God!"

"Do not blaspheme. She who sleeps there is nothing, or should be
nothing, to you. Leave the room, or, by Heaven, I shall have to make
you!"

Beside himself with excitement, Santley glared at Haldane, and clenched
his hands, as if he would have struck him; but, remembering the place
in which he stood, and the solemnity of the occasion, he conquered his
insane impulse, and tottered to the door. Haldane followed, and as he
turned on the threshold, put out his hand and pushed him into the lobby;
then followed, and turned the key in the lock.

"Come with me," he said, in a voice of command.

Santley obeyed, and the two descended the stairs. On the way down they
met Baptisto ascending, with whom Haldane whispered hurriedly for a
moment. Then they made their way through the dark lobbies, and again
entered the gloomy drawing-room. With a groan Santley threw himself on a
chair, and hid his face in his hands.

"You are strangely moved," said Haldane, coldly. "What was my wife to
you, that you should exhibit this unseemly grief?"

Santley drew his hands from his face and looked up wildly.

"What was she to me?" he cried. "More than life--the light of all the
world. Now that light is gone, and I am desolate."

"Strange, words," said Haldane quietly, "to come from so holy a man! You
are not in your sane mind."

"God knows I am not," returned the clergyman, "and yet... I am sane
enough to know what I am saying. Yes, you may stare! I am sick of
disguise. I'll wear the mask no more. I loved your wife."

Still perfectly retaining his composure, and almost smiling, Haldane
said, with a dark sneer--

"Most reverend sir, I knew it."

"You know it _now!_"

"Pardon me, I have known it all along."

"You may have guessed something, but not all. I loved your wife.
You were unworthy of her. I sought to win her from you, and I
succeeded--yes, for she hated you, and loved me. God was on my side,
for you were an unbeliever, a blasphemer. I tried to make her leave the
shelter of your roof for mine. She was my first love. I tried, do you
hear, day and night, to make her my own--my own in this world, and in
the next." Again that calm reply--

"Most sainted sir, I knew it."

"And I tell you, I succeeded. She loved me. She would have followed
me to the world's end. This house was hell to her, because you had no
religion. Her soul was mine."

"And _now?_" said the other coldly. "And _now_, most holy and reverend
sir?"

"And _now_, though she has passed away in her beauty and her holiness,
I love her still. She is dead, and I shall die. In heaven, at least, we
shall be together!"

"Are you so sure that she is _there?_" said Haldane, still very calmly.
"Are you so sure that _you_ will follow her? I am not so sure. If there
be the heaven you speak of, it was never made for the guilty. The door
of your paradise is wide, but it is too narrow, I have heard, for the
sinner who dies without repentance."

"The sinner? Who is the sinner?"

"She who sleeps upstairs?"

"It is a falsehood," said Santley, rising to his feet. "She was an
angel, without a stain, and you--you made her wretched. Yes, wretched!
She was too good for you--too holy and spiritual. A saint! a martyr! God
will cherish and justify her!"

"Saints have fallen; and she fell."

"Fell? You dare not accuse her!"

"I do accuse her; I accuse you both!... Ah! my man of God, there was no
need to throw aside the mask at all; I knew the face behind it from the
first. She is punished as she deserves. Now it is your turn."

His manner had changed, from one of cold self-control to one of
concentrated passion. With voice raised and hand pointing, he advanced
towards the clergyman. They stood close together, face to face.

But Santley fell back, horrified.

"Whatever I am, she was pure--too pure and good for this black world.
Speak reverently of her! Although I loved her--and I tell you my love is
justified--she was not guilty of any sin. She was only too faithful to
her wifely vow--faithful in thought and deed. Again I tell you, speak
reverently of her!"

"No hypocrisy can save her now," said Haldane, sternly. "You have thrown
aside the mask, as you say; it is useless to assume it again. I know
everything--her guilt, and yours!"

"She was not guilty. You cannot believe it!"

"Why should I doubt it? The thing was a thousand times stronger than
your proofs of Holy Writ. Now, if I said to you that she had confessed
her guilt, what would you say?"

"I should say that it was not true!"

"Not true!"

"A lie--the wickedest of lies."

"Then, if she was innocent, your guilt is trebled, and you are her
murderer."

"Her murderer? her murderer?"

"Yes. You have been liberal in confession; I will follow your example.
You saw her lying yonder? Calm, cold, and beautiful, was she not?--yes,
as a sleeping infant. Shall I tell you how she died? By poison. By the
deadliest of all poisons."

"Poisoned?" cried the clergyman, raising his voice to a scream.

"Precisely. A painless death, though sure and sudden. You see, although
I kept within my right, I was merciful. Death was better than disgrace,
and so--I killed her!"

Santley clutched at Haldane--then, with a moan, sank swooning upon the
floor.

When he recovered, he staggered to his feet, and looked around him.
He was still there, in the room, which was now quite dark, but he was
alone. He awoke as from death, with the cold sweat upon his forehead,
his form shaking like a leaf. What a change the experience of the last
hour had made in him! He felt as if he had been mad for years. As
the sick horror of his position spread over his bewildered senses, he
groaned aloud.

Then remembering where he was, and fearing the surrounding darkness, he
groped towards the door.

Suddenly it opened, and Haldane himself, holding a lamp in his hand,
appeared upon the threshold. As the light flashed upon the minister's
form, it showed a face horrible in its anguish and despair. With his
hair wild and dishevelled, his neckcloth disarranged, his black frock
suit disordered, Santley seemed transformed. His beauty was turned into
ugliness, his elegance into coarseness; his head, no longer erect and
proud, drooped between his shoulders like an old man's.

"Where are you going?" said Haldane, interposing, and placing down the
lamp he carried.

"Up yonder, to see if it is true. It is surely a frightful dream! Let me
pass!"

"Stay where you are! Your presence shall not outrage the dead again."

"She _is_ dead, then?"

"What you have seen, you have seen."

"And--you--you killed her? Is it true?"

"Perfectly."

With a wild cry, Santley clutched Haldane; but his hold was so weak, so
tremulous, that the other's strong frame scarcely shook.

"You shall not escape," cried the minister. "Coward! murderer! I will
deliver you up to justice!"

"Pshaw!"

With a powerful movement, Haldane disengaged himself, and his opponent
fell back into the room. Santley was not a strong man, and just then he
seemed positively helpless; nor would he at any time have been a match
for the square-built, broad-shouldered master of Foxglove Manor.

"Hands off, if you please," said Haldane. "If it comes to a trial of
strength, I shall crush your reverend carcase like an egg. Another man,
in my position, would have wrung your neck long ago. Do you know why I
have been so gentle with you?"

Santley gazed at him vacantly, and did not speak.

"Because I prefer to prolong your agony as long as possible, and to let
the world know of what stuff its priests are made."

"You are a murderer," gasped Santley again, clutching at him, but with
the feeble grasp of a sick child. "You are a murderer, on your own
confession. I tell you, I will give you up."

"_Après?_" said Haldane, coolly.

"You have destroyed your wife--the purest and best woman God ever made.
She was innocent of all wrong. She was an angel married to a devil, that
was all."

"Will you swear to me, before the God you worship, that there was
nothing between you?"

"Yes, I will swear it. I loved her, but she was pure. If there was any
sin, it was on my shoulders, for I tempted her. Yet you destroyed the
innocent, and let the guilty live."

Overcome by his emotion, Santley sank into a chair, sobbing. Haldane
watched him for a short space in silence; then approached him and placed
a hand on his shoulder. He tried to shake off the touch, with a shiver
of loathing.

"I am glad that you perceive your own guilt; that is something. Under
the mask of friendship--worse, under cover of your holy calling, you
came to this house. I welcomed you, entertained you. I gave you my hand
freely, as man to man; trusted you, even respected you, despite your
superstitions. How did you reward this hospitality? By seducing,
or seeking to seduce, the wife of the man who welcomed you without
suspicion. This was your religion--this was your sense of Christian
brotherhood. My man of God was a hypocrite--an adulterer. I tell you,
a dog would have more honour, more purity. You made my house a hell. In
return, I have put hell into your heart. You hear? Into your heart, if
you have a heart, which would seem doubtful. Another would have killed
you; I preferred to let you live."

The clergyman looked up piteously. His force seemed broken, his eyes
streamed with tears.

"You should have killed me," he returned. "I was to blame, not she. You
may kill me now. I shall then be at rest with _her?_"

Haldane s face blackened.

"Do not couple your names together. The guilt of her death is yours, not
mine."

"Mine?"

"Yes. I was only the instrument, you were the cause. The seed of all
this sorrow was sown in your black heart. Had you never tempted her, had
you never filled her mind with the poison bred in your own, she would be
living-now, a happy, honoured wife. You see, my man of God, that you are
the murderer; you have killed her, not I."

"O God! God!" moaned Santley, hiding his face in horror.

"It is too late to call on God. If _that_ is true," pursued the other,
"this; also is true--that you have lost her eternally. Your God is a God
of justice. He does not, either in hell or heaven, bring the murderer
and his victim together. You murdered her soul first; then, since you
made it inevitable, I destroyed its mortal dwelling. Since you believe
in hell, surely this is enough to damn you. Say she is innocent. The
better for her; the worse for you. She is among the angels your place is
elsewhere, eternally; _there_ you may wail and gnash your teeth in
vain. You see, reverend sir, I am comforting you with your own beautiful
creed. Your faith in it was great; through your faith in it, you are
lost for ever."

With a cry, almost an imprecation, Santley staggered to his feet, unable
to listen any longer. Sorrow, shame, terror, horror, contended within
him. Already it seemed as if the earth was opened to swallow him, the
forked tongues of fire-shooting up to envelop and consume him.

He rushed towards the door. This time the other did not interpose.

"Where are you going, pray?" he demanded quietly.

Santley turned round upon him, livid, glaring like a madman.

"To fetch the police," he answered.

"I shall denounce you. Whatever becomes of me, you shall die, upon the
gallows."

"Permit me to light you to the door," answered the philosopher, smiling.
"You could not go upon a better errand.. Sound the alarm, fetch the
police hither; the sooner the better. When they come, they shall be
acquainted with the truth. They shall know, all the world shall know,
that I killed my wife; and _why?_ Because a clergyman, a man of God,
honoured by many, respected by all, had come to my house like a satyr,
and made it a nest of pollution. I shall stand in the dock, and the
chief witness, against me will be yourself--the Rev.. Charles
Santley, Vicar of Omberley, a living light, a pillar of the Church,
self-convicted as hypocrite, liar, adulterer, seducer, satyr--filthy
from the soul to the finger-tips. How the sweet maids of your
congregation will stare! It will be a _cause célébré_--a nine-days'
wonder. And on the next Sabbath, perhaps, you will preach the gospel of
love and purity, as usual!"

Santley clung to the doorway, limp and crushed, a picture of mingled
fury and desolation.

"By the way, I shall call witnesses in my own defence. First, Miss
Dove,--you see, I know her--one of the many who have ornamented slippers
for the holy man's feet, and cloths for his altar. She will tell them
of meetings by night, of holy trysts, of Eden, and--of the fall. Oh, it
will be a famous affair, and greatly to the honour of the Church. But
why are you lingering so long? Go at once, reverend sir, and proclaim
the murder. You see, I am quite ready."

He pointed to the hall door. With a wild cry, Santley passed along the
lobby, opened the door, and rushed out into the air.



CHAPTER XXXIX. GETHSEMANE.


|By this time darkness had fallen, though it was still early in the
afternoon. There was a high wind, moaning around among the leafless
trees; and, from time to time, flakes of snow were falling--large, and
far apart. As he descended the snow-clad steps, he stumbled and fell
among the drift, but rose again immediately, covered with patches of
whiteness, and pursued his way.

Was it the wind shrieking, or something in his own troubled brain? He
looked wildly around him, plunging this, way and that, like a blind man.
The darkness frothed before his eyes, and burst into spangled stars,
as when one receives a violent blow, or as when one is sinking in deep
water and choking for breath.

Presently he turned and looked back from the centre of the frozen lawn.
Behind him, blacker than the blackness of the night, lay the great
shadow of the Manor house; but from one window above the entrance came
a feeble light. He knew the window well. It was that of the chamber
wherein he had looked upon the dead.

Alone in the darkness, he threw up his arms and uttered a wail of
despair. As his voice rose upon the wind, other voices seemed to echo
him with sounds of mocking laughter. Haldane had told him that he had
lost his soul alive-Indeed it seemed so, and hell was already around,
and in him.

But he remembered his purpose, and hastened on. Whatever the issue might
be, he was determined to hand over that man to the law, to make him
expiate on the gallows his act of cowardly, treacherous vengeance. He
had not spared _her_, and he should, at least, pay the penalty. _Then_,
when he had avenged her death, he cared not what became of himself. He
could die, too; yes, and would.

Ah! but the man was right, when he had torn his soul open and showed the
cancerous sore within it. He had broken the laws of God, and he had lost
eternally what he loved. There was no justification for him--none. He
had been an adulterer in thought, if not in deed--a hypocrite, hiding a
loathsome lust under the garment of religion. Why had he not been warned
in time? He might, have known that the man he had to deal with--a man
who believed in nothing--would pause at nothing. He remembered, too
late, that monkish tale of jealousy and murder, which might have told
him, had he not been so mad, what was lurking so pitilessly in the man's
mind. It was little comfort now to reflect that he was innocent in act.
The consequences had been the same, as horrible, as irrevocable; as if
he had sinned seventy times and seven. By his abominable solicitation,
he had betrayed the woman he adored. Yes, he had killed her! What hope
could there be for him, in this world or another, after that?

Nevertheless, he hastened on, fighting with his own thoughts in the
darkness stumbling through the drifted snow. He found the avenue and
entered it--passing into deeper darkness, hearing the wind shriek more
loudly on every side. The police barrack was at Omberley, five miles
distant. He would hasten there without delay, tell what had taken place,
and return with the officers that night. He would not rest until he
had the murderer bound and captured: for even yet, if he did come back
quickly, he might escape.

Then he thought of all the shame, the scandal, which must assuredly come
with the revelation of the truth. The women who had thought him almost
a sainted creature, the villagers who had watched him with simple
reverence--all who had respected him and heard the gospel of love from
his lips, would point at him as a shameless creature, a scandal to his
holy office. He could never mount the pulpit again, or walk in the sun.
They would strip the priestly raiment from his back, and hound him away
into the world. Even his own sister, who thought him the purest and best
of men, would shrink from him with loathing; nay, how could he look her,
or any pure creature, in the face?

All that, and more, he thought, could have been borne, could he only
have restored the dead to life. His own fall and degradation would have
been a trifle, if he had not sacrificed that sainted being--the woman of
his early love, the creature of his idolatry, the object of his insane
and fatal passion. She had suffered for his guilt, but she had not
atoned for it. Nothing could atone, nothing. How gladly that night would
he have died, if by death he could have restored her to the sunshine of
the world!

Then, in his despair, he reproached her God--the God who had made her so
beautiful, and him so weak. Why had God ever brought them together? Why,
having once separated them, had He ever caused them to meet again? It
was cruel, unmerciful, to tempt a man so much! He had only asked for a
little love, and without love life was so dark. And before temptation
came, had he not done God good service? More than one doubting heart had
been turned, by his persuasion, back to the faith of Christ; more than
one erring sinner had, through him, been led back, penitent and weeping,
to the Church's fold! All men had respected him for his blameless life,
for his good deeds.

He had been kind to the suffering, generous to the poor. He had been an
example of Christian charity to his fellows. He had reflected honour on
the university which gave him to the Church, and on the Church which had
accepted him into her bosom. Though so young, he had risen high, by his
own talents, his intelligence, his own blameless character. And now
he had lost everything, because he had pined for a little sympathy, a
little love.

As these thoughts passed through his brain, his eyes were blinded with
tears, and, in utter self-pity, he sobbed aloud.

How dark it was! how miserably dark and cold! He could not see an inch
before him, could not even perceive the white ground beneath his feet;
but the wind wailed louder and louder on every side.

He remembered how gladly, the previous day, he had proclaimed the good
tidings of the birth of Christ. The bells had rung, and from every side,
over the white landscape, cold, but cheerful and light with sunshine,
the people had come gathering in--rich and poor, old and young, all
gaily clad for Christmas-tide. He had stood away--stoled in the pulpit,
and had seen the shining faces upturned reverently to his, and had heard
the clear voices ring out in happiness and praise. Ah, it had been a
beautiful time! Only yesterday, and already it seemed so far away!

In his misery, he quite forgot how much and how often he had fretted
under the yoke of his priestly duties; how he had despised the ignoble
natures of his flock; how he had panted again and again for a freer
life and for more eventful days! What he had lost for ever now seemed
strangely dear. As he reviewed his life in the village, he remembered
none of its cares, none of its indignities; it seemed all peaceful,
all beautiful,' _now!_ Yes, it was heaven, though he had not known it;
heaven, though he had fallen from it. And he could never return to it
again; never preach in the church, never minister to man or woman, never
know the blessing and the peace of a divine vocation any more!

Suddenly he paused, stumbling in bewilderment and terror He had stepped
into a deep snowdrift, which rose nearly to his knees. He looked wildly
round, but could discern nothing. He pressed his way forward, and
stumbled against the frozen root of a great tree. He turned and groped
another way; again something interposed. Gradually, straining his eyes
through the darkness, he discerned that he was surrounded by trees on
every side.

He had wandered from the avenue, and was long among the plantations--he
could not tell in what direction.

How long he wandered among the dreary woods he could not tell.

A mortal fever was upon him, and he struggled confusedly this way and
that, sometimes stumbling and falling amid the snow, sometimes coming
violently against the frozen tree-trunks, sometimes rushing among briers
and tangled underwoods which clutched him like fingers, and rent his
clothing as he tore himself away.

He shouted, thinking he might be heard. His shout rose faintly on the
wind, and was echoed by unearthly voices.

Then he seemed to see sheeted shapes passing before him; ghostly faces
flashing into his own, and fading away. He saw _her_ face, marble-white
as he had seen it in death, and with horrible rebuking eyes.

Ah, that night! that night! He passed an eternity of agony, in a few
hours!

At last he fell, half fainting, on the stump of a tree, and rested,
afraid to venture further. Pausing there, he clasped his hands together
and prayed.

For her; for himself. He prayed to Heaven for help and mercy. In his
abject fear and humiliation, he prostrated his soul before his God. His
strength seemed failing him, and he felt as if he were dying. Ah, the
horrible darkness! the nameless terror! Would he ever live to see the
light again?

The snow thickened and fell upon him; he shook it off again and again,
but still it fell, blinding and covering him. He became very cold,
despite the fever in his veins--cold as death. Afraid to perish that
way, he rose to his feet and struggled on.

At last, after wandering on and on for an indefinite space of time, he
saw a light breaking through the trees. He shouted, and ran forward.

The light came from the windows of some building, and streamed brightly
out into the darkness, lighting up the snowy ground, revealing the trees
and branches in silhouette. Wild and despairing, he approached nearer,
and saw a door, through the hinges of which shone a faint radiance. Then
he recognized the place. It was the ruined chapel of Foxglove Manor.

He did not hesitate, but pushed open the door. He found himself in the
building which George Haldane had turned from a temple of God into a
laboratory of science. In the centre of it, surrounded by books, papers,
and scientific implements of divers kinds, a man sat, calmly writing by
the light of a brilliant oil-lamp.

As Santley entered, he looked up. The master of Foxglove Manor.

Spectral and ghastly, his hair dishevelled, his dress torn and
disordered, covered with mud, the minister staggered into the chapel.
Who, in that frenzied apparition, would have recognized the sometime
spruce and comely Vicar of Omberley? In one of his falls he had cut his
forehead on a tree or stone, and blood was oozing from the wound. He was
a horrible sight--horrible and pitiable.

Haldane looked up, and nodded.

"So, it is _you!_" he said, pushing his papers aside.

A large meerschaum pipe lay on the table beside him, with a box
of lucifers. He struck a light, and quietly began to smoke, as he
continued--

"You have returned quickly. Pray, have you brought the police with
you?" Without answering him directly, Santley approached the table, and,
fixing his wild eyes upon him, demanded in a hollow voice--

"What are you doing?"

The philosopher leant back in his chair, and blew a cloud of smoke into
the air.

"Writing, as you see."

"Writing!" echoed Santley.

"Yes; at my history. To-night's experience has furnished me with
material for a new chapter--on 'Spiritual Vivisection.'"

The man was inconceivable, even satanic. Santley was again dominated by
his supernatural _sang froid'_ his supreme self-control.

"Have you a heart, man?" he cried, gazing in horror upon him.

Haldane smiled diabolically.

"A reference to the most rudimentary system of physiology," he replied,
"would convince you that I could not exist without one."

"Death in your house, murder in your heart, you can sit here so calmly,
still busy with your blasphemies? You cannot be human."

"On the contrary, I am particularly human."

"No, no; you are a devil! a devil!"

"If you were a philosopher, you would know that devils do not exist;
even your own not too intellectual Church has rejected demonology. I am
simply a physician; yours."

"Mine! my physician."

"I have opened your heart, to show you the canker existing within it.
I have shown you, in an interesting experiment, that the disease of
supersensuous desire, which with you is constitutional and inherited,
culminates in moral scrofula, imbecility, hysterical mania, and death.
It is, moreover, capable of spreading contagion--a sort of cancerous
cell, which, inhaled by the lips or from the polluted atmosphere, must
inevitably bring disease and death to others. The kiss of the leper,
reverend sir! For the future, I should recommend you to carry a clapper
with you, as they do in the East, to warn off the unwary."

The comparison was a hideous one but indeed, at that moment, it did not
seem inappropriate. Wild, ghastly, dishevelled, bloody, and degraded,
Santley looked a creature to be avoided and even feared. He listened to
the cold periods of his torturer, fixed his pale eyeballs, which seemed
vacant of all light, upon his face; then suddenly, with a spasmodic
scream, he leapt upon him and seized him by the throat.

The attack was so unexpected and so sudden, that Haldane was taken by
surprise. He sprang to his feet, while the other clung around him like a
wild cat. But the struggle was only brief.

In another minute he had gripped the vicar with his powerful arms,
and pinned him against the wall of the chapel. There he writhed and
wrestled, impotent, furious, foaming at the mouth.

"If you don't control yourself better," said the philosopher, between
his set teeth, "you will soon want a strait-waistcoat. Be quiet, will
you?"

And he shook him as a wiry terrier shakes a rat.

"Let me go!"

"I have a good mind to give you your _coup de grâce?_" returned Haldane,
with a little less composure than before. "Why, I could strangle you if
I pleased."

"Strangle me, then!"

"Bah! you are not worth the trouble," said the other, throwing him off.
"Tell me, again, where are your police officers? Why did you not bring
them?"

Utterly conquered and helpless, Santley did not reply. Haldane pointed
to the door.

"At any rate, get out of this. I am going to close my studies and go to
bed."

And he proceeded to turn down the lamp, previous to blowing it out.

Santley moved towards the door. As he did so, the lamp was extinguished,
and the chapel left in pitch darkness. He groped his way out, and stood
waiting on the threshold. The philosopher followed, and they stood
together in the open darkness. Then Haldane closed the door and turned
the key.

"Your way lies yonder, reverend sir," he said, pointing towards the
avenue. "Take my advice and sleep upon it, before you return to arrest
me. I will keep your secret, if you will keep mine."

"I will make no terms with you," cried the vicar. "I will return, and
have you dragged to justice."

"As you please," was the reply. Haldane walked slowly in the direction
of the house. Santley, after a minute's wild hesitation, rushed away
again into the night.

By this time the snow had ceased falling, and the air was a little
clearer. With little difficulty, Santley found the avenue, and, running
rather than walking, followed it till he reached the lodge.

As he did so, he heard voices singing in merry chorus. He waited, and
presently a light cart drove up, turning into the avenue. He called out,
and it stopped. He came close, and found that it contained five persons,
two men-and three women.

"Who are you?" he demanded. "Where are you going?"

Mrs. Feme, the lodge-keeper, who was one of the party, informed him that
they were Mr. Haldane's servants, returning from their holiday excursion
to the neighbouring town.

"Go up to the house at once!" he cried. "Seize your master, detain him
till I return. Your mistress has been murdered!"

They cried out in terror and astonishment, asking for particulars.

"I cannot stay," he answered wildly.

"Go on, and watch till I return. It is as I say; he has murdered your
mistress. I am going for the police."

Then he fled on in the direction of the village. But as he went, his
pace seemed to fail him, and his head to go round and round.

At last he reached the village, where all was dark and desolate, and,
passing by the shadow of his own church, reached the Vicarage gate. Here
he paused, almost spent. He could not go any further. He would go in and
get a little brandy, then he would hasten on for assistance.

He staggered in through the gate, and across the garden. There was a
light in the window, for Miss Santley was sitting up for her brother,
wondering what had kept him so late. He crept close to the window and
tapped upon it.

"Mary! Mary!" he moaned.

She heard him, looked out, and then opened the door, standing on the
threshold with a lighted candle in her hand.

At the sight of his blood-stained face and disordered dress, she uttered
a cry of fear.

As she did so, he stretched out his hands, and fell like a corpse across
the threshold.



CHAPTER XL. THREE LETTERS.

|They carried him into the house and laid him on a bed; then, seeing him
still speechless, and to all appearance senseless, Miss Santley sent for
Dr. Spruce, who lived close by. By the time that the doctor, a homely
old country practitioner, with much professional skill and worldly
wisdom, entered the chamber, Santley was sitting up and talking
incoherently. He tried to leave his bed and fly forth upon some wild
errand, and his speech was a confused medley, in which the words
"murder," "poison," and "Ellen Haldane," were constantly repeated. He
did not seem to recognize any one, and his whole appearance was alarming
in the extreme.

Miss Santley told how she had found him, and in what condition. The
doctor shook his head.

"I'm afraid it's brain fever," he muttered. "You must keep him very
quiet."

Before morning, the doctor's prediction proved to be right. Brain fever
of the most violent kind had set in. He lay as if at death's door,
incoherently raving.

Alarmed by the constant references to the one subject of "murder," and
the constant repetitions of Mrs. Haldane's name, Miss Santley next day
sent a messenger up to Foxglove Manor to make inquiries. Her messenger
ascertained from Mrs. Feme, the lodge-keeper, that the vicar had been
seen by the servants the previous night, in a state resembling mania,
and had told them some wild story of Mrs. Haldane's death by violence.
For the rest, Mrs. Feme said, nothing of an extraordinary nature had
occurred at the Manor, and her mistress, though slightly indisposed, was
up and about.

So Miss Santley kept watch by the delirious man's bedside, while he lay
and fought for life.

The crisis passed. One morning the vicar opened his eyes, and saw his
sister sitting silently close to his bed. The fever had almost left him,
and he recognized his own room in the Vicarage.

"Is it you, Mary?" he asked, reaching out his hand, now worn almost to a
skeleton.

"Yes, it is I. But you must not speak."

"Have I been ill, Mary?"

"Yes; very, very ill."

He closed his eyes, and seemed to fall into a sleep, which lasted for
some hours. Suddenly he started up, as if listening, and seemed about to
spring from the bed.

"What is it, dear?" asked his sister, softly soothing him.

He recognized her, and became calm in a moment.

"I was dreaming. I thought I was up at the Manor. Mary, quick--speak to
me! Have they buried her?"

She looked at him in wonder and terror.

"Hush, dear! The doctor says you are to keep very quiet."

"But I must know. Tell me, or you will kill me! What has happened? How
long have I been lying here?"

"Many days. But you are better now."

"Do you know what has taken place?" he whispered. "Ellen Haldane is
dead--murdered! He killed her."

She shook her head pityingly.

"No, no! Do not distress yourself, dear, or you will be ill again. Mrs.
Haldane is quite well."

"Quite well? No, no!"

"You have been dreaming, that is all."

"Only dreaming?" he repeated, vacantly. "But I tell you I saw her, dead,
shrouded for her grave. Mary, it must be true!"

She succeeded at last, after repeated assurances, in soothing his
distracted spirit, and he fell asleep again, moaning to himself.

It was quite true, as his sister told him, that Mrs. Haldane lived.
She did not tell him, however, that she had left the Manor, with her
husband, and gone away back to Spain.

Was it all a dream, then, after all?

A week later, when Santley was convalescent, but still horribly
overshadowed and perplexed, his sister gave him a letter, which (she
said) had been left for him by the master of Foxglove Manor. It was
marked "strictly private." Santley waited until he was alone, and then,
tearing it open with tremulous fingers, read as follows:--

"Sir,

"I hear that you have been ill. Before leaving for Spain, I have left
this with your sister, with instructions that it is to be given you when
you are strong enough to read and understand. What it contains, observe,
is strictly between you and me; and if you keep your own counsel, no one
will know the secret of your indisposition but ourselves.

"In the first place, be comforted by my assurance that my wife is in
excellent health. If, in your delirium, you have been under delusions
concerning her, dispel them; all that has passed. She lives; and you
will live. If you have thought otherwise (and we know sick men have wild
fancies), consider that you have merely had an extraordinary dream.
Yet, remembering that men have often ere now been warned by visions of
calamities to ensue as the consequence of their own mad acts, accept the
dream as a sort of divine admonition--an inspiration to lead you towards
a better and calmer life. In your dream, sir, you have had your own
heart vivisected, and have thus been made conscious of its disease; you
have suffered terribly, as all patients must suffer, under the knife.
But you will be healed. You will begin the world afresh, and, God
willing, become a new man, thanking God, every day you live, that it was
only a dream.

"By the time you read this we shall be far away. With my sincere hopes
for your perfect recovery, I am, sir, yours truly,

"George Haldane.

"P.S.--My wife knows nothing of your dream, in any of its phenomena.
Some day, perhaps, I shall enlighten her, but not yet. She sends you her
best wishes."

That was all Santley read and re-read in amazement, not quite
comprehending, yet dimly guessing that there had been some strange
mystery. At last, relieved by the thought that all his guilty agony
had perhaps been a dream indeed, he sunk back upon the pillow of his
armchair, and wept aloud.

That same afternoon, as he sat looking at his loving nurse, he
questioned her concerning Edith. It was the first time, since his
recovery, that he had mentioned her name.

"Where is she? Have they heard from her? Is she well?"

"She is well, I believe," replied Miss Santley. "Just after you fell
ill, her aunt heard from her, and went away to join her in London. They
are there together now."

"Do you know their address?"

"Yes; I heard from Rachel that they are staying at the Golden Cross
Hotel, near the station."

In the evening, Santley insisted on having pen, ink, and paper.
His sister begged him not to fatigue himself by writing, but he was
determined.

"Charles," she said softly, as she brought him what he wanted, "is it to
Edith you are going to write?"

"Yes," he replied; and she stooped and kissed him approvingly. Then she
left him alone, and he wrote as follows:--

"Dearest Edith,

"Come to me; come back to Omberley. I have had a dangerous illness,
but through it, God has opened my eyes. I love you, darling. We will be
married at once in the dear old church. Yours till death,

"Charles Santley."

Two days afterwards, the reply came, in Ellen's own handwriting, thus:

"I, too, have had an illness, in which, also, God has been pleased to
open my eyes. I know, now, that it is all over between us. I shall never
marry you; I shall never return to Omberley. I am going abroad with my
aunt, who knows all I have suffered, and approves an eternal separation.

"Edith Dove."

Some months later, the vicar resigned his living in the parish, and
disappeared from the scene of his early labours. The year following, it
was publicly stated in the religious newspapers that the Rev. Charles
Santley, sometime Vicar of Omberley, had entered the Church of Rome.

THE END.





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