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Title: Countess Vera - or, The Oath of Vengeance
Author: Miller, Mrs. Alex. McVeigh
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 "Countess Vera - or, The Oath of Vengeance" ***

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of the Digital Library@Villanova University
(http://digital.library.villanova.edu/))



  No. 1252.      25 Cents.

  [Illustration: Lovell's
  Library.

  A TRI-WEEKLY
  PUBLICATION OF THE BEST
  CURRENT & STANDARD
  LITERATURE]

  Annual Subscription, $30. Entered at the Post Office, New York, as second
  class matter, Oct. 16, 1838.

  COUNTESS
  VERA

  BY
  MRS. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER,

  AUTHOR OF "A DREADFUL TEMPTATION," "QUEENIE'S TERRIBLE
  SECRET," ETC., ETC.

  _NEW YORK
  JOHN W. LOVELL COMPANY
  14 & 16 VESEY STREET_



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Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound is prepared at Lynn, Mass. Price,
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either. Send for pamphlet. All letters of inquiry promptly answered.
Address as above.



COPYRIGHTED 1883.



COUNTESS VERA;

OR,

_The Oath of Vengeance_.

By MRS. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER.



CONTENTS


  COUNTESS VERA.
    CHAPTER I.
    CHAPTER II.
    CHAPTER III.
    CHAPTER IV.
    CHAPTER V.
    CHAPTER VI.
    CHAPTER VII.
    CHAPTER VIII.
    CHAPTER IX.
    CHAPTER X.
    CHAPTER XI.
    CHAPTER XII.
    CHAPTER XIII.
    CHAPTER XIV.
    CHAPTER XV.
    CHAPTER XVI.
    CHAPTER XVII.
    CHAPTER XVIII.
    CHAPTER XIX.
    CHAPTER XX.
    CHAPTER XXI.
    CHAPTER XXII.
    CHAPTER XXIII.
    CHAPTER XXIV.
    CHAPTER XXV.
    CHAPTER XXVI.
    CHAPTER XXVII.
    CHAPTER XXVIII.
    CHAPTER XXIX.
    CHAPTER XXX.
    CHAPTER XXXI.
    CHAPTER XXXII.
    CHAPTER XXXIII.
    CHAPTER XXXIV.
    CHAPTER XXXV.
    CHAPTER XXXVI.
    CHAPTER XXXVII.
    CHAPTER XXXVIII.
    CHAPTER XXXIX.
    CHAPTER XL.
    CHAPTER XLI.
    CHAPTER XLII.
    CHAPTER XLIII.
    CHAPTER XLIV.
    CHAPTER XLV.
    CHAPTER XLVI.
    CHAPTER XLVII.
    CHAPTER XLVIII.
    CHAPTER XLIX.
  THE MYSTERIOUS BEAUTY.



CHAPTER I.


"Dead!"

Leslie Noble reels backward, stunned by the shuddering horror of that
one word--"_Dead_!" The stiff, girlish characters of the open letter
in his hand waver up and down before his dazed vision, so that he can
scarcely read the pathetic words, _so_ pathetic now when the little
hand that penned them lies cold in death.

"Dear Leslie," it says, "when you come to bid me good-bye in the
morning I shall be dead. That is best. You see, I did not know till
to-night my sad story, and that you did not love me. Poor mamma was
wrong to bind you so. I am very sorry, Leslie. There is nothing I can
do but _die_."

There is no signature to the sad little letter--none--but they have
taken it from the hand of his girl-wife, found dead in her bed this
morning--his bride of two days agone.

With a shudder of unutterable horror, his glance falls on the lovely,
girlish face, lying still and cold with the marble mask of death on
its beauty. A faint tinge of the rose lingers still on the delicate
lips, the long, curling fringe of the lashes lies darkly against the
white cheeks, the rippling, waving, golden hair falls in billows of
brightness over the pillow. This was his unloved bride, and she has
died the awful and tragic death of the _suicide_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let us go back a little in the story of this mournful tragedy, my
reader, go back to the upper chamber of that stately mansion, where, on
a wild night in October, a woman lay dying--dying of that subtle malady
beyond all healing--a broken heart.

"Vera, my darling," says the weak, faint voice, "come to me, dear."

A little figure that has been kneeling with its face in the
bed-clothes, rises and comes forward. The small, white face is drenched
with tears, the dark eyes are dim and heavy.

"Mamma," the soft voice says, hopefully, "you are better?"

The wasted features of the invalid contract with pain.

"No, my little daughter," she sighs, "I shall never be any better in
this world. I am dying."

A stifled cry of pain, and the girl's soft cheek is pressed to hers in
despairing love.

"No, mamma, no," she wails. "You must not die and leave me alone."

"Alone?" the mother re-echoes. "Beautiful, poor and alone in the great,
cruel world--oh, my God!"

"You cannot be dying, mamma," the girl says, hopefully. "They--Mrs.
Cleveland and Miss Ivy--could not go on to their balls and operas if
you were as bad as _that_!"

Something of bitter scorn touches the faded beauty of the woman's face
a moment.

"Much they would care," she says, in a tone of scorn. "At this moment
my sister and her proud daughter are dancing and feasting at the
Riverton's ball, utterly careless and indifferent to the fact that the
poor dependent is lying here all alone, but for her poor, friendless
child."

"You were no dependent, mamma," the girl says, with a gleam of pride in
her dark eyes. "You worked hard for all we have had. But, mamma, if--if
you _leave_ me, I will not be Ivy Cleveland's slave any longer. I shall
go away."

"Where, dear?" the mother asks, anxiously.

"Somewhere," vaguely; "anywhere, away from these wicked Clevelands. I
hate them, mamma!" she says, with sudden passion in her voice and face.

"You do not hate Leslie Noble?" Mrs. Campbell asks, anxiously.

"No, mamma, for though he is akin to them he is unlike them. Mr. Noble
is always kind to me," Vera answers, musingly.

"Listen to me, Vera, child. Mr. Noble l--likes you. He wishes to marry
you," the mother exclaims, with a flush of excitement in her eyes.

"Marry me?" Vera repeats, a little blankly.

"Yes, dear. Are you willing?"

"I--I am too young, am I not, mamma?"

"Seventeen, dear. As old as I was when I married your father," Mrs.
Campbell answers with a look of heart pain flitting over the pallid
face.

"I have never thought of marrying," Vera goes on musingly. "He will not
be angry if I refuse, will he, mamma?"

"But, Vera, you must not refuse," the invalid cries out, in a sudden
spasm of feverish anxiety. "Your future will be settled if you marry
Mr. Noble. I can die in peace, leaving you in the care of a good
husband. Oh, my darling, you do not know what a cruel world this is.
I dare not leave you alone, my pure, white lamb, amid its terrible
dangers."

Exhausted by her eager speech she breaks into a terrible fit of
coughing. Vera bends over, penitent and loving.

"Cheer up, mamma," she whispers; "I am not going to refuse him. Since
he wants me, I will marry him for your sake, dear."

"But you like him, Vera?" the mother asks, with piteous pleading.

"Oh, yes," calmly. "He is very nice, isn't he? But, do you know, I
think, mamma, that Ivy intended to marry him herself. I heard her say
so."

"Yes, I know, but you see he preferred you, my darling," the mother
answers, with whitening lips.

"Then I will marry him. How angry my cousin will be," Vera answers,
with all the calmness of a heart untouched by the _grande passion_.

"Yes, she will be very angry, but you need not care, dear," Mrs.
Campbell answers faintly. "Leslie will take you away from here. You
will never have to slave for the Clevelands any more."

The door opens suddenly and softly. A tall, handsome man comes into the
room, followed by a clerical-looking individual.

"Oh, Leslie, you are come back again," Mrs. Campbell breathes,
joyfully. "I am glad, for I cannot last but a few minutes longer."

"Not so bad as that, I hope," he says, gently, advancing to the
bedside; then his hand touches lightly the golden head bowed on the
pillow. "Is my little bride ready yet?" he asks.

The girl starts up with a pale, bewildered face.

"Is it to be now?" she asks, blankly. "I thought--I thought----"

But Mrs. Campbell, drawing her quickly down, checks the half protest
with a feverish kiss.

"Yes, dear, it is to be now," she whispers, weakly. "I cannot die until
I know that you will be safe from the Clevelands. It is my dying wish,
Vera."

"Then I am ready," Vera answers, turning a pale and strangely-solemn
face on the waiting bridegroom.

The bridegroom is pale, too. His handsome face gleams out as pale as
marble in the flickering glare of the lamps, the dark hair tossed
carelessly back from the high, white brow, gleaming like ebony in the
dim light. The dark, mustached lips are set in a grave and thoughtful
line, the dark blue eyes look curiously into the bride's white face
as he takes her passive hand and draws her forward toward the waiting
minister.

It is a strange bridal. There are no wedding-favors, no wedding-robes,
no congratulations. The beautiful marriage words sound very solemn
there in the presence of the dying, and the girlish bride turns
silently from the side of the new-made husband to seek the arms of her
dying mother.

"Bless you, my Vera, my little darling," the pale lips whisper, and
then there falls a strange shadow on the room, and a strange silence,
for, with the murmured words of blessing, the chords of life have
gently parted in twain, and Mrs. Campbell's broken heart is at rest and
at peace in that Heavenly peace that "passeth all understanding."



CHAPTER II.


The long, wintry night wanes slowly. Vera's own loving hands have
robed the dead for the rest of the grave. She has gone away now to
the solitude of her own little chamber under the eaves, leaving Leslie
Noble keeping watch beside the loved lost one.

She has forgotten for a moment the brief and solemn words that gave
her away to be a wife in her early innocent girlhood; she remembers
only that the one creature that loved her, and whom she loved, is
dead. Crushed to earth by her terrible loss, Vera flings herself
face downward on the chilly, uncarpeted floor, and lies there mute,
moveless, tearless, stricken into silence by the weight of her bitter
despair.

Who that has lost a mother, the one true heart that loves us truly and
unselfishly of all the world, but can sympathize with the bereaved
child in her deep despair.

In vain the kind-hearted minister whispered words of comfort, in
vain Leslie tried to soothe her, and win her to tears, in awe of her
strange, white face and dry-lidded eyes. They could not understand her,
and were fain to leave her alone, the while one quoted fearfully to the
other:

    "The grief that does not speak,
     Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break."

So the chilly night wanes, and at three o'clock in the morning,
carriage wheels echo loudly in the street below, and pause in front of
the house. The haughty mistress, and Ivy, her daughter, have returned
from the esthetic ball whose delights they could not forego, although
their relative lay ill unto death in the house.

A tap at Vera's door, and Mrs. Brown, the chamber-maid, glances in.
The worthy woman has been out at "a party" herself, and is quite
unconscious of all that has happened since she left the house. Her
stolid gaze falls curiously on the recumbent figure on the cold, hard
floor.

"Wake up, Miss Vera! Whatever be you a-sleeping on the cold floor this
night for? Miss Ivy says for you to come down to her room immejitly."

Disdaining a reply to the coarse woman, Vera drags herself up from the
hard floor, and with stiffened limbs takes her way to the luxurious
apartment of her cousin.

How different this large and comfortable room from Vera's bare and
fireless little den. Miss Cleveland's apartment has soft hangings
of pale-blue plush, bordered with silver, cream lace curtains, a
blue satin counterpane embroidered with silvery water-lilies. The
atmosphere is warm and dreamy, and languid with the scent of hot-house
flowers in blue and silver vases. The mistress of all this elegance
stands in the center of the room, clothed in an esthetic gown of
pale-blue, embroidered down the front with small sunflowers. She is a
pretty blonde, with straw-colored hair in loose waves, and turquoise
blue eyes, that usually wear an expression of infantine appeal and
innocence. Just now the eyes look heavy and dull, and there is a tired,
impatient look on her delicate-featured face.

"Here you are _at last_," she says, as Vera comes slowly in with her
white face and heavy eyes, with their look of dumb and hopeless pain.
"Hurry up now and undress me; I'm tired and sleepy, and ready to drop!"

Vera stands still, looking gravely at her, and making no move to obey
the cool and insolent mandate. For years her cousin has ruthlessly
trampled her under foot, and made her a despised slave.

It comes to the girl with a sudden thrill of triumph now that this is
the last time Ivy will ever order her about. She is Leslie Noble's
wife, and he will shield her from her cousin's abuse.

"Come, don't stand staring like a fool," Ivy breaks out coarsely and
impatiently. "Don't you see I'm waiting? Here, pull off these tight
slippers. I cannot stand them a minute longer!"

She throws herself into a blue-cushioned chair, and thrusts forward her
small feet encased in white kid slippers and blue silk hose, and Vera,
conquering her strong impulse of rebellion, kneels down to perform the
menial service.

After all, what does this last time matter? she asks herself, wearily.
After to-morrow she will be out of their power. Tonight, while that
dear, dead mother lies in the house, she will keep still, she will
have peace, no matter how bitter the cup of degradation pressed to her
loathing lips.

With steady hands she unlaces the silken cords that lace the white
slippers, draws them off the compressed feet, and unclasps the satin
garters from the blue silken hose. All the while Ivy raves angrily:

"I have seen for some time that you rebel against waiting on me,
ungrateful minx, as if all you could do would repay us for the
charity that has clothed and fed you all your life. To-morrow I shall
report you to your mother, and if she does not bring you into better
subjection, you shall both be driven away, do you hear?"

Her mother! This is the iron rod with which they have ruled poor Vera
all her life long. That poor, drooping, delicate mother, whose hold
on life had never been but half-hearted, whose only home and shelter
had been the grudging and hard-earned charity of her heartless and
parsimonious sister. Day in and day out the Clevelands had driven their
two weak slaves relentlessly, always holding over their heads the dread
of being turned out to face the cold world alone.

A low and bitter laugh rises to Vera's lips at the thought that that
poor, meek dependent is beyond their dominion now, and that Ivy's
threatened complaints can never rise to that high Heaven where her
mother's freed spirit soars in happiness and peace.

"Not that you are of much account, anyway," pursues the heartless girl,
angrily. "You can never be trained into a proper maid, you stiff-necked
little pauper. If mamma were not so mean and stingy she would let me
have a real French maid like other girls. Never mind, when once I am
Mrs. Leslie Noble I'll show her how I will spend money!"

Vera shivers, and her heart thumps heavily against her side. The
one idea of Ivy's life is to marry Leslie Noble. He is handsome,
fascinating, wealthy, in short, her _beau ideal_ of perfection. He has
come on a month's visit to her mother from a distant city, and both
_mater_ and daughter are sure, quite sure, that the object for which
he was invited is accomplished; they have hooked the golden fish, they
have no doubt. What will Ivy say when she knows that she, the despised
Vera, is Leslie Noble's chosen bride?

"She will kill me, just that!" the girl murmurs to herself in terror,
while a second terror shakes her slight frame.

"What are you trembling for?" Ivy demands, shortly. "Are you afraid I
will slap you as I did last night? Well, you richly deserve it, and I
don't know but that I may. Hurry, now, and fix my hair and bring my
_robe de nuit_. It will be broad daylight before I get into bed. And I
want to rise early to find out why Leslie did not come to the ball."

Vera moves about mechanically, obeying orders, but answering never a
word.

A golden gleam has come into the eyes beneath the drooping lashes, a
heavy, deep red spot glows in the center of her death-white cheeks.
Half-frightened as she is at the thought of Ivy's rage when she learns
the truth, she is yet filled with triumph at the thought of her own
vengeance on her enemies, this glorious vengeance that has come to her
unsought.

_She_ will be Leslie Noble's wife, she will queen it over Ivy and her
mother. She will wear satin and laces and diamonds, she will have
French maids to wait on her, and then a sudden anguished recollection
drives the blood from her heart and forces a moan of despair from her
white lips--what is all her triumph since it cannot bring back the dead?

She is moving to the door, having tucked the blue satin counterpane
about Ivy's small figure, when the straw-gold head pops up, and the
frivolous beauty recalls her.

"I say, Vera, is the embroidery finished on my Surah polonaise? Because
I shall want it to-morrow night to wear to Mrs. Montague's _german_.
Tell your mother I shall want it without fail. I am tired of this
shamming sickness. It's nothing but laziness--just _that_. Did you say
it was finished?"

"No," Vera answers her, through her white lips. Ivy springs up
tumultuously in the bed.

"Not finished!" she screams, shrilly.

"Scandalous! I tell you I want it to-morrow night! I will have it--you
hear! Go and tell your mother to get up this instant and go to work at
it. Go and tell her--you hear?"

Vera, with her hands on the latch, and that crimson spot burning dully
on her cheeks, answers with sudden, passionate defiance:

"I will not!"

All in a moment Ivy is out of bed, and her small, claw-like fingers
clutch Vera's arm, the other hand comes down in a ringing slap on
Vera's cheek.

"Take that, little vixen!" she hisses, furiously, "and that, and that!
How dare you defy me?"

Vera pushes her off with a sudden passionate defiance.

"Because I am not afraid of you any longer," she says, sharply.
"Because poor mamma has escaped you. She is free--she is dead!"

"Dead!" Ivy screams in passionate wrath. "Dead--and the embroidery
not finished on my Surah polonaise! It is just like her--the lazy,
ungrateful thing! To go and die just when I needed----"

But Vera slams the door between her and the rest of the heartless
lament, and flies along the hall laughing like some mad thing. In truth
the horrors of this dreadful night have almost unseated her reason. She
shuts and bolts herself into her room, her young heart filled with wild
hatred for her heartless cousin.

"To-morrow I shall have my revenge upon her," she cries, with clenched
hands. "I would not tell her to-night. My triumph would not have been
complete. I will wait--wait until to-morrow, when Leslie Noble will
take me by the hand and tell her to her face that he loves me, and that
I am his wife!"

And her strange, half-maddened laugh filled the little room with weird
echoes.



CHAPTER III.


To-morrow, Vera's to-morrow--dawns, rainy, chilly, cheerless, as only a
rainy autumn day can be. The wild winds sigh eerily around the house.
The autumn leaves are beaten from the trees and swirl through the air,
falling in dank, sodden masses on the soaked grass of the lawn. The sun
refuses to shine. No more dreary and desolate day could be imagined.

With the earliest peep of dawn Vera makes her way to her mother's room.

It is lonely and deserted save for the sheeted presence of the quiet
dead. The lamps burn dimly, and there is a silence in the room so deep
it may be felt.

With a trembling hand Vera turns down the cold linen cover for one
long, lingering look at the beloved face--the strangely-beautiful
marble-white face, on which the story of a life-long sorrow has carved
its mournful record in the subtle tracery of grief.

Mrs. Campbell has been that most sorrowful of all living creatures--a
deserted wife!

The beautiful, dark eyes of her daughter have never looked upon the
face of the father who should have loved and nurtured her tender life.

But it is all over now--the pain, the sorrow, the loneliness, the deep
humiliation. The small, toil-stained hands are folded gently together
over some odorous white tube-roses that Vera has placed within them!

The jetty fringe of the long, black lashes rests heavily against the
thin, white cheeks, the beautifully-curved lips are closed peacefully,
the golden brown hair, thickly-streaked with gray, is parted sweetly on
the peaceful brow.

As Vera gazes, the tears, which have remained sealed in their fountains
till now, burst forth in healing showers, breaking upon the terrible
calm that has been upon her.

Again and again she presses her hot, feverish lips to the cold, white
brow of the only friend her lonely life has ever known.

"Oh, mamma, mamma, if you might but have taken me with you," she sobs,
bitterly.

"The best thing that could have happened," says a curt, icy voice
behind her, and turning with a shiver of repulsion, Vera beholds
her aunt, Mrs. Cleveland, who has entered noiselessly in her furred
slippers and crimson dressing-gown.

She comes to the foot of the bed and stands silently a moment regarding
the cold, white features of her dead sister, then hastily turns her
head aside as if the still face held some unspoken reproach for her.

"Cover the face, Vera," she says, coldly. "It is not pleasant to look
at the dead."

"Not when we have wronged them," the girl murmurs, almost inaudibly,
and with deep bitterness.

"What is that you are saying?" demands Mrs. Cleveland, sharply. "'Not
when we have wronged them,' eh? Beware, girl, how you let that sharp
tongue of yours run on. You may chance to see the inside of the
alms-house!"

But Vera, biting her lips fiercely, in mute shame at that angry slip of
the tongue in presence of the dead, makes no answer. Dropping the white
sheet back over the sealed lips that cannot open to defend her child,
she buries her face in the pillow, trembling all over with indignation
and grief.

Mrs. Cleveland stands contemplating her a moment with a look of
contemptuous scorn on her high, Roman features, then, to Vera's
amazement, she exclaims:

"One of the servants told me that Leslie Noble brought a preacher in
here last night. Was it to administer the sacrament to the dying?"

No answer from Vera, whose face remains buried in the pillow.

"Speak!" Mrs. Cleveland commands, coming a step nearer, "did he come to
administer the consolations of religion to the dying?"

"No," Vera answers, lifting her white face a moment, and looking
steadily into her enemy's questioning eyes. "No."

"No," Mrs. Cleveland echoes, with a look of alarm. "What then, girl,
what then?"

But Vera, with the strange reply, "You must ask Mr. Noble--he will
inform you," drops her pallid face into her hands again.

Mrs. Cleveland makes a step forward, resolving in her own mind "to
shake the breath out of that stubborn girl," but even her wicked nature
is awed by the still presence of death in the room, and she desists
from her heartless purpose, and, retreating to the door, pauses with
her hand on the latch to say, icily:

"Your mother's funeral will take place from the Epiphany Church this
afternoon. Mourning garments will be sent to your room for you to wear."

Vera springs to her feet with a heart-wrung cry:

"So soon! Oh, my God, you will not bury her out of my sight to-day,
when she only died last night!"

Mrs. Cleveland's haughty features are convulsed with anger.

"Hush, you little fool!" she bursts out, angrily. "Do you think that
dead people are such enlivening company that one need keep them in the
house any longer than is necessary to provide a hearse and coffin? Only
died last night, forsooth! Well, she is as dead now as she will be a
hundred years hence, and the funeral will take place this afternoon.
You will be ready to attend, if you understand what is good for
yourself."

So saying, she sweeps from the room, slamming the door heavily behind
her.

Alas, the bitterness of poverty and dependence. Vera throws herself
down by the side of the bed, and weeps long and bitterly, until
exhausted nature succumbs to the strain upon it, and she sleeps deeply,
heavily, dreamlessly, wrapped in a dumb, narcotic stupor rather than
healthful slumber. She is hustled out of the way at length that her
mother may be placed in the plain coffin that has been provided for
her, and a few hours later--oh, so piteously few--she is standing by
that open grave in Glenwood, hearing the dull thud of the earth, and
the patter of the rain upon the coffin, and the solemn voice of the
minister, repeating in tones that sound faint and far away to her dazed
senses, "Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust."

From her carriage, where she sits impatiently waiting the conclusion
of the sacred service, Mrs. Cleveland watches the scene, frowning
impatiently at the sight of Leslie Noble supporting Vera on his arm,
and holding his umbrella carefully over her, reckless of the rain-drops
that patter down on his uncovered head and face. Mrs. Cleveland does
not like the look of it at all. She regards Leslie as Ivy's own
especial property. Leslie is too kind-hearted. Why should he trouble
himself over Vera Campbell, her despised niece, who is no better
than a servant to Ivy, her idolized daughter. She does not like the
look of it at all, and when Leslie hands the sobbing girl into the
carriage, and takes a seat by her side instead of Mrs. Cleveland's, the
matron's vexation rises into almost uncontrollable rage. Biting her
lips fiercely, she resolves that as soon as they reach home she will
give the young man a broad hint to cease his little kindnesses in that
quarter.

The occasion comes very soon. It is almost dark when they reach home.
The gas is lighted and a cheerful fire glows in the luxurious parlor.

Mr. Noble leads his passive companion deliberately in, and installs her
in a cushioned seat before the fire. With deft fingers he removes the
heavy veil and hat, the black shawl, and the wet gloves, and chafes in
his own warm clasp the half-frozen little fingers.

"Upon my word!" drawls a thin little voice, full of anger and surprise.

Mr. Leslie, glancing up, sees Ivy reclining on a couch, and regarding
the scene with supercilious surprise commingled with anger. Mrs.
Cleveland, who has followed them into the room, stands still, a mute
statue of rage and dismay.

"I--I should like to know the meaning of this, Mr. Noble," she gasps at
length, haughtily. "I do not allow that girl in my parlor! Let her go
to the servants' room. They are good enough for the likes of her."

Mr. Leslie turns his pale, handsome face round with an air of surprise.

"She is your sister's child," he says, with reproach in every tone of
his voice.

"Yes, to my sorrow," Mrs. Cleveland flashes out. "Add to that that she
is a pauper and an ingrate! Vera Campbell, get up and go to your own
room. _You_ ought to know your place if Mr. Noble does not!"

Vera rises silently, and standing still a moment, looks up into Leslie
Noble's face. The supreme moment of her triumph has arrived. With a
nervous tremor she looks up into his face for courage to sustain her in
the trying ordeal of the Clevelands' wrath before its vials are poured
out upon her shrinking head.

But the expression of the handsome, troubled face does not exactly
satisfy her. He is not looking at her. His eyes are fixed on Ivy
Cleveland's pretty face with its pink cheeks and turquoise-blue eyes.
There is tenderness, regret and trouble in the rather weak though
handsome face.

"Go, Vera," Mrs. Cleveland reiterates, sternly and impatiently.

Then Leslie's eyes fall on the slight, black-robed figure standing in
silent, proud humility by his side.

He stoops over her, not to caress her, as for a moment she vaguely
fancied, but to whisper in her ear:

"Do as she bids you this time, Vera. Go to your room and sleep soundly
to-night. I will have it out with her now, and in the morning I will
take you away."

She flashes one quick glance into his troubled eyes, bows her head, and
goes mutely from the room. But something in that look haunts Leslie
Noble ever after. It seemed to him as if those dark eyes said to him
plainer than words could speak: "You are a coward. Are you not afraid
to acknowledge your wife?" He is right. The look in her eyes has been
palpable contempt.

She goes from the room, but only to enter the room adjoining the
parlor, and conceal herself behind the heavy, dark-green hangings. So
this is the grand triumph her imagination has pictured for her. This is
the weak way in which her husband takes her part against the world.



CHAPTER IV.


When Vera has gone from the room, an embarrassed silence falls. Mrs.
Cleveland is wondering what to say next. It is no part of her plan to
offend Leslie Noble. She prefers to conciliate him. For Leslie himself,
he is wondering in what terms he shall convey the truth to his arrogant
relative and her haughty daughter.

"You must not take offense, Leslie, at my interference in this case,"
Mrs. Cleveland stammers at length. "I know your kind, easy nature, and
I cannot tamely see you imposed upon by that wretched girl, who is the
most ungrateful and hard-hearted creature you could imagine, and only
fit to herd with the low and vulgar."

"I do not understand you," Mr. Noble answers, resting his arms on the
back of the chair, and turning on her a white, perplexed face.

"She comes of bad stock," answered Mrs. Cleveland. "Her mother, my
sister, married most wretchedly beneath her. The man was a low,
drunken, brutal fellow, with nothing under Heaven to recommend him but
a handsome face. As might have been expected, he abused and maltreated
his wife, and then deserted her just before the birth of his daughter,
who resembled him exceedingly in character as well as in person."

Leslie Noble winces. Pride of birth is a strong point with him. He is
exceedingly well-born himself. The story of this drunken, wife-beating
fellow thrills him with keenest disgust.

"Where is the fellow now--dead?" he asks anxiously.

"No, indeed; at least, not that I ever heard of," Mrs. Cleveland
answers. "I have no doubt he is alive somewhere, in state prison,
perhaps, and he will turn up some day to claim his daughter, and drag
her down to his own vile depths of degradation."

Mr. Noble is silent from sheer inability to speak, and Mrs. Cleveland
resumes, with apparent earnestness:

"I have my doubts whether I am acting right in keeping the girl
here. She is a dead expense to me, and the most ungrateful and
violent-tempered creature that ever lived. Would you believe that she
flew at poor, dear little Ivy, and boxed her ears this morning? My pity
and affection for my sister induced me to give them a home as long as
she lived, but now that her influence is withdrawn from Vera, she will
be perfectly unmanageable. I think I shall send her away."

"Where?" inquires Mr. Noble, trying to keep his eyes from the pink and
white face of Ivy, who is listening intently to every word, without
speaking herself.

"To some place where she may earn her own living, or, perhaps, to the
House of Correction. She sadly needs discipline," is the instant reply.

Leslie Noble's face turns from white to red, and from red to white
again. What he has heard has utterly dismayed him.

"I wish that I had known all this yesterday, or last night," he
mutters, weakly.

"Why?" Mrs. Cleveland asks, startled by the dejected tone.

Leslie Noble looks from her to Ivy, who has started into a sitting
posture, and fixed her blue eyes on his face.

"Because I have something shocking to tell you," he answers, growing
very pale. "You must not be angry with me, Mrs. Cleveland, nor you,
Ivy. It would not have happened if I had known all that I know now."

"Oh, what can you mean?" screams Ivy, startled into speech by her vague
fear.

"You remember that I declined the Riverton's ball last night on the
score of a violent headache?" he says, looking gravely at her.

"Yes, and I missed you _so_ much. I did not enjoy the ball _one bit_,"
she murmurs, sentimentally.

Mr. Noble sighs furiously.

"I wish that I had gone, no matter how hard my head ached," he says,
dejectedly. "Then Mrs. Campbell would never have sent for me to come to
her room."

"To come to her room!" mother and daughter echo in breathless
indignation.

"Yes," answers the young man, with another sigh.

"Impertinent! What did she wish?" Mrs. Cleveland breaks out, furiously,
pale to the lips.

"She wished to tell me that she was dying, and to leave her daughter in
my care," he stammers, confusedly.

"Go on," Mrs. Cleveland exclaims.

"She told me that Vera was delicate, sensitive, helpless and
friendless, and so good and sweet that none could help loving her. She
declared she could not die in peace without leaving her in the care of
a kind protector."

"A fine protector a young man would make for a young girl," Mrs.
Cleveland sneers, with cutting irony.

"You do not understand, I think," Leslie answers her, gravely. "She
wished me to make her my wife."

"Your wife! Marry Vera Campbell!" Ivy shrieks out wildly.

He trembles at the passionate dismay of her voice, but answers,
desperately:

"Vera Noble, now, Ivy, for her mother's grief overcame my reason, and I
made her my wife last night by the side of her dying mother."



CHAPTER V.


Following that desperate declaration from Leslie Noble, there is a
scream of rage and anguish commingled. Ivy has fallen back on the sofa
in violent hysterics. Mrs. Cleveland glares at him reproachfully.

"You have killed her, my poor Ivy!" she cries. "She loved you, and you
had given her reason to think that--you meant to marry _her_."

"I _did_ so intend," he answers, on the spur of the moment. "I was only
waiting to be sure of my feelings before I declared myself. But now,
this dreadful marriage has blighted my life and hers. Poor little Ivy."

"I could almost curse my sister in her grave!" Mrs. Cleveland wails,
wringing her hands.

"Curse me rather," Leslie answers, bitterly, "that I was weak enough to
be deluded into such a mesalliance. She was ill and dying, she barely
knew what she did; but I was in full possession of my senses. Why did
I let my weak pity overcome me, and make me false to the real desire of
my heart?"

"Falsest, most deceitful of men!" sobs Ivy from her sofa, and Leslie
takes her white hand a moment in his own, pressing it despairingly to
his lips as he cries:

"You must forgive me, Ivy, I did not know how well I loved you until I
had lost you."

Mrs. Cleveland interposes sternly.

"Come, come, I cannot allow any tender passages between you two. If
Leslie intends for this nefarious marriage to stand, it will be best
that he shall remain a stranger henceforth to us both."

"To stand?" Leslie repeats, looking at her like one dazed.

"Yes," she answers, meaningly. "I ask you, Leslie, if such a marriage
as this can be legal and binding?"

"Oh, yes, it is perfectly so," he answers.

"Do you love her? Oh, Leslie, do you love that dreadful girl?" wails
Ivy, from her sofa.

He shakes his head, Mrs. Cleveland having interdicted other intercourse.

"Do you intend to live with her?" Mrs. Cleveland queries, significantly.

"Pray, what else can I do?" Mr. Noble queries, bewildered, and Ivy
groans, lugubriously.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," the lady answers, with a scornful laugh. "But
if it were me who had been deluded into such a marriage with a low and
mercenary girl, I am sure that nothing could induce me to live with
her. I would either divorce her, or pension her off."

Mr. Noble walks up and down the floor with folded arms, in deep
agitation.

"It would be quite impossible to procure a divorce," he answers, after
a moment's thought. "I could assign no earthly cause for demanding
one. I married her of my own free will, though I admit I was unduly
persuaded."

"All she cares for is your money," snaps Ivy, quite ignoring the fact
that this was her own motive for winning him. "It will kill me if you
take her home with you, Leslie. I shall die of a broken heart."

"Poor, deceived dear," sighs her mother, while Leslie breaks out,
ruefully:

"What else can I possibly do, Ivy?"

Mrs. Cleveland, who had been silently cogitating, answers with sudden
blandness:

"If you want my advice, Leslie, you shall have it, unfairly as you have
treated us. I say the girl is ignorant and uneducated, and quite unfit
to become the mistress of your elegant home in Philadelphia. If you are
compelled to stick to your unlucky bargain, you must try and make the
best of it. You will have to put her into a strict convent school where
her ill-nature will be tamed down, and her manners educated up to the
proper standard for your wife. How do you like that plan?"

Her magnetic gaze is fixed on Ivy as she speaks, compelling her to be
silent, though she was raising her shrill voice in protest.

"Would they be harsh with her?" Leslie asks anxiously, some instinct of
pity for the orphan girl struggling blindly in his heart.

"Not at all. I was educated at a convent school myself. I liked it
very much. But you will have to be very positive about Vera, to induce
her to go. She will wheedle you out of the notion if possible. Raw,
untrained girl as she is, she thinks she is quite capable of doing
anything, or filling any position. But if you listen to _her_, you will
find yourself mortified and disgraced directly," blandly insinuates the
wily woman.

Leslie Noble winces as she had meant he should. He is very proud and
sensitive, this rich, handsome man who finds himself placed, through
his weakness, in such a sore strait.

"I think your plan is a very good one," he says, hastily. "Do you know
where there is a school, such as you named just now?"

"I can give you the address of one in Maryland," Mrs. Cleveland
answers, readily.

"I will go there to-morrow and make arrangements for her reception as a
pupil," he replies. "Would it be better to apprise her of my intention
beforehand?" he inquires with some embarrassment.

"No, decidedly not. She might find means to circumvent you. She is
a very sharp witted girl. Merely tell her that you are called away
unexpectedly, on business, and that you will leave her in my charge
until you return."

"Would it be agreeable to you to have her stay that long?" he queries.

Mrs. Cleveland smiles a little grimly.

"Of course, as your wife, Vera may expect every courtesy from me," she
answers in a strange kind of voice, and there the conference ends.

From her hiding-place in the adjoining room Vera creeps out with a
white face, and takes her way up-stairs to her mother's room. Her step
is slow and heavy, her eyes are dull and black, there is no single
gleam of brightness in them. The last drop has been added to the
already overflowing cup of misery and despair.

With an unfaltering hand she goes to a small medicine chest kept for
her mother's use, and unlocking it, takes out two small vials filled
with a dark-colored liquid. Each vial has a label pasted on, containing
written directions for use, but without the name of the drug.

Vera knits her straight, black brows thoughtfully together as she
puzzles over them. "I remember," she says, aloud, "that mamma said one
would produce a long, deep sleep, the other--death! Now which is which?"

After a minute she decides to her satisfaction, and placing one vial
back, goes away with the other in her bosom. In her own little room
she sits down to pen a few words to Leslie, then slowly kneels by the
bedside.

"I do not think anyone can blame me," she murmurs, "not even God. The
world is so cold and hard I cannot live in it any longer. I am going to
my mother."

Some broken, pleading words falter over the quivering, white lips, then
a low amen.

She rises, puts the treasured vial to her lips, and drains the last
bitter drop, throwing the empty vessel on the hearth where it cracks
into a hundred fragments. Then she lies down upon the bed with her
letter to Leslie clenched tightly in her slim white hand. And when they
come to awake her in the morning, she is lying mute and pale, with the
marble mask of death over all her beauty.



CHAPTER VI.


When they tell Leslie Noble the fatal truth--when they lead him to the
cold, bare chamber where his girl-wife lies dead, he is stunned by the
swift and terrible blow that the hand of fate has dealt him. A quick
remorse has entered his soul. He did not love her, yet he would not
have the light of her young, strong life go out in darkness like that.

Though he has walked the floor of his room all night, raving, and
almost cursing himself because he had married her, the sight of her
now--like _that_--and the sad pathos of that brief letter touch him to
the depths of his heart with a vain remorse and pity. With a faltering
voice he reads aloud the sad and hopeless words:

"When you come to bid me good-by in the morning I shall be dead. That
is best. You see, I did not know till to-night my sad story, and
that--that you did not love me! Poor mamma was wrong to bind you so. I
am very sorry, Leslie. There is nothing I can do but die!"

His glance falls on Mrs. Cleveland, who is standing in the room with
a strange expression upon her face. He does not like to think it is
relief and satisfaction, and yet it is marvelously like it.

"Who has told her the truth? How has she learned it?" he asks. "I
never meant that she should know. I meant to do my duty by the poor,
friendless girl."

"No one told her. She must have listened at the door last night. It was
like her low, mean disposition to be peeping, and prying, and listening
to what did not concern her," Mrs. Cleveland bursts out, scornfully.

"Pardon me, but our conversation _did_ concern her," he answers,
gravely.

"At least, it was not intended for her hearing," she replies, shortly.

Mr. Noble is silent a moment, gazing earnestly at the pale, dead face,
from which the woman's eyes turn in fear and aversion.

"Perhaps we have wronged her," he says, slowly. "If she had been what
you believed her--coarse and low, and violent like her father--would
she have been driven," shudderingly, "to this!"

"You are allowing a maudlin sentimentality to run away with your
reason, Leslie," the woman answers, coldly. "Do you suppose I have
lied to you? The girl has lived here since infancy. I knew her temper
well, and I repeat that she was unbearable. I only endured her for her
mother's sake. This is very sad. Of course, you feel badly over it.
And yet, common sense whispers that this is a most fortunate thing for
you. You are freed from a galling bond. Had she lived, she would almost
inevitably have become a sorrow and a disgrace to you."

"We should not speak ill of the dead," he answers, a little sternly.

"Pardon me; I know there are some truths which we innately feel, but
should not give expression to," she answers, with keen irony.

"Does Ivy know?" he asks her.

"Not yet; poor dear, I have been watching by her bedside all night. She
is ill and almost heart-broken. I must go and break the news to her
now."

She moves to the door, but, seeing him standing irresolute in the
center of the floor, looks back over her shoulder to say, anxiously:

"Will you come away now, Leslie? The women would like to come in to
prepare the body for the grave."

He shivers, and turns to follow her, casting one long, lingering look
at the fair, immobile face upon the pillow.

"I did not know she was so beautiful," he murmurs to himself as he
passes out.

"Have you no message to send Ivy?" Mrs. Cleveland asks him, as they
pass along the hall. "She would be so glad of even one kind word from
you."

"I thought you interdicted all intercourse between us last night," he
answers, blankly.

"Yes; but the _obstacle_ no longer remains," she replies,
significantly, and, with a violent start, Leslie realizes the truth of
her words. In his horror and surprise he had not thought of it before.
Yes, Vera's death has set him free--free to marry Ivy when he will.

"Tell her that I am very sorry she is ill. I hope she will soon be
better," he answers, gravely and courteously. He will not say more now
out of respect to the dead, and Mrs. Cleveland is wise enough not to
press him.

Ivy, whose pretended illness is altogether a sham, is jubilant over the
news.

"Was there ever anything more fortunate?" she exclaims. "Lucky for us
that she listened, and found out the truth."

"Yes, indeed, she saved me a vast deal of plotting and planning, for
I was determined that she should be put out of the way somehow, and
that _soon_," Mrs. Cleveland answers, heartlessly. "The little fool! I
did not think she had the courage to kill herself, but I am very much
obliged to her."

"'Nothing in her life became her like the leaving it,'" Ivy quotes,
heartlessly.

"Remember, Ivy, you must not allow Leslie to perceive your joy. He
is very peculiar--weak-minded, indeed," scornfully. "And he might be
offended. Just now he is carried away by a maudlin sentimentality over
her tragic death."

"Never fear for me. I shall be discretion itself," laughs Ivy. "But, of
course, I shall make no display of grief. _That_ could not be expected."

"Of course not. But it will be a mark of respect to Leslie if you will
attend the funeral to-morrow."

"Then I will do so, with a proper show of decorum. I am determined that
he shall not slip through my fingers again."

So the two cruel and wicked women plot and plan, while the poor victim
of their heartlessness lies up-stairs dead, in all her young, winsome
beauty, with her small hands folded on her quiet heart, and the
black-fringed lashes lying heavily against the marble-white cheeks.
They have robed her for the grave, and left her there alone, with no
one "to come in and kiss her to lighten the gloom."

So the day wanes and the night, and Vera lies still and white in the
long black casket to which they have consigned her. They have left the
cover off, and only a transparent veil lies lightly across her face,
through which her delicate features show clearly. How wonderfully the
look of life lingers still; how the pink lips retain the warm, pink
coloring of life. But there is no one to note how wonderfully death has
spared her fairness; no one to exclaim, with the power of affection:

"She looks too sweet and life-like for us to bury her out of our sight."

Afternoon comes, and they carry the casket down into the parlor where a
little group are waiting to hear the brief service of the black-robed
minister. Then they gather around in the gloomy, darkened room, glance
shudderingly at the beautiful white face, and turn away, while the
stolid undertaker screws down the coffin-lid over the desperate young
suicide. After that the solemn, black-plumed hearse is waiting to bear
her away to her rest, by her mother's side. "Ashes to ashes, dust to
dust." "_Resquiescat in pace._"

       *       *       *       *       *

Leslie Noble goes home that night. In his character of a widower, he
must wait a little space before he renews his suit to the impatient Ivy.

"You will come back to me soon, Leslie dear?" she sighs, sentimentally,
as she clings to his arm.

"As soon as decorum permits me," he replies. "Will you wait for me
patiently, Ivy?"

"Yes, only do not stay too long," she answers, and he presses a light
kiss on her powdered forehead, which Ivy takes in good faith as the
solemn seal of their betrothal.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, dear, it is very lonely," Ivy sighs, that evening, as she and her
mother sit alone in the luxurious parlor, where so late the presence
of death cast its pall of gloom. "I miss Leslie very much. Shall we be
obliged to seclude ourselves from all gaiety, mamma, just because those
two people--the plague of our lives--are dead?"

"I am afraid so--for awhile, at least, dear. People would think it
strange, you know, my dear Ivy, if we did not make some outward show
of grief," Mrs. Cleveland answers, thoughtfully, for she has been
turning the matter over in her own mind, and, like her daughter, she
cannot endure the thought of foregoing the daily round of fashionable
pleasures that are "meat and drink to her."

"How horrid!" complains Ivy. "I should die of the dismals! Listen,
mamma, I have a plan."

"Really?" Mrs. Cleveland asks, with faint sarcasm, for her daughter is
not at all clever.

"Yes, although you think I am so stupid," Ivy answers, vivaciously. "It
is this, mamma. Let us leave Washington and go south this winter to one
of the gayest, most fashionable cities, and have a real good time where
nobody can expect us to be snivelling several long months over two
deaths that give us unqualified pleasure."

"Vera and her mother were very useful to us, after all," Mrs. Cleveland
answers, with a sigh to the memory of her purse. "They saved me a good
deal of money in dressmaking bills and the like. They more than paid
for their keeping."

"What a stingy, craving soul you have, mother," Ivy exclaims,
impatiently. "But what do you think of my plan?"

"It is capital and quite original. I did not give you credit for so
much invention," Mrs. Cleveland answers, smiling at her daughter.

"Shall we go, then?" Ivy inquires.

"Yes, if----" Mrs. Cleveland is beginning to say, when she is
interrupted by the swift unclosing of the door, and a man comes into
the room, pausing abruptly in the center of the apartment, and fixing
his burning black eyes on the face of Mrs. Cleveland.

He is tall, dark, princely handsome, with a face full of fire and
passion, blent with "cureless melancholy." His dark hair, thickly
streaked with gray, is tossed carelessly back from his broad, white
brow, and an air of nobility is indelibly stamped on every straight,
aristocratic feature. Mrs. Cleveland springs to her feet with a cry of
surprise and terror:

"Lawrence Campbell!"



CHAPTER VII.


After that one shriek of surprise and almost terror, Mrs. Cleveland
remains silent, devouring the man's face with a gaze as fixed and
burning as his own. Ivy, in her corner, is forgotten by her mother, and
unnoticed by the stranger.

"Yes, Lawrence Campbell," he answers her in a deep, hoarse voice, that
thrills to the hearts of the listeners. "Are you glad to see me, Mrs.
Cleveland?"

"Glad!" she shudders, in an indescribable voice.

"After these long years," he pursues, speaking under the spur of
some deep, overmastering agitation, "I have come back to curse you,
traitorous, false-hearted woman, and to make atonement."

"Atonement!" she falters, with a start of fear.

"Yes, Marcia Cleveland, atonement," he bursts out passionately. "Tell
me, where is the dear, true angel-wife whom I was led to believe false
and unfaithful to me, through your heartless machinations. At last I
know the truth, at last I know you, devil that you are! You maligned
the truest, purest, gentlest woman that ever lived! Your own sister,
too--the beautiful, innocent child that was left to your charge by her
dying parents. God only knows what motive you had for your terrible
sin."

She glares at him with fiery eyes from which the momentary fear has
fled, leaving them filled with the mocking light of a wicked triumph.

"_You_ should have known my motive, Lawrence Campbell," she bursts out,
passionately. "When I first met you in society, the plain, untitled
English gentleman, I was a young, beautiful, wealthy widow, and by your
attentions and visits you led me to believe that you loved me.

"Then Edith came home from her boarding-school, and with her baby-face
and silly school-girl shyness won you from me. You married her, and
the very torments of the lost were mine, for I loved with a passion
of which she, poor, weak-natured creature, could never dream. Did you
think I could tamely bear the slight that was put upon me? No, no, I
swore revenge--a deep and deadly revenge, and I have had it; ha, ha! a
costly cup, full to the brim and running over!"

She pauses with a wild and maniacal laugh. The man stares at her with
starting eyes and a death-white face. The enormity of the wrong that
has been done him seems to strike him dumb.

"I have had a glorious revenge," she goes on, wildly, seeing that he
cannot speak; "you fell an easy prey to my plan of vengeance through
your foolish and ridiculous jealousy. Through the efficient help of a
poor, weak fool who loved me I made you believe Edith false and vile,
and taunted you into deserting her! Have you suffered? Ah, God, so did
I! I was on fire with jealousy and hate. Every pang I made you and
Edith suffer was like balm to my heart. I parted you, I came between
your wedded hearts, and made your life and hers a hell! Aye, and your
child's, too--ha, ha, I made her weep for the hour in which she was
born!"

She tosses her white arms wildly in the air, and laughs low and
wickedly with the glare of malice and revenge in her flashing, black
eyes. She is transformed from the handsome, clever woman of the world
into a mocking devil. Even Ivy, who knows her mother's heartlessness as
none other know, stares with distended eyes at the infuriated woman.
She involuntarily recalls a verse she has somewhere read:

    "Earth has no spell like love to hatred turned,
     And hell no fury like a woman scorned."

"My child," the man breaks out, with a yearning heart-hunger in his
melancholy eyes. "She lives then--my child, and Edith's! Oh, God,
will she ever forgive me the wrong I have done her mother? Speak,
woman--devil, rather--and tell me where to find my Edith and her little
one!"

"Little one!" mocks Mrs. Cleveland, scornfully. "Do you forget,
Lawrence Campbell, that seventeen years have come and gone since you
deserted Edith and her unborn child?"

"No, I am not likely to forget," he answers, with the bitterness of
remorse in his low voice. "The child must be a woman now. But I will
atone to Edith and her child for all I have made them suffer through
your sin. I am rich, now, and I have fallen heir to a title in my
native land. Edith will be a countess, our child a wealthy heiress.
And I will make them happy yet. My heart is young, although my hair is
gray. I love my wife yet, with all the fire of youth. Tell me where
to find them, Marcia Cleveland, and for that one act of grace, I will
forgive you all the black and sinful past."

He pauses, with his hollow, burning eyes fixed eerily upon her, waiting
her reply. The autumn winds wail sharply round the house, the chilly
rain taps at the window pane with ghostly fingers, as if to hint of
those two graves lying side by side under the cold and starless sky of
night.

"Tell me," she says, putting aside his questions scornfully. "How did
you learn that I had deceived you?"

"From the dying lips of your tool--Egbert Harding. He was in
London--dying of the excesses brought on by a fast and wicked life.
At the last he repented of his sins, afraid to face the God whom his
wicked life had outraged. He sent for me and confessed all--how he had
lent himself to your diabolical plan to dupe and deceive me. He swore
to me that my beautiful Edith was as innocent as an angel. I left him,
poor, frightened, despairing wretch, at his last gasp, and came across
the seas to seek for you and my wronged wife. Tell me, Marcia, for I
can wait no longer; my heart is half-broken with grief and suspense.
Where shall I find my wife and child?"

"_In their graves_!" she answers, with the hollow and exultant laugh of
a fiend.

Lawrence Campbell reels backward as if some invisible hand had smitten
him across the face. He throws up his thin, white, quivering hands in
the air, as though in the agonies of death. But in a moment he rallies
himself and looks at the tormenting fiend with lurid, blazing eyes.

"You lie!" he exclaims, hoarsely. "You are false to the core of your
heart, Marcia. I will not believe you. God, who knows how much I have
suffered, would not afflict me so cruelly. I ask you again--where are
they?"

"And I tell you they are _dead_!" she answers, hoarsely. "If you will
not believe me, go to Glenwood. You know our family burial-plot. There
you will find two new-made graves. Ask the sexton whose they are, and
he will tell you Mrs. Campbell's and her daughter Vera's. Your wife
died three nights ago--died of a broken heart, while I, her sister who
hated her, was dancing at a ball! Your daughter, Vera, died the night
before last by her own hand--died the death of the suicide! Ha, ha!"
she laughed, sneeringly, "have I not had a glorious revenge for my
slighted love?"

"I will not believe you--I cannot. It is too terrible," Lawrence
Campbell moans, with his hands pressed to his head, and a dazed look in
his great, black eyes.

"You may, for it is true," exclaims Ivy, coming forward into the light,
with a wicked triumph in her pale-blue eyes. "If you will not believe
my mother, go to the graveyard and see, as she bade you."

He lifts his eyes and stares at her a moment, a white, dizzy horror
on his face. The next moment he reels forward blindly, like some
slaughtered thing, and falls in a white and senseless heap upon the
floor.

"You have killed him, too, mamma," Ivy exclaims, exultantly.

The heartless woman, turning around, spurns the fallen body with her
foot.

"A fit ending to the tragedy," she utters, cruelly. "Ring the bell for
a servant, Ivy."

In a moment a white-aproned menial appears in the room. Mrs. Cleveland
looks at him frowningly.

"John, who admitted this drunken fellow into the house?" she inquires,
sharply.

"I did, madam. He said he was an old friend of yours," the man answers
respectfully. "Is anything wrong about it, madam? He seems," bending
over him, "to be dead."

"Dead drunk," the woman utters, scornfully. "Drag him out of the house,
John, and throw him into the street."

The man stares in consternation.

"It's pouring down rain, ma'am," he exclaims, deprecatingly, "and
pitchy dark. Hadn't I best call the police?"

"Do as I bid you," Mrs. Cleveland storms. "Throw him into the street,
and leave him there. And mind how you admit such characters into the
house again, or you may lose your place!"

She stands still with lowering brows, watching the man as he executes
her orders, dragging the heavy, unconscious form from the room, and
along the hall to the door.

When the lumbering sound has ceased, and the heavy clang of the outer
door grates sharply on the silence, she draws a deep breath of relief.

"Now I know why you always hated Vera and her mother so much," Ivy
exclaims. "Why did you never tell me, mamma?"

"It was no business of yours," Mrs. Cleveland answers, sharply.

"Oh, indeed, we are very lofty!" Ivy comments, impudently.

Mrs. Cleveland makes her no answer. She has sunk into the depths of a
velvet-cushioned chair, and with lowered eyelids and protruding lips
seems to be grimly brooding. Her form seems to have collapsed and grown
smaller, her face is ashy white.

"You are a smarter and wickeder woman than I gave you credit for," Ivy
resumes, curiously. "So, then, the tale you told Leslie Noble about
Vera's dissipated father was altogether false."

"Yes," her mother mutters, mechanically.

But presently she starts up like one in a panic.

"Ivy, we must go away from here," she exclaims, in a strange and
hurried voice. "I am afraid to stay."

"Afraid of what?" Ivy queries, impatiently.

"Of Lawrence Campbell's vengeance," the woman answers, fearfully. "It
is a fearful wrong I have done him, and he will strike me back. We must
fly--fly from his wrath!"



CHAPTER VIII.


The unconscious man who has been so heartlessly thrust forth in the
bleak, inclement night, lies still upon the wet and flinty pavement,
his ghastly face upturned to the uncertain flicker of the street lamps,
his eyes closed, his lips half parted as if he were, indeed, dead. No
one is passing, no one notes that the form of an apparently dead man
has been hustled out of the inhospitable gates of the stately Cleveland
Mansion. None care to be abroad this wet and windy night. The chilly
rain beats down into the still, white face, and at last revives him. He
drags himself wearily up to his feet, and clinging to the iron spokes
of the ornamental lawn fence, stares up at the dark, gloomy-looking
building which now, with closed and darkened windows, appears dreary as
a tomb. He shudders, and his eyes flash luridly in the darkness.

"May the curse of God light upon her," he murmurs, distractedly. "She
robbed me of everything, and laid my life bare and desolate. My heart
is a bare and empty ruin where the loathsome bats and shrieking night
birds of remorse flap their ebon wings in the haunted darkness. Edith,
Vera, my wronged, my murdered darlings--would God that you might have
lived to forgive me for the madness that ruined your lives, and broke
your tender hearts!"

No answer comes to his wild appeal from the wide and limitless spaces
of the black night. Those two whom he adjures so despairingly, lie
still "under the sod and the dew," deaf to his yearning calls, though
he cry out ever so loudly to them, from his sore and tortured heart.

And at last, tormented with doubts, and longing to know the truth,
for he cannot trust the oath of the false Marcia Cleveland, he flings
himself into a passing car that goes toward the cemetery, fired with
the wild resolve that he would never believe her wicked assertion until
he can prove its truth--not until looking into the coffin, and calling
on her loved name, he shall know that his wife is surely dead, because
she is dumb to the wild and yearning cry of his heart.

A wild resolve--worthy of a madman. But Lawrence Campbell is scarcely
sane to-night. Remorse and despair have driven him wild.

Gold--potent gold--what will it not buy? It opens the gates of the
cemetery to the wronged, half-maddened husband and father, it throws
off the heavy clods that lie between him and the face he yearns for.
Quick and fast fall the rapid strokes of the spade, the dull thud of
the fresh earth thrown out on the soft grass is continuous.

At last the sexton, pausing to take breath and wipe the beaded dews
from his hot brow, utters a smothered cry of dismay:

"What was I thinking of to blunder so? I have made a great mistake,
sir. This is the daughter's grave, not the mother's."

"No matter--go on with your work. Let me see the face of the child that
I never beheld in life," Lawrence Campbell answers, resolutely.

Seeing how useless would be remonstrance the sexton bends to his task
again. In a few minutes the earth is all out, but it requires the
united strength of both men to raise the casket and lay it upon the
upper ground.

"Now the lid--have it off quickly," groans the wretched man; "and the
lantern. Bring it near that I may look on my dead."

Eagerly he kneels on the ground and scans the beautiful white features
of the dead. A groan burst from his lips:

"It is _she_, my wife, my lost Edith, still young and beautiful as when
I wooed her to be my own! Ah, even time and death could not efface that
surpassing loveliness!"

But the sexton answers, compassionately:

"Ah, sir, it is not your wife, but your daughter. Your wife had grown
older and sadder. Her bonny locks were mixed with gray; I used to
see her here on many a Sabbath when she came to weep by her parents'
graves. This, sir, is your daughter, with her mother's face."

"My daughter, with her mother's face!" he cries, and stoops to press
a long-lingering kiss on the white brow beneath the careless rings of
sunny hair. He starts back with a loud cry: "My God!"

The sexton trembles with apprehension.

"My dear sir, let me beg you to be more prudent," he whispers. "What if
we should be discovered?"

But Lawrence Campbell's face is transfigured with a trembling hope and
joy.

"I believe that I am sane," he exclaims, "I do not believe that I am
dreaming. Yet when I kissed Vera's brow it felt warm and moist like the
flesh of the living. Tell me, am I right?"

The sexton wipes his grimy hand to press it on the fair, girlish brow.
He bends his ear to the delicate lips that still retain the warm,
natural coloring of life. A smothered cry breaks from him.

"You are right, Mr. Campbell. Her flesh is warm and moist, her
color is life-like and natural, and she breathes faintly. Oh,
wonderful--most wonderful! She seems to be in a deep trance-like sleep.
How terrible--how terrible to think of! Your daughter has been buried
alive."

"She lives!" the father echoes, in wild thankfulness.

"She lives and we must carry her to my cottage as soon as possible. She
must not awaken in this dreadful place. It would frighten her into real
death," answers the sexton.

They lift the slight form out of its grim receptacle and bear her to
the sexton's secluded cot where he lives alone, his wife having died a
few months previous. They lay her down on his clean bed in the warm,
cozy room; and still her strange, deep slumber is unbroken.

"I will watch beside her," says Mr. Campbell. "You must go back,
restore the empty coffin to the grave, and throw in the earth again."

"You do not wish that this discovery shall ever be known, then?" the
sexton asks, gravely.

"No--at least not now," Mr. Campbell answers, after a pause of silent
thought.

A moment later he adds, wistfully:

"My wife's grave--you will open that too? Who knows but that she, too,
may be only sleeping?"

"It is scarce probable, sir, but I will do it to satisfy you," the
sexton answers, moving away.

The dawn of a new day is breaking when he returns, having just finished
his weary task. Lawrence Campbell starts up from his weary vigil by his
daughter's silent form.

"You promised to come for me, and I waited and waited!" he cries,
reproachfully. "You did not do as I bade you."

The old sexton's face is ashen gray as if with the memory of some
recent horror.

"Oh, sir, I swear to you, I kept my word," he cries, "but--but--oh, Mr.
Campbell, I spared you in mercy that dreadful sight! You would not have
known her, you could not have borne to see how death had effaced her
beauty. You must remember her as she was--not as she is."

Lawrence Campbell's despairing moan is echoed by a low and fainter one.

Vera's dark eyes open slowly, her lips part in faint, shivering sighs.

"Quick--the wine!" exclaims the sexton. "Pour a few drops between her
lips."

Lawrence Campbell obeys gladly, and Vera's lips part thirstily to
receive the potent medicine. She lifts her white hand to her brow as if
to clear away the shadows that cloud her brain.

"I have been asleep, and my dreams were strange and wild," she murmurs.
"I thought I had found my father. You, sir, look at me lovingly and
kindly. Can it be----"

"That I am your father--yes, my precious Vera," he answers, pressing a
father's holy kiss on the sweet, wistful lips.

Her dark, dreamy eyes look searchingly up into the handsome, noble face.

"Ah, I am so glad," she murmurs, "and you are good and true and noble.
I cannot understand why you went away from mamma, but I can tell
by your face that you are not the bad and wicked wretch that woman
pretended."

"Mrs. Cleveland?" he asks, a spasm of rage and hatred distorting his
pallid features.

"Perhaps it will be best not to excite the young lady by talking to her
just at first," the sexton interposes, anxiously and respectfully. "She
must be very weak, having taken no nourishment for so long. I will go
out and prepare a little warm broth for her."

"You must lie still and rest, darling," Lawrence Campbell whispers,
pouring a little more of the stimulant between her pale lips--paler now
from exhaustion than they were when she lay sleeping in the coffin,
and with a faint sigh of assent she closes her eyes and lies silent,
while the sexton goes out on his kindly meant errand.

The moments pass, Lawrence Campbell sits still with his head bowed
moodily on his hand, his thoughts strangely blended, joy for his
daughter's recovery, despairing grief for his wife's loss, and
unutterable hate for Marcia Cleveland all mixed inextricably together.
All that he has lost by that woman's perjury rushes bitterly over him.
In the stillness, broken only by the crackle of the fresh coals upon
the fire, and the monotonous ticking of the clock upon the mantel, he
broods over his wrongs until they assume gigantic proportions.

And Vera--so strangely rescued from the coffin and the grave--she is
very silent also, but none the less is her brain active and her mind
busy. One by one she is gathering up the links of memory.

Her strange marriage, her mother's death, her terrible defeat in the
triumph she had anticipated over the Clevelands--all come freshly over
her memory, with that crowning hour in which wounded to the heart and
filled with a deadly despair, she had crept away to die because she
could not endure the humiliation and shame of the knowledge she had
gained.

"I remember it all now; I could not decide upon the right vial, and by
chance I took the wrong one. It was the sleeping potion. How long have
I been asleep, and how came I here?"

Unclosing her languid eyes, she repeats the question aloud:

"Father, how came I here?"

He starts, nervously, at the unexpected question.

"My dear, you must not ask questions," he answers. "At least--not yet."

"But just this one, father. It keeps ringing itself in my head. I am
filled with wonder. I drank a vial of what I imagined contained death,
and lay down on my bed to die. But I only slept, and my dreams were
wild. Then I awoke in this strange room, and saw you looking at me so
kindly, and I knew you in my heart for my father. My wonder is so great
that I cannot rest. Suspense is worse than knowledge. Only tell me how
I came to be here?"

He looks at the beautiful, eloquent lips and pleading eyes, looking so
dark with the purple shadows around them, and the pale, pale face.

"I must not tell her the truth," he said to himself. "She looks too
slight and frail to bear the shock of hearing it. She need not ever
know that she had been buried alive, and rescued out of the blackness
of the grave. The horror of it would be enough to unhinge her reason."

"The last that I remember," she continues, "I was lying on my bed at
Mrs. Cleveland's, waiting for death to come. I awoke here in this
strange place. How did it happen?"

"I had you conveyed here in your sleep," he answers. "My dear, I see
that you have all of woman's proverbial curiosity. But there is no
mystery here. The simple truth is, that I went to Mrs. Cleveland's to
seek my wife and child. I found that your mother was dead, and you
were locked in a strange, narcotic sleep, almost as deep as death. I
had you conveyed here, and watched over you until you awakened from
your long slumber. That is all, my dear little daughter. Now, can you
rest satisfied?"

The dark eyes seek his, still wistfully, and with dawning tenderness.

"Father, you do not know how I love the sound of your voice," she
murmurs. "It does not excite nor weary me. It is full of soothing,
calming power. It falls on my thirsty, yearning heart like the dew upon
flowers. I wish that you would talk to me. Nothing you can say would
weary me so much as my own tumultuous thoughts."

He sighs, and smooths back the soft waves of gold that stray over the
blue-veined temples.

"What shall I talk of, little one?" he inquires.

"Tell me where you have been all these long years, father, and why you
never came for mamma and I when you were so unhappy?" she sighs.

Tears that do not shame his manhood crowd into his dark, sad eyes.

"Vera, you will hate me when I tell you that it was a mad, unreasoning
jealousy, aroused and fostered by Marcia Cleveland, that led me to
desert my innocent wife, and you, my little child, before you were
born," he answers, heavily.

Vera's dark eyes flash with ominous light. She lies silent a moment,
brooding over her mother's terrible wrongs.

"I have been a lonely wanderer from land to land ever since," he goes
on, slowly. "God only knows what I suffered, Vera, for I could never
tear the image of my wife from my breast, although I believed her false
and vile. But I was too proud to go back to her. I never knew how she
was breaking her heart in silent sorrow for me, her life made doubly
wretched by the abuses of the false sister who hated her because I
loved her. At last I was recalled from my wanderings. I had fallen heir
to a title I had never dreamed of inheriting, and which only filled me
with bitterness. I reflected that, but for Edith's falsity, she might
have been my countess; as fair a lady as ever reigned in my ancestral
halls."

"Poor mamma, leading her slavish life in Mrs. Cleveland's house," the
girl murmurs, in vain regret.

"Poor martyr to the sins of others," the man echoes, heavily.

"Yet you came back at last," Vera murmurs. "Had you repented of your
hasty desertion?"

"I had learned the truth, Vera, through the dying confession of Mrs.
Cleveland's weak tool. I had learned how terribly I had been deceived,
and that I had deserted my angel wife for naught. Vera, did she curse
my memory when she lay dying of a broken heart?"

"She never named you either in praise or blame, father. I had some
vague impression that you were dead. I knew no better until I overheard
Mrs. Cleveland telling some one that you had deserted my mother before
I was born, and that you were a low, drunken, brutal wretch, who had
abused and maltreated her from the first."

"Oh, my God, my God! that such demons should walk the earth!" the man
groans through his clenched teeth.

He rises and walks up and down the floor, struggling with his strong,
overmastering agitation.

"Vera, we three--you and I, and our lost loved one--have been wronged
as, it seems to me, never mortals were before. My heart is on fire with
rage and hate for the devil who has so blasted our lives. It seems to
me that I can never rest until I strike back. Vera, shall we not avenge
ourselves?"

His dark, passionate eyes fill with the fire that rages in his soul.
Vera looks up at him, half-fearfully.

"How, father?" she queries, slowly.

The heavy gloom deepens in his night-black eyes.

"How--I cannot tell!" he says, hoarsely. "But I will bide my time. I
will wait and watch. Edith's wrongs shall not go unavenged."

The beautiful young face on the pillow softens and saddens.

"Mother was very gentle and forgiving," she murmurs. "_She_ would have
said, leave it to Heaven."

"She was an angel--I am but human," he answers. "Vera, we must work
together for vengeance. The time will come when we will make Marcia
Cleveland bite the dust--when she shall curse the stars that shone over
her ill-fated birth."

So the wronged man raves, and Vera's passionate heart is kindled into
flames by his burning eloquence. She is with him heart and soul, loyal
to the core of her woman's heart.

Strange, that when she tells him the story of her short, sad life she
should hold one secret back. The words die on her white lips when she
tries to tell him. A passionate shame fills her heart. Oh, the bitter
pain, the deep humiliation of the thought that she is Leslie Noble's
wife. Leslie Noble whom she scorns and despises. Have they told her
father the truth? she wonders.

No, for presently he says, tenderly:

"Do not think that all my thoughts are given up to vengeance, Vera.
I shall care for you very tenderly, darling. And if you should ever
marry, I pray God that your wedded happiness may not be blighted by
such a terrible wrong as mine."

Her heart gives a great throb of relief. He does not know. He never
shall know by her telling, she resolves.

The day comes soon when they kneel hand in hand by Edith's grave to bid
her good-bye before departing for England's shore.

"Edith, my darling," he whispers to the dead heart below, "the human
vampire has escaped me this time. She has fled from my vengeance, and
left no trace behind her. But let her beware, for I but bide my time.
The bloodhounds of hate are howling behind her, and sooner or later she
will be brought to bay. Farewell, my murdered darling. Remember that I
only live to avenge your wrongs, and to protect your child!"



CHAPTER IX.


No one had created such a sensation in London for several years as did
Lady Vera, the Earl of Fairvale's only child, when she was presented
at court. She was just nineteen, and a perfect beauty. She was more
American than English in style--tall and slenderly formed, with a
stately grace all her own, with large, dark eyes, and black brows and
lashes, with hair of a magnificent, dark-golden shade, and well-formed,
aristocratic features. Then, as the crowning charm to her brilliant
loveliness, she had inherited from her English ancestry a dazzling
complexion of lilies and roses.

People who studied and admired Lady Vera most, said that they could not
quite understand the expression of her face. It was too intense for one
so young. It was full of passion, tempered by the gravest thought.

The young English girls had dimples and smiles for everyone, but Lady
Vera was different. She had the sweetest, most radiant smile in the
world when you saw it, but that was so very seldom. She seemed to be
thinking all the time--thinking deeply, even when she danced or sang,
or conversed. And her favorite flowers were the beautiful, velvety
pansies, whose very emblem is thought.

Yet when you looked into the Earl of Fairvale's face, you ceased
to wonder at his daughter. The shadow on her face was reflected
from the cloud on his. His dark, handsome face was a study. Where
Lady Vera seemed to be thinking, his expression was that of one
brooding--brooding all the while on one subject, and that not a
pleasant one.

It was with some difficulty that he met the requirements of society.
When spoken to suddenly sometimes, he would start and look bewildered
as if his thoughts were far away. Ladies admired him immensely,
although he was very inattentive to them. The dark, sad, melancholy
face had a peculiar charm for them. They said he reminded them of
Byron's heroes.

The earl was very fond of his daughter, and very careful of her. His
eyes followed her everywhere, but their expression was always sad and
melancholy. No one knew that every time he looked at her, he remembered
how he had wronged her mother, and that his heart was breaking with
remorse and grief, as well as with the consuming fires of a baffled
revenge.

His story was not generally known. He had succeeded to the Earldom of
Fairvale through a series of unexpected deaths, and though everyone
knew of handsome Lawrence Campbell's accessions, little was known of
him personally beyond the rumor that he had married an American lady,
who had died and left him one only child, his beautiful and worshiped
Vera.

Lady Vera had many admirers. Aside from her personal charms, the fact
that she would succeed to the title and estates of Fairvale, cast a
flattering prestige around her.

She was the same to all who came to woo--cool, courteous, gently
indifferent. After awhile they began to say that the earl's daughter
was very proud. Ordinary people were not to her fancy, evidently. She
must be waiting for a duke or a prince. Poor Lady Vera! Who was to know
the bitter secret, the ceaseless dread that ached in the fair breast,
that rose and fell beneath the knots of velvety pansies that were her
simple and favorite adornment?

Vera has seen and learned a great deal since that night when her
father's mad frenzy had been the means of saving her from the horrors
of a dreadful death.

She has traveled, she has had masters and governesses; luxuries of
which she never even faintly dreamed, have surrounded her and become
daily necessities. Pleasure has wooed her softly to its flowery paths,
love has been lavishly laid at her feet. But through it all a loathing
remembrance of Leslie Noble has poisoned her peace.

"Where is he? Does he know where I am? Will he ever come to claim me?"
she often asks herself, never dreaming that he of whose coming she is
so terribly afraid believes her dead, and that he has erected a costly
marble monument over the spot where her remains are supposed to rest.

Her father's mistaken kindness has kept from her the knowledge of her
deadly peril and her opportune rescue, little dreaming in what an
untoward hour the startling truth shall come to her.

And she, in her sensitive pride, has held her peace over that ill-fated
marriage by the bedside of her dying mother--the poor, heart-broken
mother who had erred so fatally, when, with weak, human foresight she
had tried to plan for the future well-being of her helpless child.

"Oh, mamma, dearest," she moans, when alone in her silken _boudoir_,
she recalls the wretched past, "how terribly blind and mistaken you
were. Oh, to be free from these fetters that chafe and fret and gall so
terribly!"

"Shall you never marry, Vera?" her father asks her one day.

It is the day after she has refused Lord Greyhurst, one of the finest
and wealthiest young noblemen in London.

The deep color flows into the girl's fair cheeks.

"I think not, father," she answers, gravely. "I have no wish to marry.
I have never met anyone that I could love."

Earl Fairvale is well pleased.

"I am glad to hear you say that, my dear," he answers. "I have no wish
to lose my daughter. And, after all, so much sorrow comes from love,
one is best without it."

Lady Vera is very glad to hear him talk so. He will never urge her to
marry, and she may keep her secret always--always, _unless_--dreaded
possibility--Leslie Noble should return to claim her.

"But he will not. Why should he? He never cared for me. Yet how strange
that he should have let my father take me away without one word. He
must indeed have been glad to be rid of me," she muses.

The earl and his daughter are staying with Lady Clive for the "season."
She is an American, and the daughter of a famous American general. She
is very happily married to Sir Harry Clive, baronet. Loving everything
American with intensest love, she falls an instant victim to Lady
Vera's charms.

"Your mother was an American--so am I," she says, vivaciously; "so I
claim you on that score. Do you like England, Lady Vera, and English
people?"

"Yes," Vera answers, in her grave way.

"And," Lady Clive goes on, in her bright, airy fashion, "do you intend
to marry an Englishman or an American?"

"I shall never marry at all," Lady Vera says, with a face of extreme
disgust.

"Never! Ah, my dear, you are too young to decide such a momentous
question. Only wait and see," cries Lady Clive, who has a match laid
out in her mind for Vera, but who is far too wise to give her a hint of
it.

"I shall never marry," Vera repeats, calmly. "I do not even like to
think of such things as love and marriage. Dear Lady Clive, let us
talk of something more interesting. You promised to take me into the
nursery, and show me your little children--did you not?"

"Yes, and we will go now," her friend answers, leading the way; but
to herself she says, wonderingly: "What a strange girl. At her age I
did not think a set of noisy children more interesting than love and
marriage."

The grave young face grows brighter than Lady Clive has ever seen it as
Vera watches the beautiful little children at their playful sports. She
even smiles when they caress her, and gives them the flowers from her
bosom in payment for kisses.

"She loves children dearly," Lady Clive says to herself, well pleased.
"How strange that she should be so set against marriage. She is an odd
girl, but I think I shall live to see her change her mind."



CHAPTER X.


Lady Vera having gained the _entree_ to the nursery, pays it daily
visits, always finding herself vociferously welcomed by the three small
dwellers therein.

And one day she finds the youthful trio in a hubbub of excitement.

"Our uncle from America is coming over to visit us," they triumphantly
announce to their friend.

"You seem to be glad," Lady Vera answers, kindly.

"Oh, we are," they laugh. "Aren't you glad, too, Vera?"

"I do not know. I do not like Americans much," says Lady Vera, with a
distinct remembrance of the Clevelands and Leslie Noble.

"Oh, but you will be sure to like Uncle Phil. He is awfully jolly, and
he is a soldier, too. He has a sword and a gun and has promised to
teach me to shoot. I am going to be a soldier, too," cries out Mark,
the second son.

"And when is this terrible soldier coming?" Lady Vera inquires, with
languid interest.

"We do not know exactly, but very soon," they tell her. "He came about
this time last year. Mamma had a letter from him this morning."

"You have not told me his name yet," Lady Vera continues.

"He is Captain Philip Lockhart, and his father, our own grandpapa, is
General Lockhart," answers Hal, the heir, while little Dot claps her
small hands gleefully, crying out:

"Uncle Phil will bring us lots of bu'ful playt'ings from New York. He
always does."

But though "Uncle Phil" remains the favorite topic of the nursery for
several days, Lady Clive quite forgets to tell her guest that she
expects her brother.

Lady Vera scarcely gives it a thought. In the expected arrival of
Captain Lockhart she takes not the slightest interest.

So it happened that when Vera runs into the nursery one evening--having
promised the children a peep at her ball dress--she comes upon an
unexpected tableau. A man on his knees, hammering at the lid of a big
box, three hopefuls gathered around him, and chattering like magpies;
the prim, white-aproned nurse vainly endeavoring to command silence.

Before Vera can beat her instantly-attempted retreat, the little
"Philistines are upon her."

"Here she is," they cry. "This is Vera, of whom we have been telling
you. Isn't she pretty, Uncle Phil?"

"But she doesn't like Americans," adds one _enfant terrible_.

"I am sorry for that," says Captain Lockhart, rising hastily, and
giving Lady Vera a soldier's stately bow. "Cannot you persuade her that
I am of some other nationality, my dears?"

The ease and lightness of his words and manner carry off some of the
embarrassment of the meeting. Lady Vera gives him a bow, and a slight
little smile, sweet and transient.

"I am sorry to have interrupted you," she says. "I am going now,
directly."

But her swift, upward glance has given her a glimpse of a tall,
soldierly form, and a handsome-featured face, with dark-blue eyes,
and dark-brown mustache, while short, curling locks of deepest brown
cluster about a finely-shaped head--"every inch a soldier."

Our hero, on his part, sees a vision of dazzling beauty--dark eyes,
golden tresses, scarlet lips, a slim yet daintily-rounded figure in
costly lace, with knots of purple, golden-hearted pansies. Around the
slender, stately column of the white throat a necklace of pansies
formed of dark, purple amethysts with diamond centers radiating fire--a
birthday gift from her father.

"Pray do not go," Captain Lockhart says, persuasively, with the winning
tongue of a soldier. "The children have been eagerly expecting you. Do
not damp their pleasure. Rather let me withdraw."

"No, no," Lady Vera says, hastily, as he crosses to the door, her
haughtiness melting for the moment under his chivalrous manner. "We
will both stay--that is, I can only give the children a moment. I am
going to a ball."

"So am I, directly, with my sister and Sir Harry. It is very strange
Nella did not tell me she had a young lady guest. I am," smiling under
the brown mustache, "puzzled over your name."

"It is Vera Campbell," she answers, with a slight flush.

"_Lady_ Vera," pipes the prim nurse from her corner, obsequiously.

"Lady Vera," he says, with a bow and smile; then: "Thank you for the
favor. Mine is Philip Lockhart."

"Captain Phil," shouts Mark, anxious that his uncle shall abate no jot
of his soldierly dignity.

"He has brought us a great big box," Dot confides to Lady Vera,
triumphantly at this moment.

"Which I will leave him to open. My maid has not finished me yet,"
fibs Vera, and so makes her escape, leaving Captain Phil to the tender
mercies of his small relatives, who give him no peace until the heavy
box is unpacked, and its contents paraded before their dazzled and
rejoicing sight.

Meanwhile Vera secures her opera-cloak, and goes down to the
drawing-room, where the earl and Sir Harry are waiting for the ladies.

"Nella will be here in a moment," explains Sir Harry. "She has gone to
hurry up her brother, over whom the children are having no end of a
jollification. Oh, I forgot, you may not know whom I am talking about.
Lady Clive's brother arrived this evening, and will accompany us to
Lady Ford's ball."

Vera bows silently, and presently Lady Clive sails in, proudly, with
the truant in tow. Evening dress is marvelously becoming to the
handsome soldier. Involuntarily Vera thinks of Sir Launcelot:

    "The goodliest man that ever among ladies sat in hall,
       And noblest."

"Lady Vera, this is my brother, Captain Lockhart," Lady Clive begins,
with conscious pride; then pauses, disconcerted by the "still, soft
smile" creeping over either face.

"We have met before," Lady Vera explains, with, for her, unusual
graciousness. "Met before! Not in America?" cried Lady Clive,
bewildered.

"Oh, no," her brother answers, and Lady Vera adds, smiling: "In the
nursery, ten minutes ago."

So there is only the earl to introduce, and then they are whirled away
to Lady Ford's, where Captain Lockhart meets a score of last season's
friends, and to the surprise of Lady Vera, who is prejudiced against
almost anything American, he develops some of the graces of a society
man, even playing and singing superbly in a full, rich tenor voice.

"Yet, why should he have selected that old, _old_ song: 'The Banks of
Allan Water?'" Lady Vera asks herself, scornfully, "and when he sang:

    "'For his bride a soldier sought her,'

why should he have looked so straight at _me_? It was not an
impertinent look, I own, but why should he have looked at me at all?"

But even to her own heart, Lady Vera will not own that her great
vexation is directed against herself because she has blushed vividly
crimson under that one look from Captain Lockhart's blue eyes, while
her heart has beat so strangely--with annoyance, she thinks.

"I foresee that I shall hate this American soldier," she muses, "and no
wonder at all when I shall be forced to see him every day. I wish now
that we had not accepted Lady Clive's invitation for the London season."



CHAPTER XI.


The day after Lady Ford's ball dawns cheerlessly. It is cool, and
the air is full of floating mists. The gentlemen determine to go out
anyhow. The ladies elect to remain at home. The glowing fire in the
library has more charms than the bleak, spring air.

"I am not surprised at Nella," says Captain Lockhart, leisurely
buttoning his overcoat. "_She_ was raised in America, and our ladies
do not walk much. But I have been told that English ladies walk every
morning, whether rain or shine. Are you false to the tradition, Lady
Vera?"

The color flies into her cheek at his quizzical glance, but she will
not tell him what she sees he does not know--that she has been raised
in America, too.

"I suppose so," she says, a little shortly, in answer to his question.

"Suppose you come with us for a turn around the square, my dear?"
suggests the earl.

"So I will," answers Lady Vera, determined to have Captain Lockhart see
that she is quite English in her habits.

She comes down in a moment covered almost to the pink tips of her ears
in rich velvet. To her dismay Earl Fairvale strolls forward in a fit of
absent-mindedness with Sir Harry, leaving her to be accompanied by the
American soldier. She sees no other course but to accept the situation.

"It is only for a few minutes at the worst," she thinks to herself.

So she walks on by his side, looking so pretty with the nipping wind
kissing her cheeks into a scarlet glow, that Captain Lockhart can
scarcely keep the admiration out of his eyes.

"The loveliest girl I have ever seen in my life," he mentally decides.
"But, by Jove! as cold and proud as an iceberg!"

"So you do not like Americans?" he says to her, regretfully, as they
turn a corner.

"No," curtly.

"Ah, but, Lady Vera, is that fair?" plaintively. "You do not know us,
yet you condemn us without a hearing. Mere English prejudice--is it
not?"

She looks around at the handsome face, full of fire and life, and the
sparkling blue eyes. The thoughtful gravity on the lovely face grows
deeper. The dark eyes flash.

"Captain Lockhart, you are talking of what you do not understand," she
says, impatiently.

"I beg your pardon, Lady Vera," he answers, flushing, "I spoke from
the merest impulse. I thought--since you are so very young--you could
not know my country well."

Lady Vera blushes, but holds her peace. Of course, somebody will tell
him her story soon--tell him that her mother was American, and that
she herself had spent seventeen years in his own native land. At least
he shall not hear it from her. She has a vague notion that it would
please him to know it, that the blue eyes whose sparkle she has already
learned to know, would light with pleasure at the knowledge.

Those eyes, how bright and keen they are. They seem to read one's
thoughts. Lady Vera finds her gaze drooping from them as they never
drooped before mortal man's before. Why? she asks herself.

"It is because he is so bold," she decides, vexedly. "He seems to be
trying to read one's inmost thoughts. I will show him that I am not
afraid of him."

Thereupon she lifts the dark eyes bravely to give him a cool society
stare, but in an instant they waver and fall before the glance they
have surprised in his. Just so the blue eyes had turned on her last
night, when he sang:

    "On the banks of Allan Water,
       When the sweet spring tide did fall,
     Was the miller's lovely daughter,
       Fairest of them all!
     For his bride a soldier sought her,
       And a winning tongue had he,
     On the banks of Allan Water
       None so gay as she."

"Why do you stare at me _so_?" she breaks out, angry with herself, and
with him.

He flushes, startled by her _brusquerie_.

"I beg your pardon--I did not mean to be rude," he answers, quietly.
"But, Lady Vera, a man must be blind not to look at _you_."

"Why?" she asks, still sharply.

"Because I think God made all beautiful things for the pleasure of
men's eyes," he answers, firmly, yet respectfully.

"Impertinent!" Vera says to herself, indignantly, and looks another way.

"Do you lay an embargo on my eye-sight as far as you are concerned,
Lady Vera?" he continues, after a moment.

"Yes," she replies, with her head still turned away.

"Then I shall try to obey you," he answers, calmly. "I will not even
see you when I can help it, but you must forgive me for saying that if
I should never see you again I shall never forget a single line of your
face."

"I hope he is not making love to me," Lady Vera says to herself,
uneasily, then laughing at herself. "Of course not; I dare say he has
a sweetheart in his own land, some dear, sweet, angelic creature, like
Ivy Cleveland, perhaps."

They speak no more, and when they have gone once around the square,
Captain Lockhart leaves the earl's daughter at the door with a low
bow. She goes into the house, her cheeks tingling with an odd kind of
shame.

"I was rude, _perhaps_," she thinks, a little uneasily. "What must he
think of English manners? But then why did he look at me so? I felt
so--so strangely."

To Lady Clive, who is trifling over a bit of fancy work, she says,
presently:

"Why did you not tell me you expected your brother?"

Lady Clive glances up under her long lashes at the flushed face, a
gleam of mischief in the blue eyes so much like her brother's.

"It was just like me--to forget it," she exclaims. "But then I knew you
would not be interested. And, besides, I knew he would not be in your
way. Phil is only a plain, blunt soldier--not at all a ladies' man."

"I thought he seemed like _that_ last night," Lady Vera answers,
turning the leaves of a book very fast, and not knowing how ambiguous
is her answer.

"Like _what_?" her friend inquires.

"A ladies' man," Vera answers.

"Did you? Oh, yes, when he is thrown among them he tries to make
himself agreeable, but he does not fall in love, he does not run after
them. When he was with us last season, Lady Eva Clarendon made a dead
set at him. Phil was very civil at first--sang with her, danced with
her, played the agreeable in his careless way, you know. But when he
found she was losing her heart to him, he drew off, terrified--seemed
to think she would marry him, willy-nilly--and went away to Italy, then
back home."

"I should have thought it would have been a grand match for _him_,"
Lady Vera answers, with unconscious emphasis of the pronoun.

Lady Clive's head goes up, slightly.

"For _my_ brother? Not at all, Lady Vera," she answers, with a slight
touch of stiffness in her voice. "Philip met the Clarendons on equal
ground. He is wealthy--that is the first and greatest thing with
people, you know--our great-uncle left him a fortune. Next, he is
well-born, and the general, our father, is famous over two continents.
As for Lady Eva's title, that would not weigh a feather with my
brother. He comes from a land, you know, where native worth and
nobility take precedence over all."

And having thus blandly squelched Lady Vera's arrogance, the American
lady bends smilingly to her lace work again. Lady Vera only smiles. She
cannot feel offended.

"I deserved it all," she thinks, soberly to herself. "Oh! why do I
suffer my hatred of the Clevelands and Leslie Noble to make me venomous
and unjust to every American I meet? I have offended this kind friend
of mine, and been rude to her brother all through my spite against
those wicked people. I wish he would forgive those ridiculous words
I said to him. Not look at me, indeed. How silly! He will think me
wondrous vain."

But Captain Lockhart does not forget. When they meet at dinner again
Vera glances at him shyly several times across the silver and crystal
and flowers, but the blue eyes are always on his plate, or on someone
else's face--never on hers. What though she is lovely as a dream in
pale-blue satin and gleaming pearls? Captain Lockhart is serenely
unconscious of the color of her robe, or the half-repentance in her
starry eyes.

"I cannot blame him," she admits to herself, "I acted like a silly
child."

The days go by, Captain Lockhart and the earl's daughter are merely
civil--they seldom seem to see each other. Each absorbed in the
engagements of the gay season, each drifting further apart in the
whirl, there is no time for pardon or reconciliation. Lady Vera finds
no time for the nursery now save when the soldier is out. Yet she is
ever listening for one step, and the color flies into her cheek when
she hears it.

Lady Clive is perplexed and sorry because her brother and her favorite
do not take to each other.

"I thought they seemed made for each other," she complains, to Sir
Harry. "And I thought I had managed them so cleverly. But they scarcely
seem conscious of each other's existence."

"I hope you are not turning match-maker, Nella," Sir Harry Clive
replies, laughing.

Earl Fairvale sees nothing. Day by day he grows more gloomy, more
self-absorbed, and goes less into society. The only interest in his
life outside of his adored daughter, centers in the occasional letters
that reach him from America. But after each one he grows more sad
and gloomy, losing flesh and color daily. Only Vera knows that the
vengeance that is the object of his life is so long delayed that
the strain on his mind is killing him. For though the most skilled
detectives in the world are watching and working, they can find
no trace of the secure hiding-place where Marcia Cleveland dwells
untroubled by the vengeance from which she has fled.

Lady Vera's roses pale when she sees how her father is breaking
down--how the mind is wearing out the body, even as the sword wears out
the scabbard.

"Father, even if you found out her hiding-place, what could you do?
What form could your revenge take?" she asks him, mournfully, as she
has done many times before.

"I cannot tell--but some way would be opened. I should find some
vulnerable point at which to strike," he answers, moodily.

She twines her fair, white arms about his neck, and presses her fresh
young lips to his clouded brow.

"Father, this long brooding over your revenge, this hatred, nourished
in your heart, is sapping your life," she sighs. "I beg you, for my
sake, to give it up, dear father. Give it up, and leave it to Heaven!"

He looks at the beautiful, tearful eyes and the sweet face, pale now
with its sorrow.

"Vera, you come to me with your mother's face, your mother's voice, and
ask me not to avenge her ruined life, her broken heart, her mournful
death," he answers, bitterly. "Child, you know not what you ask. What
can you know of the pangs I have endured? Have you forgotten, too, the
indignities heaped upon you in your young, defenseless life?"

The dark eyes filled with smouldering wrath.

"No, father, never!" she cries; "but it is all past. Mother is safe in
Heaven, you and I are together. Let us forget those wicked ones. Surely
God will punish them for the ruin they have wrought."

"I will not listen to you, Vera," he says, putting her from him,
resolutely. "I have sworn to break Marcia Cleveland's heart if it be
not made of stone. If I fail--listen to me, darling--if I fail, I shall
bequeath my revenge and my oath to you in dying."

She pales and shivers through all her slight young frame, as if some
dim foreboding came to her of the nearing future--that future in whose
black shadow her feet already tread, it comes so near.

"I shall bequeath it to you," Earl Fairvale repeats, gloomily; "you
will lack no means to accomplish it if only you can find out the
serpent's lair. You will be Countess of Fairvale. You will inherit
great wealth, and an enormous rent-roll. With wealth you can do almost
anything. If I fail you will take up the work where it dropped from my
hand in dying--you, Vera, will avenge the dead."



CHAPTER XII.


One of Earl Fairvale's favorite amusements was riding on horseback. He
had a passion for fast horses. He might often be seen mounted on some
spirited and superb animal, riding in the "Row" by his daughter's side,
who was herself a finished horsewoman.

Sometimes he drove a four-in-hand. Often he might be seen tearing along
at a wild and break-neck pace on some fiery-looking horse that ordinary
people would shudder to look at. But the earl did not know the name
of fear. He seemed to take a reckless delight and gloomy satisfaction
in those wild, John Gilpin-like races, at which others trembled with
dread. He laughed at the fears of his daughter and her friends, and
disregarded their entreaties.

Sir Harry Clive came home one day, his fine face clouded with anxiety.

"The earl has bought a new horse," he said. "It is a beautiful
creature, black as night, glossy as satin, clean-limbed, superb, but
with the most vicious eye conceivable, and a fiery temper. They call
him King."

"I suppose there is no danger to the earl," said his wife. "He has a
marvelous control over his horses. They seem to obey the least touch of
his hand or sound of his voice."

"This animal he has now is not like to be tamed so easily," Sir Harry
answers, gravely. "It is said that he threw his last master and killed
him. Indeed, Nella, you could not imagine a more devilish-looking
creature than this beautiful King. I told Fairvale that its true name
ought to be the Black Devil, for I am sure he looks like one."

Lady Clive shudders.

"Has the earl tried him yet?" she inquires.

"He started out upon him an hour ago," Sir Harry answers. "There were a
score of us who tried to persuade him not to mount the fiery creature.
But he laughed at our fears, and went off in gallant style. King tried
to prevent him from mounting, but he succeeded in first-rate style. Yet
I doubt," gloomily, "if he ever returns alive."

"What will Lady Vera say? She has been so anxious over him, so nervous
of late," sighs Lady Clive.

"You need not tell her," he answers. "No need to alarm her needlessly.
After all, our forebodings may be vain. Fairvale is the most fearless
and accomplished rider I ever saw. He may even conquer King."

But even then the loud and startling peal of the door-bell rings like a
wild alarm through the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Harry's fears have had only too good a foundation. They have picked
up the earl from the hard and flinty pavement, where the maddened brute
had flung him, and brought him home bleeding, senseless--mortally
injured, all the surgeons agree.

And Lady Vera? The shock of the awful tidings had almost rent her heart
in twain. Passing from one swoon into another, she lies on her couch,
white and horror-stricken, shuddering sighs heaving her breast. At last
they come to tell her that the awful stupor is over. He is conscious,
and has asked for her.

"How long?" she asks, faintly, for they have told her that his hours
are numbered.

"Calm yourself, for he cannot bear the least excitement."

But when Vera goes into his presence, and sees him lying so
marble-white, with the black hair tossed back from the high, pale brow,
and the eager, asking eyes fixed upon her anguished face, a great,
choking knot rises into her throat--it seems as if she will choke with
the violence of her repressed emotion.

"Father!" she wails, with a world of grief in that one word, and falls
on her knees by his bed-side.

"I am going from you, dear," he answers, with the strange calmness of
the dying. "The black river of death yawns at my feet. The pale and
mystic boatman is waiting to row me over. Already the cold waves splash
over me. Vera!"

"Father," she answers, placing her hand in the cold one feebly groping
for it.

His hollow, dark eyes roll around the room.

"Are we alone?"

"Alone," she answers, for all the kindly watchers have withdrawn,
leaving father and child to the sweet solace of this last moment
together, undisturbed by alien eyes.

The dark eyes seek hers--sad, wistful, full of vain remorse.

"Vera, I was reckless, mad, defiant of fate. I have thrown my life
away, my poor, blighted life. Can you forgive me, my poor, orphaned
girl?"

Only her stifled sobs answer him.

"I did not mean it, Vera. I was tormented by my burning thoughts, and I
only sought diversion. I thought I could hold the fiery brute in check.
But the devil threw me. No matter; I am to blame. I was too reckless.
But you forgive me, darling?"

She kisses him because she cannot speak.

"I have lost my life," he murmurs, sadly; "lost it before my work on
earth was done. My daughter, you recall what I said to you so short a
while ago?"

She shivers, and lifts her dark, foreboding eyes to his face.

"Yes, father."

"Bring me the Bible from yonder stand, dear. You must swear a solemn
oath."

The beautiful young face quivers with nameless dread and fear.

"Oh, father," she prays, with lifted hands and streaming eyes, "leave
it to Heaven!"

The dark eyes, fast glazing over with the film of death, grow hard and
stern.

"Vera, child of my martyred wife, will you be false to your father's
dying trust? Will you refuse to obey his dying commands?"

"No, father, no," she weeps.

"Then place your hand on this Bible, my darling."

Silently she obeys him, the pale, chill light of the waning day
glimmering in on her ghost-like, pallid face, and the dark eyes full of
pain and despair.

And the voice of the dying man rises strangely on the utter stillness.

"Swear, Vera, swear by all your hopes of happiness, that you will
punish Marcia Cleveland through her dearest affections, that at any
cost to yourself you will avenge your mother's wrongs!"

A gasp; the words die on Lady Vera's parched tongue.

"Speak, my little countess. Repeat my words," he urges, anxiously.

With a terrible effort she murmurs them over:

"I swear, by all my hopes of happiness, that I will punish Marcia
Cleveland through her dearest affections; that at any cost to myself I
will avenge my mother's wrongs!"

She glances down at the loved face for his smile of approval. An icy
hand seems to clutch her heart. Her father has died as the last words
left her lips--died with a smile of triumph on his marble-white face!

One piercing cry of anguish, and the Countess of Fairvale falls
lifeless across the still warm body of the dead.



CHAPTER XIII.


Long days of illness for Lady Fairvale follow upon the tragic episode
of her father's death.

Nights and days go by like utter blanks to her, with only slightly
recurring intervals of consciousness. It has been a great shock to her,
this swift and terrible rending apart of the last filial tie earth
holds for her. Near kindred she has none. Her father's death has seemed
to leave her utterly alone on earth. It is true there is some distant
cousin and heir-at-law who would, no doubt, take it as a favor if she
would die and leave him title and estates, but him she knows not.

"There is no one living who has the least claim upon my affection,"
she thinks, forlornly, to herself that day, when, with agonized heart
she bends to press the last farewell kiss on her father's marble lips;
but even with the words a sudden memory stabs her heart and crushes
her senseless to the floor with the silent whisper of one name--Leslie
Noble!

That feared and dreaded name has power to blanch poor Vera's cheek and
drive the blood from her heart at any moment.

"What if, dazzled by my wealth and title, he should come and claim
me?" is her dreadful thought, never dreaming of that stately monument
in fair and flowery Glenwood, on which Leslie Noble has caused to be
inscribed the simple name of:

             "VERA,
      WIFE OF LESLIE NOBLE.
  Died, ---- --th, 18--; aged 17."

thus trying to atone to the dead in some slight measure for the
pitiful, unmanly cowardice that had driven her desperate.

But after that terrible brain fever, that great struggle between the
opposing forces of life and death, Vera lies still upon her couch with
wide, dark eyes that look out from her small, white face drearily upon
the world--the great, wicked world in which, though she has so much
wealth and power, she cannot claim so much as a single true friend.

"Unless Lady Clive be one," she muses, "and--and," but then she stops,
and takes herself to task because she has so strangely thought of
Captain Lockhart just then.

"Where can he be?" she wonders. "Perhaps he has taken himself off to
livelier quarters. The house must have been as dull as a tomb while I
lay so ill. I wonder if Lady Clive will ever forgive me for spoiling
her 'season' like this."

She propounds this latter question gravely to Lady Clive herself, who
responds with an encouraging smile, and the gay little answer:

"I will try."

But when she sees how pale and wistful is Countess Vera's lovely face,
she folds her in her arms and kisses her.

"My dear, do not give a thought to _that_," she says. "There is nothing
to forgive, believe me. I am very glad that you were with us when you
fell sick. I have nursed you with all the love and tenderness I could
have given a sister."

Why should Countess Vera's heart beat so fast at the thought of being
Lady Clive's sister, and why should her pale cheeks flush, and the
grateful words falter on her lips?

"We all love you," her friend goes on kindly. "The children have been
dolorous over you. 'When will Vera come and see us again?' they ask
every day. Have you looked at the pretty bouquets they sent in for you
this morning?"

Lady Vera smiles assent. Fresh flowers are brought to her room every
morning, and they tell her the children send them. But there are only
three children, and always four bouquets. Vera asks no questions but
she knows that the fourth one is always the largest and sweetest.
To-day it is of crimson rose-buds, mixed with heliotrope and pansies,
for there is always some blending of her favorite flower.

"You do not know how much we miss you from our home circle," the
charming Lady Clive resumes, vivaciously. "You must not leave us when
you get well, dear. Make your home with us until you get settled for
life. You will be so lonely if you try to live alone with a chaperon.
Won't you promise to stay?"

"I will think of it," Lady Vera answers, gratefully, while tears rise
to her dark eyes.

Lady Clive comes to sit with her often, sending away the prim nurse,
and installing herself in her place. She chats vivaciously, retailing
bits of society gossip, telling of all the great people who have left
cards of condolence for the young countess, of the lovers who are all
_desoles_ over her illness; of Sir Harry's regret and the children's
clamorous despair. But, strange to say, she utterly forgets the
existence of her brother, Captain Lockhart, or, perhaps, deems the
subject uninteresting to her guest.

He has gone away, Lady Vera tells herself; yet she, in some vague way,
feels that he has not. She hears a step in the hall outside her door
sometimes--a manly step that is not Sir Harry Clive's, but which has
a firm, remembered ring in it that has power to send the warm blood
flying from her heart to her face.

When she is well enough to sit up in her white dressing-gown, lying
back in a great, cushioned arm-chair, the children are admitted to see
her. They spend a noisy five minutes with their friend, then the nurse
bundles them out, closing the door on their clamorous tongues, but not
so quickly but that Countess Vera catches Mark's disgusted dictum in
the hall:

"Oh, Uncle Phil! Vera isn't a bit pretty any more. Her face is all
white and thin, and her eyes are _so_ big."

So he is here. Her subtle intuitions had been right.

Impulsively she turns to the prim old nurse.

"Open that door, and ask Captain Lockhart to come in here."

He comes, eager, smiling, filled with wonder, yet outwardly calm.

"You are very kind; you permit me to share the children's treat," he
says. "May I----" then he pauses, confused.

"Look at me? yes, do," she says, crimsoning painfully. "I want you to
tell me--is it true what Mark said--that I am not pretty any more?"

The blue eyes meet hers with the old, strange look that always made her
heart beat against her will.

"Mark is a little dunce," he answers, smiling. "He has no eye for
anything but roses. I assure you, Lady Vera, that you are as beautiful
in your pallor and delicacy as you were in health. More beautiful to
me," he adds, his voice falling slightly lower "because now you are
kind."

"Kind!"

She arches her dark brows slightly in surprise.

"Yes," he answers. "Did you not know how I have been longing for a
sight of your face, Lady Vera? But I dared not ask, and now you allow
me to see you of your own free will. You cannot guess how much I thank
you."

His voice trembles with feeling. The countess, blushing in spite of
herself, tries to make light of it all.

"I did not think of _les proprietes_ when I called you in here," she
stammers. "My vanity was so alarmed by Mark's terrible speech that I
forgot everything. I think you must go now."

But he lingers.

"Won't you come down into the library?" persuasively. "We could all
amuse you there. You could lie on the sofa with a warm shawl over you,
and we would read aloud to you, or sing, or play--whatever pleased you
most. It must be dull for you here with your sick fancies. Will you
come?"

What an atmosphere of cheerfulness he has brought into the sick-room.

Lady Vera's heart that has lain numb and chill, and hopeless in her
breast so long, seems to warm itself to life again in the sunlight of
his smile.

"I will go, if Lady Clive thinks it prudent," she declares.

Lady Clive--that astute general--on being consulted, puts on the
gravest face over her well-pleased mind, and declares that Lady
Vera may venture to-morrow, perhaps, and so gives Captain Lockhart
twenty-four hours of the pleasures of anticipation, which philosophers
declare exceed those of reality.

With to-morrow begins a love-idyl, one of the sweetest ever enacted,
perhaps, and the most innocent, for Lady Vera is unconscious of it all,
nor dreams that love is near. Captain Lockhart is no bold nor intrusive
lover. He does not weary Lady Vera with his company or attentions,
oftener than not leaving her to the companionship of his sister. But
when he enters the room it is always brighter for his coming; when
he reads, the volume gains a new interest; when he sings, she lies
with closed eyelids, and wonders why she had ever fancied she would
dislike this pleasant, agreeable gentleman, with his handsome face, his
scholarly mind and chivalrous manner.

"It is very pleasant having such a friend," she thinks, within her
innocent, unconscious heart. "I was so lonely losing dear papa, and
having not one true heart to turn to in my sorrow."

A remembrance of her oath of vengeance comes into her mind, and a
troubled look sweeps over the fair, young face. It weighs upon her like
a burden--the legacy of hate her dying father has left her. How shall
she ever keep her vow?

"Shall I go to America and seek my enemies who are so securely hidden
away that even detectives cannot find them?" she asks herself. "Or
shall I lie passive and wait? and when found, how shall I strike Marcia
Cleveland's cruel heart?"

Alas! poor Vera, if you only knew the dreadful truth. If you only
guessed how, in wounding your enemy's heart, you must fatally stab your
own, you might pray to die now while the pulses of life are low, ere
life became a living death. Well for us that:

    "Heaven from all creatures hides the book of fate."

And the pretty idyl goes on. Lady Vera's morbid thoughts are drawn out
of herself, and lifted to a higher plane by Philip Lockhart's cheerful,
active mind. The weeks round into a month, and she is almost well
again. The color and roundness of youth have come back to her cheek,
the light of a strange, new, unconscious happiness is dawning in the
darkness of her eyes.



CHAPTER XIV.


Far away from the spot where Countess Vera broods over her oath of
vengeance, in far America, away in the green heart of the langourous
south, is the white marble palace where Mrs. Cleveland and her daughter
dwelt, hidden from the knowledge of the man they had wronged, and who
had sworn to bring home to them the ruin they had wrought.

To-day, a lovely morning in the autumn of that summer in which the
Earl of Fairvale died, Mrs. Cleveland comes out on the piazza of her
stately southern home, with a frown upon her brow. Behind her, in the
magnificent saloon she has just quitted, high words are raging.

"You never loved me, or you would do as I wish you," wails the weak
voice of Ivy to her husband, as, dissolved in tears, she flings herself
upon a costly sofa.

"I begin to think I never did, but all the same you and your mother
have ruined me by your cursed extravagance. I have not a thousand
dollars to my name in bank. This place will have to be sold and we can
live on the proceeds a little longer, perhaps," Leslie Noble answers,
in a sharp, high-pitched voice, as he strides up and down the floor,
cursing within his heart the weak fancy that had led him to marry this
shrewish creature.

"Ruined! I do not believe one word of it!" Mrs. Noble breaks out,
starting up and glaring at him with her pale, blue eyes. "It is a
falsehood you have trumped up to keep from taking mamma and me to
Europe where our hearts are just breaking to go! You know very well we
have not spent a fortune in the little year and a half we have been
married. We couldn't have done it."

"We _have_ done it, anyhow," he answers, sullenly. "It was no difficult
manner, considering the way in which you and your mother have forced me
to live. Furniture fit for a palace, jewels costly enough for a queen,
entertainments costing thousand of dollars, recklessly repeated over
and over. We are at the end of the line at last, and you may yet have
to take in washing for a living."

"You brute!" she exclaims, flashing him a glance of wrath and scorn.
"To begrudge us the pleasant time we have had! I did not know you could
be so mean and stingy! Of course I knew that your bachelor uncle in
Philadelphia--the one you are named for--would leave you his money
when he died. I wish he would die now. He's mortally slow about it. I
should think he must be a hundred years old."

"Good God, Ivy! what a heartless and mercenary woman you are!" her
husband cries, stormily. "That poor old man, my uncle, who never harmed
living soul, how dare you wish for his death? Upon my soul, I am
tempted to write to him to leave his money to some orphan asylum or art
gallery just to disappoint your hopes."

"You would not dare!" she sobs, hysterically.

"Try me too far, and see what I will not dare," he answers,
threateningly, and she stops her sobbing and looks up, fearfully, at
the dark, handsome face bent sternly upon her with two smouldering
fires in his gloomy black eyes.

It is not as handsome and refined a face as Leslie Noble could boast of
two years ago. There are lines of dissipation on it. There is a certain
hardness and coarseness upon it, as if engendered by ill-nature and the
free indulgence of evil passions. Association with such a woman as Ivy
Cleveland would naturally bring that look into a man's face. Coarse,
selfish, and unprincipled herself, she has dragged the man's weak,
easily-moulded nature down upon a level with her own.

"When I married you, Ivy," pursues Mr. Noble, "I desired to take you to
Europe on a bridal tour, but you and your mother, for no earthly reason
that I can imagine, declined to go. You refused my offers to take you
to my own home in Philadelphia, preferring, as you said, the sunny
south for a home. Now you have changed your minds, and declare American
life monotonous and unendurable, and fancy you would like to figure in
the courts of Europe. You had just as well cry for the moon. You have
recklessly dissipated your own property and mine, and must bear the
consequences. I cannot afford to take you abroad, and I do not desire
to be badgered about it any longer."

"You shall hear about it day and night until I get my wish," Ivy cries,
with passionate defiance. "Sell this house and all our fine furniture
if you choose. It will bring enough with what you have in bank to
afford us a brilliant season in London. Then by the time we return old
Noble will have died, perhaps, and left us his fortune."

"Did I not tell you I will not have Uncle Leslie's death counted on so
coarsely?" cries Mr. Noble, furiously. "You are a perfect harpy."

"And you are a brute!" Mrs. Noble retorts. "Aren't you ashamed to call
your wife such names? and you pretended to be in love with me when you
married me, you cruel, unfeeling wretch!"

"You dropped your mask as soon as I made you my wife, and showed me
what you really were," Leslie Noble answers, with bitter anger and
scorn. "I was only a tool for you, and a stepping-stone to power. Your
mother's money was well-nigh exhausted, and you married me so that you
could squander mine. Then, too, you have the most horrible temper in
the world. Do you think any man could continue to love such a woman?"

"How dare you talk to poor, dear Ivy so cruelly?" Mrs. Cleveland
exclaims, stepping back through the low, French window, and glaring at
her son-in-law with tigerish hate in her keen, black eyes. "You have
frightened her into hysterics, you unfeeling wretch!"

"I would thank you not to interfere between me and my wife," he
answers, stung to defiance by the insolence of both mother and
daughter. "You have always thrust yourself into my affairs. You have
been the power behind the throne and moved Ivy like a puppet at your
will. I wish to Heaven you would go away and leave us to fight our own
battles. It would be something to be rid of even one of you!"

A scream of rage from Ivy, who proceeds to roll on the floor in violent
hysterics. Such scenes as these are of frequent occurrence, but Mr.
Noble has seldom spoken his mind so plainly, especially on the subject
of his mother-in-law. There is no telling what might have happened,
for Mrs. Cleveland looks furious enough to spring upon the offender
and rend him limb from limb, but at this moment there appears upon the
scene a messenger with one of those yellow-covered envelopes which
carry joy or sorrow to so many hearts.

"A telegram," Mr. Noble exclaims, and tears it hurriedly open.

As he reads, a look of sorrow, strangely blended with relief, comes out
upon his features. His wife, forgetful of her sham hysterics, springs
up and regards him, intently.

"A telegram! From whom? And what does it mean?" she exclaims.

"It is from my lawyer," Mr. Noble answers, bitterly, "and it means
that the devil takes care of his own so well that you will be able to
gratify your latest whim. My uncle is dead and has left me his whole
fortune."

"Glorious news!" Mrs. Cleveland and her daughter echo with one accord.



CHAPTER XV.


Some hints of autumn are in the soft, warm airs that blow through the
smoke and heat of London. The fashionable season is over, and the gay
butterflies of fashion have begun to seek "fresh fields and pastures
new." Lady Clive begins to think of flitting with the rest.

It has been settled that the Countess of Fairvale shall remain with the
Clives for the autumn and winter months at least. She is in mourning
for her father, and is quite settled in her mind at first that she will
go home to her ancestral castle and spend the period of retirement in
strict seclusion with a proper chaperon. But the Clives will not hear
of it. Lady Clive is afraid that she will mope herself to death.

"Besides, I shall be so lonely," she declares. "Philip is going back
soon to his own home, and we shall have no young people with us at
all if Lady Vera leaves us, too. My dear, do say that you will stay.
We are not going to be very gay this season. Sir Harry and I want to
take the children down to our country home, where they may roll in
the grass to their hearts' content. Let us invite two or three sweet
young girls, and as many young men, to go down with us, and we can have
such a charming time, with picnics and lawn tennis, and simple country
pleasures. Then, after awhile, we will go to Switzerland and climb the
Alps. What say you, my little countess?"

Lady Vera, so ardently pressed, yields a gentle assent, and the
party of "sweet, young girls" and eligible young men is immediately
organized, Captain Lockhart promising to go down with them and remain a
week before he returns to America.

So in the late summer they go down to Sunny Bank, as the Clives call
the large, rambling, ornate pile of white buildings that is the
sweetest home in all Devonshire.

The children go mad with delight over the fragrant grass and the
autumnal flowers. The young people begin to pair off in couples, and
one day Vera goes for a walk with the American soldier.

She is looking her fairest and sweetest. A dress of soft, rich,
lusterless black drapes her slender figure superbly, and the round,
white column of her throat rises lily-like from the thin, soft ruche
of black around it, her face appearing like some rare flower beneath
the shade of her wide, black Gainsborough hat. No wonder that Captain
Lockhart's dark blue eyes return again and again to that delicately
lovely face.

    "It is no wonder," said the lords,
    "She is more beautiful than day."

They walk slowly down the green, country lane, bordered with oak and
holly. The flowers are beginning to fade, and the air is sweet with
their pungent fragrance. The sky is deeply blue, with little, white,
silvery clouds sailing softly over it. The sun is shining sweet and
warm as if it were May. Little birds are singing blithely for joy as if
the spring-time had come again.

"Do you know that this is the first time I have walked by your side
since that day last spring, when you were so cruel to me?" he asks,
breaking a long interval of silence that has been perilously sweet.

"Cruel?" she says, lifting to his the half-shy gaze of the dark and
dreamy eyes.

"Yes, cruel, for you forbade me even to look at you," he answers,
smiling now over that past pain in the eager elation of the present.
"Ah, Lady Vera, you did not know then, perhaps, what a cross you laid
upon me--that I loved you even then so dearly----"

"Hush!" she cries, in such a startled voice that he pauses and looks
around to see what has frightened her.

"What is it, Lady Vera? Has anything alarmed you?" he asks her,
anxiously.

"Nothing, but that I am tired. I will sit down here on this mossy
log, and rest a moment," she answers, sinking wearily down, a sudden
paleness chasing the roses from her cheeks. Captain Lockhart throws
himself down on the short, velvety, green turf at her feet. There
ensues a short silence, broken only by the hum of the busy insects, the
song of the birds, and the soft rustle of a passing wind in the leaves
overhead.

There is some embarrassment in their silence. Her cry of alarm has
been so sharp and sudden that he does not know how to return to the
interrupted subject. And yet his heart is so full of it.

He looks into the lovely, spirited young face, and he cannot keep the
words back any longer.

He turns to her suddenly, and tells her the story of his love in
burning words, whose eloquent fire brooks no check nor remonstrance.
His face glows under its soldierly brown, his blue eyes darken with
feeling, his voice trembles with passion, but when he pauses, Lady
Vera, who has heard him through with tightly clenched hands and a
strangely blanched face, can only falter:

"You love me, Captain Lockhart? I thought--that we were only friends."

The frightened, wondering voice falls like ice upon his heart.

"Only friends," he echoes, "when I have loved you since the first hour
I saw you. Oh, Lady Vera, do not grow so pale! Is it strange that I
should love you? Others have been as wild and presumptuous as I have.
Others have come down before the fire of those dark eyes, slain by
their beauty. I know you have been cold, indifferent to all, even to me
at first. But when you thawed to me at last, when you were kindly and
friendly----"

"Yes, that was all," she interrupts him, in a kind of frantic haste. "I
was kind and friendly, that was all. I meant no more, believe me."

The soldier's blue eyes look at her with a keen reproach before which
her own glance wavers and falls.

"Lady Vera, you are no coquette," he exclaims, "and yet I could swear
that you have given me encouragement to hope that you would love me.
Do you remember the beautiful poems of love I have read to you, with
my very heart on my lips? Do you remember the songs I have sung to
you, and the dreamy twilights when we sat and talked together? Do you
remember how you have worn the flowers I brought you? You have blushed
and smiled for me as you did for no other, and you are no coquette. Oh,
my darling, surely you will love me?"

As he talks to her, the color goes from white to red, and red to white
in her beautiful face. Her lips quiver, the tears spring into her eyes.

"You are blaming me," she says, incoherently, "but you have no right. I
know nothing of love. I thought we were only friends. I am so sorry."

"Do you mean to say you do not love me, that you did not know I loved
you, and was seeking you for my wife, Lady Vera?" he asks, with forced
calmness.

"Yes, I mean all these things," she answers, looking at him with such
wide, frank, innocent eyes that he can find no room for doubt.

He is puzzled for a moment.

"I have deceived myself," he sighs, inly. "I thought she was learning
to love me."

"Lady Vera, I have been too hopeful," he says, manfully. "I have been
thinking of love while you dreamed only of friendship. But now that you
know my heart, will you not suffer me to woo you for my bride? I love
you so dearly I am sure I could make you happy."

Ah! the fathomless pain that comes into the dark eyes into which he
gazes so tenderly. He cannot understand it.

"I shall never marry, Captain Lockhart," she answers, in a low, pained
voice. "There is no use to woo me. I can never be yours."

"Never!" he echoes, with despair in his voice.

"I shall never marry anyone," she repeats, mournfully.

He looks at her with all his passionate heart in his eyes.

"Never is a terrible word, Lady Vera," he answers sadly. "Only think
how I love you. I have never loved anyone before in all my life, and
I shall never love anyone again. You are my first and last love. Only
think how terrible it is, how cruelly hard, for me to give up the hopes
of winning you for my own. You are so beautiful and noble, my dark-eyed
love. I have dreamed of kissing your small, white hands, your fair,
white brow, your golden hair, even your beautiful, crimson lips. I had
thought to win you for my very own, and now you strike dead every hope
by that cruel word, _never_. Oh, my darling, you are too young to say
you will never wed. What can you know of the needs of your own heart?
Let me teach you to love me."

"Ah, if he only knew the fatal truth," the tortured young heart moans
to itself, in the silence of its great despair. "If he knew that I am
already bound by a tie that I hate and loathe."

But she speaks no word, only to look up at him with pained, dark eyes,
and reiterate:

"I am very sorry I have caused you pain, Captain Lockhart, but I shall
never marry."

He rises and looks down at her with his handsome face grown strangely
pale and grave, his blue eyes dim and heavy.

"So be it, Lady Vera," he answers, folding his arms across his broad
breast. "You know what is best for you, but, ah, lovely one, if you
could know how sweet were the hopes you have slain this hour you could
not choose but weep over my saddened life."

She put up her white hand imploringly.

"Forbear, Captain Lockhart. You cannot guess what pangs are aching in
my breast or you would spare me your reproaches. Be pitiful and leave
me."

"Not here," he says, looking up and down the flowery lane. "Let me take
you back to the house, Lady Vera. We cannot trust these autumnal skies.
It may rain at any moment."

"As you will," she answers, wearily, and rising, retraces her steps by
his side. But this time they speak no word to each other and the fair
young countess flies up to her room, and flings herself down on her
couch to weep such tears as have never rained from those lovely eyes
before, for a great happiness and a great sorrow have come into her
life, as it were, together.

"For I love him," she moans to herself. "I love him, but as Heaven
sees me, I did not know it. It all came to me like a flash when he was
telling me how he loved me. Oh, God, what happiness is possible to me,
and yet beyond my reach."

She lies still weeping bitterly, and recalling in all its bitterness
that midnight marriage by the side of her dying mother.

"Oh! what a blind mistake it was," she weeps. "But for Leslie Noble
I might marry the man I love. I might go back to America with him. I
might tell him the story of my oath of vengeance, and he would help me
to find my enemy and punish her for her sin."

The day drags wearily. In the afternoon Vera goes down to the library
in search of something to read. Gliding softly in she finds it tenanted
by Captain Lockhart, who is busy over a fresh batch of papers from the
United States. He glances up as she is about withdrawing, and springs
to his feet with courteous grace.

"Pray do not let me frighten you, Lady Vera. I will take my budget of
papers, and be off," he exclaims.

"No, I do not wish to disturb you," she answers. "I am in search of
something to read myself."

"Pray take your choice from among my papers," he replies, gravely, but
kindly, and half-listlessly Lady Vera turns them over and selects one
at random.

Captain Lockhart places a chair for her and returns to his reading,
thinking that the best way to place her at her ease. His heart yearns
over the beautiful, pale, suffering face, but he does not dream of her
sorrow, and he has no right to comfort her, so he turns his glance
away, and, looking round again a little later, sees that Countess Vera
has quietly swooned away in her chair, and that the American newspaper
has slipped from her lap to the floor.

With a startled cry that brings Lady Clive rushing into the room, he
springs to his feet. Lady Vera's swoon is a long and deep one, and
they wonder much over its cause, but no one dreams that the American
newspaper has caused it all. Yet the listless gaze of the unhappy
girl roving over the list of deaths in a Philadelphia paper has found
one line that struck dumb, for a moment, the sources of life in their
fountains. It was only this:

"Died, at his residence on Arch street, on the 19th instant _Leslie
Noble_."



CHAPTER XVI.


Lady Vera waking from her long and death-like swoon, wakens also to
a dream of happiness. The terrible incubus that weighed upon her so
heavily is lifted from her heart. The loveless fetter that bound her is
snapped asunder. Leslie Noble, whose very name has been a shuddering
horror to her for more than two years, is dead, and she is free--free!
What exquisite possibilities of happiness thrill her heart at the very
thought!

She keeps her room that evening, pleading weariness as an excuse for
not appearing at dinner. She wants time to think over the joyful change
in her prospects before she meets Captain Lockhart again. She is
scarcely herself now. Such a strange, tremulous, passionate happiness
is thrilling through her heart as makes her nervous with its intensity.
Little shafts of fire seem thrilling through her veins. Love, which
she had thought never to experience, has taken up its dwelling in her
heart, and every nerve thrills with its unspeakable rapture.

"And I was so blind, I thought it only friendship!" the fair young
countess murmurs to herself, with a happy smile playing around her
lips. "How happy he will be when I tell him that I love him, and that
I will be his wife! It cannot be wrong for me to marry him. I am sure
he will help me to my vengeance when I tell him of the oath I swore by
my father's death-bed. Dear Philip, how grand and handsome he is! He is
the noblest of men!"

Lady Clive, having privately questioned her brother as to Vera's
fainting fit, and received no satisfaction, is at her wits' end! Why
this terrible swoon, when she had deemed Lady Vera well and strong
again?

She wonders even more when the young girl appears at breakfast the next
morning. Never had the young countess appeared so enchantingly lovely.
Clothed in a delicate, white morning dress, with purple pansies at her
throat and waist, and all her glorious golden hair floating loosely
about her perfect form, with a blush of happiness on her cheeks, and
the shy light of tenderness in her splendid eyes, it seemed to all as
if her peerless beauty had received a new dower of glory. All wondered,
but none knew that the threatening cloud that had overshadowed her life
so long had rolled away, and that it was the new light of hope that
made her face so radiant.

"You look unusually well, my dear. There is no trace of your illness
left this morning," Lady Clive exclaims, with her usual charming good
nature, as Lady Vera glides into her seat.

A blush and smile of acknowledgement from the young girl. She glances
shyly under her long lashes at Captain Lockhart, who is her _vis-a-vis_
at table. But the handsome soldier, after one slight glance and a
courtly bow, does not seem to see her. Miss Montgomery, who sits next
him, absorbs his attention this morning. She is a belle and beauty,
and has long angled for Captain Lockhart. Seeing Lady Vera so gay and
smiling, he resolves not to damp her pleasure by a sight of his own
grave, troubled face, so he lends himself assiduously to the coquette's
efforts to amuse him, succeeding so well in his plan that she is
completely blinded, and murmurs to herself with sudden bitterness:

"He is flirting with Miss Montgomery to show me how little he cares for
my rejection. Ah, well, if he is satisfied, I am!"

So the first seeds of pride are sown in her heart by a coquette's petty
arts.

    "Alas! how slight a cause may move
     Dissension between hearts that love!"

"I had meant to win him back to my side," she thinks, with a sudden
sigh. "I would not have told him so in so many words, but I thought to
let him see that I repented after all, and that--I love him! I fear me
I am too late after all. Oh, that he had not spoken yesterday. If only
he had waited until to-day!"

After breakfast they organized a riding-party. Captain Lockhart rides
by Miss Montgomery's side, the countess goes with Lord Gordon--poor
Lord Gordon, who has long been waiting for this chance to put his fate

        "To the test,
    And win or lose it all."

How lovely she was in her sable habit and streaming feather. Though
Captain Lockhart rode attentive by Miss Montgomery's side, he could not
help seeing her beauty and repeating to himself Tennyson's exquisite
lines:

    "As she fled fast through sun and shade,
     The happy winds upon her played,
     Blowing the ringlet from the braid,
     She looked so lovely as she swayed
       The rein with dainty finger tips,
     A man had given all other bliss,
     And all his worldly wealth for this;
     To waste his whole heart in one kiss
       Upon her perfect lips."

"And yet after all, in her quiet, proud way, she must be a flirt," he
thinks to himself, with subdued bitterness. "How bright and gay she
appeared this morning, as if careless of my sorrow, and almost exulting
in it. I thought she had more feeling. And, indeed, she appeared to
smile on my suit, though she was coy and cold at first. See now how
charming she is with Lord Gordon. Poor fellow, he has long been seeking
a chance to propose to her. Well, he will find it to-day, and she will
ruthlessly trample his heart as she did mine yesterday."

Sweet, innocent Vera, how fast the springing hopes of last night and
this morning are turning to dead sea fruit upon thy lips.

Lord Gordon speaks and receives his answer. Lady Vera is very sorry to
pain him, but she has no heart to give.

Captain Lockhart sees the shadow on the fair, English face of the young
lord, and is secretly conscious of a savage satisfaction.

She has refused him, too. She is too cold and proud to love any one, he
tells himself.

"Are you really going to-morrow, Lockhart?" Lord Gordon asks him in the
drawing-room, that evening.

"Yes, I am really going," he answers, and never dreams of the wild
throb Lady Vera's heart gives beneath its silken bodice.

"Why don't you ask me to go with you?" Lord Gordon continues,
good-naturedly. "I have long contemplated a tour of the United States.
I am _ennuyed_ to death. I should like a taste of a different life."

"I shall be glad of your company, and you will be quite likely to have
a taste of something different if you go with me," laughs Captain
Lockhart. "Father writes me that my regiment may be ordered out on the
plains to fight the Indians next month."

"Ugh! those horrid savages!" the ladies cry, all but Lady Vera.

She raises the black satin fan a little higher before her face, and
leans back in her chair, indifferent, to all appearance, but, oh, with
such a deadly pain tearing at her heart-strings.

"To lose him like this," she moans to herself, "it is too dreadful. Oh,
if I had even ten minutes alone with him, I would make him understand
the truth. He should not leave me!"

But Captain Lockhart, stealing a furtive glance at the beautiful face
in its high-bred repose, tells himself sadly:

"She is utterly indifferent to what fate I meet. Beautiful as she is,
she must be utterly heartless."

"Then if you like to have me I will be ready to go with you to-morrow,
Lockhart," Lord Gordon announces, and gives Lady Vera one gloomy glance
and heavy sigh.

It is for her sake he is going. Since she is not for him he means to
try and forget her.

But Lady Vera, in the keen smart of her own pain is oblivious to his.

She rises and slips through the low, French window out upon the
balcony, and sits down in the darkness not heavier than her thoughts.

Presently low voices float out to her from the curtained recesses of
the window--Captain Lockhart's and Lord Gordon's.

"Rather a sudden resolution, isn't it, this trip across the water?" in
Lockhart's clear, full voice.

"Well, yes," in Gordon's voice. "I'm running away from myself, you
understand. I fancy we are sailing in the same boat, eh, old fellow?"

"Yes," Captain Lockhart answers, quietly.

"I thought so. Saw that you were hard hit. What are you going to do
about it?"

"Nothing," Captain Lockhart answers, with grim pleasantry. "I am a
soldier. I look for wounds upon the field of battle."

"Has she really a heart, do you think?" Lord Gordon pursues. "The
fellows raved about her last season in London. She refused Greyhurst
and a score of others as eligible. She must be very cold."

"I fancy so," Captain Lockhart answers, dryly. "A beautiful iceberg."

"Few women would have refused you, Lockhart. There was the beautiful
Clarendon year before last, and now the charming Montgomery ready to
fling herself at your head."

"Spare my modesty, Lord Gordon. You are calling in the aid of your
imagination now. Cannot we have some music to beguile the moments of
our last evening at Sunny Bank?"

They pass away to another portion of the room.

Lady Vera sits silent, brooding over the words she has heard.

"How coolly they discussed their rejection," she thinks. "Lord Gordon
wondered if I had a heart. Captain Lockhart called me a beautiful
iceberg. Perhaps he does not care much. How carelessly he said that he
was a soldier and expected wounds upon the field of battle. Perhaps he
does not mind it, now that it is over. I remember that one of the poets
has written:

    "Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,
     'Tis woman's whole existence."

The moon comes out and shines upon her, sitting sad and lonely, with
her white hands folded across her black dress. Two quiet tears tremble
upon her lashes, and fall upon her cheeks.

"If I were a fatalist," she thinks, "I should believe that my life is
destined to lie always in the shadow. I have never known an hour of
perfect happiness."

No one seems to miss her. In the drawing-room they are singing. Miss
Montgomery's pretty soprano blends softly with the soldier's superb
tenor.

The pretty, sentimental song dies away into silence presently.

There is some careless talk and laughter. Again the piano keys thrill
under the firm touches of a man, and this time Captain Lockhart sings
alone, sings with such passion and fervor as Lady Vera has never heard
before, sings with his whole heart trembling on his lips, and she feels
within her heart that it is his farewell to her:

    "I love thee, I love thee,
       Far better than wine;
     But the curse is above,
       Thou'lt never be mine.

    "As the blade wears the scabbard,
       The billow the shore,
     So sorrow doth fret me
       Forevermore.

    "Fair beauty, I leave thee
       To conquer my heart;
     I'll see thee, I'll bless thee,
       And then depart.

    "Let me take, ere I vanish,
       One look of thine eyes--
     One smile for remembrance,
       For life soon flies.

    "And now for the fortune
       That hangeth above,
     And to bury in battle
       My dreams of love."

"Does he know that I am here?" she asks herself. "Perhaps he meant me
to hear what he said just now. A beautiful iceberg, that is what he
thinks me."

Someone misses Lady Vera, perhaps the significance of the soldier's
song recalls her to mind; they go out to seek her, the giddy girls, who
cannot guess how she has stolen out to bear her pain alone.

"Here she is, hiding from us," they cry. "Come, Lady Vera, it is your
turn now to sing."

"I--cannot," she murmurs, faintly.

"No such obstinacy can be tolerated," they reply. "Lord Gordon and
Captain Lockhart leave us to-morrow and everyone must contribute to
their entertainment to-night. Only one song, Lady Vera, then we will
excuse you."

She hesitates for a moment. Then a thought flashes over her mind.

"He sang to me," she thinks. "Why cannot I sing to him? Surely he must
understand me then."

She suffers them to persuade her, and Lord Gordon comes forward to turn
the leaves of the music. She shakes her head.

"I will sing some simple thing from memory," she says, and then he
takes her fan and retains his place near her on that small pretext.
His eyes linger on her beauty, the proud throat and fair face rising
lily-like from the somber black dress.

She touches the white keys softly with her slim, white fingers. A
plaintive melody rises, a mournful, minor chord; she sings with sudden,
passionate fervor, some simple, pathetic words:

    "I strove to tear thee from my heart,
       The effort was in vain,
     The spell was ever on my life,
       And I am here again.

    "Oh, I have ranged in countries strange,
       And vowed no more to meet,
     But power was in thy parting glance
       To bring me to thy feet.

    "We cannot go against love's will
       When he has bound us fast;
     Forgive the thought that did thee wrong
       And be my own at last!"

She glances up. If she can point the words by even one deep glance into
her lover's eyes, all may yet be well. But Miss Montgomery, as if in
malice prepense, has suddenly risen and leaned against the piano just
before the singer's eyes. Captain Lockhart, standing with folded arms
across the room, is out of the range of her vision. Lady Vera rises
in despair. Her innocent little plan has failed. All hope dies in her
breast.

She sits down in a quiet corner, and Lord Gordon insists on fanning
her, and showing her a new portfolio of engravings. This is his last
evening with her, and like the reckless moth that he is, he singes his
wings in the flame of her beauty.

Someone calls him away at last, and the girl's heart gives a great,
muffled throb of relief. She is alone for the moment, in the quiet
alcove, half hidden by the white lace curtain. Will Captain Lockhart
come to her now? she asks herself, with a wildly-beating heart.

He sees her sitting there in her black dress and lily-white beauty, the
light shining down on her golden head and star-like face. Some impulse
stronger than his pride moves him to cross the room to her side. She
glances up with a smile so dazzling in its joy, that Tennyson's lines
rush into his mind:

    "What if with her sunny hair,
       And smile as sunny as cold,
     She meant to weave me a snare
       Of some coquettish deceit,
     Cleopatra-like, as of old,
       To entangle me when we met,
     To have her lion roll in a silken net,
       And fawn at a victor's feet?"

He sits down in Lord Gordon's vacant chair, the little stand with the
portfolio of new engravings and a vase of roses just between them. The
countess takes one of the crimson roses and plays with it to hide her
nervousness. She does not think how beautiful her slender, white hands
look playing with the red leaves of the rose.

The handsome soldier is for once embarrassed. That smile which she had
thought would tell him all has only puzzled him.

"Is she only a coquette, after all?" he asks himself. "Is she trying to
draw me into the toils again that she may see how great is her power?"

With that thought he grows cold and hard toward her.

"Lady Vera, do you know that you are very cruel to that poor rose?" he
asks.

"Am I? I did not mean to be," she answers, gently, looking down at the
torn petals strewing her lap. "I did not really think what I was doing."

"You had better give it to me, I will care for it more tenderly," he
pursues.

"Not this, but a sweeter one," she answers, with a beating heart.

Her white hands flutter over the vase a moment, and she selects a
lovely scarlet one just opening into perfect bloom.

Bending her head with regal grace, she touches the rose to the crimson
flower of her lips and holds it toward him.

Something in the strange significance of the action strikes him oddly.
An eager, impetuous speech springs to his lips, but Miss Montgomery,
who has seen the rose given, comes hastily up to them, interrupting him.

"Lord Gordon has been telling me of those beautiful new engravings. May
I look at them, Lady Vera, if I do not interrupt your _tete-a-tete_?"
she asks with sweet unconsciousness.

"Certainly. Pray take my seat," Lady Vera answers with icy coldness,
moving away.

Captain Lockhart is about to follow her when the fair marplot claims
his assistance in adjusting the stereoscope to the right focus.

Before she releases him the attention of Lady Vera is claimed by Sir
Roger Mansfield, who admires her immensely.

She leans back in her chair listening to his lively sallies of wit and
humor with a languid smile, in apparent forgetfulness of the episode of
the roses.

"It was only a bit of careless coquetry. I was a fool to think she
meant anything by it," the captain tells himself, angrily, turning away.

Fifteen minutes later they are all separating for the night, and
Captain Lockhart and Lord Gordon make their adieux to the ladies
because they must take the early train for London in the morning before
the household is astir.

Lady Vera stands quietly waiting her turn. She has wished Lord Gordon
farewell and _bon voyage_ with a smile, and she summons all her pride
to bear her up in her parting with Captain Lockhart.

He has left her for the last one, perhaps with some care that hers
shall be the last hand he clasps, the last eyes he looks into on
leaving England.

"Lady Vera, I have to thank you at parting that you have helped to make
my stay in England very pleasant," he says, offering his hand, with his
soldierly grace.

No reproaches for the pain she has caused him, the wrecked heart he
carries away from the field whereon he was vanquished.

Only the brave, soldierly smile, and the courtly words. He wears the
scarlet rose proudly on his breast, though he feels it to be a token of
defeat.

Lady Vera lays her hand on his and tries to say something very calm and
friendly, but the words die on her white lips.

She is very pale; he cannot help from seeing that. Her voice is very
gentle, but so low he fails to catch the words.

She does not look up at him; that is what pains him most. How is he to
know that the lowered lids veil the terrible pain in the dark eyes she
cannot lift to meet his yearning glance.

Others are looking on, and Vera, Countess of Fairvale, is too proud to
wear her heart on her sleeve. The message of the rose has failed, and
there is now no other sign to tell him that she loves him and would
fain take back the denial of yesterday.

So he goes, wounded by the coldness of her parting, yet wondering a
little why the hand that lay a moment in his own had felt so icy cold.

Ah, if he only had guessed the truth. But nothing was further from
Captain Lockhart's thoughts than that Lady Vera loved him and longed to
let him know the truth.

He carried back with him to his native land the memory of a fair face
and a heart that seemed colder than the beautiful iceberg to which he
had likened her in the bitterness of his pain.

For Lady Vera, she glides from the room, calm and cold to all outward
seeming, but filled with the bitterness of a great despair.

The long night passes in a weary vigil, and the handsome soldier never
dreams whose dark eyes watch his departure next morning while the words
of his song echo through her heart and brain.

    "As the sword wears the scabbard,
       The billow the shore,
     So sorrow doth fret me
       Forevermore."



CHAPTER XVII.


Long before the next season began in London, loud-tongued Madam Rumor
was talking of the rich Americans who had bought Darnley House, that
splendid mansion, from its ruined owner, and refitted it anew with
almost princely magnificence, and filled it with troops of obsequious
servants who held it in charge while the owners courted pleasure
abroad.

The most ridiculous stories were abroad concerning these people.

They were said to possess unlimited wealth; their diamonds were
believed to equal Queen Victoria's; it was confidently reported and
universally believed that they owned mines of gold and diamonds in
Nevada and California.

If the rumors had been traced back to their source it would have been
found that the American ladies themselves had artfully promulgated
these reports, but this was not known.

The stories usually came from the servants of Darnley House, and
confidently accepted, for are not hirelings always supposed to know the
affairs of their masters and mistresses?

Society was on the _qui vive_ for the beginning of the season when,
it was said, the Americans expected to take possession of their
magnificent residence, and astonish the world with their splendor and
_eclat_.

Meanwhile the three Americans with whom gossip made so free, were
disporting themselves in the delights of leisurely travel, taking in
Germany, Italy and Switzerland, in their round of pleasure.

Lady Clive, meeting them in Switzerland, had written thus to the
Countess of Fairvale, who contrary to all persuasion had gone home
to Fairvale Park to spend the summer quietly with a prim, elderly
gentlewoman as chaperon:

"We have some Americans here. You know I usually adore everything
that hails from the land of the free, being one of them myself. But,
really, I could not fraternize with these people. The man was well
enough, but the wife and the mother-in-law--well, dearest Vera, the
English language has no term strong enough to express my antipathy.
They are abominably rich, I believe. I hear that they have bought and
refurnished Darnley House with a view to spending the season in London.
If they do you will meet them, as you have promised to come to Clive
House for the season.

"Do you care to hear about Philip, poor, dear boy? They sent him out
on the plains, poor dear, to fight the Indians, wretched creatures,
this summer. He has been wounded in the shoulder, and promoted to a
colonelcy for bravery. Lord Gordon is coming over in time for the
hunting season, I hear, but Philip will not promise to get leave and
come with him.

"Dear Vera, I wish you would have come with us. I know you are moped to
death in your grand, but lonely home, with prim old Mrs. Vance for your
duenna. As soon as we go home to Sunny Bank and rest up a little, we
mean to take you by storm, Sir Harry, and I, and all the children."

Lady Vera smiles over that last threat. The news is very welcome. She
fancies how much brighter Fairvale Park will seem with Lady Clive's
happy children chasing the deer in the wide, green park, and gathering
the lilies from the peaceful lake. She takes no interest in the story
of the rich Americans, but later on a letter comes to her from New
York, which, oddly enough, instantly recalls Lady Clive's letter to her
mind.

The letter is from the New York detective whom her father had employed
to track his enemy to her hiding-place. Lady Fairvale having retained
him in her employ, he writes, briefly and respectfully:

"I have traced the Clevelands at last only to lose them again. They
have been living in Florida all the while. The daughter has married a
rich man, and this summer they came to New York, and soon after sailed
for England. I learn that they are now traveling in Switzerland with
great _eclat_, so that your ladyship will scarcely fail to hear of
them."

Lady Vera is walking slowly by the beautiful lake, brooding deeply over
this letter. She does not see the white lilies nodding their heads
among the broad, green leaves, nor the soft breeze dimpling the placid
water into tiny laughing wavelets. She is thinking of Lady Clive's
story of the rich Americans, to whom she had conceived an antipathy.

"They must be one and the same," she tells herself, "but I cannot write
to Lady Clive and ask her, because she is traveling all the while,
and gives me no address. But I shall see them in London, as they will
be there for the season. And so Ivy has married since her old lover,
Leslie Noble, died. I wonder whom she has beguiled into taking her?
Whoever he may be, I pity him, being tied to such a shrew! Well, well,
the time for my vengeance is near at hand. What shape will it take, I
wonder?"

A wind, colder than that which ruffles the lilies on the lake, seems to
chill her graceful form, as she recalls the words of her vow:

"I swear, by all my hopes of happiness, that I will punish that woman
through her dearest affections--that, at any cost to myself, I will
avenge my mother's wrongs! They are rich, arrogant, prosperous. How
can I hurt them?" she muses. "What blow can I strike at their stony
hearts that will avenge the wrongs of the dead? Shall I tell the
world the story of my mother's wrongs and mine? Marcia Cleveland and
her cruel daughter would only laugh me to scorn if I did. Yet I must
think of some plan to humble them. I am bound by my oath to the dead.
All is blank before me yet; I cannot see one step before me to the
accomplishment of my task. Would it be wrong to ask God to help me to
punish those wicked and cruel women?"

What form will her vengeance take? Day and night the lonely young
countess broods over that puzzling question. She forms a hundred
schemes and abandons them all. Some of them are too dreadful. Her pure,
delicate nature recoils from them. She grows pale and thin brooding
over this vexing question. It banishes for a time even the remembrance
of Captain Lockhart from her mind. She scarcely eats or sleeps. Long
hours she wanders by the quiet lake, up and down, up and down, like a
sentry on his post, heedless of Mrs. Vance's remonstrances on her pale
and altered looks.

"You live too much alone, I fear," the kind chaperon remonstrates. "It
is not well for the young to live so quiet and isolated a life as you
are doing, my dear. You should accept the invitations of the county
families, and entertain them in return."

"I am in mourning," Lady Vera objects, wearily.

"But I do not mean for you to be very gay, my dear Lady Vera. If you
would even invite some young lady of your own age to come and visit you
it would be so much livelier for you. There is Miss Montgomery, for
instance. She is at Sir William Spencer's. I dare say she would come if
you invited her."

"I detest Miss Montgomery," Lady Vera replies, with unusual pettishness.

"Someone else, then; anyone whom you could like," Mrs. Vance suggests.

"There is no one," Lady Vera answers. "I expect Lady Clive soon. We
shall have a little gaiety then. I will have no one else before that."

"I do not think you are well, Lady Vera. You have lost your color,
you are growing thin, your eyes look large in your face. Will you not
consult a physician?" Mrs. Vance goes on, resolutely.

"No; for I am perfectly well," Lady Vera answers, impatiently. "Pray do
not take up idle fancies about me, Mrs. Vance."

So the good lady, sighing, desists, and Countess Fairvale "gaes her ain
gait."

The bright days of September wane and fade, and October comes in bright
and sunny.

Every day now Lady Vera looks for Lady Clive to come. Her spirits grow
brighter at the thought.

Sitting in the grand drawing-room one pleasant evening, with Mrs. Vance
nodding placidly in a corner, and the soft breeze fluttering the lace
draperies at the open windows, she touches the keys of the grand piano,
pouring out her sad young soul in plaintive melodies. Song after song
thrills out upon the air, each one sadder and sweeter than the last, as
though

    "The anguish of the singer made the sweetness of the strain."

Very beautiful looks Lady Vera in her thin, black robe, with knots of
pure white pansies at her throat and waist, very beautiful and girlish
still, though she is almost twenty, and a woman's sorrow is written all
over her lovely, mobile face, that rises like some fair, white lily
above her somber robe.

Memory is busy at her heart to-night. She has forgotten the Clevelands
for a little while, and is thinking of her princely-looking soldier
lover far away beneath those American skies where her own young life
was passed.

She loves him still. In vain the nobles of her father's land sue for
her favor.

All her heart is given to that untitled lover who comes of a land

        "Where they bow not the knee,
    Save to One unto whom monarchs bow down."

Almost unconsciously she touches the keys and sings one of our best
loved songs:

    "On the banks of Allan Water
       When the sweet spring-tide did fall,
     There I saw the miller's daughter,
       Fairest of them all!
     For his bride a soldier sought her,
       And a winning tongue had he;
     On the banks of Allan Water,
       None so gay as she!

    "On the banks of Allan Water,
       When brown autumn spread his store,
     There I saw the miller's daughter,
       But she smiled no more!
     For the summer grief had brought her,
       And the soldier false was he;
     On the banks of Allan Water,
       None so sad as she!"

"Nay, nay, Lady Vera, a libel on the soldier," a voice cries over her
shoulder.

She springs up wildly, with a startled cry:

"Captain Lockhart!"



CHAPTER XVIII.


It is Philip Lockhart, indeed, towering above her, tall,
broad-shouldered, handsome, as if her yearning thoughts had embodied
themselves. Lady Vera cannot keep the joy out of her voice and face.

"Is it really you?" she cries, touching him gently with one soft, white
hand, her dark eyes moist with gladness.

"It is really Philip Lockhart," he laughs. "I am _avant-coureur_ for
Nella, who will descend upon you to-morrow, bag and baggage, with all
the little imps. Will you pardon me, Lady Fairvale, for my impudence in
entering by the open window? Your sweet music tempted me."

"The pleasure of seeing you so unexpectedly might well condone a
greater offense," she answers, smiling.

Then she blushes deeply, for the beautiful, dark-blue eyes look down
into her own, gravely and thoughtfully.

"Thank you," he answers; "I had grave doubts of a welcome, and you
set my mind at ease. The truth is I came down with Lord Gordon to Sir
William Spencer's for the hunting, and Nella desired me to call and
apprise you of her meditated descent upon your fold."

She freezes over so suddenly and subtly that he is mystified.

"Pray sit down, Colonel Lockhart," with the coolest courtesy. "All this
while I have kept you standing."

He accepts the offered chair and his altered position brings in range
of his sight Mrs. Vance dozing blissfully in a luxurious arm-chair.

"My companion," Lady Vera explains.

The blue eyes look at her pleadingly, with a half-smile in them.

"Pray do not disturb her dreams on my account. I shall be going
directly."

She sits down listlessly enough on the piano-stool facing him. Some of
the first glow of brightness has faded from her face, showing him the
subtle change six months has made in it. The once bright cheek is pale
and clear, the dark eyes look darker still by contrast with the dark
purple shadows lightly outlined beneath them. He marvels, but dares not
speak of it.

"I am very glad Lady Clive is coming; I have been expecting her some
time," she observes.

"I thought you were glad to see me at first," he answers, plaintively,
"but now you have frozen over again."

"You took me by surprise," she replies, with dignity. "I thought you
were not coming to England this winter. Lady Clive wrote me something
like that."

"I did not intend to come; I knew it was wiser to stay away. 'A burnt
child dreads the fire' you know. But something drew me against my will.
It was like your song, Lady Vera:

    "'I strove to tear thee from my heart,
       The effort was in vain;
     The spell was ever on my life,
       And I am here again.'"

The warm color flies into her face again. The lines recall that night
when she had tried to show him her heart, and the caprice of a coquette
had come between them. She asks, with irrepressible pique:

"Was Miss Montgomery glad to see you?"

"Glad? Why should she be?" he asks her, wondering if that strange
discord in her voice can really be pique and jealousy. Spite of Lady
Vera's pride, it sounds marvelously like it.

"She liked you, I thought," she answers, flushing under the steady fire
of his eyes.

"Did she? I am sure I did not know it," he fibs, unblushingly. "I never
thought of any other save you, Lady Vera. You were my only love. I have
carried the rose you gave me ever since that night when we parted so
coldly."

He comes nearer to her side, and taking the withered rose from his
breast, holds it out before her gaze. She looks up and sees the old,
warm love-light shining on her from the deep blue eyes. The sight makes
her brave to speak.

"Yet if you had understood the message of the rose, we need not have
parted at all," she falters, low and softly, with crimson blushes
burning her lovely face.

"Vera, my love, my queen!"

He has bowed on one knee before her that he may look into the dark eyes
so sweetly veiled beneath the drooping lashes. A rapture of happiness
quivers in his voice.

"Lady Vera, tell me, do you mean that you repented after all? Did you
find that my devotion had not been lavished in vain, and that you could
give me love for love? Was that the message of the rose, my beautiful
darling?"

No answer from the sweet, quivering lips, but that swift, quickly
withdrawn glance from the dewy eyes tells Lady Vera's story plainer
than words to her lover's heart.

The rose has carried its tender message at last, in spite of a hundred
Miss Montgomerys, and if the sleepy chaperon should open her placid
eyes now she would be shocked beyond recovery, for Colonel Lockhart,
with all the boldness of a soldier, has drawn his darling into the
shelter of his arms, and pressed the golden head close against the
brave and loyal heart that beats for her alone.



CHAPTER XIX.


Imagine Lady Clive's delight when she learns that her brother is to
marry her favorite, Lady Vera.

"It is what I most wished upon earth," she says, "but I had despaired
of ever having my heart's desire. You never acted much like lovers, you
two."

"You see I never intended to marry, so I did not encourage lovers,
then," Lady Vera explains.

"And _now_?" Lady Clive inquires, with a roguish twinkle of her bright,
blue eyes.

"_Now_ I have changed my mind," the countess exclaims, evasively.

"Lovely woman's divine prerogative," laughs her friend. "But do you
know that malicious people will say that you have quite thrown yourself
away in marrying a plain, untitled American?"

"I am quite indifferent to what they will say," the young countess
replies, serenely. "I shall have secured my own happiness, and that is
the main point. For the rest, I am not anxious over titles. You know I
am part American myself."

"Yes, I know, but this is the first time I have ever heard you allude
to it," Lady Clive replies. "I fancied you were ashamed of the Yankee
strain in your blood."

The sensitive color rushes warmly into Lady Vera's cheek.

"I was," she admits, "but I had no need to be. My mother was one of
the fairest, sweetest, and purest of America's daughters. Yet I had
a prejudice against the people of her native land and mine, a girl's
prejudice that made me unjust to the many because I hated a few. Some
day I will tell you about my life in America, Lady Clive, and you will
understand me better, perhaps."

"Shall you go back to the United States with Phil, or shall you prefer
a life in England?" Lady Clive inquires.

"We have not settled that yet," the young girl answers, blushing.

Her face has grown very thoughtful as she speaks. A moment later she
asks, in an altered voice:

"Who were those American people whom you met in Switzerland, Lady
Clive?"

Lady Clive seemed to reflect.

"You mean those vulgarly rich people?" she inquires.

"Yes."

"My dear, I have quite forgotten what they were called. I have such a
poor memory for names. But no matter. You will see them in London this
winter," Lady Clive replies.

And again the vexing question which she has forgotten since yesterday,
recurs to Lady Vera's mind:

"What form will my vengeance take?"

But no faintest idea comes to her of the terrible truth. If anyone were
to whisper it to her in these first hours of her great new happiness,
it would surely strike her dead. The shock of pain would be too great
for endurance.

But fate withholds the blow as yet, and some golden days of peace and
happiness dawn for Lady Vera.

With Lady Clive's arrival she inaugurates a little reign of gaiety that
rejoices the heart of Mrs. Vance. She gives and receives invitations.
Colonel Lockhart rides over daily to spend long hours by his lady's
side, reading, singing, talking to each other in the low, sweet tones
of lovers. Lord Gordon consoles himself with Miss Montgomery, who
secretly confides to him that she "cannot imagine what Colonel Lockhart
sees in that haughty Lady Fairvale."

"She is beautiful," Lord Gordon answers, loyal to his old love yet.

"I do not admire her style. She is too slim--too American in her
looks," Miss Montgomery rejoins. She is inclined to _embonpoint_
herself, and envies every slender woman she sees.

Lord Gordon does not dispute her charge. He is too wise for that. But
in his heart he wonders why Lady Vera had reconsidered her rejection
of his friend, and wishes that he had been the happy man blest by her
preference.

Lady Vera, on her part, has quite forgotten the coquette's existence
in her serene, new happiness. Philip is her love, her lord, her king.
She forgets all else save him who holds her heart. The light comes back
to her eyes, the roundness and color to her cheek. She is dazzlingly
lovely in the new beauty that love brings to her face.

The days pass, and they begin to talk of going up to London. The lovely
fall weather is over, and mists and rain obscure the sky. They are
glad to huddle around the glowing fires in the luxurious rooms, and
Lady Clive's thoughts begin to turn on the subject most dear to the
fashionable woman's heart--new dresses.

"Vera, you will lay aside your mourning, dear, I hope," she says. "Do
you know that those black dresses make you look too sad and thoughtful
for your years? Do send Worth an order for something brighter--will you
not?"

"I will have some white dresses, I think," Lady Vera promises.

"Some of those sweet embroidered things!" Lady Clive exclaims,
enthusiastically. "She will look lovely in them--don't you think so,
Philip?"

"She looks lovely in anything," answers the loyal lover, and Lady Vera
shivers and represses a sigh. Now and then a shadow from the nearing
future falls darkly over her spirit. The memory of her vow of vengeance
falls like an incubus over her spirit. What will Philip say to this
strange vow of hers, she asks herself over and over.

She gives Worth _carte blanche_ for the dresses, and in a few weeks
they go up to London, already filling up with fashion and beauty. No
one knows how regretfully Lady Vera looks back upon the happy hours she
has spent at Fairvale Park with her happy lover. They see that her face
is graver, but they do not guess her thoughts. How should they? No one
dreams of that oath of vengeance bequeathed her by her dead father. No
one knows how often she whispers to herself in the still watches of the
wakeful nights:

"Soon I shall be face to face with Marcia Cleveland, and must punish
her for her wicked sins. How shall I strike her best? What form will my
vengeance take?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Invitations began to pour in upon them as soon as they were fairly
settled at Clive House. Lady Clive decides to attend Lady Spencer's
grand ball.

Sir Harry objects.

"There will be a crush," he says. "Lady Spencer always asks everybody."

"Precisely why I am going," responds his vivacious wife. "Crowds always
amuse me. Besides, we will see almost everybody who will be here for
the season."

"Your countrymen, those rich Americans, will be there," Sir Harry
insinuates, maliciously.

"I can stand that, too," Lady Clive retorts. "I am not to be daunted by
trifles. Besides, I want Philip and Vera to see those people."

Lady Vera says not a word, but her heart beats high, and there is some
little triumph mingled with her thoughts.

"Will Mrs. Cleveland and her daughter know me?" she asks herself. "Will
they recognize the poor girl whom they injured and insulted so cruelly
in the wealthy and honored Countess of Fairvale?"

She selects one of her loveliest dresses--a silvery white brocade,
trimmed with a broidery and fringe of gleaming pearls. No jewels mar
the rounded whiteness of her perfect arms and stately throat. The
waving, golden hair is piled high upon her graceful head, with no
ornament save a cluster of velvety white pansies.

"They say that my enemies' jewels are almost barbaric in their
splendor. I will show them that I am lovely enough to leave my jewels
at home," she tells herself, with some little girlish triumph.



CHAPTER XX.


At Darnley House on the night of Lady Spencer's ball, all the devices
of art and the aid of two well-nigh distracted maids are called in
to beautify Mrs. Leslie Noble for her _debut_ in London fashionable
society. Her small, pale, faded face is rejuvenated by _rouge_ and
powder, the hair-dresser furnishes a tower of straw-gold puffs to crown
her own sparse locks, and add dignity and hight to her low stature. Her
dress is a _chef-d'oeuvre_ of the Parisian man milliner--palest blue
satin, with diaphanous, floating draperies of blue embroidered crape.
A magnificent diamond necklace clasps her small throat. Bracelets of
diamonds shine on her wrists, diamonds blaze in her hair, diamond
clasps hold the azure draperies in place. From head to foot the small
blonde sparkles with splendor, and her weak soul thrills with vanity.
She is determined to create a sensation, and to have the incense of
admiration poured at her shrine.

When she has fretted and worried through the process of dressing, and
slapped the face of one maid, and scolded the other one into floods of
tears, she sends for her mother to come into the dressing-room.

There is a little delay, and then Mrs. Cleveland sails in, gorgeous
in crimson brocade and rubies, her black eyes shining with triumphant
satisfaction at her own really fine appearance. But Ivy, absorbed in
her own self, has no admiration to spare for her mother.

"I sent for you, mamma, to ask you how I look," she says. "These stupid
women have worried me into a fever. They can do nothing right. Tell me,
do you think any of these proud, titled dames will outshine me in the
ball-room to-night?"

Mrs. Cleveland's glance roves critically over the resplendent figure.
All the appliances of wealth and art cannot hide the fretful,
ill-natured look on the small, thin face, nor the shrewish light in the
pale-blue eyes.

"Your dress is faultless--I do not believe anyone will be more
magnificent than you," she answers; "but try to look more complaisant,
do, Ivy. You have no idea how that fretful look mars the beauty of
your face. Remember you will have some formidable rivals to-night. The
grandest and most beautiful women in London will be at Lady Spencer's
ball."

"I am as pretty as any of them," Mrs. Noble cries, irascibly. "I don't
see why I am to be cautioned against my looks so much. An angel would
lose her temper. There was Leslie to-day, telling me to look for my
laurels, for the beauty of last season would be there, and carry all
before her?"

"The Countess of Fairvale--yes, I have heard that she would be there,"
Mrs. Cleveland answers. "I am quite curious to see her. She is as
lovely as a dream, they say, a dark-eyed blonde with golden hair."

"Leslie saw her portrait at Delany's--the great artist, you know," Mrs.
Noble answers. "Would you believe he had the insolence to tell me she
reminded him of that wretched creature--Vera Campbell?"

"_She_ had dark eyes and fair hair, you remember," Mrs. Cleveland
answers, carelessly.

"Yes, but the idea of comparing her to a great beauty like this Lady
Fairvale--that girl who was no better than a servant!" Mrs. Noble
cries, indignantly.

"Well, well, there is no use to be jealous of the dead. Vera Campbell
was beautiful, certainly, but Leslie never cared for her, you know,"
Mrs. Cleveland answers, impatiently.

"Precious little he cares for me, either," her daughter complains. "He
pretended to love me once, but he has dropped even the pretense long
ago!"

"What does it matter? You are his wife, and spend his money all the
same," Mrs. Cleveland answers, heartlessly. "Come, Ivy, if you mean
to attend the ball to-night, it's time to be off. For Heaven's sake,
smooth those ugly frowns off your face before we reach Lady Spencer's,
or people will think you old and ugly in spite of your diamonds."

Ivy's pale eyes flash with rage at the cool reminder, but she is wise
enough to know that her mother is speaking for her good. She dabs on
a little more pearl powder, takes up her white satin cloak lined with
snowy swan's-down, and with a fond, farewell glance into the mirror,
turns to go.

"You need not fear for me, mamma," she says, summoning a smile to her
painted lips. "I shall be as bright and smiling as the Countess of
Fairvale herself. But I wonder where Leslie can be! He drank so much
wine at dinner that I am afraid he is in no condition to attend us."

A door opens suddenly to her right, and Mr. Noble appears in full
evening dress, his face somewhat flushed, but looking otherwise none
the worse for the wine his wife deplores. He looks ungraciously at his
resplendent wife.

"So you have got on all your war-paint," he sneers. "How ridiculously
over-dressed you are, Ivy. You make one think of a jeweler's
show-window. A pity you could not have bored a hole through your nose,
and hung a diamond there, too."

"A pity you drank enough wine at dinner to make you a drunken boor,"
she retorts angrily.



CHAPTER XXI.


Dazzling vistas of gorgeous rooms; a blaze of light and flowers
everywhere: men and women in festive attire; over all, the throb and
swell of the gay, sweet, maddening dance-music.

Lady Spencer's ball is in full blast, and as Sir Harry Clive predicted,
it is a "crush." But after all everyone seems to be enjoying it, even
Mrs. Noble, who, in a conspicuous position, and surrounded by a small
circle of diamond-admirers, deems herself an acknowledged belle, and
gives herself pleasant and coquettish little airs, accordingly.

"I have seen no one any prettier than I am," she confides to her
mother, in a delighted whisper. "If that Lady Fairvale is here
she cannot be a very great beauty. Doubtless she has been greatly
overrated. I fancy that girl over there in the pink satin and opals
must be she. You observe she has fair hair with dark eyes."

"No; for that is Lady Alice Fordham, I am told," Mrs. Cleveland
answers. "I do not think the beauty has arrived yet."

"Staying late in order to create a sensation," Mrs. Noble sneers, then
returning to her own admirers, forgets the distasteful subject for
awhile in airing her own graces with the laudable intent of aggravating
her husband, who has retired to a distant part of the room in supreme
disgust.

But suddenly in Mrs. Noble's vicinity an eager whisper runs from lip
to lip, all eyes turn in one direction, a lady and gentleman advancing
down the center of the room are the cynosure of all eyes--Lady Fairvale
and Colonel Lockhart. Mrs. Noble catches her breath in unwilling
admiration.

For surely since Adam and Eve were paired in the Garden of Eden, no
more beautiful pair had been created than these two!

Colonel Lockhart, to humor a whim of his sister's, appeared in the
splendid and becoming uniform of a colonel in the United States Army.
His martial form and handsome face appeared princely in his becoming
garb, and his fine, dark-blue eyes were sparkling with pride and
happiness as they rested on the lovely girl who hung upon his arm with
all the confidence of first, pure, innocent love.

"She is as lovely as a dream," Mrs. Cleveland had said to her daughter,
and Ivy, with a gasp of envy, is fain to acknowledge the truth.

Tall, slenderly formed, with

    "Cheek of rose and brow of pearl,
     Shadowed by many a golden curl,"

with dark eyes radiating light beneath the drooping, ebon lashes, with
neck and arms moulded like the gleaming white marble of a sculptor's
masterpiece, and guiltless of all adornment; with that silvery robe
sweeping about the stately form as if the mist of the sea had enveloped
her, Lady Vera looks and moves "a queen," gracious, lovely, smiling,
as if the shadow of a great despair were not brooding over that golden
head.

"Not a jewel, scarcely a flower, and yet more perfect than an artist's
dream," Mrs. Cleveland whispers maliciously to her overbearing daughter.

But Ivy forgets to be angry at the little thrust. She stares at the
beautiful vision, pale to the very lips.

"Leslie was right," she murmurs, like one dazed. "She frightens me, she
is so like--so like that dead girl, Vera. Do you not see it, mamma?"

"Yes, but why should a mere chance likeness frighten you?" Mrs.
Cleveland retorts, with subdued scorn.

Lady Vera has not seen her enemies yet. A group of admirers has closed
around her, and for a little while she forgets that she will meet here
the heartless and vindictive woman who destroyed the happiness of her
parents. Her lover claims her hand for the dance, and she passes from
their sight a little space.

Colonel Lockhart is radiant with joy and pride. The hum of admiration
that follows his darling everywhere is music in his ears.

"My darling, do you see how every eye follows you?" he whispers, fondly.

But Lady Vera laughs archly in the happiness of her heart.

"You are mistaken. They are only admiring your uniform," she retorts,
gayly, and the soldier thinks to himself that surely the smile upon the
crimson lips is the gladdest and sweetest that ever rejoiced a lover's
heart.

But it fades suddenly, the glad, sweet smile, and the blush upon the
rounded cheek.

The dance is over, and they are lingering together by a stand of rare
and fragrant flowers.

Suddenly the blush and smile fade together. A strange, stern look comes
into the dark eyes, she drops the rose that her lover has just placed
in her hand.

"Vera," he asks, looking anxiously at her, "what ails you, dear? You
have grown so grave."

She looks up at him with strange eyes, from which the light and joy of
a moment ago have faded as if they had never been.

"Philip, who is that woman over there, in the crimson brocade and
rubies?" she asks, indicating the person by a slight inclination of her
head.

His glance follows hers.

"That woman--yes, someone told me awhile ago that she was a
countrywoman of mine, a Mrs. Cleveland. The one next her, in the
diamonds, is her daughter."

Lady Vera is silent a moment, gazing steadily at the unconscious two.

She has recognized them instantly, and only asked the question to "make
assurance doubly sure." Some of the bitterness in the heart rises up to
her face. Her lips curl in scorn.

Colonel Lockhart regards her anxiously, puzzled by the inexplicable
change in her face.

"What is it, Vera? Do you know these people?" he asks.

"How should I know them?" she asks, trying to throw off the weight that
has fallen on her heart.

"Are you ill, then? These flowers are too heavy and sweet, perhaps.
Shall I take you away?" he inquires.

"Not yet," she answers.

She continues gazing steadily at Mrs. Cleveland and her daughter. To
her heart she is saying over and over:

"I am face to face with my enemies at last. What form will my vengeance
take?"

In a moment that question that she has asked herself so many times is
terribly answered.

Watching Ivy with her strange, intent gaze, she sees a gentleman come
up to her side.

"Am I mad," she asks herself, with terrible calm despair, "or is it
really Leslie Noble?"

Her lover unconsciously answers the silent question.

"You see that dark, handsome man, Vera?" he says. "His name is Leslie
Noble. He is the husband of the lady in the diamonds."

She makes him no answer at first. Her eyes are wide and dark with
horror. All in a moment she sees plainly the awful answer to the
question so often asked of her shuddering heart.

"Vera, indeed you are ill. Let me take you away from the heavy scent of
these flowers," her lover pleads.

She starts like one waking from a dreadful dream, and clings to his arm.

"Yes, take me away," she echoes, in a far-off voice. "There are too
many flowers here, and the light hurts my eyes, and the music my heart."



CHAPTER XXII.


"My darling, I do not know what to think," Colonel Lockhart exclaims,
anxiously. "A moment ago you were so bright and happy--now you look
pale and startled, and your words are strange and wild. Has anything
frightened you, my darling?"

She lifts her heavy, dark eyes almost beseechingly to his own.

"Philip, please do not talk to me, now," she says. "Do not ask me any
questions. Only find me a quiet place away from the crowd, where I may
rest awhile. I am ill."

"I do not know where to find such a place, unless I take you into the
conservatory. I expect it is quite deserted now," he answers.

"We will go there, then," she replies.

Troubled at heart, and very anxious over his darling, Colonel Lockhart
leads her down through the long vistas of fragrant bloom to a quiet
seat under a slender young palm tree. There are very few flowers
here--only cool, green thickets of lovely, lace-like ferns, watered by
the sparkling fountain poured from the lifted urn of a marble Naiad.

"Will this spot suit you, Vera?" he inquires, anxiously.

She bows, and looks at him with her grave, sad gaze.

"Philip, you must leave me here alone for half an hour," she says, "I
wish to rest awhile. Then you may come to me."

"You look so ill and pale I am almost afraid to leave you alone," he
answers. "May I not remain near you, Vera? I will not talk to you, nor
weary you in any way. I will sit silently and wait your pleasure."

"I would rather be alone," she answers, wearily.

"Then I will go, my darling, but I shall be very anxious over you. It
will be the longest half hour of my life."

He stoops over her, and taking the sweet white face in his hands,
kisses the pale, drawn lips. A stifled sob breaks from her at the
thought that in a little while these kisses will be hers no longer.

"You are nervous, dear. Let me send my sister to you," he urges.

"I had rather be alone," she answers.

"Forgive me, dear. I will go, then," he answers, turning away.

The tall form disappears in the green, flowery shrubbery. The echo
of the firm, elastic footstep dies away. Lady Vera is alone at last,
sitting with folded hands and dark, terrified eyes, face to face with
the awful reality of her life's despair.

"Leslie Noble, my unloved and unloving husband, is alive and married
to his old love, Ivy Cleveland--how passing strange," she murmurs,
hollowly, to herself. "What strange mystery is here? Did he believe
me dead, as I did him? Or has he, in the madness of his love for Ivy,
recklessly plunged into sin? But if so, why did he bring her here where
they must meet me? There is some strange, unfathomable mystery here
which I cannot penetrate."

Alas, poor Vera! the gloom of a subtle mystery wraps thee round,
indeed, and the hand that held the key to the secret is cold in death.

Low moans gurgle over her lips, and blend with the murmur of the
fountain as it splashes musically into the marble basin. She is
thinking of her handsome, noble lover between whose heart and hers a
barrier has risen, wide and deep as the eternal Heaven.

"I must part from him, my Philip, my love!" she moans, "for in the
sight of God I am Leslie Noble's wife, even though before men he is Ivy
Cleveland's husband."

She bows her face in her hands, and bitter, burning tears stream
through her fingers. In all the hours when she has brooded over that
oath of vengeance made by her father's death-bed, no slightest thought
has come to her in what terrible way she must keep her vow, and at what
fearful cost to her life's happiness.

"What strange prescience came to my father in dying?" she asks herself,
in wonder. "How strangely his words were shaped to fit the awful
reality. I must punish Marcia Cleveland through her dearest affections,
he said. All her heart is centered on Ivy, and when I claim Leslie
Noble from her and cover her head with that awful shame, my father's
wishes will be fulfilled. And lest I should falter in my dreadful task,
he added that last clause, no matter at what cost to myself. Oh, God!
what will Philip say when he learns the truth? The way is plain before
me how to keep my vow. I, who loathe and despise Leslie Noble, must
claim him before God and man as my husband, and humiliate Ivy Cleveland
to the dust. In no other way can I punish Marcia Cleveland and avenge
my mother's wrongs."

"In no other way," the fountain seems to echo, as it splashes musically
down, and Lady Vera, turning coward now in the face of the terrible
future, prays in bitterest agony: "Oh, God! if I could die--die here
and now, with Philip's last fond kiss still warm upon my lips, before I
have to speak the dreadful words that will doom us to a living death in
life."

With an effort she shakes off, presently, the horror and dread and
shrinking repugnance with which she looks forward to the fulfillment of
her oath.

"Mother, forgive me," she weeps. "Do I not remember all your bitter
wrongs and mine, and how often my young heart burned to avenge them?
And shall I shrink back now when the flaming sword is in my hand, and
I am able to crush your enemy into the dust? No, no! What matter if it
breaks my heart? My gentle mother, yours was broken, too. And though I
tread on burning plow-shares, I will keep my oath of vengeance."

No faltering; no looking back now. Something of her father's haughty
spirit is infused into Lady Vera's soul. Her dark eyes light with the
strange fire that burns on the altar of her heart, and when her lover
comes anxiously to seek her, she has recovered all her usual calmness,
and greets him with a smile.

"You are better, dear?" he exclaims.

"Yes, and we will return to the ball-room now," she answers, resting
her icy fingers lightly against his arm.

Passing from the subdued light of the conservatory into the glare of
the ball-room, they come face to face with Leslie, with Ivy hanging on
his arm, flushed and heated from the dance. Lady Vera lifts her head
with stag-like grace, and looks steadily into their eyes, but beyond an
insolent stare from Ivy, and a glance of warm admiration from the man,
they give no sign of recognition. Lady Vera passes on, and Lady Clive
comes up to her, laughing.

"My dear, you have seen our country people--the rich Americans," she
says. "How do you like them?"

"I will tell you some day," she answers, in a strange tone, yet with a
careless smile.

Still later in the evening Lady Spencer seeks out the countess.

"Dear Lady Fairvale, will you allow me to introduce to you our American
guests?" she asks. "They are most anxious to know the beauty of the
season."

Lady Vera, growing pale as her white robe, draws her slight form
proudly erect.

"Pray, pardon my rudeness, Lady Spencer," she answers, coldly. "But I
must decline. I do not wish to know them."



CHAPTER XXIII.


Society, which likes nothing better than a bit of gossip, commented
considerably on the Countess of Fairvale's refusal to know the rich
Americans. There were some who blamed her and thought she was over-nice
and proud. The American Consul vouched for their respectability, and
their style of living attested to their wealth. What more could she
desire? Everyone else received them on equal terms. Why did Lady Vera
hold out so obstinately against speaking to them? It could only be a
girl's foolish whim--nothing more, for she assigned no reason for her
refusal.

But it created some little embarrassment at first. People did not
like to invite the countess and the Americans together for fear of an
unpleasant collision. They could not slight Lady Vera, and they did
not wish to offend the Americans. The affair was quite unpleasant, and
created some little notoriety.

"And after all, Lady Vera's mother was an American, and she was born in
the United States herself. Why should she hold herself above one of her
own country people?" said one of the knowing ones.

No one could answer the question, and least of all the Americans
themselves, who were secretly galled and humiliated almost beyond
endurance by the scorn and indifference of the proud and beautiful
young girl.

Mr. Noble was sorely chafed by Lady Vera's course. He had conceived a
great admiration for her, and desired to hear her talk, that he might
learn if her voice as well as her face resembled his dead wife, Vera,
the girl who had committed suicide rather than be an unloving wife.
Mrs. Cleveland, who had desired to know her because she was the fashion
just then, was very angry, too, but Ivy took it the hardest of all. She
considered it a deliberate and malicious affront to herself.

"The proud minx!" she said, angrily. "In what is she better than I am
that she should refuse to know me? I shall ask her what she means by
it."

"You will do no such thing," Mrs. Cleveland cries out, startled by the
threat. "You would make yourself perfectly ridiculous! We will pass
it over in utter silence, and show her that we cannot be hurt by such
foolish airs as she gives herself."

"I am as good as she. I will not be trampled upon!" Ivy retorts,
venomously. "What! is she made of more than common clay because she has
gold hair and black eyes, and a pink and white face like a doll? It
is all false after all, I have no doubt. Her hair is bleached by the
golden fluid, and her red and white bought at Madame Blanche's shop!"

"People who live in glass houses should never throw stones,"
interpolates her lord and master, thus diverting her wrath a moment
from Lady Vera and drawing it down upon his own devoted head.

       *       *       *       *       *

But no one is more surprised at Vera's course than her lover, Colonel
Lockhart.

It is when they have gone home from Lady Spencer's ball, and he detains
her one moment in the drawing-room to say good-night, that he asks her
anxiously:

"Vera, my darling, what story lies behind your refusal to know these
people to-night?"

He feels the start and shiver that runs over the graceful form as he
holds her hand in his own. She looks up at him with such a white and
despairing face that he is almost frightened.

"Oh, Philip," she cries, in a voice of the bitterest pain, "I wish you
had not asked me that question yet. Believe me, you will know too soon."

"Then there is a story!" he exclaims.

"Yes," she answers, wearily. "But, Philip, let me go now. I am very
tired. You do not know all that I have borne to-night."

He folds the beautiful figure closely in his arms, and kisses the white
eyelids that droop so wearily over the sad, dark eyes.

"Forgive me for troubling you, darling," he says, tenderly. "I do not
wish to force your confidence, Vera. Only believe me, my own one, every
sorrow that rends your heart causes me unhappiness, too."

She lies still against that loyal heart one moment--oh, happy haven
of rest, never to be hers! then struggles from him with one last,
lingering kiss, and goes to her room and her sleepless couch to brood
alone in that dark, dark hour that comes before the dawn, over the
terrible discovery she has made.

For Colonel Lockhart the hours pass sleeplessly, too. The shadow of
Vera's unknown sorrow lies heavily upon his heart.

He rises early, and long before the late breakfast hour Lady Vera's
maid brings him a sealed note. He tears it hastily open, and her
betrothal ring falls sparkling into his hand.

  "DEAR PHILIP," she writes, "I return your ring. A terrible barrier
  has risen between us that all our love can never bridge over. So we
  must part. And, oh! believe me, dearest, it breaks my heart to write
  it. One thing I would ask you, Philip--will you go away from here and
  save me the sorrow of meeting you again? I can bear my misery and my
  impending shame far better if I cannot see you whom I have so fondly
  loved, and must so fatefully resign.

                                             "YOUR WRETCHED VERA."

"Has my darling grown mad?" the handsome soldier asks himself, staring
almost stupidly at the note and the ring in his hand. "What shame can
touch her, my beautiful, pure-hearted one? She is going to be ill,
perhaps, and this is but the vagary of a mind diseased."

So he writes back impulsively:

  "VERA, let me see you for even ten minutes. Surely, my darling, you
  do not mean what you say. What shame can touch you, my innocent love?
  And why should you wish to send me away? Is it not my right and duty
  and desire to stand by your side through all the trials of life?

    "'Oh! what was love made for if 'tis not the same,
      Through joy and through torment, through glory and shame?'

  "Do not ask me to leave you, darling. If indeed sorrow and trouble
  are near you, my place is by your side. I will wait for you half an
  hour in the library. Do not fail me, dear. I want to put your ring
  back upon your finger.

                                                "YOUR OWN PHILIP."

Lady Vera weeps bitterly over her lover's note.

"Ah, he does not know, he does not dream of the fatal truth," she
moans, wildly. "And what can I say to him? I cannot, I will not tell
him. I could not do it. I should die of the shame. He will know too
soon as it is. And yet I must go to him. He will not be denied. Oh!
what shall I say to him, my poor boy?"

Weeping and lingering, dreading to go, the half-hour is almost up
before she drags herself to the library where Philip is pacing up and
down the floor in a fever of doubt and suspense.

"Vera, my darling," he cries. "Oh, how could you treat me so cruelly?"

She pauses with her arms folded over the back of a chair, and regards
him sorrowfully. Colonel Lockhart can see that she has been weeping
bitterly. Her tremulous lips part to answer him, then close without a
sound.

He goes up to her and takes one white, jeweled hand fondly into his own.

"Tell me what troubles you, Vera," he whispers gently.

"Can you not guess, Philip? It is because I must part from you," she
answers sadly.

"But why must you do so, Vera?" he asks, gravely, touched to the heart
by her drooping and despondent attitude.

"I cannot tell you," she answers sadly, with a heavy sigh.

"Perhaps you have ceased to love me," her lover exclaims, almost
sternly.

She starts and fixes her dark eyes reproachfully on his face.

"Oh, would that I had!" she exclaims. "This parting would then be
easier to bear!"

They regard each other a moment with painful intentness. The marks of
misery on her face are too plain to be mistaken, and the wonder deepens
on his own.

"Vera, why are you so mysterious?" he asks, anxiously. "If you throw me
over like this, I have at least a right to know the reason why."

"You shall know--soon," she answers, almost bitterly.

Then she lifts her eyes to his face pleadingly.

"Oh, Philip, do not torture me," she cries wildly. "We must part! There
is no help nor hope for us! A terrible barrier has risen between us! I
have a terrible duty to perform, and there is no turning back for me.
But, oh, Philip, if I could persuade you to go away now--at once--where
you might never hear or know the fatal secret that has come between us!
Darling, let me beg you," she falls suddenly on her knees before him,
"to take me at my word and put the whole width of the world between us!"

He lifts her up and wipes the streaming tears from her beautiful eyes.

"My darling, you make it hard for me to refuse you," he answers, in
sorrow and perplexity, "but do you think I could be coward enough to
desert you when trouble and sorrow hung over your head? I am a soldier,
Vera. I cannot show the white feather. If sorrow comes I will be by
your side and help you to bear it."

"_You_, of all others, could help me the least," she answers, brokenly.

And again his noble, handsome face clouds over with wonder and sorrow.

"I will try, at least," he answers, with sad firmness. "Do not ask me
to leave you, Vera, I cannot do it. Oh, darling, are you sure, quite
sure, that we need really part? That you cannot be my wife?"

"I am as sure of it as if one or the other of us lay at this moment in
the coffin," she answers, drearily.

"And that barrier, Vera, will it always stand?" he asks.

"Always, unless death should remove it," she answers, with a shudder;
and with a moan, she continues: "Once I believed that death had already
stricken it from my path, and I was so happy, Philip--happy in your
love and mine. But the grim specter of the past has risen to haunt me.
I can never be your wife. I can never know one moment's happiness in
life again."

"She is ill and desperate," Colonel Lockhart tells himself, uneasily.
"Surely things cannot be so bad as she represents. She exaggerates her
trouble. When I come to know the truth I shall find that it is some
simple thing that her girlish fears have magnified a hundredfold. I
must not let her drive me away from her. I may be of service to her in
her trouble."

Aloud he says, gently:

"Since I may no longer be your lover, Vera, you will let me be your
friend?"

"Since you wish it, but you will change your mind soon," she answers,
hopelessly.

"I think not," he answers, lifting her hand gently to his lips, and
then she turns away, meeting Lady Clive upon the threshold coming in.

"Vera, my dear, how ill you look," she exclaims. "Has anything
happened? Ah, Phil, are you there? What have you said to Vera? You are
not having a lover's quarrel, I hope?"

He makes her no answer, but Vera, turning back, throws her arms around
her friend's neck, and lifts her pale, beseeching face.

"I will tell you what has happened, Lady Clive," she answers. "I have
broken my engagement with Philip."

"Broken your engagement with Philip? Why, what has he done?" Lady Clive
exclaims.

"Nothing," Lady Vera answers, meekly as a child.

"Nothing?" the lady repeats, half-angrily. "Nothing? Then why have you
thrown him over, Lady Vera? Did you tire of him so soon? I did not know
that you were a flirt."

"Hush, Nella, you shall not blame her," her brother exclaims, sternly.

"You see Philip is not angry with me, Lady Clive," Vera says,
entreatingly. "Indeed I am not a flirt. I love him dearly, but I cannot
be his wife. There are reasons," she almost chokes over the word,
"that--that you will know soon. You will see I was not to blame. Oh,
Lady Clive, do not be angry with me."

"I will not, dear," answers the gentle-hearted lady, kissing the sweet,
quivering lips of the wretched girl. "I do not understand you, but if
Philip is not angry with you, neither can I be. Yet I am very sorry
that I shall not have you for my sister."

With a stifled sob Lady Vera breaks from her clasp and flies up to her
own room. She does not appear at breakfast.

At luncheon she is so pale and sad and wretched-looking that it makes
one's heart ache to see her.

At night they attend a ball, from which Colonel Lockhart excuses
himself on the plea of indisposition, and at which the rich Americans
also fail to put in an appearance.



CHAPTER XXIV.


The invitations for Mrs. Vernon's lawn-party had been issued at least a
fortnight, and but few people had declined them.

It was well known that she gave charming entertainments, and people
were always eager to attend. A lawn-party, too, was so romantic,
"too sweet for anything," declared the young women who adored those
out-of-door entertainments where the most flagrant flirtations were
possible, and where the plainest faces acquired a certain beauty from
the blended light of lamp-light and moonlight, and the flickering
leaf-shadows cast by the over-arching trees.

Older people dreaded the night-air and the dew, but to these the
drawing-rooms were always open, so that no one dreamed of declining
Mrs. Vernon's elegant cards.

Lady Clive was present that evening, her fair and stately beauty, so
like her brother's, thrown into perfect relief by a robe of blue and
silver, with pale, gleaming pearls around her graceful throat and white
arms.

Lady Vera wore white satin and tulle, with water-lilies here and there,
a beautiful dress that was most becoming to her, and made her look
regal as a young princess.

A flush of excitement glowed upon her cheeks, and her eyes were bright
and restless with a strange look of expectancy and almost dread in
their beautiful depths.

The constant thought in her mind was:

"I shall see my enemies to-night. What will be the result? They pretend
to regard me as a perfect stranger. What shameless audacity. I cannot
understand how they can carry it out so boldly. And yet God knows that
but for my oath of vengeance I would never speak. Ivy might have my
husband and welcome. Yet I would give much to know whose death it was I
read in that American paper. Leslie Noble's father, perhaps, though I
had some vague idea that he was dead long ago."

Colonel Lockhart is present too, this evening, ever watchful, ever near
his darling, though without the least appearance of intrusiveness.

Other lovers take his place by her side, but as usual she is calm and
cold to all.

She is done with love and lovers, she tells herself with sad self-pity.

All her future life will lie in the dun, gray twilight of sorrow.

    "As the blade wears the scabbard,
       The billow the shore;
     So sorrow doth fret me
       Forevermore!"

It is late in the evening before Colonel Lockhart ventures to address
her.

Then something in her glance has drawn him to her side, in spite of his
determination not to intrude upon her.

Lady Eva Clarendon and Miss Montgomery are present, and both have laid
some claims to his attention. In spite of herself, Lady Vera cannot
keep the pain out of her eyes, and Philip, watching her with the
keenness of love, is quick to see it. In a moment he is by her side.

"Will you promenade with me?" he asks, deferentially.

       *       *       *       *       *

A sudden smile of irrepressible pleasure lights the beautiful face. She
loves him dearly, and it is so hard to give him up.

Rising, she lays her white hand on his arm, and they move away together
down a quiet path under the shade of the leafy trees hung with
gayly-colored lamps, whose checkered light throws their faces now in
brightness, now in shadow.

The scene, the hour, is full of romance. Tall marble vases here
and there are crowded with fragrant flowers, whose sweetness makes
breathing a perfect delight. The moon is at its full, pouring down a
flood of pure white radiance that makes the glimmering light of the
lamps seem garish and unnecessary. Soft music rises, blent with the
sound of happy voices, and a nightingale has perched itself on a rose
tree near by, and is

              "Pouring his full heart
    In profuse strains of unpremeditated art."

They walk slowly on, speaking little, but with hearts that tremble
with mingled pain and pleasure. The presence of each to the other is
perilously sweet. In his mind runs the refrain of a song she had sung
that evening:

    "Beloved eye! beloved star,
     Thou art so near and yet so far."

Suddenly, in turning a curve in the path, they come face to face with a
couple walking from the opposite direction--Leslie Noble and his wife.

The small blonde is attired in an elaborate costume of white and green,
and the snaky fire of emeralds blaze round her throat and wrists.
Her pale eyes glare with a snaky anger, too, as they light upon the
beautiful young countess, looking bride-like in her rich, white dress,
and the white lace scarf that she has carelessly thrown over her golden
hair.

With an impulsive movement Ivy disengages her hand from her husband's
arm, and places herself directly in Vera's way, her pale eyes flashing
with rage, her head held high, her slight figure drawn erect, making
the most of her insignificant stature.

"Lady Fairvale," she exclaims, insolently, "they tell me you refuse to
know me or my husband, or my mother. Will you tell me the reason why?"

There is a dead pause, and Leslie Noble tries to drag his wife away,
but she defies him.

"I shall not go!" she answers, sharply. "I told you I would do it. I
have asked this proud lady the reason of her scorn, and I am waiting
for an answer."

Lady Vera faces her a moment in scornful silence, but her pallid
cheeks, her intense gaze, and her curling lips, all betray the tumult
in her breast. She turns to Captain Lockhart, with a soul's despair in
her lovely eyes.

"Philip, will you go away, and leave me alone with this woman?" she
asks, pleadingly.

It seems to him that Vera does not know what is best for herself. How
can he go away, and leave her to bear the brunt of this coarse woman's
fury alone?

"Forgive me for refusing you, dear," he whispers back, "but it is
better that I should stay. I cannot leave you without a friend by your
side."

A look of futile despair flashes over the lovely face, but she urges
him no more. Her eyes turn from his handsome, tender face to meet Ivy's
angry, insolent gaze.

"I ask you again, Lady Fairvale," exclaims the small fury, "why do you
refuse to speak to us?"

"Oh, God, give me strength," Lady Vera prays, silently, "to keep the
oath of vengeance made to my dying father!"

The memory of her parent's cruel wrongs flashes into her mind and
steels her heart. She remembers her mother's broken heart, her father's
ruined life, her own joyless, slavish girlhood, driven by these two
women who now stand glaring stonily upon her, for Mrs. Cleveland,
coming in search of her daughter, has become a sudden and amazed
spectator of the curious scene.

"I will tell why I hold myself above you," Lady Vera answers, in a
voice that quivers with scornful indignation. "It is because you are
false and vile--a guilty woman, and a shameless sinner!"

"How dare you traduce me thus?" Mrs. Noble shrieks, in anger and
amazement.

"I dare, because I speak the truth before God," her enemy answers,
fearlessly. "How dare you claim to be Leslie Noble's wife, when you
know that I, his first wife, Vera Campbell, am living?"



CHAPTER XXV.


It was a striking _tableau_, there beneath the over-arching trees that
fair, calm, summer night. Lady Vera's beautiful face was all pale with
passionate scorn and indignation as she leaned upon her lover's arm.
Her enemies had started back as her scathing accusation fell upon
them, and they now regarded her with looks of wrath, blent with honest
astonishment. Colonel Lockhart's face had turned to a dull, ashen gray,
like the pallor of death, but he stood his ground bravely, like the
soldier that he was. Lady Vera did not dare to look at him, but beyond
one swift, convulsive start, as though a sword had pierced his heart,
the arm that supported her did not even tremble. He had steeled himself
to bear his pain and make no sign.

"Colonel Lockhart," Mrs. Cleveland exclaims, starting boldly to the
front, "I would advise you to take Lady Fairvale home to her friends.
She must surely be raving mad. I know not how she came into possession
of any facts concerning us, but I swear to you, and can prove my
assertion, that Vera Campbell, the first wife of my son-in-law, Leslie
Noble, has been dead and buried three years. Is it not so, Leslie?"

"It is perfectly true," he answers, gazing curiously at the beautiful
girl who has claimed him as her husband. "If Lady Fairvale be Vera
Campbell Noble, then she has risen from the grave itself to claim me,
for I saw her buried three years ago, and I erected a costly marble
monument to her memory."

"She committed suicide!" Ivy screams out, spitefully. "She died in my
mother's house. I saw her lying dead, and I saw her buried."

"Oh, shameless falsehood!" Vera breaks out, warmly. "I did not die,
and you know it. The bitter drug with which I thought to end my
wretched life, turned out to be only a sleeping potion after all. Will
you deny, Marcia Cleveland, that Lawrence Campbell came to you that
night to denounce you for the falsehood with which you had betrayed
him, and to ask, at your hands, his wronged wife and child?"

Livid with rage and fear, the wicked woman stares at her fearless
accuser. How has this beautiful countess, with Vera Campbell's face,
learned the secret of her past life?

"Lady Fairvale," she answers, "I do not know how you, a stranger, have
learned the secrets of my past life, but I will answer your questions
fairly and truthfully. Lawrence Campbell did indeed come to me as you
assert, but his daughter had been buried that very day in Glenwood. I
bade him seek his wife and child in the grave, and he fell down like
one dead at my feet. I caused my servants to throw him into the street
like a dog, and I know not, to this day, if he be living or dead."

"He is dead," Lady Vera answers, with blazing eyes. "He has been dead
almost a year. He lived but for vengeance on you, Marcia Cleveland, and
when he died, he bade me swear an oath of vengeance on you. He bade
me avenge my martyred mother's bitter wrongs. It is for this I have
spoken. Do you think I did not shrink from claiming that craven coward
there," pointing a scornful finger, "as my husband?"

Flushing scarlet under her lightning scorn, Leslie Noble advances.

"Lady Fairvale, if indeed you are my wife," he says, "and," insolently,
"no man could have a wife more beautiful, will you tell me by what
strange chance you were rescued from the grave where I, myself, saw you
laid?"

"I deny that I was ever buried," Vera flashes out angrily. "My father
told me nothing of that. He declared that he had me carried away from
Mrs. Cleveland's in a deep narcotic sleep."

"Is it true that Lawrence Campbell was the Earl of Fairvale?" Mrs.
Cleveland demands, looking at Colonel Lockhart.

"It is perfectly true, madam," he answered, coldly.

"And it is true that I am his daughter, whom you and your daughter so
shamefully abused and maltreated?" Vera cries. "Do you remember, Ivy
Cleveland, how you abused and insulted me? How you struck me in the
face that night when my mother lay dead in the house? Do you recall
your anger because she had died before the embroidery was finished on
your Surah polonaise? Do you remember, Leslie Noble, how you stood by
the bedside of that dying saint, and swore to protect and love the
unconscious child you married! Ah, well you kept your vow when you
plotted with that wicked woman yonder to send me from you to a convent
school where I should be tortured to death, so that you should go free.
That was her wicked scheme, I know, for she had planned to marry you to
Ivy. Now you know why I tried to escape from you into the merciful land
of death. But Heaven spared me the commission of that sin. It was not
poison I took. I made a mistake in the drug. I lived to drag you down
to the dust, Marcia Cleveland; to punish you through your daughter's
shame for my parents' wrongs and mine! You understand now why I would
not speak to you, Ivy Cleveland! That man there whom I utterly loathe
and despise, is my husband, although I would not bear his name for
wealth untold. _You_ are a false and sinful woman unfit to mate with
the pure and true, knowing yourself to be only the reputed wife of a
bigamist!"

The torrent of passionate accusation comes to a sudden end, and Lady
Vera, with heaving breast and dilated eyes, looks contempt upon her
foes. They stand before her awed and silent for a moment. Her scathing
words have carried conviction to their hearts. They know her in truth
to be that Vera whom for three long years they have believed to be
sleeping under the costly marble that bears her name in Glenwood
Cemetery. But they will never admit it. To do that would be to throw up
the game and own themselves beaten and vanquished.

A curious crowd of ladies and gentlemen have gathered around attracted
by the sound of excited voices. With wonder and dismay they listen to
the scathing denunciations that fall from the lips of the beautiful
countess. Mrs. Cleveland, fully conscious of the curious eyes, turns
around and makes reply to them--not Lady Vera.

"My friends," she cries, with uplifted hands and a face of horror,
"surely this beautiful lady has lost her mind. She is stark, staring
mad, and for this I can forgive her the insults she has heaped upon my
daughter. I believe she is a clever adventuress whom Lawrence Campbell
has foisted on the world as his heiress. Vera, the real daughter of the
Earl of Fairvale, died three years ago in Washington. She is buried at
Glenwood beneath a marble monument that bears her name and age. I swear
before God that this is true. This girl here, this pretended Countess
of Fairvale, is, without doubt, a clever impostor, who is keeping
the Earl's true heir out of his own. Let her disprove this charge if
she can. If she be truly Vera Campbell, let her prove that she was
resurrected from the grave in Glenwood where my own eyes saw her laid."

A moment of perfect silence follows Mrs. Cleveland's venomous words.
Her daughter, who is a coward at heart in spite of all her bravado, has
fallen back a pace, allowing her mother to be spokesman, well knowing
that not even herself could so valiantly defend her cause.

There is a look of fear and dread on Ivy's face that gives her a
ghastly look in spite of her paint and powder.

Lady Vera's words have carried conviction to her heart, and in fancy
she sees herself deserted and abandoned by the man whom she believed
her husband, and whom she has relentlessly tyrannized over, recklessly
dissipating his fortune, and trampling on his heart.

She well knows that every spark of love he ever entertained for her had
died long ago, murdered by her own heartless, unloving course toward
him. What more natural than that he should rejoice if his bonds fell
from him and left him free from her mother and herself, who had been
fastened upon him like human vampires, draining his very heart's blood.

She glances at him, and that glance does not reassure her. There is a
strange expression on his face, and he is not looking at her, but at
the beautiful, high-born girl who has just claimed him as her husband,
albeit with words of scorn.

Even while she gazes at him in fear and terror he steps forward with
a certain craftiness in his eyes, and answers Mrs. Cleveland's angry
words.

"You speak too harshly, perhaps, Mrs. Cleveland. I have been impressed,
even against my will, by Lady Fairvale's words. She is certainly
possessed of knowledge that no one but Vera Campbell could have known.
Then, too, she is startlingly like my dead wife, both in voice and
person. Although I certainly buried my first wife and raised a costly
monument over her grave, I am still willing to investigate the strange
charges of Lady Fairvale. Strange things have happened sometimes. The
dead have come to life, the lost have been found. 'Let justice be done
though the heavens fall.'"

"Wretch! Would you turn traitor to me?" screams Ivy, clutching him
violently by the arm, forgetful of all but her fear of losing him.

He gazes down at her in a feigned sympathy and sorrow.

"My poor Ivy. Could you think so meanly of me?" he exclaims. "But
think, dear. How could we rest secure with this terrible charge hanging
over us? Were it not better that I should take steps to prove the truth
or falsity of this fair lady's bold accusation?"

"Take steps--how?" the bejeweled little woman falters confusedly.

"Nothing easier," he answers. "I shall cable to Washington to have my
first wife's grave opened. If her remains are found undisturbed, then
you are still my wife, Ivy, and this lady's story is an imposture.
But if Vera's grave be found empty, I shall be forced to believe that
Lady Fairvale is in sober reality the Vera whom, for three years, we
believed dead and buried."

He speaks to Ivy, but he looks at Vera. Something in that glance makes
her turn pale and flash a glance of silent scorn upon him.

"She is not Vera. She is an impostor whom Lawrence Campbell put into
the place of his dead daughter," Ivy screams, impetuously, clinging to
him with both hands. "Come away from her, Leslie. She is a false and
wicked woman, and we will yet prove her so--will we not, mamma?"

"Yes, it shall be war to the knife between us," Mrs. Cleveland mutters,
menacingly, flinging a glance of deadly hatred upon Lady Vera's pale
and lovely face. "Come away now, Leslie, and bring Ivy home. She is too
slight and frail to bear all this excitement."

Silently obeying the imperious will that has ruled him for almost three
years, Leslie Noble moves away with Ivy on his arm, after a courteous
bow to Vera, which she returns with a cold stare of contempt.

"Lady Vera, shall I take you away also? You look weary and
exhausted," says Colonel Lockhart, in a low voice that shows intense
self-repression and emotion.

She starts and shivers at the sound of his voice.

"If you will be so kind," she answers, sadly, and moving away on his
supporting arm she meets Lady Clive and Mrs. Vernon coming toward her.
Their grave faces show instantly that they know all. Lady Vera pauses,
with a strange, cold smile.

"Mrs. Vernon, I am sure you will never forgive me for my undignified
act in creating an excitement and a sensation at your party. I was
compelled to keep my oath to the dead. Yet _she_ forced it on me. I
did not mean to speak--just yet," she falters, incoherently, and Mrs.
Vernon, who is the kindest woman alive, presses her hand, and murmurs
gently, "Poor darling," while Lady Clive murmurs tenderest words of
sympathy and love.

It is too much for Lady Vera--this gentleness and love after the
exciting scene through which she has passed. Her forced calmness and
self-control give way beneath its softening spell.

She reels dizzily, and only Colonel Lockhart's support prevents her
from falling. In a moment he says to his sister, anxiously:

"She has fainted, Nella. What shall we do?"

"Bring her up-stairs into my _boudoir_," replies Mrs. Vernon, promptly
and kindly. "We will revive her directly."

But Lady Clive negatives the proposal, decidedly.

"No, we will put her into the carriage and take her home," she says.
"She will come to herself, directly. It is a blessed unconsciousness
for her, poor girl. Why should we call her back to remembrance too
soon?"

So the soldier lifts her in his strong and tender arms, and bears her
to the carriage. Lady Clive receives the drooping head upon her lap,
and they roll homeward, Lady Vera lying pale and mute between them
like some pure, white lily, broken and beaten down by the force of the
pitiless storm.

"This is hard lines upon you, Phil," Sir Harry Clive says, from his
corner.

"Yes," his brother-in-law answers, in a low voice, and they speak no
more until low sighs, rippling over Lady Vera's lips, presage her
return to consciousness.

She lifts her head and looks at them, then drops her face in her hands,
and bursts into passionate sobs and tears.

Lady Clive folds her white arms fondly around the heaving form.

"Do not weep so wildly, darling Vera," she whispers, gently.

But the heavy sobs only break forth more tumultuously.

"Do not check me," she whispers, "let me weep. Perhaps these tears may
save my heart from breaking. There is such a terrible weight on heart
and brain, and has been for weary, weary days. Let me weep until I can
weep no more, and then I may be calm enough to tell you all my wretched
story. Then you may know how to pardon my act of to-night."

So Lady Clive expostulates no more, only holds the slight form closer
in her tender arms, reckless of the raining tears that spot and stain
her azure satin robe as the burning drops fall on it from Vera's eyes.



CHAPTER XXVI.


When Lady Vera has told all her story to these kind and sympathizing
friends with all the fire and eloquence of passion, their indignation
bursts forth unrestrainedly. Lady Clive weeps from pure sympathy.

"Now at last I understand Fairvale's strange reticence and melancholy,"
Sir Harry Clive exclaims. "He was indeed most cruelly wronged, and
Marcia Cleveland must have been a fiend incarnate."

Colonel Lockhart alone says nothing. He sits a little apart, his arms
folded over his broad breast, his blue eyes cast to the floor, a look
of gloom and settled despair on his handsome, high-bred face. The
bitter pain at his heart no tongue can tell.

"And all this while you were Leslie Noble's wife," Lady Clive says,
with a heavy sigh for her brother's sake.

"But I believed him dead, you know," Lady Vera answers, with one swift
glance at the lover she has lost.

"I wish he had been, for your sake and Phil's," pronounces Sir Harry,
fervently, and a moan of pain surges over the pale lips of the
beautiful girl.

"Ah, you cannot guess with what feelings of despair I learned of him
living," she answers. "It seemed to me for one awful moment that a hand
of ice clutched my heart, and that I should surely die. It came over
me like a death-warrant, at what fearful cost to myself I should keep
my oath to my father. But I had sworn to do his bidding. There was no
turning back for me when the fatal moment came."

She pauses a moment, then resumes, with a mournful glance at Lady Clive:

"You will never forgive me, I know, for making myself a sensation and
a town talk, Lady Clive. By to-morrow all London will ring with my
secret. Oh, the pity and shame! But I will not disgrace you further. I
shall not remain your guest any longer. To-morrow I am going away."

Then Colonel Lockhart speaks for the first time.

"You must not let her go, Nella," he says, firmly.

"Why?" cries out Lady Vera, startled.

He hesitates a moment. Why should he imbue her mind with the doubts and
fears that fill his own? And she asks again:

"Why should I not go away, Colonel Lockhart?"

"Because you will need the protection of your friends," he answers,
gravely.

"Do you think I am afraid of my enemies?" she asks, drawing her slight
form proudly erect, and looking very brave and beautiful. "They may
hate me as they will, but I defy them to harm me!"

"It is not their hatred but their love you have to fear," he answers,
significantly.

"Love," she echoes, regarding him blankly.

"Leslie Noble's love, I mean," he answers, with an effort.

A low and mirthless laugh ripples over her lips.

"I think you have mistaken me," she answers, bitterly. "He had no love
for me. Ivy Cleveland held his heart. He only married me for pity's
sake."

"It may have been pity, then, but it is something deeper now," Colonel
Lockhart answers, gravely. "That man means to claim you, Lady Vera. I
read it in the glances he cast upon you."

"Claim me!" she repeats, bewildered.

"For his wife," he answers, bitterly, out of the pain of his heart.

She starts to her feet with a little frightened cry, and flies to Lady
Clive as if for protection.

"No, no, he would not dare!" she pants, wildly. "I hate and despise him
too much to speak to him, even! I defy him to claim me for his wife! I
would sooner die than belong to him! And he--oh, he would not wish it!
He loved Ivy, you know."

"Do not pin your faith to that fact, Lady Vera," the baronet interposes
gravely. "The lady, whom he claims for his wife now is many years older
than you; she is faded, simpering, ridiculous. If he ever loved her,
she must have made him rue that folly long since. Besides, she is not
his real wife, and you are. Do not forget your great attractions, Lady
Vera. You are young, beautiful, wealthy and titled. What more natural
than that Leslie Noble should be dazzled by your manifold charms, and
desire to claim you?"

She regards him with absolute horror in her lovely, white face.

"I would die before I would suffer him to even touch me!" she cries,
indignantly.

"Then you must not leave us, Lady Vera," Sir Harry answers, earnestly.
"With all the prestige of your rank and wealth you are so utterly alone
in the world that my heart yearns for you as if you were my sister or
my daughter. Stay with us and let us guard you from the traps your
enemies may set for you."

"Stay with us," re-echoes Lady Clive, warmly, and her brother's
speaking eyes reiterate the wish.

But Lady Vera's gaze turns from those eyes, too dearly loved for her
peace of mind, and her heart sinks heavily.

"I should not trouble your peace, Lady Vera," he says, hastily, as if
divining the thought in her mind. "I am going away."

"I cannot drive you from your sister's house," she answers, sadly.

He comes to her side and takes her hand gently in his strong, warm
clasp.

"Be reasonable, Vera," he says, like one speaking to a willful child.
"I am a man, young and strong, and capable of facing the world. You are
scarcely more than a child, and you need protection from the ills that
threaten your tender life. You will stay with Sir Harry and Nella while
I will go away. Of course we understand that we cannot go on meeting
each other daily as we have done. It would be too hard for both. It is
best that we part. That is what you wish yourself--is it not?"

"Yes, yes," she murmurs, faintly.

"That is best," he says, bravely. "I shall go, then; Nella will have my
address, and if you ever need a friend you will send for me--will you
not, Vera?"

She bows silently, and with sudden, irrepressible passion, he presses
her hand.

"Oh, Vera, I have lost you forever, I know," he says, brokenly,
"but--you will never allow Leslie Noble's claim, will you? You will
never belong to him, never love him?"

"_Never_!" she answers, with all the pride of the Campbells flushing
her face and ringing in her voice.

"Thank you a thousand times," he exclaims. "Leslie Noble is not fit to
claim the treasure of your love, Vera. And now, tell me--you will stay
with Nella, will you not?"

She glances doubtfully at Lady Clive.

"I could not go into society, you know," she says. "I could not face
the world after--after that," and the burning crimson rushes into her
face.

"It shall be just as you please about that," her friend answers. "Only
say that you will remain with us, dear."

And Lady Vera answers:

"I will stay."

And then the first beams of the early summer dawn peep into the room in
wonder at their sad, white faces.

It has been hours since Lady Vera began the telling of the sad story
of her early life and her parents' bitter wrongs, and now, as she bids
them all a sad good-night, and goes to her room to rest, her heart is
breaking with the bitterness of her pain.

"Father," she murmurs, lifting her heavy eyes from her sleepless
pillow, "father, I have punished them for their sins, I have shamed
them in the eyes of all the world, but my own heart is broken."



CHAPTER XXVII.


"Vera, darling, Mr. Noble is in the library, and desires a private
interview with you. Here is his card. Shall I say that you will receive
him?"

It is several days after Mrs. Vernon's party, and Lady Clive comes
suddenly into the pink-hung _boudoir_ where the young countess is
listlessly reclining on a satin sofa with her white arms thrown up
carelessly above her head.

She looks like some beautiful picture, though her cheek is pale, her
lips sad, and slight, dark shadows are visible beneath her melancholy
eyes. All her beautiful dark-golden hair is arranged in a rich,
picturesque fashion on top of her head, and a few loose, curling
tendrils wander lovingly over the broad, white, polished forehead, on
which the slender, straight, black brows are so delicately outlined.

She wears an exquisite morning-dress of white muslin, profusely
trimmed with rich lace, and a rose-colored ribbon binds her slender
waist.

She starts up with a frightened cry at the words of Lady Clive.

"I will not see him! I will not exchange even one poor word with
him! How dare he have the audacity to come here?" she pants, growing
paler still with anger, and stamping her slippered foot on the bit of
pasteboard which she has cast indignantly upon the floor.

Lady Clive waits until her wrath has somewhat spent itself on the
innocent card, then argues, gently:

"I know it will be painful to you, Vera, but might it not be better,
just once, to receive him, and find out his business? You will
then know what course he means to adopt, and can govern yourself
accordingly."

Lady Vera pauses, irresolute. Her bosom heaves with quick, indignant
sighs, her dark eyes flash.

"You advise me to receive him--this man whom I hate and despise, Lady
Clive?" she says, wonderingly.

"For just once, Vera. And only _now_ that you may learn his intentions
and be on your guard against his machinations. After this time my doors
shall be closed against him as against a pestilence. But you need not
take my advice against your will, dear; use your own pleasure."

"You do not know how I dread to enter his presence," the girl cries,
with a shudder.

"Decline to see him, then," Lady Clive advises.

"No, I will bear it this once. I will receive him this time, but after
this, _never_!" Lady Vera answers, after a moment of painful thought.

"You decide well," Lady Clive comments, approvingly.

"He is in the library, you say," Lady Vera asks, with her hand upon the
door.

"Yes. Shall I accompany you, my dear, if you dread to go alone?"

"I am not afraid of Leslie Noble," the fair young countess answers,
dauntlessly. "I will face him alone."

She moves along the corridor with a free, proud step, glides down the
stairs, and flings open the library door with an unfaltering hand, and
her beautiful head held proudly, like a queen's, with defiance in her
dark and flashing eyes.

He is waiting for her there in the soft, semi-twilight of the luxurious
room, tall, and dark, and handsome, with eager admiration in his eyes
as they fall upon the lovely, queenly girl crowned with the dusky gold
of her luxuriant tresses.

She comes into the room, and he bows low and courteously before the
fair girl, who, but a few nights ago claimed him as her husband, but
she does not even bend that haughty head.

"Why are you here?" she asks, with scant courtesy and freezing contempt.

"To claim my wife," is the answer that rises impetuously to his lips,
but he restrains himself, feeling that so abrupt an avowal would be
poor policy in the face of her raging scorn.

"Lady Fairvale, surely you expected me to call after all that passed
_that_ night," he answers, in a low, smooth, deprecating voice, fixing
his soft, dark eyes pleadingly on her proud face.

"No, I did _not_ expect you to call," she flashes back scornfully.
"What can you possibly want of me? Did you not hear me say that night
that I scorned and hated you? Why, then, do you presume to intrude
yourself upon me?"

"I bring you news, my fair lady," he answers, still calmly and gently,
as if not resenting her scorn. "I have cabled to Washington, and
yesterday I received a reply."

"A reply," she echoes, faintly, and for a moment there is silence,
while he regards her with eager admiration, noting every graceful,
womanly charm so becomingly enhanced by the beautiful, white
morning-dress. After that interval he speaks.

"Yes, I have received my reply," he answers; "you were right, Lady
Fairvale, though God knows what strange mystery lies around your
supposed death and your rescue from the grave. But they have opened the
coffin in which I swear I beheld Vera Campbell Noble buried, and--_it
is empty_. I can no longer doubt that you are, indeed, my wife."

She stares at him with whitened lips, and a shudder of horror chills
her heart. Such truth is stamped upon his face that it seems impossible
to doubt. Yet she asks herself, with little, awsome chills creeping
over all her frame, is it possible that she, Vera, has actually lain in
the gloom and darkness of the grave? Has that warm, throbbing flesh,
instinct with life and vitality, been closed around with the blackness
of the coffin? Has the black earth been heaped upon her living form?
What fearful mystery is this?

"Tell me," she says, almost piteously, "is it true that Vera Campbell
died and was buried? Will you answer it?"

His face expresses the most honest surprise.

"Are you Vera Campbell, and pretend to doubt it?" he answers. "This is
a mystery I cannot fathom. The girl, Vera, whom I made my wife by her
mother's wish, committed suicide, and was buried in Glenwood. This I
swear by this holy book," lifting a Bible lying on the table beside
him, and pressing his lips upon it. "If you would go to America, Lady
Fairvale, you would see the monument I erected in Glenwood to the
memory of my wife!"

And again there is silence while Lady Vera, standing silently with
little thrills of icy coldness creeping over her frame, shudders to
herself. So they had buried her while she lay in that trance-like
slumber. How had her father resurrected her, and why had he held it a
secret?

Wondering at her silence, he speaks again.

"I have answered your question truly and fairly, Lady Vera. Let me ask
you one in turn. Are you really ignorant of the fact that you have
undoubtedly been buried alive?"

She shivers, palpably. All the warmth of the summer sunshine cannot
keep back the icy winds that seem to blow over her like arctic waves.

"I never even imagined anything so horrible," she answers. "I
distinctly remember my maddened attempt at suicide. There were two
small vials in my mother's medicine chest. One meant death, the other
sleep. I chose the poison, as I thought; drank it, and lay down to
die. But I had made a mistake. I fell into a deep, narcotic sleep. I
awakened in the dawn of another day and found myself in a small, humble
room, watched over by a man who declared himself to be my father. I
know no more than this."

"Yet he, undoubtedly, rescued you from the grave and concealed the fact
from some motive of his own," Leslie Noble answers. "It was a mistaken
kindness on his part. There are those who are ready to doubt your
identity on the score of your ignorance of that strange event in your
life, Lady Vera--some who would insinuate that you are an impostor and
have no right to the title you bear. But I am not one of those carping
disbelievers. I am quite convinced that you are really the Vera we
believed to be dead so long, and I am ready to acknowledge you and to
make reparation and atonement for the unconscious wrong I have done
you."

"To make atonement--how?" Lady Vera asks him, with a curling lip and
scornful eye.

Her scorn disconcerts him for a moment. His face flushes and his eyes
fall, then he rallies, facing her with assumed calmness and humility
that but poorly hide the eagerness of his heart.

"In the only way possible, of course," he answers. "By repudiating and
putting aside the lady whom I married after your supposed death, and by
installing you in your rightful place. Will you come home to me, Vera,
my beautiful wife? Darnley House shall open wide its door to receive
you, and there is no more beautiful home in London. It is elegant
enough for you, even, my haughty princess."

She stares at him speechless with anger and amazement.

"Will you come to me, Vera?" he repeats, half opening his arms and
speaking very tenderly.

She retreats before him as he advances. Her face flames with anger.

"How dare you--how dare you?" she pants, brokenly. "I scorn you, Leslie
Noble! Surely you know that. Why, you are less to me than the dust
beneath my feet."

"I am your husband by your own confession," he answers, sullenly, and
with the fire of baffled purpose blazing in his eyes.

"Yes, you are my husband," she answers, with a scorn intense enough to
blight him where he stands. "You are my husband, but you have no rights
over me that I shall acknowledge, be sure of that. You forfeited all
claim on my respect in that hour when you stood tamely by and suffered
my enemies to insult and revile me, while you, my husband, uttered no
word to defend me from their wicked abuse."

"I was a fool, and blind then," he answers. "I was weakly dominated and
ruled by a passion for Ivy Cleveland, which, God knows, I have rued and
repented long ago. I know her now for what she is, a selfish, heartless
woman, and her mother, a devil incarnate. I have told them that there
is no bond between us, and that they must go. If you will forgive me
and come home to me, Vera, I will devote my life to your happiness."

"If that is all you came for, you may go," she answers, icily. "I shall
never be nearer to you than I am at this moment. I should never have
confessed my secret, I should never have claimed you, whom I hate and
scorn, for my husband, but that it was the only way to keep my oath
of vengeance to my dying father. But I have done with you now. The
greatest kindness you can show me, Leslie Noble, is never to let me see
your hated face again on earth."

Leslie Noble's face grows dark with passion and shame. To be defied
and scorned by this beautiful girl is something that would make most
men cower and feel humiliated, and though this man has had the most of
his finer feelings dulled and blunted by his life with the Clevelands,
still some faint instinct of shame stirs in him at her words and looks.
But rage overpowers it.

"In your supreme scorn for me, Lady Fairvale, you seem to lose sight of
one stubborn fact," he answers, in low, menacing tones. "I have been
humbly pleading with you for what I may lawfully claim as my right."

"Your right!" she echoes, retreating toward the door as if she could
not bear another word.

"Yes, my right," he answers, following and placing himself between her
and the door. "Do not go, Lady Fairvale; stay and hear me out. You are
my wife; your place is in my home and by my side. What is there to
hinder me from taking possession of you?"

There is a dull menace in his look and tone, but Lady Vera's high
courage does not falter.

"Would you attempt such a thing against my will?" she inquires, fixing
on him the scornful gaze of her proud, dark eyes.

"I have fallen in love with you, Vera, I would dare much before I would
give up the hope of winning your heart in return," he answers, doggedly.

The angry color flames into her cheeks.

"Then you are simply mad," she answers. "Have I not told you that I
hate and despise you, and that I hope never to see your face again
after this hour? Were you the last man on earth, I should never give
you even one kind thought."

"Perhaps you have given your love elsewhere," he sneers. "Rumor assigns
Colonel Lockhart the highest place in your favor."

"Rumor is right," Lady Vera answers, with calm defiance. "I love
Colonel Lockhart, and I should have been his wife had not you
reappeared upon the scene. I believed you dead. Tell me who was it that
died last year in your native city, having the same name as your own?"

"It was my uncle, Leslie Noble, for whom I was named," he answers,
sullenly, and then, quite suddenly, he falls down on his knees before
her, and tries to take her hand, but she draws it haughtily away.

"Oh, Vera," he exclaims, in abject despair, "you drive me mad when you
so heartlessly declare your love for another man. You have no right to
love any other man than me; I am the lord of your heart and person, yet
once more I plead with you, humbly, because I love you, come home with
me, Vera, my darling. Be my wife in truth. Let me claim what already
belongs to me in the eyes of the law."

"Never!" she answers, decisively. "Rise, Leslie Noble, do not kneel to
me. I will have naught to do with you now or ever. I would die before I
would recognize your claim upon me. You have my answer now and for all
time. Go, and do not trouble me again."

She moves to the door and holds it open, pointing to it with one white,
taper finger. She looks so proud, so imperious, so commanding, that
against his will he is compelled to obedience.

He moves to the door, but looks back to say with a dark, menacing frown:

"I am going, but do not please yourself with the fancy that you have
seen the last of me, Lady Fairvale. You belong to me, and I swear that
I will have my own."

With that ominous threat he goes.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Previous to Leslie Noble's visit to Countess Vera he has been the hero
of an excited scene at Darnley House.

Since the night of Mrs. Vernon's party, Ivy has been, for the most
part of the time, raving in angry hysterics, which Mr. Noble makes no
smallest attempt to soothe or soften. In fact, he spends almost all
of his time away from home, and a quiet as of the tomb seems to have
fallen over the magnificent mansion with its splendid furniture and
large retinue of servants. No one calls, no further invitations pour in
upon them. Society seems to have tacitly turned the cold shoulder to
them in their defeat and disgrace.

The rage, the shame, the humiliation of Mrs. Cleveland's mind no tongue
can tell.

From the grave in which he lies moldering back to his kindred clay, her
enemy has reached out an icy, skeleton hand, and struck the brimming
cup of pride and triumph ruthlessly from her lips.

Through the agency of his child, the beautiful daughter she had hated
so bitterly, he had avenged his terrible wrongs. There is murder in
Marcia Cleveland's heart as she writhes under the retributive hand of
justice. Fain would she grip her strong, white fingers around Vera's
delicate throat, and press the life out, or plunge a dagger in her
tender breast, or press a poisoned cup to those beautiful lips that had
condemned her in such scornful phrases.

On the morning of that day when Leslie Noble has his interview with
Lady Vera, Mrs. Cleveland is sitting alone with Ivy in a small,
daintily-furnished morning-room that opens from the library.

They are anxiously discussing their situation and prospects, for it is
impossible to conceal from themselves that Mr. Noble is dazzled by the
prospect opening before him, and that the severance of the tie that
has bound him to the shrewish Ivy is more agreeable to his mind than
otherwise.

"Will he desert me, do you think, mamma? He used to love me, you
remember," exclaims the fair termagant, trying to whisper comfort to
her foreboding heart.

Mrs. Cleveland laughs, a low, bitter, sarcastic laugh.

"You do well to say _once_," she answers, "for whatever love he might
have had for you in the past, you have killed it long ago by your
foolish extravagance, your violent temper and self-will."

"Who incited me to it all, I wonder?" her daughter cries, turning her
head angrily. "Who was it that told me to have my own way and defy him,
since being my husband, he was perforce compelled to bear with me? Who
but _you_, who now turn around and taunt me with the result of your
teachings?"

"Well, well, and I was right enough." Mrs. Cleveland replies, coolly,
justifying herself. "Of course I could not foresee how things would
fall out, or I should have counselled you to keep your husband's love
at all events. He might then have made some fight against this Countess
Vera's claim. As it is----"

She pauses with a hateful, significant "hem."

"As it is," Ivy repeats after her, shortly. "Well, go on. Let us have
the benefit of your opinion."

"He will be glad of any excuse to shake you off," finishes her mother.

"But he shall not do it," Ivy cries out, furiously, and brandishing her
small fist as if at some imaginary foe. "I will stick to him like a
burr. I am his wife. The woman that claims him is a hateful impostor.
No one will make me believe that Vera Campbell's bones are not lying in
the grave where we saw her buried three years ago."

"Perhaps this will convince you," exclaims a loud, triumphant voice,
and Leslie Noble, striding suddenly into the room, holds an open paper
before her eyes. It is the cablegram from Washington, telling him that
the coffin beneath the marble monument is empty--that the bride he
buried three years ago has escaped from her darksome prison house of
clay.

"Do you believe now?" Leslie Noble demands, with something of insolent
triumph in his voice and bearing as the two women crowd nearer and scan
the fatal cablegram with dilated eyes and working faces.

Mrs. Cleveland answers, stormily:

"No, we do not believe such a trumped-up falsehood--not for an instant.
I see how it is. You have lent yourself to a wicked plan in order to
free yourself from poor innocent Ivy, whose greatest weakness has ever
been her fondness for you, wicked and treacherous deceiver that you
are! You strive for a high prize, in unlimited wealth and the greatest
beauty in England. But you will see whether Ivy will tamely endure
desertion and disgrace. She declares that she will not give you up, and
I shall uphold her in that resolution!"

He stares at her a moment with an expression of fiery scorn and anger,
then answers scathingly:

"I am sorry to hear that Ivy is so lost to self-respect as to wish to
still live with a man who is bound to her only by a tie of the deepest
dishonor and disgrace. But her intentions or yours can make not the
slightest difference in what I am going to do. For more than two years
I have been the meek slave of you and of Ivy--driven as bond slave
was never driven before the triumphal car of your imperious will! You
have recklessly dissipated my fortune, defied my warnings, trampled
my wishes under foot, shown me all too plainly for mistake that I was
married for my money, not at all for myself. The hour of my release has
come at last, and with unfeigned gladness I throw off the yoke that has
long been too heavy for endurance!"

They stare at him mutely--Mrs. Cleveland purple with rage, Ivy gasping
for breath, and preparing to go off into furious hysterics. He takes
advantage of the momentary lull in their wrath to proceed, determinedly:

"You must understand by this, Ivy, that as you are no longer my wife,
indeed, never have been, that I will not again recognize you as such,
and that an immediate separation is desirable. You have so beggared
me by your extravagance that it is impossible for me to follow the
generous dictates of my heart which would prompt me to bestow a goodly
sum upon you. But I shall give you a check for a thousand dollars,
and you may retain your dresses and jewels, by the sale of which you
may realize a very neat little fortune. I have no more to say beyond
expressing the hope that you will leave Darnley House by to-morrow and
seek other quarters. I shall not return until you are gone."

While speaking he has laid with elaborate politeness a folded check by
Ivy's elbow, and with a formal bow which includes both ladies in its
mocking complaisance, he quits the room and the house, to seek that
interview with Lady Vera which we have recorded in our last chapter.

"Deserted! Repudiated! Driven from home!" shrieks out Ivy, finding
voice at last, and springing tragically to her feet. "Mamma, what shall
we do now? Where shall we go?"

"We will go nowhere," Mrs. Cleveland answers, determinedly. "This is
your home, and here we shall stay! I defy Leslie Noble to oust us from
Darnley House. It will take something more than a cablegram and the
oath of a countess to prove that you are not Leslie Noble's wife. Why,
her own denial that she was ever buried proves that she is not Vera
Campbell. How could she be ignorant of such a tragic event in her own
life? No, no, Ivy, we will not quit Darnley House yet. Leslie Noble is
not so easily rid of us as he fondly thinks. Darnley House is not ready
to receive Countess Vera as its mistress yet. We will hold the fort."

Mrs. Cleveland is equal to most emergencies.

Confident in this knowledge she settles herself to abide by her
decision. But in this case it turns out that she has reckoned without
her host.

A week passes. Such a week as Mrs. Cleveland and Ivy have seldom spent,
so quiet, so void of callers and excitement as it is. They have
commenced by taking their usual daily drive, but before the week is out
they discontinue it. Such curious, insolent glances follow them, such
cold, averted looks meet them.

The fickle world that smiled on them its sweetest so lately, has only
frowns and shrugs, and whispered detractions now.

Even Mrs. Cleveland's iron assurance quails before the storm of public
disapproval, and she decides to hide her diminished head in the
luxurious shades of Darnley House.

Of even this solace she is soon bereft.

A freezingly-polite letter arrives from the master of the mansion,
desiring to know when they propose to vacate his premises. Mrs.
Cleveland and Ivy return a prompt defiance to this inquiry, stating
that they do not intend to leave at all.

And now the trodden worm turns with a vengeance.

On the following day all the servants of Darnley House leave in a
body, after informing their mistress of their discharge by Mr. Noble.
They decline to be re-engaged by Mrs. Noble, and Mrs. Cleveland hints
bitterly at bribery on the part of her whilom son-in-law.

On the same day arrives a concise statement from Mr. Noble to the
effect that a public sale of the house and its effects is advertised
for the third day of that week. He is outdoing even themselves in cool,
relentless malice.

"We shall have to go. We have been fairly whipped out by that scheming
villain," Mrs. Cleveland groans, in indescribable wrath, and bitterness
of spirit, and Ivy, throwing herself down on her satin couch, hurls
bitter maledictions on Leslie Noble's name, and wishes him dead a
hundred times.

But all their combined rage cannot hinder the course of events. So
on the morning of the sale, just as a few curious strangers begin to
invade the splendid drawing-rooms, Mrs. Cleveland and her daughter are
quietly driven away in a closed carriage.



CHAPTER XXIX.


"I shall have to leave London," Lady Vera says, desperately, when rumor
has wafted to her ears the story of Leslie Noble's cavalier treatment
of Mrs. Cleveland and her daughter. "I am afraid--horribly afraid of
that man. His parting threat still rings in my ears."

"You need not be afraid while you are with us," Lady Clive exclaims,
vivaciously. "Do you think we would ever let the mean wretch come near
you again?"

But Lady Vera, coloring deeply, explains:

"He has other methods of annoying me besides his presence. Already I
have received several letters from him, some of a wheedling, persuasive
nature, others filled with offensive threats."

Sir Harry looks up from his paper.

"Shall I horsewhip the scoundrel for you, Lady Vera?" he asks,
indignantly. "It would give me the greatest pleasure."

She shrinks, sensitively, from this offered championship.

"No, no, for it would only make the affair more notorious. And I am
afraid it has been talked about already--has it not, Sir Harry?" she
asks, with a painful blush on her shamed face.

"Yes, rather," he admits, reluctantly.

"And I have been afraid even to look into the papers," she pursues. "I
thought it might have gotten into them. Has it, Sir Harry?"

He answers "yes" again with sincere reluctance, and Lady Vera hides
her face in her hands a moment, while crimson blushes of shame burn
her fair cheeks. She thinks to herself that she would gladly have died
rather than have encountered all this.

"But they do not say any harm of you, dear--you mustn't think _that_,"
said Lady Clive, kindly. "And they all sympathize with you. Your
friends call on you every day, only you decline to see them, you know.
But every one is so sorry for you, and has cut those people--your
enemies, I mean, Vera--quite dead."

"Noble has turned them out of Darnley House, bag and baggage. Had to
sell the place over their heads to oust them," says Sir Harry.

"Is it not strange that I should have taken such an antipathy to them
when I first met them abroad? Experience has so fully justified me that
I shall plume myself hereafter on being a person of great discernment,"
laughs Lady Clive.

Lady Vera sighs and is silent. Her heart is very sore over the parting
with her lover, and the notoriety that the keeping of her oath has
brought down upon her. Fain would she bow her fair head in some lone,
deserted spot, and die of the shame and misery that weighs upon her so
heavily.

"After all I believe I should be safer and happier at Fairvale Park,"
she says, after a moment. "I have a feeling of dread upon me here. I
am growing nervous, perhaps, but I am actually afraid of Leslie Noble.
I seem to be haunted by his baleful presence. Yesterday evening when
I went for a short walk, I fancied my footsteps were dogged by a man,
though I could not make out his identity through my thick veil. But I
was frightened homeward very fast by an apprehension that it was Mr.
Noble. I should breathe more easily out of London. Could I persuade
you, Lady Clive and Sir Harry, to forego the delights of the season,
and come down to the country with me?"

Sir Harry gives his wife a quick telegraphic signal of affirmation, and
she assents smilingly.

"I am sure I shall be delighted," she declares. "And Sir Harry is
usually of the same mind as I am. It must be perfectly lovely now down
at Fairvale. And the children would be delighted, I know."

"I am all the more willing to accept Lady Vera's invitation to
Fairvale, because I think it necessary that she should examine her
father's letters and papers if he has left any," declares Sir Harry,
diffidently. "If he has left any confession bearing on the subject of
her supposed death and burial, it is most important that she should be
in possession of it."

"Why?" asks the young countess, looking at him with a slightly startled
air.

"For this reason," he answers. "In the face of your enemies' confident
assertion of Vera Noble's death and burial, and your own denial of it,
matters have assumed a strange aspect! Mrs. Cleveland and her daughter
declare you to be an impostor whom the Earl of Fairvale has palmed
off as his child. There are some who could very easily be brought to
believe that story."

"Whom?" Lady Vera asks, wonderingly.

"The person who would be most benefited if such a charge could be
proven true--the next heir to the title and estates of Fairvale," Sir
Harry answers, gravely.

"Oh, dear!" cries Lady Clive, anxiously, and Vera says, with paling
lips:

"You do not mean that--that----"

"I ought to tell you, Lady Vera, what I have heard," he answers,
interrupting her incoherent question. "Shall I do so?"

"Yes, pray do," she answers.

"Briefly, then, Raleigh Gilmore, the next heir, has come up to
London, summoned doubtless by the vindictive Clevelands, and has been
interviewing some eminent lawyers. Seeing that he has lived for ten
years or more on his small estate in the country without ever setting
foot in London, this present move on his part has a suspicious look.
You may apprehend a suit against you at any time, so it behooves you to
muster all the evidence you can on this weak point in your history."

Lady Vera sits silent before this new, impending calamity with folded
hands, her color coming and going fitfully, her dark eyes fixed
steadfastly on the floor. Perhaps she does not realize in all its
intensity this new horror. The pain she has already endured has numbed
her feelings, or rendered her impervious to future sufferings.

"You understand, do you not, Lady Vera," Sir Harry pursues, calling her
attention reluctantly, "that your denial of ever having been buried
makes a fearfully weak point in your case, should it ever be contested?
All the evidence adduced goes to prove that Vera Campbell Noble really
died to all appearance, and was buried. If you are compelled by law to
prove your identity with that Vera, you will have to admit that burial,
and prove your resurrection. Otherwise--I am telling you this in the
greatest kindness, remember, dear Lady Vera--you may be branded as an
adventuress and impostor, and ruthlessly bereft of the goodly heritage
of Fairvale."

She lifts her heavy eyes from the blank contemplation of the carpet,
and looks at him thoughtfully.

"You do not believe me an impostor, do you, Sir Harry?" she asks, sadly.

"Not for an instant," replies the baronet, warmly.

"Do you, Lady Clive?"

"No, indeed, my dearest girl," replies her friend, with an emphatic
caress.

"Did Colonel Lockhart, before he went away?" she asks, with blushing
hesitation.

"Not at all," Sir Harry answers, decidedly.

"Then surely no one will believe it," she says, thoughtfully. "You
remember Vera Campbell's grave has been found empty."

"Yes, but you remember you may be called on to prove your identity with
Vera Campbell," he answers, gravely.

"Leslie Noble unhesitatingly acknowledges me as his wife," she argues.

"I do not know whether that fact would weigh strongly with a jury,"
he answers, thoughtfully. "To claim you, Lady Vera, so young, so
lovely, above all, so wealthy, as his wife, cannot be without its
subtle temptation to such a man as Leslie Noble. Rumor says that
the Clevelands have almost beggared him by their lavish and ruinous
extravagance, and that he hated the woman who bore his name. What
more natural than that he should jump at the choice of exchanging his
crumbling fortunes and despised partner for rank and wealth, and beauty
and youth? Though I do not doubt your identity for one moment, Lady
Vera, I am convinced that it could scarcely be proved in a court of law
by the oath of Leslie Noble."

As he pauses, coloring, and deeply sorry that it has seemed necessary
to speak so plainly to her whom fate has already so rudely buffeted,
she looks up at him with forced calmness and self-restraint.

"What, then, do you deem it necessary that I should do in my own
defense, Sir Harry?" she inquires.

"In times of peace prepare for war," he quotes, sententiously. "Do not
understand me to mean that I apprehend immediate trouble, Lady Vera.
Perhaps in my friendliness and interest in you, I have magnified the
danger. But I would advise that you be ready in case an attack is
made. And the first step I would advise is to thoroughly examine the
papers left by your father, the late earl. I can only think that he
concealed the truth from you from fear of shocking your sensitive mind
too greatly. But I can scarcely credit that he would fail to leave on
record the narrative of so strange and important an event in your life.
I say, therefore, if such a document be in existence, it is judicious
that you should put yourself in immediate possession of it."

Lady Vera, rising impulsively, goes over to this true and noble friend,
and presses his hand warmly between both her own soft, white ones.

"Sir Harry, I do not know how to thank you for the friendship you are
proving so nobly," she murmurs, tearfully. "But I will pray God nightly
to bless you for standing by me so nobly in my hour of trial and
sorrow."

"Tut--tut, I need no thanks," the baronet answers, brushing a
suspicious moisture away from his eyes. "How can I help being kind to
Nella's best loved friend, and her brother's sweetheart? You need not
blush, my dear, for I hope Providence may soon translate Leslie Noble
to some higher sphere, and give you and Phil leave to be happy. And
until then I will do the best I can for your comfort. In furtherance of
that end I propose that Nella and the children shall be in readiness to
accompany you to Fairvale to-morrow."



CHAPTER XXX.


Sadly and wearily enough Lady Vera goes to her room and her couch that
night. Having disrobed and retired, she dismisses her maid to the
dressing-room to complete the packing for to-morrow's flitting. Then,
closing her heavy eyelids, she endeavors to woo sleep to her weary
pillow.

Strange, shuddering sighs heave the fair breast as she lies there in
the dim, half-light of the lowered lamp, with her fair arms tossed
above her golden head, and the dark lashes drooping against the pale
and lovely cheeks.

Sir Harry Clive's conversation has revived in her sensitive,
imaginative mind all her horror of that strange, living entombment
through which she has passed years ago, all unknown to herself by
reason of her father's tender, shielding love.

"I have lain in the bosom of the dark earth, the coffin-lid has been
fastened down upon my living breast, the cold, black clods have been
heaped upon me; I have been buried alive. Oh, horrible!" she murmurs,
aloud, and to her excited fancy it seems as if the echo of a low,
diabolical laugh floats through the room.

She starts up on her elbow with a low and frightened cry.

"Elsie, did you speak? did you laugh?" she calls out to her maid in the
dressing-room; but Elsie, absorbed in the prosaic business of packing,
does not hear her voice, and in a moment the countess falls back upon
her pillow, chiding herself for nervousness.

"It was a foolish fancy, merely," she tells herself. "I must not let my
nervous thoughts run on like this through my terror of that mysterious
burial. I will compose myself to sleep. The hour is getting late.
Perhaps Elsie has finished her work and gone."

Once more she vainly tries to lose herself in sleep, but her heart
beats in her ears, her temples throb, some strange, alien, agitating
influence controls her mind, banishing rest and repose.

She puts her hands over her ears, in mortal dread of hearing that low,
eerie, unearthly cackle of malicious mirth again, and shuts her eyes as
if in dread of seeing some strange, unwelcome vision start out from the
shadowy hangings of the darkened room.

"Surely I am going mad under the weight of my troubles," she says to
herself, half-fearfully. "This sleeplessness, these weird, unearthly
fancies must be the premonitions of reason tottering on its throne."

The minutes pass. Gradually Lady Vera becomes conscious of a delicate,
subtle odor floating lightly through the room. She does not recognize
it as a perfume. It is simply an odor, faintly sickening, yet strangely
soothing to her excited senses. Her eyelids fall more heavily. She
seems to sleep.

Sleeping, a hideous vision comes to Lady Vera. A dark-robed, creeping
figure seems to start from the black shadows at the furthest corner of
the room and float across the floor to her bedside.

It is the form of a tall woman, with a hooded head and masked face,
but through the small holes of the mask two murderous black eyes glare
hatred upon her, the malevolent eyes of Marcia Cleveland.

Vera tries to start, to cry out, but she is motionless, dumb, bound
hand and foot by the spell of that subtle, sickening drug diffused
through the room, and which grows stronger as Marcia Cleveland's snowy
handkerchief flutters lightly in her hand.

All this Lady Vera notes in her strange dream, with feelings of
unutterable horror and despair. She tries to awake, to open her dazed
eyes fully, to utter some sound from her poor, parched lips, but they
refuse to obey her will.

And still those murderous black eyes glare with devilish hatred upon
her through the narrow slits in the mask.

Surely that evil glare is baleful enough to kill her of itself, Vera
thinks despairingly, but even at that instant the woman's hand is
drawn backward and upward, and in her murderous grasp glitters the
flashing blade of a dagger poised above the bare, uncovered breast of
the helpless victim, and this time with a last, vain, frenzied effort
to call on God for protection, Vera loses sight and consciousness, and
lies helpless at the mercy of her deadly foe.

The flashing steel glitters sharply in the air, nearer and nearer it
descends over the victim, in another moment it will be sheathed in her
heart, when a sudden cry rings through the room, swift footsteps cross
the floor, strong arms seize the body of the murderess from behind and
wrench her away from her helpless prey.

The gleaming dagger falls clanking to the floor. A man's voice,
passionate, vibrant, intense, cleaves the shuddering air of the night.

"Devil! murderess! If you had slain my darling, that blade should have
been sheathed in your own heart a moment later!"

It is the voice of Colonel Lockhart. Elsie, the maid, comes close
behind him, and together they bind the would-be murderess with strong
cords that prevent her attempted escape.



CHAPTER XXXI.


When Lady Vera comes to herself at last with many sighs, and painful
moans, she finds Lady Clive and the maid Elsie hovering around her like
ministering angels, the latter, indeed, sobbing piteously in the belief
that her young mistress is dead. But when the faint breath flutters
over the parted lips, and the dark eyes unclose and stare around her
with a blank, terrified look, Elsie sobs for joy, and even Lady Clive's
bright blue eyes fill with glad tears.

"She is alive, my lady," the maid exclaims, joyfully. "That dreadful
woman has not killed her with her vile chloroform."

Lady Vera shivers and puts her hand to her breast, withdrawing it, and
gazing at it as though she expected to find it stained with blood.

"I thought she had killed me with that terrible dagger. I saw it gleam
in the air above me. And, oh, those terrible eyes! They seemed to burn
through me with their intense hate. Did you save me, Lady Clive?" she
moans, feebly.

"No, dear, you owe your life to this brave Elsie," Lady Clive replies,
turning an appreciative glance on the neat and pretty girl who was
still busy over her mistress.

"Tell me how it was, Elsie," commands Lady Vera.

"You see, my lady," Elsie begins, "I had just finished packing your
trunks, and thought I would go and see if you were asleep, or if you
needed me before I went to bed. I had been packing very softly so as
not to disturb you, and I crept softly in my stocking feet to the
archway, and just parted the hangings to peep in at you. Then I saw you
lying white as death, and a strange, sickening smell was in the room.
I gazed around, and saw a head peeping around a curtain in the corner.
The face was masked, and two blazing eyes shone through the eye-holes."

"You may well say blazing eyes," Lady Vera groans. "They seemed to burn
through me when they looked down at me. And then, Elsie?"

"Oh, my lady, I was almost frightened to death! I knew that I was too
light and small to cope with the robber, as I then thought him, but
I had just enough sense left not to cry out, or make a noise. I ran
swiftly and silently away out into the corridor where I met a gentleman
going up into his room. I begged him to follow me at once, and he did
so without a word. And, oh, my lady, we were not an instant too soon!"
Elsie covers her face with her hands and shivers at the thought.

"She was about to murder me. I saw and knew all, though I could not
move nor speak," exclaimed Countess Vera.

"She was, indeed, about to murder you," returns the maid. "She had
crept from her corner and was standing over your bed with a shining
dagger raised over you. Your night-dress had become unfastened at the
throat, and your breast was bare. She was about to strike when your
rescuer ran swiftly in and whirled her away from the bed, and the
dagger fell on the floor. Oh, my dear lady, it is horrible how near you
came to being killed," cries the faithful maid, bursting into floods of
tears at the dreadful thought.

"But for you, my faithful girl, I should now be dead," the countess
answers, deeply moved. "You shall be generously rewarded. But now tell
me who was the gentleman that so opportunely came to your assistance?"

Elsie looks embarrassed, but Lady Clive comes to the rescue.

"We did not mean that you should know, dear," she says, "but I might
have guessed that you would never rest until you knew. So I will tell
you. It was Philip."

Lady Vera turns from deathly white to rosy red at that magic name.

"But he went away," she says, wonderingly.

"I know--he was down in the country visiting a friend. Last night he
came in after you had retired, and he expected to go in the morning
before you came down."

"Next to Elsie, I owe him my life," Lady Vera says, softly, as if
there were a subtle pleasure in the thought, "and that dreadful
woman--is she gone?"

"Marcia Cleveland? No, indeed. She is in the dressing-room, securely
bound, and guarded by Philip and Sir Harry."

"I should like to see her," Lady Vera observes, after a moment's
thought. "But first, Elsie, I should like my dressing-gown and
slippers."

And wrapped in the soft, blue robe, with her splendid, golden hair
floating loosely over her shoulders, like a shining veil, Lady Vera
enters the presence of her enemy, closely followed by Lady Clive and
Elsie, who guard her with nervous care on either side.

Marcia Cleveland, crouching like a baffled tigress, in the bonds they
have cast around her, lifts her eyes and glowers with deadly rage and
hate at the beautiful young girl.



CHAPTER XXXII.


For a moment there is complete silence, while the wicked and vindictive
woman glares with all the bitterness of baffled hate and vengeance upon
her beautiful foe who had so nearly been her victim.

The Lady Vera speaks in a tone of cold and withering contempt:

"Could you not have been satisfied with the wrongs you have inflicted
on me and mine, Marcia Cleveland, without attempting my life?"

"You should have known better than to think I could remain quiescent
under your malicious vengeance! Did you think I could stand idly by and
see you ruin my daughter's whole life without striking back at you?"
the woman answers, sullenly.

"No, for I knew that there was too much of the venomous serpent in your
nature," Lady Vera answers, with stinging scorn. "But I believe that
even malevolence like yours would have shrunk abashed before such a
terrible crime as this which you have attempted. Do you not tremble at
the consequences of what you have done?"

"I have done nothing. I have only failed in what would have been a
source of pride and joy to me if I had succeeded," Mrs. Cleveland
answers, with sullen bravado.

"Infamous wretch!" Sir Harry Clive mutters audibly, while Colonel
Lockhart, with a deathly-pale face and blazing eyes, appears to
restrain himself with difficulty from springing upon her and tossing
her out of the window.

"Should you indeed have been so glad to see me dead?" Lady Vera
inquires, with a slight tone of mournfulness.

It seems incredible to her pure mind that this woman, in whose
veins runs some slight strains of her own blood, being her mother's
half-sister, could so coldly and heartlessly wish her dead--could even
attempt to kill her.

"Yes, I should be glad to see you dead," Mrs. Cleveland answers,
viciously. "I have hated Vera Campbell and wished her dead ever since
she was born. I hated her mother before her. She robbed me of the only
man I ever loved, and earned my eternal hate! And if you are really
Edith Campbell's child, as you assert, be assured that I hate you, too,
and wish you dead with all my heart!"

"Lady Vera, do not bandy words with the heartless creature! She can
only wound you more and more," exclaims the baronet, indignantly. "Let
us take her away. She contaminates the air we breathe."

For the first time a look of fear whitens the woman's reckless, daring
face.

"Take me away--where?" she mutters, under her breath.

"To prison," Sir Harry answers, sternly, "to answer for your crime."

"Crime? I have committed no crime. I have not harmed a single hair of
my lady's head," the woman answers, with sarcastic insolence.

"That is not your fault, woman," he answers, coldly and rebukingly.
"You failed in the endeavor, but you shall pay dearly for the attempt.
Have you done with her, Lady Vera? We are waiting on your pleasure."

Lady Vera stands silent a moment, regarding the wretched creature
groveling on the floor in the cords with which they have securely
bound her. In spite of her air of reckless bravado, Vera sees that her
face is ghastly pale, and the dew of fear beads her brow. The angry
eyes fall for the first time before the young girl's gaze of steady
contempt. For a moment the silence continues, then Vera asks, clearly
and calmly:

"Can I do anything for you, Mrs. Cleveland?"

"No," she answers, in an enraged snarl, like an angry canine.

Lady Vera continues, calmly:

"Pray understand me. I have no wish to wage further warfare upon you.
With the fulfillment of my oath of vengeance my feud against you ended.
I despise your hatred and your attempt to injure me, and I have no
desire to punish you more than I have already done in obedience to my
oath of vengeance. If there is anything I can do for you, speak."

Mrs. Cleveland looks wonderingly at the beautiful, calm, white face of
the girl as she stands waiting for her answer.

"Do you mean that you will not prosecute me for this attempt on your
life? That you will suffer me to go free?" she inquires in a doubtful
tone, in which hope faintly struggles.

"Yes, I mean that, if you wish it--do you?" Vera asks, still quietly.

"Yes, but I hate to take a favor from you," the woman answers, sullenly.

"Do not take it as a favor. Consider that I am heaping coals of fire
upon your head," Lady Vera answers, with a slight, cold laugh. "I
choose to take my revenge that way. Sir Harry, will you please loose
her bonds?"

The baronet looks his disapproval.

"Lady Vera, pray do not give way to such a Quixotic impulse," he urges.
"If you do, this woman will live to make you regret it. You owe her
no forbearance. I say let her suffer the penalty of the law for her
attempted crime."

Lady Clive and Elsie echo his words, but the countess shakes her golden
head.

"It is my wish that she shall go free," she answers, with resolution.
"Colonel Lockhart, will you not loose her bonds?"

It is the first time she has seemed to be conscious of his presence.
The deep color mantles her cheek as she speaks his name, and lifts a
timid, appealing glance to him that makes his heart beat fast in his
breast.

"Since _you_ wish it, Lady Vera, yes," he answers, with a low bow, and
hastens to execute her will, while the baronet, a little chagrined at
her willfulness, looks silently on.

A moment and the strong cords that bind her enemy fall to the floor.
Mrs. Cleveland rises erect and tall, and faces Vera.

"Do not expect me to thank you for this release," she says, bitterly.
"Although I am glad to go free, I hate you if possible even more that
you have had it in your power to do me a kindness."

"I expect no thanks," the countess answers icily. "I only desire
to be rid of your presence." She lifts her white hand, and points
commandingly at the door.

"Now go."

"One moment," exclaims the baronet. "How did you gain admittance to
Lady Vera's bedchamber, and conceal yourself there?"

"By my woman's wit," she answers, curtly and decisively.

"Then, perhaps, you can find your way out in the same manner," the
baronet rejoins, sarcastically.

"Perhaps so, but I think, on the whole, I should prefer a guide," she
answers, with cool insolence.

"I am at your service, madam," Colonel Lockhart says, obeying a
pleading look from Lady Vera, and preceding her to the door, followed
by Sir Harry.

In a moment more, without word or backward glance, the wicked woman
sweeps from the room.

Then Vera, broken down by the fierce strain upon her feelings, breaks
down utterly, and weeps on Lady Clive's breast until she is thoroughly
exhausted.

"You see it is all for the best to go away to-morrow," she has said to
her friend. "Even my life is not safe here against the machinations of
my relentless enemies."



CHAPTER XXXIII.


It is very lovely down in the country at Fairvale Park in the golden
summer weather. A pang goes through Lady Vera's heart as she recalls
Sir Harry Clive's warning, and thinks of losing this grand, picturesque
place, the only true home she has ever known. Her sweetest, tenderest
memories of her father are twined around the spot.

Bereft of this, she must indeed be desolate. Not even one spot of
brightness will remain in the cold and cruel darkness that has settled
over her life.

Perhaps it is this thought that drives her, as soon as she is at home
again, to seek diligently through her father's papers for some writing
bearing on the subject of her supposed death and burial.

Sir Harry Clive has so confidently believed in the existence of some
such document, that it is with a pang of the bitterest disappointment
she sees the first day pass with no tangible success, though her brain
is tired, and her eyes weary with poring over the contents of his desk.

"I have found nothing, although I have closely scrutinized every little
bit of paper," she tells Sir Harry, when they meet at dinner, in a tone
of sad disappointment.

"You have examined all the papers?" he asks, with disappointment equal
to her own.

"All, except an old memorandum-book, which I intend to look over
to-morrow," she answers, "though I scarcely think it will result in
anything. Do you think it worth my while to examine it?"

"Yes. It is a forlorn hope, at least, and we must try everything.
Strange that your father should have neglected so important a duty,"
the baronet continues, musingly.

"Poor papa! You must remember, his mind was all distraught by grief,"
Lady Vera answers, with rising tears. "He thought only of his sorrows
and his longed-for vengeance on the destroyer of his wedded happiness.
We must forgive him for his want of thought."

"You must not think that I am blaming him, dear Lady Vera. Nothing is
further from my thoughts," Sir Harry answers, gently, but there is
a shade of anxiety on his brow that does not clear away during the
evening.

He is full of sorrow for the fair young countess, full of fears that he
will not speak aloud, for he has heard far more of Raleigh Gilmore's
intentions than he would even hint to Vera or to Lady Clive. He knows
that she will have to make a fight for title, name and fortune, and
that her case before the law is so terribly weak that there is large
danger of her being cast out from her inheritance, and branded as
adventuress and impostor.

But of all that is in his mind Sir Harry says nothing. Why should he
grieve her more, he thinks, looking at the pale, suffering young face,
on whose white and wasted lineaments the traces of sorrow were so
plainly and sadly outlined.

    "Upon her face there was the tint of grace,
     The settled shadow of an inward strife,
     And an unquiet drooping of the eye
     As if its lid were charged with unshed tears."

The next day, taking the old memorandum-book, she goes for a solitary
ramble. Lady Clive is going for a drive with her children, so she will
not be missed.

A favorite resort of Lady Vera's is a silvery little lake on the green
border of the wide, level park. Water-lilies with their wide green
leaves and waxen-white petals rock softly on the bosom of the lake, and
feathery-green willows fringe it softly round. Lady Vera finds a quiet,
sequestered seat with her back against a willow tree, and applies
herself to her task, turning page after page softly and unweariedly in
the pursuit of her object.

A weary quest. The simple, leather-bound memorandum volume, with plain
gold clasps, had been Earl Fairvale's bosom companion in the days when
he was simple Lawrence Campbell. Patiently Vera reads on and on, and
the morning sun mounts higher in the heavens, the water ripples softly
at her feet, the wind sighs in the grass and the willows.

But it is not the most delightful reading in the world, studying the
dull entries of an old memorandum-book. Lady Vera's sweet patience
begins to flag at last. Her red lips quiver with disappointment and
suspense. She shuts the book with one taper finger between the pages
and leans her golden head back against the tree, wearily.

"There is nothing here--absolutely nothing," she tells herself, sadly,
all unconscious that but one thin leaf intervenes between her and
success. "I shall lose all," she continues, with a choking sob; "I have
lost my lover and all my happiness. Now I shall have to lose my name,
my title, my home, all the lavish wealth to which I have become so
accustomed that I shall not know how to do without it. All my life I
have seemed to be the foot-ball of fate. Sorrow is ever near me. It is
like Philip's song. Oh, how often I recall it:

    "'As the blade wears the scabbard,
        The billow the shore,
      So sorrow doth fret me
        Forevermore!'"

She rests a little, letting the tears steal unchecked down her pale
cheeks, while her bosom heaves with emotion--a little while, and then
she dashes the blinding drops away, chiding herself for her weakness.

"I am childish and silly; I must remember I have not got to the end of
the book yet. Time enough to despond then," she says, bending to her
task with renewed ardor and energy.

The dark eyes under the shady fringe of the lashes rove patiently
down the page--they finish it, and find nothing--the white, taper
finger turns another leaf, and lo! there at the top of the page, this
mysterious entry:

  "OCT. 30th, 188--, Mem. To-day presented Joel McPherson, sexton at
  Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D. C., with a check for a thousand
  dollars, as a slight testimonial of my undying gratitude for his
  skill and co-operation with me in the act by which my darling
  daughter, Vera, was restored to me from the grave itself, in which
  she had been immured alive."

A cry breaks from the lips of the overjoyed girl--the tears start
afresh--this time the shining drops of gladness.

"Eureka! I have found it!" she quotes, with a low and happy laugh, and
bending her graceful head, she kisses the precious record made by that
beloved hand now mouldering into dust.

It is some little time before she grows quite calm. The happy
excitement of joy has made her pulse beat and her heart burn. At last,
with the book still lying open on her lap, and her head leaned back
against the tree, the tired lids fall over the dark eyes, she relapses
into pleasant musings over this happy chance, and so--drops asleep,
little dreaming of the baleful presence hovering so near her.

The winds sigh past her cheek, fanning it softly with a touch as soft
as a kiss; the silver waters murmur at her feet, lulling her into
sweeter, softer slumber. And no instinct warns her of the baleful gaze
that watches her through the screen of the bending willows, nor of the
stealthy footsteps creeping, serpent-like, nearer and nearer, until the
eager gaze peers over her shoulder at the precious page spread open on
her knee.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sun climbs higher, broad noonday throws a lance of golden light
into Vera's shady retreat and shines into her face. She wakes with a
start, and springs to her feet.

"I have been asleep! How came I here?" she cries; then suddenly she
remembers. "I was looking over papa's book, and I found the record of
my burial and my rescue from the grave. Where is it, now? It lay open
on my lap when I fell asleep. I hope it has not fallen into the lake."

A hurried survey of the green, mossy bank convinces her that such must
be the case. The memorandum-book is nowhere to be seen. Most probably
it has been precipitated into the water by her startled spring to her
feet on awaking.

"How could I have been so careless?" she cries, in poignant grief and
dismay. "I should have gone straight to the house and shown Sir Harry
my important discovery. But I remember every word of it just as it was
written. Perhaps that will do as well. I will go and seek Sir Harry at
once and tell him all."

Carelessly donning her wide-brimmed sun-hat she leaves the spot, little
dreaming that she has been ruthlessly robbed of her treasure.

"Are you sure--quite sure that you have not dreamed the whole thing,
Lady Vera?" Sir Harry Clive asks her, incredulously, when she told him
her story.

The sensitive color mantles her delicate cheek.

"I am perfectly certain of what I have stated," she answers. "It was
only after I had found the entry that I fell asleep a few delicious
moments. It must have been the greatness of the reaction from suspense
and grief to success and joy that caused my sudden, overwhelming
drowsiness. I remember that I kissed the precious words a few minutes
before I fell asleep. I read them over and over. Listen, Sir Harry, I
am quite sure I can repeat every word with perfect accuracy now."

Slowly she repeats:

  "OCT. 30th, 188--. Mem. To-day presented Joel McPherson, sexton at
  Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D. C., with a check for a thousand
  dollars, as a slight testimonial of my undying gratitude for his
  skill and co-operation with me in the act by which my darling
  daughter, Vera, was restored to me from the grave itself, in which
  she had been immured alive."

As she slowly utters the words, Sir Harry jots them down in his
own memorandum-book. There is a puzzled look on his broad, fair,
intelligent brow.

"If only you had not fallen asleep," he says, regretfully. "But, dear
Lady Vera, this sounds so much like the vagaries of sleep. It seems
real to you, I know, but I am almost afraid to pin my faith on it."

"The lake is not deep; I will send one of the servants to dive for
the book. I am sure he will find it. Then I shall convince you of my
credibility," she answers, quietly, as she leaves the room.

As she has said, the lake is not deep, and several of the men-servants
at Fairvale Park are skillful swimmers, but for all that they cannot
find the earl's memorandum-book beneath the shallow waves. All trace of
it is gone.

"Are you quite sure you carried it down to the lake with you?" the
baronet asks, unfeignedly perplexed.

"I am quite sure," she replies, with decision. "It lay open on my lap
when I fell asleep."

"Can any one have stolen it?" he asks, unconsciously hitting the truth.

"Impossible," she answers. "I am sure if any one had come near me, I
should have awakened. I am a very light sleeper."

"There is something very mysterious about its loss. I am quite
confident it did not fall into the lake," muses Sir Harry Clive.

Lady Vera, on the contrary, is quite sure that it did, but she does not
urge her belief, feeling a little wounded by his incredulous air, but
after a little, she says, thoughtfully:

"I am so sure that what I have told you is the truth and no dream, Sir
Harry, that I shall write to this Joel McPherson in America, and offer
him a large reward to come to England and explain that strange entry in
the lost memorandum-book. What do you think of my plan?"

"It can do no harm," he answers, after a moment's thought, "and it
might be a good plan."

"Then I shall lose no time in executing it," she answers, decisively.

The baronet detains her to say, hesitatingly:

"Do not think me officious, Lady Vera, if I suggest that you advertise
the loss of the earl's memorandum-book, and offer a suitable reward for
its recovery. It is just possible that some strolling tramp has quietly
pilfered it while you lay sleeping, attracted by the golden clasps."

"It may be," Lady Vera answers, incredulously, but she duly writes out
the advertisement, and it is forwarded without delay to the county
papers.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


Two days later, Lady Vera, amusing herself under the broad oaks of the
park with Lady Clive's children, is secretly drawn aside by Hal, the
eldest, with a look of importance on his handsome face.

"Come with me, Vera, away from the nurse and children," he says, with a
confidential air. "I have something for you."

Always indulgent to children, Lady Vera follows the clasp of the small
hand, and is led away to a small summer-house out of range of the keen
eyes of Mark and Dot.

"Now you may sit down, Vera," announces eight-year-old Hal, with owlish
gravity. "I have something to tell you before I give you what I said I
had for you."

Countess Vera sits down obediently. It is a bird's nest, or a
blue-bird's egg, or some such treasure of the summer wood, she thinks
to herself, with a smile, as the little brown hand goes into his jacket
pocket.

"This morning, Vera, I went for a walk with Mark and Dot, and the
nurse," he begins. "We went down into the wood a little way, it was so
cool and green, and the birds sang so sweetly."

"It is surely a bird's egg," Vera says to herself now, keenly approving
her own penetration.

But between the boyish fingers now appears the small corner of a yellow
envelope, which somewhat quickens her curiosity.

"I went off to some distance by myself, and climbed a tree to look
into a bird's nest. Bessie scolded, but I am too old to be bossed by a
nurse, papa says, and so I gave her to understand. Don't you think I am
getting too tall to mind what Bessie says, Lady Vera?" throwing back
his curly head with dignity.

"Much too tall," Lady Vera admits with demure earnestness. "I should
say that you would reach quite to her shoulder."

"Oh, quite," says Hal, in an aggrieved tone. "So, as I was telling you,
Vera, I told Bess to mind her own business. Then I climbed into a great
tree to look into a bird's nest."

"I hope you did not rob the nest and bring me the spoils, Hal," she
begins, reproachfully.

"No, indeed," laughed the lad. "You would not have admired them very
much if I had. The nest was pretty, but the five little naked birds
in it were quite disgusting, I can tell you. Not a feather had grown
on them yet, and their gaping mouths seemed as if they would swallow
one. I came down pretty quick, and almost landed on the head of an old
woman."

"An old woman," Vera repeats, in surprise.

"Yes, a wrinkled, stooping old hag, gathering sticks in the wood. I
gave her a pretty start, I can tell you," cries the boy, laughing at
the remembrance.

"Ah, then, it is a _souvenir_ of the old witch you have brought me,"
says the countess, smiling.

"You have guessed it, Vera. You must be a witch yourself," cries Hal,
in high glee with himself and her. "Here it is, a letter with an
elegant yellow cover--a begging letter, of course," he adds, with a
ludicrous assumption of wisdom.

A start of repulsion goes over Vera as she takes the coarse envelope in
her hand.

She holds it unopened in her hand a moment, wondering at her own
nervousness.

"Are you afraid to open it, Vera?" laughs the boy. "Let me do it for
you, then. The old hag was very mysterious over it, I can tell you. She
bade me tell no one of the letter, not even papa and mamma. You see how
clever I was, getting you away from Bessie and the children."

Lady Vera has torn the coarse envelope open by this time. A half sheet
of paper falls out into her hand. On it is clearly and plainly written
these lines:

"If Lady Fairvale would gain possession of the lost memorandum-book,
let her come down beyond the lodge-gates, half a mile along the road
at dusk this evening. Let her come alone and unwatched, or she will
accomplish nothing. One will be in waiting who will restore the
memorandum-book, and claim the reward."

Thus it ends. Hal looks curiously at her pale, grave face.

"It was a begging letter, wasn't it?" he inquires.

"She certainly wants something of me. I am not sure if she will get it
or not. Hal, promise me not to speak of this to-day to anyone--will
you, dear?"

"Mum's the word. I can keep a secret, you bet," answers the eldest-born
of the Clives, with dreadful slang, acquired, no doubt, in the stables
which he visits daily with his father.

"Thank you, dear, that's a good boy. Now let us go back to Mark and
Dot," says Lady Vera, putting her yellow-covered letter in her pocket.



CHAPTER XXXV.


"Shall I keep the appointment?" Lady Vera asks herself many times that
day.

A certain doubt and dread hovers intangibly in her mind. Will she
really obtain the lost memorandum-book, or is it only some trap her
enemies have set for her?

She longs to consult Sir Harry and Lady Clive, but the warning of the
writer deters her.

"She must come alone and unwatched, or she will accomplish nothing."

Lady Vera has a premonition that her friends would by no means permit
her to accede to the writer's demands, yet she decides within herself
that there is really no danger in doing so.

Sir Harry Clive's theory of the loss of her book is no doubt correct.
Some strolling thief, probably the old hag of Hal's story, has pilfered
it for the sake of the golden clasps, and now, attracted by the offered
reward, is eager to restore it.

After weighing the matter in her mind all day, she decides to keep
the appointment. She is most anxious to recover the lost book again,
spurred onward to even more eagerness by her desire to prove to the
baronet that her strange story is no dream, as he too evidently
persists in believing.

Yet, obeying the "still, small voice," that whispers to the heart of
danger, Lady Vera decides to take some few precautions for her safety
in case that treachery should assail her.

As evening approaches she incloses the letter of her mysterious
correspondent in an envelope, together with a small note, saying that
she had gone to meet the writer. She seals it and addresses it to Sir
Harry Clive.

A great restlessness comes over Lady Vera as the hour approaches in
which she is to meet the unknown possessor of the lost book.

With some trivial excuse to her friends for deserting their company,
she retires to her room and summons her faithful Elsie.

Elsie, by the way, has been made happy for life by the settlement upon
her by her mistress of a generous marriage portion.

She is engaged to Robert Hill, the gardener, and Lady Vera has taken
this method of testifying her gratitude to Elsie by smoothing their
path to a speedy marriage.

Now with some little nervousness Lady Vera puts into Elsie's hands the
letter addressed to Sir Harry Clive.

"Elsie, I am going out for a little while," she says, with as much
calmness and indifference as she can command. "I leave this letter in
your keeping. Keep it faithful for one hour. If I return in one hour
you may give it back into my hands. If, on the contrary, I fail to be
here by that time, you must give it immediately to Sir Harry Clive."

The maid looks at her, a little frightened by the gravity of the
charge and by Lady Vera's pale, strange face.

"It will soon be dusk, my lady. It is too late for you to be out alone.
If you must go out, take someone with you," urges Elsie.

"Nonsense!" her mistress laughs, reassuringly. "I am not afraid to walk
in my own grounds at this hour of the evening; I have done so often
before. Do not tell anyone I am out unless the hour elapses before I
return. Then you may raise the alarm."

"My lady, I am afraid to let you go like this," objects the maid. "It
seems as if you anticipate danger yourself; I am sure it is wrong for
you to go."

But Lady Vera at this shows the sterner side of her character, which is
seldom turned to her adoring dependants.

"You will obey my orders, Elsie," she answers, haughtily.

"I beg your pardon, my lady," falters Elsie, bursting into tears.

"There, there, Elsie, I did not mean to hurt you," Lady Vera says,
melted at once. "But you must not try to hinder me. Give me some light
wrapper now to keep the dew off my dress."

Elsie brings a long, dark circular of thin cloth and delivers it to her
mistress with many silent forebodings--forebodings destined to be only
too sadly realized.

For who can tell how long it will be before the light footsteps of
Countess Vera shall echo on the threshold of the palatial home she
is leaving so eagerly and secretly, now, to keep her tryst with her
mysterious correspondent.

Not Elsie, who weeps so silently, filled with strange, prescient fears.

It is growing dusk indeed as Lady Vera, wrapped in the dark circular,
with the hood drawn over her head, flits rapidly along the quiet road.

When at last in the distance she descries the bent and drooping figure
of an old woman, she laughs to herself at the vague fears that have
troubled her.

"Poor, harmless old rogue," she says to herself, half pityingly. "One
need apprehend no danger from her. A few shillings will buy back my
lost treasure and make the old creature happy. I was foolish to fear
anything. I am very glad I came!"



CHAPTER XXXVI.


Leslie Noble's parting threat to the Countess Vera that he would
yet claim her for his own, was not by any means the mere momentary
ebullition of rage at her cold and scornful rejection of his overtures.
He fully meant to keep his word. He was dazzled by her rank, her
prestige, and her wondrous beauty had taken his senses captive even
before the time when she had declared herself his wife.

To win her he would have dared and risked much. It would be like mating
with a queen and reigning as a sovereign, to share the heart, and home
and wealth of this beautiful, titled lady.

Up to the hour when he had sought that memorable interview with Lady
Vera at Clive House, Leslie Noble had deluded himself with a vain fancy
that if he deserted Ivy, and personally solicited Vera to become his
wife, she would not refuse.

Some spark of vanity whispered to him that if she had not had some
personal interest in him she would not so readily have claimed him as
her husband. He knew himself to be handsome, and he fancied that he
had only to repudiate Ivy and acknowledge Vera's claim, to gain full
possession of the beautiful girl.

But her cold, scornful, insulting repulse had fairly maddened him, and
he had sworn an oath to himself, as to her, that he would eventually
possess her.

But how to compass that desirable event puzzled him sorely.

By her own free confession she was his wife, but he was perfectly aware
that it would be utterly futile to try to claim her before the law. Her
friends were too strong and powerful for him to make open war upon her.

He dreaded that the least move of that nature on his part would provoke
a suit for bigamy against himself.

No course remained to him, therefore, but "treason and stratagem." He
longed to win her, and yet not altogether by brute force. Some fancy
came to him of how sweet it would be to have the love of this beautiful
girl, from whom he had recoiled in aversion when Mrs. Cleveland had
woven that romance about her low-born, drunken father, but who seemed
so desirable now, clothed in all the dazzling externals of wealth,
rank, lordly birth, and peerless loveliness. So are we all swayed by
the extraneous circumstances of worldly prosperity.

Time and again Leslie Noble cursed himself for his wavering and
cowardice that fatal night when his weak words of regret had driven his
friendless, forlorn little child-bride to desperate suicide. All he
had lost by that fatal wavering rushed bitterly over him.

"If I had been true and kind to that poor child as her mother wished me
to be, I should have reaped a rich reward for my fidelity when the Earl
of Fairvale came to seek his child. Why did I not take her by the hand
and calm her trembling fears that night by telling her enemies boldly
that she was my wife, and I would not see her insulted? Ah, it was my
weak fancy for that shrewish Ivy that ruined all! And how cleverly she
and her mother played on my fickle feelings! Curses on them both. Vile
wretches! They are not fit to live in the same world that holds my
peerless Vera!"

So it came to pass that, fostering the passion he had conceived for
Lady Vera, and enraged by her queenly scorn, Leslie Noble conceived
nefarious designs for abducting the young countess and bearing her to a
place of concealment, where alone and undisturbed, he might plead his
cause and peradventure win her heart.

It was the foolish reasoning of a madman, and in truth Leslie Noble was
half mad with the violence of his passions, while the bitterness of his
disappointment only urged him on to fresh endeavors.

Lady Vera little guessed how her footsteps were dogged and her
movements watched by this man whom she so loftily despised. She did
not know that when she left London and retired to her country home for
greater security from her enemies, that this lover, more ruthless than
any foe, had followed her to her own neighborhood, and was playing the
spy on her movements, eager to carry out his base design.

She little knew that it was Leslie Noble who had stolen the book from
her lap when she fell asleep by the lake that sunny day.

In the advertisement that followed, the crafty wretch saw the
accomplishment of his wicked purpose.

It was he who, in the guise of an old woman, had given little Hal that
crafty letter for Lady Vera.

It was he who waited now in the cheap and common garb of an old and
poverty-stricken crone, to meet the fair young girl who came so
innocent and unsuspecting, with almost a smile of triumph on her lips
as she thought of meeting Sir Harry Clive with her recovered treasure;
thus Leslie Noble waited, like a great, poisonous, black spider weaving
his web for his innocent prey.

She comes swiftly along the narrow footpath with a light, graceful
step, wrapped in the long, dark circular cloak, and holding up with
both hands the sweeping train of the delicate dinner-dress from contact
with the dust and the dew.

The deepening twilight enfolds her in its dim, shadowy light, and lends
a mysterious aspect to the bent figure of the old hag, who grasps with
both hands the head of a thick, knotted stick, while she waits, with
eyes bowed sullenly to the ground, for the lady's coming.

"Are you the person who sent for me?" Lady Vera asks, gently, as she
comes to a pause opposite this forbidding-looking figure.

The hooded head of the old hag is slowly lifted in the darkness of the
falling twilight. The eyes that regard her so intently are shielded by
great goggle-glasses.

"Yes, if you are Lady Fairvale," is the answer, in a muffled voice,
with a strange croak in it.

"I am Lady Fairvale, and I have brought the reward I offered," the
countess answers, anxiously. "Have you the memorandum-book?"

"Yes, I have it," gruffly.

"Then pray let me have it at once," Lady Vera exclaims, with some
impatience. "It grows late, and I must hurry back to my waiting guests."

"In a moment, lady," the strange voice says, wheedlingly. "You see, I
was afraid to trust you wholly. I suspected treachery, so I hid the
book in the hedge a little way back here. Walk on with me a pace, and
you shall have it, my lady."

"Go on, I will follow you," answers the girl.

She gathers the trailing skirts of her dress in her hands again, and
walks on after the bent form hobbling painfully with the aid of the
stick. It is growing very dark.

A cloud has come over the sky. The deep stillness and loneliness of the
spot are broken suddenly by the impatient neigh of a horse.

With a start, Lady Vera turns her head. In that moment, two strong arms
clasp her as in a vise, her hood is drawn over her face to smother her
agonized shrieks, and the old woman, grown suddenly tall and erect, and
strong, bears her forcibly to a carriage that has been waiting, hidden
behind a hedge.

Her abductor springs in beside her, closes the door, and they are
whirled away through the falling night, while a dexterous sprinkle of
chloroform reduces the miserable girl to unconsciousness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, Sir Harry and Lady Clive, repairing to the drawing-room near
the dinner-hour, wonder and speculate upon the absence of their hostess.

She is not wont to keep them waiting, but to-day the great dinner-bell
clangs twice over, and no swish of silk in the hall, no hastening
footsteps announce her coming.

"What can keep Lady Vera?" the lady wonders, aloud. "Usually she is
here full half an hour before the time. She is never long at her
dressing. I wonder----"

There is a sudden, quick step outside the door, and Sir Harry
interrupts her with:

"Here she is now."

The door is opened, but it is only Elsie, the maid, who enters the
room. Elsie, with her pretty face all pale with fear, her cheeks wet
with tears, in her hand Lady Vera's letter.

"Sir Harry," she utters, in a broken voice, "my lady went out into the
grounds an hour ago. She gave me this letter for you in case she did
not return within the hour. The time is past, and I have hastened to
obey her."

A chill premonition of danger thrills his heart as he breaks the seal.
She has written only a few brief lines, but they are startling in their
nature.

  "I have gone to meet the writer of the inclosed note. If I do not
  return in an hour you must suspect danger and have search made for
  me."

That is all. When he has read the contents of the yellow envelope a
groan bursts from his lips as he hands it to his wife.

"It is a trap, and she has walked innocently into it, poor girl.
Doubtless her foes have murdered her ere this," he exclaims, in deep
agitation.

"God forbid," Lady Clive exclaims, bursting into frightened tears.

There is no thought of dinner now. Sir Harry musters the whole force of
men-servants, and himself at their head, they sally forth to the rescue
of their betrayed mistress.

A beating summer rain has commenced to fall, and the night is pitchy
dark, save for the occasional flashes of lightning that flare with
blue and lurid fire against the black and stormy sky. They divide into
separate forces and search frantically till the day-dawn. But all
trace of Countess Vera is swallowed up in the blackness of the stormy,
mysterious night.

In the early dawn, a telegram flashes over the wires to Colonel
Lockhart in London:

"Come quickly. Vera has been abducted."



CHAPTER XXXVII.


In an obscure but respectable street in London, Mrs. Cleveland and Ivy
had hidden themselves away in cheap and shabby lodgings, the better to
husband the small hoard of money that remained to them of all their
departed wealth and grandeur.

"I will never consent to sell my jewels and dresses, never!" the
repudiated wife declared, firmly, the ruling passion still strong even
in her defeat and disgrace. "For when Leslie finds that Vera will not
live with him, and when Mr. Gilmore's lawyers prove her to be the
adventuress and impostor that she is, he will return to me, and I
shall be his wife again. We will return to America, where no one knows
anything of our trouble, and then I shall need my fine dresses and
jewels again."

"But what if we come to want in the meantime?" Mrs. Cleveland inquires
grimly.

"You may sell your rubies. They are worth a thousand pounds, at least,
and the proceeds will keep us comfortable for some time," Ivy answers,
with cool insolence.

So, with the dread of selling her beloved rubies before her eyes, Mrs.
Cleveland proceeds to practice economy with a vengeance, living in the
cheapest style with a view to lengthening to its utmost capacity the
check that Leslie Noble had contemptuously thrown them at their last
interview.

But the wily widow has her own schemes and plans for the future, though
she imparts none of them to Ivy, whose selfishness and insolence have
begun to disgust even the wicked and crafty woman who bore her. Ivy
always contrived to make herself a despised burden to anyone who had
aught to do with her. Even her mother was sensible of that patent fact.

In these days of their disgrace and humiliation, the deserted wife
shut herself into her shabby chamber, incessantly bewailing her hard
fate, and upbraiding her mother for her long-ago sin which had been
the means of bringing down this vengeance on her daughter's head. Not
that Ivy regretted the wrong that had broken the hearts of Lawrence and
Edith Campbell, but she was exceedingly wroth that the consequences had
recoiled upon her own devoted head.

While she nurses her woes in the seclusion of her small, hot
chamber, Mrs. Cleveland is maturing her plans for the future in the
shabby-genteel parlor where she is interviewing a visitor--no less a
person than Raleigh Gilmore.

Mr. Gilmore, after a calm, dispassionate view, does not appear like a
man who would honor the title and estates from which he is desirous of
ousting the present fair incumbent, Lady Fairvale. He is tall and thin,
and stoop-shouldered, with shaggling, gray hair, gray, ferret eyes, and
a coarse face on which nature has stamped "villain" too unmistakably
for cavil. So much the better for her purpose, the woman thinks to
herself as she reads the cunning features like an open book.

The first purport of their interview having been discussed, the visitor
proceeds to the second.

"When I received your letter advising me of your ability and
willingness to furnish evidence to oust that adventuress from Fairvale
and leave me in possession, you hinted at a reward which you should
exact in return for your valuable services," he observes, regarding her
closely under his shaggy, overhanging, gray eyebrows.

"Yes," she remarks, with a cool, self-possessed bow.

"I should be glad to know the amount of the sum that will compensate
your aid," Mr. Gilmore pursues, as eagerly as if he already held the
vast wealth of Fairvale within his close, penurious grasp.

A slight, mocking smile glances over the wily widow's handsome,
well-preserved face.

"You are a bachelor, I have heard," she answers, in a significant tone.

"Yes; I have never liked women well enough to tie myself to one," Mr.
Gilmore retorts, with grim frankness.

The widow tosses her head.

"I am sorry for that," she says, audaciously; "I had hoped you would
like my looks, for I must tell you frankly, that the reward I claim is
to share your good fortune _in toto_ as your wife."

He stares at her, growing pale in his angry amazement.

"There will be a kind of poetic compensation in such a marriage,"
Mrs. Cleveland pursues, coolly enjoying his rage. "I loved Lawrence
Campbell, but my half-sister stole his heart from me. By rights I
should have been his wife, and in course of time, Countess of Fairvale.
No reward will satisfy me except to step into Vera Campbell's place and
reign absolute sovereign where she has queened it so long. You see I do
not offer to take away anything from you, only to share it with you."

"But, Mrs. Cleveland--madam--I have already explained to you that I am
prejudiced against women. I do not wish to marry," protests the old
bachelor, finding voice after his first surprise.

"So you reject me?" she inquires, with an air of chagrin.

"Yes, decidedly yes," he returns, nervously. "Be pleased to name some
other reward."

"I have already explained to you that nothing will satisfy me except to
be Countess of Fairvale. I wish to ride rough shod over Vera Campbell's
heart, and in no other way could I be revenged so well as in taking her
own place. Since you deny me this small grace I decline to help you
to the earldom, and all that we have said about it goes for nothing,"
returns the widow, with the utmost frankness.

Anger almost gets the better of Mr. Gilmore for a moment, but crushing
back the words upon his lips, he looks steadily at the speaker in blank
silence.

"You do not find me very bad-looking, do you?" she inquires, with an
air of unruffled good nature.

"On the contrary, I think you decidedly handsome and well-preserved.
I never expected to be courted by so fine-looking a woman. Do you
consider me handsome, madam?"

"Not at all. You are abominably ugly," she replies, after a calm
scrutiny of his face. "If I marry you, it will not be for any personal
merit you possess, only as a stepping-stone to power."

"You are very candid, but since you have the balance of power in
your hands, you can afford to speak freely. Madam, I offer you my
heart, hand and fortune. Will you accept them?" he exclaims, in grim
displeasure.

"Are you in earnest?" she inquires.

"Never more so. You have left me no alternative," he answers, bitterly.
"But I warn you, I shall not make a very loving husband."

"Nor I a loving wife. But I accept you as I said just now, as a
stepping-stone to power," she replies, with provoking coolness.

He rises to depart.

"It is settled, then," he observes, with forced complaisance. "You will
help me to the earldom, and I will pay you by making you my bride. When
shall the wedding be?"

"On the day when you take possession of Fairvale's title and estates,"
she answers, promptly. "_Au revoir_, my charming bridegroom."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


Ere Lady Vera fully recovers consciousness again, she has reached her
destination, the ruins of a once fine old mansion in the heart of a
dense wood near the sea.

She opens her eyes in a large and lofty upper chamber to find herself
lying in a high, old-fashioned, four posted bed, with faded hangings
of crimson velvet. Two waxen candles in silver candelabra on the tall,
carved mantel shed a soft, steady light through the room, and by their
aid Vera deciphers the features of a stout, middle-aged woman, in cap
and apron, who is bending over her, bathing her face and hands with
aromatic vinegar.

The beautiful girl springs up to a sitting posture with a cry of fear
and indignation, and with outstretched hands repulses the woman.

"Do not touch me, wretch!" she cries. "How dared you bring me here,
away from my home and friends? You shall suffer for this."

But the woman only smiles as if at the ravings of a spoiled child.

"My lady, you are mistaken," she answers, not unkindly. "It was your
husband who brought you here. I am only your maid. I am here to wait
upon you."

"I have no husband," Lady Vera answers, with a cold thrill of fear
creeping around her heart.

"Oh, my lady, don't go for to say that," the woman answers, cajolingly.
"Such a kind, handsome man as Mr. Noble is ought not to be denied by
his wife. I'm sure it was very good in him to carry you off, and hide
you from the people as wanted to put you into a lunatic asylum. The
keepers would have abused you dreadfully, my poor dear, but I shall be
as kind and patient with you as your own mother. Your husband is that
tender-hearted he couldn't bear to see you ill-used."

"So it is Leslie Noble who has abducted me," Lady Vera thinks to
herself, with a start. Up to that moment her suspicions had turned upon
Marcia Cleveland. "The wretch! And he has pretended to this woman that
I am crazy."

The crimson color flies into the captive's face, then retreats, leaving
her deathly pale again. She rises and walks up to the woman, who
retreats half-fearfully before her.

"You need not fear me," Lady Vera tells her, sadly. "I have no
intention of harming you. I only wish to ask you a simple question."

Thus adjured, the woman waits respectfully, humoring the whim of her
mistress.

"Look at me," says Lady Vera, lifting the dark fringe of her brilliant,
star-like eyes, and fixing a calm, steady gaze on the woman's face. "Do
I look like a mad person? You know that lunatics have a wild, dangerous
glare in their eyes. Are not mine calm, reasonable, steady?"

"She is one of the cunning ones," the maid mutters to herself, then
aloud, soothingly, she answers: "They are beautiful eyes, my lady, so
bright and black! No wonder my master adores you, so lovely as you are."

"I tell you I am not mad," Vera cries impatiently, vexed at the woman's
stolid persistence in her belief. "I am as sane as you are, and your
master is a villain. He has abducted me from my friends and my home,
but they will trace me out and punish him for his villany, be sure of
that."

"Come, my dear, do not excite yourself. It will all come well. Sit
down in this arm-chair, and make yourself comfortable, while I go and
fetch your lunch and a cup of tea. I dare say you have had no dinner,
traveling so far."

She wheels forward a large, crimson-cushioned easy-chair, but Lady Vera
rejects it with a gesture of scorn.

"Where is the man you call your master?" she inquires, haughtily. "Is
he in the house?"

"Yes, my lady. Should you be pleased to see him?" inquires her keeper,
deferentially.

"Yes; tell him to come. I wish to know the meaning of this dastardly
outrage," the countess answers, indignantly.

The woman withdraws with a bow. The click of a key in the lock informs
Lady Vera that she is a prisoner. She paces up and down the floor, a
storm of indignation raging in her breast, mixed with a wild hope that
her friends will soon deliver her from the trap into which she had
walked so unsuspectingly.

Suddenly the key clicks in the lock, and Leslie Noble walks boldly into
the room.



CHAPTER XXXIX.


For a moment they regard each other silently, Mr. Noble appearing
handsome and elegant as usual, having removed the disfiguring toggery
that had transformed him into a stooping old woman, and Lady Vera
facing him with her slight form drawn haughtily erect, the scorn of an
outraged queen flashing in her dark and star-like eyes.

"Coward, villain, how dared you perpetrate this high-handed outrage?"
she demands, in a clear, high voice, that trembles with its bitter
anger.

For answer he throws himself abjectly at her feet.

"Vera, my love, my darling, my wife, my passionate love must plead my
excuse. I loved you and I could not live without you. So I brought you
away where I might have some chance to plead my cause with you and win
your heart," he answers, weakly, still kneeling there, and gazing at
her with adoring eyes.

A scornful laugh ripples over the listener's beautiful lips as she
retreats from him to the furthest corner of the room.

"And did you think this craven course could win my heart?" she asks,
with stinging contempt. "Was it a manly, a lovable feat to don the
rags of a poor and feeble old woman, that you might kidnap a weak girl
who hated you? Was it to surrender my heart to the handsome and manly
figure you appeared on that occasion?"

He writhes beneath the keen lash of her superb scorn.

"Edward Rochester masqueraded as an old woman, and yet Jane Eyre loved
and admired him as her hero among men," he answers, sullenly, rising to
his feet.

"There is no parallel between the cases," she answers, icily. "You can
bring no precedent from fiction or history that could make me admire
_you_, either in your own form or any other. I despise you, I have
always despised you, and I warn you that my friends will rescue me out
of your power. I left your lying note behind me with directions that I
must be sought for if I failed to return. Even now they are searching
for me. At any moment I expect them to rescue me."

He pales at first, then laughs easily.

"You were more crafty than I deemed you, but I am not frightened,"
he answers. "Do you know where you are? You are thirty miles from
Fairvale Park, in the midst of a dense wood. You are occupying the only
habitable chamber in a ruined and deserted old mansion, whose owner
is in Egypt. The place has the name of being haunted, and no one ever
ventures into the vicinity. I have hired the woman you saw just now at
an extravagant bribe to remain here to guard and wait on you. I have
sworn to her that you are mad, and she firmly believes me. She will
regard all you say as the aimless ravings of a lunatic. Now do you
believe it likely that you will soon be delivered out of my power?"

She has no answer ready for him now. Despair has stricken her dumb.

"It does not rest with your friends, it does not rest with me to say
when you shall go free," he pursues, coolly. "It is all for you to say,
Lady Vera. I am ready to make a treaty of peace with you at any time."

"How?" she asks, with white lips.

"You are my wife," he answers. "I love you, and if you will consent to
acknowledge my claim upon you, and live with me, I will take you back
to Fairvale Park to-morrow."

"And do you think I would purchase freedom upon such ignominious
terms?" she asks, with a curling lip. "Live with you, coward to your
first wife, traitor to your second? Not for an hour. I would pine to
death in this loathsome prison first, and die thanking Heaven for my
happy release from the arts of a villain."

"You forget that you are here alone, defenseless, utterly in my power,"
he answers, pale with anger and shame. "What is there to prevent me
from forcing you to do my will?"

Crimson for a moment, then pale as death again, Countess Vera lifts her
hand.

"God is here," she answers, solemnly, "God is here, and He will protect
me. I tell you frankly," she goes on with vehement emphasis, "I will
kill you, or I will kill myself before I will yield to your will. Do
not attempt to drive me desperate."

Pale with rage, he thrusts his hand into his breast and withdraws the
missing memorandum-book.

Lady Vera's face lights up at that sight.

"So you _did_ have it," she cries out, quickly. "You are a thief as
well as an abductor of helpless women! Oh, for shame, for shame!"

His face grows black as night.

"As you are in my power, you would do well to moderate your language,"
he answers, in the low tone of bitter rage. "Beware how you transform
my love to hate!"

"I fear neither your love nor your hate," Countess Vera answers,
dauntlessly.

"Perhaps you will pay a heavier ransom for this book than you would
have done simply for your freedom--will you not?"

"Is the same ransom required?" she asks, regarding him steadily.

"Yes."

"I would purchase no earthly boon at so terrible a price," Countess
Vera answers, shuddering.

"Not even title, wealth and power?" he asks, significantly.

"All three I can claim already," she answers, with a gesture of
unconscious pride.

"But if you must lose all without this little talisman?" he inquires,
in the same significant tone, and regarding her intently.

"I can do without the talisman, as you call it," she answers, coldly.
"Before I fell asleep that day, every word of my father's memorandum
was fixed in my memory. I have written to Joel McPherson to come to
England and establish my identity with that of the girl who was buried
alive in Glenwood Cemetery."

For a moment Leslie Noble stares blankly at his beautiful opponent,
dismayed at her calm declaration.

"By Jove! but you are a keen one," he mutters, unable to repress a
glance of angry admiration. "You seem to anticipate everything. I did
not credit you with such a ready brain. And so you have written to Joel
McPherson?"

"Yes," she answers, with a little note of triumph in her voice.

"Yes, and I have written to a friend of mine in Washington to keep the
sexton of Glenwood out of the way by force, or fraud, or bribe; you
will never see him in England until he comes by my will," he answers,
insolently.

Coldly disdainful, she makes him no reply.

"Do you know what will happen to you if you continue to defy me?" he
goes on, angrily. "Raleigh Gilmore is about to begin a suit against
you. His aim is to prove you an impostor. Mrs. Cleveland is aiding
and abetting him in the endeavor. She hates you so bitterly that she
will stop at nothing to drag you down from your high estate. They
will succeed, unless Joel McPherson's evidence can be given against
them. With the old sexton lies the only real knowledge of that night's
mystery, when Vera Campbell was removed from the grave where I myself
saw her laid. You alone can never prove that Earl Fairvale's heiress
rose from that grave again."

He pauses, but her bloodless lips offer no reply.

"Admit my rights as your husband, Vera, and I will fight with you and
by your side for the grand heritage your father left you. I will summon
Joel McPherson to your aid and prove your identity beyond all cavil.
Deny me and I swear I will be terribly revengeful for your obstinacy.
I will join the ranks of your enemies. I will deny that you are my
wife. Your defeat will be certain then. Think of yourself penniless,
friendless, branded all over England as an adventuress and impostor."

The beautiful face is deadly pale, the hands are clenched until the
pink nails cut into the delicate palms. In silent agony she admits to
herself that his threats are not at all idle ones. Sir Harry Clive's
reluctant communications have prepared her for all this.

"Well, what have you to say to all this?" he asks of the silent figure
before him.

"Nothing. I know that of myself I am utterly powerless. I leave my
cause with God," she answers, briefly.

He smothers a curse on his dark mustached lips.

"So you will lose all rather than take me for your husband?" he asks
her, in unfeigned amazement.

She lifts her eyes for a moment, and surveys him with a look of steady
contempt.

"Have you still any doubt on that point?" she inquires, fearlessly and
defiantly. "Let me assure you then that I would rather be a homeless
beggar in the streets of London than submit to your loathsome love!"

The look, the tone, the words, fill him with blind, overmastering rage.

"By Heaven, I will make you repent those words!" he exclaims, springing
toward her and clasping his arm around her slender waist.

But with one piercing cry of terror Countess Vera puts her hand into
her breast and withdraws a tiny, jewel-hilted dagger.

Maddened with fear, she thrusts the keen blade into the arm that holds
her so tightly, and with a scream of pain the villain releases her and
retreats to the door.

"Oh, Mr. Noble, your arm is all bleeding!" exclaims the woman, entering
at that moment with the tea-tray.

"Yes, my wife is in one of her occasional violent fits, and has tried
to murder me," he answers, shortly.

"She has a dagger which you must try to get away from her or she may
hurt you too. Lock her into the room now and come down and dress my
wound for me," he adds, stalking out of the room.



CHAPTER XL.


The woman advanced into the room and deposited her tea-tray on the
table. A tempting little lunch was arranged upon it in a pretty china
service.

"Come, Mrs. Noble, and drink your tea while it is still warm," she
said, coaxingly. "I know you are tired and hungry. Will you take a bit
of this chicken salad and cold sliced ham? 'Twill do you good."

"I have no appetite, thank you," Vera answers, turning her head aside.

"Well, I'll leave the tray with you while I go and bind up master's
wounded arm. Mayhap you'll eat by-and-bye," the woman answers kindly as
she goes out, carefully locking the door behind her.

Left to herself, Lady Vera draws a long breath of relief, and turning
to a window, draws aside the heavy velvet curtain, glancing anxiously
out for any possible prospect of release.

Alas! her captor's words proved all too true. The first faint beams
of dawn rising palely in the east, show her the wide, dense belt of
woodland surrounding the ruined mansion in which she is imprisoned.

The wild, tangled garden beneath the window sends up gusts of rainy
perfume to her eager senses. She pushes up the sash and leans out,
inhaling the fresh, sweet air, and wondering if it would not be
possible to escape through the window from this horrible trap into
which her credulity had led her.

Alas! her eager, downward glance shows her that she is in the third
story of the house.

She drops the heavy curtain and sinks shivering to a seat, worn and
trembling with the terrible experiences of the night. Her thoughts fly
to the home from whence she has been so rudely torn.

"Are they frightened? Are they seeking for me, I wonder?" she thinks.
"Oh, may God guide them in their search!"

And then she thinks of her lost lover, handsome, manly Philip Lockhart.
She knows how heavily the blow will fall on that true, manly, loving
heart.

She leans her head wearily down on her arm, and gives herself up to the
sad, sweet pleasure of thinking of Philip Lockhart. Gradually a weary
sleep steals over her, from which she is awakened by the entrance of
her keeper.

"Asleep, dear? I'm sorry I awakened ye," she says, blandly. "Do you
feel better of your little fit of temper?"

Lady Vera makes no answer to this kind query.

"Mr. Noble has gone up to London," pursues the maid, glibly. "He left
his love and good-bye for you. You gave him quite an ugly cut, so you
did, my pretty lady. Won't you let poor old Betsy Robson see the pretty
little knife you did it with?" she continues, coaxingly.

Lady Vera lifts her eyes and regards her calmly.

"Betsy Robson, if that is your name," she said, "listen to me a moment.
I have a dagger concealed on my person, and Leslie Noble has set you on
to take it from me. I warn you that if you make the slightest attempt
to do so, it will be at the peril of your life. It is my only weapon of
defense against Leslie Noble, and I will never part with it while I am
in that villain's power."

"Oh, fie, my lady, why should you be so set against your loving
husband?" remonstrates Mrs. Robson.

Lady Vera regards her keenly.

"Are you acting a part, or do you really believe what that man tells
you?" she asks, wonderingly. "I tell you Leslie Noble has no claim on
me at all. He is a villain who has stolen me away from my home and
friends to try to force me to be his wife. I am Lady Fairvale, of
Fairvale Park, and if you will restore me to my liberty, Mrs. Robson, I
will reward you generously."

The dark eyes, full of bitter tears now, are lifted pleadingly to the
woman's stolid face, but the wild appeal only elicits some words under
Betsy Robson's breath:

"Poor soul! He told me she fancied she was some great, rich lady. A
pity she is so wild-like. So lovely as she is, too, and might be such a
pride to her handsome husband."

Countess Vera turns away her head with a heart-wrung cry.

"Oh, may God forgive you, woman, for lending yourself to this wicked
conspiracy against a wronged girl! Surely He who reigns above will send
me safe deliverance from my prison-house."

"Poor, pretty creature, raving mad, that she is," comments stupid, yet
kind-hearted Betsy Robson.



CHAPTER XLI.


The utmost dismay and horror settled down upon the household at
Fairvale Park when it was found that every trace of Lady Vera's
whereabouts was swallowed up in impenetrable darkness and mystery.

Sir Harry and Lady Clive believed that Mrs. Cleveland was the guilty
party who had decoyed her from her home, and they foreboded that the
too-confiding girl had been murdered in cold blood by her ruthless foe.
Little Hal's story of the woman who had given him the note for Lady
Vera in the wood confirmed them in their first suspicions, and they
bitterly bewailed Lady Vera's mistaken clemency in letting her would-be
murderess go free that night in London.

But when Colonel Lockhart came down from London that evening in
response to their telegram, though he was almost distracted by this new
and crushing blow to his happiness, the quick instinct of love turned
his suspicions unerringly to the truth.

"It is not Mrs. Cleveland who has abducted Lady Vera. I cannot believe
it for an instant. She would not have ventured on such a course," he
says, decidedly; "Leslie Noble is the guilty party."

"Then what are we to do, Philip?" Lady Clive asks, piteously.

"We must oppose cunning to cunning," he answers, thoughtfully. "I shall
return to London to-night and employ a skillful detective to shadow
Leslie Noble's every footstep. You may be sure that the wretch has shut
Lady Vera up in some obscure place in the hope of coercing her to yield
to his wishes. Oh, Heaven, what anguish may not my darling be suffering
now while I am powerless to rescue her!"

He walks distractedly up and down the floor, while tears of not unmanly
grief gather in his troubled blue eyes.

"But, Philip, you forget that it was a woman who gave little Hal the
note for Lady Vera," exclaims Sir Harry, unwilling to give up his
theory of Mrs. Cleveland's handiwork in the abduction.

"Leslie Noble may have employed a woman as his tool in the affair, or
he may have masqueraded in female attire himself, but I am sure that
he is the guilty party," Colonel Lockhart answers, unshaken in his
conviction, "But to satisfy your doubts, Sir Harry, we will have a
watch set upon Mrs. Cleveland also. Nothing shall be left undone that
can possibly tend to the rescue of Lady Vera from the power of her
enemies."

He goes back to London that night.

Sir Harry Clive and his family follow him the next day. Two of the
most skillful detectives in London are quietly set on the track of the
supposed guilty parties. All London rings with the story of the daring
abduction of the beautiful Countess of Fairvale.

At first public opinion was strong against the Clevelands and Mr.
Noble, but when it is discovered that all three are living quietly
but openly in London, a doubt falls on the first suspicions. An
inexplicable mystery centers around that strange disappearance.

The sensation grows all the greater because, simultaneously with her
disappearance, Raleigh Gilmore had entered suit against her for the
title and estates of Fairvale, alleging that the true heiress had died
in her early girlhood, and that the late earl had foisted an impostor
on the public as his daughter.

But pending the return of the missing countess, the lawsuit lay in
abeyance. Nothing could be done in her absence, and conjecture became
rife over the strange circumstances of her abduction. Various opinions
were advanced.

Raleigh Gilmore did not hesitate to assert his conviction that there
had been no abduction in the case. Lady Vera had simply run away from
fear of the threatened suit against her, knowing that she could not
defend herself against the prosecution, and ashamed to stay and face
the trial where she would be branded as a beautiful and lying impostor
whom the late earl had adopted as his daughter.

There was not the slightest likelihood that she would ever return, he
asserted, vehemently, and he would have liked to take possession of
Fairvale at once, but the strong arm of the law held him back, and
meanwhile, Sir Harry Clive engaged the most eminent lawyers to defend
the missing heiress.

A man was sent to America to collect information at Washington. No
pains nor expense was spared on either side to make the contest a close
and exciting one. Raleigh Gilmore found few believers in his cause, and
few friends.

But amid all the storm of wonder and conjecture in London, there
was one woman whose suspicions had pointed, like Philip Lockhart's,
unerringly to the truth. This was Ivy Cleveland. Her jealous instincts
had at once settled upon her whilom husband as the abductor of Lady
Vera.

Meanwhile the weeks wane slowly with no tidings of the lost one. The
blackest mystery enshrouds her fate. The keen detectives are baffled
and thrown off the scent by Leslie Noble's inimitable _sang froid_. He
leads the careless life of a man about town, never leaving the city,
his slightest actions open to scrutiny, no mystery seeming to be hidden
under his comings and goings.

But though the detectives begin to hint that they are beating about
the wrong bush, Colonel Lockhart's firm convictions are in no wise
altered.

He holds them closely to their duty, though they find nothing
suspicious either in the movements of Mr. Noble or Mrs. Cleveland.

But though Colonel Lockhart is outwardly so calm and firm, his noble
heart is wrung with despair over the fate of his lost Vera.

"My poor Phil, this terrible sorrow is making an old man of you," his
sister sighs, sorrowfully, as she threads her jeweled fingers softly
through his hair.

"It is hard lines upon me, that is true, Nella," he answers, with a
repressed sigh, as he draws his arm around her waist.



CHAPTER XLII.


In spite of his outward _nonchalance_ and _sang froid_, Leslie Noble at
heart was restless and impatient and consumed by a burning anxiety.

Six weeks had elapsed since he had incarcerated his beautiful prisoner
in the ruined old house in the wood, and in all that time he had been
afraid to venture back to see her, owing to a keen suspicion he had
imbibed regarding the close espionage that was kept upon his movements
by the employes of Colonel Lockhart.

The slight flesh wound Lady Vera had inflicted on his arm had entirely
healed, and with it had died out his futile anger against her, giving
place again to the weak love that had urged him to that desperate
recourse of abducting her.

"I was rash and hasty in my last interview with her," he tells himself,
"I should have remembered that love cannot be forced. I must woo her
gently, with respectful looks and reverential words. I must sue for her
favor humbly, as if she were a queen and I her humble slave. Many a
woman has been won by flattery."

The longing came over him to woo her with rich gifts and costly jewels
poured lavishly at her feet as if naught were too splendid and costly
for his beautiful idol.

Alas! his splendid fortune had dwindled to a wretched competency under
the various extravagances of Ivy and her mother.

"Weak fool that I was to allow Ivy to retain those magnificent jewels,"
he thinks, bitterly. "She ruthlessly sacrificed my fortune to obtain
them, and by every right on earth they belong to Lady Vera, who is my
real wife, not to the woman who usurped her place."

Fostering these thoughts and feelings ceaselessly in his breast, Leslie
Noble at last conceived a dastardly design to possess himself of the
jewels which he had at first decided should remain the property of his
deserted and repudiated second wife.

Accordingly one morning, when he had ascertained that his mother-in-law
was away from home, and not likely to return for several hours, he
sent up his card to Ivy, who, after some little delay in arranging her
toilet, received him in the shabby-genteel little parlor.

In the trembling hope that she might yet win back the recreant, Ivy
had made herself as fair as she could without the assistance of her
maid, with whose services her mother's parsimony had compelled her to
dispense.

"Overdressed and daubed with paint, as usual," was Mr. Noble's
disgusted, inward comment, but he allowed none of this feeling to
appear upon his face. Instead, he threw a glance of deep tenderness and
contrition into his soft, dark eyes, and held out his arms, exclaiming
sadly:

"My injured wife! Can you ever forgive me the sorrow I have caused you?"

"Oh, Leslie, you have repented!" the lady sobs, throwing herself into
the open arms.

And for a while we will draw the curtain of absence over this touching
picture of sacred conjugal love and reunion, while we seek others of
our friends.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the afternoon of that same day Colonel Lockhart received a call from
the chief detective.

"I have discovered," he says briefly, "that Mr. Noble has hired a
conveyance to take him down into the country about twenty-five miles
to-night."

"Well?" Colonel Lockhart inquires, his blue eyes blazing with
excitement.

"I have hired a fast trap for myself, and intend to give secret chase
to the gentleman," Mr. Sharp replies.

"That is right. I will accompany you," decides his employer, eagerly,
and with a springing hope in his breast.



CHAPTER XLIII.


It is late noon when Mrs. Cleveland returns to her lodgings, and finds
Ivy lounging on a sofa in the shabby parlor, in a state of blissful
beatitude.

"You have been out, Ivy?" she exclaims, in surprise, glancing at the
elegant carriage dress of brocaded black silk and sparkling jet.

"Yes," Ivy answers complacently.

"Where?" her mother inquires, surprised, for hitherto Ivy has spent all
her time in the seclusion of her chamber, bewailing her untoward fate.

"I have been--to the jeweler's," Mrs. Noble answers, with shining eyes,
and enjoying her mother's amazement with all the zest of one who has
taken new hold on life.

Mrs. Cleveland lifts her kidded hands in real dismay.

"You have never been selling your jewels--oh, Ivy!" she cries.

"Don't be a fool, mother!" cries the dutiful daughter. "Of course I
haven't sold them. You know I would die before I would part with my
diamonds!"

"Then why have you been to the jeweler's?" Mrs. Cleveland asks,
sharply, and Ivy answers, with a little, cunning, triumphant laugh:

"I have left my pearls and diamonds to be reset. You know I have wanted
them reset ever since we came to London. At last I have my wish, and
they are to be done in truly royal style."

Mrs. Cleveland stares at the speaker, the color fading from her cheeks
and lips, her eyes startled.

"And who is to pay for this last mad extravagance of yours?" she
demands, in a low, angry voice.

"Leslie Noble, of course," Ivy answers, laughing in her mother's face.

"She is mad, I fear--stark, raving mad," Mrs. Cleveland exclaims,
gazing apprehensively at her daughter.

"Oh, no, I am not, mamma. Leslie was with me at the jeweler's. He has
been here and begged my pardon for everything. He does not believe now
that Lady Fairvale is his wife. I am going to live with him again."

"Where? At Darnley House?" Mrs. Cleveland asks, almost stupefied at
this unexpected news.

"No, for Darnley House is sold, and he cannot get it back. But he
means to take another just as fine for me, and I am to choose all
the furniture. Oh, mamma, he is so sorry for the bad way in which he
treated me. He loves me still. There is nothing strange about that, is
there, that you look so incredulous? I was his first love, you know.
And he thinks me beautiful still. He is ready to do anything to prove
his repentance."

"Did you put him to the test?" Mrs. Cleveland inquires, ironically.

"Yes, indeed! You know how often he has refused to have my jewels reset
for me. So I said, 'if you really mean that, Leslie, let me have my
pearls and diamonds put into a more elegant setting.'"

"Oh!" groans Mrs. Cleveland, wringing her hands.

"He was delighted at the idea," pursues Ivy, triumphantly, "and
proposed that we should see about it at once. We drove down to the
jeweler's, taking the pearls and diamonds with us. I selected the
design for the settings at a terrible outlay, but Leslie did not
murmur. He was glad to be forgiven on any terms."

"Oh!" Mrs. Cleveland groans again.

"Mother, I never saw you act so much like a simpleton!" Ivy exclaims.
"Leslie is coming again to-morrow. He wants you to forgive him, too."

"Oh, Ivy, you blind, credulous, silly little fool!" exclaims Mrs.
Cleveland, in a towering passion.

"What do mean?" the daughter cries, indignantly, springing to her feet.

"I mean that you will never see Leslie Noble or your jewels again. It
was all a plot to rob you of them. He has taken them for Vera, whom he
has abducted and hidden away in obscurity."

"He denies the charge, mamma. He believes with Mr. Gilbert that Vera
has run away herself. But my jewels--oh, mamma, do you really believe
he would rob me of them? Let us go down to the jeweler's and bring
them back at once," exclaims Ivy, in feverish terror.

"I will go with you, but I doubt if we shall find them there. He would
no doubt take them away on some clever pretext as soon as he left
you. Oh, how foolish you were to trust that villain's exaggerated
repentance."

"Let us go," Ivy answers, with feverish energy, tying on her bonnet,
and hurrying her mother from the room.

The sequel proved Mrs. Cleveland right.

Leslie Noble had already taken away the jewels on the shallow pretext
of his wife's change of mind. Poor Ivy was driven back to her lodgings,
this time in real genuine hysterics.



CHAPTER XLIV.


"This is no time for hysterics, Ivy," Mrs. Cleveland tells her daughter
sharply. "You would do better to rally your strength and calmness, and
consider what you are to do to get back your jewels."

Ivy struggles up to a sitting posture, her pale-blue eyes all drowned
in tears over the loss of her diamonds--the golden calf of her vain
heart's worship.

"If you have nothing to do but ridicule me, you had better leave the
room," cries Ivy, flushing to angriest crimson. "I thought you were
going to suggest something to help me."

"That would be hard to do," Mrs. Cleveland answers, with an
irrepressible angry sneer.

Never in all her life has she been so angry with her silly, petted
daughter.

Ivy bursts into petulant sobs again, bewailing her fate in having such
a hard-hearted mother and wicked husband.

"I will go and see Mr. Noble, if you wish me," Mrs. Cleveland
announces, after a moment's pause.

"Oh, pray do, mamma," her daughter cries out eagerly. "Perhaps you may
get them back for me, if you manage him right. Leslie used to be quite
under your thumb."

"That was long ago," Mrs. Cleveland answers dryly. "But I will do the
best I can to remedy your dreadful mistake."

Still in her street dress, she has only to tie on her bonnet and depart
on her mission.

Ivy, after hearing the door close behind her, lies down again, with a
sigh of relief and a sensation of hope in her breast. She has great
faith in the diplomatic powers of her mother.

After waiting in suspense an hour or two she falls asleep easily on the
corner of the sofa and dreams that she is an eastern queen and that her
robe of cloth of gold is all frosted with sparkling diamonds.

The gray dusk is falling when Mrs. Cleveland re-enters the room. She
stands for some moments looking down at Ivy's wan, sleeping face, with
the trace of tears still on the pale, thin cheeks, then wakes her with
an impatient shake.

"I should have thought that your suspense would be too great to allow
you to sleep so profoundly," she exclaims wrathfully, her ill-temper
hightened by non-success in her errand.

"Oh, mamma, I felt so relieved when you went after Leslie, and so sure
that you would get the diamonds, that I fell asleep without knowing
it," Ivy answers, with some contrition. "But, mamma, you saw him--he
gave them back, did he not?" she continued, eagerly, stretching out her
hand for her treasures.

For answer, Mrs. Cleveland holds up her empty hands expressively, and
Ivy utters a wail of woe.

"What did he say to you?" Ivy inquires, after a little, pausing in her
angry sobs.

"I did not see him. He had gone out, and his servant could not tell me
where," her mother answers.

"Then you will go again to-morrow. He will be at home then," Ivy
exclaims, with renewed hope.

"No, for he is leaving town to-night," is the short reply.

"Leaving town!" Ivy's voice and look are full of consternation.

"Yes, I learned that much by bribing his servant. He is going down into
the country to-night in a hired conveyance, some twenty-five miles or
more."

"For what reason?" Ivy asks, dimly divining a certain significance in
her mother's manner.

"I do not know, but I strongly suspect it is to visit his captive
countess, and present her with your diamonds," Mrs. Cleveland answers,
divining the truth with a woman's ready wit.

"Oh, mamma!" screams Ivy.

"But I intend to follow him," pursues Mrs. Cleveland, "I mean to
checkmate him if I can."

"I am going with you--remember that, mamma," her daughter cries out,
hastily.



CHAPTER XLV.


While Lady Vera's friends are seeking with heavy hearts some clew to
her strange fate, the fair young countess, half distracted with grief,
remains a closely-guarded captive in the ruined mansion in the lonely
wood. In spite of all her tears and protestations Betsy Robson persists
in believing her to be a dangerous lunatic, and in treating her as
such, albeit always kind and complaisant as to an ailing child.

The summer days glide slowly past, each one bearing some portion of
hope from Vera's lonely heart. With the dawn of each day she had
hoped for release--with the sunset of each day she had wept over her
disappointment. The days were so long and lonely without books, music
or occupation to beguile them of their length and dreariness. It seemed
to Lady Vera almost as if she were dead and buried, living in this
lonely house, seeing, hearing no one save stolid Betsy Robson, who
glided about like another ghost in this strange world of the dead.

"If rescue does not come soon I shall either die or go mad, as that
woman already believes me to be," Lady Vera tells herself in a passion
of despair.

She wonders why Philip does not come to her aid. In her despair and
loneliness bitter thoughts begin to creep into her mind.

"Perhaps he has no care over me now that I am lost to him forever," she
thinks. "He has turned to Miss Montgomery or Lady Eva, perhaps. Either
one would be glad enough to console him."

From the world without there came no answer to these silent accusations
against her lost lover. The world seemed dead to her as she appeared to
it. All her companions were memory and sorrow.

As the weeks rounded slowly into a month, Lady Vera's fierce anger
against Leslie Noble, her restlessness, her impatience, began to settle
down into the calmness of despair.

She gave up pacing the floor, and weeping and grieving over her
captivity like some poor caged bird beating the bars of its prison with
unavailing wings. She began to sit still in her chair for long hours
daily, with her white hands folded on her lap and her dark eyes fixed
on vacancy--long hours in which the color and roundness fled from her
face and form, leaving behind a startling pallor and delicacy that
frightened Mrs. Robson, who thought that her charge had developed a new
phase of her mania.

"Them still and cunning ones is always the most dangerous, so I've
heard," she confides to the tabby cat that is her only companion in the
kitchen. "I do wish she would ha' give up that sharp little knife she
carries in her bosom. And I do wish Mr. Noble would come and see her.
I can't think what keeps him away this long. He said he should come
soon. Lucky he laid in a good store of provisions, or we might starve
to death in this lonely wilderness afore he comes."

She busies herself in preparing little dainties to tempt the appetite
of her charge, but Lady Vera scarcely tastes the delicate morsels.

"Be you a-grievin' for your husband, my poor dear?" Mrs. Robson asks
her kindly one day.

"I have no husband," Lady Vera answers, disdainfully, with a
smouldering fire in her great, dark eyes.

She accuses herself of no falsehood in uttering those words, for she
never means to acknowledge Leslie Noble's claim upon her, and she has
mentally decided that if she ever goes free again she will appeal to
the strong arm of the law to sever the hated bonds that hold her.

After that one flash of wrath she subsides into mournful apathy again.
Two weeks more roll by into the irrevocable past. Lady Vera droops more
and more, like some gently fading rose. Betsy Robson, frightened and
alarmed, sees that her hold on life is slowly loosening day by day.

The flowers she brings her from the tangled, neglected garden fall
lightly from her grasp, as if her hands were too weak to hold them. She
lies all day on her couch now, too weak or too weary to rise, and the
snowy pillow day by day is drenched with her languid, hopeless tears.

"It is too bad that Mr. Noble does not come," Mrs. Robson mutters to
herself. "His poor young wife is dying, I honestly think. She has gone
so thin and white, and her big, black eyes frighten one with their
uncanny look. She has fretted herself to death. It goes on to seven
weeks now since he brought her here. I wonder if aught has happened
him? I do wish I could let him know some way that she's a-dying."

The last days of August have passed now. September comes in cool and
blustery, inclining to storms. With every day Lady Vera sinks more
and more, complaining of no pain or disease, only growing weaker and
weaker, paler and thinner, while, as Mrs. Robson says, her great, black
eyes look unearthly in her death-white face. If Leslie Noble does not
come soon his captive will escape him through the open gates of death.

"It's a-going to storm to-night, Tab," remarks Mrs. Robson to her
familiar, as she opens the kitchen door and peers out into the
gathering darkness one chilly night; "the moon looks pale and watery,
and the clouds keeps scudding over it. There isn't any stars to speak
of, and the wind's blustery and damp. It's a-going to storm. You may
blink and purr by the fire alone to-night, Tabby, for I must sit up
with poor Mrs. Noble. It wouldn't be right to leave the poor, crazy
creetur alone, ill as she is, and seems that harmless a body could
hardly believe that she stuck a knife into her own husband. Yes, I'll
set up with her to-night. Sometimes the spirits ride on storms to carry
away the souls of them that's a-dying, and mayhap they may come for
that poor young thing's to-night."

She closes the door with a shudder of superstitious terror in the face
of the gathering storm, and betakes herself to the gloomy upper chamber
where Countess Vera, still robed in the gray silk dress in which she
had been brought from her home a captive, lies silently across the
gloomy, crimson-hung bed, as white and still as if she were already
dead.

"You have eaten no supper, dearie," Mrs. Robson remarks, glancing at
the untasted dainties upon the tea-tray that she had brought up two
hours before.

"No," the captive answers, with a weary sigh, and relapses into silence.

"There's a storm coming. Do you hear the wind howl, and the rain
beating on the windows?" remarks Mrs. Robson, to break the spell of the
dreary, brooding silence.

Lady Vera, turning her head listlessly a moment, listens aimlessly to
the wail of the autumn wind moaning like a voice in human pain around
the ruined gables of the house.

"It is a wild night," she answers, drearily. "What time is it, Mrs.
Robson?"

"It is nigh onto eleven o'clock," the woman answers, consulting the
broad-faced silver watch stuck in her belt; then, curiously: "You've
never asked me that question afore since here you've been, my dearie.
Why do you do so now?"

"When the hours of life are few, one is fain to count them," Lady Vera
answers, with subdued bitterness.

And again there ensues a silence, filled up by the wild voice of the
wind that has now increased to a gale.

The furious rush of the rain is distinctly audible; a flash of
lightning quivers into the room in spite of the shielding curtains.

"Mrs. Robson, I believe I am going to die. When your cruel master comes,
he will find that his captive has escaped him, after all," Lady Vera
says, weakly, and with a faint triumph in her voice.

Before Mrs. Robson can reply, there comes a hasty, thundering rap on
the hall door that brings her screaming to her feet. It is thrice
repeated before her frightened senses return.

At that strange and unexpected sound, Lady Vera, as if endowed with new
strength, starts up to a sitting posture in the bed. Instead of being
startled by the noise, she seems to rejoice in it. Her eyes flash with
new life.

"Go, Mrs. Robson," she exclaims. "Do you not hear the knocking? Someone
is come."

"Who can it be, this dreadful night? Do you think it could be Mr.
Noble?" exclaims the woman, timorously.

"God forbid!" exclaims Countess Vera, passionately. "I pray that it may
be some friend of mine who has come to bring me deliverance."

But Mrs. Robson, by this, has begun to revive her scattered wits.

"Of course it's my master, Mr. Noble. How foolish I was for a moment.
I am main glad that he has come at last," she declares, eagerly, and
hastening to leave the room, though not forgetting to lock the door
after her as usual.

Countess Vera waits in an agony of suspense for five almost anguished
minutes, then footsteps mount the stairs toward her chamber. Mrs.
Robson, opening the door, ushers in Leslie Noble.

At the sight of that hated face, at the wild revulsion from ardent hope
to absolute despair, Countess Vera utters a heart-wrung cry and falls
weakly backward.



CHAPTER XLVI.


Mrs. Robson hastens forward, with a cry of dismay, to lift her mistress
from the pillows, fearing to find her dead. But Lady Vera has not even
fainted. Her white, quivering, anguished face turns upon her enemy
with scorn and defiance, struggling bravely with pitiful weakness and
despair.

"You have almost come too late," she cries, resting against Mrs.
Robson's broad shoulder, and looking at him with a strange triumph in
her hollow, gleaming eyes. "Death has nearly been here before you. You
have but come now to see him wrest your prey from your merciless grasp.
You will have nothing but my poor, wasted body to gloat over. The soul
that you have tortured out of its earthly tenement will soon be past
your power."

He stares at her, growing ghastly pale and alarmed. Mrs. Robson has
told him that his wife is ill, that she is fretting herself to death,
but he is scarcely prepared for this. It looks like death, indeed,
that marble pallor, those wide and brilliant eyes that gleam upon him
so weirdly, triumphing over him, even in death. A horrible sense of
loss and disappointment thrills through him. Is she dying, indeed, his
beautiful Vera, his rich and honored countess, the glories of whose
state he has meant to share?

"Vera, my darling, you must not die," he exclaims, going forward and
holding out his arms to her entreatingly. "Live for me, my dearest
wife. I love you more than life! Give yourself to me, Vera; let me win
your heart, and I swear I will make you happy."

She waves him away with a gesture of supreme loathing. In their anger
and excitement no one is aware that the door has creaked softly on its
hinges, that it is pushed slightly ajar now, and that two faces, lurid
with jealous rage and deadly anger, are peering cautiously around it.

"I love you, Vera," he repeats, undaunted by her proud scorn, sure that
he must win at last. "I love you, Vera, and I have never loved but you.
Thinking you dead, I was lured into that marriage with Ivy Cleveland.
She turned out to be a termagant, who only cared for my money, and
I hated her long before that blissful night when you, so grand and
beautiful that I already adored you, not knowing who you were, boldly
claimed me as your husband. You must forgive that ill-starred marriage
with your cousin, my precious Vera. She and her base mother made me
repent it every hour of my life. I suffered enough through them, Vera,
so you ought to be kind to me."

Strange that they do not hear the sibilant whisper of threatening
hate that hisses through the room! But they are absorbed in their own
passions, and the storm now raging at the hight of its fury has many
strange sounds of its own as it surges around the ivy-mantled room.

Now and then a sheet of vivid lightning illuminates the curtained
windows, and a peal of terrible thunder shakes the old mansion from
garret to cellar. But only Mrs. Robson has any ear or any thought for
the fury of the storm.

"Kind to you," Lady Vera repeats, in her faint, but cutting voice,
gazing at her cringing suppliant. "Were you kind to me in my sore
distress and misery when my mother lay dead in her grave, and I had
no one to turn to but you in my bitter desolation and despair? Were
you kind and loving to your friendless bride then, in her poverty
and woe? No! and it is not Vera Campbell you seek to win now. It is
Lady Fairvale, of Fairvale, countess in her own right, with thirty
thousand pounds a year. You see, I understand the value of your vapid
protestations of love and repentance."

"You mistake me, Lady Vera, in attributing mercenary motives to me,"
he answers, with pretended sadness and grief. "I love you for yourself
alone. I am very rich still, although not so wealthy as you are. I am
not yet too poor to woo you as a royal lover. See, my darling, I bring
you jewels fine enough for a queen--jewels that even your grandeur
need not disdain; diamonds bright as your eyes, pearls as fair as your
milk-white skin."

He has drawn two jewel caskets from his breast, and unlocks them before
her wondering eyes. The diamonds flash in the light, seeming to fill
the gloomy room with sunshine, the large, pale pearls shine with the
lustrous whiteness of the moon's chill rays.

His eyes shine as he looks into her face to note the effect. Surely
such an offering as this must win her back even from the portals of
death to be his own. These must win her love for him, surely. No fair
woman ever turned her back on the donor of such sparkling, flashing,
burning diamonds, such moon-white, gleaming pearls.

But as he gazes triumphantly into her eyes, her lips curl, she recoils
in scorn and aversion.

"I spurn both you and your offerings," she answers, quickly. "They
are poor Ivy Cleveland's diamonds and pearls. Oh, how could you be so
mean and vile as to rob that poor girl of her jewels now, when already
bereft of the jewel of honor?"

"They are not Ivy's jewels," he answers. "I bought them for you to-day
in London. Do you think I would offer you aught that had belonged to
that woman who had wronged you?"

"Liar! Coward! Robber!" cries a voice of raging hate and jealousy, and
like a sudden vision, Ivy Cleveland appears among them, her golden
tresses flying in disorder, her face livid with passion, her blue eyes
blazing with wrath, in her clenched, white hand, a tiny, gleaming
pistol, like a pretty toy.

"Liar! Coward! Robber! I will have your life for my wrongs," she
shrieks, and the gleaming pistol covers his heart, there is a terrible
report, a flash of thick smoke, and with a cry of horror, Leslie Noble
leaps into the air and falls backward--dead!

"He is dead, but I have my jewels again!" the murderess cries, with
maniacal triumph, gathering the fallen jewels to her breast and
exulting wildly over them.

At the loud report of the pistol, and Ivy's frenzied cry, Mrs.
Cleveland rushes into the room and kneels by the side of the prostrate
man, whose life-blood has gushed out in a crimson tide upon the faded
carpet. She puts her hand over his heart and bends her ear to his lips.
But in a moment she lifts her head and regards her daughter with a
blank stare of terror.

"Oh, Ivy, Ivy, you have killed your husband!" she exclaims, in a
frightened voice.

But Ivy, sitting on the floor like a child, running a diamond necklace
lovingly through her fingers, like a stream of light, only glances up
carelessly at the dead body on the floor, whose life-blood has crept
slowly along the carpet, until it has crimsoned the hem of her dress.
She laughs aloud, a chill, blood-curdling laugh.

"He deserved death," she answers, in a strange, unnatural voice. "He
stole my pretty jewels from me--my diamonds and my pearls, ha, ha! I
am the Queen of England, did you not know that? I beheaded my false
subject because he stole the crown jewels. There is a ball to-night.
I am engaged to dance with the President of the United States. He is
coming for that purpose. Ha, ha! will it not be a fine sight?" and
springing to her feet she began to dance wildly around the room, her
precious jewels clasped in her arms like a babe to her mother's breast,
while she sang in terrible, maniacal glee:

"The king is dead, long live the king!"

Again there crept to the door two watchers who peered in all unheeded
by those within the room, who watched with straining, horrified gaze
the wild gyrations of the maddened Ivy, whose small figure continued to
spin aimlessly around the floor to the accompaniment of gay, lilting
tunes sung in a high-pitched, tuneless voice, that was terrible to hear.

"The poor lady is raving crazy!" at last exclaimed Mrs. Robson, finding
voice for the first time since she had ushered Mr. Noble into the room.
The sudden and unexpected appearance of two strange women on the scene,
and the murder of her master had struck her dumb with terror, but all
the while she had continued to uphold the exhausted frame of Lady Vera
in her strong, protecting arms.

"Yes, she is mad," Lady Vera answers, in a low, sad, pitying tone.

"Who says that I am mad?" demands Ivy, sinking down upon the floor,
wearied by her wild performance. "I deny it! I am the Shah of Persia's
bride, and these jewels are my dowry from my royal bridegroom!"

Mrs. Cleveland, turning her eyes for the first time from the face
of her stricken daughter, rests them upon Countess Vera's wasted,
death-white features.

"See what your cursed arts have done," she cried out, harshly. "It
is all your work! I am glad that you are dying, Vera Campbell! I
have hated you from the hour of your birth! You were born to be my
stumbling-block, and to work out my destruction!"

"I was born to be the avenger of my parents' wrongs," Lady Vera
answers, proudly. "And though it kill me, I have kept my oath of
vengeance!"

The wind moans ominously around the creaking gables, the thunder
mutters hoarsely, the blue flame of the lightning casts its ghastly
glare into the room. No one heeds the fierce war of the elements in the
fiercer war of human passions raging within the gloomy chamber.

"Yes, you have kept your oath, curse you, curse you!" Marcia Cleveland
answers, venomously. "You have dragged me and mine down to poverty, to
shame, to madness! But live, Vera Campbell, live yet a little longer,
and you shall see your weapons turned against yourself. You will be
thrust from your splendid home and high estate, branded, disgraced,
while I shall reign in your stead! But the sweetness will be taken
from my revenge. You have driven my daughter, the light of my eyes and
heart, mad, mad! It is a wound that naught on earth can heal. Oh, curse
you, curse you! May you never know one hour of peace! May you be racked
by every ill that flesh is heir to! May God's----"

The terrible curse she is invoking stays forever on her lips! A
blinding flash of forked and vivid blue lightning shatters the window
panes, rends the curtains, and darts into the room like a living sword.
A peal of awful thunder seems to rend the earth in twain, and the
old house rocks for a moment like an infant's cradle. Then the rain
rushes wildly again, and the thunder subsides into ominous mutterings
and long, rolling sounds of terrible wrath, and Marcia Cleveland lies
prone upon the floor, her distorted face upturned to the light, a
single blue spot on her temple telling its awful story to the shocked
beholders--slain by the _lightning_!

"Oh, my poor, young mistress, you are dead, too! We shall all be
killed!" Mrs. Robson exclaims in an access of mortal terror, for Lady
Vera, overcome by the horrors of that dreadful night has fallen back in
a deathly swoon upon her pillow.

At that cry of grief the two who have lingered at the door spring into
the room. Mr. Sharpe, the detective, and Colonel Lockhart.

It is Mr. Sharpe who recoils from the sight of the two dead bodies, and
the still sadder sight of the living madwoman, crooning her senseless
songs, and counting her jewels in a distant corner.

Colonel Lockhart has no eyes for these. At one bound he is by the
bedside where the missing countess lies cold and white and still in all
her beauty.

"Oh, Vera, my love, my darling, have I found you only for this?" he
groans, taking the slight form into his arms, pressing it to his aching
heart, and lavishing passionate kisses on the cold, white lips.

But as if his love had power to call her back to life, Lady Vera sighs
faintly and opens her eyes, heavily at first then with a flash of
wondrous brightness in them as she recognizes her lover.

"Oh, Philip, is it you?" she sighs with ineffable content, nestling
closer in his strong loving clasp. "I thought I was dying, but your
voice has called me back from the world of shadows. I cannot die, now
that you have come for me. Am I safe at last, Philip?"

"You are safe at last, my darling," he answers, solemnly, and glancing
behind him with a slight shudder. "A terrible retribution has overtaken
your enemies."

"I know," she answers, shuddering. "Is it not fearful, Philip? But oh,
tell me," she continues, pleadingly, "am I responsible for the terrible
ending of these selfish lives?"

"No, Vera. They were wicked people whose sins wrought out their
own retribution. No blame can attach to you, darling," he answers,
decisively.

"Do you really know this lady, sir?" inquires poor Betsy Robson,
touching him timidly on the arm.

"Yes," he answers, looking round at her. "She is the Countess of
Fairvale, my betrothed wife, whom Leslie Noble abducted from her home."

"Oh, me, and I thought she was Mr. Noble's crazy wife. _He_ said so,"
cries Mrs. Robson, dissolved in penitent tears. "Oh, my lady, can you
ever forgive me for not listening to your true story?"

"Freely, my poor creature, since you were always kind to me," Lady Vera
answers, moved to greatest compassion by the woman's humble penitence.

Then, with something of a shudder, Lady Vera turns back to her lover.

"It seems a dreadful thing to do, but you must search Mr. Noble's
person," she says. "He had the stolen memorandum-book."

"My lady, I have already taken the liberty of doing as you suggest,"
Mr. Sharpe answers, respectfully, advancing with the gold-clasped book
in his hand.

She takes it from him with a subdued cry of joy.

"And now, Vera, when will you feel able to leave this dreadful place?"
inquires Colonel Lockhart.

"To-morrow," she answers, promptly.

"Then we will start for London in the morning. How glad Sir Harry and
Nella will be," he exclaims. "And now, Sharpe, we will, with this good
woman's assistance, make some arrangement for removing Lady Vera from
this scene of horror into another chamber."

"There's only the kitchen," Mrs. Robson said, dismayed at her lack
of resources. "All the chambers but this are leaky and damp. But the
kitchen where I cook and sleep is warm and dry."

"The kitchen will suit me excellently well; anywhere but this," Lady
Vera answers, shuddering. "You must bring poor Ivy, too," she adds,
with a compassionate glance at the poor, insane creature.

The maniac went willingly enough, satisfied to go anywhere so long as
she was not parted from her beloved jewels, and the warm, clean kitchen
was felt by all to be a safe haven of refuge from the inclement night
and the horror-haunted chamber up-stairs.

The remainder of the night was spent in a wakeful vigil. The next
morning the gentlemen made hurried preparations for the inquest that
was necessary to be held over the dead.

It was found that Mrs. Cleveland had come to her death by a stroke of
lightning, and that Leslie Noble had been murdered by Ivy Cleveland.

But human vengeance was powerless to touch poor Ivy. The hand of
God had already smitten her. A lunatic asylum received her for the
remainder of her poor, wrecked life.



CHAPTER XLVII.


Marcia Cleveland and Leslie Noble were buried in a quiet, country
graveyard. By Lady Vera's care a plain gray stone was raised above
their graves recording their names and nationality, with a brief line
commending them to the mercy of Heaven.

The remnant of Leslie Noble's once princely fortune reverted to the
Countess of Fairvale. She devoted it to the maintenance of poor Ivy
Cleveland in the best insane asylum in England.

She hoped that with time and care her reason might return to her, but
the poor creature remained a confirmed maniac to the end her long life,
never very dangerous or troublesome, but always fancying herself some
royal personage, and always planning new costumes for some imaginary
ball.

The splendid jewels, for whose sake she dyed her hands in human blood,
were kindly spared to her as playthings. They constituted all the
happiness of her life.

For Countess Vera, after that night of storm and death and merciful
rescue, there dawned a brighter day.

Only one cloud dimmed the horizon of her life-sky. It was Raleigh
Gilmore's suit at law. Even her best friends, those who believed in her
the most loyally, secretly feared that it would go against her.

When Lady Vera met Sir Harry Clive again she went to him with a smile,
the open memorandum-book in her white hand.

"You see," she said to him with that triumphant I-told-you-so smile,
which women are wont to wear on such occasions, "it was no dream, Sir
Harry. Here are the precious lines in my father's writing, word for
word, as I repeated them to you that day."

Sir Harry humbly begged her pardon for his doubts.

"You wrote to this Joel McPherson, did you not?" he asks, anxiously.

"Yes," she answers. "Has no word come from him yet?"

"No," Sir Harry replies, "not a word. Perhaps he is dead; perhaps he
has gone away."

"We must send someone over to America to look for him," Lady Vera
replies decisively.

"I think you are right. It is the best thing that can be done," he
agrees.

Her lawyer is of the same opinion. They decide to send Mr. Sharpe,
the efficient detective, to Washington to find the missing sexton of
Glenwood.

When Lady Vera has repeated to them Leslie Noble's assertion, that
he had written to a friend to keep the sexton out of the way, they
strongly suspect that McPherson has been made away with.

Mr. Sharpe is sent on his errand to America, Lady Vera's keen-witted
lawyer staves off the impending trial from day to day pending the
arrival of her important witness, and all wait in suspense for news
from the detective.

Meanwhile, Raleigh Gilmore's case has weakened daily.

The witnesses upon whom he had relied so confidently, Mrs. Cleveland
and her daughter, and possibly Leslie Noble, were all unavailable, two
being dead, one the incurable inmate of a madhouse.

The tide of fortune was setting against him. Lady Vera's friends began
to desert his banner.

Meanwhile, Lady Vera's lover and friends rejoiced in her returning
health and strength. She had been so frail and delicate when
Colonel Lockhart brought her back to them that they were shocked and
frightened. They thought she would die. Lady Clive and the faithful
maid, Elsie, wept floods of tears over her. Little Hal took a great
deal of blame to himself for Lady Vera's abduction.

"Vera, I should never have given you that dreadful old woman's letter
if I had known what it was about," he reiterates in her patient ear
many times.

"I know that, dear," she always answers, kindly. "No one blames you,
Hal, for my misfortune. It was my own willfulness that led me into
danger. Had I listened to my faithful Elsie, I should not have gone."

But their fears for her health are soon dissipated. Happiness, love and
hope, are potent restorers. The light returns to Lady Vera's eyes, the
roundness to her face and form, the color to her cheeks, and the slight
shade of thought and sadness around her lovely lips does not detract
from her beauty.

No one can tell with what happiness Colonel Lockhart basks in the
sunlight of her presence, though when she runs her white fingers
through his hair, she wonders at the silver threads that shine in the
brown, clustering curls.

"They were not there three months ago," she says to him thoughtfully.
"Are you growing old so fast, Philip?"

"I have grown old in sorrow since we parted, dear," he answers,
searching her face, gravely. "Shall you love me less for my gray hairs,
dearest?"

"No, for they were whitened by your grief for me," she answers,
pressing her sweet, shy lips on those silvery tokens of his sorrow.

And now Colonel Lockhart begs her to name an early day for their
marriage.

"We have had so many vicissitudes in our courtship, darling, that I can
never feel sure of you until you are my wife. Let it be soon, dear," he
pleads.

But Lady Vera, blushing her sweetest, answers:

"Not until after the trial is decided, Philip."

But this is just what the handsome soldier is unwilling to do.

"Why wait until after that?" he asks. "Do you mean to throw me over
if--all does not go to please you?"

The dark eyes look at him gravely.

"If it goes against me, Philip, would you be willing to wed one whom
the world will brand as an impostor?" she asks him, slowly.

"Yes, for I would know the charge was untrue. Oh, Vera, let me make you
my own now, while the issue is still in doubt, that you may know that I
loved you for yourself alone."

"As if I did not know that already," she answers, looking at him with
sweet reproach.

"That the world may know it, too, then," he urges.

He is most anxious that the marriage shall take place before the trial.
Then if, as he fears, the trial should go against her, she will be safe
in her position as his wife, and none will dare assail her. But he
cannot explain this without wounding her sensitive feelings, so he is
forced to admit her denial.

"Not until after the trial, Philip."

"And then?" he asks, eagerly.

"As soon as you please," she answers, with tender blushes glowing all
over her beautiful face, and then she laughs musically.

"We are setting the day for our marriage, and we are not even engaged,"
she laughs, in answer to his aggrieved look.

"We are!" he insists.

"We are not," she declares. "We dissolved our engagement several months
ago, and since I became free you have not asked me to renew it."

The tender mischief in the lovely, laughing, dark eyes, almost
disconcerts the handsome soldier.

"Oh, Vera, I thought of course you knew that I meant it," he says,
rather incoherently. "We _are_ engaged, and we are going to be married,
aren't we, dear?"

"If you ask me," she says, with demure mirth, out of the happiness of
her heart.

"I ask you now," he answers, laughing too. "Is it yes, Vera?"

She murmurs assent with a pretty assumption of coquetry, and bends
her head for her second betrothal kiss, delighting her lover by the
child-like gaiety that shows how her spirit is gradually throwing off
the depressing influence of grief that has so long surrounded her.

"Then, Vera, I may write to my father, General Lockhart, and ask him to
come over to the wedding?" he says, presently.

"What! and the _trousseau_ not ready yet?" she laughs.

"Oh, my darling, you will write and order it at once, will you not?" he
exclaims.

"I have already ordered it, Colonel Lockhart," she replies, demurely.

"What! before you were engaged?" he retorts, feeling it his turn to
tease now.

"I had the prospect of a proposal, sir," she answers, with charming
frankness.

"Then I shall write to my father to come over. I would not miss having
him see my lovely bride, and I intend that the wedding shall come off
as soon as the _trousseau_ is ready," declares the happy lover.

Lady Vera does not say him nay. She is very happy in the prospect of
a union with her faithful lover. The days glide past like a dream of
pleasure, quietly, because as yet she denies herself to callers, but
happily, because surrounded by her dearest friends and her adoring
lover.



CHAPTER XLVIII.


And one day the last sweet rose leaf is added to the brimming cup of
Lady Vera's new happiness, which even the thought of Raleigh Gilmore's
fell design could not wholly overshadow.

Sir Harry Clive had sent her an urgent request to come into the library
to meet a visitor, and only staying a moment to arrange her disordered
hair, for she had been in the nursery playing with Lady Nella's
children, she obeys him.

Sir Harry takes her hand and draws her forward to the man, neatly
clothed in black, who has risen from his chair to meet her.

"I know your face," she cries, instantly. "I have seen you somewhere.
It is--oh, can it be Mr. McPherson?"

"It _is_ Joel McPherson, Lady Vera, at your service," he answers, in
honest, hearty tones. "I am glad you remembered me, my lady. I knew you
again instantly although you look prettier and happier than you did
that morning when your father took you away from Glenwood."

"Oh, then, you can tell me all about that dreadful night," she cries,
repressing the shudder that always steals over her at the thought of
her living entombment.

"Yes, my lady, that is why I came to England with Mr. Sharpe," he
answers, respectfully. "I told your father that day that it was wrong
to keep the story of your burial from you. He answered me that he meant
to tell you all some day when you grew well and strong again."

"Poor father! He was too tender-hearted to keep that promise," Lady
Vera murmurs, dropping into a chair, and hiding her tearful face in her
hands.

"You wish to hear how you came to be rescued from your living grave,
dear Lady Vera?" says the baronet, anxious to distract her mournful
thoughts from her dead father.

"Yes, oh, yes," she murmurs, lifting her head, and looking at Mr.
McPherson's grave, kindly face. "You will tell me, will you not, sir?"

"You see it was this way, my lady. On the evening of the day that you
were buried, your father went to Mrs. Cleveland's to seek his wife
and child. She told him cruelly to seek you both in your graves at
Glenwood. He could scarcely believe it. It seemed too horrible to
believe, and in the horror with which his enemy's words inspired him,
he fell down like one dead at her feet. He came to himself lying out
on the pavement with the wild rain and wind beating into his uncovered
face. She had cast him out into the street to die like the veriest
wretch, unfriended and alone."

"Heartless!" Sir Harry Clive utters, indignantly, while Lady Vera's
choking sobs attest the strain upon his feelings.

"Then he came to me," continued Joel McPherson, his kind eyes moist
at the remembrance of the earl's despair. "I could only confirm Mrs.
Cleveland's story. Both his wife and child were dead. Then a longing
came over him to look at the face of the dead wife. He had wronged her
living, he said, and he could not rest until he saw her face again. He
offered me gold to open the grave, but it was not the bribe, it was the
misery on his face that made me yield to his wish."

He pauses, drawing a long breath, and wiping the moisture from his
eyes, waits for Lady Vera to grow calmer. The sound of her suppressed
sobbing fills the room.

Sir Harry touches her arm gently.

"This is too much for you," he says kindly. "Shall we defer the story's
conclusion until you are better, my dear?"

"No, I will be calm," she answers, repressing with an effort the sobs
that rise at these reminiscences of the past; "I will not disturb you
again. Go on with your story, Mr. McPherson."

"There is little more to tell, my lady," he returns. "I yielded to the
earl's wish because, after hearing all his strange story I had not the
heart to refuse. But in the haste with which the deed was done, and in
the pitch-black, rainy night I made a mistake. Judge of my surprise
when on wrenching off the lid of the coffin, and flashing the light
of the lantern on the face within, I found that I had disinterred the
daughter instead of the mother. It was the happiest mistake of my life,
for in a few minutes we found that she was not dead, but simply wrapped
in a deep, narcotic sleep," he adds, with emotion.

In a moment he continues:

"Your father, Lady Vera, did not discover the mistake until I explained
it to him. He had not seen your mother for sixteen years, and as you
greatly resembled her, he fancied that she had retained the fairness
of girlhood through all those years, whereas, in reality, she was
gray-haired and sadly aged by sorrow. I explained all this to him,
and then we took you to my cottage near by, and when you revived, he
quieted you by some plausible story that you had been asleep, fearing
to shock you too much by the story of your burial while yet alive. He
still clung to his fancy of seeing his dead wife's face, so I went back
and opened that grave too, but," with a shudder, "it was too late.
Death had marred her too sadly. I filled up both graves again, and by
your father's wish, my lady, no one ever knew that one was empty. I
questioned the wisdom of such a course, but the earl was peremptory,
and the little mound remained, while very soon after Mr. Noble erected
the monument that told every one that his wife, Vera, was buried
beneath, while the truth was that you had gone abroad with your father.
The earl, in his joy over your restoration to life, settled a generous
little fortune upon me, which has made me independent ever since. He
was a good man and true, and I am sorry that he is dead," adds Mr.
McPherson, brushing his hand across his eyes.

"And my letter to you--did you ever receive it?" questions Lady Vera.

"Yes, my lady, promptly. And I was making my arrangements to come right
over to England and help you, when I was basely kidnapped by some
unknown party and held in durance over two months, when, by good luck
and constant watchfulness, I effected my escape. I went straight back
to Glenwood, and there I found your man, Mr. Sharpe, interrogating the
sexton, who now occupied my cottage. He was delighted to find in me the
man he was looking for, and I came straight over to England with him.
But if you had not sent him after me, Lady Vera, I should have come
anyhow as soon as I escaped from my jailers."

Lady Vera, rising impulsively, goes over to press the hand of this
kind, true friend in her two soft, white ones.

"God bless you," she murmurs; "I can never thank you enough. And will
you swear to all this before a court of justice?"

"Certainly, my Lady Fairvale. That is what I came to England for," Mr.
McPherson answers, heartily.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Raleigh Gilmore's lawyer heard of this new witness in Lady Vera's
favor, he declared that his client had no case at all against the
defendant. He said it would be useless to bring it into court. They
would only be routed ignominiously, for Lady Fairvale's identity was so
perfectly established by the note in her father's memorandum-book, and
by the sexton of Glenwood's testimony, that there was really nothing to
be said against it. Besides, Mr. Gilmore's witnesses were all dead, or
worse. So the base conspiracy fell through harmlessly, and there was
no trial at all, though Countess Vera's friends were rather eager for
it now, foreseeing that victory must perch upon her banner. Raleigh
Gilmore retired to his country estate again, soured by his defeat and
disgrace, and heartily wishing that he had never been beguiled from its
quiet shades by the specious representations of the Widow Cleveland.
There was one drop of sweetness in the bitter cup of humiliation
pressed to the old bachelor's lips. Marcia Cleveland was dead, and he
would not have to marry her as he had promised.

Countess Vera felt no animosity toward the man who had tried to oust
her from her rights. She wrote him a kind and pitying letter, in which
she offered him generous pecuniary assistance if he required it, and
freely forgave him the part he had acted.

To this sweet and womanly offer, Mr. Gilmore replied gruffly and rudely
that he neither asked nor needed aid from the usurper of his rights,
and had no desire for her forgiveness.

After this, Lady Vera tacitly dropped him, and he figured no more
in the pages of her romantic life-history, which thereafter flowed
serenely in the unclouded sunshine of happiness.



CHAPTER XLIX.


The wedding--Colonel Lockhart's and Countess Vera's--when it came off,
was a very grand affair indeed. General Lockhart, than whom there was
no more gallant or distinguished an officer in America, came over to
England to attend the nuptials, and by his handsome appearance and
widespread fame, added prestige to the grand occasion.

Sir Harry Clive gave away the bride, and little Dot, his daughter, was
one of the bride's-maids. Lady Clive declared that she had never been
so happy in her life as in the hour when Lady Vera was married to her
darling brother.

People said afterward that they were the handsomest couple ever married
in London. Colonel Lockhart was so grandly handsome, Lady Vera so
dazzlingly fair. Her bridal dress was a marvel of richness and beauty.

Her _trousseau_ was all that could be desired by a woman's heart.
The bridal gifts were numerous and costly. The countess was so much
admired, and her sad and romantic story had excited such interest
and sympathy that her friends vied with each other in the beauty and
richness of their gifts, as if desirous to add in every way to the
pleasure of her bridal-hour.

Colonel Lockhart scarcely knew what to give his bride, her gifts were
so varied and so costly, but he studied out a design of his own, and
had the jeweler reproduce it. It was a beautiful locket, containing his
own picture. The setting on the carved back was a perfect crimson rose,
formed of magnificent rubies.

"In memory of the rose whose message failed that night when I went back
to America," he said, with a smile, as he placed it in her hand.

She sighed and smiled as memory brought back that night with its hopes,
and fears, and crowning failure. She remembered the song and the rose,
and how both had failed to carry their story to his wounded heart.
Then she opened the locket, and forgot all else in the sight of her
husband's handsome, happy face beaming out upon her.

"Oh, how I thank you, Philip," she cried, rapturously. "It is
beautiful."

"The picture or the locket?" he asks, laughing, yet inwardly deeply
moved.

"Both," she answers, pressing the crimson flower of her lips upon the
pictured face. "This shall always be my dearest jewel!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Countess Vera's bridal tour was to the United States. Her husband was
thoroughly patriotic, and desired to rid her mind of the prejudice she
had taken against her native land, owing to the trials of her early
youth.

They traveled leisurely and pleasantly all over their own native
country, mixed in society, and viewed everything dispassionately, until
the lovely countess owned that she had erred in disliking America and
Americans.

"Yet I have nobly atoned for my early mistake by taking an American for
my husband," she always declares, when Colonel Lockhart twits her with
her early aversion.

One day they found themselves in the beautiful city of Washington, and
Lady Vera expressed a wish to visit her mother's grave.

It was a lovely day in spring, sweet with the breath of early flowers,
when they strolled through the whispering shades of Glenwood to seek
the quiet grave where Mrs. Campbell's broken heart had found rest and
peace. The turf was springing green and freshly above the low mound,
and fragrant violets and tender daisies starred the ground. On the
marble cross at the head of the grave was carved her name and age, and
one passionate plaint from her husband's bleeding and remorseful heart:

            "Oh, God, since she could die,
    The world's a grave, and hope lies buried here."

"Poor mother, poor father!" Lady Vera weeps, her tears falling on the
green grass for the sad fate of those two who had given her life.

When she lifts her head again she sees her husband standing by the
opposite mound beneath the shadow of a tall, pretentious monument.

"Do you care to see this, my darling?" he asks her, very gently.

Silently she glides to his side, and circled by his fond, protecting
arm, reads the brief inscription, not without something of a shudder
creeping over her sensitive frame.

        "VERA,
  WIFE OF LESLIE NOBLE.
    Aged Seventeen."

"It is such a falsehood I cannot bear to see it there," she says. "You
must have the letters removed, Philip. I cannot bear to know that my
name is carved upon a tombstone while I am so full of young, happy,
bounding life."

"I think you are right, my darling," Colonel Lockhart answers, and he
takes care to carry out her wish. The lying inscription is carefully
erased from the white marble tablet.

"When I am really dead, Philip, I shall want some kind and loving words
carved on the marble above my head," she says; "I shall want the world
to know that I was loved and missed. How cold, how brief, how unloving
was that inscription."

Then glancing into his face she sees it working with some deep emotion.

"Let us come away from this spot, Vera," he says, nervously. "I tremble
to think that once you lay buried here beneath this springing turf.
What if I had missed you from my life forever?"

"You would have married Miss Montgomery, doubtless," she answers, with
a spice of mischief.

"Never," he answers, most emphatically, as he leads her away. "You were
my fate, darling. If I had never met you I should never have loved nor
married."

They remain in America several years. Lady Vera shrinks from returning
home while the memory of her strange, romantic story is yet fresh in
the public mind. But after awhile circumstances induce them to make
England their home.

Colonel Lockhart having already left the army to please his wife,
nothing remains but to set their faces toward England and Fairvale.

There is no fear that Raleigh Gilmore will ever inherit Fairvale
now, for Countess Vera has two lovely children--a dark-eyed boy and
blue-eyed girl--who are as beautiful, as healthy and brilliant as their
parents' hearts could wish. Countess Vera calls them Lawrence and
Edith, in loving memory of the dead.


[THE END.]

[Illustration]



THE MYSTERIOUS BEAUTY.


Of course I was "altogether out of sorts," and "worry had told upon
me." There was no need of young Hunter, fresh from English and foreign
hospitals, with all the latest scientific discoveries and the longest
scientific terms at his fingers' ends, to inform me of that little
fact; my own common sense could arrive at that conclusion unassisted.
What did puzzle me about it was the connection between mind and matter;
why a mental anxiety resulted in a shooting pain, and why the annoyance
I had lately undergone should have a tendency to develop bunions.
Hunter laughed when I asked him the reason of this, and then he said:

"If I were you, Mr. Slocombe, I would just run up to town one day and
see Sir Percival Pylle; he is quite at the top of the profession for
a case like yours, and I should feel more satisfied in treating you
afterward when you have had his opinion."

The young man spoke modestly enough--more so than these overtaught
young gentlemen of the present day are in the habit of doing--but
there was a laugh in his eye all the time, and I have since led him to
confess that he did not believe he should ever get me to submit to his
orders unless some medical Colossus had first laid down the law in the
same direction.

It was a great loss to this neighborhood when good old Dr. Manners
died. We all knew and believed in him; he had vaccinated the last
three generations, helped them through croup and measles, had lanced
their babies' gums, and attended the funerals of at least half the
parish twice over; and now that he was gone we none of us had the least
idea how to be ill without him. Young Mr. Hunter had been with Dr.
Manners for a short time before his death; but what are a few months'
experience compared to that of the man who has known and physicked
you from the day of your birth? So there was a little division of
feeling about Hunter; the young folks, who could not be expected to
have old heads on their shoulders, extolled his cleverness and skill;
but we elders did not commit ourselves so unreservedly, and there was
a tacit agreement amongst us that in case we had to call in the new
doctor, it would be well not to trust him too fully as to our ailments,
confiding to his ear such symptoms merely as we thought him capable of
understanding, and reserving to ourselves our own opinions, while we
took those he expressed _cum grano_.

He was quite right, though, in saying that worry had told upon me.
Why, worry enough to tell upon a large family had thought proper to
concentrate itself upon me, Adolphus Slocombe, a quiet single gentleman
no longer walking on what is called the sunny side of fifty. First,
there was that law-suit--the one, I mean, which had been dragging on
for years about Crofton's Spinney; and when the case was settled this
spring in my favor, the expenses of litigation so nearly balanced the
value of the property, that the modest sum of £7 10_s._ 3_d._ was all
the gain resulting from the trouble and anxiety of the law-suit. The
wind was very much in the east, too, this spring. I remember there was
a biting frost the very day my lawyer's bill came in--a frost that cut
off all the young wall-fruit which a previous mild fortnight had coaxed
into setting. I am partial to wall-fruit, particularly so to what is
grown in my own garden; in fact, the garden is a hobby of mine, and
those long, red-brick walls, on which the sun shines soft and warm when
other aspects are in chilly shadow, had been a sheet of blossoms pink
and promising, and such as not one of all my neighbors could exhibit,
only the day before.

People say calamities are apt to hunt in couples; mine came just then
in a regular pack. I was trying to be quiet for a while after dinner,
and, sitting in a cozy chair by the dining-room fire, had just thrown a
handkerchief across my forehead, the better to think over my troubles
undisturbed by the lights in the room, when a knock sounded on the
door, and my housekeeper presented herself with:

"If you please, sir, could I speak to you?"

Her voice sounded rather odd, and she had a nervous way with her hands
so altogether unlike herself that I knew at once some fresh catastrophe
had happened, and she was come to "break it" to me. I had told her
to shut the door behind her, which she did; and then, as she stood
trembling and hesitating just inside the room, I added, to reassure her:

"Well, Mrs. Parker, what is it? I am afraid the cows must be ill, or
one of the maids has given you trouble, and you want me to give her
warning."

"If you please, sir," replied Parker, as though that really was just
what she wanted.

"But which is it?" I asked, "the cows or the housemaids?"

"Please sir," began Mrs. Parker again; then she paused for a full
minute, and finally burst out quite suddenly, "It's me, sir, please."

"You, Parker? I don't understand," which was certainly not surprising,
considering the want of clearness in her remarks. However, now she had
begun to speak, she seemed to feel more equal to the occasion, and
presently went on:

"Please, sir, it's me, sir; you said 'to give warning,' you know, sir."

"Oh, indeed!" returned I, equally surprised and annoyed at this piece
of self-assertion on the part of my old servant. "So you think, Mrs.
Parker, that it is your place rather than mine to give warning to my
domestics? I cannot say that I agree with you. I give you leave to
choose and select the maids for yourself, and when they disobey you
and give trouble I am willing to part with them on your advice; but
servants shall not enter upon or quit my service unless I engage them
or dismiss them myself. You have lived with me a great many years,
Parker; but I intend to be master in my own house, and there must be a
limit to your powers."

I had worked myself up into quite an angry mood by this time; as to
Parker, she incontinently fell a-sobbing in the very middle of my
speech.

She drew a little nearer when I paused, and, "Oh, Mr. Adolphus," says
she, "my dear, dear master, 'tisn't nothing like as what you're saying.
I wouldn't never go to ask for more power nor is my due here, and
faithfully I've tried to do my duty to you these thirty years and more,
but--but--but--there, sir, 'tis Sir Arthur Prynne's coachman, sir--him
that has the south lodge and lost his wife a year agone last Martinmas;
and, if you please, sir, I'd be glad and sorry, too, indeed, sir, to
leave you this day month."

The murder was out now, but what a preposterous notion!

"My good woman, have you taken leave of your senses!" I asked.

"Please, sir----"

"But I do not please at all, Parker. Why in the world should you want
to be married? It is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. You are
as comfortable as you can possibly be here; you have a good home, good
food, servants under you, and, I hope and believe, a good master."

"Yes, sir," sniffed through a pocket-handkerchief.

"Then," I went on, warming with my subject, "you have good wages,
haven't you? I'll raise them, if you wish it. And you have taken brevet
rank, you know; why, all the parish calls you Mrs. Parker, and I do
not believe there is a living soul besides myself that recollects your
proper style and title should be Sarah Parker, spinster. Don't you
see that you have everything to lose and nothing whatever to gain in
marrying Sir Arthur Prynne's coachman? Why, he has I don't know how
many children, and they will be the death of you, Parker; plague your
life out. Now, do make up your mind to be a sensible woman and stay
where you are, and I will see that you shall never come to want when
your working days are over."

Anybody would have thought that I had given her reasons enough, and
good ones, too, against this marriage, but wilful woman will have her
way, and a most particularly obstinate and wilful woman Sarah Parker
was in this matter. She wanted for nothing in my house, and she had
loved me all my life, but Abel Driver's sons were all out in the world;
one daughter was in good service, and the others were married; and, in
short, her fixed intention was to become the coachman's wife and live
in Sir Arthur's south lodge, so I gave up the point at last, merely
observing:

"Well, if you will, you must, and I shall say no more about the matter
except to caution you that Driver's lodge stands very near the lake,
and I have seen a thick white mist rising scores of times in that part
of the park. You are subject to rheumatism, and to my certain knowledge
turned sixty; so I advise you to think how it will suit your bones to
be running out to open and shut the gates at all hours, before you
give Abel Driver his final answer."

Parker was not much pleased at these remarks, meant in all kindly
warning; perhaps she did not like any allusion to her age: anyhow, she
went away at once, and left me, rather shaken by the sudden news she
had brought me, to ponder over the complications and inconveniences
which result from indiscriminate matrimony, and to wonder what was to
become of me without my worthy housekeeper.

The next day I sent for Hunter, and two days afterward I went to London
and saw Sir Percival Pylle. There was not much agreeable sauvity in the
great man's manner, and he listened to the account of my symptoms with
an engaging smile; but when it became his turn to speak, the first word
that fell from his lips was not a pretty one, nor pleasant for me to
hear.

"_Gout_, my dear sir, nothing but gout," laughing lightly, as though
the whole matter was as simple as possible. "Allow me to congratulate
you. This will add ten years to your life. A very fashionable, indeed,
I may say a very aristocratic, complaint it is just now."

Sir Percival's face broadened with a genial smile--mine lengthened.
I have always had a constitutional, it may have been a prophetic,
objection to gout, and now I was coolly told its clutches were already
upon me.

"Really, sir," said I, "I cannot imagine what should lead you to say
this. I am not aware of having any symptoms of this malady."

"Of course not, of course not. Why, if people knew what was the matter
with them, and how to treat themselves, where would be the use of us
doctors? We should soon become only an additional item, and a rather
large one, in your poor-rates. But you limped a little, Mr. Slocombe,
as you entered my room; may I ask why?"

"Bunions," I replied, with decision, "very bad bunions."

"But not always equally painful? Worse some days, and better others?
Boots feel a good fit this week and unbearably tight the next? Bunion
red, shiny, swollen and puffy to the touch?"

I bowed my head in assent.

"Just so, just so. Call it _bunions_, Mr. Slocombe, if you please. Ha,
ha! a capital joke, that; but _gout_ is a shorter word to say, and a
truer one; don't waste too much breath or too many syllables over your
ailments."

I was beginning to hate the pleasant laugh that made so light of my
distresses, and I asked rather stiffly:

"What do you prescribe, Sir Percival?"

"Been abroad much? No? That's right. Change of air and scene will do
you infinite good, cheer up your spirits, and give you something fresh
to think about. Let me see, Salzbrun, I think, will be the thing for
you; charming place, very lively. Put yourself under the care of my
good friend Dr. Trinkwasser; he will regulate your use of the mineral
waters, and in six weeks they will make another man of you. No more
_gout_ then, sir. I'll write you a little prescription for present
use." (Scribble, scribble, scribble, went the long-tailed goose-quill.)
"There, sir, that note explains to Dr. Trinkwasser all that I need tell
him. Start this week, if possible; _bon voyage_! Good-day; _thank you_,
much obliged. _Good_-morning." And leaving a neatly-papered fee in the
white hand that shook mine, I quitted the doctor's presence to think
over the advice he had given me.

Presently I hailed a passing cab, and told the man to drive to my
brother Herbert's address. Herbert is a clergyman, and is wearing
out his life and strength in an East-end parish, where his wife and
children lead lives scarcely less busy than his own. Very few of the
party were at home on this occasion; only half a dozen, including the
father and mother, sat down to the early dinner which supplied me
with lunch; but the sight of so many cheerful faces round the table
was a pleasant change from my usual solitary meals. Herbert is many
years younger than I am; but he married early, and the eldest of his
ten children is a bright, merry-looking girl of eighteen, Emmie by
name. She is, more-over, my god-child, and is rather a favorite of
mine, because I see no foolish, nonsensical young ladyism about her.
She does not disfigure herself with a fuzz of hair dangling over her
eyes, but has nice sensible shining locks, which always look clean
and well-brushed. She was paler than usual to-day, and there was
listlessness in her manner such as I had never seen before in buoyant
Emmie. I could not help remarking upon it to her mother when she was
out of the room; and Miriam sighed and looked a little anxious as she
answered:

"I do not think Emmie _is_ very well, Adolphus. She had a heavy
influenza cold in the spring, just after we had all been afflicted with
mumps, and she has never been quite herself since. The doctor calls it
lassitude and want of tone."

"And what does he do for her?"

"He has prescribed a tonic, which she is taking regularly; but what
she really wants, he says, is a thorough change of air and scene, and
that, you know, we cannot give her until we take our holiday August.
She is a dear good girl, and when she is at home she will work, in hope
of giving me less to do, I believe;" and here Miriam's eyes began to
glisten as she looked at me.

"You might have sent her down to me," I growled; and then a thought
struck me. Why should not Emmie go to Salzbrun? it would be the very
thing for her, and not at all unpleasant for me to have a fresh young
fellow-traveler to enjoy the sights and help me through the inevitable
discomforts. Perhaps, too, Emmie's education having been so much more
recently polished than my own, her powers of French conversation might
be in better working order than mine, which, if not exactly the worse
for wear, had certainly grown somewhat rusty from lying idle all these
years; nay, more, it was possible that Emmie might have learnt German.
That decided me.

"Miriam," I said, "will you let me take the child with me to Salzbrun
next week? Of course, you should have no expense about the trip, and
I think that she and I could be very jolly together for a couple of
months or so."

The tears standing in my sister's eyes welled over on her cheeks; it
would be the greatest comfort to her to let her daughter go abroad, the
best possible thing for Emmie, and such a real help and kindness on my
part. It seemed a relief to her to thank me; but I hate being thanked,
and stopped her as soon as I could.

Emmie's look of delighted surprise when she heard the plan was worth
seeing, her rapturous hug of gratitude not altogether disagreeable,
provided it were not too frequently repeated; and Herbert grasped my
hand more fervently than usual when I asked for his approval.

"Then, when can you be ready? Sir Percival Pylle said start this week,
if possible; but I am willing to wait over Sunday for you, Emmie. Take
as little luggage, as you can, and meet me at Charing Cross on Tuesday
morning. Will that do?"

Yes, that would give time enough for preparations, Miriam said; so I
was free to go home and see about my own, and as I put a piece of paper
into Emmie's hand at parting, I added, "Mind you don't buy anything
that will make you look remarkable--I am not going to travel about
with a scare-crow; and if you dare to bring a heap of luggage to the
station, I'll leave the half of it at Charing Cross, a single man of
my age can't be going about the world in charge of a dozen band-boxes,
even if he is foolish enough to be troubled with a niece." My mouth was
stopped with kisses, and then she let me go.

Tuesday morning was clear and sunny. Herbert and Emmie were at the
station before me, and it was not without a feeling of satisfaction
that I surveyed my niece. Her traveling costume was simple and
well-fitting, hat and ulster equally suitable, and her luggage, dear
little girl, consisted of only one moderate-sized portmanteau and the
bag she carried in her hand. We started in excellent spirits; and I
was not ill-pleased to hear some favorable comments, made by more than
one passenger on board the steamer, on my young relative's appearance,
coupled with the remark that she was evidently traveling with her
father, whom she much resembled.

We did not hurry too much on our way to Salzbrun. Everything was new to
Emmie, and she enjoyed it all, looking upon each small _contretemps_
that befell us as only a fresh subject for fun. There never was such
a girl to find pleasure in trifles, which other folks would pass
unnoticed, and her laugh was as clear and sunny as her fresh, bright
face.

It was late when we reached our destination, a very fine hotel, full
of very fine visitors, in what was supposed to be the best situation
in Salzbrun. I saw Dr. Trinkwasser the next morning, and, when he
had directed me as to the kind and amount of mineral waters I was to
swallow, we fell quickly into the ordinary routine of the place. Emmie
insisted on getting up in time to go with me to the spring from which
I fetched my early morning draught, and then we took the prescribed
constitutional, and watched the gay assemblage passing to and fro while
we listened to the lively music of an excellent band.

"Indeed, uncle, half the fun of being here is in getting up in the
morning and watching the water-drinkers," Emmie assured me. "Did you
see the faces that fat old German lady made this morning when she got
her second glassful? I do believe she must be related somehow to those
horrid gutta-percha dolls the children have; no merely human cheeks
seem capable of going, day by day, through such contortions without
getting permanently fixed in one of them. Old nurse used to tell us,
when we made grimaces, that if the wind were to change that very
minute we should never be able to get our natural faces again. She did
frighten me so; and now I try to keep one eye on Frau Schimpf's visage
and one on the weathercock; then, in case anything happened, I should
be able to explain it to the doctors, and bear witness against the
false, inconstant winds."

If loquacity be a sign of health, there was no longer anything amiss
with my niece, for her tongue was seldom still, but rattled away
incessantly whatever came into her head, and at this time it was
generally nonsense that was uppermost. This Frau Schimpf, over whom
she was now making merry, had acquired a certain sacredness in many
eyes, not from any merit of her own, but because she was living in
the character of _dame de compagnie_ with the most admired inmate of
our hotel--an inmate rendered all the more interesting by the slight
cloud of mystery that hung about her. No one could discover Madame B.'s
nationality; she might be Russian, German, Hungarian, Pole--anything
almost, except French or English; and then nobody knew whether or no
Monsieur B. was in existence, and "Wife or widow?" was the unanswered
inquiry made concerning her by every new arrival at the Schwartz Adler.
Madam was tall, dignified, and graceful; her dress, invariably black
(which settled the question of her widowhood in my mind), was made
in the latest Parisian fashion, her white hands flashed with diamond
rings, a faint pink tinged her cheeks, her brows were dark and well
defined, her eyes dark and lustrous; but her greatest charm of all lay
in her hair, it too was dark, raven-hued, and was arranged in piles and
pyramids of curls and loops and bows, with all the ingenuity of the
most artistic foreign _coiffeur_; a jetty fringe fell in soft waves
across her forehead; and from behind one ear a long full, perfumed
ringlet descended to her waist, or swayed gently on the breeze as
she moved across the room. Madame B. was beautiful, distinguished,
piquante; and this little Frau Schimpf, who sat beside her, was a
short, stout dumpy woman unmistakably German, clad in an impossible
and brilliant tartan, and given to loud speech and laughter, and the
questionable habit of dipping into the salt before her the knife which
in the intervals of cutting up her meat, occasionally found its way
into her mouth. Frau Schimpf was willing to chatter to anyone. Madame
B. talked only to her, and always in German, that detestable tongue, of
which I knew not one single word.

Emmie ran up-stairs to fetch her hat, the first evening after dinner,
and as she took my arm for a stroll, she asked eagerly:

"Oh, uncle, did you see those two ladies who sat side by side--one in
black silk and the other in all the colors of the rainbow? Were not
they an odd contrast? And did you ever in your life see anything like
that younger lady's hair? Do you believe it is all growing? I did so
long to give the curl a little tweak to see if it would come off."

"My dear child," I said severely, for her remarks appeared to me rather
flippant, "that is not a nice way for you to talk; perhaps these same
ladies may be wondering now whether that great brown coil at the back
of your head is all your own."

"They may come and pull it if they like," returned the girl, laughing;
"every bit of it is home produce, grown on the premises, and warranted
genuine."

"At any rate this lady's locks are arranged in a most artistic manner."

"Artistic? I should think it was!" and Emmie was off again in one of
her hearty laughs. "Why, Uncle Adolphus, that is just the very thing
that tickles my fancy. It is _too_ artistic, _too_ unnatural; I am sure
Eve never wore her hair in that style, nor Venus, nor--nor anybody that
ever was taken for a model," urged the girl, getting a trifle confused
in her examples of style.

"Hair-pins and curling-tongs were not invented in those early days,"
said I, trying to be repressive. "What a remarkably fine sunset we are
having."

Emmie followed my lead, and we talked of the beauty of the evening,
and the wonderful effects of sunset coloring in different states of
the atmosphere; but my thoughts, I must confess, were busied still
with the beautiful being whom my eyes detected in the hotel gardens
below us. How utterly unlike my early dreams and visions, and yet what
an adorable creature she was. This was, perhaps, rather more than I
allowed to myself on that first evening; but day by day my admiration
for Madame B. deepened, and I began to contrast with her all other
women of my acquaintance, but always to their disparagement. Even
Emmie, my bright little niece, lost something of her piquancy during
this process. Inclined to admire all that was foreign, the smooth,
shining hair parted on Emmie's forehead looked to me now "so dreadfully
English." I had always thought Miriam a sensible woman for forbidding
her girls to disfigure themselves with fringes--_idiot fringes_, I had
called them, when in my ignorance I aided and abetted her decision.
Ah, well! one's mind grows broader with more varied experience, and
mine now widened fast, until I positively longed to see some wandering
tendrils straying across my niece's brow, if a row of bright wavy locks
was impossible for her. I did not tell her so then, and I was glad
afterward that I had been wise enough to avoid the subject.

We were by no means the only inmates of our hotel to whom the beautiful
unknown became an object of interest. Her eyes, her hair, her diamonds,
her languid grace, were topics often dwelt on in the smoking-room;
and as I sat puffing silently my evening pipe of peace, I gleaned at
last a few facts concerning her. Madame B. had come to Salzbrun for
her health, but what was the matter with her nobody knew. Frau Schimpf
came for health too, but she was also the lady's paid companion. Every
morning when we went to the spring for my draught of mineral water,
the dumpy little German was there before us getting hers also; but
the stately beauty never came. And at last I learned that, instead of
drinking the waters like the vulgar herd of us, Madame B. was amongst
the selecter few for whom a course of mud-baths only was prescribed.
Emmie's mirth had been greatly excited at the notion of these baths,
and she was always begging me to let her try one, "just for the fun of
it," because she was "convinced that they must make one feel like an
eel or a tadpole, and she wanted to find out which of the two it was."
The very mention of such creatures in connection with the baths seemed
a positive insult to Madame B.

When we had been about ten days at Salzbrun, a sad thing happened.
Little Gretchen, the smiling _Madchen_ who used to fill up, from the
spring which Frau Schimpf and I frequented, the glasses handed to her
by the drinkers, was missing one morning; a stranger was in her place,
and presently the story flew from mouth to mouth that the poor child
had been knocked down by a runaway horse the previous evening; her leg
was broken, and broken badly. Anna, who had come to do her work, said
the little maiden was in sore pain, but brave and patient, and that
the Herr Doctor had shaken his head and looked very grave about the
accident.

The morning sunshine shone less bright than usual that day to many who
heard the tale, for Gretchen's modest behavior and pleasant courtesy
had made her a favorite with all her customers. The livery music of
the band failed to inspirit us, and when Emmie and I had taken our
compulsory walk, and fetched in little paper bags the rolls that were
to serve for our breakfast, we sat down sadly and gravely enough, at a
little table under the shady trees, to drink our coffee.

"Can't we do anything for Gretchen, uncle?"

"We can give her some money," I suggested; "doctors cost more than she
can afford, poor child."

Just then Frau Schimpf, who was breakfasting at a table near us, and
with whom Emmie had occasionally exchanged a few words, turned round
and said something to her in German. And then followed a conversation,
in the course of which my niece learnt fuller particulars of the recent
accident. It appeared that Gretchen was the eldest child of a large
family, and the only member of it besides the mother capable of earning
anything. That mother was a widow, herself too delicate to be able to
work much; and now the poor girl's weekly wage must cease, for she
could never be well enough this summer to resume her post. "Even if she
ever does get well enough," continued the German lady. "I have seen the
Herr Doctor only this last half-hour, and he says her injuries are so
severe he cannot yet tell whether she may not have to lose her leg, and
then what would become of them? Gretchen, even with a wooden leg, would
not be able to stoop fast enough to fill the visitors' glasses another
season, and what else could she do? Besides," added the good woman
reflectively, "a wooden leg is expensive; it wears out--you have to buy
another. Gretchen is young; she may live long enough to need a dozen
wooden legs before she dies, to say nothing of sticks and crutches."
And as Emmie translated to me this dolorous suggestion, Frau Schimpf
finished her repast and walked away.

We found that Gretchen's accident had created quite a little excitement
at the Schwartz Adler, where many of her customers were staying; and
before dinner-time the general desire to help the little maiden had
taken definite form, and it was unanimously decided that the visitors
at the hotel should get up an entertainment something in the style of
penny readings at home for her benefit. It was to come off as soon
as possible, while the interest was at its hight; and ardent spirits
amongst us formed themselves into a committee of management, and went
about the house, knocking at every one's door in search of talent of
all kind to swell their programme for the following Tuesday. Emmie and
I were requested to give our valuable services; but happily the house
contained so many stars more brilliant than ourselves that we were
permitted to sink into contented insignificance after purchasing our
five franc tickets for the entertainment.

It was wonderfully well got up: somehow these things arrange themselves
more easily and simply amongst foreigners than with us, and the number
of performers was astonishing. There was a gentleman who played the
flute, another who accompanied his wife's pianoforte music on the
violoncello, several amateur singers with voices far above the average,
brilliant pianists and violinists, besides readers and reciters in
French, English, and German, to suit all tastes. The landlord placed
his big _salon_ at the disposal of the committee, and Emmie assisted
a bevy of ladies to deck its walls with flowers and evergreens, while
the non-performing gentlemen, myself amongst them, went to and fro
executing their sometimes rather contradictory orders. Amongst them all
I looked in vain for Madame B. What a sweet retiring disposition she
must have! I thought, for she is never visible except at dinner-time;
but by and by Frau Schimpf came bustling in, and presently Emmie ran up
to me with a translation of that worthy woman's latest remarks.

"She says we shall have a treat indeed this evening, uncle, for Madame
B. has at last consented, under extreme pressure, to recite in German."

"Admirable woman!" said I, which was what I thought; but Emmie fancied
it was spoken ironically, and went on to rebuke me gently.

"You shouldn't laugh at her," she said; "it really must be horrid to
have to stand up and _spout_ before all these people; and I don't
wonder it took a lot of coaxing to persuade her to do it. I don't think
even you, my much and deservedly beloved uncle, would ever be able to
induce me to perform in public."

"And if I could, my dear, you would not be worth hearing," returned
I; for we were on terms of friendly chaff, and I liked her to get
occasionally as good as she gave.

Presently she came back to me.

"Our latest bulletin," she whispered; "Madame B. is by no means
unaccustomed to public speaking; she has _un talent_, and is in the
habit of exercising it at some sort of club--_Verein_ they call it--in
Berlin."

This upset the modest violet theory; but, after all, the glorious
rose which basks in fullest sunshine is a finer flower; anyway, there
was much to admire in the lady; and when at the appointed hour she
was handed, by two or three gentlemen in waiting, to the front of the
extempore platform in the _salon_, and stood there self-possessed and
stately in her trailing black silk robe, while her audience clapped a
welcome, I declare my heart went pit-a-pat with excitement, just as
though I were a boy of nineteen.

The lady waited for silence with downcast eyes, but when the room was
hushed into stillness she raised them suddenly with a quick change
of expression, and in a rich clear voice began to speak in German.
That there were rhymes in what she recited even my ignorant ears
could catch, but the extraordinary thing about it was the incessant
repetition of my own name in every variety of tone, now playful,
now tender, now coaxing, now petulant; and once when her accent was
especially caressing, the dark eyes rested for an instant on my face,
bringing a tinge of red above my respectable British whiskers. What was
it all about? Was it possible that Madame B. was acquainted with my
Christian name? that she was conscious of my fervent admiration, and
not displeased by it? And here I became aware that Emmie was indulging
in a paroxysm of laughter and delight beside me, while a storm of
rapturous applause burst out all over the room as the melodious voice
ceased and Madame B. bowed her acknowledgments. She came back again and
recited something else--of which I could not understand a word--before
Emmie had time to explain the first piece, but I hardly listened now; I
was sitting in a strangely delicious dream. Adolph? yes, certainly that
was the German for my own name Adolphus, but never had I imagined the
variety of sweet inflections with which that name could be uttered.

"I shall always call you uncle Adolph in future," cried Emmie, breaking
in upon my revery. "It is a much prettier name than Adolphus, and ever
so much shorter. Oh, dear, I do wish I could say it in half as many
different ways as Madame B. can!"

"But what was it all about?"

"Oh, I beg your pardon, uncle. I forgot you did not understand. It was
just the loveliest thing you ever heard. The poem begins by saying
not exactly 'what's in a name?' but by suggesting that we hardly know
what there _is_ in it until we try to use it under a great variety of
circumstances; and then it takes a common German name, Adolph, and puts
it into the mouth of a girl who is talking to her lover; and sometimes
she pets him, and sometimes she pretends to scold him, or to take
offense, and then she is in despair at parting from him, and overjoyed
to meet again. You could make out all that for yourself, couldn't you,
from the way Madame B. pronounced your name?"

"I never heard anything to equal her; it is wonderfully clever."

"She must have had plenty of practice, mustn't she?" remarked Emmie,
taking a view of the matter which fell rather like a wet blanket on my
enthusiasm. "I expect she has recited that poem dozens of times before.
You see she says it off by heart, and Frau Schimpf told me she is
accustomed to immense audiences in Berlin, and thinks nothing at all of
the people here."

Our entertainment was an undeniable success, and the committee were
able to hand over for Gretchen's use a sum of money sufficient to keep
the little maiden in comfort for many months to come. Its results, so
far as I was concerned, were less happy. My thoughts would wander off
too constantly to Madame B. I began to show small civilities to the
_dame de compagnie_, who took them in very good part; and listening to
the ease and fluency with which she rattled off her native language, it
appeared to me that speaking German must really be an easier, simpler
thing than I used to imagine, and I resolved to set to work at once to
pick up all I could of it. _Ja nein_, those were words I knew already,
and I had learnt to call _Kellner_ in commanding tones whenever there
were any orders to be given through Emmie to the waiters. I would go
a little further now, and one day, when the child had been telling me
some long story of her adventures while I had been writing letters, I
drew myself up, and replied complacently.

"_Ach, so._" But Emmie was not impressed, as I had expected her to be,
by my proficiency; indeed, she took it quite the wrong way, for she
leant back in her chair with a burst of laughter that surprised me, and
as soon as she could speak, exclaimed,

"My dearest uncle Adolph" (she had called me so ever since the
memorable Tuesday night), "you really are too funny. When I come down
to stay with you in the winter we will get up some private theatricals,
and you will bring the house down. I had not the faintest notion you
were such a mimic; it is inimitable, just her very tone and manner to
the life."

"Whose tone and manner?" I asked, faintly, trying to look unconscious.

"Why, Frau Schimpf's, of course; it could not be any one else. Oh uncle
Adolph, what a shame of you to be so civil to the poor old thing, when
all the time you were doing it only to get that up! Do say it again,
though; I can't think how you could contrive to catch her voice and
accent so completely."

We were wandering about next morning, in the direction of the ladies'
mud-baths, when our attention was suddenly caught by loud screams
proceeding from one of them, as of somebody in deadly fear. Several
people came running to the spot; there was a commotion both inside and
outside the building, and at last the word _Schlange_--snake--began
to pass from mouth to mouth. Was there a viper in one of the ladies'
baths? The idea appeared too horrible. Poor Emmie turned pale at the
thought, and asked anxiously if German snakes were dangerous; but
not two people gave her the same answer, and at last the brilliant
suggestion occurred to her that it might, perhaps, be only an eel.

I looked at my watch, and found it was already past the time for my
second glass of mineral water, and Emmie decided to stay where she was
while I went in search of it, in the hopes of hearing the end of this
strange affair. Twenty minutes later I returned, to find her leaning
for support against a tree, exhausted by mirth, which burst out afresh
at sight of me, while every face I met was expanded into a broad grin.

"Oh uncle Adolph, it is too ridiculous!" she panted, as she ran up to
me and seized my arm. "What _do_ you think it was? It was Madame B.'s
bath, you know; and after she got into it she felt something in the
mud, and she thought it was a snake, and screamed and made a tremendous
fuss; and the bath-people came rushing to help her, and they got sticks
and rakes and poked about in the mud, and, oh! what _do_ you think they
found in the bath?"

"Surely not the eel you suggested?" I asked faintly.

"A _curl_, Uncle Adolph! just that very identical long black curl you
thought so beautiful! and it had got all straight and horrid in the
mud, and really must have been unpleasantly like a snake to put one's
foot on. But that is not all," she went on, "for it seems that poor
Madame is _bald_, absolutely _bald_, and all those bows and fringes are
nothing but a wig, and take on and off like a helmet; and to-day she
must have been thinking of something else, for she stepped into her
bath with the hair on, and this curl dropped into the mud. I do feel
sorry for her, for when the people showed her what they had found, she
was so angry that they say she tore the rest of the wig off her head,
and threw it at them in a passion. So now everybody in the place will
know that Madame B. is bald and artificially got up, and I should not
wonder if the discovery drove her quite away from Salzbrun at once."

Emmie was right; that very afternoon the two ladies left the place,
taking leave of none, and not caring to face any of their former
companions. At night the subject was discussed at _table d'hote_;
fresh incidents were supplied, dull witticisms were made about Medusa
and her snaky locks, and those who had before been most inclined to
offer incense at the shrine of Madame B. were foremost now in hinting
that her teeth, her eyebrows, and the faint pink color in her cheeks
were one and all as artificial as her hair. As for me, I held my
tongue. Nobody, not even Emmie, had the least suspicion of my budding
_tendresse_ for the fascinating widow, and by and by some farther
particulars became known about her. Her husband, a wealthy jeweler of
Berlin, had been dead about two years, and had probably bequeathed to
her, amongst much else, the diamond hoops which flashed so brightly on
her pretty hands.

My dream was over, I had been rudely awakened. Not for the sake of
hearing "Adolph" murmured all day long in the soft accents of that
dulcet voice could I, an English country gentleman, for a moment
contemplate allying myself with the made-up widow of a German
shopkeeper, however beautiful and attractive her appearance might be in
full "war-paint." No, I would go back to my old home and my old ways,
and forget the foreign siren who had dazzled me for a while.

We stayed on at Salzbrun until my course of water-drinking was over,
and then, after a fortnight's tour through other parts of Germany, I
brought my niece home with me to the Manor House.

Emmie had grown very dear to me in all these weeks that we have spent
together. I do not think it would be quite fair to ask her parents to
let her live with me entirely and be my adopted daughter; but I have
been trying on one excuse and another to lengthen out her stay, and
fondly hoped the Manor House would be a second home to her, and that at
least half her time would in future be spent with me.

But what is the use of planning? My fine schemes were all knocked on
the head this morning, in the course of an hour's conversation, and I
and my projects are simply nowhere in the new state of things.

I was standing on my doorstep after breakfast, smoking calmly, and at
peace with all mankind, when young Fred Willoughby came riding up the
drive.

"Hullo, young man," said I, "why are you not after the hounds this
morning? You can't have better weather in November, and you won't find
any fox in this direction, take my word for it."

"It is rather a dove than a fox that I have come in pursuit of to-day,
Mr. Slocombe. Can you give me ten minutes in the study?"

In less than that time he had poured out a fervid declaration of his
devotion to my niece, of his parents' approval of his choice, and would
I--could I give him any hope that Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Slocombe would
ever be persuaded to allow him to marry their daughter? Of course he
soon persuaded me. Fred is a thoroughly good fellow, the son of old
and tried friends, and can promise his wife a future fairly free from
any money anxieties. He is evidently much attached to Emmie, and I
believe will make her truly happy. So, by and by, we shall have another
wedding, and then I know exactly how it will be in the future. History,
they say, repeats itself. So somebody's marriage will inconvenience me;
I shall lose my head housekeeper in Emmie. There will be bad times for
the garden again next spring, I know there will, and I shall be worried
and out of sorts, and shall suffer from _bunions_, or something else,
and then Hunter will send me to Sir Percival Pylle for good advice. I
see the whole programme before me, like some dreadful nightmare; but
I can be firm upon occasions, and I do solemnly declare that nothing,
not even the advice of the most learned and fashionable of physicians,
shall ever again induce me to seek for health in the neighborhood of a
German mud-bath.

[THE END.]

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common to that condition. If its use is kept up in the latter months of
gestation, it so prepares the system for delivery as to greatly lessen,
and many times almost entirely do away with the sufferings of that
trying ordeal.

="Favorite Prescription,"= when taken in connection with the use of
Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery, and small laxative doses of Dr.
Pierce's Purgative Pellets (Little Liver Pills), cures Liver, Kidney
and Bladder diseases. Their combined use also removes blood taints, and
abolishes cancerous and scrofulous humors from the system.

_Treating the Wrong Disease._--Many times women call on their family
physicians, suffering, as they imagine, one from dyspepsia, another
from heart disease, another from liver or kidney disease, another from
nervous exhaustion or prostration, another with pain here or there, and
in this way they all present alike to themselves and their easy-going
and indifferent, or over-busy doctor, separate and distinct diseases,
for which he prescribes his pills and potions, assuming them to be
such, when, in reality, they are all only _symptoms_ caused by some
womb disorder. The physician, ignorant of the cause of suffering,
encourages his practice until large bills are made. The suffering
patient gets no better, but probably worse by reason of the delay,
wrong treatment and consequent complications. A proper medicine, like
Dr. Pierce's Favorite Prescription, _directed to the cause_ would have
entirely removed the disease, thereby dispelling all those distressing
symptoms, and instituting comfort instead of prolonged misery.

"=Favorite Prescription=" is the only medicine for women sold, by
druggists, =under a positive guarantee,= from the manufacturers, that
it will give satisfaction in every case, or money will be refunded.
This guarantee has been printed on the bottle-wrapper, and faithfully
carried out for many years. =Large bottles= (100 doses) =$1.00=, =or
six bottles for $5.00=.

Send ten cents in stamps for Dr. Pierce's large, illustrated Treatise
(160 pages) on Diseases of Women. Address, World's Dispensary Medical
Association,

  NO. 668 MAIN STREET, _BUFFALO_, _N. Y._



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Transcriber's Notes:


Added table of contents.

Italics are represented with _underscores_, bold with =equal signs=.

Retained some archaic spellings ("hight," "awsome," etc.).

Retained some inconsistent hyphenation (e.g. "bedside" vs. "bed-side").

Page 2, changed "frendless" to "friendless" ("poor, friendless child")
and "maried" to "married" ("when I married your father").

Page 6, changed "tumultously" to "tumultuously" ("springs up
tumultuously").

Page 9, corrected tense to "bursts" in "she bursts out, angrily."

Page 10, added missing quote after "for the likes of her."

Page 17, added missing "it" to "would think it strange."

Page 32, added missing close single quote after "Banks of Allan Water?"

Page 34, changed comma to period after "still sharply."

Page 42, changed "eveything" to "everything" ("I forgot everything").

Page 43, changed "Vere" to "Vera" in "Lady Vera's morbid thoughts."

Page 45, added missing hyphen before "law" in "of his mother-in-law."
Changed "hear to it" to "hear of it."

Page 52, changed "idifferent" to "indifferent" ("She is utterly
indifferent").

Page 53, changed "Mongomery" to "Montgomery" ("Miss Montgomery's pretty
soprano").

Page 54, corrected tense from "touched" to "touches" in "touches the
white keys."

Page 55, changed "yous" to "your" ("your _tete-a-tete_").

Page 57, removed stray quote after "courted pleasure abroad."

Page 65, expanded oe ligature to oe in "chef-d'oeuvre" for this text
edition; the HTML edition retains the ligature. Added missing period
after Mrs in "Mrs. Cleveland's glance."

Page 78, added missing period after Mrs in "Mrs. Noble shrieks."

Page 79, changed "martyred brother's" to "martyred mother's."

Page 81, changed "Ida" to "Ivy" ("with Ivy on his arm").

Page 87, corrected tense from "have" to "had" in "So they had buried
her."

Page 89, changed ? to . after "The angry color flames into her cheeks."

Page 90, changed "eommanding" to "commanding" ("so imperious, so
commanding").

Page 93, changed "evade" to "invade" ("began to invade").

Page 99, changed "asistance" to "assistance" ("opportunely came to your
assistance"). Corrected tense from moaned in "she moaned, feebly."

Page 105, added missing quote before "I was looking over papa's book."

Page 106, changed "excuting" to "executing" ("lose no time in executing
it").

Page 109, corrected tense from "looked" in "The maid looks at her."

Page 112, corrected tense from "turned" in "Lady Vera turns her head."

Page 113, changed "Conntess" to "Countess" ("all trace of Countess
Vera").

Page 115, added missing quote before "You will help me to the earldom."

Page 119, removed extra quote after "regarding him steadily."

Page 126, changed "every" to "ever" in "ever since we came to London."

Page 131, added missing period after Mrs in "Mrs. Robson, I believe."

Page 134, corrected tense from moaned in "The wind moans ominously."

Page 139, changed comma to period after "he asks, eagerly."

Page 150, changed "half of at it Charing Cross" to "half of it at
Charing Cross."

Page 153, changed "led" to "leg" in "wooden leg is expensive."

Page 154, changed "iittle" to "little" ("help the little maiden") and
removed redundant "day" after "following Tuesday."

Page 157, changed "knowh" to "known" ("became known about her").





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