Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: My Lady Nobody - A Novel
Author: Maartens, Maarten
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Lady Nobody - A Novel" ***

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



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



[Illustration: “HE STUDIED HIMSELF IN THE GLASS”]



                          MY LADY NOBODY

                              A Novel

                                BY

                         MAARTEN MAARTENS

                            ILLUSTRATED

                          [Illustration]

                             NEW YORK

                   HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS

                               1895



              Copyright, 1895, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

                      _All rights reserved._



Dedication


_God’s Angel of Human Love sat alone in the garden of lilies. Her
arms hung listless among the blooms she had gathered into her lap.
For her eyes--sole mirrors of the Inapproachable Presence--were
gazing steadfastly down upon the darkness, deep down where the
black bar of sorrow strikes across the wide radiance of eternity,
down on the sin-laden star that still hastens athwart the shadow. A
single teardrop stole out upon her cheek, and, falling, crept away
into a milk-white chalice. Suddenly, with a movement of ineffable
pity, she flung forth all the flowers upon her lap, into the world
below._

_Into my bosom, O Beloved, is fallen the flower with the tear at
its heart. Unto thee, O fair among God’s flowers, white among his
angels, strong among his saints, unto thee, with the thorn in thy
side, and the star on thy forehead, unto thee do I dedicate this
ray from a life of which thou art the light._



                             CONTENTS


                              Part I

  CHAPTER                                              PAGE

        I. URSULA                                         1
       II. THE DOMINÉ                                     6
      III. HOME                                          10
       IV. THE VAN HELMONTS                              18
        V. LE PREMIER PAS--QUI COÛTE                     25
       VI. UNCONSCIOUS RIVALS                            34
      VII. HARRIET’S ROMANCE                             43
     VIII. THE TRYST                                     53
       IX. OTTO’S WOOING                                 63
        X. AN INDELIBLE STAIN                            74
       XI. ONE HOUR OF HAPPINESS                         83
      XII. “AN OLD MAID’S LOVE”                          94
     XIII. FOR LIFE OR DEATH                            105
      XIV. A SATISFACTORY SETTLEMENT                    113
       XV. DONNA É MOBILE                               119
      XVI. A FOOL AND HIS FOLLY                         127


                              Part II

     XVII. BROTHERLY HATE                               136
    XVIII. THE DUTY OF THE PARENT                       142
      XIX. FORFEITS ALL ROUND                           151
       XX. MYNHEER MOPIUS’S PARTY                       159
      XXI. BARON VAN HELMONT                            169
     XXII. GERARD’S SHARE                               174
    XXIII. TOPSY REXELAER                               187
     XXIV. MASKS AND FACES                              195
      XXV. CORONETS AND CROSSES                         208
     XXVI. FREULE LOUISA                                216
    XXVII. PEACE AND GOOD-WILL                          224
   XXVIII. THE SECOND MRS. MOPIUS                       231
     XXIX. THE BLOT ON THE SNOW                         236
      XXX. CHRISTMAS EVE                                243
     XXXI. “WHOSOEVER SHALL SMITE THEE--”               250
    XXXII. THE GREAT PEACE                              257


                             Part III

   XXXIII. INTRIGUE                                     267
    XXXIV. THE NEW LIFE                                 276
     XXXV. “MRS. GERARD”                                281
    XXXVI. THE DEAD-AWAKE                               291
   XXXVII. POLITICS                                     297
  XXXVIII. THE OLD BLOT                                 308
    XXXIX. THE COUNSELLOR                               316
       XL. THE NEW BAILIFF                              323
      XLI. THUNDER IN THE TROPICS                       335
     XLII. THE FINGER OF SCORN                          351
    XLIII. ARRESTED                                     358
     XLIV. AFRAID                                       371
      XLV. THE HOME-COMING OF THE HERO                  377
     XLVI. THE FATAL KNIFE                              388
    XLVII. TRIUMPHANT                                   393
   XLVIII. A WIFE FOR GERARD                            402
     XLIX. FACE TO FACE WITH HERSELF                    407



                           ILLUSTRATIONS


  “HE STUDIED HIMSELF IN THE GLASS”                     _Frontispiece_

  “‘CONFOUND YOU! GET OUT OF THE WAY, CAN’T YOU?’”    _Facing page_  4

  “‘GIRD UP YOUR LOINS!’ CRIED THE DOMINÉ”                “    “    26

  “‘OH, I’M SO SORRY,’ SHE CRIED”                         “    “    36

  “THE GIRLS WALKED ON IN SILENCE”                        “    “    58

  “‘THE TRAM!’ EXCLAIMED URSULA, HALF RISING”             “    “   108

  “‘THERE HAS BEEN NO QUARREL THAT I KNOW OF, MEVROUW’”   “    “   120

  “‘NO ONE MORE SORRY THAN YOURSELF!’ BURST IN GERARD”    “    “   138

  “HE WENT FORWARD WITH HIS FINGERS AT HIS COLLAR-STUD”   “    “   156

  “‘IT SEEMS TOO CRUEL TO DIE AND LEAVE IT ALL’”          “    “   168

  “THERE WAS SUCH A CROWD IN THE CENTRAL ROOM”            “    “   192

  “‘OH, THEY ARE ALL THAT,’ CRIED OTTO, FACING ROUND”     “    “   212

  “‘I SHOULD WISH TO--PAY SEVEN FLORINS MORE PER WEEK’”   “    “   222

  “SHE SANK DOWN BESIDE THE CRADLE, HIDING AWAY FROM
     HIM”                                                 “    “   238

  “GERARD THRUST THE GLOVE INTO HIS POCKET”               “    “   254

  “‘GOOD-BYE, MR. MOPIUS; MY COMPLIMENTS TO MEVROUW!’”    “    “   276

  “‘DO YOU KNOW, YOU BOY, WHO COMES FOR CHILDREN THAT
     STEAL?’”                                             “    “   284

  “‘COME UP-STAIRS,’ SHE REITERATED”                      “    “   292

  “‘I SUPPOSE YOU DON’T REMEMBER ME, MADAME’”             “    “   314

  “THEY BEGAN CALMLY CARVING A PASSAGE THROUGH THE
     DENSE OBSTRUCTION”                                   “    “   348

  “SUBSTANTIAL HOUSEWIVES WHISPERED BEHIND HER BACK,
     ‘FIE! FIE!’”                                         “    “   352

  “THE CARRIAGE HALTED BY THE CHURCH”                     “    “   382

  “‘IT SHALL BE FIVE THOUSAND FLORINS IF IT’S A PENNY,
     MY LADY’”                                            “    “   400

  “‘I AM COME TO MAKE CONFESSION AND THEN TO LEAVE
     YOU’”                                                “    “   412



MY LADY NOBODY



Part 1.--CHAPTER I

URSULA


It was a white-hot July morning. Long ago the impatient earth had
cast aside her thin veil of summer twilight; already she lay, a
Danae, in exultant swoon beneath the golden sun. Yet the bridegroom
had barely leaped forth to the conquest; his rath kisses were still
drinking the pearly freshness from the dawn, while the loud birds
filled the resonant heavens with the tumult of their bridal song.

It was still so early, and already so immovably warm; all wide
earth and deep sky agasp in the naked blaze. Ursula drew forward
her broad-brimmed straw hat, where she stood picking pease among
the tall lines of pale-green, blossom-speckled tangle.

“Oof!” she said. Not as your burly farmer says it, but with
the prettiest little high-pitched echo of the louder note. And
she buried her soft brown cheeks in the cool moisture of her
half-filled basket. Then she gravely resumed her work, and a
great, big, booming bumblebee, which had thought to play hide and
seek with Ursula’s nose, sailed away in disgust that on such a
sun-soaked morning any of God’s creatures should bend to toil in
his sight.

Ursula Rovers was not one of those who serve their Maker with
dancing and a shout. Yet she sang to herself, very sedately, as she
broke off each bursting pod, amid the fiercer jubilation of the
passion-drunk blackbirds and finches,

    “Stand then with girded loins, and see your lamps be burning;
      What though the sun lie fair upon your paths to-day,
    Who reads the evening sky? Who knows if winds be turning?
      The night comes surely. Watch and pray!”

The prim vegetable garden, with its ranks of gay salads and pompous
cabbages, lay serenely roasting, as vegetable gardens delight to
do, in unabated verdure. About Ursula’s corner the lattice-work
of creepers put forth some faint attempt at a stunted shadow.
Dominé Rovers came down the walk, his coat-flaps brushing the
currant-bushes.

    “Who reads the evening sky? Who knows if winds be turning?”

“Ursula!”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Come in and shell your pease, while I recite you my sermon.”

“But I must pick them first, father!”

“True. What I love best in you, Ursula, is that you are as logical
as if you were not a woman.”

The pastor drew nearer to the scaffolding of greenery, and strove
vainly to shelter his tall figure in its shade. He was a spare,
soldierly-looking man, with an honest complexion and silvery hair.
You knew he had a very gentle countenance until you gave him cause
to turn a wrathful look upon you.

“I might as well begin at once,” he said, and, proud though she
was of her father’s preaching, the girl’s soul rose in momentary
protest on behalf of the birds and flowers. “I have chosen a text
for to-morrow, Ursula, which has troubled my thoughts all through
the week. All through the week, I couldn’t understand it. And when
I came to look it out, it wasn’t there at all.”

Ursula’s dutiful lips said, “I see.”

“I imagined the verse to be as follows: ‘Flee from youthful lusts
that war against the soul.’ But I see the word used is ‘Abstain.’ I
could not believe it of St. Peter that he would have instructed any
man to run away in battle. You will find the ‘flee’ in Timothy, my
dear, but the connection is not the same.”

Dominé Rovers paused and stood tenderly watching his natty daughter
in her cool print dress. Suddenly he burst out quite impetuously,
“Resist! Resist! That is the true Bible language. Resist the devil.
Resist temptation. And so I shall tell them to-morrow morning.
‘Dearly beloved,’ I shall say, ‘life is a--’”

“War,” cried Ursula, facing round. A bold blackbird had alighted on
one of the stakes, and sang loudly of peace and good-will.

“Don’t interrupt me, child”--the Dominé’s eyes grew vexed--“I know
I have said it before; they cannot hear the truth too often. Life
is a battle, dearly beloved. Against the city of Mansoul all the
powers of evil band themselves together. But in the vanguard march
ever the lusts of the flesh. You cannot escape the conflict. And
therefore”--the speaker lifted an energetic arm--“remember what
said the Corinthians--the grandsires of St. Paul’s Corinthians--to
the Spartans, their allies, ‘He that, for love of pleasure, shrinks
from battle, will most swiftly be deprived of those very delights
which caused him to abstain.’ My subject divides itself--Ursula,
you are not attending--into seven natural parts: the enemy, the
weapons, the--”

Nobody listened. All God’s creation, busy with its individual loves
and pleasures, luxuriously lapped in the sensuous sunlight and
rejoicing in universal allurement, was twittering and fluttering
and blushing and blooming in clouds of perfume and pollen. The
great All-father smiled down upon his manifold children--and
shrivelled them up.

Ursula was not listening. Her father was a dear, dear man, but she
had heard it all so often before! And fortune had pity upon her and
upon the sleepily staring marigolds, and created a diversion ere
the sermon was ten sentences old.

Shrill shrieks of childish protest under punishment arose from
beyond the garden-wall. The pastor of an unruly flock immediately
ran to peer over the bushes. And Ursula followed more slowly,
flitting into the full morning glow.

Out on the gleaming high-road a peasant-woman was belaboring an
eight-year-old urchin in a whirlwind of dust. “I’ll teach you to
use bad words,” she was screaming. “Damn me, I can’t make out, for
the life o’ me, what taught the child to swear!”

Ursula, leaning one round arm on the top of the garden-wall, turned
spontaneously to her father, all her serious young face a swift
ripple of fun; but the Dominé counted not a pennyworth of humor
among his many militant virtues. He pressed his thin lips tight,
under his Wellington nose. He was not going to reprove a mother in
the presence of her son.

“Discipline first,” said the Dominé. “One thing I note gratefully,
Ursula, that the wretched habit of swearing is now confined to the
lower classes in this country. In my time even gentlemen would
swear--”

A dog-cart had turned the sharp angle at the back, where the road
breaks off to the Manor-house. In the dust and the skirmish it
pulled up with a jerk, and a clear voice was heard crying,

“Confound you! Get out of the way, can’t you? Scuffling in the
middle of the road!”

The dog-cart was a very smart dog-cart, and the mare was a
high-stepping mare. She fretted under the sudden restraint, amid an
appetizing jingle and smell and glitter of harness. There was not
so much promiscuous dust but that the speaker could instantaneously
perceive the two heads over the low brown wall.

He lifted his cap. “Good-morning, Dominé! Good-morning, Ursula!” he
said, with nonchalance. “Awfully hot already, isn’t it?”

The Dominé raised a flashing eye. The woman and boy had slipped
away. “Gerard,” said the Dominé, “why do you swear at our people?
How often must I remind you of our joint responsibility? We must
lead them to what is right; I by my precept, you by your example.”

“Oh, Dominé, I’ll exchange, if you’re agreeable,” retorted the
young man, with a quick smile. The Dominé looked away.

“You are going to the station to fetch your brother, Gerard?”
interposed Ursula, carelessly cracking the pods in her basket.

[Illustration: “‘CONFOUND YOU! GET OUT OF THE WAY, CAN’T YOU?’”]

“Yes, at your service,” replied the young man, as he loosened the
reins.

“How strange it will be for you to meet Mynheer Otto again after
all these years!”

Gerard turned quickly from his prancing steed. “Are you going to
call Otto ‘Mynheer’?” he asked.

She blushed with annoyance, in an overflow of innocent confusion.

“Oh, very well,” he went on. “Only, of course, you will have to
call me Mynheer Gerard.”

He raced off, laughing. “I _know_ you,” she stammered; but the
words were lost in the dog-cart’s departing rattle. She appealed
to her father in dismay. “Why, father,” she cried, “I have known
Gerard all my life!”

Together they stood watching the dust-enfolded vehicle disappear
into the far blue sunshine. Its occupant was young, light-hearted,
and handsome. Evidently a cavalry officer: you could see that by
the way in which his tweeds and he conjoined without combining.



CHAPTER II

THE DOMINÉ


“Let us go in to breakfast,” said the Dominé. Father and daughter
passed up between the stiff stalks of the gooseberry-bushes, among
the sallow, swollen fruit. Both of them walked with a straight
step, the figure erect, and a little self-reliant.

The pastor fell back a few paces with meditative gaze. He was wont
to rejoice tremulously in Ursula’s physical health, in the easy
carriage of the head, the light swing of the hips. He rejoiced
in the clear brown of her complexion and the calm depth of her
brave brown eyes. No weak woman in blood or brain, this stately,
strong-limbed maiden. He thanked God mournfully, ever reminiscent
of the pervading sorrow of his life, the loss of the frail young
creature who had dropped by the road-side wellnigh twenty years ago.

It was that affliction which had made a cleric of Captain Roderick
Rovers. By nature he was a soldier, recklessly brave and almost
devil-may-care. A man who thought straight, if not far, and struck
straight in the front. He had escaped from the inertia of the long
Batavian peace to the red-hot tumult of Algerian desert war, and
had come back, early bronzed and silvered, _plus_ the Legion of
Honor and _minus_ an arm. He had married a pure white clinging
thing, like a lily, that twined every tendril round his sturdy
support, and then dropped from the stem. She was a good woman. To
him she had come as a revelation. “I have fought the good fight,”
she had whispered in dying. He, with the medals on his breast and
the memory of not a few killed and wounded--could he have said as
much face to face with death?

He began to comprehend something of that battle which is not to the
strong. On their wedding-day the bride had given her soldier-husband
Bunyan’s _Holy War_--a Dutch translation--substituting it on his
table for the weather-beaten little Thucydides which had been his
companion in all his campaigns. He had demanded back the Greek
historian. He now took up the spiritual conflict, and fought the
powers of darkness, as he had ever met an enemy, at arm’s-length.

His mutilation having incapacitated him from active service, he
took orders, henceforth to do battle with his country’s inmost foes
in the heart of every parishioner. The old militant spirit flamed
in him still, and he led his slow flock like a regiment under the
banner of the great Captain. On the high days of the Church he wore
his Cross of the Legion in the pulpit. His clerical superiors had
objected: he dared them to object. It was gained, he said, like
their reverend titles, in honorable war.

He had cherished the solitary treasure of his heart, but his care
had been free from coddling; he had even combated the enervating
influence of his sister-in-law, who kept house for him. “Coolness
and cold water” was one of his maxims in any sudden emergency; late
into the autumn you could have seen the gaunt father and the little
solemn-featured girl wending their way towards the river for a
swim. The bathless villagers watched and wondered. They judged the
good man to be a little daft, no doubt, but they loved his cheery
helpfulness. Dozing on the battle-field, they caught, between two
yawns, the stir of his _réveillé_, and its clarion note passed like
a breeze through the foulness of their sleeping-ditch.

Then they turned in the trenches and fell asleep again.

Ursula learned early that life was no dream-garden. “Duty, like a
stern preceptor,” often pushed himself unpleasantly to the fore
in her young existence and extinguished the sunlight, provoking
thunder-storms. Not that these were by any means the rule; her
father loved her too tenderly for that; he kissed her leisurely
upon the forehead. “Be sober,” he said, “be vigilant.” Her aunt
gave her sweets.

Yet Ursula, from a two-year-old baby, loved her father best. Even
when, once, he chastised her because she had told a lie.

“Gerard will be late for the train,” said the pastor. “Headlong, as
usual. Either he will get there too late or he will drive too fast.”

“He will drive too fast,” replied Ursula, quietly. “Tell me,
father, about this elder brother of his. How strange it will seem!
A new son at the house whom nobody knows. I wish he were not
coming.”

“I have told you before, Ursula, but women are so resolutely
curious. A man’s curiosity is impulse, a woman’s is method.
Besides, you remember him yourself; he was here twelve years ago.”

“I don’t remember much, only a quiet, kind-looking gentleman who
seemed afraid of children. What had he been doing in Germany,
Captain?”

“Earning his daily bread, no more and no less.”

“And what has he been doing these twelve years in Java?”

“Earning his daily bread, not less, but no more.”

“I know,” mused Ursula, with feminine inconsistency. “It seems so
ridiculous, a Van Helmont earning his living.”

But this was a red rag to a bull. “It is never ridiculous!” cried
the pastor. “Give us this day our daily bread; that means: we would
accept it, Lord, from no other hands than Thine!”

“As manna?” queried Ursula.

“No, child, as the harvest of toil. By-the-bye”--the old man
stood still on the veranda steps, his limp sleeve hanging against
his long black coat--“it is a strange coincidence, my preaching
to-morrow’s sermon, and Otto coming home to-day. The Sabbath before
he first started for Germany I preached on resisting the devil.”

Ursula smiled, a harmless little smile, all to herself.

“I remember it as if it were yesterday,” continued the Dominé,
thoughtfully watching a wheeling swallow. “Do you know, Ursula, why
Otto van Helmont went away?”

“No,” she responded, quickly inquisitive. “Tell me why.”

“I suppose you think it was some love-story?”

“No,” she said again. “Why should I think? I don’t know.”

“You are not like other girls, Ursula. Most women think everything
is a love-story. Come, let us go in.”

“But he is quite old now?” she persisted, with her hand on his arm.

“He is what children call old. I believe he is seventeen years
older than Gerard. I have always liked Otto exceedingly, little as
I know of him. He is a true, simple-hearted gentleman, is Otto.”

“I don’t doubt it,” replied the girl, with a shade of petulance;
“but it will be so awkward, a stranger at the house!”

“I wish you would close the veranda door, Roderigue,” said a
querulous voice from inside. “You are letting in all the heat.”

The occupant of the room came forward, a little yellow lady, with
red ringlets, in a red wrapper. This was Miss Mopius, the Dominé’s
sister-in-law, and an invalid.

“I had kept down the temperature so beautifully,” she complained,
during the performance of the usual perfunctory pecks. “What’s the
use of my scolding the servant if she sees that you don’t care?
Look at the thermometer, Ursula; it was under 65°.”

Ursula obediently reported that it was now nearing 67°.

“You see,” said Miss Mopius. She said nothing else, but the words
dragged down upon the little room a fearful weight of guilty
silence, from which Ursula fled to wash her hands.

As the girl was coming down-stairs again, she heard the rumble
of returning wheels. She could not resist a swift run to the
veranda, where she had abandoned her basket. As she caught it up
the dog-cart came flying past. The two brothers were in it now.
The elder turned sideways, started, hesitated, took off his hat.
Ursula remained watching them, a symphony in yellow and brown,
with the marigolds at her feet in a lake of golden orange, and
the pink-tipped honeysuckle all around her, against the staring
sunflowers loud and bold.



CHAPTER III

HOME


“Who is that yellow-frock among the yellow flowers?” asked Otto
van Helmont. “But, of course, I can guess,” he added, immediately.
“That was the parsonage we just passed. The ‘nut-brown maid’ must
be Ursula Rovers.”

“Ursula? Was she there still?” replied Gerard, flicking a fly from
the horse’s flank. “She seems to live in the garden. Doesn’t care
tuppence about her complexion.”

“She is very remarkably beautiful.”

“Do you think so? I never noticed. You see, I have known her all my
life. She is just the parson’s daughter. I suppose she reminds you
of your own Javanese.”

Otto flushed, and the two drove on, side by side, in silence.
They were very unlike to look at; there must have been, as Dominé
Rovers had said, from fifteen to twenty years’ interval between
them. The young man was spruce and slender, carelessly elegant in
appearance and attitude, the elder brother, the planter, sat square
and stalwart, with ruddy skin and tawny beard. He was coming home
for rest, weary of the jaded splendor of the tropics. As they drove
on, he turned right and left, with eager, misty eyes. The salute of
the passing peasants delighted him; he watched, in quiet ecstasy,
their long-drawn glances of inquiry or semi-acknowledgment. This
was better than the humbly crouching savages under the cocoa-trees.
This was recognition; this was home.

The avenue was home, the white house behind the trees was home, and
the clasp of his mother’s arms--no, _that_ was home. Never mind,
for one moment, the rest.

       *       *       *       *       *

“You have gray hairs here and there, Otto,” said the Baroness van
Helmont, fondly. “I never knew I was an old woman before.”

Otto’s father bent down quickly and kissed her slender hand.

“My dear, you will never grow old,” he said. “You belong to the
things of beauty, and you remember what the English poet said of
_them_.”

The little porcelain lady laughed among the laces of her
morning-gown.

“Yes, but the French poet said just the reverse, and in matters of
beauty the Frenchman is the better judge.”

“Well, let Otto be umpire. He is best able to decide. Otto, do you
find that your mother has grown a day older since you left?”

The old Baron looked towards his big son with what, on his easy
features, was almost an anxious expression.

“Yes, she is older,” said Otto.

The Baroness laughed again.

“My dear,” she said, “he is as impossible as ever. Leave him. He,
at least, has not changed.”

Mynheer van Helmont dropped his eyelids with a quick movement of
vexation, and walked from the room.

Mother and son were left together. They went into the Baroness’s
little turret-chamber, a rounded _bonbonnière_, all pale flowered
silk and Dresden china, with a long window overlooking the park.

“Sit down, child,” said the Baroness. “Are you glad to be home
again?”

A lump in the strong man’s throat prevented immediate reply.
Presently he took his mother’s jewelled fingers in his own. “And
what have you been doing all this time?” he said.

“Doing? But, my dear, we have been living. What else should we do?
It is you who have shot the tigers. Nothing has happened here.”

“Grandpa is dead,” said Otto, meditatively.

“Ah, yes, grandpapa is dead. That is very sad, but he had been
childish for years. He lived up-stairs in the blue-room and never
came out of it. He did not know us. He used to mistake me for some
horrid recollection of his youth, and call me Niniche. It was very
embarrassing.”

They were both silent.

“Your father said it was a great compliment,” added the Baroness,
gravely.

“And his pension? What has become of that? How did you manage? I
have often wanted to ask.”

“Well, of course, his pension went. Your father had always said it
would make a tremendous difference. I cannot say I find it has.”

“But it must,” persisted Otto.

“Of course. My dear boy, have you still your old liking for
business? I beg of you, do not begin talking of it just yet.”

Otto smiled.

“Come, lean your head on my lap as you used to do. Wait a minute;
you will spoil my dress.”

She spread out a flimsy piece of cambric which could have protected
nothing, and sat softly stroking the dark hair from his face, as he
lay on the rug.

“You have come back heart-whole?” she said, presently, but there
was not much interrogation in her voice.

“Yes, mother.” The tone excluded doubt; not that any one ever
thought of doubting Otto.

“Gerard was always prophesying that you would bring back a
‘nut-brown’ wife.”

The words seemed to strike home strangely to Otto, like an echo.
“Gerard appears very lively,” he said. “He always had exceedingly
high spirits as a boy. But, of course, I hardly know him.”

“He is brightness itself,” said the Baroness. “He is like a
constant sunbeam. Dear boy, I hope he will make an advantageous
settlement. And you too, dear Otto, I wish you would marry
and”--her voice grew tremulous--“stay at home.”

“But, mother, I must first find a wife.” He spread out his
fingers contemplatively on the white plush beneath him, among the
gold-embroidered lilies.

“That is a woman’s work, not a man’s. It is a mother’s, and I could
easily manage it. A man should find all his loves for himself,
except the one he marries in the end.”

“But would you look for a consort, mother, or merely for a mule
with money-bags?”

“Otto, how rudely you put things! Contact with black people has
not improved you. I should look for an angel, worthy of my boy--an
angel with golden wings.” She paused, and played shyly with the
velvet at her wrist. “Indeed, I hope you will marry a little
money,” she added, looking away. “You father expects it. And,
besides, you must.”

He did not answer. “Gerard is going to,” she added, blushing
over the pink-and-white tints of her delicate cheek. “He quite
understands it is necessary. He is doing his best.”

“How commendable!” cried Otto, sitting up. “He deserves, indeed,
that his gilt-feathered seraph should bear him to a matrimonial
heaven.”

The Baroness looked placidly alarmed. “My dear,” she said, “don’t,
I beg of you, go spoiling your brother. He takes a much simpler
view of duty than you. You have always complicated existence, poor
child. You were a steel-clanging knight, Otto, in search of ogres;
he is a troubadour under Fortune’s window. And he never plays out
of tune.”

And then again there was silence between them, while she drew down
his head once more. But their thoughts were conversing still.

“Marrying for money,” he continued at last, and his voice was black
with scorn.

“Marrying money and marrying for money are two very different
things,” rejoined the Baroness, patiently, “as you know. I should
not like Gerard to marry for money, nor you. You never will. But
you can do as your father did.”

The turret-chamber was cool, yet the glowing sun from outside
seemed to penetrate to the cheeks of both mother and son.

“My father is a lucky man,” said Otto. “But supposing you had not
turned out to be _you_?”

“Then there would not have been money enough. As it is, we had
a little love and a little money; that is the best blend on the
whole, to commence housekeeping with. Both, I suppose, should go on
increasing; with us, only one has done that.”

“Nobody has ever missed the money,” interposed Otto, smiling
pitifully down on the costly rug at his feet.

“Ah, you say that! But I have often regretted that mamma’s fortune
was not larger. Papa, you remember, had squandered his share. Your
poor father might have got many things he had set his heart upon,
and which now he is compelled to go without.”

“Yes,” said Otto, “the house would have been twice as full again.”

“Exactly. For instance, he has always longed, passionately, to
possess a ‘Corot.’ He has never been able to procure one. There is
a very good ‘Daubigny’ in the small drawing-room. By-the-bye, it
is new; you must go and have a look at it presently. But the poor
man has never ventured to buy a ‘Corot.’ I cannot help feeling it
is almost my fault. Certainly grandpapa’s. Yet he was always so
considerate to grandpapa after we took him to live with us, never
reproaching him with word.”

Otto did _not_ ask, What is a ‘Corot’? He lay stroking his mother’s
hand. Presently he started to his feet and walked towards the
window.

“How beautiful it is!” he cried; “how lovely! Oh, mother, the
sun-heat across the park!”

The little lady came dancing after him. “Yes, is it not exquisite?”
she cried, standing close beside him. “Look at the patch of yellow
color there, in the break between the beeches. Why, Otto, since
when do you notice the merely beautiful? Do you see that far line
of white roof with the sun full upon it? That is the gallery round
the new Italian garden. Well, not exactly new, only you have been
away such a very long time!”

She pressed his arm. “Now go down to your father,” she added,
softly. “Ask him to show you the ‘Daubigny.’ And don’t talk to him
of business. You know he doesn’t like it.”

“A fortune for a picture,” said Otto to himself as he closed his
mother’s door, “while I was out in Java growing tea!”

He passed along a corridor which was hung with arms of all times
and nations, into the large entrance-hall, a museum of old oak and
heraldry among the masses of summer flowers.

There he found his father pacing impatiently to and fro. The
old Baron, whose life motto had been “Tout s’arrange,” was only
impatient about things of no importance. He was now eager to show
his son the acquisitions of the last twelve years. He knew that the
display would be productive of pleasure neither to himself nor to
his heir, but he remained eager all the same.

The returned exile--his heart soft with the morning’s
impressions--resolved at once to take an interest in everything.
“Mother was speaking of a new picture,” he began, “a
daub--daub-something. She said I must be sure and ask to see it.”

The Baron smiled. “The Daubigny,” he replied. “I suppose the
name has not penetrated to India yet. With us, you know, he has
made himself a little reputation.” He led the way into a small
drawing-room, but stopped before pointing to his treasure. “Do you
notice any change here?” he asked. “Anything new in the arrangement
of the whole?”

Otto hesitated. He was horribly ill at ease, and afraid of making a
fool of himself. It was the old sensation of twelve years ago. He
felt like a shy man that doesn’t know a cob from a charger suddenly
called upon to judge of a horse.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” said the Baron. “Only the ceiling’s been
painted. It was done by Guicciardi, the same who decorated the
last Loggia in the Prelli Palace just before the poor prince went
smash. That was a magnificent finale, Otto. Poor old Prince Luigi
knew that he couldn’t possibly hold out much longer--not a hundred
thousand francs to the good, I am told. And he gave a commission
to Guicciardi to paint the place with that last hundred thousand,
just finished the thing and left an immortal whole to his country,
and then--pwhit!” The Baron snapped his fingers lightly. “Pooh,”
he said, “I know you don’t care for that kind of thing. I beg your
pardon. I didn’t mean to give you offence. That is the ‘Daubigny.’”

Otto stood staring at the little golden landscape. He was seeking
hard for something sensible to say. He could not talk of art as his
brother Gerard did, while knowing nothing about it, trustful to
Fate to make his talk no greater nonsense than that of those who do
know.

“It didn’t cost me very much,” said the Baron, a little
shamefacedly. “It is not, of course, a first-rate specimen, though
I flatter myself it is by no means bad.”

“It is very pretty,” said Otto. “The sky is something like a
Javanese sunrise.”

“Really? That reminds me, I have some beautiful ivories in the west
room, if you care to see them. Japanese, but they were bought at
Batavia. What wonderful opportunities you must have had, had you
only known!” He looked wistfully at his son. “Dirt cheap, I dare
say.”

“I don’t think anything’s dirt cheap anywhere,” replied Otto. “And
dirt seems the most expensive of all--in the end.”

He shrank back, with a sudden misgiving of his own meaning; but, if
the speech were discourteous, the Baron quite misunderstood it. “I
hope you have got into no entanglements,” said the Baron, sharply.
“Although, true, it is not the expensive ones that are the most
dangerous. We expect you to marry now, Otto, and settle down. Your
mother is very anxious you should marry a little money. I sincerely
hope you will.”

“There is time still, father,” said Otto; “I’m only just back.”

“Well, I don’t know. You are nearly forty. And you have wasted a
great many years, after all. Here have you been toiling in Java,
working hard the whole time, and with what result? The same as in
Germany before. You might just as well have lived leisurely at
home, and better. Your cheeks would have been less brown, and your
manners no worse.”

He faced his son; he had been bracing himself for this, and he was
astonished to find it came so easily. “After all, I think you must
admit, Otto, that we easy-going people understand life better than
you.”

“I have no wish to deny it, sir.”

“Well?”

“Well? I have tried to do my duty--the nearest duty.”

“Java! It seems to me your duty was a very far one. Well, well, we
are heartily glad to have you back. Come into the smoking-room, and
we will smoke a really good cigar.”



CHAPTER IV

THE VAN HELMONTS


Baron van Helmont could have dug out no better epithet to apply
to himself and his race than the word which rose naturally to the
top, “easy-going.” He knew he was “easy-going.” The Van Helmonts
had always been that. “Stream with the stream.” “Tout s’arrange.”
He could hear his grandfather saying these things in a far away
mist of Louis XV. powder and ruffles; he remembered how he had
brought home his Watteau-faced bride, and how the old gentleman,
bent double over his gold-headed cane, had blessed the pair, with a
sceptical grimace, at the top of the moss-grown steps.

“My children,” he had said, “you have launched your boat on the
current. However you steer, the river flows to the sea. Take an old
man’s advice. Let it flow. Laissez couler.”

Said the young wife to her husband, as soon as they were alone,
“But ‘laissez couler’ means ‘let the boat _sink_,’” and she laughed
the prettiest protest into his face. She had plenty of brains.

He stopped her mouth with a kiss. “You are too young a married
woman,” he replied, “to study ‘équivoques.’” He, also, had plenty
of brains, but neither had the art of using them.

The old gentleman, his grandfather, had made a tranquil ending;
he had lain on his death-bed unruffled except at the wrists. His
was surely a bright civilization with its “What does it signify?”
Our self-clouded century repeats the words, but with passionate
inquiry. And, after all, so many things that torment us signify so
exceedingly little. Yet, perhaps, none the less, we are wiser than
our grandfathers, for “it,” in their case, signified the French
Revolution.

The present Baron van Helmont could not, of course, be “pure Louis
XV.” None of us can, not even our clocks. You are unable--it is
a stale truth--to push back the hand on the dial. The Baron, for
instance, could not contemplate dissolution with the composure of
his grandsire. He tried hard not to contemplate it at all. “Live
and let live” was one of his favorite sayings. One day, long ago,
he had used it to close the discussion with regard to a case
which had recently occurred in his village of what he would have
labelled “unavoidable distress.” His hobbledehoy of a son--the
only one then--had suddenly joined in the conversation. “But that
means,” the boy Otto had said, “live well yourself, and let the
poor live badly.” It was the first symptom. The father shrugged
his shoulders. Otto must have been, if we use the scientific
jargon of our day, a reversion to an anterior type. To judge by
the discrepancy of any half a dozen brothers, most families must
possess a good many types to revert to.

The Baron van Helmont was a good man, lovable, and universally
respected. In his youth he had enjoyed himself and spent freely as
a young gentleman should do. He had been gay, but no irretrievable
scandal had ever been mixed up with his name. He had married a
charming wife, who had brought him a little more money. They had
spent that together, and had quietly enjoyed the spending; but
their friends and connections had been permitted to enjoy it too.
The Baron had one of the finest collections of curios in the
Netherlands, and also some very good pictures. He was a gentleman
to his fingertips, and thoroughly cultivated. No one could possibly
be a better judge of bric-à-brac.

“Bric-à-brac,” said the Baroness to the pastor, “is in itself a
vocation; and the best judge of bric-à-brac in Holland is better
than a taker of cities.” She spoke under strong provocation. At
intervals the Dominé would make himself superfluous by speaking in
the Manor-house drawing-room of “righteousness, temperance, and
judgment to come.” “As if we got drunk,” said the Baroness.

Undeniably, the Baron was a gentleman, courteous and comely. There
is a story about him which he loved to tell in the privacy of
his after-dinner circle. It happened in Paris, at the court of
the Citizen King. The Baron, passing through that promiscuous
capital, had received a card for a monster reception. He went,
and somehow got astray in the crush at the entrance, so that when
he tried to pass in at a side door he found himself stopped by a
gentleman-at-arms.

“Excuse me, monsieur; but this door is reserved for the members of
reigning families.”

The Baron hesitated. To withdraw was absurd. He straightened
himself in his small but serene hauteur.

“And who am I, then?” he said.

“Entrez, mon prince.”

       *       *       *       *       *

But that was long ago, unfortunately. Even while the Baron said
“Stream,” he regretted that his life could not lie stagnant in a
bay, among water-lilies. And yet he hurried on each individual day
to its close. He was always wanting to pick other flowers a little
farther down the bank.

Two sons were left him at the close of his life, and one of these
was already annoyingly old. Between the two lay a couple of
hillocks in the village church-yard. The Baroness had begged to
rescue the small relics therein contained from the musty family
vault. “The vault is so cold,” she said. Her husband proved
quite willing to adopt the suggestion; he availed himself of the
opportunity it gave him to put up a charming Italian marble of
a cherub gathering flowers. The “Devil’s Doll,” the Calvinist
villagers called it. Occasionally, when her husband was not
attending, the Baroness would go and weep a few quiet tears
upon the hillocks. There was a chamber in her heart which she
occasionally liked to enter, but she never had much objection to
coming out again.

“I met Ursula this afternoon, Otto,” said Gerard at dinner. “I told
her she had aroused your enthusiastic admiration. I fancy she was
very much pleased.” He laughed; the others laughed.

Otto’s bent face sank lower beneath a sudden thunder-cloud. “That
was an ungentlemanly thing to do,” he said.

“Ungentlemanly!” The younger brother’s voice had entirely changed
its key. “What on earth do you mean? How dare you say such a thing
as that?”

A man-servant was in the room. The remarks had been made in Dutch.
The man would have understood them in French, but that would not
have mattered.

“I mean,” responded Otto, rather awkwardly, floundering into the
foreign language to which his plantation life had somewhat choked
the inlets, “that it is a shabby thing to do, to go and tell a lady
what a man has said of her in confidence.”

“My dear, not if it be a compliment,” interposed the Baroness,
mildly ignoring, as her sex was bound to do, the all-important
concluding words. “Every woman likes a harmless compliment.”

“Not sensible women. Sensible women despise them,” edged in the
Freule[A] van Borck. Nobody heeded her.

“Confidence! Confidence!” echoed Gerard, hotly. “Who talked of
confidence?” He lapsed, purposely, into Dutch. “I decline to be
told,” he said, “whether at my father’s table or anywhere else,
that I behave in an ‘ungentlemanly’ manner.”

The old Baron waved a conciliatory hand. “The word was
unfortunate,” he admitted, “but, Gerard, you press too heavily
upon it. _Glissez, n’appuyez pas._ Otto meant to say you had
stolen an unfair advantage. He had doubtless been wanting to tell
Ursula himself. Fie, what an ado about nothing. To me it is most
remarkable that, after so long an absence, Otto should still speak
Dutch so well.”

The obvious retort that Dutch is spoken in Java sprang straight to
Gerard’s lips, but he bit it down again.

“I consider Ursula Rovers distinctly plain,” remarked the Freule
van Borck. The Freule was the Baroness van Helmont’s only sister;
she had lived at the Manor-house for years. She was what humdrum
people call “a character,” as if all of us were not that when you
shift the lights.

“She is common-looking,” said the Baroness, “but I think she is
pretty.”

“All women are pretty,” smiled the Baron, “even those whom the
pretty ones think plain.”

“My dear,” his wife nodded across at him, “it is a fallacy, old
as Adam, that Eve, in her Paradise, is jealous of all the Liliths
outside.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” cried the sharp-faced Freule van Borck,
“there are women enough yet--thank Heaven--and to spare, that don’t
care a cent about looks.”

Her sister puckered up a small mouth into a most innocent
expression. “If it be so,” she said, suavely, “it is a merciful
dispensation. God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.”

The two brothers sat in silence, not so much sullen as constrained.
Presently the father proposed the health of the one who had that
day returned to them. “We celebrate,” he said, with good-natured
banter, “_le retour du fils prodigue, trop prodigue--de lui-même_.”

After the toast had been honored, he turned to his Benjamin. “You,
sir,” he said, “prefer the fruits of other people’s labors. You
take after your father. And, when the time comes, precious little
you will find to take.” They both laughed heartily enough this
time, and the whole family rose from table.

Otto came out to Gerard on the terrace. “I am sorry I offended
you,” he said; “I meant to be angry, but not to be insulting.”

Gerard’s face cleared like a pool when the sun comes out. He gave
his brother’s hand a hearty grasp. “Don’t speak of it again,” he
said. “I dare say I was wrong, though Heaven knows I didn’t mean
to annoy you. You will find me, sometimes, a little thoughtless, I
fear. You mustn’t always take things quite as seriously as to-day,
though. I wish you would come down to the stables with me, Otto;
you haven’t even seen my saddle-horses yet.”

Mynheer van Helmont, standing cigar in mouth before the great bay
window, turned and nodded to his wife.

“They are friends again,” he said. “Isn’t it dreadful? That is the
worst thing that can happen to brothers.”

“What is?” queried the Freule van Borck.

“Why, to be friends again.”

“I like Otto very much,” said the Freule, irrelevantly, not
comprehending.

Mevrouw van Helmont laid down her bit of fluffy fancy-work. “Of
course you like Otto very much, Louisa,” she said. “I should be
exceedingly vexed did you not.”

The Baron walked out into the after-glow. “It is most irritating,”
he mused, “to have to say all one’s good things to an audience
one-half of which is deaf to all meanings, and the other half of
which is one’s wife.”

He stood looking at the white pile which lay softly imbosomed in
its dark green half-circle, like a pearl set in emeralds, beneath
the amber sky. He was deeply proud of its possession. “These
Havanas,” he reflected, “are as excellent as if they were genuine,”
and he wreathed a faint blue whorl on the tranquil air. Then
another thought struck a sudden chill to his heart. “To die and
leave it all!” He shivered, and returned to the window. “Louisa,”
he said, “how about our piquet?”

       *       *       *       *       *

A couple of hours later Otto stood on the same terrace, also
cigar in mouth. He had come out for a last smoke before turning
in. He was an inveterate and uninterrupted smoker. It was his one
weakness, and he indulged it to the full.

The night was perfectly still, and translucent. A soft flutter,
that was not wind, but the very restlessness of dreaming nature,
weighted the balmy air with wandering gusts of incense. All
creation seemed lapped in luxury, asleep on the breast of love.

Otto, alone in the dusk, looked up at the silent windows. The rest
were gone to their rooms; a light glimmered here and there. The
great stable-clock boomed heavily eleven long trembling strokes.
“It is home,” said Otto, under his breath. But he said it aloud.
He rejoiced with tumultuous delight for a moment in being able to
speak to that home from a spot where the bricks and mortar could
hear him. His memory strayed away to the low house with the long
verandas among the spreading palms. How often had he lain back in
there in his wicker lounge, his cigar a deep red spot of attraction
among the insect whirl of the Indian night, while he said the word
out vainly to the bats and moths and butterflies. Home. He stood
and looked--looked at the mere walls till his eyes were burning
with physical exhaustion. He was back again at last. He loved his
mother very faithfully. He loved his father. He felt kindly towards
his brother. Yet, somehow, he could not control an impression of
loneliness as he turned to go up-stairs.

FOOTNOTE:

[A] Title of unmarried ladies of rank.



CHAPTER V

LE PREMIER PAS--QUI COÛTE


“Gird up your loins!” cried the Dominé, striking his only hand
into the pulpit-cushion. The peasant congregation, with bodies
huddled awry in wondrously diversified angles of drowsiness, nodded
lower under the accustomed storm. One red-faced yawner, opening
misty eyes, stared vaguely through the heat-cloud, and with some
far perception of the preacher’s meaning, hitched up his trousers
before sinking back into his seat.

“For the city of Mansoul is taken, is taken while the garrison
slept!” In the Manor-house pew, under the glitter of armorial
gaudery against sombre oak, sat their Baronial Highnesses, all
except Gerard, who, coming down too late, had found himself
compelled to elect between breakfast and church. Their Highnesses
preserved an exemplary attitude of erect attention. It is even
quite possible that the Freule Louisa was listening.

To Otto the little barn-like building, in its white unchangedness,
had brought that sudden quietude of soul which comes upon us when
the rush of life has briefly cast us back into a long-remembered
harbor. It was good to be here. It was good to find nothing
altered, neither the gaunt externals of the service, nor the
inharmonious music, nor even the long discourse. It was good to
breathe the atmosphere of dutiful curiosity which played about
the heir until at last it also sank, half-sated, beneath the
all-oppressive heat. The crimson farm-wives sat perspiring under
their great Sunday towers of gold-hung embroidery. There was not a
cool spot in the building, except Ursula’s muslin frock.

As his eye rested there, Otto felt that one change at least made
itself manifest. Where a little lonely child had formerly faced the
Manor-house pew, a maiden now sat, calm and self-possessed, her
gaze neither seeking nor avoiding his own. And suddenly he realized
that he was growing old.

He realized it all the more when, presently, he found himself
walking back by the side of the parson’s daughter, through wide
stretches of sun-soaked corn. The older people had passed ahead,
unconsciously hurried forward by the sweeping stride of the Dominé.
In that opening search for words which always disturbs the meeting
of long-acquainted strangers, Otto’s soul swelled anew with wrath
against the brother whose indiscretion had doubly tied either
tongue.

“Yes, everything is exactly as it used to be,” he replied to
Ursula’s perfunctory question, when it ultimately blossomed forth
from the marsh of their embarrassment. “That struck me more
especially this morning in church. The people are pretty much
the same, of course; at least, they look it. And so is the whole
appearance of the place, and the odor of the fustian and the
service.”

“And the sermon?” she laughed, lamely, thinking also of Gerard’s
banter, and annoyed by her annoyance.

But his face clouded over. She noticed this, and it put her still
less at her ease. She hurriedly added something about her father’s
“coincidence,” thereby causing her companion to write her down
insincere.

“Nevertheless,” she continued, desperately, feeling all the while
that she might just as well, and far better, keep silence, “twelve
years seems to me a most tremendous time.”

“That is because you are young.”

“Young or not, people change in twelve years.”

Gerard would have availed himself of this palpable opportunity
to suggest something pretty; clumsy Otto merely made answer, “My
grandfather is dead.” The most tragic words can somehow sound
funny, and Ursula, in her nervousness, very nearly laughed.

“I miss him,” continued Otto, quite unconsciously. “He
wasn’t--childish, you know, when I went away. How the poor old man
would have enjoyed some talks about my tiger-hunts. He was such a
splendid shot.”

[Illustration: “‘GIRD UP YOUR LOINS!’ CRIED THE DOMINÉ”]

“Have you really shot tigers?”

“Yes.” A man always feels foolish under such a question as that.

“Many?”

“That depends on your ideas of proportion. Tigers must not be
confounded with rabbits. I have shot enough to be able to beg your
father’s acceptance of a skin when my boxes come.”

They walked on for some minutes in silence, awkward silence, she
flicking at the corn ears with her white parasol. Then she said, “I
feel sorry for the tiger.”

He answered, dryly, “The parents of his final supper did not take
that view.”

“But,” he added, “I dare say you don’t quite understand about wild
beasts, or heathen countries. I shouldn’t wonder, Juffrouw Rovers,
if you had never even crossed the frontier.”

“No, I haven’t,” she answered, shortly, much put out by his
innocent patronage, “and I am glad I haven’t. I should hate to come
back as people do, finding all things small at home. And, above
all, I should hate to go to India--a horrible place with spiders as
big as my sunshade, and a python curled up, perhaps, under one’s
pillow of nights. You needn’t laugh; I may have forgotten the
dreadful creatures’ names, but I know they’re there, for my Uncle
Mopius told me.”

“Ah, yes, your Uncle Mopius. He was out in Java, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was notary there, and he tells the most awful stories.”

“Then don’t believe them. So you would never go to India?”

“Never.”

“Well, it’s a good thing there’s no necessity. I had to, you see.
People even face pythons, when they _must_. And there’s always the
fun of killing them.”

She shuddered. “The fun of killing,” she repeated, “I cannot
understand at all. We are speaking different languages, Mynheer van
Helmont. I hate the idea of killing anything. And do you know what
I hate still more? It is what you call ‘a splendid shot.’ Gerard is
a splendid shot, like his grandfather; the finest, they say, in the
province. Yes, I can’t help it; I’ve often told him.” She plunged
headlong. “I dare say you’re a splendid shot. But it’s just my
hobby. To go creep, creeping through God’s creation, a gun in one’s
hand, seeking some innocent life you may slay for the pleasure
of slaying! Or, still worse, to sit in a chair and have the poor
fluttering wretches driven in quantities on to one’s barrels! It’s
the one thing that spoils the country for me, and only in the
autumn I long to get away from Horstwyk. There’s no shooting in
towns.”

“I was thinking of real sport,” he answered, with provoking
meekness, “but I dare say you are right.”

“Oh, I know what real sport means!” she cried, and her eyes
flashed. “Hallooing after some little palpitating victim with
beagles or harriers or hounds! You may think me very stupid--I dare
say you do--but I wouldn’t shake hands, if I could help it, with
a man whom I knew to have voluntarily ‘hunted’ anything. As for
women, I can’t believe they do it.” She broke off, in that nervous
“unstrungness” which only comes to the gentler sex, hardly knowing,
after her sudden burst of eloquence, whether to laugh or to cry.

“You are quite right, quite right,” he said again; but in his grave
regard she only read approval of her callow softness. They had
reached a little well-known wicket, and he stopped. The path went
twisting away at this spot from the yellow fields into the deep
recesses of the park.

“I think we separate here?” he said, and to her amazement she
caught a touch of regret in his tone.

“Yes, as a rule. But papa has gone on--in honor of you, I suppose.”

“Then you cannot do better than follow.” He held open the gate for
her to pass. “I think you must forgive me,” he said, with downcast
eyes. “It was only once. In Ireland. And we didn’t kill the fox.”

“Because you couldn’t,” she answered, fiercely. “Or do people keep
foxes, like stags, to uncart?”

Her hand, in its long “Suède” glove, closed almost viciously
on the filmy folds of her frock. Not another word was exchanged
between them as they threaded the shady mazes of suddenly delicious
green, but she felt that he was watching her all the time out of
the corners of his eyes. A good man enjoys the arousing a womanly
woman’s righteous indignation. Her heart beat till he saw it. He
liked that.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Ah, Dominé, there was sense in your sermon!” cried the Freule
van Borck, haranguing everybody in a group on the lawn. “What
I enjoy in your preaching is the protest against latter-day
flabbiness”--the Freule van Borck had read and misunderstood
Carlyle. “Where are the heroes of old?” she cried, pointing her
“church-book” at the imperturbable Gerard, who had come strolling
out, cool in the coolest of flannels, to greet the clergyman.
“Where, as you asked them, are Gideon and Moses and Joshua the son
of Nun, that was never afraid?”

“We give it up,” said Gerard, gravely. “Did the congregation know?”

“Be silent, Gerard. Your conduct is bad enough already. Instead of
remaining to scoff, you should have gone to pray.” It was the Baron
who spoke, looking up from his great St. Bernard.

“I bow to your command, sir, especially on a Sunday. But Aunt
Louisa should not propound conundrums when the answers appear to
have got beyond her control.”

“I was not speaking to you; I was speaking seriously,” replied the
Freule, with lofty scorn. “And I thoroughly agree with the Dominé,
that the age of troubadours is dead.”

The Dominé writhed. “Yes, yes,” he said--“undoubtedly. Though
I should hardly, myself, have employed the names you mentioned
as examples of fearlessness”--He stopped in despair. The Freule
was grabbing, with her handkerchief in front of her, at a wasp
which serenely buzzed behind. Mevrouw van Helmont, on a garden
seat, against a great flare of MacMahons that looked, among their
gold-rimmed leaves, like a mayonnaise of lobster--Mevrouw van
Helmont seemed entirely engrossed by the interest of sticking her
parasol into a fat bundle before her which wriggled and kicked.
The Dominé sighed. This was “the Family.” These were the temporal
lords of his spiritual domain. He turned, wistfully, to watch his
daughter coming across the sward, by Otto’s side, between gay
patches of color.

“You two have been renewing your acquaintance,” he said. “Or was
there none left to renew?”

“Indeed, we are already old friends,” replied Otto, “for Juffrouw
Rovers has been scolding me vigorously; and ladies, I believe,
never scold mere acquaintances?” Ursula bit her under-lip.
“I understand that Juffrouw Rovers objects to the killing of
animals--all animals?” His heavy mustache hung unmoved as he looked
across.

“Oh, that is a fad of Ursula’s,” broke in Gerard. “You should teach
her her Bible better, Dominé. She admits that Nimrod may have been
a mighty hunter, but never ‘before the Lord.’”

“Gerard,” said the Dominé, with a grave flash of his eyes on the
prodigal, “the Bible is a holy book. Some day, perhaps, you will
learn, with regard to holiness, that ‘Fools rush in where angels
fear to tread.’” The rebuke was almost a fierce one, from gentle
lips. In the painful silence Gerard, flushing, took it like a man.

The Baron’s mild voice intervened. “The daughter of a hero,” said
the Baron, smiling and bowing, “can afford to appear soft-hearted.
Ursula preaches peace, and her father preaches war. But _I_, were I
Otto, should be most afraid of Ursula.”

“Mynheer van Helmont,” answered that young lady, goaded almost
beyond endurance, “I am going next Wednesday to my Uncle Mopius, to
stay with him for a week or two.”

“Coming to Drum!” cried Gerard, whose regiment was quartered in
the small provincial town. He checked himself. “I beg your pardon,
sir,” he said. “You were about to speak?”

“Oh, it’s nothing!” cried the Baroness across from her seat. “Your
father was only going to observe something about eclipses of the
sun. You know you were, Theodore. It has done duty a dozen times
before.”

“My dear, do I deny it?” replied the Baron, sadly. “We have lived
too long together. You know all my little jokes, Cécile. You are
tired of my compliments. And yet, after more than forty years of
marriage, I still address ninety per cent. to yourself.”

“But none of the new ones,” replied the Baroness, pouting before
the whole circle like a girl.

“The new ones are an old man’s compliments, and, therefore,
insincere.” He went across to her, followed by the dog, and the
gray couple sat laughing and flirting, like any pair of lovers.

“Ah, Dominé, you needn’t look sour,” said the Freule, her own
angular face like skim-milk. “Surely, by this time, you no longer
expect _sobriety_ at the Manor-house of Horst.”

“I was only thinking,” replied the Dominé, softly, and his eyes
seemed to pierce beyond the couple on the seat.

The Freule gave a smart snap--meant not unkindly--to her
“church-book” clasp.

“But your wife is in heaven,” she rejoined, “and much better off,
unless sermons mean nothing, than anybody here below.”

The Dominé started, and an old scar came out across his cheeks,
as if a whip-lash had struck him. “Yes, yes,” he said, hurriedly.
“Thank God. Ursula, I think it is time we were going.”

But the spinster laid a detaining hand upon her pastor’s arm.
“Surely you must admit,” she persisted, “that you Christians are
strangely illogical. What, to a Christian, is the King of Terrors?
We should speak, not of Mors, but of Morphia!”

This sentence was taken from the Freule’s favorite periodical, the
_Victory_, in which, however, the concluding word had been printed
“Morpheus.”

“Yes, yes, exactly,” replied the Dominé, pulling away. “You
remember what Thucydides said, Freule Louisa? I mean, Thucydides
says it’s no use discussing a subject unless men are agreed on the
meaning of the terms they employ. Ursula, we must really be going.
Your aunt has such a dislike to irregular hours.”

“Juffrouw Mopius?” exclaimed Otto. “I didn’t see her in church. I
hope she is well?”

Gerard burst out laughing. “Have you been away so long,” he said,
“that you have forgotten Miss Mopius’s Sunday headache?”

The Dominé, who could fight _men_, looked as if he would have
liked to answer something about Gerard’s Sunday ailments, but he
refrained, evidently feeling that he had already said enough.

The two young men stood watching father and daughter as they swung
away into the woodland shadows. “It will be rather a bore,” yawned
Gerard. “Ursula’s coming to Drum. I shall have to show the poor
creature all over the place. I don’t think she ever spent a night
outside Horstwyk before.” He lounged away to the Baroness. “Mother,
Otto is very much smitten with Ursula, in spite of her lamentable
lack of style. I suppose he doesn’t notice that, after India. Has
he been making any terrible confessions yet about other brown
damsels out there?”

The Freule van Borck shot a keen glance at her elder nephew’s
solemn face. “Yes, Otto,” she said, “it can’t be helped. Gerard’s
humor is part of your home-coming.”

Meanwhile the Dominé went scudding through the corn as if the very
wind of panic were after him. Presently his daughter ventured to
hint that the day was rather warm.

“Ursula”--the Dominé’s cowardice had put him out of temper with all
around him--“Ursula, I heard you remark to the Jonkers that you
were exceedingly fond of your uncle Mopius. Now, Ursula, surely
that was untrue.”

“It was irony, father,” the girl made answer rather testily,
screening her tormented face.

“Irony? I do not understand irony. There is no room for irony in
the Christian warfare. It is a sort of unchivalric guerilla. I’m
afraid you are not always quite honest and straightforward. Always,
in everything, be quite honest and straightforward, my dear.”

When Ursula was safe in her own room she sat down to cry. She
had never, from her earliest recollections upward, enjoyed the
luxury of rational grief; an altogether causeless outpouring, such
as this, could, therefore, but increase her irritation against
herself. What did it matter, after all, if she made a good
impression on people? She was self-conscious. With angry energy she
dabbed her blazing cheeks and went down to luncheon.

“Ursula, my dear child, your face is all blotchy,” said Miss
Mopius. “I make no doubt you are going to have the measles; they
are very prevalent in the village. Did you sneeze during service?
Roderigue, did you notice if Ursula sneezed during service? No, you
are no good in church; you only think of your sermon. Well, Ursula,
I must give you some Sympathetico Lob. You may be thankful you have
an aunt whose own health is so bad that she doesn’t care at all
about infection.”

The Dominé looked up uneasily. His coffee tasted bitter, like
remorse.

“Or is it hay-fever,” said Miss Mopius, “that begins with
sneezing? I must get my little Manual and see.”



CHAPTER VI

UNCONSCIOUS RIVALS


Three days later Ursula started for Drum.

Looking down the straight vista of her shaded past, she could
not have discovered, within measurable distance, an event to
compare with this departure from home. Hitherto her world had been
Horstwyk, and mundane greatness had been the Horst.

In those three days of delicious preparation she had nevertheless
seen a good deal of the new arrival. His affection for the Dominé
was palpable to all men, and he seemed to slip away, almost gladly,
down the long road from the Manor to the Parsonage. All Monday
evening they had sat over their teacups in the green veranda,
and the Dominé, roused thereto by the guest’s brief descriptions
of daring, had leisurely recalled his own stories of Algerine
lion-hunts. Ursula, looking up from her work at Otto’s earnest
attention, wondered if twelve years of absence could really suffice
to efface the ofttold tale.

On Tuesday a great dinner at “The House” had fêted the return of
the first-born. The Dominé had made a speech, and enjoyed himself
notwithstanding. But Ursula considered the entertainment had
been rather a failure, for amid the due honoring of dowagers and
heiresses, nobody but the Baron had found time to say a civil word
to herself. Helena van Trossart, the Helmonts’ wealthy cousin, had
looked lovely, though bored, in the seat next to Otto, assigned her
by the Baroness; she had brightened up visibly when the younger son
joined her for an endless flirtation in the drawing room.

Ursula now stood waiting and mildly reviewing last night’s
disappointments, on this, to her, eventful Wednesday morning.
Gerard, who was returning to his regiment, had promised to call for
her on his way to the station.

“Ten minutes too soon!” she said in surprise, running to the door
as the sound of wheels became audible. But it was Otto who called
to her from the box.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she cried, half-way down the garden path. “But
Gerard--I thought you would know?”

“I know nothing of Gerard’s arrangements,” answered Otto with cold
annoyance. “Never mind; I have brought your father’s tiger-skin. Is
there any one here could hold the horse?”

“Why, of course,” she said, springing forward.

“You? I fancied you would be afraid of horses.” Otto began tugging
at a brown-paper parcel wedged under the seat. As the carriage
swayed forward the animal, grown restless, plunged.

“Naturally,” replied Ursula, one firm hand at its mouth. She
flushed. “Hatred of cruelty stands, with an average man, for
cowardice.”

“Don’t. You hurt one,” cried Otto, turning, with altered voice. She
calmed down immediately.

“As a matter of fact,” she said, “Hector knows me longer and better
than you. Your father often lets me drive him.”

“This is it,” replied Otto, tearing back a strip of covering. A
tawny mass of fur, broken suddenly loose, poured down into the
dusty road.

“Oh, what a beauty!” exclaimed Josine, who had ventured out in a
wrap beneath the laughing sky.

And, “Oh, what a beauty!” echoed Ursula.

“These are for you,” he continued, in the eager delight of giving,
as he bundled out two gorgeous Indian shawls. “I thought you would
like to wear them to church on Sundays”--he stopped, before the
ripple on Ursula’s face. “You like them, don’t you?” he asked,
dismayed. “You like them, don’t you, Miss Mopius?”

“They are exquisite,” replied the latter lady, affectedly, with
a scowl at her niece. “My dear Mynheer van Helmont, you have
inherited all your father’s charming taste.” Ursula murmured
something about “a beautiful drapery.”

“All modern girls are alike,” thought Otto, “everything for
ornament.” He was almost relieved to see Gerard’s trap come
rattling up.

“You here!” cried the younger brother, looking down from his
height. “Oh, I see! What a hurry you’re in to bestow your gifts!”

“I came here to conduct Juffrouw Rovers to the station,” answered
Otto. “The message I sent appears not to have reached her.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Ursula stood distressful, by the little green
gate, in her dust-ulster, the rainbow cloth over one arm. At her
feet lay the white-fanged brute with gleaming eyes and distended
maw. Otto climbed slowly back into his old-fashioned wagonette. By
his side the smart dog-cart jingled and creaked. “Hurry, Ursula!”
cried its driver. “We haven’t any time to spare!” Otto whipped
up Hector almost savagely. “It’s of no account,” he said, “of no
account at all.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Gerard, I’m afraid we shall miss the train,” said Ursula, as the
trees went flying past them.

“Possibly,” answered Gerard. “You don’t mind my cigarette?”

“Gerard, my uncle will never forgive me.”

“Oh yes, he will. Dozens of damned people have said they would
never forgive me, but they always did. You would have missed the
train with Hector, anyway.”

“But if I had started with your brother, you would have taken me
on.”

“No, indeed,” replied Gerard, with deep conviction. “Once with
Otto, always with Otto.” He looked down into her face through
half-closed eyelids. “Once with Otto, always with Otto,” he
repeated, “and so you would have missed your train.”

She laughed. “Well, I’d much rather go with you,” she answered,
gayly. He made her a mock little bow of acknowledgment.

“For, you see, you take me all the way to Drum.”

“Thank you. _If._ Gently, Beauty, gently; it’s only a bit of paper
in the middle of the road. I like you for not being nervous,
Ursula. My mother wouldn’t sit behind a horse that shied.”

[Illustration: “‘OH, I’M SO SORRY,’ SHE CRIED”]

“I want to catch my train,” responded Ursula.

“Don’t be so peevish. Is this all the reward I get for allowing
your box to scratch the paint off my dog-cart?”

“Oh, Gerard, will it do that?”

“Of course it will. But make yourself easy. I’m going to have the
cart repainted, anyway. The green spikes were well enough two years
ago, but I’ve seen another shade I like better.”

“Gerard, you are horribly extravagant.”

“So my father says each time he gets himself some new plaything. By
George! I believe we really are too late.”

With a shout to the groom he leaped from his seat, and was lost
in the interior of the station; as Ursula hurriedly followed, a
whistle of departure pierced straight through her heart.

“Quick, you stupid,” she heard Gerard’s voice saying to somebody.
The train had stopped again. She was bustled in. They were off!

“Now that never happened to me before,” said Gerard. “The man is an
ass. But, in fact, it is all your fault.”

Ursula sat staring at her hero in unmixed awe. Her infrequent
railway journeys had always been occasions of flurry and alarm.
Never had she realized that any son of man could influence a
station-master.

“Yes,” she answered, meekly.

“Of course it is. I should just have jumped in. But they had to
stop the train for you. And now they will make us pay a monstrous
fine for travelling without a ticket.”

“Is that also my fault?” asked Ursula, more meekly still.

“No, it was Beauty’s. I’ve a great mind to deduct the money from
her oats. Only that would make her do it over again.” He laughed
once more, a jolly, self-satisfied laugh.

“But, oh, what _should_ we have done,” said Ursula, presently, “if
the station-master hadn’t listened to you?”

“Stopped the train myself, of course; and Santa Claus would have
forgotten to send that man cigars.”

“Gerard, you wouldn’t have dared!”

Her innocent amazement drove him on.

“You have a poor idea of my desire to oblige you,” he made answer.
“It would have cost me a pair of gloves, I suppose, and a lot of
depositions at the end, and a fine. It would have been a great
bore; I do not pretend to deny that.”

She relapsed into silence, reflecting. She thought Gerard was
youthfully overbearing. But she also saw he was in earnest. To her
it had always seemed in the village of Horstwyk that the powers
in authority--the Beadle, the Squire--were made to be implicitly
obeyed. Submission, in the Dominé’s system, stood forth as an
article of faith. In the great world outside she felt it must be
the same, only still more resistlessly. Order and Law, however
erroneous, were always ex officio infallible.

But for great people, evidently, the world was otherwise. The
Irrevocable possessed no barriers which rank and insolence could
not laughingly push aside. The railways in their courses obeyed
these rulers of men. For the first time in her recollection
she envied--perhaps with last night’s discomfiture rising
uppermost--she envied “the Great.”

She sat furtively watching her companion behind his newspaper.
He was handsome, with his light mustache and strong complexion,
well-dressed, well-groomed, completely at his ease. She felt that
the world belonged to him. She felt exceeding small.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the little town of Drum she was able to continue her studies.
Porters naturally selected Gerard to hover round; every one seemed
anxious to please him. Whatever he desired was immediately “Yes, my
lord” ed. He gave double the usual number and double the necessary
quantity of tips. He insisted upon personally seeing Ursula to her
uncle’s door and overpaying the cabman. “I have a reputation,” he
said, merrily, “to keep up in Drum.” He turned back as she stood on
the door-step.

“And your uncle has a reputation, too,” he called, waving his hat.

Ursula knew her uncle by more than reputation, and her courage
began to ooze after Gerard’s retreating figure. Immediately she
pressed a resolute finger on the leak; she was come to enjoy
herself, and Gerard had promised to help her.

Villa Blanda, the residence of Mynheer Jacóbus Mopius, stood in a
good-sized garden, some way back from the street. The garden was
very brilliant, very brilliant indeed. The first impression it used
to make was that of the hideous conglomeration of colors which
children saw in former days through so-called kaleidoscopes; after
a time you perceived that its complex disharmony was principally
produced by a mal-assortment of flowers. These received some
assistance, it must be confessed, from a glittering “Magenta” ball,
two terra-cotta statuettes of fat children with baskets, and other
pleasing trifles of similar origin.

The whole house had manifestly cost a great deal of money; it was
its single duty to proclaim this fact, and it did its duty well. A
hundred flourishes of superfluous ornament showed upon the face of
it that the terra-cotta man and the gilder, and the encaustic-tile
people, and the modeller of stucco monstrosities, had all sent in
lengthy bills. The bills had been paid.

Yes, Mynheer Jacóbus Mopius owed no man anything--not even
courtesy, not even disregard. He button-holed you to inform you how
much more important a personage he was than yourself. If you tried
to escape him you were lost.

Inside, the house was, as outside, a record of wealth misspent.
Money, they say, buys everything; it is certainly wonderful to
consider what hideous things money will buy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ursula was shown into the drawing-room, where her aunt came
forward to greet her. “How are you, my dear?” said Mevrouw Mopius,
in a tone whose indifference precluded reply. Mevrouw Mopius
was a washed-out-looking lady in a too-stiff black silk. She
immediately returned to her low chair and her Berlin woolwork
frame. For Mevrouw Mopius still worked on canvas. She preferred
figures--Biblical scenes. She was now busy on a meeting between
Jacob and Laban, in which none of the gorgeously robed figures were
like anything that has ever been seen on earth.

Ursula seated herself, unasked, on a purple plush settee. The room
was large and copiously gilded. From the farther end of it a girl
approached--a pale girl in a plain dark gown.

“Oh, I forgot,” said Mevrouw Mopius, pausing with uplifted needle.
“My step-niece Harriet. Harriet, this is Ursula Rovers.”

“Will you come and take off your things?” said the dark girl.
“Shall I show you your room?” Ursula rose, with a spring of relief,
and began hastily to explain about the loss of her luggage as she
moved towards the door. Just before she reached it her aunt spoke
again.

“Harriet has come to live with us, you remember, since her father
died.” Mevrouw Mopius always conversed in after-thoughts, when she
troubled herself to converse at all.

“You won’t be able to change your clothes,” said the pale girl, as
the two went up-stairs together.

“No. Does it matter?”

“Matter? No. What does matter? Certainly not Uncle Mopius.”

“What a fine house this is, is it not? I was never on the second
floor before, though I’ve sometimes been to lunch.”

“Oh yes, it is charming, charming in every way,” said the
pale girl, with a sneer. “This is your room, the second best
guest-chamber. I’m afraid I can’t lend you much for the night. I’ve
three night-gowns; one’s in the wash, and one’s torn. Uncle Mopius
gave me them.”

She went and stood at the window while Ursula hurriedly washed
her hands. “Are you ready?” she asked, presently. “Then come
down-stairs again. Better tell Uncle Mopius you admired your room.
The washing-things, for instance, they are English. Cost thirty-six
florins. Come along.” Ursula shuddered under the continuous sneer
of the girl’s impassive tones.

As soon as they opened the drawing-room door Mevrouw Mopius’s
voice was heard exclaiming, “Harriet, get me my Bible immediately,
Harriet.” She sat up quite awake and alert, her needle unused
beside her. “I’ve been waiting,” she continued. “What a long time
you’ve been. Ursula, I hope you’re not vain. It’s a bad thing in a
pastor’s daughter to be vain of her appearance.” After a minute’s
silence she became aware of the proximity of her other niece, who
stood waiting beside her, Bible in hand. “And in all other girls,”
she added, “for the matter of that;” but Harriet, having missed
the discourse, lost the application as well.

“It was on the table in the next room,” said Harriet.

“I know. Did you expect _me_ to get it?”

The lady took the sacred volume, which immediately fell open at
the story of Jacob and Rebecca, much bethumbed. In the midst of
her search she paused, to cast a sharp look at Ursula. “And not
much to be vain of, anyway,” she said. She could not possibly have
authenticated this remark, but she chose to consider it “judicious.”

“Here is the place,” she continued. “You see, it says Leah had
‘tender eyes.’ Now, what, I wonder, is the color of tender eyes?”

“I always thought it meant ‘watery,’” hazarded Ursula.

“Do you really think so?” Mevrouw Mopius reflected, sitting
critically back from her screen, and surveying her cherry-colored
Orientals. “Really, _watery_. Ursula, I wonder if that view is
correct?”

“Like a perpetual cold in her head,” volunteered the dark girl,
listlessly. “I know such people.”

Mevrouw Mopius sniffed unconsciously.

“In that case I should have to make them red,” she said. “I had
just decided on dove color.”

“You couldn’t make red show against the cheeks,” said Harriet.
“Hadn’t you better send round and ask Mevrouw Pock’s opinion?”

Mevrouw Mopius smiled immediate approval.

“A very sensible suggestion,” she said. Mevrouw Pock was the wife
of her favorite parson. “You have plenty of sense if only you were
always good-tempered. Get me my escritoire from the table over
there. No; writing letters fatigues me”--she couldn’t spell--“you
must run across after dinner, and get Mevrouw to consult her
husband as to what it says in the Greek.”

“But I shall have to change my dress again,” protested Harriet.

“Well, and what of that? So much the better. There’s few things a
girl likes more than changing dresses. I’m sure you ought to be
thankful you’ve dresses to change.”

Without further reply the girl dropped away into her corner and
resumed her interrupted reading. Ursula sat with her hands in her
lap. Mevrouw began sorting wools, but presently remembered the
guest.

“Harriet,” she called, “why don’t you come and amuse Ursula? You
waste all your time over novels. I can’t imagine what you find in
them. What’s this you’re reading now? A novel, of course?”

The girl came forward, lazily. “Yes, aunt,” she said.

“What is it? What’s it about?”

“It’s a historical romance called _Numa Pompilius_, translated from
the German. Everybody’s reading it just now.”

“I can’t understand what you find in them. And they’re all alike.
It always ends in Pompilius marrying Numa.”

Before Ursula had stopped laughing behind Mevrouw Mopius’s back her
uncle came in. Harriet did not laugh.

Mynheer Mopius, though a very secondary personage in this story of
the Van Helmonts, would be mortally offended did we not give him a
chapter to himself.



CHAPTER VII

HARRIET’S ROMANCE


“Amusing yourselves?” said Mynheer Mopius. “That’s right. That’s
what you’ve come for, Ursula. I’m glad your aunt’s been amusing
you.”

Translated, this meant that Mynheer Mopius considered his wife had
been taking a liberty. For, although Mynheer Mopius despised wit
or humor of any kind, and but rarely condescended to utter what he
considered a joke, yet he somehow believed his conversation to be a
source of constant refreshment to his family. And he felt annoyed
at their making merry without him.

“I’m sure, if Ursula’s laughing it’s no fault of mine,” said
Mevrouw. “I was merely telling Harriet--where’s Harriet?”

“Gone up to dress. You had better follow her example, Ursula.
Dinner at 6.30. We dress for it here, at least the women do. So
do I when there’s company. It’s a custom I brought with me from
Batavia. Must show the natives here what’s what.”

“I’ve nothing but this,” said Ursula, in some confusion. “My box
hasn’t come, and I haven’t got much in the way of evening frocks
anyhow.”

“I’ll give you one. I gave Harriet hers. That girl’s fallen nose
foremost into fat[B] if ever girl did. Hasn’t she, wife?”

“She doesn’t know it,” replied Mevrouw Mopius, picking at Laban’s
goggle eyes.

“Then she’s a greater fool than I take her for. She’d have been a
nurse-maid, sure as fate. And now she’s as good as a rich man’s
daughter.”

“And I’m a mother to her that was motherless,” grunted Mevrouw
complacently, “and because she’s poor and no real relation I allow
her to call me ‘aunt.’”

“Besides which, if she behaves herself, who knows what may
happen to her!” Mynheer Mopius jingled the loose cash in his
trousers-pockets and looked askance at Ursula.

Ursula looked back at him, peacefully unconscious.

“I might leave her my money,” said Mynheer Mopius.

“Oh, that would be splendid!” cried Ursula.

Her uncle looked at her again. “Sly little thing!” he thought,
but he said nothing. Only Jacóbus Mopius could have called Ursula
little. His greatness caused him to see all things small.

He was a stunted, pompous man, with a big head and yellow cheeks.
He had made his money in the Dutch Indies, as a notary.

Harriet came back in a fawn-colored frock with a pink rosebud
pattern, made of some kind of nun’s veiling, high in the throat.
Mynheer Mopius gazed at it in admiration.

“Looks well, doesn’t she?” he said to Ursula in a loud _sotto
voce_. “You shall have just such another; but Harriet’s a devilish
good-looking girl.”

The subject of this comment did not appear to hear it, but Ursula
fancied she? saw her aunt wince. Harriet was helping the faded
woman to put things together. In the hall a gong was sounding a
hideous bellow at the door.

“Late as usual,” remonstrated Mynheer Mopius. “Hurry up, my dear.
Gracious goodness, how awkward you are getting!” The frail little
creature in the stiff silk caught hold of Harriet’s arm with one
skinny hand, and Ursula, as she watched her movements, understood
something of her unwillingness to exert herself.

For his own use Mynheer Mopius never bought anything cheap, and
all the appointments of the dinner-table were excellent. Of course
he communicated prices to the new arrival, and Ursula, soon
discovering that she was expected constantly to admire, entered
into the spirit of the thing, and asked the cost of the silver
candlesticks. Her uncle ascended into regions of unusual good
humor, and ordered up a bottle of sweet Spanish wine for her, “such
as you ignorant females enjoy,” he said. He grew very angry with
his wife for refusing to have any. “But the doctor forbids it.”
“Oh, damn your doctor. Never have a doctor till you’re dead; that’s
my advice. Then he can’t do any harm.”

Mevrouw Mopius meekly swallowed a little of the liquid, her long
nose drooping over the glass. Her husband sat tyrannically watching
her. “Drink it all,” he said; “you want a tonic. You shall have
some every day.” And she drank it, although she implicitly believed
in the doctor, and the doctor, a teetotaler, had told her it meant
death.

“Doctors are all scoundrels,” said Mynheer Mopius. “Hey, Harriet?”

The girl’s dead father had been a medical man.

“Yes, I know,” she said. “Only lawyers are honest. That’s why
doctors die poor.”

Mynheer Mopius laughed heartily. “I like your cheek,” he said.
“Make hay while your sun shines, Harriet. A man can’t stand it from
an old woman.”

Mevrouw Mopius sniffed.

“We must have some fun, hey, wife, while Ursula’s here? We might
give a dinner-party, and show the grandees what’s what.”

“But the grandees don’t come to our dinner-parties,” objected
Mevrouw Mopius.

“No, they don’t, hang ’em. But they’d hear from the people who do.
Your Dominé Pock knows ’em all. We’ll have Pock to dinner. He’s
always asking for money for something or other, but he’s a good
judge of victuals. Trust a parson to be that, and a poor judge of
wine. At least the Evangelicals. And he’ll tell every one I’ve the
best venison in the city. I get my venison from Brussels, Ursula,
and it’s better, they’ll all say, than the Baron van Trossart’s,
who shoots his himself.”

“The Baron van Trossart!” said Ursula. “That is the guardian of
the Van Helmonts’ cousin, Helen, the heiress. I am to go to a party
there. Gerard promised me an invitation.”

Mynheer Mopius’s face grew very dark.

“Look here,” he said, “are you staying with me or in barracks? If
with me, you must allow me to amuse you. I won’t hear anything
about your Barons Gerard. And I won’t have nothing to say to them.”

“Gerard isn’t the Baron,” replied Ursula, hotly. “That’s his
father. Not that it matters.”

“No, I shouldn’t think it did. I won’t hear anything about them.
What did you say the father’s name was?”

“Theodore, Baron van Helmont van Horstwyk en de Horst,” rolled
forth Ursula, proudly.

“Yes, poor Roderick likes that sort of thing. Is ‘the Horst’ the
name of the house? Is it grander than this?”

Ursula laughed. “It’s quite different,” she said.

“Well, I dare say. But I won’t hear another word about them. That
kind of people are all a mistake.”

Harriet lifted her indolent eyes, and fixed them on Ursula’s face.

“Do you like your wine?” she said. “Mind you deserve it.”

For the rest of the meal Mynheer Mopius talked of the
entertainments he would organize for Ursula. He refused to let her
accompany Harriet on the theological errand concerning Leah’s eyes.

“No, no,” he said, “come into the drawing-room and amuse us. Do you
play? Do you sing? Harriet does neither. We do both.”

Ursula played well. She gave them a Concert of Liszt, and Mynheer
did not talk till Mevrouw dropped her scissors and asked him, after
a wait, to pick them up for her. As soon as he could, he got hold
of the piano himself, and called out to his wife to join him. He
had been possessed of a fine bass twenty years ago, and had enjoyed
much admiration in Batavian society. It now stopped somewhere down
in his stomach, and only a rumble came out. His wife rose wearily
to play his accompaniments, and he kept her chained to the piano
for the rest of the evening, though Ursula could not help seeing
that the playing seemed to cause her physical pain.

He sang only love-songs of the ultra-sentimental kind, all about
broken hearts and lovely death and willing sacrifice. Many of them
were of a by-gone period when everybody pretended--at least in
verse--to be absolutely ill with affection.

Harriet came back and poured out tea. When her uncle said it was
bad she shrugged her shoulders.

“It always is,” she replied.

“Yes, Harriet, it is, though I get it direct from the East,” he
rejoined. His whole attitude betokened reproof.

“The East,” interposed Mevrouw, from her tambour-frame. “Quite so.
I wonder, when Laban welcomed Jacob, do you think he gave him tea?”

“Coffee, rather, I should fancy,” replied Mopius.

“Do you really believe they drank coffee, Jacóbus?[C] I wish I was
sure”--for the fiftieth time that day (as every day) she fell to
contemplating her work with arrested needle. “I could so well fill
up this corner with a little table, and put on the rolls and cups
and things.”

“And work an ‘L’ in the napkin corner,” suggested Harriet.

Mevrouw Mopius gazed suspiciously into her niece’s face, but
Harriet’s expression was perfectly serious.

“And--work--an--‘L’--into--the--napkin--corner,” repeated Mevrouw
Mopius, very slowly. “Well, I think that might be nice.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Ursula had just extinguished her light, and was dozing off into
a dream-land of Mopiuses and Jonkers, when the door opened and
Harriet entered hurriedly, candle in hand, a white wrap flung
loosely about her.

“I didn’t knock,” she said. “Knocks are heard all over a house at
night.”

She threw herself into an easy chair by the bed. “Finished
already!” she said. “_You_ don’t make much work of your beauty.”

“It’s so little, I should be afraid of killing it with over-care,”
replied Ursula, smiling.

But Harriet frowned. “Don’t tell lies,” she said. “You must know
you’re lovely. You are. Am I lovely too?”

“I think you look very nice,” replied Ursula, hesitatingly.

“Thank you. I understand.” She tossed back her black locks from her
sallow cheeks, and her sad eyes flashed. “But see here, I didn’t
come to talk about looks.” She pushed forward the candle so that
its light fell full on Ursula’s sleepy face. “Wake up for a minute,
can’t you? You and I may as well understand each other at once.”
She leaned back, and folded her bare white arms, from which the
loose sleeves fell away.

“Uncle Mopius is always telling me that you are his natural
heir,” she said. “He tells me whenever he wants to make himself
disagreeable, which is not infrequently. I dare say you know.”

Ursula sat up. “No, indeed I don’t,” she said, “and I don’t want
to. Once my Aunt Josine said something about it, a couple of years
ago, and father called me into his study and said he didn’t think I
should ever get a penny of Uncle Jacóbus’s money, and he earnestly
hoped not. I’ve never thought of it since.”

Harriet jerked up her chin. “Your father must be a peculiar sort of
man,” she said, “if sincere. Did he mean it?”

Ursula blew out the candle. “I’m going to sleep,” she said.
“Good-night. I don’t want to be rude to you.”

But Harriet quietly drew a box of matches from her pocket. “I like
that,” she said, leisurely. “I wish I had somebody to stick up
for. But I came to say this--Uncle Mopius is sure to bring up the
subject constantly in your presence. He’ll taunt me, as is his
habit, especially now you’re here, with your good-luck in being
his own sister’s child. Now, I want you fully to understand”--she
leaned forward her big dark face till Ursula struggled not to
shrink back--“that I--don’t--care. I don’t care a bit. I’m not
like men. And if you think you’re enjoying a cheap triumph, you’re
mistaken, that’s all. And if you imagine it’s bravado on my part,
because I can’t help myself, you’re mistaken too. I don’t want his
dirty money. I’m sick of it. I want something better. I’m not going
to hate you for nothing. In fact, I rather like you. So he can go
on as much as ever he chooses, and if you enjoy it you’re free to
do so.”

“But I don’t,” cried Ursula, with hot cheeks. “I don’t a bit. You
know I don’t. And, in fact, uncle talked quite differently this
afternoon. I thought you--”

The other girl stopped her with a gesture.

“Don’t,” she said, “I won’t hear it. I’m sick of the whole
business. Be sure that, whatever he said, it was a lie.” She got
up and began pacing the room, her limbs quivering under the light
folds of her gown. Suddenly she stood still, looking down at
Ursula. “Shall I tell you what will really happen? Do you care to
know? It’s easy enough.” Ursula did not answer, but Harriet went
on, unheeding, “Aunt will die, and he will marry again as soon as
he can. That’s all. There.” Ursula’s continuous silence seemed to
goad her companion. “You think he may die before aunt? He may; but
when a chimney falls down into the street, it usually manages to
hit a better man. You watch aunt. Good-night.” She was departing,
but again reflected, and came back to the bed. “You poor thing,”
she said, “I believe you really would have liked me to get the
money. Why?”

“Oh, I should indeed,” replied Ursula, earnestly, “though it looks
a long way off. You seem so lonely and--will you mind my saying
it?--so unhappy, Harriet.” To her amazement her visitor fell
forward on the bed and hugged her. A moment afterwards, however,
Harriet again sat in the big chair. “You are quite mistaken,” she
said, arranging her draperies with downcast eyes, “I am not at all
unhappy.” There followed a moment’s agitated silence, and then:

“Ursula, I like you. I want to tell you something. You’ll listen
for a moment, won’t you? I’ve nobody else to tell it to.” Without
further consideration the girl pushed one hand between the loose
folds about her throat, and from the snowy recesses of her bosom
drew forth a paper which she hurriedly thrust in front of Ursula.
“There, read that,” she said, excitedly. “It never leaves me lest
_they_ should find out.” Still sitting up, with one elbow on the
little table beside her, Ursula read a printed advertisement, a
scrap from a newspaper:

“H. V. Meet me on Thursday next at eight o’clock in the Long Walk
outside the West Gate. Wear a white feather and, if possible, a red
shawl. Carry your parasol open, _in any case_. Dearest, I am dying
to see you, but can’t come before then. Your own Romeo.”

“Well?” queried Ursula, but immediately her voice changed.
“Harriet, you don’t mean to tell me that this is an entanglement of
yours?”

“You choose a strange word,” replied Harriet, loftily. “There is
no entanglement. But I hope there is going to be. As yet there is
merely an answer to an advertisement. Yes, the advertisement was
mine. Oh, Ursula, isn’t it delightful? He says he is dying to see
me. Imagine that. And he doesn’t even know me yet.”

“That surely makes his eagerness less delightful,” replied Ursula,
dryly.

“Oh, but I gave him a very accurate description, tall, luminous
eyes, dark locks, ivory skin. I told him I was of distinctly
prepossessing appearance. Yes, in spite of your opinion, I
ventured to tell him that. Uncle informs me so frequently that I
am very good-looking, and aunt repeats so consistently that I am
exceedingly plain, I feel I have a double right to be satisfied
with my beauty. Besides, every woman’s glass declares to her that
her appearance is prepossessing; it is the one reason why I fancy,
on the whole, women’s lives must be happier than men’s.”

“Did you put all that in the advertisement?” asked Ursula, still
staring stupidly at the scrap of paper on the bed.

“I--I wrote him a letter, just one.”

“Addressed to ‘Romeo’?”

“To ‘Romeo de Lieven.’[D] Isn’t it a charming name?”

“It’s an assumed name. Imagine a Dutchman called Romeo!”

“Of course, it’s a pseudonym, like Carmen Sylva. I wasn’t clever
enough to think of one; besides, I hate subterfuges. So I just put
my own name, H. V.--Harriet Verveen.”

“Harriet, you don’t mean to say that you wrote a signed love-letter
you don’t in the least know to whom?”

“Love-letter, no. I told him who I was and what I wanted. Besides,
I shall know him to-morrow.”

“You’re not going.”

Once more Harriet assumed her almost defiant attitude.

“Yes, I’m going,” she said. “So there!”

“What do you think?” she suddenly burst out. “It’s all very well
for you comfortable, sheltered girls, at home. What’s to become of
the likes of me if we don’t look out for ourselves? Nobody’ll help
to find me a husband or a hiding-place. Nobody’ll ever do anything
for me except abuse me because I do things for myself.”

“But _I_ haven’t had a lover found for me,” interposed Ursula. “It
seems so unwomanly--”

“Womanly! There we have the word--womanly!”

Harriet’s words came stumbling and tossing; she thrust out her
limbs and the muslin fell away from them. “It’s womanly to live
on day by day in bitterness, with every womanly feeling hourly
insulted and estranged; after a year more, perhaps, of this, to go
to some fresh situation and look after other people’s children,
and when you are worn out at last, to die, soured and in want.
That’s honest independence, that’s womanly modesty. Well, then, I’m
immodest. Do you understand me?” She threw herself wildly forward.
“I’m immodest. I want love. I told you just now I didn’t want the
old scoundrel’s money. I don’t. But I want love. I want love. And
I mean to have it. A woman has a right to love and be loved. I
won’t be some lazy rich woman’s substitute, with brats I don’t care
for. I want to love children of my own. Children that love me when
I kiss them. I love my own body.” She fell back again, and her
eager voice died into a pensive murmur; while speaking, she softly
stroked her rounded arm. “I love it, and I want others to love it
also. I want it to belong to some one besides my lonely self. Great
Heaven, don’t you understand?”--her tone grew shrill again--“one’s
youth goes--goes. But you don’t understand.” She stopped abruptly,
just in time, and hid her face in her hand.

Ursula knew not how to speak or act. There was only one thing she
wanted to do; so she did it. She put an arm round Harriet’s neck
and kissed her. But the girl shook herself free, and, without
another word, hurried away.

FOOTNOTES:

[B] Vulgar Dutch idiom.

[C] To “drink coffee” is old-fashioned Dutch for “lunch.”

[D] To love.



CHAPTER VIII

THE TRYST


The next day passed in an atmosphere of sombre expectation. Ursula
and Harriet barely spoke to one another; the latter seemed to be
holding aloof. Mynheer Mopius took his niece the round of the house
amid a steady flow of self-laudation, and Ursula put in pleasing
adjectives as full-stops. He showed her everything, even to the
water-supply and the wine-cellar. There was but one exception, his
wife’s store-cupboard; Mevrouw Mopius, to his annoyance, actually
held out in refusing the key. But he found a compensation in
unmitigated china and glass.

After a morning thus profitably spent, the afternoon brought a
long drive and a visit to a flower show. The drive was merely
an opportunity for parading Mynheer Mopius’s equipage among the
beauties of nature, but that gentleman was made happy, after
prolonged anxiety and craning, by meeting the very people he was
desirous should see it. The visit to the exhibition, however, must
be regarded as an act of kindness to his guest, for the committee
had had the manifest stupidity to award Mynheer Mopius’s double
dahlias a third prize.

In the gardens Ursula espied Gerard with his cousin Helena among
a crowd of stylish-looking people, whom Jacóbus described as
“swells.” She had received, that morning, the promised card for the
Baroness van Trossart’s party, and she would gladly have sought an
occasion of thanking the sender, but to this proposal her uncle,
in a sudden fit of shyness, opposed resolute and almost rampant
refusal.

“I don’t want to know the people,” he repeated, excitedly, his eyes
fixed on the distinguished group by the central lake. “I don’t
want to have anything to say to them. Ursula, you belong to my
party. I desire you to stay where you are.”

“Oh, very well,” replied Ursula, offended; “though, of course, I
should not have gone up to him as long as he was conversing with
that violet-nosed old woman in blue.”

“That lady is the wife of the Governor, and I will thank you to
speak of her with more respect.”

Ursula listened in amazement. She was not enough a student of human
nature to explain her uncle’s change of front. She went and sat
down on the bench beside her aunt, with a few kind words about the
weather.

“Oh, beautiful!” gasped Mevrouw Mopius. “Jacóbus, don’t you think
it is time we went home?”

Jacóbus assented, and in the midst of plans for to-morrow sought to
impress upon Ursula the number and importance of his acquaintances
as instanced by frequent salutes.

Ursula came upon her aunt alone in the drawing-room half an hour
before dinner. The vast apartment was darkened to a mellow glow
behind its yellow venetians. Mevrouw Mopius sat with closed eyes
and cavernous cheeks before her unused frame. She stirred as the
door opened, and beckoned her niece to her side.

“My dear,” she said in a faint voice, “come and sit by me for a
minute. I have something to ask you.” Ursula obeyed. “Your uncle
was speaking of the opera for to-morrow night. I want you to tell
him you don’t care to go.”

“But I do care,” objected the girl. “I think it’s simply glorious.
I’ve never been to the opera before.”

“My dear, I can assure you it’s not worth seeing. The singers make
such a noise you can’t hear a word they say. Not that that matters,
for they always say the same thing.”

“Oh, but I should like it,” repeated Ursula.

“Say, for my sake, that you don’t care to go.” Mevrouw Mopius’s
manner became very nervous. “Ursula, I _can’t_ go out at night.
Have you set your heart on this performance?”

“Yes, aunt,” said the girl, frankly; “but, even if I hadn’t, I
shouldn’t know of any valid excuse. However, I can very well go
with Harriet and uncle. I’ll tell him you’d rather not.”

Mevrouw Mopius clutched her arm. “Hold your tongue,” she said,
quite roughly. “I didn’t want to have you here. I tell you so
honestly. I knew it would be like this. It was Jacóbus. Poor
fellow, I suppose he felt how dull the house was getting.” She
paused meditatively. “He’d never go without me; he wouldn’t enjoy
himself.”

“I’m sure I didn’t ask to come,” protested Ursula, “but now I’m
here, I can’t begin inventing a parcel of lies. You must tell uncle
yourself, aunt, please.”

Mevrouw Mopius tightened her grip till the nails dug into the
flesh. She turned her dull eyes full on Ursula. “Girl,” she gasped,
“what are you, with your little pleasures or prejudices to come
athwart such a sorrow as mine? I’ll tell you my secret, if it must
be. Swear, first, that you’ll not breathe it to a living soul.”

Ursula was alarmed by her aunt’s earnest manner. “I can’t swear,”
she said in a flurry, “but I’ll promise. I never swore in my life.”

“Swear,” repeated the other woman under her breath; unconsciously
she tightened her grasp till Ursula shrieked aloud. “Hush! Are you
mad? He’ll hear. Oh, is that it?” She relaxed her hold. “Fool, did
you never feel pain?”

“I--I don’t know,” gasped Ursula, now thoroughly frightened,
convinced that her aunt must have mad fits of which no one had
spoken.

“Swear, I tell you. Say, so help me, God Almighty. Louder. Let me
hear it. Now, listen. I’m ill, incurably ill. Never mind what the
doctor calls the illness. Enough that he says I can’t live beyond
two months. Perhaps he’s mistaken. They often are. Not that I want
to live. Not in this agony, my God! Not except for _him_. Ursula,
your uncle knows nothing. I don’t want him to know. I’d bear twice
as much, if I could, so that he shouldn’t know. Poor fellow, he
has his faults, perhaps, but he’s so soft-hearted, he can’t bear
to see suffering, not even to hear of it. There, now, I have told
you. I’ve never told a living soul, as I said. I can hide it from
him, Ursula, if things go on as usual. But I can’t go taking long
drives, or to flower-shows, and oh, Ursula, dear, I _can’t_ go out
at night.”

Ursula was dumb-struck with horror and pity. Still, she could not
help feeling, even at that moment, that her visit to her uncle
was becoming hopelessly perplexed. She had expected a round of
gayeties, all the delights of a début.

“I’ll do whatever you wish me to,” she said, helplessly. “Oh, aunt,
I’m so sorry, but I hope you’ll get better. Father says doctors
never know.”

“Not about curing, they don’t,” replied her aunt, grimly. “Now,
Ursula, remember, not a word. It’s a secret between you and me.
I don’t think it’ll be for very long. Move away; I hear some one
coming!”

Harriet entered the room with her novel under her arm. Presently
she looked up at Mevrouw Mopius’s deathly countenance lying back as
if asleep, and nodded meaningly to Ursula. Mynheer Mopius came in,
and his wife sat up. “Jacóbus,” she said, “you were laughing at the
blueness of my sky yesterday. I saw one in the exhibition aviary
that was every bit as blue.”

“But did you look at the real article up above us?” questioned
Jacóbus.

“No,” admitted Mevrouw Mopius, “I didn’t think of that.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Harriet rose hurriedly from dessert. “Aunt is tired,” she said.
“You must excuse us, uncle,” and she offered Mevrouw her arm. At
the door she turned. “You don’t want me just now, I suppose?” she
continued. “I am going out to get a breath of fresh air.”

“Yes,” added Ursula quickly, “Harriet and I are going for a walk.”

A moment later the two girls met on the bedroom-landing. Both were
dressed to go out. Harriet had a white feather on her hat, and a
red shawl over one arm. “Leave me alone, can’t you?” said Harriet.
She spoke fiercely, and a gesture escaped her which was almost a
menace.

“No, I’m going with you,” replied Ursula, quietly.

“Indeed you sha’n’t. What a fool I was to tell you. Women always
are fools to ask sympathy from each other.”

“I shall not be in your way,” persisted Ursula, with coaxing
decision. “Let me wait with you till he comes, if he comes, and
then I can step aside.”

“Of course he will come,” said Harriet. Perhaps it was the thought
of this certain triumph which induced her to forbear all further
opposition to Ursula’s accompanying her.

“I bought this shawl,” began Harriet, as they walked through the
shadowed streets. “I had to pawn my only brooch to get it.”

“Does uncle allow you no pocket-money?” asked Ursula.

“Ten florins a month,” replied Harriet, bitterly. “I spend most of
it in scents and chocolate-creams. They are my one consolation. I
adore chocolate-creams. Do you? We might get some now. I’ve got a
florin left from the brooch-money.”

“Let me buy them this time,” suggested Ursula, sympathetically.

“Very well. I like the pink kind best.”

It was still light, but a veil had already fallen over the
low-sinking sun. The hot, sleepy streets were waking up in the red
glow of the fading day. People in the town, now that the glare had
died from their eyes, were telling each other that the air was
cool, and trying to believe it.

Outside, however, the assertion had more truth in it. A ripple of
refreshment was slowly spreading up from the distant river. The
shadows of the straight-lined trees lay across the brick road in
great black stripes. The fields looked as if their dusty grass was
turning green again beneath the darkening sky; in the dull ditches
stood the cattle, dreamily content.

The girls walked on in silence till they reached a point where the
road swerved off into a little thicket. This was the spot which
Romeo must have had in his mind. It was very quiet and sequestered.
They stood looking at each other, still in silence. Harriet’s pale
cheeks were flushed.

Evening was now rapidly closing in; great folds of gray shadow
seemed to come broadening over the landscape; not a sound was heard
but the faint whiz of some tiny gnats.

Suddenly the clear chimes began to play from the slender
ball-topped tower, which stood out black, like a monstrous ninepin,
against the yellow western sky. The eyes of the watchers met.
Eight slow strokes came trembling heavily across the hush of
sunset. At the other end of the long, straight road a figure
appeared, as yet quite indistinct. They watched. They could hear
each other’s hearts beat.

When it drew nearer they saw that it was a woman. Harriet gave
a great gasp of relief. A moment later it had come quite close
to them. And both saw simultaneously that the woman wore a white
feather and a scarlet shawl.

She passed them suspiciously; she was an independent-looking,
weather-beaten female of some forty wintry winters--all angles and
frost. After a moment she halted, and hesitatingly retraced her
steps.

The last glow paled away from the horizon. In the ashen grayness it
even seemed to Ursula that the little breeze from the marshes blew
cold. The long road lay motionless, gradually shortening into night.

“A fine evening, young ladies,” said the red-shawled female,
stopping abruptly near them, and suddenly opening an enormous
parasol; “but it’s getting late.”

“It’s not much beyond eight,” replied Ursula, for want of an answer.

“Nine minutes,” said the female, with precision. “Nine full
minutes past 8 P.M. Perhaps I may remark to you, ladies, that
this spot is unhealthy after sunset--very particularly unhealthy.
The back-sillies, as modern science calls them, come up from the
water and produce injurious smells. If I were you I should be
careful--very particularly careful.” She turned on one heel, but
suddenly bethought herself.

“I,” she said, nodding her head--the white feather waved--“am
compelled by the call of duty to remain. I am waiting for some
one--an engagement.” She spoke the last word with triumphant
pomposity. Its double meaning evidently furnished her extreme
satisfaction. She repeated it twice, and jingled a small reticule
depending from a cotton-gloved wrist.

“I know of a case,” she went on immediately, seeing that neither
girl moved or spake, “when a young person (much of your age)
spent an evening out here in this wood. Her reasons for doing so I
distinctly decline to enter into. They were not laudable, you may
be sure; no young girl’s would be. Well, she caught the myasthma
and died. She _died_.”

[Illustration: “THE GIRLS WALKED ON IN SILENCE”]

All the time she was holding forth the speaker peered anxiously to
right and left in the darkness.

“Duty,” she added, “as I told you, compels me to remain. But I do
so at the risk of my health.”

“You lying old humbug!” said a deep voice behind her in the
darkness. “Then what have you got that red shawl on for, eh?”

The victim to duty spun round as if shot.

“Oh, it’s you, is it, Maria?” she said. “I know what _you’re_ here
for. Spying, spying; that’s your errand, you nasty, envious thing.”

“Then you’re wrong, that’s all. I’m here on a fool’s errand of my
own, like yourself.”

A short, fat woman stepped into the faint reflection of a distant
lantern, and they saw that she also wore a red shawl! Not even
courtesy could describe this lady as of “uncertain age.”

“Seems to me,” she continued, “you and I needn’t have been so
mighty close with each other. Nor you needn’t have crowed over
me as you did, Isabella. I don’t see that your lover was so much
smarter than mine.”

“Oh, Harriet, come away,” whispered Ursula, breaking a long silence.

Harriet laughed hoarsely. “No,” she said, “I’m going to see this
comedy out.”

“And as for those young ladies there,” Maria went on, “they’ve as
much right to be here as we have--at least, the one with the red
shawl over her arm has. Yes, my dear, you needn’t try to smuggle
it away behind your neighbor. You’re here from a sense of duty, as
much as ever my friend Isabella is. I wonder how many more of us
have answered this advertisement?”

“One more has,” said a young voice, and a pretty, fair little
creature, looking like a dress-maker’s assistant, stole from behind
a tree into the ring.

“That makes five of us,” announced the fat woman, with a nod to
Ursula. “It was mean of you yonder to be ashamed of your colors.
Well, men were deceivers ever, and, girls, we’ve been once more
deceived.”

“It was I advertised first, not he,” said the pretty girl,
defiantly.

“So did I,” Harriet admitted. “We may as well be fair.”

“Well, so did I, if it comes to that,” declared the fat woman.
“And so did you, Isabella; we needn’t ask you. And so did that
featherless girl, I dare say. I don’t see that it makes much
difference. And it was Romeo de Lieven, was it, as told you all to
come here?”

“All,” said the whole chorus. They had gradually drawn nearer
to one of the rare street lamps which make a dismal haze at far
intervals along the dark road. They stood in a circle, with
unconsciously uplifted parasols, and all around them was the soft
night, and the little wind, and the damp smell of the water.

“Then the best thing you can do is to go home again. Come along,
Isabella, you can sing me the praises of your lover as we go.”

“I solemnly swear,” said the sour spinster, in sepulchral tones,
“never to trust a man again. Ah, I could tell you a story--”

“There’s no time for that now,” interrupted her friend, briskly.
“As for solemnly swearing, I don’t object. Ladies, you see what
they are, these men. Imagine what would have happened to you if
this Romeo had come, and any of you’d married him. No, Romeo, we
will not marry. Let us promise, each one of us, after to-night’s
experience, to turn our backs on them forever.”

All of them, except Ursula, lifted their arms on high. In chorus
they sang out, “We promise,” and even as they did so a vehicle
suddenly loomed through the darkness, a high trap, devoid of
carriage lights, occupied by three or four officers in uniform.

“Way there, please,” said a voice which Ursula recognized. The
women scattered on one side, all looking up involuntarily. The
dim light of the lantern fell full on their faces, and, for one
instant, Gerard saw Ursula’s features quite plainly. She shrank
back; how she hoped that he had not recognized her! She thought not.

The dog-cart passed down the road, and presently the young men
were heard laughing heartily. This masculine hilarity seemed to
exasperate the buxom Maria.

“Let us bind ourselves,” she said, “to meet together next year, at
this spot and this hour, and to prove to each other that each has
kept her word.”

“We promise,” said the others, in taking leave.

But, when the anniversary came round, be it noted here, Maria
marched to her solitary vigil. The two younger women had broken
their vow, and the weather-beaten spinster much wanted them to
believe that she had broken hers.

Not a word was exchanged between the two girls on their homeward
way. Ursula felt heartily relieved when she found herself once
more safe in the drawing-room. Harriet had a headache, and Ursula
poured out tea. Mynheer Mopius took an opportunity of praising her
concoction as a set-off against Harriet’s.

“Of course it’s her fault,” he argued, “not that of the tea. How
could it be?--best Java imported.”

“Uncle Jacóbus,” began Ursula, emboldened by this approval, “I
don’t care about the opera to-morrow. I’d as lief stay at home.”
Her hand trembled, and she blushed crimson.

Mynheer Mopius set down his teacup cautiously, for it was best
Japan. “Well, of all the deceiving minxes!” he said. “And to
hear her go on this afternoon in the carriage! Ursula, you _are_
insincere.”

Mevrouw Mopius sat quite motionless. Her niece did not venture to
glance her way.

“Well, of course,” said Mynheer, in the silence, “_you_ must
know. I’m not such a fool as to waste my money, and no thanks
for my pains. After I’d sent round to the stationer’s, too, for
the book of words you said you would like to have. I’m very much
disappointed in you, Ursula. I can’t make it out.”

“Operas aren’t really good,” piped Mevrouw Mopius’s tremulous
voice. “They’re not a bit like real life. I never had anything
happen to me like an opera.”

Mynheer Mopius slapped his knee. “I have it,” he cried; “it’s some
religious nonsense of your father’s. Well, if it don’t rise to the
surface quicker, there can’t be much of it. Come along, wife, I
can’t bear to think of her. Come along; let’s play and sing.”

Mevrouw Mopius staggered to her feet. Ursula remained in the
half-light of the front room. Husband and wife spent the rest of
the evening at the piano.

    “Dear love, for thee I would lay down my li-i-ife,
      For without thee what would that life avail?
    If thy hand but lift the fatal kni-i-ife,
      I smile, I faint, and bid sweet death all hail,”

sang Mynheer Mopius. And Ursula listened. And Mevrouw Mopius
played.



CHAPTER IX

OTTO’S WOOING


“Plush,” said the Baroness van Helmont, addressing her silken
favorite, “it is a terrible thing to have an incompatible child.”

Plush made no answer, but from the other end of the room came
Otto’s reply: “I can’t help it, mother. I suppose you made me what
I am.”

“I? Never in my life. I could not have produced anything so strong.
Plush and I, we are in harmony; we take the same view of existence.”

She languidly entangled her fingers in the meshes of her darling’s
soft white hair. The lapdog, on her crimson cushion, laid two
delicate little slender-wristed paws, that looked as if encased in
a perfect fit of _peau de Suède_, over a bright black button of a
nose. The pair of them, lady and lapdog, looked born to undulate.

“You are resolved, then,” continued the Baroness, “to return to
Java as soon as you again get tired of us.”

“Tired of you! Mother!” His emotion made him both unable and
unwilling to say more.

“Tired or not, in a few months you will once more leave us. Otto,
it will break your father’s heart.”

This prophecy Otto considered a decidedly doubtful one.

“I never understood why you first went,” continued the Baroness.
“Gerard stays. Everybody I know stays. Fifteen years ago you must
suddenly resolve to learn gentleman-farming in Germany. It sounds
so silly, ‘gentleman-farming.’ They call it ‘economy’ over there--I
suppose the name pleased you--and after a year or two you came back
and said it couldn’t be done without plenty of money. A charming
economy. It is as good as a farce!”

“That is true, Otto, is it not?” she added, petulantly, after a
pause.

“Quite true,” he replied, helplessly, sitting forward on a little
boudoir chair, his brown hands hanging joined between his heavy
legs.

“Well, then, after that you must hurry away to plant tea in the
Indies, as if there were not enough common people to do that! And
doing it, too. I never heard of a break-down in the tea-supply.
And now you have been busied there for a dozen years, and what’s
the profit to you or to any one? You’re no richer, and tea’s
not even cheaper. So you’ve benefited neither your neighbor nor
yourself.” The Baroness sighed. Plush sighed also, her whole little
pink-tinted body a sob of lethargic content.

“But I’ve been earning an honest living,” burst out Otto,
desperately. It was all so useless; he had said it so often before!
“At least I’ve not been droning through my whole life, spending
father’s money, and knowing all the time that in fact there was
no money to spend. Of course, I’d hoped to come back richer from
India, but you can’t understand about the crisis in the tea-trade,
mother.”

“No, indeed,” said the Baroness.

“At any rate, however, I’ve paid my way. I’ve not lived, as Gerard
does, in a constant entanglement of bills and loans. I don’t depend
for my daily bread on the mercy of the Jews.”

“Nor does Gerard, thank Heaven! though he may for his daily
champagne!” cried the Baroness, her irrepressible sprightliness
bubbling uppermost. “And the Jews, as your father always says,
are a dispensation of Providence for the survival of the fittest.
He doesn’t mean themselves. They keep the old families above water
till smoother times work round again. Look at the Van Utrechts,
for instance; the only son tried to commit suicide for want of
a friendly Jew! And four months later he married a Rotterdam
oil-merchant’s daughter. That’s what Gerard will do; only, in his
case, I do hope and pray that the man who made the money will be
a generation farther off. And on the mother’s side.” The Baroness
sank back reflectively, and, for the hundredth time, a procession
of ticketed young ladies passed before her pale blue eyes.

“Otto,” she said, “you know the desire of our hearts. It is that
you marry Helena van Trossart. Then we should say, ‘Lord, now
lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.’”

“Catch my father saying that,” cried Otto, roughly, with holy
horror in his honest eyes.

The Baroness stopped him by an imperious gesture.

“I don’t know what you mean, Otto,” she said. “Please don’t be
profane. Yes, I desire above all things to see this marriage
consummated. Gerard will do well in any case. And, after all, it is
you who will one day be Baron Helmont of the Horst. You, our first,
our eldest.” She checked herself, holding out her thin white hand,
and her eyes were full of love.

Otto took the hand in his own and kissed it.

“You might _try_, Otto,” continued the Baroness. “You don’t know
her; she was a child when you went away. There is no sense in
your refusing to find out whether you could like her or not. The
marriage would end all difficulties for good, and you could remain
with us.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Otto, heavily.

“Supposing you were to go to Drum to-day, and see them. You might
stay over their dance, which is to-morrow night. It would be a
pretty attention. I feel sure the coast is clear, and she thinks
you interesting. She told me so herself, when they dined here; she
considers your life one long romance.”

“Romance is the word,” said Otto. “Well, mother, I’m willing to
go.” He took up the _Graphic_ from a side-table, and silence
brooded over the trio till the Baron came in.

“My dear,” said the Baron, eagerly, his eyes alight, “I must just
show you this; the carrier brought it. It’s Feuillet’s _Jeune Homme
Pauvre_, with the original drawings by Mouchot. Isn’t it charming?
I had it over from Fontaine.”

The Baroness took the volume, disturbing Plush.

“Yes,” she replied, as she turned over the pages. “It’s very nice.
But I can’t help preferring my old friend, Johannot.”

“How unkind!” said the Baron, plaintively, “Johannot couldn’t be
expected to illustrate everything, especially not the books that
were written after he died.”

He turned to his son.

“I sha’n’t show it to you, Otto, for you’d only ask how much it
cost.”

“Oh, don’t,” interposed the Baroness.

“And yet this is quite a bargain. Only 625 francs, and the binding
by David.”

“My dear, I don’t care. Besides, I have forgotten already.”

“Lucky woman,” the Baron laughed. “I, at least, must remember till
it’s paid. What’s the matter, Jan?”--this to a servant who appeared
in the open door. “You can clear away the papers on the library
floor.”

“There’s a poor woman at the kitchen entrance asking to see you,
sir,” said the man. “She says you know all about her. Her name is
Vrouw Klop, from the cottages by Horstwyk Mill.”

“I never heard of the creature in my life!” cried the Baron.

“I know her,” remarked Mevrouw, quietly. “Her husband drinks.”

“Saving your presence, Mevrouw,” said Jan, without moving a muscle,
“she says her husband’s been dead these seven years.”

“Well, if he had lived, he’d have drunk,” replied the Baroness,
indifferently. “And, besides, if she’s been a widow so long she
must have children earning something.”

Otto got up and walked towards the window.

“Send her away,” exclaimed the Baron. “It’s like her insolence,
asking for me!”

“She says she has a letter from the Burgomaster, mynheer,” gently
persisted the servant. Menials are always pamperedly insolent to
mendicants or aggressively sympathetic regarding them. They are
never indifferent.

“Then why didn’t you bring it up? Why doesn’t she go to the
relieving officer? I can’t be bothered. There, give her a twopenny
bit, and let her go.”

Otto stood at the window, looking out.

“The people are unendurable,” said the Baron, as the servant
departed. “Always wanting something, and always asking for it. As
if it were our duty to supply unlimited gin!”

“Yes,” replied the Baroness, “and the respectable poor never beg.
This illustration is charming, Theodore; I think it is the best of
all. What a sweet face the girl has!”

She held up the beautiful blue morocco volume to the light.

Otto stood at the window, looking out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Helena van Trossart belonged to one of the most influential
families in Holland. Her mother had been a sister of the Baron van
Helmont; both mother and father were long since dead. She lived
with an uncle and aunt on the other side, Trossarts, like herself,
and rich, like herself, with Trossart money. The uncle and aunt
were childless, and affectionately interested in their beautiful
heiress, of whom they felt proud to think as the greatest _parti_
in the province. The Baroness was portly and comfortable; she had
never known any but comfortable people all her life. The Baron, a
fine old gentleman with silver-striped hair, was concerned in the
government of the country, which means that he occupied his time in
procuring lucrative posts for his wife’s poor relations, of whose
poverty he lived in monotonous dread.

The fine old double mansion which the Van Trossarts inhabited
stood on a green canal behind a sombre row of chestnuts. Grass
grew between the paving-stones, and iron chains swung heavily from
post to post. Not a street boy passed but pulled those chains. The
street boy of Holland is unparalleled in Europe, a pestilence that
walketh in darkness, and a destruction that wasteth at noonday,
but here you could hardly take offence at him, for he imparted an
element of liveliness to as dead a corner as dull respectability
could desire to dwell in. The outside of the house wore that aspect
of dignified dilapidation which is characteristic of hereditary
wealth. Inside nothing was new, except in Helena’s apartments, nor
was anything worn out.

“Mamma,” said the Freule Helena--she called her foster-mother
“mamma”--“I have a note from Gerard. He asks whether he may bring
Otto round to lunch in half an hour’s time. Otto, it appears, has
turned up for the day. The orderly is waiting. I suppose I had
better say yes.”

“Stop a moment while I ring and ask how many pigeons there are,”
replied the Baroness, who was eminently practical.

“You wouldn’t keep them away because of that!” cried Helena,
laughing.

“Indeed I should. Gerard detests cold meat. And there’s nothing a
man resents like getting what he doesn’t eat in a house where his
tastes are known. You’ve asked people enough unexpectedly already.”

“Only Georgetta van Troyen and her brother. That was to escape a
tête-à-tête with Mechteld van Weylert. We shall be quite a small
party.”

“I don’t mind large parties, like to-morrow’s,” replied Mevrouw
van Trossart, turning from a confabulation with her confidential
maid. “Well, tell them to come. Ann, just say to the man, ‘My
compliments, and the Jonkers[E] are welcome.’ You are terribly gay,
child; you can’t bear a moment of quiet.”

“Dear mamma, did you want me to sit all the afternoon opposite
Maggie van Weylert? Confess though she is your niece, you would not
do it yourself. With some women conversation is just contradiction.
And there are few people outside this house, except Gerard, I care
to be alone with. No guest, or a number, that is my view.”

“Gerard would feel flattered,” replied the Baroness, smiling over
her plump hands. “You had better not tell him, or he will ask you
to afford him the opportunity of being alone together for life.”

“How terrible! Mamma, you are perfectly ruthless. There is not a
creature in the world, not even myself, I am fond enough of for
that. Besides, surely one should never marry a man one likes to be
alone with; it is the most fatal way of dying to society at once.”
She laughed, and threw back the yellow curls from her blue-veined
forehead; she was all pink and gold, like a bunch of wild rose and
laburnum. “What I should like to do,” she went on, “would be to
marry Otto, and flirt with Gerard and other people. But, of course,
it would be horribly improper, and it couldn’t be done.”

“Don’t be silly,” remonstrated the Baroness van Trossart, trying
to frown. “You are getting too old, Nellie, for saying things you
ought to be ashamed of. Now go and get ready.”

“I am half Otto’s age,” replied the girl, rising.

“That may be. But an _ingénue_ should die at nineteen. We women,
my dear, are inverted butterflies, and marriage is our chrysalis,
as your future mother-in-law said the other night. I can’t
imagine where she gets her sayings from, I suppose she reads them
somewhere. But neither she nor I would like to see a Baroness van
Helmont who was _ingénue_.”

Helena paused in the doorway. “Would you like me,” she asked, “some
day, to be Baroness van Helmont?”

“My dear, you might be a worse thing. Personally, if you ask me, I
should certainly prefer Otto, little as I know of him, to Gerard.
Of Gerard I should say, ‘Pour le badinage, bon. Pour le mariage,
non.’ And then, Otto is the better match, the future Baron. You two
could restore, together, the glories of the Horst.”

Helena had stood listening, thoughtfully. Thought did not suit her
soft-featured, facile face.

“But you must do what you like, and decide for yourself,” added her
aunt, “as, with your character, you certainly will.”

“I thought I was so yielding,” protested Helena.

“You are, my dear, except when you care.”

“Then it’s you that have spoiled me,” answered Helena, tripping off.

The Baroness looked after her. “Dear girl,” she said to herself.
“It will end in her marrying Gerard, I fancy. The book-writers may
say what they like, but the woman who can, always marries for love.”

A few minutes later her husband came in. “My dear,” he said, “some
of my papers are missing. I wish you would tell Mary to mind what
she’s about.”

“Yes, my dear,” she replied, without looking up. Some of his papers
were always missing. He always grumbled. It had come with his
appointment to the high government post. For the first month or two
she had fretted; then she had understood that it was part of his
new importance, and she had returned to her old comfortable life.
“Both the Helmonts are coming to lunch,” she said, “and one or two
other people.”

“I don’t care who’s coming to lunch. I wish you minded more about
my papers. They’re of very particular moment.”

“I do mind. I shall tell some one to find them at once on your
table, for I’ve no doubt that they’re there. Mademoiselle”--this
in French to a swarthy little lady who came gliding in--“would
you mind looking for some papers Monsieur has left on his
table--official papers--a dirty yellow, you know.”

“But how on earth”--began the state functionary.

“Oh, she’ll find them. She knows what your papers are like. How do
you do, Georgette? Where is Willie?”

“On the stairs, I believe,” replied the young lady thus addressed,
“flirting with the Freule van Weylert.”

“We should all have said ‘of course,’ Freule,” declared Gerard’s
voice behind her, “had you omitted the name of the lady. Even
Willie could not teach the Freule van Weylert to flirt.”

Otto was bowing silently beside his brother, with a specially deep
bow for Mademoiselle Papotier, Helena’s quondam governess, who had
returned, bearing the lost papers, to be welcomed by their owner
with a grunt. As a rule, nobody but Helena took any notice of
Mademoiselle Papotier.

They all went in to luncheon, a medley of exceptionally noisy and
exceptionally silent elements. The old Baron took his seat at the
head of the table, and immediately fixed his keen eyes on his food.
Opposite him sat the French lady, coquettish in movements and
apparel, pouring out coffee, of which no one partook. The mistress
of the house strove vainly to converse with her niece Van Weylert,
an angular and awkward young girl, or to draw out her other
neighbor, Otto, who sat with his attention glumly concentrated
on the fair object of his visit. The rest of the company were
uproariously merry, led on by Gerard and his pink brother-officer,
young Willie van Troyen.

Otto was wondering whatever had induced him to come. Yet, at the
bottom of his heart, he knew very well. It was not so much his
mother’s affectionate expostulation as the thought, ever present
within him, never expressed: What will become of the Horst when my
father dies? What, indeed? He had never loved the old home as he
loved it since his return.

“You are coming to my dance to-morrow, I hope, Mynheer van
Helmont?” said his hostess. He awoke as from a reverie. “Oh yes,”
he said, “I hope so. I intend to stay at Drum for a day or two.” He
was still watching his cousin; the Baroness followed his gaze, and
then their eyes met.

A shout of laughter went up from the opposite side of the table.
The old Baron lifted his brows.

“In my time,” he said to the shaking mass of pink muslin beside
him, “we weren’t half as funny as you young people seem to be.”

“Weren’t you?” retorted Georgette van Troyen. “How slow you must
have been! Too bad, not even to have had a good time in your youth!
But isn’t this too amusing, this story that Willie is telling?”

The Baron returned hastily to his omelet.

“Isn’t it too amusing?” cried the young girl, appealing to Otto.

“I haven’t heard it,” said the latter; at which they all roared
again. Willie was in high spirits, though Gerard was endeavoring to
arrest his narration.

“Do shut up, Troy; we’ve had quite enough of it,” growled Gerard.

“No, indeed, I am mistress here!” cried Helena, her eyes sparkling
with merriment. “Go on, Mynheer van Troyen; you and the Captain had
agreed on the wager. And you answered the advertisements; and what
happened then? The advertisements,” she called across to Otto in
explanation, “were from young ladies in search of a husband.”

“From ladies,” corrected the little officer, who looked like
a bibulous cherub. “Well, we got replies to our letters,
and we wrote again, arranging a meeting. We convened all the
aspirants--there were four of them--at the same spot, and, of
course, the same hour, and we bade them dress up in red shawls and
white feathers. And when we drove past, taking Gerard and another
man as umpires, there they were, the whole four of them; I think
there were even more!”

Renewed shrieks of laughter greeted the final sally.

“It’s too killing!” cried Helena, the tears on her cheeks. “And
what were they doing? Tearing each other’s eyes out?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t wait to see. They were making a great
noise, screaming at each other. I had won my champagne, and I went
and drank it. I always knew these advertisements were perfectly
genuine.”

“But the letters,” interposed Georgette. “You must show Helena the
letters, Willie.”

“No, no, he mustn’t,” cried Gerard, energetically. “I’m sick of the
whole business. Do let’s talk of something else.”

“But I’m not,” protested Helena. “It’s new to me. How selfish you
are, Gerard. Don’t you think it’s awfully amusing, Otto? I’m sure
you want to hear more.”

“I only want to hear one thing,” said Otto, gravely, bending
forward, “and that is what Mynheer van Troyen is going to do with
those letters?”

“Why, keep them, of course,” replied Willie.

“It is no business of mine, Mynheer; I have not the honor, like
my brother, of being your friend. But if I were umpire, I should
insist on those letters being given up and burned.”

“I suppose you don’t approve of the whole joke?” cried Gerard,
hotly, forcing back his own better misgivings, swift in defence of
his chum.

“It is not my province to express an opinion. Certainly not here.
It is not a thing I should have done myself.”

“And the girls who advertised?” continued Gerard. “We only answered
advertisements. What of them?”

“Poor things!” said Otto, softly.

“What nonsense!” exclaimed Helena. “I think it’s great fun; and
for the girls, too. I should like to try the plan. Some day we must
do it, Georgette. It’s a capital way of getting a husband. What
freedom it leaves in the choice!”

“Surely you are not restricted, Freule,” said Willie. “You have but
to fling your handkerchief wheresoever you will.”

“Oh, but I am restricted,” she replied; “for instance, I could
never marry you.”

“Alas, I am sure of it,” he answered; “but why not?”

“Imagine what a combination! Helen of Troy![F] Who could live up to
such an appellation?”

“You could,” he replied, fatuously. But she was not listening to
him; she was looking across the table at Otto. “What a reputation!”
she said. “Who could live up to it? But why was she called Hélène
de Trois? There was Menelaus”--she counted on her fingers--“and
Paris. But I forget who the third lover was.”

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening Otto appeared again in the drawing-room at the
Manor-house. His mother gave a cry of surprise. For a moment her
heart stood still.

“I don’t care for Helena Trossart,” said Otto. “Her conversation is
a perpetual dance on the tight-rope of propriety.”

“My dear boy,” replied his father, “how natural! Consider the
continuous pleasure of keeping your balance.”

“Well,” said Otto, “it seems to me she came some very positive
croppers. However, I’m no judge.”

He left the room; his mother ran after him.

“You haven’t asked her, Otto?” she gasped. “She hasn’t rejected
you?”

“Oh no,” he said, and shut the door.

FOOTNOTES:

[E] Title for unmarried sons of noblemen, pronounced “Yonker.”

[F] Literally, in the Dutch.



CHAPTER X

AN INDELIBLE STAIN


The next day dawned for Ursula in unclouded brightness. Those few
of us who remember a youth no longer ours will forgive her the
excess of an expectancy she was unable to curb by experience. She
was going to an entertainment at one of the great houses of Drum.
She had never been to anything so magnificent before. And Gerard,
whom she had known all her life, was to be there to make things
smooth for her. A slight difficulty about a chaperon had been most
pleasantly removed. The Freule van Trossart had on the preceding
afternoon left a card for Juffrouw Rovers, with a note saying
that if she cared to come and dine before the party, she could be
present at it afterwards as a house guest, under the Baroness’s
wing. Ursula had accepted gladly, by no means impervious to so
much condescension, and, altogether, she felt very well satisfied
indeed. The night before she had written a glorious letter to her
father; she had said nothing of her aunt’s ill health.

At 9 A.M. there was tranquil jubilation, at 10
A.M. there was sudden dismay. “I can’t wear it like this,”
Ursula was saying to Harriet, with whom she had come to terms on
a basis of mutual oblivion. She sat on the floor, a brown heap of
perplexity. Her simple evening dress lay on the bed, with a round
stain, as of grease, distressingly displayed upon its breast. It
was a frock of crushed-strawberry crepon, with ripe-strawberry silk
ribbons.

“No, you can’t,” asserted Harriet, full of interest and sympathy.
Harriet was in her element. “You must manage to get some more of
that crimson lace for the front. How can it have happened, Ursula?
Something must have oozed out in your trunk.”

“But colored lace is so difficult to match,” wailed Ursula.

“So it is. Never mind. We must try.” And the two girls sallied
forth on that most hopeless of errands, the only form of shopping
no woman enjoys, “the matching” of colors. In every shop they
entered their little scrap was held up against an incongruous
variety of tints, and they were informed by the assistant that it
was “exactly the shade.” One especially truthful person qualified
her recommendation of a moderate scarlet by the statement that
“really it was as near as you could get.” But all, without
exception, were pertly offended when the girls crept hopelessly,
though resolutely, away.

“It’s no use,” said Harriet at last, as they retraced their steps.
But even while she spoke a sudden inspiration struck her. “Do you
know what you’ll have to do, Ursula? It’s V-shaped now; well,
you’ll have to make it into a low-neck.”

“Oh, I don’t like that,” cried the pastor’s daughter, reddening.

“There’s no choice left to you. How stupid of me not to think of it
before. It’ll look much nicer, too.”

“But supposing we matched the ribbons?” suggested Ursula, holding
out.

“You never could in this primitive place. They’re a very peculiar
color. Besides, if you covered up all that space with ribbon, you’d
look like a prize cow. No, the top’ll have to come off, and we must
see about a dress-maker at once. There’s no time to lose.”

They turned down a by-street.

“Let us cross to the square,” said Harriet. “It’s no use taking the
little woman that works for me; we must get the best help we can.”

A few moments later they entered--not without a feeling of awe,
especially on Harriet’s part--the largest establishment of its kind
in Drum.

“Call Miss Adeline,” said the smart personage who had listened to
their piteous tale. “We don’t usually alter garments not made by
ourselves. Still--”

Both of the girls gave a sudden gasp, for in the person of Miss
Adeline, who came forward at this moment from far-back recesses,
both simultaneously recognized the fair little maiden of the tryst.

“Mynheer Mopius, Villa Blanda,” said the black-silk manager. “Very
well. Perhaps Miss Adeline had better accompany you at once. There
certainly is no time to be lost.”

With feelings utterly indescribable the three walked off together.

A few moments later, Harriet having fled, Ursula sat helping the
dress-maker in the oppressive silence of the “second best spare
room.” The click of the scissors was becoming insupportable. Even
the occasional rustle of the pendent frock seemed a relief.

“I think we have met before,” said Ursula, at last, very gently.

“Really, Juffrouw? A great many ladies come to our place,” replied
the girl, bending over her work.

For a moment Ursula felt nonplussed, but her pity rose paramount.

“You know what I mean,” she said, rather sternly. And then she went
on to talk about the folly and wickedness of female initiative in
matters matrimonial, and her little lecture broadened into its
third well-rounded sentence--

“And you,” burst in the girl, fiercely, “a rich young lady in a
fine house, well looked after. You!”

So Ursula had to incriminate her absent friend, lest her moral
go awry. She found a politely incredulous listener, and began to
realize that, with her, it was a case of “caught together, hung
together,” as the Germans say. If only Gerard had not observed her!

“I can assure you,” she said, continuing her homily, though rather
disconcerted by the sudden change of front, “that I should never
lift a finger to get married for the sake of being married. Every
woman may rejoice if God sends her an honest lover and enables her
to love that lover. But merely to be able to say ‘I am somebody’s
wife!’ I cannot understand any woman wanting that”--this under the
stress of her own inculpation--“I cannot understand what for.”

She opened her big dark eyes, and looked innocently interrogative.

“Can’t you, Juffrouw?” said the kneeling dress-maker, taking the
pins from between her lips. “Well, I can. There’s reasons would
make a girl willing to be _any_ man’s wife as long as she was only
married. And one of them’s mine.” She spoke bitterly, and shut her
lips with a snap, as she rose from fitting on the frock.

Suddenly Ursula understood.

She was not given to emotion, still less to showing it; perhaps
her nerves had been wrought on by the previous strain; now, quite
unexpectedly to herself, she burst into tears.

The girl quivered, stared, and, sinking on to a cane-bottomed
chair, began crying too, but in a soft, self-pitying way, while
speaking all the time.

“You think me a bad, wicked creature,” she sobbed, “but I’m not,
I’m not. I didn’t know, and he promised to marry me. There was
never any doubt of his marrying me. I’m not as bad as you think,
and I was certain he loved me. And I was desperate, and I put in
the advertisement. I wish I were married or dead.” She stopped
crying for a moment. “When the time comes,” she said, earnestly, “I
shall be one or the other.” And then she fell to sobbing afresh.

Ursula had dried her eyes.

“My dear,” she said, “if he promised to marry you, perhaps he will.”

“Oh no, he won’t. I know now, and understand things different. He’s
a gentleman. He’d marry me if he was not.”

“For I’m sure he loved me,” she added, softly.

Ursula was trembling from head to foot. Shielded and sheltered
through all her simple girlhood, she had never come into contact,
whether by actual experience or in literature, with any such vision
of shame as this. She compared her own happy, unshadowed life with
the struggle of the girl before her. And, full of compassion, she
thanked God for the difference. For, to the very backbone which
held her erect, she was womanly and pure.

She had forgotten all about the pressing needs of her toilet, but
the dress-maker had not. Adeline caught up the frock, and began
silently, sullenly sewing.

“If I could but do anything for you,” said Ursula, meditatively.

“You can’t. Only don’t gibe at me. Gibe at the men of your own
class. This one, they tell me, is going to be married. I dare say
_you’d_ marry him if you could.”

“Never! never!” said Ursula, with quiet passion.

“Well, I don’t care whom he marries. It won’t be me. I’ll tell
you how I know for certain. You seem to be good, you do, and you
mean well. It’s not me alone he’s ruined. Do you know”--she laid
down her work on her lap--“I believe it was he who brought us all
together the other night. I believe he is Romeo de Lieven.”

“But why?” asked Ursula, incredulously. “Certainly, the young lady
down-stairs--”

“Oh, don’t tell me, Juffrouw. We all deny. Women always do. But you
remember a carriage passing along the road? There were officers in
it. It flashed across me at once that they had come to see their
handiwork. And he was driving.”

The room swam round before Ursula’s eyes. She closed them hastily,
and leaned back in her easy-chair. She could think of nothing
distinctly; but she could hear the clock ticking solemnly on. She
longed for some one to stop it. As for herself, she knew that she
was incapable of moving, body or soul. In a lightning flash she had
realized two facts undreamed before--the first, that she was very
fond of Gerard van Helmont; the second, that she scorned him forth
from her heart forever.

When at last she opened her eyes she saw the other girl intently
watching her. There was a quiet sneer in the dress-maker’s gaze
before which Ursula shrank affrighted. She understood immediately
how her elaborate self-exoneration had crumbled away. This creature
had perceived that Gerard was personally known to her. In the
wretched girl’s estimation she was doubtless one rival out of many.
She shuddered.

“Yes,” said Mademoiselle Adeline, “we all deny. I think, Miss,
if you left me to myself, I could finish this dress a great deal
better.”

Ursula dragged herself together and crept from the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

While this uncomfortable interview was in progress, the chief
subject of its interest was complacently installed among the
thousand elegances of his cousin’s sitting-room, on a low stool
almost at her feet. He looked a little more extensively red than
usual, and his blue eyes were restless; but otherwise he showed
no signs of trepidation. Yet he had resolved that this day should
decide his fate. His mother’s by-play about Otto was becoming a
nuisance.

That morning he had risen, after tranquil sleep, and carelessly
studied himself in the glass. Of course, he was good-looking--very
good-looking. Experience had taught him that quite as much as
ocular demonstration. It was the perfect grace of his gracelessness
which made women adore him.

He had eaten a hearty breakfast as usual, but he had drunk two more
cups of tea and a glass of brandy. That is a man’s way of realizing
that the crisis has come.

“My dear Gerard,” said Helena, “you are dull, while the rest of the
family are flurried. People talk about the day after the festival;
_my_ ‘Katzenjammers’ come ten hours before. I shall ring for
Mademoiselle Papotier; she always amuses me.”

“Do,” said Gerard, surlily, glad of any postponement.

“That is charming. You could not have said that ‘do’ more naturally
had we been husband and wife. Do I bore you? Then amuse yourself
elsewhere. But don’t even expect me to ring the bell.” She jumped
up lightly as she spoke and ran past him to the bell-pull.

“I don’t like Mademoiselle Papotier,” said Gerard. “She has taught
you a number of things you needn’t have known. If you read books
like that”--he pointed to _Une Vie_ upon the table--“it’s her
doing. I wish you wouldn’t, Helena. Men don’t like it.”

She came back to her seat: “Oh, but that is still more charming,”
she said, “especially from your lips. You would have me restrict
my reading so that I might the better enjoy your conversation. I
won’t hear a word against my dear Papotier. She brightened my youth
with eighteenth-century romances, and she cheers my old age by
nineteenth-century novels. She is a dear.”

Undeniably, the heiress’s education had been a peculiar one. Her
governess’s tissue-paper rosette of a soul had never given forth
more natural odors than patchouly. The Baroness van Trossart could
have told you how, when Helena was an eight-year-old little girl,
she had come upon the child slapping her ball up and down in the
court-yard, and occasionally muttering the same words over and over
again.

“What on earth are you saying, my dear?” the Baroness had inquired.

And Helena had looked up with sparkling eyes: “And his beautiful
head,” she had spouted, without stopping her ball-bumping, “went
bounding three times across the marble, while repeating three times
the sweet name of ‘Zaïre’! Isn’t it lovely? He was dead, you know;
they had just cut it off.” And she had run away.

The Baroness had shaken her head. “It sounds like Scudéry,” she
had said. But she was comfortable. She was not going to object to
Mademoiselle Papotier.

“I shall read what I like,” repeated the heiress, provokingly.
“And when I am married, I shall go to what plays I choose. I like
impropriety on paper. Paper or boards. And so do you, Gerard, et
plus que çà. You, of all people! I believe you are laughing at me.”

“No, by thunder, I’m not,” he cried, violently. “I don’t pretend to
be a saint--far from it; but there’s not a lover in the world would
like to remember that the girl he’s engaged to has read Maupassant.”

She looked at him for a moment with that sweet mixture of mocking
tenderness which a man’s eyes can never assume; then she said to
her maid, who had answered the bell,

“No, thank you; I want nothing. I rang by mistake.”

“But you are not”--she began, and checked herself. “So Otto is
coming to my party to-night,” she said.

She enjoyed his responsive scowl.

“No, Otto is not coming,” he answered. “His Highness has gone off
in a huff. About that hoax of Willie’s, I imagine, but his huffs
are not easy to classify. Mind you, I don’t defend the trick. I
think it was rather a low thing to do.”

“To Van Troyen it merely represented so much champagne,” she
replied. “I like Otto; he is eminently estimable and--and worthy.
He, at least, would never have told me not to read Maupassant.”

“No,” sneered Gerard, “he would never have heard of him.”

“Just so. There is nothing more delightful than a husband who is
absolutely ignorant of everything. With him, at least, one runs a
chance, even in this age, of unreasoning jealousy. And unreasoning
jealousy must be delightful. Like mustard. What is the use of a man
who keeps saying, ‘The vices are my share; the virtues are yours.
And each of us has got what he ought to have’? Gerard, rather than
a husband who said to me, ‘Of course, I am faithless; let us talk
of something else,’ I would have a husband who said, ‘You are
faithless. I am going to kill you,’ and did it.”

“It could only be done once,” replied Gerard, languidly. “My dear
child, you have been to Verdi’s ‘Othello.’ Evidently you want to be
worshipped not wisely but too well. I don’t think Otto would tell
you that you are faithless. I fancy you’d have to jog him a bit.”

“Otto! I wasn’t thinking of Otto. I believe you are jealous of
Otto.”

“Yes, I am. I’ll tell you why, if you like, immediately. I have a
note here from my mother, received this morning; shall I read it to
you?”

“If it concerns me,” she said, negligently.

“It concerns you very nearly. My mother tells me to ask whether you
would care to come down to the house with me to-morrow, and stay
for a few days. You understand what that means, Helen, as well as I
do!”

“Yes, I understand,” she answered, and with a sudden impulse she
caught up the “Maupassant” at her elbow and flung it into a corner
of the room.

“So that, knowing the comedy you are expected to take part in, you
can foresee and forego the conclusion. I should say, if it is to be
only farce, why act it at all?”

She popped out the tips of her little feet and looked down at them.

“The best way to avoid all complications,” he went on, “would be to
arrive at the Manor-house--engaged.”

She lifted her eyes from the ground and fixed them steadily on his
face.

“Let me telegraph to my mother that you are coming engaged.” His
voice broke down.

“But how will you know?” she asked, laughing.

“Let me know _first_.” He bent forward. “Oh, my darling, my
beauty.” He caught her two hands, and, like the passionate young
fool he was, covered them with kisses. “My darling, how happy they
will all be at home.”

Even at that moment the naïve selfishness of this last exclamation
amused her. She said nothing, however, prolonging the sweetest
silence a woman ever knows.

“Gerard,” she said, some minutes later, looking up at him as he
bent over her. “You have forgotten that the girl you are engaged to
has read Maupassant.”

“Yes,” he answered, “I have forgotten. I shall never remember.”

He went back to his rooms to dress for dinner, highly delighted.
He was very much attached to his cousin. And she was the greatest
heiress in the province.



CHAPTER XI

ONE HOUR OF HAPPINESS


Ursula descended from a cab in the full light of the early summer
evening, and hurried away into the Van Trossarts’ gloomy hall.
Her shoulders blushed as the footman took her wrap. It felt like
undressing.

“Juffrouw Rovers,” said the Baroness, beaming like a crimson sun,
“I am glad you have come. My niece is--is occupied. Take off your
gloves, my dear, and help me to arrange these flowers.”

Ursula had looked round in terror for Gerard. She must dine with
him _en famille_, perhaps sit next to him. There was no help for
it. Yet she trembled to think of him. To her simple maidenhood,
familiar with sermons on sin in the abstract, he was a sudden
incarnation of infamy.

The Baroness buzzed and bubbled over her flower-trays, her fat arms
all dimples, her fat cheeks all smiles. She chattered about this
evening’s party, which was Helena’s party--“as if anybody in Drum
would give a dance in July!”--but Helena was so gay she could never
sit still for an hour: a nice dance she would lead her husband if
only the husband himself was addicted to pleasure. Well, old people
were apt to get dull. No wonder Helena fared farther in search of
diversion. And she laughed to herself, and winked to herself (a
difficult, but by no means impossible, proceeding) while talking
to Ursula in the pragmatical cackle with which hens of all ages
surround a new-laid matrimonial egg.

Ursula, who was barely acquainted with the Freule van Trossart,
could only display a perfunctory interest in that young lady’s
possible prospects. Harriet had told her that, according to rumor,
the Freule was “as good as engaged” to a young politician.

“It is a living romance,” the Freule’s clear voice was heard saying
on the landing, “and a thousand times more amusing, ma vieille,
than all your dressed-up dead ones together.”

She came into the room with her arm through that of her shrivelled
governess, Gerard bringing up the rear. The little Frenchwoman
looked depressed as she slid away into a corner. The fat Baroness
rustled across to her in a perfect crackle of crimson. “My dear
Papotier, is it not delightful?” she said, with tears in her eyes.

“Mon Dieu, madame, yes,” replied the governess, “it is the first
chapter.” And, to herself, she added, “For me it is the last.”

Ursula shook hands with Gerard, but a thick curtain had fallen
between them; she was surprised by the aloofness of his manner,
even while she herself stiffened to a cold “good-day.”

How contented and complacent he looked! She watched him as he sat
opposite her at table, between the Baroness and the Freule. How
prosperous and pleasing! Yes, truly, there was a law for the humble
and a license for the high! It was a gloriously simple thing to be
born to impurity, like the old Greek gods. What nonsense her good
father went preaching about “sin”! The world knew no such thing. It
knew only a small hub of pleasure reserved for the rich, and a wide
zone all round it of hunger and crime. She felt very bitter; she
glanced down with a sensation of physical disgust on the fingers
which had touched his, unwilling to break her bread with them.

Her French was rusty, and out of repair; she did not feel up
to much conversation with the prim little portrait of the past
on her right; the master of the house, on her other side, was
sufficiently, but not amply, polite. There is no human insolence
such as that indifferent politeness which barely fits--like a glove
one size too small.

There were only the six of them; but the fascinating little heiress
was a host in herself. Ursula had heard much of her vivacity; she
concluded, notwithstanding, that the prospect of the evening’s
pleasure must be abnormally augmenting it. Lovely the girl
undeniably was, frail, and golden-haired, in a cloud of white over
blue, like the sky, and a treble row of pearls. Ursula’s grave
brown face looked very quiet compared with the other’s delicate,
clear-veined features; you might have said a Madonna of the
Annunciation, and an immature Venus Anadyomene.

“Ursula,” thought Gerard, “is just a nice-looking rustic.” As for
him, she wondered how he dared to sit beside, and speak to, this
white-robed virgin. It seemed as if toads must drop from his full
red lips. Well, it was no business of hers. And perhaps--perhaps
she was wronging him all the time, this good-natured friend of her
childhood! Perhaps he intended to marry Mademoiselle Adeline, if
only his parents would let him. He was waiting, perhaps, for an
opportunity--who knows?--perhaps--

The thought gave her great comfort. Of the truth of the story she
could not harbor a doubt, for the girl before leaving had shown her
a photograph, worn by a ribbon round the neck.

She noticed that the atmosphere seemed full of a ripple of
merriment: asides, which courtesy only kept just above whispers,
innuendos, sudden glances, _mots à double entente_. She felt even
more awkward than she would have done under ordinary circumstances.
And soon she felt exceedingly miserable. Perhaps her kind-hearted
hostess noticed it.

“Helena, we must drink to your health,” cried the Baroness, her
ample bosom swelling under its laces, like a crested wave. “Yes,
my dear Gerard, you needn’t look at me like that; see how your
neighbor is laughing. As Juffrouw Rovers does us the favor of
dining here to-day, she will increase that favor, I feel certain,
by keeping a secret--an absolute secret--for forty-eight hours.
I cannot let this meal pass as if nothing had happened. You must
know, Juffrouw Rovers, that it is my dear niece’s birthday--her
first birthday into a new life. In other words, she is engaged to
her cousin Gerard, who is an old friend of yours, so I need not
praise him. And we are going to drink their healths, and wish them
long life and prosperity.”

Afterwards Ursula had a faint recollection of having spilled some
champagne on the table-cloth. For the moment her whole strength was
concentrated in a wild prayer for outward calm. These people would
imagine she cared for Gerard. It was not that--my God, not that!

Fortunately the others were busy lifting their glasses; all during
dinner Gerard had scarcely looked her way. She stared round the
table in a dazed manner. She felt sick.

“The strawberries are not good this year,” she heard Baron
Trossart’s grumpy voice saying. “I am not surprised Miss Rovers
doesn’t care to eat them.” She hastily returned to her dessert.
“No, I must beg of you. Joris, bring this lady a clean plate.”

It was the strawberries, then, that interested her? So much the
better.

“How I envy your father, Gerard,” continued the Baron. “It is
two years now since we have been at Trossartshage. The fruit
cannot bear the transport; we have tried both water and rail.
But the cares of state, you know, the cares of state! A man
sacrifices himself for his country, and his country repays him with
ingratitude.”

This last sentence was an allusion to a recent article in a
small paper which reproached the authorities--in this case Baron
Trossart--with not having cleared out a canal before the warm
weather came. Nobody ever complained of the ceaseless flow of
nephews and brothers-in-law. That, as we all know, is a part of the
constitution. Were it not so, the “eminent politician” would be a
thing of the past.

“Papa,” interrupted Helena, wilfully, “please don’t be gloomy. I’m
engaged.”

“Well, there’s cause enough for gloom in that,” he replied. “I’m as
jealous of Gerard as”--he looked round--“as Mademoiselle Papotier.”

“Ah! do not speak of it to me!” cried the Frenchwoman. “I could
slaughter Monsieur Gerard if I met him in war.”

“That’s the last place where you’ll meet me,” exclaimed Gerard,
laughing. Helena had suddenly blanched.

“War!” she said. “How horrible! No, we will have no fighting.
Juffrouw Rovers, would you have the courage to marry a soldier?”

Across Ursula’s brain flashed a vision of a dog-cart filled with
uproarious malevolence.

“No, I should not like to marry an officer,” she replied.

Her words--perhaps, still more, her unconscious manner--seemed to
sting Gerard. He flushed.

“Juffrouw Rovers is never particularly brave,” he said. “She is too
soft-hearted. The last time I saw her, she was showing the _white
feather_, as now.”

The words were a challenge. And, unconsciously, his manner betrayed
as much; it was too significant.

Helena looked from one to the other: “What is it?” she asked. “What
does it mean, Juffrouw Rovers? Gerard, what is the joke?”

“Joke? None. Ask Juffrouw Rovers.”

“So I have, but she doesn’t tell me.”

“Then you may be sure it is a little secret between Ursula and me,
which _I_ shall keep. I am not responsible for what she may do.”

She had the good taste not to press the subject, but she reverted
to it as soon as she found herself alone with her lover.

“Gerard, what is this silly secret between you and Miss Rovers?”

“My dear child, how inquisitive you are! I thought you liked
secrets.”

“Yes, when one is in them. I told you I should be jealous.”

“Of Ursula! How ridiculous! Utterly absurd! Ursula!”

“Well, I dare say I shall often be absurd. At any rate, Gerard, you
would please me by not calling her ‘Ursula.’ She is not a relation
of yours.”

“But I have known her all my life. I used to drag her in a go-cart.”

“I know. And it seems to me you behave very strangely for people
who have always been intimate. You seem suddenly afraid of each
other since this afternoon.”

“I am afraid of--that is, bored by--every girl but one since
this afternoon. I am exceedingly bored by the prospect before me
to-night. Don’t let’s spoil the one hour of happiness left us.”

“The one hour! How tragic that sounds!” she laughed.

“To-morrow we will go down to the Manor-house; there will be more
hours there in the moonlight on the terrace. Say again that you
love me, Nellie.”

“Yes, I love you,” she replied; and her voice was some soul-voice,
quite different from her usual high-pitched tones. “I have loved
you for a long time,” she added; and then, suddenly, with the old
every-day ring: “There, I had made up my mind not to tell you that
before our golden wedding. Papotier says a girl should never tell
it at all, because the confession is ill-advised; and mamma says
she certainly shouldn’t, because the feeling, if there, was a thing
to be ashamed of.”

“Ashamed of love? But, my dearest?”

“No, I should never be ashamed of loving any one. Not even a
footman.”

“Thank you,” _sotto voce_, from Gerard.

“We must bear the consequences of our virtues. I can’t understand
any one’s being ashamed of ‘love.’ Can you?”

“I can’t understand any man’s keeping quiet his love for you. I
want to shout out mine on the house-tops! Now that Ursula knows--I
mean Juffrouw Rovers--why not proclaim the engagement to-night?”

“And your mother?”

So they whiled away the time on the veranda, looking down into the
garden, where a large marquee had been put up for the dancers,
with a music-tent and strings of Chinese lanterns. Meanwhile the
Baroness lay back dozing in little audible gasps, and Ursula sat
looking at photographs of Italy with Mademoiselle Papotier, who had
forgotten all the names.

“Yes, that is Pavia,” said Mademoiselle Papotier. “Or perhaps it’s
Pisa. I think it must be Pisa, because of the crooked tower.”

“Oh, that’s only the photograph,” replied Ursula, listlessly; “the
angle’s wrong.”

“Do you think so? Look at the turtle-doves billing and cooing.
Isn’t it sweet?”

Mademoiselle nodded towards the veranda, with keen scrutiny of her
companion’s face. Ursula blushed again, that terrible tell-tale
blush.

“And this place with all the boats,” she said, “I suppose is
Venice?”

The guests began to arrive, and Mevrouw van Trossart pushed her cap
across from the right to the left. It was quite a young people’s
entertainment, more or less impromptu, and Ursula, already so
greatly distressed by her toilet, noticed that many of the girls
were more simply dressed than she. The acuteness of annoyance about
this deadened, for a time, the sick anxiety at her heart.

She went out into the garden; she had fancied the fête would mean
music and refreshments and fireworks; she now suddenly saw that the
marquee was prepared for dancing. There had been no intimation,
that she knew, on her card. She had never learned the art.

“May I have the first valse?” asked Willie van Troyen, who had just
been introduced, for that purpose, by the Baroness.

“I don’t dance,” she said, pulling at her gloves. “I didn’t know
people were going to.”

“They often do,” said Willie, “don’t they, at a dance?” He laughed
heartily; he thought that was rather witty. And he betook himself
to some one else.

So Ursula sat in a corner of the tent, or out on a bench, and was a
bore.

The Baroness “made” talk with her from time to time in laborious
sentences, and one or two other elderly people tried the same
experiment. All the time, as she sat there disconsolate, one
question was burning at her brain: How must I act regarding Gerard?
Must I save this innocent girl or must I not? Sometimes the girl
was Adeline, more often Helena, but the question remained the same.

“And this is your first party?” said a good-natured man. “I don’t
think you seem to be enjoying yourself.”

“Oh, don’t let Mevrouw hear you say that!” she cried, in alarm. The
Baroness happened to be passing. Yes, undoubtedly, Ursula was a
drag.

“Come out into the garden,” said Gerard, stopping before her, “it’s
tremendously hot here. I’ve kept this dance free for you; we’ll sit
it out.” She rose and obeyed him.

Helena came out of the room where her uncle and his cronies were
playing whist, with closed windows, her whole figure was a-sparkle
with happiness. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked of her own
Papotier. “The weather is perfect, the garden is perfect, the music
is perfect. I don’t think we ever had such a pleasant party before.”

“It is your own joy, _ma chérie_,” said the governess, drawing her
pupil to the dark staircase window, where she, Mademoiselle, stood
watching the dancers. She pointed to a corner, half-hidden by a
willow, in which Gerard and Ursula could be dimly descried. “That
is the prologue, my child, to your romance,” she said. “Make haste
to get on to the story.”

“Mademoiselle!”

“Hush! I watched her at dinner, when Madame the Baroness spoke.
I have watched them since. It is nothing, my dear; it is even
delightful--a compliment. But your lover must put a full-stop to
the prologue. Perhaps he is doing it now. Creep behind, if you
will, and hear what they say.”

“No, indeed!” cried the young Freule, with warmth.

A little later Ursula was again alone on the garden seat. She had
exchanged but a few distressful sentences with Gerard. He had
reproached her with behavior he hardly cared or dared to analyze,
and she had answered hastily, eager to vindicate herself, but still
more firmly resolved to screen Harriet’s reputation. Even while she
was explaining, lamely, she had understood the incredulous smile on
his face. He had come out of the brief conflict as a champion of
female modesty, leaving her helplessly, guiltily crushed.

A white figure glided through the dusk and sank down by her side.
The evening was gentle as velvet, caressingly warm and soft. Over
yonder shone the great yellow glare of the music and the moving
shadows; on all sides gay, ghastly paper lanterns went breaking the
solemn silence of the trees. This spot of Ursula’s choosing was
dark and willow-sheltered, alone beneath the calm blue height of
heaven.

“Juffrouw Rovers,” said the Freule, “what is this joke between
you and Gerard? You see, I am curious. You must forgive a spoiled
child. What did he mean about your showing the white feather?”

“Don’t ask me, Freule, please,” replied Ursula, shortly. “For I
can’t tell you.”

“So Gerard says. It must be a very dreadful secret!” This was said
laughingly.

Silence. From the tent came the strains of the “Liebchen Adé”
gallop.

“Great Heaven, it must be a very dreadful secret!” The Freule half
rose from her seat; her voice trembled. She caught Ursula’s arm.

“It can only be,” she said, steadying herself, “that Gerard made
love to you formerly. That is rather like him. I am sorry. It was
wrong. But you have made up your mind to forget him, have you
not? He is so charming; no wonder women love him. Poor child, it
was cruel of us, in our ignorance, to invite you to behold our
happiness.” In a sudden impulse of womanly pity she put an arm
round Ursula’s bare neck.

“It isn’t that,” gasped Ursula. “Don’t, please, say I love Gerard.
Oh, Freule, it’s a great deal worse.”

She hardly knew what she was saying. She covered her face with her
hands.

“A great deal worse!” repeated Helena, drawing away. Ursula started
at the hardness which had come into the Freule’s voice. “That can
only mean”--Helena got up and stood at the farther end of the seat.
“I refuse to say it,” she continued. “I refuse to believe it. You
two are mad.”

The dance-music came faster from the lawn. Ursula, her head bowed
low upon her lap, felt that in her cup of unmerited bitterness not
a drop was left undrunk.

“I want to know the truth,” Helena went on after a moment. “I have
a right to know it to-night. If you still feel any love for Gerard,
do him a good turn now. We are girls together. No one will hear you
but I. Tell me exactly what there is to tell, and I will forgive
him.”

“I have nothing to tell,” murmured Ursula.

The Freule stamped her foot.

“You are ruining his life,” she said. “I will never marry him till
I know how much you have been to each other. What happens after
marriage must be settled after marriage; but what happened before I
will know now.”

“We have never been anything to each other,” whispered Ursula. “Oh,
Freule, have pity, and let me alone!” But even as she spoke her
mood changed. Why should she agonize to save this girl’s selfish
happiness at the cost of her own honor, of an innocent victim’s
peace? She lifted herself up. “Ask no confessions of me,” she said.
“Ask them of your future husband. He is nothing to me. You have no
right to assume that he ever was.”

Even in the shade she saw Helena change color. A long silence
deepened between them. Somebody in another nook not far distant
laughed shrilly. There was a clatter of glasses.

“What happened before I must know,” said Helena, at last. “I will
never marry him until I do.”

“You do not mean that,” said Ursula, but the other took no notice.

“I understand,” she continued, “it is some other woman.” She tossed
up her head. “I knew I wasn’t marrying a saint,” she said. “He
warned me about that himself. But, of course, all you speak of is
past.” Then she broke into sudden passion. “How dare you come and
talk of such things to me?” she cried, advancing on Ursula. “How
dare you do it?”

“But I have talked of nothing!” exclaimed the pastor’s daughter.
“It is you who torment me--”

“I know. Never mind,” said the Freule, interrupting; “tell
me one thing. This girl that you and Gerard are thinking of
was--was--infamous?”

Again the silence which is dissent. The Freule broke into a cry.
Fortunately the music drowned it. The “Liebchen Adé” gallop was
finishing up fast and furious.

“Don’t tell me she was good like--like you and me! Don’t tell me;
I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care. I know how the whole story
runs; it’s in so many novels. All men do such things. And the girl
goes on the stage!”

The music had stopped. The bright dancers were flowing out into the
cooler grounds.

“You needn’t tell me anything,” said the Freule, hurriedly but
quietly. “I have guessed it all. This girl is good and honest, and
she hoped that Gerard would marry her. She hopes so still. _You
hope it._ Of course there is a child--there always is. It is the
stalest form of pathetic _feuilleton_, and, therefore, it comes
true in my life. Good-bye, Juffrouw Rovers.”

She sank down on the seat again and waved away her companion,
hiding her golden head on her arms against the back. It was very
still now in this forgotten corner. Ursula stole off to the house
without taking leave of any one, and, having recovered her cloak,
went out into the desolate street, alone and on foot, amid the
stupefied stares of the domestics.

Several minutes elapsed before Helena lifted her head. She stared
from her bench into the night.

“Why not?” she said, half aloud; “I love him. All women do it.
There was that creature at the church gate, with her brats, when
Henri van Troyen was married.”

She gathered her white laces about her and shivered, as she rose to
walk towards the house. On the stairs, at the same post by her dark
window, like a spy, still stood the French governess.

“Ma vieille,” began Helena, “will you please tell mamma I have gone
to my room with a very bad headache, and want nobody to disturb
me--not even her or yourself.”

“But, my dear--”

“The romance is changing to a tragedy,” said Helena. “Good-night.”



CHAPTER XII

“AN OLD MAID’S LOVE”


“Yes, uncle, I should like to go back to Horstwyk to-day,” Ursula
was saying at breakfast. “I have had a letter from father, and Aunt
Josine seems far from well.”

She had found the letter on her return from last night’s
dissipation. It was a long and affectionate letter, full of praises
of Otto, who came frequently to the Parsonage, enjoying the quiet
strength of the minister’s talk. The letter certainly stated that
Miss Mopius had been laid up with a feverish cold.

“Nonsense, Ursula,” cried Mynheer Mopius loudly. “Of course, Josine
has been ill; it’s her solitary pastime. Why, your visit has hardly
begun.”

“We want to hear all about last night,” interposed Harriet, in her
sleepy tones. “You look quite worn out this morning; you must have
enjoyed yourself immensely.”

“Oh, bother last night,” said Mopius. “We don’t care to know about
the grandees. Were there many of them there?”

“Yes, there were a good many people,” replied Ursula, wearily,
“most of them young. I didn’t enjoy myself so very much, because,
you see, I don’t dance.”

“Was the Governor there, or his wife,” asked Mopius, “or the
Burgomaster? I suppose you saw the Van Troyens?”

“And the Governor’s daughter?” added Harriet. “The pretty girl with
the hazel eyes?”

“I remember a Mr. Van Troyen, an officer,” said Ursula, vaguely.
“Uncle, may I send a telegram for this afternoon. I could always
come back on Monday, you know.”

“Can’t you miss one of your father’s discourses? I should have
thought Sunday was the one day you’d like to stay away. But I don’t
see what you go out into society for, Ursula. At Batavia I danced
with the Governor-General’s lady.”

“Always?” asked Harriet--her invariable question at this stage of
the story.

“No, not always. I remember, just as I led her up, I saw there was
a huge snake coiled round her arm.”

“How dreadful!” said Ursula, stolidly. She had heard the
_dénouement_ on former occasions, but forgotten it.

“A gold snake! Ha!-ha!-ha! Somebody snatched it off a few months
afterwards. A brave man. Ha!-ha!-ha! And your aunt used to dance
too. Do you remember, wife? You were really quite pretty in those
days. We’ll dance to-night,” he added, “and teach Ursula. You
dance, Harriet, don’t you?”

“Oh yes, to any one’s pipes,”[G] replied Harriet.

Nevertheless, it was decided, after some wrangling, that Ursula
should return to Horstwyk, as she wished, for the present. Mynheer
Mopius chose to be offended.

The girl was consumed by a feverish longing to get away out of this
hot-house atmosphere into the pure repose of her country home. All
morning she hid away in her room, afraid to look out on the little
town, over which, to her excited fancy, an ominous thunder-cloud
seemed to hang. What would happen next? How would Helena act? How
Gerard? In her heart she hoped that justice would be done to the
injured shop-girl, and yet dared not measure the result.

Just before luncheon a note was brought her. She sat down before
opening it. Harriet laughed. “With due preparation,” said Harriet.
“What is it? Another invitation to a dance?”

The letter contained only these words written by Helena:

  “Keep my secret: I would have kept yours.”

They left her no wiser.

“My dear, come into my room for a moment,” said Mevrouw Mopius,
with timid voice. The feeble little creature sniffed nervously.
“Forget what I told you, Ursula,” she went on, as soon as they
were alone. “And remember you are bound by oath. If Mopius ever
hears, it _must_ be through you.” She peered sternly at her niece.

“Yes, dear, I will remember,” replied Ursula. “But you are feeling
better, aunt, are you not? You are not as bad as when I came.”

Mevrouw Mopius smiled. “I shall be better soon,” she said. Then she
went to her particular old-fashioned mahogany “secretary,” and,
after a good deal of fumbling and searching, extracted from one of
many receptacles a small tissue-paper parcel, which she brought
back to Ursula. “This is for you,” she said, thrusting it into
the girl’s hand. “I’ve made it since you came, sitting up in bed
these summer mornings.” Ursula opened the parcel, her aunt watching
meanwhile with a certain pride.

It contained a small square bit of red wool-work, with the
bead-embroidered device, “No cross, no crown,” the two substantives
being presented pictorially.

“I could have taken more time to it,” pleaded Mevrouw Mopius, “but
I had to wait for the daylight: a candle wakes your uncle; and,
once up, I have to work at ‘Laban and Jacob.’ I am exceedingly
anxious to get them ready before”--She stopped. “Good-bye, my
dear,” she said. “I hope you like my work. You might use it under
a lamp, or for the fire-irons, unless you disapprove of that on
account of the words. I don’t think I should.”

       *       *       *       *       *

So Ursula returned very quietly and humbly. There was no
marshalling of porters, and she travelled second class. At the
little market-town station her father met her; together they
trudged the two miles side by side almost silently, for the girl’s
few answers had soon convinced the Dominé that conversation had
become for the moment, what he most detested, an ambuscade.

In the half-light of the calm, cool study, amid the well-known,
stilly sympathetic books, she sat with her two hands in his one, on
a footstool by the faded leather arm-chair, and, lifting those big
brown eyes of hers to his steadfast response, she told him how the
city is full of wickedness incredible, and that Apollyon rules the
world.

He listened to her very quietly, and yet he was greatly shocked.
True, evil had few secrets for him; he had seen more of the world’s
corruption than most men, in the red glare of the Algerian night,
amid the devil’s dance of shrieking drunkenness and bare-breasted
debauch. He had seen too much. He was one of those happy mortals
who always think the world is better than it used to be. “In my
day”--he would begin, and sigh cheerfully--“but we have greatly
improved since then.” It was doubly sad, therefore, to hear that
Gerard, the warrior, despite the weekly bugle-call to resistance,
should have surrendered at discretion to so pitiful a cutthroat
as Lustings. The Dominé had an ineradicable weakness for a brave
soldier. Havelock and Hedley Vicars hung large against his peaceful
wall, and between them a very different hero, Bugeaud.

“Well, my dear,” said the Dominé, while Ursula, having finished,
sat heavy with sorrowful wrath--“Well, my dear, the farther we go
the more we see of the battle-field. I am not sorry you should have
reconnoitred a little. And I rejoice all the more now to think
how mistaken I was about you and Gerard. You must know, my dear,
that at one time, though I never mentioned it to you, I fancied
you might be setting your affections on the Jonker. I spoke of
it unwillingly to your aunt, for I had no other woman to confide
in”--the Dominé’s voice grew reflective--“but she said it was all
stuff and nonsense, at once, and you weren’t such a piece of vanity
as that. Your aunt is not a woman of exceptional discrimination;
still, I am glad to see she was right. It would have been a great
mistake on your part, Ursula, and a cause of much useless regret.”

“I shall never love any man but you,” said Ursula, vehemently.
“They’re all alike. No woman ought to marry.”

The pastor smiled, and passed his hand over her smooth head.

“I hope,” he said, “that you will never know a worthless love. A
hopeless love, even a dead love, these may ennoble man or woman.
But a love of the undeserving can only lure into an _impasse_.”

She smiled confidently.

“No; the Jonker van Helmont is not for such as us, Ursula,”
continued the old man. “So much the better. My child, you will
marry if God pleases and whom he pleases; but I hope it will be in
your own station of life. Not that we must judge any class as such.
There is Otto, for instance. _He_ is not a pleasure-seeker. We have
seen much of him, my dear, in your absence. He most kindly came to
comfort me. He has returned from the Indies as he went, the same
pure lover of all that is good. Even in our day the Almighty leads
some men untainted through the furnace.” And the simple-hearted
pastor launched into praises of his favorite, unwittingly digging
pitfalls on paths as yet untrod.

“And as for most men,” he said, “human nature is still much what
it was in the days of Thucydides. What says Diodorus, the son of
Eucrates, the Athenian? ‘All men are naturally disposed to do
wrong; and no law will ever keep them from it.’ And that was the
historian’s own view; he repeats it some chapters later. As for
women, you remember what he makes Pericles say of _them_. It holds
true, in spite of emancipation. ‘Great is the glory of her who is
least talked of among the men, either for good or for evil.’ You
remember that, Ursula?”

“Yes, indeed, Captain,” said Ursula, into whose whole life this
maxim had been constantly woven.

“You might read the history through once more with the greatest
advantage. No writer that I know will reveal to you more of the
conflict of human passions, excepting, of course, John Bunyan.”

The good pastor did not know many writers. He was not by any means
a literary man.

Miss Mopius sailed into the room unannounced, and interrupted
their quiet conversation. Two little peculiarities of this
lady’s--trifles, light as air--were a source of unending irritation
to her brother-in-law. The one was her tacit refusal to prelude
her invasions of his sanctum, the other was her persistent drawl
of his soldierly name into a sound which was neither French nor
English, nor anything but absurd. The Dominé was a brave man; he
was exceedingly afraid of his dead wife’s sister, not so much on
account of himself as on account of the use to which Diabolus put
her in the great siege of the Dominé’s Mansoul.

By sheer force of will Miss Mopius had taught herself to admit that
she was thirty-two years old, but she would never see forty again.
She was endowed with a sallow complexion, to which she had added
auburn ringlets and rainbow-colored raiment. To describe her as
an entirely imaginary invalid would have been malevolent; nature
had provided her with a tendency to nervous headaches which kindly
fostering had developed into a vocation.

She had come to the widower as a thorn in the flesh. Limp and
listless, absolutely unable to “resist” anything that attracted
her, she devoted herself day and night to the harassing service of
her own caprices. Being not entirely destitute of means, she might
easily have enjoyed her nerves to the full in some boarding-house,
but she knew her duty to her motherless niece.

“I should not stay with _you_, Roderigue,” she was wont to say,
“though Ursula, of course, will not marry for many years yet. When
she does, I shall consider my mission is ended. I should not be
wanted _then_.”

She paused, expectant. But the Dominé never answered, for he held
that, in the spiritual warfare, a falsehood is the easiest and most
cowardly method of running away.

“Ursula, my dear,” began Miss Mopius, in a flow of sugared vinegar,
“I have been suffering the greatest anxiety. I thought you had not
returned. I suppose, however, the train was late.”

Ursula, rising hastily, confessed that the train had been punctual.

“Really! Well, I’m afraid I interrupted you. This conversation must
have been of the greatest importance, or you would hardly have so
entirely forgotten your poor old aunt.” Miss Mopius constantly used
that appellation; of late she had sometimes wondered whether it was
becoming unwise. She spoke in almost continuous italics; these,
however, were mostly independent of sense.

“I suppose your father informed you,” she continued, settling
herself in the Dominé’s chair, “that I have been exceedingly
unwell since you left. Day after day I have dragged myself
down-stairs, so as not to let him sit down to his dinner alone, but
my nights were too terrible to speak of.” She paused, that Ursula
might speak of them.

“I’m so sorry,” said Ursula, without any accent at all.

“Last night, for instance, I was in agony from twelve to three--in
agony. I don’t know what I should have done without my vegetable
electricity. I took it at three, and the pain vanished immediately.”

“Why didn’t you take it at once?” asked Ursula.

“Ursula, you have not the slightest comprehension of medicines.
Fortunate child, it is your lack of experience. Medicines never act
if taken at once.”

The Dominé had basely deserted his own fortress.

“Ursula, my dear,” said Miss Mopius, sitting up with quite unusual
energy, “no wonder my health has suffered. Something very important
has happened since you went away.”

“Really?” asked Ursula, wondering what the maid-of-all-work had
broken.

“Yes, but it’s no use speaking of it to your father. Ursula, Otto
van Helmont comes here every evening. Since you left, mind you.
Now, I ask, what can that mean?”

“He had only four evenings before I left,” replied Ursula, with
some spirit, “one of them was free, and he came.”

“_One_ doesn’t count. That was a formal call,” replied Miss Mopius,
loftily. “I ask, what does it mean? He sits and talks and talks.
Nominally to your father. Ursula, I have watched him; he never
speaks to me.” She sank back in her chair and began to count on her
lanky fingers, without taking further note of her companion. “He
never speaks to me--one. He never looks at me--two. But he brought
me a nosegay--three. He said it was from his mother--four.” She
roused herself from her reverie. “Ursula, my child,” she asked,
“why does he bring me a nosegay, and say it is from his mother?”

“Because it is,” replied Ursula.

Miss Mopius scornfully shook her curls. “Does the Baroness send me
roses in midsummer?” she inquired. “Dear girl, you are too young;
I should have considered that. But there are moments in a woman’s
existence when she craves for the sympathy of her sex. If only my
dear elder sister were alive--she was so much my elder!--to help
me now. Go, dear child, go; at some distant day your own turn will
come, and then you will understand.”

“Yes, aunt,” said Ursula, gladly moving towards the door.

“Stay one instant,” cried the spinster. “Child, are you so eager
to return to your diversions? He is good-looking, Ursula. I have
watched him, as I said. His face is careworn and earnest; he is
no mere beardless boy just dipping into life, but a man who has
swum against the current. He has experience and judgment, and he
_knows_. Ursula, I would not marry a beardless boy.”

“Aunt,” said Ursula, suddenly coming back into the room, “do you
mean to say you want to marry Mynheer Otto van Helmont?”

“Silly child, does a woman say such things? Of course, I know,
Ursula, as well as you do, that he is much older than I am. That is
a matter I must seriously consider before I reply.”

“Do you mean to say he has actually asked you?” cried Ursula,
clasping her hands in wonderment.

“Not directly. Child, how raw you are, and how rawly you put
things. But I have my reasons for believing that he will do so
to-night. That is why I was unwillingly compelled to speak to you
on the subject. Be sure that otherwise I should never have done so.”

“But what have I to do with it?” queried Ursula, stupefied.

“Not to give your consent, you may be sure,” retorted Miss Mopius,
snappishly. “When Otto comes to-night, as he certainly will, I want
you, during ten minutes, to draw off your father. The poor fellow
never gets a chance. He said as much yesterday, in departing. ‘The
Dominé and I have so much to say to each other,’ he remarked, ‘that
I never seem to have an opportunity of chatting with you, Miss
Mopius.’ And with that he gave me a look. Ursula, I believe you
take me for a fool. Do you?”

“Oh no, dear aunt,” exclaimed Ursula, hastily.

“One would say so, if you imagine I suck these things out of my
thumb.[H] I assure you I have very good reason to know what I know.
I am not a chit, like you, to fancy a man is in love because he
looks at me.”

“There, there, go away,” she added. “The whole thing has greatly
exhausted me. I am not strong; that is the worst. But so I shall
honestly tell him.”

“You will accept him,” cried Ursula, preparing to vanish.

“That will depend upon various considerations,” replied Miss
Mopius. “What is it, Drika? Ursula, hold your tongue, and let the
servant pass.”

Ursula turned hastily in the open doorway.

“The Jonker Otto is in the drawing-room,” said the red-cheeked maid.

Miss Mopius turned pale, then red. “Go to him, child,” she said,
pleadingly. “Amuse him till I come. And remember--”

Ursula did not go in to Otto. A sudden shyness was upon her;
besides she felt no desire to meet any member just now of the Van
Helmont family. So the Jonker paced up and down the little parlor
till the Dominé was attracted in to him through the windows.

Juffrouw Josine spent twenty minutes over the secrets of her
toilet. Her poor old heart beat wildly. “He cannot even wait till
the evening,” she thought. “The densest fool would understand.”
When at last she descended, arrayed in her best Sunday green-silk
dress with the poppies, she was surrounded by odors of ess. bouquet
and sal volatile.

She had to pause before the drawing-room door and steady herself.
She entered. There was Otto, a great bunch of apricot-colored roses
in one hand, bending over a map of Java with the Dominé. “That is
my part,” he was saying. “One of the healthiest, I assure you,
Dominé. All the men take their wives out there.”

“Ah!” thought Miss Mopius. She shook hands, and the Jonker rather
awkwardly presented his flowers.

“From my mother,” he stammered, “to welcome Miss Rovers.”

“How kind of you to bring them,” replied Miss Mopius, sitting down
on the sofa and sniffing. “I hope Ursula will be grateful. _I_
consider it most exceedingly kind.”

She squinted across at the Dominé, who still bent over the map.
There was a long wait, and Otto returned to the table.

“Roderigue,” said Miss Mopius, in desperation. “Ursula wants you.
She wants you at once!”

The minister lifted a countenance of mild astonishment.

“Very well,” he said, remembering his daughter’s painful
experiences of the last days, “I’ll be back in a moment, Otto. I
want to ask you about that mission station you were telling me of.”

Otto seated himself near to the lady.

“Miss Rovers, I hear,” said Otto, “has safely returned.”

The lady bowed over her flowers.

“She came back earlier than she had intended,” continued the
Jonker. “I suppose that she felt being away from what is doubtless
a most happy home.”

“I try to make it happy,” murmured Miss Mopius.

“Could you do otherwise?” said Otto, fervently. And he added, in a
tone that was almost sad, “It seems cruel to disturb your trefoil
even for a day.”

And he looked at her meditatively.

Miss Mopius gasped for breath. She muttered something about
“leaving and cleaving.”

Otto stared at her.

“Yes; it’s very hot,” he hazarded. “Shall I open the window?”

Miss Mopius somewhat recovered herself.

“Oh!” she replied, “but not as hot as Java, I suppose? Not nearly
as hot as Java. I should enjoy Java. I like heat. I’m not strong,
Mynheer van Helmont, but the hot weather always does me good. I’m
sure I should feel much better in Java.”

“Yes,” he said, vaguely. “Would you prefer me, then, to shut the
window again?”

“The window? Perhaps it would be better under the circumstances.
The question you asked me just now is so momentous, Mynheer van
Helmont, I do not know how to answer it. Oh, that my dear elder
sister were with me still! She was very much my elder, very much
so. I miss her guidance, her motherly advice.”

She hesitated, and her eyelids fluttered.

“Juffrouw Rovers’s mother?” said Otto. “I suppose she was very
beautiful?”

“Well, I hardly know if _you_ would have called her beautiful. She
was not at all like me.”

“Just so,” said Otto. “I suppose Juffrouw Rovers is like her?”

“Oh no; Ursula takes after her father’s family. The Mopiuses were
always famous for their delicate skins.”

“Ah!” said Otto, shifting on his chair. “Well, I am a plain man;
perhaps not much a judge of beauty--”

“Oh, don’t say that,” interposed the lady, smiling.

“But I know when I like a face, Miss Mopius. I think an honest face
is of more importance than mere good looks.”

“Oh, of course,” assented the lady, reddening.

“I mean in a man. I trust, Miss Mopius, that you have no aversion
to my face--or me.”

The lady tittered, and buried her nose in her bouquet.

“I wish I could flatter myself you even liked me. But that’s
nonsense. I’m a conceited fool.”

“I do,” whispered the spinster, with downcast eyes--“a little.”

Otto got up and warmly clasped her disengaged hand.

“How good it is of you to say that,” he cried, heartily. “Then
you will, won’t you? How awfully good of you.” And, with another
energetic shake of those skinny fingers, he walked from the room.

Miss Mopius opened her eyes wide, very wide. Presently, however,
she nodded her curls.

“Of course,” she murmured, “he has gone to speak with Roderigue.”

A soft flush spread over her pale cheeks, and she waited.

FOOTNOTES:

[G] Idiom.

[H] Idiom.



CHAPTER XIII

FOR LIFE OR DEATH


Ursula sat by herself in the veranda through the sweetly fading
silence of the summer Sabbath evening. She had now been back in
her tranquil home for more than four-and-twenty hours. It was good
for her that her return had heralded the holy calm of that long,
sunlight-flooded day of rest. She had slept as young twenty sleeps
when worn out, whether from work or weeping; she had risen as young
twenty rises, to a world that is bright again. The peace of the
familiar village-round was upon her: the drowsy morning service,
the droning Sunday-school, the empty afternoon “catechism.” Had her
father’s text, she wondered, been inspired by the thought of his
absent child at Drum! He had preached on “Keep yourself unspotted
from the world.” She desired nothing more ardently. Here was she
returned in time to point the moral.

Her hands lay idle in her lap, an emblem of the day’s repose.
The whole village had folded its hands to watch the lengthening
shadows. A few conspicuous white shirt-sleeves lolled against the
church-yard wall. And somewhere a bullfinch was carolling, breaking
the Sabbath in his own divinely appointed way.

“How hushed it all is,” thought Ursula, looking up to the far
plumes of the motionless poplars. And the lull sank around her own
soul. Why break our hearts over the scuffling and splashing of one
or two swimmers? The river of God’s glory flows steadily on. She
laid a tired head on its current; for a moment the waters were
stilled.

She did not even care to penetrate the mystery concerning her
Aunt Josine. The confidences of the preceding afternoon had been
succeeded by an extreme reserve which the lady’s two companions
almost provokingly respected. The pastor knew of nothing. At
dinner, on the Saturday, he had been mildly astonished by an
atmosphere of constraint, in the midst of which his sister-in-law
had suddenly ejaculated,

“Well, Roderigue?” with the vehemence of a bomb-shell.

He had answered,

“Well, Josine? It certainly is much better than the last joint,
though she _will_ over-roast it,” a reply which did not seem to
give full satisfaction to its recipient.

“He has gone, first of all, to obtain his father’s permission,”
thought Miss Mopius. “I might have known. With the aristocracy a
father is a very important personage.”

She retired early with a headache which not even the vegetable
electricity could combat. It extended over the Sunday, as Miss
Mopius’s headaches naturally would. She lay on her sofa and sighed
at intervals. People would not be surprised at her lying on the
sofa. Had she not sighed at intervals, Ursula would have risen to
see what was wrong.

       *       *       *       *       *

The church-clock had just struck seven; in the ensuing pause of
expectancy its last note was still trembling away into nothing,
when Ursula’s closed eyes became conscious that somebody was
watching them. She started to her feet in confusion, a little
ruffled and rumpled, before the admiring gaze of the Jonker Otto
van Helmont.

“I must have been dozing off,” she said.

“You were asleep. I am sorry I woke you,” replied honest Otto, “but
I came with a message from my mother. She is very anxious to speak
to you. She--she wants you to come up to-night. If you would?”

Ursula hesitated. She saw the dog-cart standing by the gate, a
village lad erect at the horse’s head. Continental Sabbaths are not
like English; still, the Dominé’s daughter was not accustomed to
Sunday driving.

“She made me come,” continued Otto, apologetically; “but if you’d
rather stay--”

“I will ask papa, and be ready in five minutes,” she answered,
promptly. Her pulse quickened. Doubtless there was some fresh
trouble about Gerard. If so, it was her duty to “go through.”

Presently Otto saw her coming down the garden path with her strong,
brisk step, in straw hat and woolley wrap, all light and bright,
among the thick gayety of the wall-flowers and the pink flare of
the hollyhocks.

“Why, it’s Beauty!” she cried, as she drew near, recognizing the
mare.

“Yes, none of the other horses were available, and none of the men
were about, so I harnessed her myself and came away. I hope Gerard
won’t object, for once. It couldn’t be helped.”

No one but Gerard, and Gerard’s particular groom, was allowed to
touch Gerard’s particular mare. She was his prime favorite, and
deservedly so, for neither of the saddle-horses could stand in her
shadow. But most horses, unlike men, have one or two faults, and
Beauty’s was nervousness.

“You know we expected Gerard this morning,” began Otto, as the
dog-cart bowled along. “He was to have brought my cousin with him,
you know. But in their stead comes a telegram this afternoon to
say that Helena is ill. Mother worries to know what is really the
matter, and she has sent for you to give her the latest news of
them all.”

Ursula did not answer. She had expected further embroilment.
And, somehow, she was growing to feel awkward in Otto’s presence
despite, or perhaps partly on account of, her father’s praise.
That morning during church she had been sensible of his quiet
admiration, and had experienced, for the first time in her
existence, not the blush of being stared at, but the glow of being
discreetly observed.

Now, again, as she sat watching the horse’s head, she perceived,
without seeing them, some long-drawn side glances. Her nostrils
tingled, and she wished there had been a groom on the back seat.

“Well, and did you enjoy your uncle’s Indian stories?” queried
Otto, breaking a silence that was becoming acute. “Did he tell you
anything very dreadful this time? How often did he find a tiger
under his pillow at Batavia?”

She laughed, and they talked lightly of Uncle Jacóbus, and of
the life out yonder in the Indies, where everything is gigantic
compared to little Holland, even the money-making, and also the
mortality.

“So your mind is made up more firmly than ever,” he concluded. “You
would never go out to Java on any account?”

“No,” she answered, flushing. “And, besides, remember my father!
What would become of him if I were to leave him alone with”--she
pulled up--“himself!” she said.

“True,” he replied, exceedingly gravely. Both were occupied with
their thoughts for a minute or two, and then they began to talk of
something else.

They had reached a spot along the lonely country road where it
suddenly curved among a solitary cluster of cottages. On both sides
it stretches away, very narrow and smooth, and almost treeless,
between parallel ditches and far-extending fields. Two landaus
could not pass each other with safety, but it is largely used in
summer-time by overloaded hay-wains. For those who know Holland it
is unnecessary to add that a tram-line occupies two-thirds of it.

This tram-line, which runs largely through desolation, has to twist
round the curve of the cottages. Where it does so it has just
emerged from a thicket; and the whole is so arranged by nature
and science that the locomotive can flatten the cottage-children
without their being alarmed by seeing its approach.

On this slumbrous Sunday evening the women were enjoying a brief
period of repose. The smaller children were in bed; the bigger ones
had gone plum-stealing. Fathers and mothers sat stolidly by the
door with slow pipe or slower speech. As the dog-cart came racing
along, the men raised their caps. One of them, however, shouted
something.

“The tram!” exclaimed Ursula, half-rising. Otto had already set his
teeth tight; both knew it was too late. Even as the cry went up,
the great engine, silent and deadly, loomed in front of them like a
hideous, falling rock. There was just room enough between the rails
and the cottage-walls for it to graze their lateral splash-board
in rushing by. But a carelessly projecting shutter rendered this
escape impossible. As the mare sprang aside, the off-wheel
caught the obstacle, and sent it clattering back against the wall.
For an instant--the hundredth part of a second--the double crash
all around seemed to stun her; then up went her ears, down went her
neck; she was off.

[Illustration: “‘THE TRAM!’ EXCLAIMED URSULA, HALF RISING”]

The villagers ran round the corner, emptily shouting. The tram
sailed serenely on.

“Sit still,” said the Jonker between his closed teeth. The advice
was superfluous, for the girl had immediately sunk back again,
clutching the hand-rail beside and behind her, frozen to calm. She
did not answer, and the vehicle went rushing on.

Forward the naked road stretched, white and thin, between two dark
lines of water; forward the horse flew, drinking, as it were, that
road before it with pendent head--crashing onward in a cloud of
dust and stones and sparks. There was nothing to confront or pass
them as they tore through yielding infinity, except here and there
a sleepy calf that tried to race them as children would a train.
There was nothing but the wide lilac heaven all around, with the
boundlessness of a horizon that ever recedes and a highway that
ever lengthens out. It was the very delirium and terror of motion,
such as few mortals can experience, the irresisted, irresistible
forward rush of the whole being--the concentration of all thought
into that one idea of a sweep through immensity. For one moment
the laws of time and space were annulled; there was no distance,
no limit, no measurement, nothing but an infinite impression of
velocity. The high carriage sailed through the summer warmth like a
bird. On--on--on! For ever and ever. Why, indeed, should it stop?

And then the conviction that stoppage is inevitable, is imminent,
and that it may well mean--death.

All that, not in a succession of impressions, but in one long-drawn
lightning flash, like the flash of the flying brute, only faster.

Ursula looked up once at Van Helmont. His face was carved in
bronze; his arms were straining back; his feet had bent out the
splash-board. In another moment it burst away from them in a wide
crash of splinters, and threw him forward, silent still. He righted
himself with a jerk, but it seemed as if the horse had received
a new impetus from the slackening even of that illusory hold. She
swept the ground from under her as the tall wheels appeared to stop
revolving, in a constant blaze of starlight. Ursula fancied, from
the height where she clung, that their progress carried with it a
crimson glow through the swiftly receding dust. But it was all so
short, though it seemed eternity, and yet she remembers, this very
day, each sensation that rose and sank across her brain. Her hat
was gone; her hair was flying. One minute of that wild, mad stress,
and then--

“I must save you,” said Otto. “Don’t mind how.”

Even as he spoke, she suddenly remembered that the canal lay
straight athwart their course. The canal, not level with the
road, not clear, but fifteen feet lower, at the bottom of a stone
embankment and landing-place for barges. The blood grew cold in her
veins. During the brief frenzy of her alarm, the thought of the
canal had not as much as occurred to her. It had been with Otto
from the first.

And--even as he spoke--the violet line of the horizon deepened upon
her eyes, where the white road struck dead against fields on the
farther side. It turned at a right angle there, as she knew but too
well, along the water.

“It’s as much as I can do to keep her head straight,” said Otto,
almost in a whisper. “Another minute, and it will be too late!
Ursula, can you help hold the reins for a moment without risk of
falling out?”

“Yes!” she cried, vehemently, angry that he had not asked her five
minutes sooner. For so the time seemed to her.

“It’s only for a moment,” he continued, “we’ve got beyond the side
ditches _now_.” She saw that he was using the one hand he had freed
to draw something from his trousers-pocket. Her grasp closed, near
his other hand, on the reins: she thought that her arms were being
drawn from their sockets, but she bit her white lips and held on.
He knelt, as well as he could, on the carriage mat, bending over
the broken splash-board, and she saw that he held a heavy revolver
in his bleeding right hand. The glove was torn to ribbons.

“The instant I fire, drop the reins,” he said, quietly, “and hold
on to the cart for dear life. It’s our only chance. God help me; we
can’t--are you ready?”

“Yes,” she said, with staring eyes.

He had spoken the last question abruptly. In the still evening
the line of the embankment already stood out. They were whirling
towards it.

Again he bent forward, and fired. The shot missed, and as the
report thundered around her and the reins fell loose on her sides,
the mare seemed to rise into the air with the fierceness of her
flight.

Immediately a second flash followed the first; the horse leaped up
with a strain that snapped the shafts like two twigs, then fell,
struck behind the right ear, a dead weight in the middle of the
road.

Ursula, in dropping the reins as commanded, had flung her full
weight on the back-rest behind her. For a moment the dog-cart,
crashing forward, tossed her wildly to and fro. She saw Otto
ejected, arms foremost, clean away over the dead mare’s head.

Another moment and she was kneeling beside him. Horse and cart lay
a confused mass of harness and broken wood.

She had nothing at hand to help him. She could do nothing. She
looked round wildly, vainly. Not being a hysterical maiden, she
did not make up her mind he must be dead. But she knew he was
insensible, and the extent of his injuries she was quite unable to
determine.

She looked down at his resolute face, bronzed beneath its heavy
mustache, and realized, quite newly, how good he was, how strong;
this silent man who had seen so much of the world; this simple man,
whom her noble-hearted father so greatly praised. The thought of
Gerard flashed across her, Gerard, the beau ideal of her girlhood,
all glory and glitter, a Stage-Baldur with the footlights out.
How she longed for Otto to open those calm, blue eyes. She prayed
confusedly, with unmoved stare, looking back along the lonely road
for help.

Then she got up and hurried away to the side of the embankment,
shudderingly realizing how near it was. She could not help leaving
him. She was much shaken, yet she felt quite strong.

There was a barge moored by the little quay; a woman stood on its
deck, startled and staring. She called to the woman, who came
running up the stone steps.

“Is there no man?” cried Ursula.

“No, the men were gone to the nearest public-house.”

The girl waved off the barge-woman’s inquiries. She did not want
sympathy, but help.

“You must hurry to the Horst,” she said, impatiently. “You know it?
The large house behind those trees. They will pay you. You must
explain that an accident has occurred, not fatal. And bring back
assistance at once.”

She returned hastily to Otto. His eyes were open, and they smiled
to welcome her. A terrible anxiety suddenly died out of them.

“Are you not hurt?” he said, faintly. “I’m not. I shall get up
presently.”

She could not answer except by a shake of the head. A lump had
risen in her throat which she was resolved to keep down.

“How sorry Gerald will be!” continued Otto.

She nodded again, and for a few minutes they were both quite
silent. Then the Jonker raised himself on one arm.

“I am only dizzy,” he said. “I shall be all right in no time, I
assure you. I’m sorry I frightened you. Why, there are some people
coming along, are there not?”

It was true; the men from the cottages could be seen running
towards them. Otto hesitated, as he sank back, gazing up into
Ursula’s bent face.

“Ursula,” he said at last, calling her by her name for the second
time in the course of that evening, “we very nearly went to our
death together--and you wouldn’t even go to Java!”

There was a ripple in his voice and in his eyes. She held out her
hand, and he pressed it to his lips.

“You have saved my life,” she said.

Presently the foremost runner reached them, breathing heavily. Otto
staggered to his feet, and, as the others came up, began giving
orders about the wreck and the poor dead beast.



CHAPTER XIV

A SATISFACTORY SETTLEMENT


“Ursula,” began the Dominé, with shaking voice. He went back to
the door and pressed his hand against it to make sure that it was
properly closed. “My dear child, I have Otto van Helmont with me in
the study. I am utterly amazed; I don’t know what to say. You will
be more astonished even than I am. The Jonker has come to ask my
permission--God bless my soul, Ursula, he wants to have you for his
wife!”

Ursula bent over her needle-work; she was sewing buttons on her
father’s shirts.

The Dominé sat down opposite her and gasped. “It takes my breath
away,” he explained, apologetically. “He calls it love at first
sight. I should think so. I should call it love at single sight,
and so I told him.”

Ursula looked up quickly. “Oh no,” she said, “we have met quite a
number of times.”

“Why, you hussy, do you want me to accept him?”

“Oh, I did not say that, papa. Please don’t say I said anything of
the kind. I only meant--”

“I know what you meant. Why, you hussy, do you want me to refuse
him?”

“You know best, papa,” said Ursula, demurely.

“Then, of course, I shall send him about his business. Imagine the
thing. The future Baroness van Helmont, and my child Ursula!”

“I am not such a child,” replied Ursula, blushing and drawing
herself up.

“Consider, my dear, the match would be an ill-assorted one.
Personally, I cannot say I look upon it--no, I won’t say that,
either. But, dear me, dear me; I am quite taken aback. Ursula, my
dear, what is your attitude?”

“Oh, I haven’t got an attitude,” cried Ursula, strenuously
threading her needle. “Oh, don’t say another word about it, please.
Go away, dear Captain, do, and leave me in peace.”

“But, Ursula, this is childish. Otto--”

Suddenly, while he was speaking, the Dominé’s brow cleared; he
thought he understood the situation. It turned upon his selfishness
and his daughter’s self-denial.

“Ursula,” he said, “you must forgive your poor old father. I am
selfish, and of course there are difficulties. But I see that Otto
van Helmont has somehow already succeeded in gaining your heart, so
I suppose I must go back and tell him so. Or would you prefer to do
it yourself?”

“Don’t, father,” cried Ursula. “Nobody has ever possessed my heart
but you. I hate all men, as I said the other day. See how I liked
and admired Gerard--for years, ever since I could think--and now! I
could almost have cut off the fingers his touch had soiled! I don’t
want to marry any one.”

“How beautiful,” thought the Dominé, not without a twinge of
self-condolence, “are the unconscious workings of a maiden’s heart.
The dear child lays bare her love and doesn’t know she possessed
it! It is my duty to prevent a most fatal mistake. Poor motherless
one; I must take a mother’s place to-day!” Like many old-fashioned
people, the Dominé believed that when “a good woman” says she
doesn’t love a man, this _always_ means she does. So he abstained
from useless questions.

“Ursula,” he said, heroically, “Otto van Helmont is not one of
these men you dread. Dear child, I know him well. He is a good
and upright gentleman. I should be glad to think, my dear”--the
Dominé flung himself headlong upon the altar--“glad to think that
when I am gone my daughter will have such a strong defender. The
world is evil, dear, and I am old. At any moment I may leave you
unprotected.”

She laid down her needle-work, and sat looking out of the window.

“I don’t think I quite love him,” she said, slowly. “Not like
you.” Something in her solemn face filled him with sudden
misgiving, although the last three words were reassuring.

“But, my dear,” he suggested, gently, “you admire him very much--do
you not? You think he is a splendid man?”

“Yes,” she answered, still with that far-away look, “I admire him
very much. I think he is a splendid man. I--I like to see him,
father, and to hear him talk.”

“Trust me, my dear child, you are very much in love with him,” said
the Dominé, sententiously, “as much as any maiden ought to be. Go
in and tell him so.”

She was willing to believe him; still, she hesitated. Uppermost in
her heart, all these days, was a passion of pure scorn. It cast
over Otto’s honest figure the glory of an aureole.

“Father,” she began again, “do you--would you really be happy to
know I had accepted him?”

“You could not easily find a better husband,” replied the Dominé,
evasively.

She knitted her brows, as was her wont in moments such as this.

“It would not make you sad, but happy,” she insisted.

“Sad--no, no,” cried the Dominé, eagerly. “To think of it--sad!”

“But--Java?” she said, faintly.

“My dear, you will _not_ go to Java,” exclaimed the Dominé, very
loud. “That you must tell him at once. You will stay in Holland. I
may be very selfish, but I don’t care.”

He suddenly felt there were limits.

Ursula rose.

“Yes,” she said, softly, “I must go to him myself. It is a very
terrible resolve.”

The Dominé smiled, with a tear in his eye.

“‘It is ever from the greatest hazards,’” he quoted, “‘that the
greatest honors are gained.’ Pericles said that. It is a good motto
for this day.”

Ursula went straight to the study, where Otto was tramping up and
down. His face brightened as he saw her enter.

“Are you bringing me the answer yourself?” he asked, coming forward
with outstretched hands.

“You saved my life,” she replied, simply. “It is yours.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Josine,” said the Dominé, “are you well enough to listen to me for
a moment?” He spoke with unmistakable impatience, eying the limp
bundle on the sofa.

“Roderigue, how can you be so unkind?” came the plaintive answer.
“After the terrible escape our dear Ursula has had, my weak nerves
are still naturally unstrung. I cannot bear to think of it. All
night I seemed rushing through space with her and--him. What must
_he_ not have suffered?”

“Well, it’s over now,” replied the Dominé, “and he’s thinking of
other things. In fact, that’s what I came in about. He has just
been asking me to consent to his engagement.”

“I knew it,” said Miss Mopius, and sank back on the sofa-cushion.

The Dominé started. “What!” he cried. “Did he speak to you first?”

“Roderigue,” replied the lady, with spirit, “I am old enough--I
mean I am not so young that his speaking to me could be considered
improper.”

“No, indeed,” began the puzzled Dominé.

“I gave him the answer of my heart, as I doubt not he told you. You
will give us your blessing, my brother?”

The Dominé rose to his feet.

“Hearing you talk,” he said, testily, “one might conclude it was
you had made the match.”

At this monstrous accusation the poor creature burst into tears.
“To think,” she sobbed, “that my poor Mary’s husband should say
such a thing of me. Roderigue, I wonder that dear saint did not
teach you what a woman’s feelings are!”

Of all means by which Josine unconsciously tormented the pastor
there was none like her allusions to his departed wife. Moments
could be produced in the widower’s calm day when that brave soldier
might have felt it in him to strike a woman.

Only to slap her.

“Well, I can’t help it,” he said, still in the same irritated
tone. He was disappointed in his future son-in-law. “Ursula and
Otto must just settle it between them.”

“Ursula is a child,” replied the spinster. “She will be pleased to
get so charming an uncle.”

“Hey?” said the pastor, stopping very short. Then it all dawned
upon him as when a curtain is drawn away.

“Otto has asked Ursula to marry him, and she has consented,” he
said, gruffly. For some forms of human weakness the man had not an
atom of pity. Poor Miss Mopius received the blow straight in her
face. She “never forgave” her brother afterwards for striking out.
Striking a woman, after all.

She rose to the occasion, sitting up at once, tremulous but
dignified.

“There is some mistake,” she said. “_You_ have misunderstood or _I_
have been duped. In one case the man is a fool; in the other he is
a villain. No gentleman makes love to two women at a time. I will
thank you to leave me alone for the present, Roderigue.”

“So be it, Josine,” answered the Dominé, “but, remember, it was
Will-be-Will made darkness in the town of Mansoul.” Then his heart
smote him for too great severity. “My dear,” he said, in a kindly
voice, “it is the old story with us all. Still Prince Emmanuel
answers Mr. Loth-to-Stoop: ‘I will not grant your master, no, not
the least corner to dwell in. I will have all to myself.’”

       *       *       *       *       *

When the last uncertainty had faded from Miss Mopius’s soul, she
merely said to Ursula, “He might be your father. _I_ don’t think
it’s nice for a young girl to marry an old man.”

Ursula did not reply “For an old woman to marry a young man is
worse.” She only thought it. We can all be magnanimous in victory.
But Ursula could even have been so, if required, in defeat. Her
faults were never little ones.

To her confidential spinster friends Miss Mopius remarked, “She
is very plain. I can’t imagine what he sees in her. So brown! But,
then, of course, he is past the heyday of youth, and a little
_usé_. Well, some women like to get their lovers second-hand.”

“I shouldn’t,” remarked one mittened crony.

“No, indeed,” replied Miss Mopius.



CHAPTER XV

DONNA É MOBILE


On the Saturday following the Van Trossarts’ garden-party--two
days, therefore, previously to the events just narrated--Gerard van
Helmont called in the early morning at the house of his betrothed.
He could hardly realize, as he impatiently awaited her, that not
twenty-four hours had elapsed since this new brightness had come
into his life. Already he felt accustomed to the new rôle of a very
wealthy man with a very charming wife. How happy his mother would
be after the first shock of the unexpected! They must find another
match for Otto. Sprightly, sportive Helena would never have married
Otto, anyway. He glanced at the clock. Half-past ten. As long as
clocks stood in front of mirrors Gerard never saw only the time.

The door opened; a servant entered slowly.

“The Freule was not ready, as yet, to receive him.” Had she sent
him no message? “No.” The fiery lover went off to the barracks and
worried everybody.

In the afternoon he called again. The sounds of a piano came
pouring down upon him from up-stairs during his brief wait on the
steps. How brilliantly she played! A little too wildly--like a
musical tornado.

He was again shown into the front drawing-room. It was again empty.
Again he paced restlessly to and fro, but this time he twisted his
mustache.

He heard a footfall in the adjoining apartment; the music, however,
had not yet stopped. He was longing for it, now, to do so.

The Baroness van Trossart came bustling in, hot and flurried. “My
dear boy,” she began--“my dear boy, sit down.” She caught hold of
his hand and drew him down on a low settee by her side. “My dear
boy, you and Helena have had a quarrel. The worst quarrels always
come first. Now tell me what it is all about.”

Gerard opened his light, innocent eyes. “There has been no quarrel
that I know of, Mevrouw,” he answered. “What does Helena say?”

The Baroness’s substantial chaps fell. “Helena says nothing at all.
That is the worst of it. She has locked herself in, and she won’t
speak to any one. She has been playing the piano for hours--you
hear her now--and her uncle trying all the time to learn his speech
for next Monday! I’ve been screaming to make her stop, but I can’t,
and I got some dust in my eye, as it is, through the key-hole.” She
sighed. Gerard, with heightened color, looked down at his spurs.

“Then you don’t know what’s wrong?” the Baroness repeated,
helplessly.

“No, indeed, I don’t.”

“The excitement must have got on her nerves; but I wish, at least,
she would see Papotier.”

They went out slowly into the hall. “Never mind, Gerard,” said
the Baroness, still in that ill-used tone, “it’ll be all right
soon. Come back this evening and settle about going to the Horst
to-morrow. Oh, will that music never stop!”

It followed him down the street in a reckless jingle and crash of
feverish discord, as if all the notes of the instrument together
were dancing a devil’s saraband.

He went to the club, and, from sheer nervous vexation, boisterously
got together a game of _vingt-et-un_. He won nearly a thousand
florins in a couple of hours. As a rule, however, gambling was not
one of his weaknesses. He had plenty of others.

Then he treated the whole mess to champagne, declaring it was his
birthday, and when somebody denied that, he turned almost fiercely
on the caviller. “My death-day, then!” he said. “It don’t make any
difference in the wine.”

They were all surprised at his irritability, and concluded that
the extent of his winnings was vexing him. That would be quite
like Van Helmont, who was free-handed and free-hearted to a fault.
He was the most popular man in the regiment.

[Illustration: “‘THERE HAS BEEN NO QUARREL THAT I KNOW OF,
MEVROUW’”]

It was half-past eight when he again rang at the Van Trossarts’
door. He was flushed with excitement and champagne. The piano had
ceased; the whole house lay steeped in silence. Almost immediately,
as he hesitated under the hall-lamp, the Freule’s maid came forward
with a note. He took it and glanced through it on the spot. It was
very brief:

  “Yes, I have read Maupassant; all night I sat up reading him. Go
  back to the house-maid. Thank Heaven, Jeanne is not married yet.”

He went out again into the dusk immediately. Dutch shops are open
late, especially on Saturdays. He walked quickly to the High
Street, which was full of movement and yellow gas. At a well-known
bookseller’s he stopped.

“Have you Maupassant’s _Une Vie_?” he asked the shopman. Oh yes!
half a dozen copies lay on the counter. He carried off the blue
paper volume, and locked himself up in his rooms.

Turning the pages hurriedly, he read the painful story. Even as he
read, he revolted at the thought of his cousin’s having come into
contact with such scenes as were there described. He flung the book
on to the table. “Filth!” he said, angrily. He felt that a woman’s
soul may pass pure, if such be her terrible fate, through fact, but
not through fiction. And surely he was right. A man can judge of
purity, in women.

The work he admiringly despised was like all those of its great
author, though by no means equal, of course, in literary value,
to his shorter masterpieces. It was a perfectly polished crystal
goblet--a splendor of workmanship--full of asafœtida. Few men care
for the taste, which might be healthful, but we all enjoy the
useless smell.

Somebody whistled outside in the street. He went to the window.
Two young officers, attracted by the light of his lamp, stood in
the dark with upturned faces. His heart leaped with its impulse of
relief.

“Is that you, Troy?” he called back. “Who’s with you? Never mind,
I’ll come down. I say, there’s a night-train to Brussels! We’ve
just time to catch it. The chief’ll never know, and we’ll have such
a burst-up as never was before!”

       *       *       *       *       *

On the Monday morning in the small hours Gerard returned from
his escapade into Belgium. The others, who still valued their
commissions, had refused to accompany him. He had left a telegram
with Willie for the Horst, to the effect that Helena was unable to
come. “The Colonel won’t be any wiser,” he said. And the Colonel
never was.

Whether the excursion had been worth its cost--in every sense--was
another matter. Such questions are useless, and Gerard preferred
not to decide them. He lay down on his bed for a couple of hours,
and then--before breakfast, somewhere near seven o’clock--he paid a
visit to a lady of his acquaintance whom he had not seen for many
months. He had a bad headache, and he felt deeply injured, but also
distinctly inclined to indignation and virtue.

“Adeline,” he said, pathetically, “I thought you still loved me.”

“What a fool you must be then,” said Adeline. She lived in a little
out-of-the-way house, with a garden and a back entrance. No one was
more accurately acquainted than Gerard with her periods of business
or leisure.

“Better fool than knave,” replied Gerard, bitterly. “But don’t
let’s go on like this. What I wanted to tell you is that our
secret’s out. There.”

“I know,” said Adeline, nodding. She sat in her neat little
tight-fitting dress in her neat little (tight-fitting) room, with
her breakfast in front of her. It was all dainty and attractive. He
had seen her sit thus many a time, while he lounged on the little
chintz sofa.

“I told,” added Adeline, proudly, biting a stiff crust with her
pearly teeth.

“You!” He sprang upright. “You lie!”

“Oh, of course,” she answered, “I was to sit and see you enjoy
yourself, while I went to my ruin. I was to let _you_ write letters
to my advertisements and then bring other men to laugh at me.” Her
voice grew suddenly fierce. “I hate you for that,” she cried, “for
that most of all. I could kill you for that.”

“Good heavens! was one of those unlucky advertisements yours? I
had nothing to do with answering them, I swear to you. I was only
umpire. Why, surely, you’d have recognized my hand!”

“Humph,” said Adeline. “Well, I told.”

“It was a woman’s trick,” retorted Gerard. “But how did you find
out, you little devil, about the Freule van Trossart, or about
my--my--”

“Your what?” she questioned, sharply. “What’s this about the Freule
van Trossart? You’re going to make her miserable, are you, as you
did me?” She started up, clapping her hands. “No, you won’t,” she
cried. “No, you won’t. I see. He’s gone and told her all about it.
Oh, I love him for that!”

“Who? He!” exclaimed Gerard. “Do you mean to say you’ve gone
noising our shame about to strangers?”

The words stung her to sudden passion.

“Our shame?” she cried. “Our shame? My shame, you mean. My shame,
as Christian laws go in Christian lands. And who are you, of all
men, to taunt me with it? I told your brother, if you want to know.
And he went and told the girl you were trying to catch, did he? Oh,
I’m glad of that; I’m glad of that!”

Gerard sat for some moments with bent brows and clinched fists. His
still stare frightened her. She sank into her seat cowed.

“How did you meet my brother?” he asked, at last. His voice was
hoarse.

“You passed the shop with him one morning,” she answered, humbly.
“I recognized him by your description. And when going to my dinner
later on, I met him in the Park alone. I told him everything in
half a dozen minutes. That day I was desperate. I asked him if he
could do nothing to help me to make you marry me. I had some wild
idea your family might. I had never come across any of them. I
probably never should have such a chance again.”

“And what did my brother say?” asked Gerard.

“He said he would do what he could. He didn’t think he could
do much. I don’t think he likes you, Gerard.” She spoke quite
submissively, and, as she finished, her eyes stole across to the
looking-glass to arrange a little bow at her neck.

“Oh no,” replied Gerard, furiously. “He’s too good to like me.
_His_ little peccadilloes are far away, and black.”

“I’m sure I’ve always liked you, Gerard,” she said, coquettishly.
“You’ve treated me very badly. You know you have.”

“I have,” acquiesced Gerard, in a low voice. “Did you tell Otto,
Adeline, of those three thousand florins I gave you?”

“No,” she cried, again reverting to her sudden passion. “Do you
fling that fact in my face? Do you call that a compensation?”

“No, no. God knows I didn’t mean anything of the kind. I was only
thinking--great heavens, I don’t know what to think!” He buried his
face in his hands.

“Poor Gerard,” said the girl, softly, after an interval. “I didn’t
think you’d take on so. But you’ve treated me very badly, Gerard;
you know you have; yet, somehow, I can’t help liking you still. You
were very good to me, too, once. And it was very sweet.” She bent
forward and timidly touched his neck. “Gerard, I’m sorry,” she said.

But he only shook his head.

“Oh, Gerard, I was so wretched, so fearfully wretched. I couldn’t
stand the thought of--of the disgrace. I wanted you to marry me.
I would have given my life for you to marry me--only to make an
honest woman of me first. Gerard, think of it, there was nothing
left for me but marriage, exposure, or death. I tried death
once--with my fingers--but--but the water was so very cold.” She
began to cry softly, resting her hand on her quondam lover’s knee.

Then Gerard looked up quickly. His face was quite pale and drawn.

“Adeline,” he said, wearily, “it’s no use, you and I can’t be
angry with each other. Not seriously, only in flimsy bursts. It’s
like our love. We can’t hate each other, either. Great love turns
to hate, they say. Ours is of the kind that one can always take up
again as if one had never left off. You’ve ruined my life, and,
somehow, I can’t even reproach you with doing so.”

“But you’ve ruined mine, too, or very nearly,” she sobbed.

“Yes, that’s true; I don’t want, though, to make you so wretched.
You shock me with your horrible talk. Adeline, look here, I don’t
care; if you feel as bad as that I’ll marry you. Yes, I will, so
help me God. You’re the only woman that ever loved me, besides my
mother, and I’ve treated you like a brute. We men don’t always
quite understand, but, Adeline, I can’t bear to see you wretched,
and to know it’s all my fault. It is all my fault; I’ve behaved
like a cad. Adeline, I mean it; I’m awfully sorry and ashamed of
myself. I’ll tell my father exactly how matters stand, and I’ll
_make_ him let me marry you. You poor little innocent, to think
that _they’d_ make _me_!”

Adeline, for only answer, laid her head upon his shoulder, softly
crying on.

“Don’t cry like that, dear,” he continued, in the same dreary tone.
“It’ll all come right soon. I dare say we shall be fairly happy.
We’ve made such a mess of our separate lives that the best thing we
can do is to try and combine them.”

“Oh, Gerard,” sobbed the girl, “if I’d only known a day or two
sooner. It’s too late now.”

“No, no,” he said, dully, stroking her hair. “I forgive you the
trick you played me. I drove you to it, I suppose. Men are brutes.”

“Oh, Gerard,” murmured Adeline again, with closed eyes, “it’s not
that. I’m engaged.”

“What?” he cried, edging back, so that her head almost slipped.

She started up then, quite briskly. “Well, and what was I to
do?” she said, “with every week bringing me nearer. Other people
answered my advertisement besides you, Gerard. And he’s a very nice
young man, a lawyer’s clerk. I was out in the country with him all
yesterday, and we settled it coming home.”

“Indeed,” said Gerard, scornfully. “And he--he--”

She blushed crimson.

“Yes, he knows,” she murmured. “He thinks you treated me very
badly, Gerard.”

“I know.”

And he consents, thought the young man, to accept the plaster I
placed on the bruise. He got up from the little chintz sofa of many
memories.

“I wish you had waited to give Otto the last chapter of the story,”
he said, very wearily. “Poor little girl, I’m not angry with you.
Don’t cry. We’ve had enough of that. Good-bye, Adeline. I suppose
we need hardly meet again.”

And he held out his hand.

“Gerard,” she said, taking it, “I’m so glad you’re not angry. I
like you very much, but, do you know, I fancy I should be happier
with him. He isn’t as good-looking as you, Gerard--not anything
like--but he looks very nice.” She raised the young officer’s hand
to her lips. “Thank you,” she said, “for offering to marry me.”

“Oh, no thanks,” he replied, taking his hat.

“Gerard!” she called him back, her eyes reverted swiftly from the
mirror to his face. “You never said anything about my new dress
which I had to make. Don’t you think it suits me?”

“Oh, everything suits you,” he cried, making his escape. There were
tears in his eyes as he turned into the street.



CHAPTER XVI

A FOOL AND HIS FOLLY


The dog gave a yelp.

“Do take care, Otto,” cried the Baroness, sharply. Her voice was
shrill with irritation. “I wish you would sit down. You have
trodden on poor Plush’s tail! And there really was no reason for
that. Not even if I take in earnest, as I have no intention of
doing, the exceedingly poor joke you have just concocted.”

“I assure you it is no joke, mother, but very sober earnest.”

“I am to believe that you have this morning asked Ursula Rovers to
be your wife, and that she has deigned to accept you?”

“She has deigned to accept me, mother.”

“Then there are other things you can tread on besides little
dogs.” She was too angry to continue. An embarrassing silence had
thickened between them before she added, looking straight in front
of her, “But I shall not afford you the satisfaction of a yelp.”

“Mother!” he cried, with a pathetic ring of pain in his virile
voice. He held out his arms. The movement was an appeal.

But she waved him back.

“Between mothers and sons,” she said, “there is a union of
sympathy, of interest, not only of intercourse. Dogs have mothers,
Otto, and love them and forget them. And when they meet again,
after twelve weeks--mother and son walk side by side, _but the pup
doesn’t know_.”

She held out her trembling fingers to the little animal beside her.

“The mother does,” she said, tremulously. “The mother does.”

Otto stood by the Dresden gimcracks of the mantel-piece. His head
was bent, but across the level eyebrows lay a bar of resolve.

“If you would only let me explain--” he began.

“Surely I can do that for myself. You are ‘in love’ with the girl,
to use the cant phrase. There is no more beautiful word in the
world, and none more insulted. With you it simply means that you
have been caught by the charms of a piquant brown face. _You_, who
are nearly forty, whose calf period might surely be past. Faugh!
you men are all the same, like dogs again! You talk of piety,
affection, ambition, but when the moment comes you run after the
nearest cur. Otto, I won’t say any more. I have said too much
already. In truth, there is nothing to say. There is only a curse
to bear. Nowadays, it seems, the children curse the parents. It may
be less melodramatic, but the results are far more visible to the
naked eye.”

Then he broke down before her hard, her hopeless misery, and knelt
by her side.

“Mother, I love her,” he said. “Never mind what the word means to
me, it need mean but little to you. I will take her away to some
place where you need but rarely see her.”

“And the Horst!” she cried, looking at him for the first time. The
despair in her eyes cut straight to his soul. “You have not even
thought of that! And you hardly know the girl. The old house--the
old home--you have not even thought of that!”

“I have thought of it,” he answered, sternly, returning to his
place on the hearth. “It is not gone yet. I will work and make
money. Father may still live twenty years.”

But she did not heed him. “Only a good-looking face!” she said.
“Only half a dozen glimpses of a good-looking face and--pfst!” She
snapped her fingers. “Does your father know?” she asked.

“Not yet,” he answered. “I came to you first. I had hoped that
you--”

“Would join with the happy pair in imploring his blessing.
Did I not say rightly, Otto, that a certain amount of mutual
understanding is essential to the preservation of natural ties!
That you should succeed in making a philosopher of such a
crack-brained creature as I am! I hear your father’s step in the
entrance-hall. The poor fellow is whistling! Never mind, it can’t
be helped. Call him in.” Otto obeyed.

“Well, what is it, my dear?” asked the Baron, entering. “Are you
still enjoying your new-found son?”

“Yes, that is it,” replied the old lady. “Exactly. My new-found son
still prepares me fresh surprises. Otto, tell your father to-day’s.”

“I have engaged myself,” said Otto, steadying his voice, “to
Juffrouw Ursula Rovers.”

The Baron’s thin cheek flushed. He resumed the tune he had been
whistling, and carefully finished it. Then he said, “I suppose that
is quite definite?”

“Oh, yes,” interposed the Baroness, “a fool’s decisions always are.”

“Hush, my dear. I mean, Otto, that you have fully considered and
weighed the matter, and have made up your mind to go through with
it at all costs?” The Baron spoke very quietly.

“Yes,” said Otto, and their eyes met.

“So I thought. Your decision will not be altered in any way by my
pointing out that, as long as I live (which I hope to do for a
quarter of a century longer), you will never receive a penny from
me towards supporting Ursula Rovers? You probably understood that
before?”

“I did,” replied Otto. “I don’t want any money. I’m going to work.”

“Quite so. More tea, I suppose? Java?”

Otto’s face fell.

“No,” he said, awkwardly. “Not Java. Ursula doesn’t want to go
there.”

The Baroness, who had been beating a silent tattoo with her foot,
broke into an impatient exclamation.

“Really, Otto,” said the Baron, with a thin little smile, “you
must admit that you are rather provoking. When everybody wants
you here, you insist upon living in the tropics, and when--well,
the whole thing, therefore, is settled, is it, and practically
beyond recall? Mistakes, as your mother just now remarked, usually
are. This, of course, is a huge mistake--a life mistake. However,
perhaps you are aware of that, too?”

“Perhaps it is,” replied Otto, “in some respects. But it seems to
me worth making.”

“Possibly. There are no bounds to human selfishness. Men have
thrown away an empire for a night of dalliance. And the heritage of
the Helmonts is not an empire by any means. I am sure I wish you
a more protracted period of enjoyment. Then, at least, one person
will get satisfaction out of this miserable business. Yes, as
there is no help for it, I may as well wish you joy. Wish him joy,
Cécile.”

“No,” said the Baroness.

“Anyhow, I suppose it won’t make much difference to you, Otto?
Nor, alas, to us. And now that all the preliminaries are settled,
and you know our mind exactly and we yours--excuse my putting you
last--we had better swallow down the rest of the unpleasantness as
soon as possible. Bring up Ursula at once, and we will give her
our blessing. Bring her before dinner if you can. I’m sure I wish
you had her waiting in the drawing-room. I will say this: she is a
good-looking girl, and, I honestly believe, a good one. But what a
reason for marrying her!”

He threw up his hands with his familiar gesture of comical dismay,
and turning his back on his son and heir, went and sat down by the
Baroness. Otto walked slowly from the room, leaving the old couple
together.

The little turret-chamber, all flowered silk and china shepherds,
looked strangely unreal, like a painting on porcelain. The light
crept in through its rounded window with a curve that lent to
everything a glamour as of glaze. The occupants themselves, bending
near to each other, the toy-dog between them, their delicate
features still touched, as it seemed, with eighteenth-century
powder, had the appearance of Dresden figures seen under a shiny
glass case. But their sorrow was very real, none the less so
because the Baron was endeavoring, as it buzzed around them, to
catch and kill it in the folds of a cambric handkerchief.

“Theodore,” began the Baroness, twisting her rings, “you are always
right. I do not mean to doubt your judgment. But it seems to me
that you almost encouraged him to do what you disapproved. You--you
told him how bad it was, how _wicked_, and then you wished him joy.”

“My dear,” replied the Baron, “you cannot push over the precipice
a man who has already leaped. His mind was made up, and nothing
would have changed it. I know Otto. This is just the kind of
idiotic thing he might be expected to do. Some men cannot keep away
from any folly which has an appearance of elevation. Their souls
positively itch to commit it, whether it be useful or pleasant
or not. Otto has always been like that. He is a Don Quixote of
foolishness. Had Ursula not existed, he would have been bound to
invent her.”

“Unfortunately she exists,” replied the Baroness. “But you might
have argued, protested--”

“My dear, he is thirty-nine. And to argue with Don Quixote is
to break a straw against armor. There is no strength like the
conviction, ‘the thing is so utterly asinine that I’m sure it must
be right’, especially when the thing is also pleasant. Modern
Quixotes are not above distinguishing that.”

“Oh, don’t reason it out in that quiet way,” cried the Baroness,
passionately. “It’s too horrible for that. I can’t bear it.”

Her husband took her hand. “Dearest,” he asked, “since when have we
left off grinning over the things we could not bear?”

The only answer was Plush’s grating bark, which she always started
as soon as the Baron grew affectionate to the Baroness.

“As for quarrels, they are always a discomfort, but useless
quarrels are a folly as well. And a dispute with Otto would soon
develop into a quarrel. He knows what we think without further
telling; be sure of that. For Heaven’s sake let there not be a row.
I have not been present at a row since I was twenty. Gerard ran
the thing close the other day. We may just as well treat Ursula
civilly. I only hope he will bring her at once. The prospect makes
me nervous, and I don’t see why my dinner should be spoiled because
my eldest son is a fool.”

“But Ursula should be made to feel--”

He interrupted her, a thing he was not in the habit of doing.

“Be sure that Ursula will be made to feel,” he said, “whatever we
do. Trust human nature for that.”

“Had it only been Gerard,” she moaned. “And just as I had arranged
about Helena!”

“Ah, had it been Gerard, I should have reasoned with him. Gerard
can be made to laugh at follies, and the man who laughs can be
made to abandon. Fool! Folly! You see, those are the only words I
am able to think of. Answer a fool according to his folly. That is
excellent advice. Molière’s, is it not? I tried to bring it into
practice to-day.”

“Deeds like his,” she said, “should still be preventable by lettres
de cachet. They are worse than crimes. A name such as ours may be
scotched by the reprobates who bear it, but it takes a fool, such
as you laugh at, to kill it outright.”

“Whom would you lock up? Ursula? Do you know, I fancy Ursula is in
no way to blame. She is really a good little girl.”

But the Baroness shook her head. The Baron rose.

“Well, it can’t be helped,” he said, yawning. “That is the
beginning and the end. I wonder what Louisa will say. At any rate,
the house is still ours; après nous le déluge. Otto is such an
exemplary Noah; he is sure to be saved when it comes. By-the-bye,
I had written to Labary about rehanging the west bedroom, but such
experiences as this take away all one’s pleasure in things of that
kind. What’s the use of working for such a son as Otto?”

With which momentous but unanswerable question he strolled out into
the grounds.

       *       *       *       *       *

Louisa, when informed shortly after by her sister of what had
happened, took off her spectacles, laid down the book she was
reading, and said,

“Otto is, at least, the only member of this family possessed of
marked originality.”

The Freule van Borck’s view of the question was not without
importance, for she had some money to leave where she liked. She
was exceedingly stingy, and her savings were presumed to be large.

“Yes,” replied the Baroness, tartly, “but all his originality
is original sin. However, I am glad, Louisa, if you can find
extenuations, which I openly confess myself as yet unable to see.”

The thin Freule rested an angular elbow on her knees.

“Ah, but that is because you are so entirely conventional,” she
said, gravely. “You are altogether hereditary, my dear; you cannot
step out of your groove.”

“Je ne déraille pas,” replied the Baroness. “No. Dieu merci. Must
Otto, to be happy?”

The Freule van Borck sighed.

“My dear, it is no use,” she said. “We shall never understand each
other. It is of the very essence of man’s making that he should
_not_ run on rails. Machines run on rails. All the misery of the
world has been caused by our doing so, and generally in batches,
after one locomotive. When two of our locomotives met, there was a
smash and bloodshed.”

“But that,” said the Baroness, evidently bored, “is exactly opposed
to your favorite theory of hero-worship.”

“So it is,” replied her sister, cheerfully. “We must all be
inconsistent at times, except you people on the rails. I was
thinking of the hereditary leaders, not the hero-leaders of men. No
hero ever--”

“But, Louisa, don’t you understand? I have just told you that
Otto--our Otto--is going to marry Ursula Rovers.”

“Yes, my dear, and I reply that he makes a distinctly new
departure. To judge of its expediency, we must know the result.”

“The result can only be misery to all concerned.”

“You think that because your heredity tells you so. Now, I shall be
an interested and unprejudiced spectator. Everything depends upon
Ursula. Is she an entity or a nonentity? _That_ is the question. I
agree with Carlyle--”

“Carlyle was a ploughboy!” cried the Baroness, still too impatient
to be polite. “Of course, he would rejoice to hear of milkmaids
marrying marquises! Nothing is more lamentable in these levelling
days than that all the geniuses are born without grandfathers. The
odds in the fight are unfair.”

“Just so,” replied the Freule, grimly. “Now, who knows what a
genius the son of Otto and Ursula may be! My dear, I have been
reading a most interesting volume, entitled _Le Croisement des
Races_. I could give you some exceedingly curious details--”

“Spare me even the mention of your horrible reading, Louisa!”
exclaimed the Baroness. “It is like passing down the streets where
they hang out the _Police News_. Dear me, that is Gerard’s voice
speaking to his father. How excited he seems! I suppose Theodore
has already told him. He must calm down a little, for the happy
pair will be here in a minute. I saw the carriage turn into the
avenue from the road.”

Gerard came rushing in, followed more leisurely by his father.

“Mamma!” he gasped. “Mamma, Otto has shot Beauty! It isn’t
possible; I can’t believe it. Shot Beauty! Shot Beauty! Great God,
what have I done to him that he should treat me like this!” He
clinched his fist to his forehead. “Shot Beauty!” he cried again,
in a choking voice. “Oh, I hope I sha’n’t see him! I won’t see him!
I’ll go back to Drum. If I see him I shall kill him!”

“Gerard!”

“Don’t speak to me, any of you. I hate him! I hate him! I hate him!”

“My dear boy, don’t be so absurd,” began the Baron. “It really
couldn’t be helped. Your aunt has most kindly offered to get you
another horse.”

“In recognition of Otto’s prompt and spirited action,” said the
Freule; “it was very dreadful, Gerard, but unavoidable, and he rose
to the occasion. That is what I admire. And though I am not in the
habit of giving expensive presents, and haven’t the means to do
so--”

“I won’t have another horse,” burst out Gerard. “I mean to say,
that’s not what I care about. He--he--oh, you don’t know what he’s
done to me. And now he’s killed Beauty as well! I hate him! I
won’t, I daren’t meet him at dinner!”

“There’s the hall-bell,” cried the Baroness. “Shut the door,
Theodore. Gerard, you had better go out by the anteroom. Otto is
bringing home his betrothed for us to welcome as such!”

“His betrothed!” stammered Gerard, looking from one to the other.
“What? Helena? Already?”

“Helena? No, indeed. The young lady is Ursula Rovers.”

Otto and Ursula, pausing outside the door, heard Gerard’s laugh of
malevolent contempt, as well as the words that immediately followed
it.

“Ursula Rovers!” he cried. “The future Baroness van Helmont! My
Lady Nobody!”



PART II.--CHAPTER XVII

BROTHERLY HATE


The two brothers stood face to face by the stables. Otto, running
round for Ursula’s carriage, after the brief interview with his
parents, had almost knocked up against Gerard. He started back.

“Damn you!” said Gerard. He said the hideous words with deep
conviction--almost conscientiously, as if acquitting himself of a
painful duty. For the last quarter of an hour, ever since he had
fled from the boudoir before the approach of the betrothed pair,
Gerard had been striding hither and thither, like one possessed,
in the close vicinity of the stables. He was hardly aware what he
said or thought. Otto had shot Beauty; Otto had estranged Helena,
actuated not even by sneaking jealousy (as had first seemed
probable), but by wanton ill-nature. He hated Otto. He would never
look upon his hateful face again. He would hurry back to Drum.

Suddenly his elder brother stood before him, almost jostling him in
a hasty recoil. All Gerard’s confusion of anger and sorrow cooled
into one clear thunder-bolt.

“Damn you!” he said. There could be no doubt in his own heart or
any other of his concentrated hate of the intruder. What says
Tacitus? “With more than brotherly hate.” Tacitus read the inner
souls of men.

From the moment when he fired the fatal shot, Otto had felt that he
owed Gerard most humble and affectionate apology. Concerning the
episode with Helena he was, of course, serenely ignorant. But his
attitude had stiffened just now under the cruelly careless words
which had fallen like a shadow across the home-bringing of the
betrothed.

“Silence, Gerard,” he replied, haughtily. “No one can be more sorry
than myself. If you will listen reasonably, I will try to explain--”

“No one more sorry than yourself!” burst in Gerard, his whole
frame trembling with passion. “No one more sorry! You loved
Beauty, I suppose? You loved Beauty better than anything else
except--except--” He bit back the word “mother.” “You loved Beauty,
and first drove her mad by your insane bungling, and then shot
her!--shot her! Oh, my God!” The words choked him. Suddenly he grew
white and calm. He advanced upon Otto.

“If only you were not my brother!” he said, in a whisper.

Otto met his anger-troubled gaze, unflinching.

“You are a first-rate shot,” continued Gerard, with bitter meaning.
“Oh, a first-rate shot! Ursula was right. But I, too, can shoot
straight.”

Then he broke off short, and struck his forehead, bewildered among
the madness of his own conceptions.

“Leave me to myself,” he gasped. “Only leave me. Go back to
Helena--or Ursula--which is it? Tell Ursula also. Be sure and
tell Ursula everything about me. Go and be happy, you and your
charming--”

“Not a word more,” interrupted Otto, forewarned by the other’s
tone. “I am very sorry, Gerard, and willing to make every
allowance. But I will not hear a word against my future wife.”

Gerard rushed away.

“Why not, after all?” he asked himself. Brothers had met before in
honorable combat alone beneath the moonlight shadows of Rhenish
castle walls. He laughed aloud, and when the coachman’s dog ran
out, barking, to greet him, he kicked the brute away.

Ursula could not but notice Otto’s silence--nay, more, his
depression--as they drove back again to the Parsonage. She
explained it by the Baroness’s reception of the engagement. For
not even the most laborious amiability could make the two women
misunderstand each other.

“Otto, I hope,” stammered the girl, with sudden heart-sinking, as
they paused under the little veranda, “oh, I hope you will never
repent.”

He hesitated, and, with human inconsistency, she resented the
momentary delay in his denial.

“No, I shall never repent,” he replied, “unless--”

He checked himself; he was going to say she must make up her
mind to leave Horstwyk, but he realized the unfairness of too
precipitate appeal.

“Unless?” she repeated, looking into his eyes.

“We will talk about it some other day,” he answered, hastily. “For
the moment you and I are simply happy; let that suffice us. I am
proud of you, my darling, and it seems too good, you caring for an
old fellow like me.”

He kissed her, and she blushed, half unwilling, under the unwonted
familiarity from a man she barely knew. Love and marriage seemed so
strange to her--not unpleasant, but so strange.

She watched him down the road, and her eyes grew misty. “Unless?”
she softly repeated to herself. Then she went and found her father
in his study.

“Papa,” she said, “you are sure that Otto loves me?”

“Why else should he ask you to marry him?” retorted the Dominé,
turning abruptly in his round desk-chair.

“Yes, that is true,” replied Ursula, humbly. “But they cannot say
the same of me.”

“How? What?” queried the Dominé, with troubled eyebrows.

She turned full to the light.

“Papa,” she said, impetuously, “it’s not that I want to be Baroness
van Helmont. I’m sure, I’m sure it’s not.”

The Dominé struck his hand on the table before him.

“No, indeed,” he cried, in a loud voice. “Who says that? Who dares
to say that?”

Ursula sighed wearily.

“Oh, no one does,” she answered. “Never mind. Life is very
complicated. I wish one always knew exactly what was right.”

“One always does,” said the simple-thoughted Dominé.

[Illustration: “‘NO ONE MORE SORRY THAN YOURSELF!’ BURST IN
GERARD”]

“Obey marching orders. Forward. Do the nearest duty at once, and
with all your might.”

Ursula sighed again, still more wearily, and, going out into the
passage, happed upon her aunt. Miss Mopius passed on her way to the
store-cupboard, her joined hands overweighted with eggs. At sight
of her successful rival she started, and one of the eggs flopped
down on the stones in slimy collapse.

“I can understand your exultation, Ursula,” said Miss Mopius, all
a-quiver, “but don’t sneer at me like that. I won’t stand it. Some
day, perhaps, you also will know the curse of Eve.”

Ursula, in the cruelty of her youth and beauty, barely pitied her
aunt.

“What was the curse of Eve?” she inquired.

“Adam,” retorted Miss Mopius, and dropped another egg.

“I’ll wipe up the mess,” said Ursula, sweetly.

Miss Mopius beat a hasty retreat. She spent the rest of the
afternoon diluting one solitary globule of a patent medicine
through a series of thirteen brimming decanters of water. A tumbler
from the first decanter was poured into the second, and so on
through the lot. The thirteenth solution, said the advertisement,
was the most “potent.” Miss Mopius believed the advertisement. The
magnificent name of the small globule had an ever-recurring charm
for her. It was called “Sympathetico Lob.” “Lob,” especially,
struck her as so delightfully mysterious. And it cured dizziness,
palpitation, bad taste in the mouth, liver complaint, rheumatism,
St. Vitus’ dance, stitch in the side, and heartburn, besides being
highly recommended for cases of agitation, nervous depression,
sudden bereavement, and disappointed love. Miss Mopius found it
very helpful. She sat in her darkened room, amid the falling
twilight, sipping.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening there was consternation in the big drawing-room at the
Horst. It spread itself like a great mist between the occupants
of the apartment, and prevented their looking into each other’s
eyes. The oppression had begun round Gerard’s vacant chair at
the dinner-table; it now deepened about the Baroness, where she
sat apart from the rest, straightened among the soft silks of
her _causeuse_. In the lap of her pearl gray evening-dress lay a
crumpled white scrap from Gerard:

  “I’m off to Drum. I sha’n’t come back as long as you’ve got Otto.
  The house can’t hold us both.--G.”

Father and elder son stood with downcast lids, watching each other
through inner eyes. The Freule laid down her newspaper.

“He will think twice,” she said, sharply. “Gerard is not the kind
of man to desert the fleshpots of Egypt because Moses has come with
a plague or two.”

The Baron’s gloomy face rippled over with sudden sunshine.

“That’s just like you, Louisa,” he cried, “to select the most
unfortunate simile in a hundred thousand. The worst of all Moses’s
plagues was the removal of the eldest son!” He laughed, looking
for the first time at his heir. “I am speaking from Gerard’s point
of view,” he added. “Of course, of course, from Gerard’s point of
view.” And he laughed again, but half-way the laugh died down into
a pathetic little murmur. “It is exceedingly annoying,” he said,
plaintively. “And I who detest unpleasantness! We have never had
any unpleasantness before.”

“He means it,” interposed the Baroness, in a dull tone. “I know he
means it, because of the little hook to the ‘G.’ When Gerard makes
that, he is in earnest. It corresponds to a jerk in his voice. None
of you understand Gerard. He is so good-natured; you fancy he is
all sunshine and no fire.”

“Deplorable!” exclaimed the Baron, stopping, helpless, in the
middle of the room. “And incomprehensible. All about a horse. We
will buy Louisa’s present, the sooner the better, and send it to
bring him back.”

“Ah! but is it all about a horse?” asked the Freule’s high-pitched
voice. Once more she emerged from behind her newspaper, her own
particular newspapers, the _Victory_! It would be difficult to say
what the _Victory_ wanted to conquer; but you received a general
impression from its pages that in this world the battle was always
to the strong.

“Ah! but is it all about a horse?” asked the Freule, amid a
darkening silence. “Or could Otto tell more if he would? You
consider me none too sharp-sighted, my dear brother and sister; but
it strikes me you are blind not to perceive that you would have had
a daughter-in-law Ursula anyway, whether your eldest had come back
or not, eh?” She shot out this last interjection at her nephew,
rising, meanwhile, all in one piece, with an abrupt sweep back of
her stand-up silk.

Otto was horrified by the sudden condensation of the amorphous
suspicions afloat in his brain. Could it be possible that he had
ousted a rival? Certainly, Gerard’s fury seemed in excess of
the injury to which he owned. For the first time, in the elder
brother’s heart also, dislike and distrust joined hands.

“Just so,” said the Freule van Borck, across his irritable
uncertainty. She nodded to the others provokingly, and walked out
upon the terrace. Otto followed her.

“Aunt Louisa,” he began, “I think you are mistaken.”

“Yes, Otto,” she answered. “Of course you do now. But you didn’t
when I first spoke, you see. Let me give you a bit of advice. Eh?”

“Well?” The young man’s voice was not inviting.

“Don’t go back to Java with your wife, as I dare say you want to
do. Stop here and fight it out. Ursula’ll fight it out. I don’t
give twopence for a married woman who can’t live in the same house
with her former lover. Of course they were lovers. I’ve seen it
these half a dozen years. Never mind. She was too good for Gerard.
There!” She smiled a complimentary smile to her brawny nephew; she
liked his brownness and bigness, and straight, square strength.

Otto crept away.

“To-morrow I shall speak about going away,” he said to himself.
“To-morrow, not to-night. The Dominé must listen to reason. The
shadow of Cain lies between Gerard and me.”



CHAPTER XVIII

THE DUTY OF A PARENT


Next morning, so it happened, the Dominé awoke to a moderately
disagreeable task. While dressing, he grumbled over the speck
in his tranquil sky, as mortals will do when unaware of the
storm-cloud fringing their horizon.

The Dominé had a parishioner who caused him more annoyance than the
rest. This sheep of the flock was, however, not a black sheep. It
was serenely white. It never wandered, for it never even got up.
Its name was Klomp, and its nature was unmitigated indolence.

This man Klomp inhabited a little cottage of his own, lost among
the woods. He shared it with two daughters, aged respectively
twelve and eighteen. Like its owner, the cottage lived on,
disgraceful but comfortable. Theoretically, it ought to have been
pulled down.

Klomp knew better. All summer he lazed over a hedge which
mysteriously bore his weight; all winter he dozed by the stove. If
any remnant of useless ornamentation fell away from the cottage,
the proprietor never winked an eye, but should a tile drop whose
fall let in the rain or wind, Klomp would scramble up on the roof
and replace it. He was a philosopher.

He never ill-treated his daughters unless they let the fire go out
in winter. To keep it lighted during seven months of the year was
their whole earthly duty, for house-keeping had long been reduced
to an almost imperceptible minimum. The entire family lived on next
to nothing very cheerfully, and was a disgrace to the neighborhood.

Vices the father had none. As has already been hinted, he was
negatively virtuous. He drowsed at peace with himself and with all
the world above and below him, except when the Dominé came to make
trouble.

The Dominé was making trouble just now. By a stroke of unexpected
good-fortune an opportunity had occurred of “doing something for
those poor girls,” whose one desire was that nothing should be done
either for them or by them. Freule van Borck, it must be known,
occasionally took a philanthropic interest in the village at her
brother’s castle-gates, an interest which manifested itself in
spasmodic bursts of tidying up neglected corners. She had suddenly
disapproved of that long-standing eyesore, the Klomps’ cottage, and
had made a beginning of improvement by getting an energetic person
in the north to accept of Pietje, the elder girl, as a possible
servant, wages five pounds per annum, all found. This good news had
been communicated to Pietje by Hephzibah, the Freule’s maid. Pietje
had merely answered, “Let the Freule go herself,” but that retort
got modified on its way to Louisa.

So now the Dominé went to try his hand. He especially disliked
all intercourse with Klomp, because, during their interviews, one
of the two invariably lost his temper, and that one was never the
parishioner. That was the worst of Klomp; he had no temper to lose.

To-day, however, the parson rejoiced in notable compensations;
these occupied his thoughts as he swung with large steps through
the woodlands. After the first shock of abandonment which every
parent feels in a daughter’s sudden rapture, he had settled down to
complacent contemplation of an eligible son-in-law. For the Dominé,
as we know, had never made a secret of his attachment to Otto. And
he lacked the requisite affectation to convince himself that the
secondary consideration of the young man’s social position was
altogether beneath the notice of a humble clergyman like himself.

His darling Ursula would flit from the nest--that is true--but only
to another close by, where he still could hear her singing. The
Dominé smiled gratefully over this linked perfection of prosperity:
wife to the heir of the Horst, and wife to Otto van Helmont.

“Lord God, I thank Thee,” said the Dominé, out aloud, among the
fragrance of the solitary lane. His path wound in sandy whiteness
beneath the heat-mist of the fir-trees; there was a buzz on all
sides of a myriad nothings, invisibly swelling the morning air.

The cottage lay prone upon the ground, asleep. It had sunk as low
as it could, and had pulled the ragged branches of the trees over
its ears, comfortably hiding in the cool, long shadows, naked and
unashamed.

The owner of the cottage lay prone upon the ground also; he
had the advantage of the house in that he was consciously--and
conscientiously-drowsing. “I sleep, but my heart waketh.” Klomp
knew he was not awake. Man has few pleasures here below; has he any
to equal that sensation?

“Good-morning, Klomp,” said the parson’s bright, brisk voice at
his ear. Klomp did not start; he merely half opened one eye and
answered, “Dominé,” which was his abbreviated form of salutation.
“Save your breath to spare your life,” was one of his axioms.

“Klomp, I’ve come about Pietje,” continued the Dominé, with that
loudness which, in him, was nervousness escaping. “I’ve heard
about the place the Freule has found for her. What a splendid
opportunity! And so kind of the Freule!”

Klomp nodded assent. Like most country parsons, the Dominé was
very sensitive to disrespect. “You might get up, Klomp,” he said,
sharply.

“Oh, if you wish it, sir, of course,” replied the man, shuffling
to his feet, with an air of contempt for the other’s stupidity. He
immediately lounged up against the wall, sinking both hands in his
pockets. “Them’s my sentiments to a T,” he ejaculated, and jerked
his head in the direction of a paper nailed against the dilapidated
shutter, white on the dirty green.

The parson, advancing curiously, read the following sentences in an
illiterate scrawl:

    “Standing is better than walking,
    Sitting is better than standing,
    Lying is better than sitting,
    And sleep is the best of all.”
                      1 Corinthians xix., 7.

Klomp nodded again, as the Dominé turned with a jump. “How dare you
put a Bible tag under such nonsense as this?” cried the Dominé,
sniffing like a warhorse.

“Yes, yes, the Bible knows,” replied Klomp, imperturbably. “It’s
word of Holy Scripture, Dominé, so you can’t say it isn’t true.”

“Word of holy scribbling!” cried the indignant clergyman. “It’s no
more in God’s Bible, Klomp, than you are in God’s fold. And you
haven’t even got it correct, for it ends ‘And death is the best of
all.’”

Suddenly a dark cloud seemed to spread across the sunlit landscape.
The surrounding larch-trees shivered, with a long-drawn sigh.

“I wish you would move a little on one side, Dominé,” said Klomp,
querulously, though he had never heard of Diogenes. “Thank you.
Well, a peddler-man that came showed it me in a book, and he said
it was in the Bible, and if it isn’t, it ought to be. Them’s my
sentiments. Morning, Dominé.”

His feet slipped forward under the weariness of this long
discourse; he recovered himself with a shuffle. Broad as the
concluding hint had been, the Dominé ignored it.

“You never do anything, Klomp,” he said, angrily.

“Then I never do anything wrong, Dominé. I don’t drink. I don’t
even smoke. I’m too poor.”

“Poverty is not disgraceful to confess,” replied the Dominé,
quoting Pericles, “but not to escape it by exertion, that is
disgraceful.”

Every child in the parish had heard the quotation.

Klomp yawned: “‘Peace and potatoes is better than a pother and a
cow.’ That’s in the Bible, at any rate,” he replied, and suddenly
he collapsed again upon the grass before the startled parson’s
backward skip.

“Could I see Pietje and speak to her? Perhaps _she_ will listen to
reason,” hazarded the Dominé, controlling his wrath. The father
pointed to the cottage door; then, suddenly remembering the vague
possibility of future poor-relief, as yet not required, he faintly
called his elder daughter’s name.

She crept out with a half-pared potato in her hand. She was a
ruddy-faced girl, not uncomely in her slovenliness, like an apple
that has fallen from the tree.

“Well, Pietje,” began Dominé Rovers, patiently, “so you are going
to Groningen to a nice home and useful work. It is very kind,
indeed, of the good lady who is willing to teach you.”

“Yes, Dominé,” said Pietje.

“Ah, that’s right,” cried the Dominé, with pleased surprise. “I’m
glad to see you’ve come to your senses. So you’re going, like a
good girl?”

“No, Dominé,” said Pietje.

“What do you mean, you impertinent creature?” exclaimed the
minister, exceedingly irate. “Not going when you said you were.
Not--”

“No, Dominé,” repeated Pietje, sitting down on the window-sill.

Dominé Rovers turned upon the recumbent father. Of course he had
lost his temper; he had known all along that he would do so the
consciousness of losing hold caused him to let go all the faster.

“I appeal to you,” he cried--“you, the responsible guardian of this
child. Her lot is in your hands to-day for life-long weal or woe.
She is incapable of choosing, and unfit to do so. It is only your
selfishness, Klomp, that is ruining your daughters’ lives. You say
you want them with you, I hear. A pretty excuse.”

“Yes; I love them,” murmured Klomp, sentimentally.

“And what would Mietje do?” interposed Pietje, looking up from
vague contemplation of the pendent potato-peel. Mietje was the
child of twelve.

This objection not being easy to meet, the Dominé ignored it. “Fine
love, indeed,” he shouted to the father. “When a parent loves his
child, he sacrifices any inclinations of his own to that child’s
real welfare. The parent who doesn’t do that, doesn’t love. Do you
understand me?”

“Oh yes,” said Klomp.

“Then take this to heart. If you don’t send Pietje to Groningen,
and make her go, you don’t love her. There!”

“Would the Dominé send Juffrouw Ursula to Groningen?” asked Pietje,
askance.

“Indeed I should,” replied the Dominé, triumphantly, thinking of
the Horst. “Never should I allow my own interests to influence me.
Be sensible, Klomp.”

But at this moment a welcome diversion occurred. Mietje, the child,
came running round the cottage with pitiful cries.

“Pussy!” she screamed from afar; “oh, father, pussy! The rope
broke, and she’s dropped into the well!”

She was sobbing and shrieking; nobody scolded her for her
mischief-making. Pietje started up with eager words of comfort.

“Father would get the ladder. Father would go down into the water.
Father would fish out pussy.”

Klomp was already up and away. The two girls hurried after him. The
Dominé was left alone.

“Well, I have done my duty,” he mused, retracing his steps. “The
best of us can do no more.” He was a very good man. He had a good
man’s weakness for consciously doing his duty.

As he turned into a little brown hollow all checkered with sunlit
tracery, he saw Otto van Helmont come vaulting over a stile.

“Ah, Dominé, I was looking for you,” said Otto. Then they walked on
side by side, and gradually an embarrassing silence settled down
between them. The Dominé broke it.

“It is a very fine day,” said the Dominé.

“Yes,” replied Otto. “Dominé, when Ursula and I are married, we
must go back to Java.”

“Never,” said the Dominé, and with a sweep of his walking-stick he
knocked down a thistle.

“I--I am aware that perhaps I have hardly acted quite fairly,”
began Otto, speaking with some agitation. “It has all come so
suddenly; I have allowed myself to be overwhelmed. Apart from her
general condemnation of India, which I have never treated quite
seriously, the subject has not yet been mooted between us. I wished
first to speak of it to you. I feel that I am asking--”

The Dominé had stopped in the middle of the narrow path.

“It was the condition,” he interrupted, hoarsely. “She made it the
condition. Never.”

“No, indeed, we have not spoken of it,” cried Otto, in distress.

The Dominé stamped his foot. “Women always forget everything,” he
said.

Otto hurried on. “I want to explain,” he continued, eagerly. “I
hope you will let me explain. It is a most painful thing for all of
us. I cannot stay at the Horst, Dominé; that is quite out of the
question. In fact, the sooner I leave it the better.”

“Why?” broke in the Dominé, vehemently. “What nonsense! Of course
you can stay at the Horst!”

“I cannot bear the idea of earning my living in this country; you
yourself have always discouraged it. Besides, I must earn much more
than my living. That is imperative. Especially now.” He checked
himself; he was not going to speak to the Dominé of the Baroness’s
shattered hopes. But Ursula’s father understood.

Involuntarily both men’s eyes wandered away across the fields
towards the chimneys of the Horst embedded in foliage. Then their
glances met.

“Never. Never. Never,” repeated the Dominé, passionately.

“In a few years I shall probably want money,” declared Otto,
decisively. “I shall want a good deal of money, I expect. I must do
what I can to earn it. You will say, perhaps, like my father, that
till now I have tried and failed. All the more reason to try again.”

“No, I don’t say that,” responded the Dominé, honestly. “You know I
don’t. But, Otto, I can’t let my Ursula go to Java.”

Otto did not immediately return to the charge. Presently he began
again, in quite a low voice, almost a whisper, under the laughing
blue sky,

“More than fifteen years ago a young man came to you, complaining
bitterly that he was sick of his empty, meaningless existence. He
was tired of life, he said. And you answered, ‘Go and work. The
people who work have no time to get tired.’”

“But I never said, ‘Go and amass money,’” interrupted the old man,
lifting a shaky arm.

“You said, ‘Spend your own money.’ How well I remember your saying
that the night I came to you! ‘You are a grown man. Don’t spend any
one’s money but your own.’ It came to me like a revelation. It was
so directly opposed to what I had been taught from my youth. In my
world they say, ‘Only don’t earn money. You may do anything except
that.’”

“Well, you have obeyed that precept,” replied the Dominé, a little
bitterly. Then he repented immediately.

“Otto, you’re a good fellow. I can’t let my Ursula go away to Java.”

“I was wrong, perhaps,” said Otto, “to demand so great a sacrifice.
I ought to have spoken more plainly of my intentions beforehand--”

“You ought, indeed,” interjected the Dominé, glad of every vent.
“You have behaved exceedingly badly.”

“So be it. Well, I leave the matter in your hands. Personally,
of course, I consider I ought to return. I have a fresh offer--a
really advantageous opening on a sugar plantation, a large
distillery--”

The Dominé looked at him.

“That means rough work,” said the Dominé.

“But you must decide,” continued Otto, evasively. “If you
distinctly prefer it, I shall look for occupation in Holland. Only
in no case can I remain at the Horst.”

“You can,” cried the Dominé, quite angrily.

Otto had stopped. His eyes were following a distant swallow’s
trackless dips.

“And even if I could,” he said, slowly, “my wife could not--Ursula
could not.”

The Dominé’s eyes sought his in long inquiry.

“With Gerard,” said Otto at last.

“Ah!”

Then the Dominé cried, “Stuff and nonsense! stuff and nonsense! I
don’t believe a word of it. Nor do you.”

“I leave the decision in your hands,” repeated Otto. “Some
employment of some kind in some Dutch town, if you so wish.”

The Dominé leaned up against a tree; he closed his eyes; his
bronzed face was quite white. The wood seemed to hold its breath
under the sneering sky.

“When a father loves his child,” began the Dominé; then his voice
broke. “My Ursula,” he said. “God have mercy on me! The Lord gives
and the Lord takes away.” He stopped.

Otto, thoughtfully wending his way homeward, reached a spot where
the Manor-house burst into view all at once through the park.
Unconsciously he stood still. The moments passed by; he remained
without moving; a yellow butterfly came foolishly hovering among
the bushes; he did not see it.

Suddenly a single tear lay heavy on his cheek.



CHAPTER XIX

FORFEITS ALL ROUND


For the next three months Otto worked in a sugar-distillery at
Boxlo, a little town among the wilds of Brabant. It was rough work,
indeed, as the Dominé had foretold. Night after night the Jonker
stood, stripped to the waist, before the blazing furnaces; in the
small hours he came home to his lodgings and strove to snatch
from the daylight such sleep as he could. Fortunately he was very
robust, but that, although an alleviation, can hardly be considered
an excuse. Sometimes even he wondered whether such slaving, amid
grime and oil-stench and sick throbs, was his natural fate, but
his father had truly described him as animated by a passion of
self-torture. Out-of-the-way horrors were probably one’s duty.
Besides, what other career was open to him at the moment? Once in
India, with his friend’s assistance, he would stand an excellent
chance of making a fortune by sugar, as that friend had done before
him, in half a dozen years.

So he worked, night after night, month after month, with set lips
and still eyes. Occasionally he spent a Sunday at the Manor-house,
as if a traveller traversing mountain solitudes had halted from
time to time at a Parisian café. His father and mother accepted
him without comment, adverse or otherwise; in the smooth design
of their lives he was an arabesque run mad. During his stay the
Baroness chiefly regretted Gerard.

The only person who stuck to him through it all, stanch and true,
was Roderick Rovers. Once having accepted the duty of sacrifice,
the Dominé delighted in its pain. He rejoiced in proving to himself
how, like the old soldier he was, he could probe his own wound
without wincing.

“It is a great thing in Otto to go,” he said. “It is a great thing
in me to let him take Ursula. Great souls do great things gladly.”
Then he laughed at himself: “Pshaw,” he said, “‘Men always imagine
the struggle of the moment, while they are engaged in it, to be the
greatest that ever was.’ You will find that in Thucydides, Ursula.
Thucydides was a very wise man.”

Ursula acquiesced a little impatiently. She did not want to go
to Java. She thought Otto should have made known his intentions
in time. Placed between the two, she immediately discarded her
brand-new lover for the father on whose affection her whole life
had been built up. In the sudden certainty of separation from the
Dominé, she discovered, with alarming unexpectedness, that she
could very well have continued to exist without Otto. For several
days their engagement dangled on a thread.

Her irritated hesitancy filled her lover with dismay, for it
strengthened all his doubts of Gerard. An honest maiden’s accepted
lover does not ask her if she loves another man. Indignantly Otto
wiped the momentary film from the pure reflection he bore in his
heart. But there are actions we barely commit, yet remember a
lifetime.

It was the Dominé, after all, who married Ursula to Otto, with deep
commiseration for himself. His dear child’s filial loyalty, while
it wakened all his pride, showed him his own path the more clearly.
“A woman shall leave father and mother and shall cleave unto her
husband,” he said. “Never shall I allow you to desert Otto for
my sake. You do not know your own heart, child. Your magnanimity
leads you astray.” Ultimately Ursula almost believed this. But she
conditioned for a two years’ absence only.

“I, had such been my lofty mission, would have proved myself
faithful unto death,” said Miss Mopius, to whom came outer echoes
of the struggle. “A great love, like blazing sunlight, hides the
whole world in its own bright mist. Van Helmont has dropped a
diamond to play with a pebble. So like a man.” Miss Mopius, since
her disappointment, had grown very romantic in her talk. According
to the advertisements it was the Sympathetico Lob; according to
her own account it was her mighty sorrow. “Ah, my dear, do not let
us speak of it. Every woman’s heart is a sanctuary with a crypt.”

She snorted at Ursula’s heavy eyes. “Every man gets the wife he
deserves,” she said. “With women that is not the case, their choice
being limited.” Ursula was incapable of small, spiteful retorts;
she made up her mind that she would prove to Aunt Josine and the
world how worthily Otto had chosen.

So she set to work on her trousseau, and was very affectionate
to her father. There was something exceedingly painful in
this latter-day softness between two hitherto undemonstrative
characters. When Ursula laid down a neglected needle to look across
at the Dominé, the old man would jump up with swift repression, and
angrily bid her go on. The days shortened: perhaps that made them
seem to pass so swiftly, and the appointed wedding-morn drew near.

Meanwhile another wedding was also announced as imminent, and
various members of the Helmont family gnashed their teeth over the
prospect. The whole of Drum, however, jabbered fairly good-natured
approval, which is surely saying a good deal, and more than most
young couples can hope for.

“Yes, Gerard, it is quite true,” said Helena van Trossart,
stopping, in a crowded ballroom, a white vision among the glitter
and hum. “You could have assured yourself it was true without
insulting me by the question.” Her clear eyes flashed. “I am going
to marry Willie van Troyen.”

Gerard was very hot--the room was hot. “No,” he said, thickly, “I
should never have believed it, unless I had heard it from your own
lips.” He drew a little aside, almost secure, yet not quite, among
the restless throng.

“I cannot make you out at all,” he went on, in great agitation;
“I--I don’t want to say anything, but--” He checked himself; his
eyebrows twitched; his whole face grew troubled with suppressed
meaning.

She understood him perfectly. For a few moments--perhaps half a
minute--she remained quite silent, with eyes downcast, her bosom
heaving, her graceful figure a-tremble, like her lips. At last,
amid the rhythmic flow of gayety around, she lifted her solemn
gaze to his, and spoke with slow distinctness. “I know what you
would taunt me with,” she said. “You think me inconsistent. But in
his case it doesn’t matter. I do not love him.”

And then the room swam round in a whirl, and she was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

After that they were more than ever unwilling to meet. Yet, in a
little circle like theirs the thing was unavoidable, and Gerard had
constantly to face what was almost more painful--the tacit misery
of the fat Baroness, Helena’s comfortable aunt, who understood,
with a woman’s insight in all such matters, that everything ought,
somehow, to have been different to what it was.

The Baroness van Trossart complained to her husband, but the
Baron said that the Van Troyens were as good a family as the Van
Helmonts, and he didn’t see that it mattered.

“Personally,” he added, “I am unable to perceive much difference
between the two young men. They are both fair-complexioned and
gentlemanly, and ill-mannered, like their companions. I wonder that
Nellie should have thought the exchange worth her while.”

The lady would have protested.

“My dear, I cannot help it. Had _I_ been consulted I should have
requested Helena to marry your three nephews Van Asveld. Their
mother is pestering me to find the whole three of them places with
a start of two hundred a year. The thing is impossible!” He coughed
testily, and before his important eyes he held a blue-book upside
down.

Equally bootless was the Baroness’s attempt to seek refuge in the
sympathy of Mademoiselle Papotier. That impenetrable Frenchwoman
only replied,

“Mon Dieu, Madame, le mariage n’est pas l’amour!” taking the name
of three holy things in vain within one short sentence, after the
manner of her race.

But one evening towards dusk, as Gerard was dressing for dinner,
he heard some one enter his little front sitting-room, to whom he
called out, into the heavy twilight,

“All right, old chap! Wait a minute till I get my shirt on. There’s
some sherry and bitters on the sideboard.”

Presently he went forward with his fingers at his collar-stud.
In the shadow stood a shawl-enfolded figure whom he thought he
recognized.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he said; “I told the landlady to send you
up. If you don’t do the things better I must get some other woman.
I believe you purposely wear holes in my underclothing.”

“Indeed, Monsieur,” came the reply in French, “I am most anxious to
wash your dirty linen, but, Monsieur Gerard, you give your family
almost too much of it.”

“By Jove!” replied Gerard. “I say, Mademoiselle, wait a minute till
I--” He disappeared.

Mademoiselle Papotier smiled a supercilious smile. “Ah, que les
hommes sont plaisants,” she murmured. “Mauvais plaisants!” she
added. But when Gerard returned a few moments later she was boldly
agreeable to him, with a smirk round her slightly mustachioed lips.

“To what am I indebted?” began the young officer.

She waved a little deprecatory hand in the neatest of gray gloves.

“A moment!” she said. “Can you not spare me a moment? I am
fatigued. May I not repose myself?”

Gerard, ashamed and awkward, hurriedly pushed forward an arm-chair.

“Ah, but sit you down also,” she expostulated. “Only the
disagreeable says itself standing.” Then, as he obeyed, she looked
at him with an ogle. “What a handsome man you are!” she said. The
words frightened Gerard excessively but unnecessarily; it was only
part of Mademoiselle Papotier’s philosophy that you could put
_every_ man on earth into a good-humor by broadly praising his
looks. If Red Riding-hood had said to the wolf “What fine teeth you
have!” instead of “What big ones!” he would probably have abandoned
his intention of eating her.

“No wonder the poor thing loved you,” immediately added the little
governess, casting down her eyes. She was hung round with black jet
indiscriminately, and she picked at it--now here, now there.

Gerard, as we know, was not a diplomatist. “Did _she_ ask you to
come and tell me that?” he cried, with irritable irony.

“Ah, Monsieur van Helmont,” replied the Frenchwoman, softly, and
her swarthy face seemed to lose its vigor, “it is always like that;
you men, you knock at a woman’s heart until it opens, and then you
cry out in scorn at the open door!” She hesitated for a moment,
still plucking at the jet. “First the beautiful Ursula,” she said,
“and then my own sweet Helena. Aye, Monsieur, it is not right!”

“Ursula?” cried Gerard, in amazement.

“Yes, do you think no one knows? Oh, that is like you men again.
You can always trust the woman you have wronged to keep your
secret. You are safe. Not a word has the noble Helena spoken; but
trust Papotier to see for herself.”

“It is not true,” said Gerard, with real fervor. “I have never
wronged a hair of Ursula’s head.”

Mademoiselle Papotier blushed, actually blushed. “The word
‘wrongs,’” she said, “is not easily defined; it has a masculine
and a feminine gender. Ah, there you behold the former governess!
One thing, however, I can tell you, Monsieur van Helmont, it is
Mademoiselle Ursula and her wrongs that have lost you your bride.
I repeat, Helena has told me nothing; but Mademoiselle Rovers, and
she alone, has broken off your engagement.” Then she went on to
tell her astounded listener about the interview on the garden seat
which she had watched from her staircase window.

“And after that,” she concluded, “there was an end of it. My Helena
would not have the parson’s daughter’s leavings. And quite right.”
She shut up her mouth with a snap.

But she opened it again immediately.

“Nevertheless,” she went on, “I consider she exaggerates.
Especially because she cared for you, and your previous belle
evidently did not. It is for that I am come. The step is absurd,
perhaps, but what is that to me? I am come to say the marriage with
this little rabbit-eye is a farce. It must be prevented. Go tell
my Helena that there is nothing between you and the _fiancée_ of
your brother. Women are vain; who knows but what this Ursula has
lied? You appear sincere. And I say one thing more, though I should
not. Mark me. Helena will marry you if she can. She is proud, poor
little thing, as she has a right to be, but--Ah, these men, these
men! Then you will bid the little comrade go away home. I do not
love you, Monsieur Gerard. I do not say these things for love of
you. But they are true.”

[Illustration: “HE WENT FORWARD WITH HIS FINGERS AT HIS
COLLAR-STUD”]

She had spoken with suppressed vehemence, she now smiled a thin
smile, and her lips trembled.

“I do not know what to say or think,” replied Gerard, greatly
agitated. “Towards Ursula, at least, I am innocent. What interest
can she have had in ruining my chance with Helena? Mademoiselle,
you--you must really excuse me. I am going out to dinner. I shall
be late as it is!” He started gladly to his feet.

She also rose, with a great rustle of scorn.

“Good-night, Monsieur,” she said. “A benevolent fairy--remember
there are old fairies--has shown you the hole in the hedge; will
you have the sense to creep through unscratched? Ah, be sure that
I should rather have barred your path with my body, but that love
cannot bear to see the whole life of the beauty benumbed in the
wrong prince’s arms. Princes, forsooth!” She dropped him a courtesy
and hurried away.

He had not even time to sit down and think it out. His excuse had
been as imperative as it was inane. He flew off to his dinner-party
and laughed and flirted, wondering all the time whether Ursula
could possibly have had “a weakness” for him. That seemed to be
the only possible explanation. Evidently it was Mademoiselle
Papotier’s. Romance, exaggeration, these were probable; but he
could hardly believe in intentional spite or untruth.

And yet--he was very much out of temper with Ursula for her capture
of “that fool, Otto.” His rage against his brother, softened by
time and a capital new horse, melted still more at the thought
that he had wronged Otto regarding Helena. Ursula, then, was at
the bottom of the mischief. Ursula, the designing intruder; the
nobody who, one day, would rule at the Horst. She had always been
a subject to him of kindly indifference. He was angry with himself
for the violence of his new passion against her.

On returning home he found a note awaiting him. It contained
only these two quotations, evidently from Papotier’s favorite
seventeenth-century romances:

  “Said Marcellino: ‘Damaris, my brother is faithless. I can prove
  it to you. Why, then, should your heart, blinded by useless
  smoke, still refuse to perceive the flame that is burning in
  mine--_i.e._, heart.’”

  “Rodelinda replied: ‘Adelgunda, I thank you for warning me.
  The lover that deserted you shall never have an opportunity of
  trampling upon Rodelinda’s affections.’”

“Exactly,” said Gerard, sighing heavily. He was very miserable. And
then he went to sleep.

Meanwhile Otto plodded on, unconscious of the sins laid to his
charge and to Ursula’s. The story which Adeline had forced upon
him in the public gardens at Drum he had folded away on a shelf in
his memory. What else could he do? He was not the man to influence
Gerard. We know it was not through him that the tale reached
Ursula--or Helena.

His occupations called him away from Boxlo to Bois-le-Duc, the
capital of Brabant. There he came into frequent contact with a
cousin, of whom he had previously known very little--nothing
personally--and regarding whom his parents would hardly have cared
to enlighten any one. This was a young Van Helmont, who lived with
a widowed mother, and supported himself as a post-office clerk.
The Helmonts of the Horst did not object to his poverty, but to
his mother. To Otto’s enthusiastic eulogies the Baroness listened
bored. She was too polite to ask him to change the subject;
besides, perhaps she felt that such a measure would have proved
quite useless, for, whatever Otto might select to say, he bored
her by his way of saying it. She could only love this son, not
live with him. She rejoiced with exceeding joy when Gerard, whose
character was incapable of vindictiveness, consented once more to
sit opposite to Otto at table. Still, the brothers held aloof.

And the wedding-day drew near, overshadowingly near. One person
delighted in that thought. Otto.



CHAPTER XX

MYNHEER MOPIUS’S PARTY


Mynheer Jacóbus Mopius stood on the hearth-rug in his wife’s
bedroom.

“My dear,” he said, “I must admit this--since you have taken to
spending the greater part of your day up-stairs, the house has
become most insufferably dull.”

For Mevrouw Mopius this remark had long ago lost all its novelty;
still, she never grew to like it, even while she meekly answered,

“Yes, my dear, yes. I know. I shall be better soon.” And she added,
as one of her familiar after-thoughts, “Harriet ought to amuse you.”

“Oh, Harriet amuses me fast enough,” retorted Mynheer Mopius, with
unpleasing alacrity. “But you’d soon be all right if you left off
remembering you were ill.”

“Yes, my dear, yes,” repeated Mevrouw Mopius, closing her faded
eyes. Her cheeks were faded, her hair was faded, her flannel
dressing-gown was faded. In the fading light, complacent Mynheer
Mopius, looking down upon her, thought how excessively faded she
was.

“Only yesterday,” Mynheer continued, triumphantly, “I purposely
asked your doctor what was wrong with you. And what do you think
his answer was? He said he really couldn’t tell. There!” Mynheer
Mopius stood out, defiant, protruding his portly prosperity.
“He--said--he--really--_couldn’t_--_tell_.”

It gave Mevrouw Mopius some comfort to learn how literally the
physician fulfilled the promise she had extracted from him.

“And it’s absurd to have the whole house made wretched by an
illness the doctor don’t even put a name to. If you’re not down to
breakfast to-morrow I shall send for a professor from Amsterdam.”

“Don’t, Jacóbus,” gasped the lady. “I’m feeling better to-day. I
really am. I don’t want no professors from anywhere.”

“But I do. Sarah, I believe you enjoy being ill. Thank goodness I
can afford to cure my wife.”

“There’s another reason, besides,” he added, after a moment, “why I
want you to hurry up. There’s this wedding of Ursula’s coming on.
They’ve behaved very badly, I know; but Roderick was never a man
to know about manners--never in society, poor fellow. However, I’m
not one to take offence. I intend to give a big party here in the
‘bride-days.’”[I]

“Jacóbus!” exclaimed his wife. “Why, we don’t even know the Van
Helmonts. She hasn’t even presented him here!”

“My dear, did I not say that Roderick is a boor? Josine tells me
they have paid none of the customary visits on either side. In one
word, they behaved as people who don’t know how to behave, and I am
going to behave as a person who does know.”

“But, Jacóbus--”

“Ursula is my own sister Mary’s child. My own sainted sister
Mary’s. And I shouldn’t even give a wedding-party to my own sister
Mary’s only child? Sarah, it is all your increasing indolence.
You are prematurely making an old woman of yourself. Look at me.
I am two years your junior, but it might be twenty. Aren’t you
ashamed of yourself?” As he said this he arranged the rose in
his button-hole, with a great crackle of his blue-spotted white
waistcoat. An oily satisfaction played over the yellow smoothness
of his cheeks.

The truth of it was, of course, that the whole man burned with
eagerness to leap, at one rush, into the glories of the great
world. The opportunity was unique; it offered more than the boldest
could have hoped for; we may well forgive his anxiety.

Mevrouw Mopius lay in utter collapse, a crumpled rag, against one
corner of her great chintz chair.

“I want Harriet!” she said, faintly. Her husband gave a great snort
of contempt as he stalked from the room.

A few minutes later Harriet entered, a novel, as usual, in her
dangling hand.

“Harriet, I must have my drops,” exclaimed the invalid, sharply.
“The doctor said I was to have them every two hours. And in freshly
drawn water each time. I told him it couldn’t be done. Doctor, I
said, I’ve nobody to fetch me the water.”

Harriet busied herself about the side-table, mechanically, and in
silence.

“‘And your niece?’ said the doctor,” Mevrouw Mopius continued. “So
I had to tell him you were no good.”

“Oh, he knows that,” replied Harriet. “I’m no nurse. I can’t look
after sick people.”

“There’s one person you’ll nurse, if ever she’s sick,” replied
Mevrouw, with a grunt, swallowing down her medicine. “Harriet, do
you know the date for which Ursula’s wedding is fixed?”

“Thursday month,” curtly answered Harriet, who just now hated the
fortunate bride with unreasoning envy--an envy that wrung tears
from the lonely girl at night.

“What day of the month?” persisted Mevrouw, wearily.

“It’s the twenty-third.”

“Harriet, you must go across to the doctor’s for me. I can’t have
him here again just yet; his coming vexes your uncle so. You must
say to him--listen--word for word; you must say, ‘Aunt bids me ask:
Will uncle be able to go to the wedding-feast on the sixteenth of
next month?’ Just that. And you must bring back an answer--yes or
no. Go along.”

“But the wedding is on the twenty-third,” protested Harriet,
sulkily. “And besides, Uncle Mopius isn’t ill.”

“Yes he is,” replied the invalid, with guilty incisiveness.
“You just go and do as you’re told, and come back with the
answer immediate. Harriet, if you don’t say a word about it
down-stairs--you’d only make your uncle nervous--I’ll give you my
Florentine brooch, the mosaic of the two doves drinking. Now hurry
away.”

Thus incited, Harriet sulked off through the stolid streets. If
Mevrouw Mopius did not send a note to the physician, it was not
only that she felt physically and autographically inadequate, but
also because she confidently believed that Harriet would in any
case have broken the seal.

The messenger soon reached her destination. A maid-servant admitted
her into the young doctor’s private room. He was at luncheon.

“My aunt sends me to you on a fool’s errand,” she began, abruptly.
“This is her literal message: ‘There’s a wedding-feast on the
sixteenth’--which there isn’t--‘will Uncle Mopius be able to go?’”
She hung her head with affected accentuation of the indifference
she was really feeling.

The doctor hesitated and looked curiously at her.

“I’m to bring back an answer--yes or no,” she added.

“Yes or no?” repeated the doctor. “Would you mind saying it again,
Miss Verveen?”

“There’s a wedding entertainment on the sixteenth,” answered
Harriet, with almost ill-mannered impatience. “Will Uncle Mopius be
able to _go_?”

The young doctor studied his boots for a minute. Then he said,
slowly: “No; I believe, considering the circumstances, I may safely
commit myself to a ‘No.’ As your aunt so expressly wishes it, you
must tell her my opinion is ‘No.’” He was much annoyed, but he
could not help himself. By this time he had got somewhat accustomed
to Mevrouw Mopius, the strangest of patients, who treated him like
a younger colleague called in for a consultation.

“Very good,” said Harriet. “I’ll tell her. And now, please, a
little questioning on my own account. What’s the matter with Uncle
Mopius?”

“Nothing, Juffrouw Harriet,” replied the young man, heartily,
with sudden relief. “I am glad to be able to assure you that your
excellent uncle enjoys very fair health.”

“Don’t tell me untruths, if you please,” persisted the girl,
greatly in earnest. “I have very particular reasons of my own for
desiring to know. What’s wrong with him? Why shouldn’t he go to a
party--if there were a party--on the sixteenth?”

“Oh, he might be a little out of sorts, you know. You had better
give your aunt her message. It must be rather dull for you
sometimes, Juffrouw Harriet, eh?” He cast an admiring glance at
her; he had quick, sympathetic eyes, good doctor’s eyes.

“By no means,” replied Harriet; but her attitude, grown suddenly
listless again, belied her words. “So you see what a fool’s errand
mine was! As for Aunt Sarah, of course I know she’s very ill. I
wish she wasn’t. It’s very hard on me. I can’t nurse invalids, and
I hate to seem unkind.”

“Oh, I’m sure you couldn’t be unkind to any one,” said the young
man, sweetly. It struck him that his lunch-table looked very
forlorn. “You couldn’t be, Miss Harriet.”

“Oh yes, I could,” replied Harriet, quickly. “I am always unkind,
for instance, to people who call me Miss Harriet, and forget that
my name is Miss Verveen.”

The doctor laughed rather awkwardly as she turned to go.

“You are quite right,” he answered; “quite right. Either Juffrouw
Verveen or--not Juffrouw at all; I envy the privileged few.”

“So it’s ‘No’?” she said, with her hand on the door-knob.

“So it’s ‘No’?” he repeated, boldly, looking her straight in the
face. But he read his answer there, and sobered suddenly, as the
physician crushed down the lover in presence of the great tragedy
so quietly enacting. “Yes, I’m afraid it must be ‘No,’” he said.
“The sixteenth, you said? Tell your aunt I am awfully sorry, but as
far as I am able to judge, she had better think ‘No.’”

Harriet hurried home through the autumn grayness of the sleepy
little town. A peculiar smile hung fixed upon her forbidding
features, a mixture of anxiety and content. She went straight up to
her aunt’s bedroom.

“The answer is ‘No,’” she said.

Mevrouw Mopius made no reply. She lay back, with closed eyes and
sunken jaws, almost as her niece had left her when sent forth upon
this hideous errand. Harriet flung herself down on a chair, and
resumed her novel. Presently she rose to slip away.

Mevrouw Mopius opened her eyes.

“Harriet, give me my tambour-frame,” she said. Harriet obediently
drew forth Laban from his cupboard, and removed the sheltering
tissue-paper. “I wonder could I do a stitch or two,” said Mevrouw
Mopius, dolefully. She sat trying to thread a big needle with shaky
fingers. Harriet waited a moment, watching her.

“Let me do it,” suggested Harriet at last.

But Aunt Sarah resented this interference.

“I wasn’t attending,” she said, angrily; “I was thinking of
something else. Surely you don’t imagine I couldn’t thread a
needle?”

And as she still continued trying, pitifully, tremblingly, her
niece turned impatiently away.

“Do you know,” continued Mevrouw Mopius, contemplating the gaudy
flare of patriarchs and camels, “I have been thinking that I
should like to give it, if I can finish it, to Ursula Rovers for a
wedding-present. She admired it very much when she was here. She
was the only person that ever admired it.” Her voice became quite
sorrowful.

“Dominé Pock admired it,” said Harriet, soothingly.

“Yes, after dining here!” exclaimed the invalid, with a flash
of grim humor. “He said Jacob must have had just such a face as
that. Now, Harriet, that was flattery. For Jacob couldn’t have had
_exactly_ that sort of face.” Indeed, had the countenance of the
patriarch blazed in such continuous scarlet, his uncle could never
have engaged him to look after cows.

“Besides, Pock doesn’t really know about Jacob’s face,” continued
Mevrouw Mopius, with a sick person’s insistence, “for I asked
him myself if we had an authentic photograph”--she meant
“portrait”--“and he said we hadn’t. Though we have of Joseph, he
said. It seems a very great pity. I should have liked to do it from
the life.”

Mevrouw Mopius sank into aggrieved consideration of the father’s
remissness about sitting for his likeness as compared with the
foresight shown by the son.

“Yes, I should give it to Ursula for her wedding,” she resumed,
after another long pause, “unless--”

She broke off.

“Unless what?” prompted Harriet.

“Unless I should like it for a cushion in my coffin. I think that
might be rather nice.”

“Aunt!” exclaimed Harriet, in real horror, and a sudden film of
feeling clouded her passionate eyes.

“Why, my dear, whatever is the matter?” queried the elder lady,
calmly. “All of us die some day, do we not? And when my time has
come, I should like to carry away with me my last bit of work.”

“Ah, but this is not going to be your last, you know,” comforted
Harriet, with the easy infatuation of the survivor.

“Well, if not, then Ursula shall certainly have it,” Mevrouw
said, cheerfully. “I wish I were quite sure she would put it,
as a fire-screen, in her drawing-room. Imagine _my_ work in the
drawing-room at the Horst. I should like that.” She resumed her
tender contemplation of the immovably staring figures. “I am very
tired,” she whispered; “go down now to your uncle, and tell him the
doctor says he can have his party on the sixteenth or after. Don’t
say anything about my message; your uncle’s got a cold, but he
doesn’t want people to know it. There can be no objection, however,
to his asking people here.”

Poor woman, she prided herself on her clumsy diplomacy.

“Let him get ready for his party,” she reflected. “It will keep him
busy--meanwhile.”

In the face of Mynheer Mopius’s blindly staring selfishness, the
stratagem was completely successful. Plunged up to the eyebrows in
preparations for a gorgeous entertainment, which was, of course, to
excel all similar ones, that gentleman forgot to notice his wife’s
condition. He would run up to her with long descriptions of his
arrangements, to which she listened reposefully for hours. When he
went down-stairs again she smiled. He was happy, and he was letting
her die in peace.

Soon Mynheer Mopius was obliged to slip over to Horstwyk to consult
with the relations who had so suddenly increased in importance. He
found the trio gathered in the Parsonage drawing-room to receive
him, and he patted their heads all round. He even condescended to
chaff Josine about “one wedding begetting another,” as they say in
Dutch, and proposed that she should be bridesmaid and make up to
the best man.

“I should never marry my junior. I disapprove of such matches,”
replied Josine, hitting out, however unreasonably, at both Ursula
and Mopius.

“Well, we can’t all marry our twin-sisters, like Abraham,” said
Mopius, reddening. “Can we, Roderick?”

“Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister,” answered the Dominé, wistfully
gazing out at the placid sky.

“Well, at any rate, _my_ Sarah’s only six years my senior, and I
made it two the day we married. I’ve done my duty to the old girl.
Ursula, I hope that thirty years hence you’ll be able to say as
much.”

“You married for money,” retorted Josine. As her niece’s
wedding-day approached, Miss Mopius’s growing disagreeableness
became a source of great agitation to herself. She smelled at her
vinaigrette.

“Pooh!” replied Mopius. “If so, I quadrupled the sum. Don’t be more
of a nuisance than you can help, Josine, or I sha’n’t invite you to
my party.”

“There are the Baron and the Baroness coming down the road,”
interposed Ursula, watching her father’s flushed face.

“Where? Show me, Ursula,” cried Mopius, bounding to the window.

She laughed. “I do believe they are coming here!” she cried. “You
will have to meet them now, Uncle Jacóbus.”

“I have no objection to meeting them,” replied Jacóbus, red and
important. “I was going to ask them, of course, to my party. I have
no objection to the aristocracy as such.”

A moment later he was bowing and smiling--bowing what he considered
an eighteenth-century bow. And the Baron was expressing his delight
at making the acquaintance of Ursula’s uncle, “of whom he had heard
so much.” Furthermore, Mynheer van Helmont spoke with admiration
of Mynheer Mopius’s villa, upon which Mynheer Mopius replied, in
the kindest manner possible, that it was very nice, but not as
fine as the Horst. He also proffered his invitation on the spot,
and the Baroness, smiling elaborately, accepted it, as in duty
bound. It was some time before her courteous husband consented
to catch her eye, and then she immediately arose. In those few
minutes the retired attorney had twice called Mynheer van Helmont
“Baron,” and several other atrocious things had occurred. “How
small she is! She needn’t look so bumptious!” thought Mopius, as
the little lady shook hands. He was telling her how there would
be dancing at his party, and he poked Josine in the ribs. “In my
young days out at Batavia,” he said, “I used frequently to dance
with the Governor-General’s lady. I dare say, Baron, you remember
Steelenaar, a good Viceroy in his day?” He hoped for the honor of
the opening polonaise with her ladyship.

“My dancing days are over, Mynheer,” said the Baroness, stiffly. “I
doubt whether I should be able to acquit myself properly. Things
have changed _so_ much in society since my youth.”

“Ah, there you are right, Mevrouw,” replied Jacóbus Mopius with
fervor. “Now, at the Drum Casino, nowadays--I am an old member--you
meet people who, in your time, would not have dared to appear at a
public performance.”

“I do not doubt it,” replied the Baroness, taking leave.

Husband and wife proceeded leisurely homeward. Presently the Baron
said,

“My dear, I cannot understand your caring so much. Surely Mynheer
Mopius is only a continuation of Juffrouw Josine.”

“I had said nothing,” replied the Baroness, quickly. “But, as you
broach the subject, I must confess that I think you might have
stayed half the time, and showed a quarter the courtesy.”

The Baron laughed. “He is Ursula’s single rich relation,” said the
Baron. “I never forget that. And, besides, I am naturally amiable,
Cécile. It is a masculine weakness.”

“I hate money,” cried the Baroness. “If there were no money in the
world there would be no vulgarity.”

“How sad that would be for the non-vulgar,” replied her consort.
“Yes, he is Ursula’s single ‘prospect.’ I was aware of the fact,
but, of course, he stated it. I had very good reason to be amiable.”

“He may live to be a hundred,” said the Baroness, petulantly.

“Not he. His widow might, if she were healthy, but she happens to
be very ill. My dear, you put things so roughly; you love money
more than I do. But I hope he _will_ live to be a hundred. If only
pour nous encourager, nous autres. We all ought to live to be a
hundred; a hundred years isn’t much. As a rule it’s the widows who
live on forever. We men die fast enough.”

“No, no!” cried the Baroness, drawing her arm through his. “Don’t
talk like that, Theodore; I should never survive you.”

“My dear, if I can, I will give you but little opportunity. Do not
forget that, when I depart, I must leave my art treasures to Otto,
not to mention the Horst.”

They walked on, arm in arm, each silently busy with his own grave
thoughts.

“Somehow, I have occasionally imagined of late that it wouldn’t
be for long.” The Baron’s voice suddenly changed. “But that’s all
nonsense,” he said, briskly. “It seems too cruel to die and leave
it all.”

He swept his eyes across his fields and forests. His wife pressed
his hand.

“My dear,” he said, “do you object to my lighting a cigar?”

       *       *       *       *       *

When the sixteenth came round there was no dancing. Mynheer Mopius
sat in a darkened room.

Yes, Mevrouw Mopius had provokingly died. At the last moment she
resolved to take her unfinished patriarchs down into the grave with
her, but she left her collection of samples to Ursula, because
Ursula had shown some appreciation of her work.

[Illustration:

“‘IT SEEMS TOO CRUEL TO DIE AND LEAVE IT ALL’”]



CHAPTER XXI

BARON VAN HELMONT


So Otto and Ursula were married with all the customary
paraphernalia of vulgar exposure--paraphernalia which cause a
sensible man to resolve, as he runs the gantlet on his way back
from the pillory, that the first time in his case shall certainly
be the last. Theirs was as quiet a wedding as unselfish people can
get--which means that it was not a quiet wedding.

Their honeymoon trip was but an introduction to the longer journey;
at Genoa the big Java steamship would meet them; meanwhile,
creeping down the Riviera, they lingered for a fortnight in that
Paradise of Snobbery, Cannes. Cannes is a beautiful garden, planted
with princes; what more can be desired by the millionaire, or by
the numerous curs to whom the far scent of the millionaire is as
sausage on the breeze? Other towns contain elements manifold,
paltry and noble; exquisite, sun-wrapped Cannes has nothing but the
worship of gold by glitter, and the worship of glitter by gold.

The young couple, therefore, passed through it unperceived. It
was only natural that they should appear in the “Strangers’ List”
as Monsieur et Madame de Holmani. They held out their hands to
nobody, and nobody held out his hands to them, a kind of negative
Ishmaelism, which has its advantages, even outside a honeymoon.

To Ursula, crossing simultaneously the frontiers of Holland, home,
and maidenhood, this fortnight never assumed the cool colors of
reality. Before it could do that it was over. She was back at
Horstwyk again, like an awakened dreamer in the dusk of a troubled
morning.

While the trip lasted--on the Paris Boulevards, among the
orange-groves of La Croisette--the farewell peep of home hung heavy
before her eyes. She seemed to see them all photographed on the
steps of the Manor-house--the Baroness, firm set and still, the
Baron coughing and sneezing, not from emotion, but from the sudden
effects of a violent cold which should have kept him away from
the ceremony. And her father, his one arm drawn tight across the
“Legion” on his breast, his eyes fixed not on his daughter’s last
appeal for a farewell benison, but on some far beyond of sunlight
after storm.

The thought of Otto blended with the thought of her father, and
over these, which were her thoughts of love, lay ever the thought
of separation. Sadness is not a good beginning for a young wife who
“respects and admires.” The Sabines, under similar circumstances,
actually consented to live with their parents-in-law.

“Yes, it is very beautiful,” she said, looking across the bay to
the blue-black of the sunset Esterel. They were on the terrace of
their hotel at Californie. “Oh yes, it is very beautiful,” she
said. She spoke with that admission which is a protest. There are
times when we think that nature, like some women, would be all
the better for a little less flamboyant beauty, and a little more
homeliness.

“Java is far more beautiful still,” said Otto, encouragingly.
“There is nothing in all Europe to compare with Batavia.”

And then, for the twentieth time, Ursula resolutely enjoyed these
anticipated glories of the Indies, for the soreness and the
separation were in her own soul, deep down.

Had Otto been more of a Mopius, he would never have guessed at
their existence. Hearts like Ursula’s understand that a woman weds
her husband’s life.

Nor can it be denied that the novelty of the prospect, by its very
terror, attracted and pleasantly excited her. Still, unfortunately,
by nature she was stay-at-home and cat-like. Besides, she had not
left her father to himself, but to Aunt Josine.

So while she was telling herself how unearthly must be a scene that
was even more beautiful than this stage effect of palm-trees and
white buildings against the blue Mediterranean flare, even while
she was schooling herself to this idea, her whole life suddenly
changed with the fall of a curtain. The play stopped at the very
opening, and the audience went home again. All the worry and the
expectation and the screwing-up had been superfluous. How many of
us discover that, even when the lights go out at the conclusion of
the fifth act, instead of in the middle of the first.

“Poor people are not poor in India; that is one great advantage,”
Otto was saying. “There is always plenty of space about one, in
house and garden, and even the mendicant, if a white, drives a
trap. But I don’t suppose there really are any white beggars.
You will see how comfortable we shall be in the great veranda of
evenings, with all the pretty things around us, while I sit telling
you how sugar prices are going up. Ursula, it will be delightful to
think we are working for the dear old place at home, which is yours
too now, and must _never_ belong to any one but a Helmont.” His
face grew square as he sat staring at the black ridge of distant
mountains, and then, suddenly, with a man’s embarrassment, “There’s
the little steamer,” he said, lightly, “coming back from the
Lérins.”

The hotel concierge was going his round on the terrace, leisurely
seeking out an occasional lounger in the still, perfume-laden
sunset, and distributing a bundle of letters. They watched him
coming towards them, from their seat by the balustrade, between two
bowls of geranium.

“C’est tout,” he said, holding out one letter.

“It’s too bad of them not to write!” exclaimed Ursula, as everybody
always does on the useless, idle Riviera.

Otto was looking at the envelope, holding it across his
outstretched palm, between middle finger and thumb. It was
addressed in his Aunt Louisa’s handwriting to “Otto, Baron van
Helmont.”

“Well?” said Ursula, with the impatience of the non-recipient.

But Otto, Baron van Helmont, sat staring at the superscription.
The first bell for the _table d’hôte_ broke loose, with a sudden
continuous clang. Ursula rose. “I’m going up-stairs for a
minute,” she began. “If it isn’t from home, I suppose it’s of no
importance.”

Otto shook himself.

“Wait,” he said, and broke the seal.

The note was brief enough. “Dear Otto,--Your father died this
morning at half-past five, from pneumonia. You know he was ailing
when you left, but the lungs were attacked only two days ago.
We are expecting you back. Your mother is very unhappy. Aunt
Louisa.--P. S. Your mother asked me to telegraph, but I consider it
better to write.”

Even by the road-side of our selfish daily wanderings we cannot
hear the voice of death calling a stranger from his field-work
without mentally crossing ourselves, suddenly shocked and sobered.
What, then, if he enter the court-yard of our hearts? Although,
perhaps, he pause before the inner door, every chamber, in the
horror of his presence, becomes to us as the innermost.

Ursula and Otto looked at each other with solemn eyes, speaking
little. The Riviera evening fell suddenly, with its wiping-out
of warmth, like the transition of a Turkish bath. The whole gray
seaboard lay bleak and chill in a shudder of autumnal decay.

“Aunt Louisa,” said Otto, presently, “has a prejudice against
telegrams, chiefly, I fancy, on account of the expense.”

Ursula was angry with the Freule van Borck. “She might have
prepared you a little,” said Ursula.

“Oh, that is her way. ‘Simple and strong,’ you know. But you are
mistaken. She _did_ prepare me.” He held out the envelope to his
wife.

Ursula blushed scarlet. There seemed to her in this brutal fact
something strangely painful and insulting both to them and to the
dead. She could not meet her husband’s gaze. She shivered. “Let us
go in, Otto,” she said, softly.

As they walked across the terrace he murmured aloud, “‘Your mother
is very unhappy.’ Ursula,” he added, “this alters everything. We
must go back to-morrow as early as we can.”

“Yes,” she answered, unemotionally, “I understand.”

He did not say anything more till they had reached their own room.
Then, as he struck a light in the dark, he began, with averted
face, looming large against the shadows:

“You will like that, at least, among all the sorrow--the going
back!”

She tried to answer him, not knowing what, and unexpectedly burst
into tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, it’s a good thing that women can weep. Their feelings are
often too complicated for words. The woman who knows herself
incapable of tears is surely one-third inarticulate. But, alas,
that the act of weeping should be so positively ugly! From a
purely æsthetic point of view there is nothing more regrettable in
connection with the Fall of Man.

       *       *       *       *       *

No further news from home reached the young Baron and Baroness
during their hurried flight northward. They themselves were quite
incapable of fathoming, even from the most materialistic point
of view, the magnitude of the change which had come over their
prospects. Otto trembled to think in what condition he might find
his father’s affairs. Only, he felt certain that the Indian plan
would have to be definitely abandoned on account of the estates at
home.

The Dominé met the pair at the little Horstwyk station, and as
Ursula put her arm round her father’s neck, she dimly realized that
selfishness is man’s sole virtue, as, in fact, it is his only vice.

She could realize it all the more in the shuttered mansion,
which seemed to lie as a waste round that one locked door of the
widow’s boudoir. In the dining-hall, surrounded by candles, stood
the coffin, awaiting the heir. All the house and the village and
their surroundings seemed full of a subdued eagerness to bury the
past and welcome the present. The library table was covered with
carefully addressed letters and cards.

Gerard was absent. Only the Freule van Borck came forward, with
hushed step, to greet them in the gray loneliness of the flowerless
hall.

“My dears,” she said, sententiously, “you might have spared
yourselves the shame of running away.”

FOOTNOTE:

[I] The fortnight preceding the ceremony.



CHAPTER XXII

GERARD’S SHARE


So the old Baron slept in the church-yard under the shadow of the
“Devil’s Doll,” which he himself had erected on the grave of his
children. Opposite, outside the chancel-wall, shone dully the
great slab which marked the entrance to the family vault, heavy
with the single name “De Horst.” The word suggested a “dépendance”
of the Manor-house; hither came for more permanent residence the
successive sojourners at the larger hostel. It was the widow who,
waking from her lethargy, had demanded separate sepulture for her
dear, dead lord, to Otto’s tacitly disapprobatory regret.

She had summoned her elder son into the dusk of her silenced
chamber, and speaking softly from amid the solemn blankness of her
loss, “I want your father to lie in the sunshine,” she said, “and
I wish them to make the--the--in such a manner that every possible
sunbeam shall fall straight across it.”

Then, before Otto’s unspoken demur: “He always had a horror of the
vault; he never would enter it once during his whole lifetime. And,
Otto, all his life long he detested cold. In the end it has killed
him.” She began to cry. Her children had found her greatly changed,
quite broken down and feeble.

“Cécile cannot even take comfort by contemplating the beauties
of adversity,” said Freule van Borck, crossly. “Surely she might
understand, in the midst of her legitimate tears, that sorrow is a
great educator. She perversely persists in eluding the blessings.”
The Freule did not understand that her sister’s soul was a plant of
God’s conservatory, a blossom which could only drop off before the
east wind.

Work had to be done, however, and some one must do it. Otto soon
recognized, with anticipated acquiescence, that his father’s
affairs had been left in utter confusion. The confusion, however,
was of the orderly kind. There had been a certain amount of method
in the Baron’s madness; only, unfortunately, there had been a good
deal more madness in his method. He had evidently entertained to
the full an honest gentleman’s distrust of all commercial and
industrial undertakings, and had added thereto a contempt for all
usury and money-lending. To paper investments he would have nothing
to say. Every penny he possessed he had sunk in land or curios.

Also he had made a will, an unwise thing for any man to do. In that
entanglement of spoliation which we have glorified by the beautiful
name of “jurisprudence,” any personal effort towards equity is only
another welcome knot to the lawyer’s hand.

The Baron’s will disinherited his younger and favorite son so far
as Dutch law permits parents to disinherit, which means that Gerard
would be entitled to exactly one-third of the property as against
two-thirds for Otto. Furthermore, the testator expressed a hope
that his wife would allow all her claims on his estate to be met
by an equivalent transfer of art treasures, and that she would
preserve these unsold.

The dead man’s object was plain enough; while unable to stint
himself, he yet desired to achieve the retention, after his
decease, of the _status quo_. That is not an easy thing in Holland,
where modern law, following the Napoleonic precedent, aims at the
destruction of hereditary wealth. The Baron openly avowed his
intentions in the last sentence of his brief testament; “I hope,”
he wrote, “that my children will always retain the Horst intact as
I leave it. Otto must do this; I believe he has it in him. I have
ultimately succeeded, after infinite pains, in restoring the whole
property as it was at its largest in 1672. I trust that neither
Otto nor Gerard will ever consent to part with a rood of it. They
will rather suffer privation, as I have done.”

The Baron’s way of “restoring” had been a simple one. Whenever
opportunity offered, he had bought such alienated lands as fell
open, often paying a fancy price, the money for which he procured
by mortgaging other property. Nominally, therefore, his landed
estate was a very large one, much of it being encumbered, more
depreciated. As for “suffering privation”--he had never bought a
Corot.

Evidently he had distrusted Gerard, and felt confidence in
intractable Otto. The strangest thing about it all was that he,
with his fear of death, should ever have summoned up courage to
make a will at all. To Otto this fact, more than anything else,
revealed how intensely his seemingly shallow father must have loved
the home of his race.

And the discovery brought them nearer now in their separation, the
dead lord and the new one. Baron Theodore’s ambition was one such
as this son could appreciate; the sudden self-reproach of undue
contemptuousness caused Otto to veer round to the other extreme of
veneration. He resolved, under this first impulse, that, come what
may, his father’s decree should be to him a holy trust.

“Of course,” said the Dowager Baroness, relapsing immediately into
her continuous mood of mournful indifference. But Gerard demurred.

“I must have _my_ share in money,” said Gerard. “I can’t help
myself. Besides, what did father mean? The property can’t be said
to remain intact if one man owns two-thirds of it and another man
the remaining third. Enough of the land must be sold to give me my
share in cash.”

“None of the land can be sold,” replied Otto. He wore his dogged
face. The two brothers were together by the library table. In the
distant bay-window of the smoking-room Aunt Louisa had fallen
asleep over a book.

“Keep the land, if you like, or know how. I don’t mind as long as I
get my money. You are executor, Otto; pay me my share.”

“Do you wish,” asked the young Baron, just a trifle dramatically,
“to ignore our dead father’s commands?”

“No, indeed. No more than you,” replied Gerard, with honest
disdain. The tinge of melodrama irritated him. The unfairness of
his treatment irritated him. But the inherent absurdity of the
testamentary instructions was what tormented him most.

“Father’s wish was to let me have as little as possible,” he
continued. “So be it. But your wish is evidently to let me have
nothing at all.” Both of them waited a moment, in bitterness.

“And”--Gerard ground his heel energetically. “I’m not going to
stand that.” Then he said, in quite a different tone, “Simply, to
begin with, because I can’t.”

“Of course you have debts,” said Otto, sitting down by the
writing-table.

“Of course,” repeated Gerard, with a pardonable sneer at his
immaculate brother. “But it’s not that, all the same--at least, not
so much.”

He paced half-way down the room and back again. Suddenly both
brothers heard the ticking of the clock.

“You wrong me, Otto, as usual,” said Gerard, in a broken voice. “I
am as anxious as you are to do whatever’s right. But I can’t help
myself. I may as well make a clean breast of it. I must have the
money. You’ll think me an unmitigated fool, but, then, you think
that already.”

He hesitated a moment; Otto did not move.

“Two years ago,” Gerard went on, huskily, “I became surety for a
chum of mine--never mind his name; he’s dead, poor chap--and I’ve
got to pay.”

“Surety! Surety!” stammered Otto. “How? What? What kind of surety?”

“It was a debt of honor, between gentlemen. And I’ve got to pay.”

“Of course--a card debt. I understood as much,” said Otto,
self-righteously.

“It was not _my_ card debt,” retorted Gerard, feeling his
wrongs more acutely than ever, for, as we are aware, he was
not a gambler. “It happened playing with strangers, and quite
unexpectedly it grew into an enormous sum. For him, next morning,
it meant pay or shoot yourself. He wanted it to mean ‘Shoot
yourself,’ but I stopped that just in time and made it mean
‘pay--some day or other.’ So pay we must. The responsibility is
mine.”

He stopped, staring with solemn eyes, back through the misty past,
into what had been, till now, the most dramatic occurrence of his
life. He remembered his awakening, the day after the gambling-bout,
to the troubled consciousness that he must hurry at once to his
friend. He remembered the room as he burst into it: the table with
the despondent figure sitting there, the pistol waiting, ready
loaded. These things were sacred; he was not going to speak of them
to Otto.

“I cannot understand any human being accepting your security;” the
elder brother’s tone was sceptical to a degree of provocation.
“But, at any rate, the other man and his people must pay.”

“He is dead,” repeated Gerard, gently. “Had he lived, he would
have been perfectly well able to do so; we both knew that, or I
don’t think he would ever have allowed me to incur the risk. It
wasn’t much of a risk, as I told him at the time. He was sole heir
to a stingy old aunt; he died before her, and all her money’s
gone to charities. So you see I’m fully liable. It’s exceedingly
unfortunate, but it can’t be helped.”

“Even admitting all this,” began Otto, feeling his unwilling way,
“you are not really liable. The law does not recognize gambling
liabilities. They are not recoverable.” He stumbled over his
sentences, thinking aloud.

“Law!” exclaimed Gerard. “Law! I was thinking of the other
extreme--honor.”

“And you were a minor at the time, besides. Neither legally,
nor should I say morally, responsible. It must been an act of
madness.” He gazed in front of him, troubled, questioning, full of
incertitude.

“I thought you understood,” said Gerard, haughtily, “that it was
an affair between gentlemen. It has nothing to do with moral or
legal responsibility.” He stood still. “I bound myself to meet
this claim, if able, when called upon. The trust is a sacred one.
By accepting it I saved my dead friend’s life.” Even amid the deep
seriousness of his mood he smiled at the Irishism, just as his
father would have done. “I am not going to desert him now.”

“Gerard, God knows I don’t want you to do anything ungentlemanly,”
cried Otto, despairingly. “I am only thinking. Let me think. You
say the sum is an enormous one. What do you call enormous?” His
voice trembled with apprehension.

“It’s ninety thousand florins, if you want to know,” replied
Gerard, in a moody murmur. The sombre room grew very silent.
Outside the window nearest them a sparrow was pecking, pertly, at
the sill.

“I thought so,” said Otto, scornfully, “I thought you had ruined
yourself; it seemed so natural. I understood it at once, and that
made me look round for the tiniest loophole of possible escape.
Gerard, it seems to me you have but the choice of dishonors.
Against the memory of your friend I pit that of your father. You
cannot possibly do justice to both.” He was desperate, feeling the
hopelessness of compromise.

“The will is absurd!” burst out Gerard--“absurd! He cannot have
meant it absolutely, only as far as was practicable. Do you really
want to make out that he intended both of us to starve, in the
midst of our acres of corn-fields? I won’t believe it; and if he
did, why, poor father must have been under some momentary delusion!
Wills are always taken to be binding so far as circumstances will
allow. Our father meant us not to sell more of the land than was
absolutely necessary. He meant us--”

Otto faced round. “I understand perfectly what our father meant,”
he said, and there was a roll of suppressed thunder through his
patient words. “To me his aspirations do not seem unreasonable or
absurd. They are my own.”

“I dare say,” cried Gerard. “You are the lord of the Horst, and the
larger the property is, the pleasanter for you!”

“Gerard, you may accuse me of the most sordid--”

“I accuse you of nothing. Pray let us have no recriminations; we do
not understand each other well enough for anything of that kind.
All I say is this, and I shall stick to it--I must have my share in
ready money. Can’t you _see_ I must? If I were to go to the other
fellow--the fellow that won--and say, ‘My father won’t have any of
the land sold,’ he’d think I was shirking, after all these years.
Imagine that! He’d think I was shirking! The time would have come
for _me_ to decide between ‘paying or shooting.’ Otto, if father
were alive, he’d understand that better than you do. Oh, I wish
I could explain it to him; he’d want only half a word. He’d be
the first to say, ‘Settle the matter at once.’” The young man was
violently agitated. He tried vainly to steady his features. He had
loved his father with ready, easy affection. It was a cruel wound
to him to bear the appearance of showing less filial piety than
Otto!

“Ninety thousand florins,” repeated the elder brother, as if not
heeding the other’s passion. “You were mad. You _never_ could have
raised the money till father’s death. What a speculation!”

“Who knows,” replied Gerard, stung to the quick. “At this moment,
but for you, the sum might have seemed to me a trifle. Do not you,
of all persons, reproach me with my poverty. I should have been a
rich man at this moment but for you.”

“But for me?” exclaimed Otto, in blank amazement.

“Yes, but for you,” Gerard continued, wildly. “It was you who told
Ursula about Adeline, as if any man ever betrayed another, even his
enemy, to a woman! But your ideas about honor and dishonor, which
you bring forward so frequently, are certainly not mine.” Gerard
stopped, eying his brother curiously. “Is it possible you don’t
know,” he said, “that Ursula told Helena?”

“As you allude to the disgraceful story yourself,” replied Otto, in
a dull voice, “I may as well assure you that I have never spoken of
it to any one. Ursula knows nothing about it. Nor am _I_ to blame
if Helena does.”

However Gerard might have misunderstood his brother, he implicitly
believed him. All his anger turned against the woman who had ruined
his matrimonial prospects, while herself grabbing, by any means,
even including advertisement, at the first husband she could catch.

“Then it was Ursula, and Ursula alone,” he said, “who would not
let me marry Helena.” He forcibly curbed himself on the brink of
accusation, true to the chivalry he had just enunciated; but
his brow grew dark with meaning. And, seeking sudden relief in
permissible insult, “My Lady Nobody!” he cried, with an impudent
laugh.

Otto rose. “Our discussion ends here,” he said. “Leave the room. I
will get you the money somehow.”

He sank back a moment later, listening to Gerard’s retreating
footsteps. Gerard, then, had been about to marry Helena, and Ursula
had told Helena something which had prevented the match. It must
have been something very serious indeed.

He shook off the thought. How should he meet his brother’s claim.
It is easy enough to say, “I shall pay.”

Why not sell a large part of the land, which, after all, was
Gerard’s and not his? Let Gerard do what he liked with his own.
Theoretically, that was plain enough. But when it came to deciding
what to abandon--and a good deal would have to go--common sense
began to look strangely impossible in the new Baron’s eyes. He
_could_ not cut up the property. He wished his father had not made
him executor.

He judged his young brother not only harshly, but unfairly. He
could feel nothing for the generous impulse which had brought down
upon itself such magnificent ruin. Most of us imagine we recognize
virtue when we see it; in reality we only recognize our own
peculiar form.

“There _is_ no money,” said Otto, fiercely, and he groaned aloud.

Aunt Louisa came gliding in through the open smoking-room door. Her
features were sharper than ever in her smooth black dress.

“That is a very bad story, indeed, about Adeline,” she said,
speaking in a series of bites. Otto looked up interrogatively.

“Oh, of course I know all about it,” continued the Freule, who
had known nothing up to this hour. “Adeline is an actress, or
singer, or something low. Nevertheless, I think Helena van
Trossart has behaved like a fool. A strong woman lives down all
her husband’s love-stories.” She blinked her eyes. “Any woman can
manage any man,” she said. “_I_ never considered the game worth
playing”--which was true.

“But it’s best to know about these things beforehand,” she went on.
“That’s why I told you about Ursula and Gerard. Afterwards they
come as an unpleasant surprise, while, before marriage, one simply
laughs at them. Helena ought to have thanked Ursula for frankly
confessing to a passing flirtation with Gerard. Instead of that,
she goes and breaks off her engagement. Inane! We can’t all marry
first affections, as your poor mother thinks she did. But Helena
van Trossart was always a poor, weak, fanciful creature.”

“It is not that,” thought Otto. “Women never object to a _prior_
flirtation.” He looked up again, dumbly, to see whether his aunt
would continue to use her gimlet.

“However, there’s no help for it now,” cried the Freule Louisa,
changing her tone. “The marriage would have been the best thing for
all parties, and that’s why it’s not to take place. So don’t let’s
talk of it. But the money must be found at once. So let’s talk of
that.”

“It can’t be found,” muttered Otto, wishing his aunt wouldn’t
interfere, and very angry with her for eavesdropping.

“‘Can’t’ is a man’s word,” replied the Freule van Borck. “Your poor
father used to say it whenever he didn’t want to do anything. You
say it when you want to do anything very much. The symptoms are
different, but the disease is the same--masculine incapacity. A
woman says, ‘I will.’”

“Then I wish some woman would say it,” retorted Otto.

His aunt smiled. “You are so literal,” she said. “You never can
enjoy the plastic beauty of a theory. And, Otto, in one thing
I entirely disagree with you. Gerard’s action was a great one.
However unfortunate for us, it deserves our abstract admiration.
Yes, I know what you are going to say; but you are wrong.
Few natures in our little world are capable of such splendid
recklessness. I, for one, applaud it--from a distance. Imagine, in
this nineteenth century, a man who will sacrifice his all for a
friend!”

“He hasn’t ruined you, Aunt Louisa,” said Otto.

“I am not worth ruining,” she answered, quickly, meekly. “But,
Otto, I was coming to that. I am poor, as you know--very poor.” She
grew suddenly nervous and sat down, trembling, in a big leathern
chair. “But I have this advantage over you rich people, that my
money is where I can get at it, in the funds. I’m not going to give
it to Gerard,” she said, racing off sharp and fast. Her cheeks grew
pink. She was exceedingly frightened, as many women are whenever
they allude to finance. “I couldn’t do that and starve, now could
I? But I’ll lend it to you on the property, Otto, to pay him off.
You’ll fasten it on the property and give me a pawn-ticket, won’t
you? And I’ll let you have it on easy terms, because I admire
Gerard’s action and--and yours also. I’m proud of my nephews.” She
paused, out of breath, and aimlessly stroked her dress.

“Thank you,” said Otto, with his reflective reserve. But the fervor
of his tone quite satisfied Aunt Louisa.

“Yes,” she went on, preparing to hurry away. “The estate must be
kept together. I insist upon that. For I can’t have other people
intruding upon my Bilberry Walk, and that would be the first to go.
But, Otto, you must let me have some interest, or else I shouldn’t
be able to pay you my ‘keep.’” Thereupon the Freule departed,
fluttered with the consciousness of a heroic atmosphere all round
and but little discomfort to herself. She had, indeed, behaved
bravely, for scraping was the sole diversion of her life, and she
imagined somehow that a mortgage at four per cent. was a very great
sacrifice indeed. In common with many people who greatly admire
great deeds, she liked to do her own great deeds small.

At any rate, Otto felt immensely relieved for the moment by the
certainty that the money would be forthcoming. He went in search
of Ursula, whom he found playing on a sofa with his father’s great
smooth St. Bernard. Ursula’s opening days were long in this new
home of which she had become the mistress. Everything was as yet
in the listless uncertainty of a not-disorganized transition. The
Dowager Baroness had nowise resigned the keys, while occupying
herself with nothing in the privacy of her own bereavement.

“Dearest,” said Otto, “why did you not tell me about Helena and
Gerard?”

Ursula blushed.

“Because it was a secret,” she replied, hotly. “I told nobody,
Otto.”

“Nobody?”

“Nobody but my father. Has Gerard spoken of it? How much has he
told you?”

She looked at him anxiously, scarlet with the soilure of Gerard’s
sin.

He misread her distress.

“Oh, very little,” he said. “Make yourself easy. I don’t want to
know any more.”

She sprang forward to him, the great dog entangled in her skirts.

“Otto,” she said, pleadingly, “you’ll let by-gones be by-gones,
won’t you--now?”

She was thinking of the reconciliation between the brothers for
which her whole heart yearned.

She frightened him.

“Yes,” he cried. “Yes, if Gerard goes away. That is all I demand.
_You_ must ask Gerard to go away.”

“I?” She drew herself up. “No, indeed,” she said. “You are lord of
the Horst. It is you who must forbid your brother the house, if you
wish him to leave it.”

As he turned to go she ran after him, and laid her hand on his arm.

“Only don’t let it be for my sake, dear,” she pleaded, recalling
Gerard’s initial insult, and continuous cold hostility, to herself.
“Do not, I entreat you, let me be the cause of further discord
between you. Gerard will forget the past, and I will ignore it. And
even if do not, I am strong now, in your love, to face the future
with confidence. Otto, I implore you, do not send him away for my
sake.”

“Oh no, for my own,” exclaimed Otto, and broke away from her.

She came back to the dog, completely unconscious of all
complications except the old quarrel between her husband and his
brother.

It weighed upon her; she regretfully felt that she, in her
innocence, was chiefly to blame for it. Gerard had deeply
resented, and still continued to resent, the marriage of the
head of the house to the parson’s daughter. Compared to this,
the quarrel about the horse was only a passing cloud, and even
that would not have arisen but for her. Men of the world, she
felt bitterly, could desert Adelines, but they could not marry
Ursulas. It is true; more than that--only she did not know it--men
of the world can offer to marry Adeline, and never forgive their
brother for marrying Ursula. We can do all that, we men. It is our
privilege, because we are thinking creatures.

Just now, Ursula felt that her only duty in the great house was
to comfort the dog. Monk was an institution at the Manor; he had
been that ever since the old Baron had brought him back from
the desolate monastery which is all sunshine within, and all
snow without. By this time surely he had forgotten his native
Alpine frosts--if dogs ever forget--among the mists of Holland.
He had basked for years in the master’s smile, unassuming, as no
man would ever have remained, under the dignified repose of his
assured position. All the household had honored Monk; many with
time-service only. This he had understood; he had loved his master
alone. He knew that the Baroness endured him; perhaps there was a
little jealousy between the two. And on the day of the old man’s
death he had wandered about, disconsolate, gradually beginning
to realize a change. Ursula found him a forsaken favorite, not
mourning his fall--again, how unhuman!--but his friend. She
looked into his big soft eyes, and the hunger died out of them.
Immediately the two understood each other, forever. “I accept of
you in my empty heart,” said Monk.

In the old Baroness’s boudoir the fat ball of white silk on its
crimson cushion opened one eye with lazy discontent and scowled
across at its mistress. It was disgusted with the selfish
irregularity of its meals. The little old woman in the easy-chair
near the autumn fire did not even notice it, in spite of the
oft-repeated sighs by which it strove to attract attention.
Occasionally slow tears would now roll down the widow’s sunken
pink-and-white cheeks, and glitter amid the jewels of her folded
hands. She had reached that milder stage when we begin to feel our
sorrow. Oh, God, that in this world of agony, men should find cause
to be thankful for consciousness of pain!

“Plush” considered the state of affairs most disgracefully
disagreeable.



CHAPTER XXIII

TOPSY REXELAER


Gerard went back to Drum before his leave had expired.

“Your share shall be paid to you,” Otto had said, perusing the
carpet-pattern. “Mother and Aunt Louisa will combine to make that
possible. I think that is all, Gerard. Good-bye.”

So, dismissed like a footman, the young fellow turned his back
on the home of his youth. He little guessed that the stern,
middle-aged man, seated at his father’s desk, in possession, was,
even at that very moment, inwardly tossed by a passion of prayer to
keep back the furious inculpations that were beating at his lips.

So Gerard went back to Drum. He realized, as he drove away, taking
Beauty’s successor with him, that even though he might visit the
Manor-house again, henceforth it would be as a stranger. During all
the years of his growth into manhood, ever since he could remember,
he had been practically the only son, the “young squire” in the
eyes of the peasantry. He felt cheated of his birthright.

The packing-up had been a terrible business. Nothing had been said
about retaining his rooms, and his nature was one that shrank back
before the shadow of a coming hint. Quietly he had put all his
things together, turning from Ursula’s silent, terrified gaze.
Silence seemed to have fallen upon them all like a paralysis. The
servants looked at each other.

All his life had been sheltered too warmly in his father’s
fostering affection. The luxury of his youth hung about him--the
easy generosity which had accounted money only a thing to spend
on himself or on others, according to requirement. It is a cruel
thing, that flow of parental good-nature, while the fingers of
Death are playing with the tap.

And at this supreme moment even his mother’s sure preference
deserted him. The Baroness, whose faculties seemed to lie dulled
beneath the veil of her widowhood, had understood, clearly enough,
without need of any malice on Otto’s part, that Gerard objected
to the terms of the will. The discovery had galvanized her into
feverish activity. She had insisted upon sacrificing whatever
her husband’s improvidence had left her still unsacrificed. Half
a dozen times in the course of one day she rang for Otto, to
ascertain whether everything was settled. For the moment, Gerard
had become the enemy against whom the forces of the family must
unite. She was very angry with him for wishing to destroy his
father’s life-work. “You won’t allow it, Otto,” she repeated,
excitedly. “You will never allow it.” She clung to her strong
eldest, in the weakness of abandonment. Her farewell to the traitor
was full of reproach. Gerard went back into life from his father’s
funeral, alone.

As soon as the money was in his possession he sought an interview
with the creditor at the Hague and discharged his debt, or rather
his departed friend’s. But he had plenty of liabilities of his own
incurring, and these now came tumbling about his ears in the crash
of his father’s removal. By the time he had effected a settlement
there was very little left of his original curtailed inheritance.
This would hardly have disturbed his calm fruition of all things
needful but for the brusque discovery that his credit was gone. One
afternoon he stepped into a familiar shop to order a new saddle,
and the obsequious tradesman asked prepayment of his standing
account. Gerard came away bewildered. It was the turning-point of
his life. He was poor.

Before all this, before the Baron’s death, he had made one attempt
to act on Mademoiselle Papotier’s suggestion. He had written a long
letter to Helena. It had been returned to him unopened, and from
that moment he felt his case was utterly hopeless. For a woman
hardly ever returns a letter unopened. She is quite willing to do
so, only she must read it first. Some of them manage to.

Gerard was in the position of many a modern spendthrift. Steal he
could not, to work he was ashamed. Besides, what was he fit for,
excepting parade? It is one of the saddest confusions of this
muddled society of ours that only the poor can beg and only the
rich can steal. Nothing was left, therefore, to our young soldier
but to return to his simplified avocations in the endeavor to make
both ends meet on starvation pay. All the color and cake went out
of his existence, which became drab, like rye-bread.

Adeline was married to her lawyer’s clerk; Helena’s wedding-dress
had been ordered. Under these circumstances, in his handsome
forlornness, dawdling about dull Drum, Gerard found one motherly
bosom on which to rest his curly head. The plump Baroness van
Trossart, disgusted by her niece’s perversity, but resolved
not to fret over anything, immediately set herself to pay the
poor boy what she considered a family debt, and, after a little
preliminary reconnoitring, backed by an artillery fire of praises
and pushes, she successfully manœuvred the rejected suitor into a
fresh flirtation with one of the most charming girls in Holland,
Antoinette van Rexelaer. The Freule Antoinette was not an heiress,
like Helena, but she had lately, and quite unexpectedly, come
into a snug little fortune through her godfather, a relation of
her mother’s, and former Minister of State--a windfall, indeed,
to the youngest of five children! “A dispensation!” mysteriously
ejaculated the young lady’s mother, Mevrouw Elizabeth van Rexelaer,
_née_ Borck.

Topsy, as her own circle called her, was a distant connection of
Gerard’s; but then in Holland we are all that, and it no longer
counts. The two mothers were some sort of cousins.

From the Hague, where the Rexelaers lived, Antoinette came to stay
with the Baroness van Trossart, and, under that match-maker’s
auspices, she saw a good deal of Gerard. Now, for Gerard to see
a nice girl was to be charming to her; he was charming in the
most natural, innocent, and infectious way. The Freule Antoinette
understood this perfectly, and they lived together in that happy
mutual desire to please which may mean everything or nothing,
according to Cupid’s caprice. When the guest returned home, Mevrouw
van Trossart felt convinced it meant everything, and she had easily
persuaded Gerard to think so too, for Gerard had taken a real
liking to the frank-faced, bright-witted girl.

“My dear boy,” said the good-natured Baroness, intent on further
arrangement, “you are positively too dangerous; I cannot introduce
you to any more young ladies. You are irresistible; you have now
carried off the heart of my poor little Antoinette!”

“One young lady did not find me irresistible, Mevrouw,” replied
Gerard, bitterly. He was angry with Helena, but he had never really
cared for her. It was she who now avoided him.

“Ah, dear boy, do not let us speak of that; it is too dreadful. Be
thankful that you, at least, did not love your cousin. No, no.”
She held up a fat forefinger. “Of course you protest; but an old
woman like me sees what she sees. We all make mistakes. As for poor
Helena, hers”--She stopped. “This time, at any rate,” she cried,
gayly, “there must be no blundering. Go at once and propose to
Mevrouw Elizabeth. To know you prosperously settled will be a load
off my heart.”

“Propose to Mevrouw Elizabeth!” said Gerard, with a grimace.

“Don’t be stupid, Gerard. Yes, considering the undoubted fact that
Antoinette Rexelaer is so much richer than you--there’s no use in
ignoring what every one knows--I think it would be in better taste
for you to speak first to the father--which means the mother;
especially as in this case I feel sure you can safely do so.”

Accordingly Gerard, by no means indifferent as to the issue,
waited upon Mynheer Frederick van Rexelaer, Topsy’s papa, a Judge,
and also a Fool. That gentleman received him very affably, and
immediately invented an excuse for withdrawing to consult with the
head of the household.

“No money and a very desirable connection,” said Mevrouw Rexelaer,
sitting up. “I wish it were Van Helmont of Horstwyk and the Horst.
But _he_ has behaved like an idiot. This seems a very agreeable
young man, and Topsy might do worse. Since her miserable failure
with poor deluded René I am often quite anxious about what is to
become of her.”

“Oh, she’ll marry,” said the Judge.

“I’m not so sure, Frederick,” replied Mevrouw, who was very
impatient, for various reasons, to get this last daughter off her
hands.

“Antoinette is so strange, so ungirlish; no man, as yet, has
ever proposed to her. My cousin Herman’s legacy was a merciful
dispensation; but, all the same, I should consider it very unwise
to let this chance escape.”

So Gerard was instructed to make his proposal that night at the
Soirée of the Society of Arts, and Topsy was instructed to accept
him.

“You may thank your stars,” said Mevrouw Elizabeth, frankly, to
her daughter. “Judging by the past, I should think it’s your only
opportunity. Money doesn’t go for everything, especially if a girl
has no ‘charm.’ I thank Heaven on my bended knees when I remember
what might have been!”

“Yes, mamma,” replied Antoinette, meekly, with flushed cheeks and
downcast eyes. In her own family Mevrouw Elizabeth’s will was law,
the immovable incubus of many oppressive years.

“What might have been”--what Mevrouw had once yearned and worked
for, in spite of present thanksgiving--was Topsy’s marriage with
a cousin, who had never understood Mevrouw Elizabeth’s plans.
This cousin was now dead and mad and altogether forgotten and
unmentionable. Hush!

The evening exhibitions of the Arts Society are very brilliant
social events. Some first-rate private collection or portfolio
forms the welcome excuse for coming together, and the people
who go everywhere and see nothing insure, by their presence,
artistic success. There was such a crowd in the central room--a
chattering crowd, unconcernedly self-obstructive with regard to
the pictures--that it took Gerard some time to worm his way to
Antoinette. His heart fluttered. How sweet she looked with her
provokingly clever little face in the turquoise cloud of her
evening-dress!

“Let’s go into that little side-room, Freule,” he stammered. “I
should like to show you a picture there.”

“Oh, but I don’t want to go into the little side-room, Mynheer van
Helmont.” Her voice was uncertain, like his. “Please don’t,” she
said, “I’m much happier as I am.”

He looked at her without immediate answer, offering his arm.
Suddenly she seemed to grasp at some mighty resolve, and, checking
further protest, she allowed him to lead her away.

The little alcove was empty but for a couple of expectantly staring
portraits, forlorn in the gaslight.

“How stupid they look!” exclaimed Gerard, impatiently; then,
rebelling against the still atmosphere of imminence which seemed to
thicken upon this sudden solitude, “Freule, I want to say something
to you,” he murmured, hastily. “I don’t quite know how to begin,
but, perhaps--”

“Oh, don’t,” she interrupted him, releasing her arm. “Don’t,
please, Mynheer van Helmont, I know what you are going to say, and
I want you to leave it unsaid. I am so sorry, for I know it must
be all my fault. I never thought of anything of the kind. I had
understood you--I believed your affections were placed elsewhere.
I--I am so sorry.” She faltered. “I shall never marry,” she said,
and plucked at her fan.

He did not answer, in the silence, with the senseless hum beyond.
Opposite him, in a big gilt frame, a woman sat eternally simpering,
a lay figure with black laces and Raglan roses. He hated that woman.

“Shall I take you back to Mevrouw van Rexelaer?” he said.

The name seemed to arouse her from her dream of unmerited
self-reproach.

“Just one moment,” she began, hurriedly. “There is--I should
like--Mynheer van Helmont, I am going to ask you an immense favor!
I know I have no right, but I want you to tell my parents that it
is you who have changed your mind. You haven’t really asked me
anything, you know. Well, say you haven’t.”

“I don’t quite understand.” Gerard spoke a little haughtily.

“Perhaps it isn’t so much of a favor,” the poor girl went on.
“It’ll save you the appearance of having been refused. Forgive me,
Mynheer van Helmont; I don’t quite know what I’m saying. But my
life will be even more miserable than it is; it will be unbearable,
if my mother knows you asked me to be your wife.”

She looked up at him pleadingly. He was amazed. What had become of
the bright creature he knew, with her sparkle of innocent repartee?

[Illustration: “THERE WAS SUCH A CROWD IN THE CENTRAL ROOM”]

“My word is passed to your father,” he said, tremulously. “You ask
me to disgrace myself in the eyes of every decent man.”

“Oh no! not that! not that!” She spoke almost wildly. “But, oh, my
God! what am I to do? Mynheer van Helmont, don’t think me too much
of a coward. I believe I could nerve myself to one great sacrifice;
it is the daily bickering and nagging which I cannot endure. Never
mind, I am ashamed of myself.” She dashed her hand across her
eyes--but too late. “Good-bye, and forget me. It doesn’t matter.”

He bent low over her hand.

“It shall be as you wish,” he said, very firm and soldierly.

Once more she looked up at him, her eyes full of far-away
tenderness.

“I cannot help myself,” she whispered. “I shall never love--again.”

Gerard found the Judge in the coffee-room. And with the best
face possible--which was a bad one--he confessed that he had
reconsidered his proposal of the morning, and must withdraw it.
Difficulties had intervened.

“Really?” said the little Judge, coffee-cup in hand. “This is
very extraordinary. Of course, if you wish, there is an end of
it. But--really, Mynheer van Helmont, you must excuse me--for a
moment.” He sidled to the entrance, in wild yearning for his better
half, who fortunately met him there, having gathered that something
was wrong.

“My dear,” whispered the Judge, “Mynheer van Helmont has changed
his mind about marrying Topsy. He isn’t going to.”

“Nonsense, Frederick!” ejaculated Mevrouw Elizabeth. “Tell him it’s
all right. Tell him to go and ask her at once.”

The little Judge went back into the desolate refreshment-room. His
substantial consort lingered near the door.

“Mynheer van Helmont,” said Frederick, “it’s all right. You had
better go and ask her at once.”

“Mynheer van Rexelaer,” replied Gerard, scarlet as a poppy, “I
thought I had made myself understood. I abandon all further idea of
proposing to your daughter.”

Frederick fell back to the door. In her eagerness Mevrouw put
through her big heliotrope-crowned head. “My dear, he _won’t_ ask
her,” breathed Frederick.

“What?” cried the lady, casting furious glances towards the young
officer, erect and helpless in the middle of the bare, blazing
room. “Go to him, Frederick, at once! Tell him he’s a coward and no
gentleman! Tell him you’ll horsewhip him! No, you can’t do that,
you’re a Judge. Tell him one of her brothers will horsewhip him!
Guy ought to. I’ll _make_ him do it!” She pushed forward her small
husband, who reluctantly returned to the charge.

“You have behaved very badly, Mynheer,” he began. “You must permit
me to say that.” He looked round nervously. Mevrouw Elizabeth,
distrusting the atmosphere of calm, had come forward into the full
light, and was unconsciously straining nearer. “That your conduct
is ”--he raised his voice--“not such as one has a right to expect
from a gentleman. And here the matter must end.” He turned hastily;
Mevrouw Elizabeth stood close behind him.

“Say it is blackguardly,” she hissed.

“I won’t!” replied Frederick van Rexelaer, in a funk.

“It is blackguardly, Mynheer,” cried the matron, pushing past. “You
are a coward, Mynheer, and no gentleman.”

Gerard retreated towards the gas-smitten wall, looking, in his
tight-fitting blue-black hussar uniform, like an Apollo in utter
disgrace. He wondered, for a moment, whether the woman was going to
strike him.

“My son shall speak to you, Mynheer, as you deserve,” shrieked
Mevrouw Elizabeth. “My son! I will send you my son, sir, to settle
this matter.”

“Oh, do, Mevrouw, do!” eagerly exclaimed Gerard, in a sudden rush
of relief.



CHAPTER XXIV

MASKS AND FACES


The day after his wife’s funeral Mynheer Mopius sat in the gilded
drawing-room of Villa Blanda. His demeanor was properly, pleasantly
chastened, for the cud of the pompous exequies lay sweet upon his
tongue.

Harriet, busy with her own thoughts at the evening tea-table, said,
“Yes, it had all been very nice.”

“But the tea was cold, Harriet,” grumbled Mynheer Mopius, for the
dozenth weary time. “It’s a very bad thing in a woman when she
can’t make tea.”

“Of course,” replied Harriet, gazing down at her sable garments,
and wondering how soon the cheap material would get rusty.

“My mother could make excellent tea,” prosed Mynheer, with a
melancholy nod. “She could do everything excellently, could my
mother.”

“A woman ought to,” said Harriet, “and when she’s done it, she
ought to die.”

“She ought. She ought.” While Mynheer Mopius spoke, his thoughts
were dwelling on Dominé Pock’s oration by the grave. How well the
reverend gentleman had alluded to the charities of our dear brother
afflicted! “The consolation which a noble heart can always find in
wiping other eyes the while its own are streaming!”

Mynheer blew his nose.

“This cheap cloth won’t last, uncle,” said Harriet, briskly.

He pretended not to hear her. She bored him. She had been all very
well while his wife dragged on, but now--! And, why, after all,
should he be saddled with this sharp-tongued girl? She was no
relation of his, though she called him “uncle.” Mevrouw Mopius’s
childless sister had been the first wife of Harriet’s father, Dr.
Verveen.

“Yes,” he repeated, mechanically, “everything my mother produced
was first-rate of its kind.”

“Especially her son,” said Harriet, with a sneer that positively
fizzled.

Mynheer Mopius’s yellow face grew a shade healthier in color. He
accepted his third cup in thoughtful silence; then he said, “And
_now_, my dear young lady, what do you mean to do?”

She looked at him, across the steaming urn.

“Go to bed,” she replied.

“Quite so. And after?”

“Why, sleep, of course. What do you mean, uncle?”

She flushed scarlet.

“My dear Harriet, I fear you are too fond of sleeping. Surely you
understand that you can no longer remain an inmate of this house,
now that--that I am a lonely widower? Much as I regret--ahem!--you
will admit, I feel confident, that you cannot remain under present
circumstances.”

“Not under present circumstances,” answered Harriet.

She waited for one long second, her black eyes aflame, full on his
face. Then the balance in which her fate hung snapped suddenly. She
sat, self-possessed, amid the collapse of all her hopes.

“I shall always take an interest in you,” said Mynheer Mopius,
adjusting his neat white mourning-tie; “and I mean to act very
generously, to begin with. I shall take lodgings for you for one
month, paying your board. I should have added a little cash for
current expenses, but you aunt’s legacy has made that superfluous.”

“Aunt Sarah left me a hundred florins and her Bible,” said Harriet.


“Dear woman, she did! She always thought of others. You are welcome
to the money, Harriet; fully, frankly welcome. But the Bible! That
is a memento of her I would fain have retained.”

“Buy it of me?” said Harriet. “How much will you give for it? Ten
florins?”

“Harriet, I am shocked,” replied Mynheer Mopius, hastily. “The
month’s board will leave you ample time to look out for a
situation.”

“To look out for another situation,” said Harriet.

“Quite so,” exclaimed Mynheer Mopius, delighted at her good sense.

Harriet threw back her arm with a jerk that rattled the
tea-equipage.

“And to think,” she cried, “that only last week I rejected the
doctor.”

“More fool you!” replied Mynheer Mopius, coolly. “You’ll have to be
more careful of the Chinese porcelain in a strange house, Harriet,
and it probably won’t be anything like as good.”

“I rejected the doctor,” continued Harriet, roughly, “because I
didn’t care for him. I couldn’t live with a young man I didn’t care
for. Uncles are different.”

“Harriet, I am not really your uncle, you must remember, though I
am willing to behave as such. If your father--”

“Yes, I know. Well, I shall try to get something in a month’s time,
and if I can, I’ll repay the board and lodging, dear uncle.”

“That is not necessary. You can place an advertisement, Harriet,
not mentioning names, of course. You don’t know enough for a
governess, and, besides, you are too good-looking. You had better
try to become a companion. If your father--”

“Quite so. Yes, I shall try to become a companion--to a gentleman.”

“Harriet! I do not see that it is a laughing matter. To an invalid
lady. Not that you have any experience of invalids; for my dear
Sarah enjoyed excellent health till almost the last.”

“To a gentleman,” persisted Harriet, coolly. “It is no laughing
matter, Uncle Jacob. When I leave this house, which at least
afforded me some miserable sort of protection, I shall advertise
for a husband. I dare say something nice will turn up. I want
a husband I can be really fond of. Somehow I have faith in his
turning up.”

She spoke to herself, but she rejoiced in scandalizing the hateful
humbug opposite.

“Harriet, my dear,” said the widower, solemnly, “all this is very
much out of place. You should have more respect for the holiness of
sorrow, Harriet.”

“Oh, dear, no, you needn’t trouble about that,” she interrupted
him. “I’m in deadly earnest, I assure you. I’ve printed an
advertisement before, but it came to nothing. I mean to look out
better this time.”

Her accent belied the outer calm of her attitude; she began washing
the cups.

“Printed an advertisement from my house? From Villa Blanda? If so,
I have nourished a--”

“No.”

“I am extremely agitated, Harriet. You are my cherished Sarah’s
step-niece. I cannot imagine that any member, any step-member,
of my dear wife’s family would demean herself in the manner you
describe.”

He got up and began to walk about, enjoying his brand-new mourning.
“For any one, of however humble origin--and Sarah’s sister married
beneath her--to enter into relations of--of an amorous description
with a stranger! Harriet, I am horrified. We are not in India,
Harriet. You are not a black woman, though you may think and act
like one. I appeal to you to remember that you are connected,
however distantly, with an honorable family. You are not free,
Harriet, as you might have been before your father’s first
marriage.”

He spoke with almost desperate energy, for there were some things
he had learned to discriminate in his intercourse with Harriet
Verveen. He knew when she meant what she said.

“Pooh!” replied Harriet. “Good-night, dear uncle. You give me
a month’s board, without wages, and notice to quit. I am very
grateful, dear uncle; but henceforth you must allow me to fashion
my own life as I choose.”

They stood facing each other. There was no noise and no
recrimination. Each knew it would be useless.

“I have nourished a serpent in my bosom,” said Mynheer Mopius,
triumphantly getting out his quotation after all. “I can’t keep you
here a day longer, Harriet, though you seem to be annoyed about
going. It wouldn’t be proper, and, besides, I may have other plans.
I treat you generously. Whatever you may elect to do I hope you
will repay me by henceforth dropping all pretended relationship
to myself. That must be an understood thing. Such conduct as you
propose--clandestine love affairs, anonymous love affairs--I
consider most scandalous. All the world considers it scandalous. I
cannot allow a breath of ill-odor to sully the unspotted name of
Mopius. Harriet, I hope you fully agree to that suggestion. If not
I should consider myself compelled to retract.”

“Oh, most willingly,” again interrupted Harriet. She steadily
sought her uncle’s shifty glances. “I break all relation between us
as completely as--I crush this cup!” The costly porcelain fell to
the ground in shell-like fragments. Mynheer Mopius darted forward
with a shriek. Meanwhile Harriet slipped from the room, her right
hand bleeding, her mood somewhat relieved.

Next morning she left the house. After the night’s consideration
of circumstances she was not sorry to go. She believed, with a
desperate woman’s pertinacity, in the ultimate success of the wide
choice she had allowed herself. She would take a husband after her
own heart. Already she pictured him to herself, good-looking, with
a fair mustache.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the great city close to Drum--a city which may as well
remain nameless--a modest variety may be found of those public
entertainments which constitute, to the many, a principal criterion
of civilization. In the nineteenth-century march of mind--which,
after all, is but the advance of ’Arry--a town with no permanent
music-hall troupe is voted “slow.” Drum was distinctly “slow.” Its
big sister aspired, in spasms, to be reckoned “fast.”

Occasionally, therefore, when the fit was upon her, the big sister
clutched, gasping, at some Parisian form of diversion; a river fête
with fireworks, horse-races, or, in winter, a _bal costumé et
paré_. The latter was decidedly a bad spasm, for northern nations
can make nothing of the “Veglione.” Still, every season a couple
of these picturesque gayeties were organized by indefatigable
_impresarii_ (in rose-colored spectacles), the price of admission
being fixed at a florin for gentlemen, ladies free. No respectable
person over thirty was supposed to attend.

One of the least unsuccessful costume-balls the city has ever seen
came off just before Christmas, in the year we are describing.
Willie van Troyen was there as Paris, with another Helen, this
being a delicate joke on the part of the woman whose rule was to
end next week. As she accurately pointed out, the right Helen was,
after all, the wrong love.

Only Gerard’s deep mourning had prevented his presence. Somebody
had suggested, behind his back, that he might go as a Mute. The gay
band he lived among agreed unanimously that “it was high time that
Gerard got over his parent’s demise.” He was not a success in the
rôle of the impecunious orphan.

Willie van Troyen on this festal occasion was drunk, and from his
place in a stage-box, between two sirens, he was roaring with
laughter at the antics of a goose in the pit. The whole floor of
the small theatre had been cleared for perambulation, while those
who _meant_ dancing could retire to the stage. Most of the masks,
however, preferred to walk about and make believe they were funny,
in a half-annoyed jostle of ungracious familiarity, under the
critical contemplation of the humbler amphitheatre side-tables, and
of the champagne-sodden boxes up above. Every now and then some
ambitious buffoon, excited by the continuous spur of the music,
would suddenly leap at facile applause. There would be a sweep of
the crowd in his direction and an outburst of meaningless laughter,
every one exclaiming that the joke was good, while thinking it
rather tame.

But even the numerous laughers who were only pretending to amuse
themselves agreed in recognizing the very real drollery of the
Goose. He--it was evidently a masculine goose, as distinguished
from a gander--he trotted about in the stupidest manner, a great
yellow-beaked ball of white and black feathers with unreasonably
protruding quills. Just now he had got hold of a stout and solemn
gentleman in red velvet, who evidently represented a potent, grave,
and reverend Signior. This dignified personage looked exceedingly
out of place--not to speak of a false nose through his mask--in so
foolish a company of mummers.

The Goose had a nasty talent for cackling with the extravagant
clatter of his big wooden beak, and he kept up this deafening
music incessantly as he ran round and round the fat gentleman in
velvet, who turned helplessly hither and thither amid volleys of
merriment. Every now and then the cruel bird, as it ran, would draw
the pointed quills from under its feathers and therewith prick the
reverend signior in unexpected places, causing him to wriggle and
twist. Just then there was a pause in the programme; the whole
theatre shook with this unexpected fun.

“Why can’t you leave me alone?” hissed the unfortunate senator,
in streaming suspense. But the Goose made no reply. Stopping his
mad race for a moment, he actually began chalking up ribaldry with
one of his quills on the senator’s pendent mantle, chattering all
the while. In vain the proud aristocrat wrestled and protested.
The Goose, holding the mantle firmly, chalked a huge note of
interrogation upon it, and wrote under this sign, amid breathless
interest, the question, “What does your Worship here?” A renewed
outburst greeted this sally. Willie van Troyen, unsteadily
prominent, pelted the witty bird with hot-house grapes.

“Go along, you hypocrite, I know you,” said the Goose in his
victim’s ear. “I’ve chalked up your real name behind.”

At this the crimson noble, breaking down, began to cry real tears
of shame and spite. “You’ve ruined me, then,” he exclaimed. “And I
can’t for the life of me imagine why!”

“Boh,” said the Goose, and resumed his clatter more heartily than
ever.

But at this juncture a Goose-girl stepped unexpectedly into the
arena. She drove off the Goose with some well-directed blows, and,
taking the arm of the red-velvet gentleman, led him disconsolate
away.

“It’s your own fault for coming,” squeaked the Goose-girl. “Let’s
go and talk it over in a private box.”

“No, indeed; private boxes are very expensive. My dear creature,
for Heaven’s sake, let me sit down on this settee. I--I--anxious
to obliterate”--he began, violently rubbing his back against the
cushions of the sofa. “I am quite at a loss to understand,” he
said; “but tell me, my dear, you didn’t--eh?”

“Yes, indeed,” replied the maiden. “Your style and title, Mynheer
the Councillor, were written there in full.”

He broke into an oath. “Not my name,” he sobbed. “You--you didn’t
see my name?”

The Goose-girl sat down beside him. She used a small instrument
to disguise her voice. “Why did you come here, you horrid old
man?” she said. “I saw you flirting with Little Red Riding-hood.
I saw you dancing with that atrocious Bacchante. ‘_Clandestine
love-affairs_,’ ‘_Anonymous engagements_.’ And your wife not five
weeks dead! Oh, Uncle Jacob--Uncle Jacob!” Harriet dropped into her
natural voice, letting fall both her mask and her manner.

“Harriet!” exclaimed Mopius, “this exceeds--”

“Indeed it does,” she interrupted, coolly. “Don’t speak so loud,
dear uncle, or the Goose will be coming back.”

Mynheer Mopius started to his feet.

“This is some conspiracy to ruin me,” he said, speaking like one
dazed. “I’m ruined already. I’m going--”

“Wait a moment,” objected his tormentor. “It isn’t true that your
name was written up; I prevented that in time. So, you see, you
have a good deal to thank me for. But, uncle, that Goose is a
writer on the staff of the _Drum Independent_; he is one of their
leading men, and a very great friend of mine. His quills are very
real quills. He is anxious to tell--when the by-election comes on
next week, which is to render you Right Worshipful--an amusing
little story of a highly respectable candidate who, barely a month
after his dear wife’s death, danced with a charming Bacchante at a
charming masked ball.”

“What do you want of me, Harriet?” shrieked the wretched widower.
“Do you want money? I can let you have a little, if you like.”

“Hush. Let’s talk it over quietly in this quiet corner, Uncle
Jacob. I am pitiless. Understand that at once. No compounding. You
must surrender absolutely. Better do it with a good grace.”

“I know you want to marry me,” answered Mopius, sulkily; “and I
don’t mind so very much, though it’s hard to have it forced on one.
I’d rather have had a woman with a softer tongue; but I’ve been
looking about me, and one has this fault and another has that; I
always said you were good-looking, Harriet. I’ll marry you, if you
like, though I’d rather have had a lady-born.”

“Marry you!” she blazed out at him. “No, indeed, I’m going to marry
a man whose boots you daren’t lick, unless he let you. A good man,
beautiful as good, and clever as he is beautiful--a man who will
some day be great, and I--love--him. He is poor, and the whole
world is before him, and I _love_ him. Marry _you_!”

“Well, you wanted to a month ago,” muttered Mopius.

“Let me speak. If you want to hush up this disgraceful story you
must give my love”--her voice caressed the delicious word--“two
thousand florins. He will be satisfied with that; then he can pay
off his debts, and we can start our humble house-keeping.”

“Harriet, it’s a mean trick. I should never have thought that you
with your pride--”

“Silence, you!” she exclaimed under her breath, crushing down her
own misgivings with reckless vehemence. “How dare you question his
good pleasure, or I? You obey, so do I. Only two thousand florins.
He is very moderate. He might have demanded ten. But I told him
I didn’t want your dirty money. Love can be happy in a garret.
Come, let’s have done with the whole horrid business. I promised
to call him, and then you can go.” The Goose-girl put a whistle to
her lips, and immediately her obedient bird came clucking up from
among the motley crowd. As he came his weary din gradually assumed
the shape of “Ja-cob! Ja-cob! Ja-cob!” with terrible, reiterated
distinctness.

“Hush, please, darling,” pleaded Harriet, her voice full of soft
entreaty, “uncle is willing to give the two thousand florins, as I
propose.”

“To further his candidature,” said the Goose, bowing low. “It
is clearly understood that the money is paid to further his
candidature. I am proud, sir, to make your acquaintance.”

The Goose saluted, with silly flap.

“And now he had better go,” exclaimed Harriet.

“My dear child, what are you thinking of?” protested the Goose, as
Mynheer Mopius hastily rose to render ready obedience. “I have only
just had the pleasure of meeting your uncle. I am sure he will do
us the favor of being present at a little champagne supper in one
of the up-stairs boxes--as host.”

“Oh no,” began the Goose-girl, and checked herself, meeting the
Goose’s eye.

“I shall be willing,” stammered Mopius, “if necessary, to pay--”

The Goose interposed.

“My dear sir, what are you thinking of?” he said, loftily. “Is this
the way such matters are managed among men of honor? Harriet, take
your uncle’s arm!”

Together the trio ascended to the grand tier. Mynheer Mopius’s
supper, as ordered by the Goose, was exquisite; the host finished
by enjoying it himself, and drinking too much wine. Willie van
Troyen insisted on rolling in from the adjoining box to shake the
Goose by the hand. He also drank to the health of the recumbent
masked gentleman in shabby red velvet who was singing sentimental
songs in an undertone, with unpremeditated shrieks--

    “Dear love, for thee I would lay down my li-i-fe:
    For, without thee, what would that life avail?”

The Goose informed Willie that the Senator was a retired Indian
Viceroy, who had given many such a magnificent entertainment in his
day. Willie put his finger to his nose, and immediately invited His
Excellency to his wedding six days hence. Upon which His Excellency
burst out crying, and said that the word reminded him of the best
of departed wives. Harriet sat staring down into the now almost
deserted pit.

The cold December dawn had not yet achieved more than the hope of
its forthcoming when the Goose took away Mynheer Mopius in a cab
to a quiet hotel. Behind them still echoed the loud talk of the
young officers. They passed, in the fearsome streets, a troop of
roysterers from a gin-shop. “We won’t go home till morning!” rang
hideous on the patient night. Here and there a window shone out,
fully lighted, with its message of suffering or suspense.

Up above--far, far above--stood, silent, God’s eternal stars;
watchful, serenely waiting, in the darkness whence we come and
whither we return.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days after the ball Mynheer Mopius paid up like a man, and
three days after he had paid up, Mynheer Mopius was sitting one
evening in his accustomed arm-chair, reflecting on his loneliness
and the unexpected rarity of charming claimants for his hand. In
fact, during this month, with his indecent precipitancy, he had
exposed himself to a couple of very painful rebuffs. Of course,
he was exceedingly angry with Harriet. But, really, all that he
cared for was himself, his own comfort, his own glory, an audience,
especially for his evening songs.

In the midst of his reflections Harriet walked in. She cast off her
wrap, _sans gêne_, upon the nearest sofa.

“I’ve come to marry you, after all,” she said, quite collectedly.

Mynheer Mopius jumped.

“Harriet,” he replied, “this is--go away! After your conduct of
last week, go away!”

“I forgive your conduct,” said Harriet, unmoved.

“And the--the Goose you were in love with?” inquired Mynheer
Mopius, not without some satisfaction.

“He was unworthy,” replied Harriet, with level eyebrows. “He has
thrown me over.”

“As soon as he had the money,” said Mynheer Mopius, rubbing his
palms between his knees.

“Yes, as soon as he had the money,” admitted the girl, quite
simply. “It appears there is another woman in the business. All
that is dead and gone. All my money’s gone. I haven’t had anything
to eat since yesterday morning. Never mind that. But my decision’s
taken. I’ve come back to marry you. And I mean to.”

“You can’t against my will, Harriet,” said Mynheer Mopius, beaming.
“Go away.”

“Look here, Uncle Jacob, you’re going to marry me, _or_--don’t make
me say the alternative. I’d rather think you married me without
the alternative. It’s not very nice, anyway, but I don’t intend to
starve. And, as I don’t believe in men any more, it really doesn’t
matter much. Now ring for the servants, and tell them you’re going
to marry me.”

“Harriet, go away!”

Harriet crossed to the bell-rope and pulled it. “What does your
Worship here?” she said, incoherently. “You asked me a week ago,
and I said no. You don’t ask me to-day, and I say yes. Such is
woman. Better than man, at his worst.”

The footman answered the bell. For a moment Harriet’s courage
failed her before his severe expectancy. “Bring some biscuits,” she
said.

“Harriet,” began Mynheer Mopius, thoroughly cowed, like the bully
he was, “you must allow at least another month to intervene before
the thing can be even mooted. I always admitted, Harriet, you know,
that you were a very good-looking girl. But, before I say another
word, I must insist on you going down on your bended knees and
humbly begging my pardon for your disgraceful conduct of the other
night.”

Harriet Verveen understood the antagonist she had vanquished. The
proud girl actually knelt on the carpet, and slowly repeated the
humiliating words.

“Very good!” said Mynheer Mopius, in high good-humor, “and,
Harriet, I won’t marry you till you succeed in matching that cup
you broke.” He smiled to himself in the glass, the future Town
Councillor! “You are very poor, Harriet,” he continued, “and of
humble origin. It is a great thing for you to become Madame Mopius.
I hope you feel that.”

“Oh yes,” replied Harriet, meekly. She had got up from the floor.
Meanwhile the footman had brought in a tray of biscuit. She fell on
them ravenously.

“Well, Harriet, if ever I make you my wife--and I don’t say I
shall, mind--I hope you will be a good and obedient consort, like
the faithful creature I have lost.”

“Oh yes,” said Harriet again. Soon after she went back to her
lodgings, with a little money in her purse. She turned in the hall
door of Villa Blanda.

“Won’t I pay you out for this!” she said aloud. Never till the day
of her death could she look down at her knees without seeing dust
upon them. Mopius had cause to remember his triumph, though she
made him a good wife on the whole.

That evening, far into the night, the miserable woman lay at the
open window of her garret, with her forehead knocking the sill.
Her neighbor, a poor, blind seamstress, sat up in bed trembling,
awe-struck by the sobs that seemed to shake the flimsy house. It
was winter, bitterly, frostily cold. On the window-sill, bent,
pressed back again, clammy with kisses, stuck a stupid bit of
pasteboard--the smirking photograph of a man.



CHAPTER XXV

CORONETS AND CROSSES


Meanwhile, untouched by the bustle and slush of the market-town, or
the still greater turmoil and filth of its more distant metropolis,
the little village and wide demesne of Horstwyk lay serene under
their mantle of unsullied snow. Surely each additional myriad of
inhabitants deepens the vulgarity of their place of abode, as when
ink-drops fall measured into a glass of pure water. The country
has its full share of vices--every anchorite’s cave has that. The
country has snobbishness, perhaps, more than the town. But it has
not vulgarity.

Snobbishness, be it observed, is by no means a marked
characteristic of the Dutch. There was little of that element
in the heart-felt and healthy veneration which the surrounding
countryside offered as natural tribute to the lord of the manor.
The lord was a legitimate and very actual centre of interest for
miles around, radiating wisely diversified influence to all parts
of the horizon. Can any thoughtful man dispute that God had willed
it so? The pursuit of rank is one thing. Of that the Horstwykers
knew very little. The perception of proportion is another; it is
still existent, though moribund, because the masses confuse it
with humility, or, still more blunderingly, with humiliation.
The Horstwykers were not humble--the Dutch peasant is not--but
they were self-respecting. It is the man who dearly loves a lord,
and can’t get near enough, that wants to see him hung up on a
lantern-post.

To many hundreds of simple souls the reigning Baron van Helmont was
the one visible manifestation of human greatness.

The Divine is intangible, and, at any rate, non-comparable. The
gleam of the Horst through its ancestral trees was a daily reminder
of Rule.

The change, therefore, in the King one feels--whom we all have,
even Emperors--convulsed the whole community, at first, with much
more than curiosity. The old Baron had lolled on the throne for so
many easy years. The old Baron had never lifted his sceptre. All
his influence--great as it was--had been automatic.

Everybody liked him, for he had never, by doing anything, given
cause for offence. And everybody liked Gerard, destined, by the
very _insouciance_ of his open-handed condescension, to conquer all
simple hearts. This new lord was an unknown quantity. Men lifted
their heads, expectant, not decided as yet in what direction to
shake them.

Ursula, of course, they all knew from her infancy, but as one
more or less of themselves. She had lived rather a sequestered
life, keeping much to herself and to her father; yet they had
always benignly approved of the parson’s daughter, chiefly on
account of her absolute freedom from all forms of assumption and
self-assertion, such as clerical womankind too often affects. But,
as Baroness van Helmont, her character seemed out of drawing. It
must readjust itself to their ideas, if such a thing were ever
possible. On the whole, the peasantry of the countryside did not
approve of Baron Otto’s choice; there was something incongruous in
this too human link between earth and heaven. Pharaoh should marry
his sister, not his kitchen-maid.

Even the Dominé had felt this, though he knew himself to be a
gentleman. Perhaps on that account.

Pharaoh, settling himself in his unaccustomed seat, might well have
wished for a Joseph. His predecessor’s years had been years of
fatness, agricultural prosperity, but there had been no storing in
granaries to stint the full-bellied kine. There had been plentitude
everywhere, and plenteous hunger. The hunger remained. Pharaoh
resolved to be his own Joseph, but, face to face with famine,
Joseph comes too late.

By the united assistance of the two old ladies Gerard’s claim had
been met. The Freule van Borck had been very particular about
the legal part and the mortgage, holding long consultations with
her notary. In all business matters women, starting from the
conviction that their defencelessness is sure to be imposed upon,
insist on driving bargains of granitic hardness. When four per
cent. represents a fair rate of interest, a woman demands six,
ultimately resigning herself to accepting five, because a woman,
you know, can’t hold out against men, as she querulously tells you
ever afterwards. The notary was compelled to restrain the Freule’s
fervor of self-sacrificial money-getting. As the weeks crept on she
became more and more resolved to assist her nephew advantageously.
And, when everything had at last been arranged, the estate was left
saddled with a heavy annual payment it could barely sustain.

“Never mind,” said Otto, looking round on the costly treasures he
mightn’t sell and didn’t want. That had become the brave refrain of
his resolve. “Never mind,” and then he set his teeth hard. It was
very different from the _tout s’arrange_ of his race.

He steeled himself, doggedly, and a little dogmatically, to
“putting things right.” That process, of course, annoys the
numerous persons who don’t care to be told that things were wrong
before. Besides, no adjustment is possible--especially not a
rectilinear one--without knocks and shoves in all directions.

First and foremost, Otto had to do battle with his mother. The
widow resented as an insult the suggestion that anything could need
alteration.

“Things have always been like that in your father’s time,” she
said over and over again. “And, Otto, I cannot understand all this
talk of yours about income and expenditure. Of course, people have
income and expenditure. Surely your father must have had them, too;
but he never worried about them as you do.”

Otto knew this. It had been a favorite maxim of his father’s--not,
perhaps, an altogether incorrect one--that only small incomes need
balance to a hair. “Rich men,” the Baron used to say, “have other
resources besides their revenues.”

“But your father always told me that you were a bad manager
because over-anxious to be a good one,” the Dowager would murmur,
querulously. “The excellence of management, he always said,
was moderation, and, dear me, Otto, you manage more in a month
than your father in all his lifetime. But you don’t sell the art
collections, mind. They belong to me. Your father always said you
would sell them.”

She even insisted on finishing the costly decoration of the west
room, to Otto’s bitter annoyance. “Would you leave it unfinished?”
she asked, with a flash of her old bright spirit. It was almost
fortunate for Otto that she had never completely recovered from the
shock of her husband’s death. For hours she would sit, silent and
motionless, in the boudoir she had filled with his portraits from
all parts of the house. And when the Baron entered, she would quote
his father at him.

“I _will_ spend less than my income,” repeated Otto, grinding
his heel into the carpet. It sounds easy in a big house, but, in
fact, it is easier in a small one. He retrenched, and made the
whole family most increasingly uncomfortable. When, at last, he
extinguished the great, wasteful fire in the hall, there was a
palace revolution. The butler gave notice. “For I’m too old,” he
informed Mynheer the Baron, letting him have a bit of his mind, “to
expose my life at my age in them draughty passages.”

“Very well, go,” said Otto, fiercely. But he didn’t like it. The
man had been with them for years. The Dowager-Baroness cried
at thought of his leaving. All the servants looked sullen and
demonstratively blue-nosed. For weeks the new master had been
causing them successive annoyance. Some kind of chivalry taught him
to screen his young wife.

“Let me do it, dear,” pleaded Ursula, when Otto complained that he
must speak to the cook. “Surely that is my department.”

“Oh yes, it is,” he said, looking out of the window. “Oh yes.”

“Well, then, what has she done? She seems to me a nice,
pleasant-spoken person.”

“Oh, they are all that,” cried Otto, facing round, with sudden
eloquence. “They are all nice, all pleasant-spoken! My father’s
people always were. Imagine, Ursula, that this woman, whom mamma
has had in her service for fifteen years, daily--mind you,
daily--writes down a pound of meat more than the butcher brings,
and divides the profits with him!”

“How can she?” objected Ursula, who had not yet got accustomed to a
household in which such things were possible, and even proper.

“How? Don’t ask me how. I suppose she calls it ‘perquisites.’ I met
an English marquess once, who told me that in his father’s time the
annual beer-bill had touched two thousand pounds. His was three
hundred. It’s all a question of authorizing theft by silence. Keep
your fingers off the tap. That’s all.” He laughed.

“I’ll weigh the meat to-morrow myself,” cried Ursula, rising
already to do it. “That will stop them at once. We weigh it at
home; that’s to say, Aunt Mopius often does. And I’ve had to scold
Oskamp’s boy before. I should never have thought it of Oskamp. I
suppose, Otto, your mother never weighs the meat?”

Otto smiled.

“So that will be all right. Don’t worry, dear, I’ll see to it
myself.”

“No, I think you had better not,” reasoned Otto, gravely. “I--I
think I had better do it. My mother, you see, Ursula, will take
anything of that kind more easily from me.”

He hurt her cruelly, for it was by no means the first time she
had thus been checked in the well-meant endeavor to assume her
legitimate duties. She turned away in silence, and took up some
needle-work.

Somehow he realized, helplessly, that things were again
uncomfortable. “My dear child,” he explained, “it is only because I
am anxious to shield you.”

But she stopped him.

“I don’t want to be shielded,” she said, quickly; “at least, not
_always_.”

And she beat back her emotion, looking away, with trembling lip.

He stood, uncertain, gazing at her, and his eyes grew
half-reproachful.

“Oh, of course, you don’t understand!” she exclaimed, unwillingly
reading his thoughts. “You have married a plaything, Otto. You
cannot comprehend my wanting to be a wife.”

[Illustration: “‘OH, THEY ARE ALL THAT,’ CRIED OTTO, FACING ROUND”]

“My dear child”--he began.

He too constantly called her that. She detested the name. She knew
well enough how much he was her elder.

“I am not a child,” she cried, passionately. “I am a woman, and
your wife.”

“Yes,” he replied, sternly, reading discontent in her pent-up
vehemence, and perhaps a little assumption; “you are now the
Baroness van Helmont.”

“I am not. I am not!” she cried, recklessly, and dropped her work
in her agitation. “I mean I am not that only. I am sick of merely
being that. I am your wife, Otto. I have a right to be recognized
as such.”

Otto paced down the large room and up again.

“I am sorry,” he said, stiffly, “that you consider yourself
slighted by any one, but I cannot ask my mother to leave the
house. There are difficulties, of course, in your position. I am
the first to admit them. We all have difficulties. Often they are
unavoidable. Yours seem so to me.”

She looked at him, her brown eyes dilated with horror; then
suddenly, very sweetly, her tenderness flowed across them.

“Oh, Otto,” she said, softly, “why do we so constantly
misunderstand each other? It is you by whom I want to be recognized
as your wife--nobody else!”

Then he caught her to his breast, and kissed her seriously, as they
kiss who love deeply, but apart.

“I want to take my share of your work,” she continued, caressingly,
“and, especially, my share of your worry. I am so tired, Otto, of
sitting in the big drawing-room. To you, at _least_, I want not to
be ‘My Lady Nobody.’ I didn’t marry you for that.”

“What did you marry me for,” he questioned, playfully.

“Certainly not for that,” she replied, gravely, and the answer fell
cold on his heart, for all that it left unsaid. A moment afterwards
she added, “Of course, because I love you.” She thoughtfully spoke
her conscientious verity; but love is quicker than thought.

He left her, with a kind little pat of encouragement, and she sank
down beside the dog, hiding her sunny brown head in the softly
responsive fur. She could feel Monk’s great heart beating gravely.
The room was very large and empty, the house was very large.

Yes, though he did not realize it, Otto van Helmont had married
his wife for her face--a sweet apparition, bright and fresh
among the home-flowers, a suggestion of the dear fatherland, a
dream of wholesome Dutch girlhood. He had married for that most
unsatisfactory of all reasons: “because he had fallen in love.” Not
even a fortnight--be it remembered--had elapsed between his first
sight of Ursula and their engagement. A man must either know his
wife before he learns to love her, or else he must never need to
love her, or else he will certainly never learn to know her. That
last eventuality, the rarest, is surely the most desirable, but
only if the love be mutual, and exceedingly great.

Otto, then, had never penetrated into a character whose reserve
was so like his own that he could not understand it. He loved his
young wife, and kissed her; and he fancied, like so many men,
that his consciousness of loving her was sufficient for all her
wants. As for her position in the house, in the family, if it was
uncomfortable, could he help that? Was not he himself weighed down
by his difficulties, his responsibilities, the worry of universal
deepening displeasure? What were the pinpricks she complained of
compared to his wounds? Her mamma-in-law was inconsiderate; his
mother was unkind. Her dependants were not always courteous, his
own people hardened their countenances against him. He could not
help thinking that much of her petulant soreness--well, she was
young--was provoked by mortification because of the scant dignity
or authority her sudden elevation had brought her. Had she not said
to him, “I will not be My Lady Nobody; at least, let me not be it
to you?”

She was annoyed, then, at being it to him, and to all. The
combination vexed her. She had hoped, as My Lady, to be Somebody
indeed.

He sighed from irritation. It was not his fault. Yet he was
a little disappointed in Ursula. He had thought hers was an
essentially gentle nature, unassuming, unaspiring. Even not
desiring to meddle and share in her husband’s affairs, because
that, for a young girl, is impossible. A thoroughly womanly
woman, who cried out in horror at thought of men’s work, such as
sheep-slaughtering, or of men’s play, such as a fox-hunt; a woman
who could be tacitly brave, on occasion, able to endure though
unable to act. Thus had she revealed herself to him in the week of
his swift immersion, his model woman, in a word. That is the worst
of tumbling into love. You marry your model woman and have to live
with your wife. Now, Ursula was far superior to Otto’s ideal. There
is nothing more hopeless in human relationships.

He turned impatiently from himself and went down to the room where
his bailiff was waiting. All that morning he had been weighed down
by the prospect of this interview. No, he was not the man, in his
gentleness of heart, to “set things right.”

“You can do as you like,” he cried, starting up from the other’s
excuses and tergiversations. “You can go or you can stay. But never
again, if I live”--his heart throbbed wildly as he bent that cruel,
hated look of his on the sullen retainer--“never again, by God,
shall you charge one and eight for a laborer’s wages while paying
him one and five!”



CHAPTER XXVI

FREULE LOUISA


In the gray loneliness of Ursula’s married life there was, however,
very little solitude. The house contained too many various elements
for that. And county society, which was plentiful, took a great
interest in her on account of the romance of her courtship. By the
coincidence of the old Baron’s immediately subsequent death, she
had come face to face with her whole circle of acquaintance, during
the days of her début at the Manor-house, through the medium of
that most trying of social functions, the visit of condolence. All
these people knew her from her birth; many of them called her by
her Christian name; it seemed to her, and to them, that she was
masquerading. She was nobody’s cousin.

And the Matres Familias who looked regretfully at Otto--there
were many such--could hardly be expected to look benignly on
Ursula. But they all patronized her most amiably, and patted her
on the back, and showed that they were trying to “make her feel
quite like one of us.” And Ursula, who could not be unnatural,
nevertheless strove hard to be natural--if any one fathoms what
is meant by that combination of miseries! The whole lot of them
studied her attitude, and compared her with what she was before
her marriage, and endeavored to accentuate a difference. One dear
old lady told her kindly “that she really did very well.” Another
took her aside: “Do not be self-conscious, dear Ursula,” she said.
“Just be yourself, my dear, just as you were formerly. We like you
best like that.” Surely, there was no cause for the historic Lady
Burleigh to “take on” so; before her marriage she had not resided
in Stamford-town.

The Dowager-Baroness was far too well-bred to mortify her young
rival intentionally; she was far too well-bred not to do so daily
without intention. The Dominé’s daughter must now take precedence?
Impossible. Mevrouw van Helmont retained her seat at the head of
her table. The servants came to Mevrouw for orders; not that Ursula
cared at all about this, or wished in any way to domineer, but her
clear nature shrank from the discomfort of hourly confusion. “Oh,
what does it matter!” thought Otto, harassed by the real troubles
of his own administration. His wife did not complain to him. She
retired to the big drawing-room, with empty hands, and found solace
for hours at her beloved piano. It was a superb Steinway grand of
the old Baron’s buying, very different from the little cottage
instrument at the Parsonage. For years it had been the object
of Ursula’s secret envy, and now it was the one acquisition she
heartily rejoiced in among all the grandeurs of the great house
which were not even hers.

“Does Ursula always play the piano?” asked the Dowager, wearily,
when her son came in to visit her. “Did she never do _anything_
else in her old home?”

“She is such a first-rate musician, mamma,” apologized Otto. “That
requires a great deal of constant practice.”

“I suppose so. In my day nobody was a first-rate musician, except
the professionals.”

“So much has changed,” said Otto, patiently.

“Perhaps.” The Dowager was making a spring-coat for Plush, what the
French call a _demi-saison_; she laid down the sky-blue scrap upon
her heavy crape. “Still, Otto, I wish things could be arranged a
little differently. Does it not strike you as rather incongruous,
with an eye to the servants and the tradespeople, that this house
of mourning should resound with dance-music from daybreak to dark?”

Otto went to his wife. “I like the playing very much indeed,” he
said. “But a little solemn music would make a delightful change. Do
you always prefer dances, Ursula?”

“This is a scherzo, Otto, out of one of Beethoven’s symphonies.”

“Is it? I wish it sounded a little less--gay.”

Ursula struck the piano a violent crash, and then ostentatiously
dragged, banging through the same composer’s “Marche Funèbre.”
Towards the end she looked up defiantly at her husband standing in
the embrasure of a window with folded arms. Suddenly she broke away
from the music, and threw herself on his breast.

“I am sorry,” she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Freule van Borck was the member of the household--an
unimportant member--who took most interest in the new-comer. Otto’s
fondness seemed devoid of investigation, like his mother’s apathy,
but Aunt Louisa looked upon the fresh factor in her old maid’s
life of fuss-filled monotony as a worthy subject of scientific
experiment. Was Ursula--or was she not--_quelqu’un_? That, said the
Freule van Borck, is the question.

Louisa van Borck had created for herself a peculiar position in her
sister’s family. Some twenty years ago her tiresome existence with
her old father in the Hague had come suddenly to an end through the
conclusive collapse of Mynheer van Borck’s financial operations. He
was about seventy at the time, and she thirty-eight. She had never
wanted to marry, nor had she ever had an opportunity of wanting.
Her ambition had always been to live with herself, occupying,
enlarging, and fully inhabiting her own little entity, as few of us
find time to do. That nothing much came of it was hardly her fault.
She had a lot of little fads and fancies with which she dressed up
her soul for want of better furniture.

“We must go and live with the Van Helmonts,” Louisa had said to her
protesting parent. “It is unavoidable.”

“But, Louisa, your money, your share of your mother’s money--”

“Cannot support us both. Besides, I don’t intend to die in a
workhouse.”

So the old gentleman had to turn his back upon the sweets of the
“Residency,” and die away into the wilderness. Of course, the Van
Helmont’s made room for their relatives. “So that’s settled,” said
the lord of the Horst. _Tout s’arrange._ But grandpapa’s brain soon
got clogged, in the still country atmosphere, from inertia and
want of winding up. For many years his body vegetated in an upper
room, with an attendant and a box full of toys. Nobody objected to
him, nor was any one ever unkind. Besides, he had still his pension
of four hundred a year, which made a welcome addition to the family
revenues. Yet it was he they regretted mildly when he died.

Freule Louisa could not honestly be accused of unthriftiness. “I
know nothing about money matters,” she was wont to exclaim, with
pink-spotted agitation. “You mustn’t talk to me about money. I
haven’t got any to spend.” Nobody knew how much of her private
fortune was still in her possession, or how much she had possibly
lost by investments. “You will see,” Baron Theodore had always
prophesied, “Louisa will die a pauper.” His wife doubted it.

She had insisted upon making an arrangement with her relations
which was especially antipathetic to their temperament. She paid
a “pension” price for herself and maid of so much per diem, with
deduction of one-half for board during absences of at least a
week. In addition to this, she paid for the use of the carriage
each time she drove out, according to a scale of her own careful
concocting. So much per hour, so much per horse, so much if nobody
else went with her. The whole thing was just like a hotel bill,
and she enjoyed it immensely. “I am not going to sacrifice my
independence,” she said. The Baron, of course, considered the
business “disgusting”; but he never pushed his objections beyond
a certain limit of opposing vehemence. He simply refused to have
anything to do with the Freule’s laborious computations, and the
Baroness was obliged to receive and receipt the monthly payments,
which would sometimes remain on a side-table for days. Once or
twice a dishonest servant took a gold piece without any one being
the wiser.

The Freule did not approve of her sister’s domestics. Her own maid
was perfection: angular (like herself), middle-aged, cross-eyed,
cross-grained, and crossed in love (so she sometimes told Louisa),
one of those bony asperities whose every word, like their every
contact, cuts. The name this person gloried in was Hephzibah, and
she belonged to a religious sect which was supposed to embrace
exclusively the elect, although these, in the opinion of each
individual member, were represented by a minority numbering one.

Nobody in the house knew half as much about himself or about any
other member of the family as Hephzibah. Her mind was a daily
chronicle up to date, with all the back numbers neatly filed.
Fortunately, her exceeding taciturnity limited the circulation.

“Hephzibah, I am watching my niece,” the Freule remarked from time
to time. “She has an interesting part to play in the comedy of
life.”

“Yes, Freule,” replied Hephzibah, who thought life was a tragedy.

“Will she rise to the height of her position? I love my sister and
I love Gerard, but I should like to see Otto conquer them both, and
Ursula conquer all three.”

“Yes, Freule,” said Hephzibah. She hated the young Baroness, for
Ursula had attempted to show kindness to Louisa, whose forlorn
inanity called for pity. The Freule’s sharp eyes were far-sighted
and weak; she liked being read to for hours together, and she
frequently complained of her maid’s incapacity for pronouncing or
punctuating anything, even Dutch.

“_I_ will read French to you with pleasure, Aunt Louisa,” said
Ursula.

“Oh no, my dear, no.” The Freule took her aside in great agitation.
“I could not be so inconsiderate to Hephzibah, I could not. Oh no.”

Still, in a hundred small ways, too wearisome to relate, Ursula
filled up her time with attentions to the little old maid. It was
a relief to find some one she could do something for. She learned
a lot of Rossini’s opera airs on purpose, because the Freule had
stated that she “adored Rossini.”

“Otto,” said the Freule one morning, “I should like to speak to
you.”

He stopped, with his hand on the door-knob.

“Yes?” he answered, his thoughts intent on the morning’s
disagreeable work.

“Otto, I have considered, and”--the Freule fidgeted--“under
present circumstances I should wish to--pay seven florins more per
week for my board.” The Freule gasped.

“Why?” asked the Dowager, sharply, from the top of the
breakfast-table.

“Don’t interfere, Cécile. I see in the paper that prices everywhere
are being raised.”

“Oh, nonsense,” said Otto, turning away.

“Well, I intend to do it, so now you know. And, Cécile, you need
not make any difference.”

“Difference?”

“Yes, in the menus.”

“I should think not, indeed,” exclaimed the Dowager.

How difficult is the path of virtue made for most of us by our
relations. During the whole of the Freule van Borck’s terrestrial
pilgrimage she never committed another action worthy to rank
with this voluntary conquest of her ruling passion. Yet nobody
understood it.

“Van Helmont of the Horst,” she said to herself, “shall remain Van
Helmont of the Horst.” And she deducted the thirty pounds from her
already meagre charities.

No one at the Manor-house had ever been prodigal in almsgiving. The
old Baron had reckoned the poor a public nuisance; the Baroness
provided them with systematically indiscriminate pennies; Gerard
flung away an occasional hap-hazard shilling. And the new lord was
by no means generally generous. He had very definite ideas on the
subject. Charitable help must be strictly limited to the “deserving
poor,” whatever that may mean--_only_ the deserving, and _all_
the deserving. The word was his shibboleth. On paper it looks
exceedingly well.

Also, he never gave money where he could give work, and he never
gave work where he could give advice as to work elsewhere. He
was forty when enabled and called upon to put into practice his
carefully elaborated theories regarding pauperism. All the paupers
of the neighborhood, to a man, resented a charity which had lost
the charm of the happy-go-lucky. But to no one came more bitter
disappointment than to Ursula, o’er the sun of whose crescent
benevolence her husband’s theories spread in tranquil clouds.

How often had she not pictured to her father the wide use she would
make of an expanded scope and increasing opportunities! Shall we
venture to say that the constant thought had been a comfort, or
at least an encouragement, through the months of her love-making?
She had always worked fairly hard, with her limited means, in her
father’s parish, nothing exaggerating, and setting nobody down in
malice.

“And you will find sympathetic support in your husband,” declared
the Dominé. “I know that he suffers greatly under his father’s
bright indifference”--the Dominé sighed--“for instance as regards
the Hemel.”

The Hemel--so it is still inappropriately called; the word means
“Heaven”--was at that time a small hamlet outside the Dominé’s
jurisdiction which had long been notorious in the whole province
for the wild and profligate character of its consanguineous
population. The people were mostly Roman Catholics, but, even
had this not been the case, their pastor would hardly have paid
them much attention. He was a very different man from Roderick
Rovers. “The poor ye have always with you,” he repeated. And to
his colleague he would have said, “Hands off!” Ursula rejoiced to
realize her new position as lady of the Hemel as well as of the
Horst. Oh, the cruel disappointment of discovering that the poor of
the Hemel were not deserving. They were everything and anything but
that.

“Be just before you are generous,” said Otto. “First, we must pay
our way, dear Ursula, and that, in a landed proprietor’s life,
includes an immense amount of unconscious, and even unintentional,
philanthropy. What we have left we will gladly give away, but let
us be careful to confine ourselves to worthy recipients of our
bounty.”

Never mind, there is plenty of good to be done, as Ursula knew,
without almsgiving.

“I wish you would not go to the Hemel,” pleaded Otto in the face of
her efforts; “you would do me a great favor, Ursula. Mother has so
many causes of complaint against me already, and she is dreadfully
afraid of infection. Besides, it is altogether useless. They only
make a fool of you. Nothing good ever came, or can come, from that
horrible place.”

[Illustration: “‘I SHOULD WISH TO--PAY SEVEN FLORINS MORE PER
WEEK’”]

So life flowed on at the Horst, for its chatelaine, in a narrow
little stream, over rocks, amid a vast splendor of scenery. The
Baron, her husband, working day and night in the almost hopeless
effort to make both ends meet, waxed sombre and careworn beneath
the ever-increasing dislike of his numerous dependants. Towards
his wife he was always affectionate, closing the door to his
heart-chamber of torture and seeking relaxation as from a beautiful
plaything. And Gerard, except for the briefest of visits, remained
at Drum.

When the Stork, some twelve months after the old Baron’s death,
tapped at Ursula’s window, her life was no longer empty. Suddenly
the Baby filled it to overflowing. Every one manifested an
absorbing interest in the Baby, as was his due, even the Freule
Louisa, for babies, surely, are vast potentialities. Miss Mopius
forgot her slumbering grievances and rubbed the Baby’s back with
fluid electricity. The Dominé christened his grandchild, wearing
his Legion of Honor, as he had done at Ursula’s wedding. But the
Dowager Baroness very nearly refused to be present at the ceremony,
for the heir of the house received the single name of Otto.



CHAPTER XXVII

PEACE AND GOOD-WILL


“How cross he looks!” said the Dominé, benignly, dangling his
grandson on one awkward knee. “I believe he disapproves of
existence. Do you know, children, it has struck me from the first,
I can’t understand why your son should have been born with such a
look of chronic discontent. What do you mean, Ottochen?” He shook
the morsel of pink-spotted apathy, and laughed innocently at its
unconscious sneer.

Involuntarily the parents’ eyes met. Otto walked to the window.

“Life is good, Ottochen,” continued the Dominé, his eagle face
alight with tenderness. “Life is very beautiful. People love each
other, and the love falls like a rainbow across every background of
cloud. Everything is beautiful, especially the storms.” The baby
puckered up its face into one of those sudden, apparently causeless
fretfulnesses which the masculine mind resents. “Thou wilt grow
up,” said its grandfather, “into a brave soldier of the Cross”--the
Baby overflowed in slobbery, but agonizing, sorrow. Ursula hastily
took it from the Dominé’s clumsy deprecations.

“It is strange,” protested the Dominé, “that we weep most without a
reason. When the reason comes we often forget to weep.”

This time the elder Otto’s eyes remained resolutely fixed on the
snow-girt landscape.

“He was frightened,” explained the young mother, reproachfully, as
she hushed her screaming charge.

“Frightened! Ah, just so!” The Dominé rose, a warm flush on his
face. “That is the cause of most of our sorrow. Frightened! If men
were less afraid of trouble, they would see how little there is of
it. Good-bye, children, I am going back to Aunt Josine.” And the
Dominé marched off, his armless sleeve swinging limp beside his
elastic figure.

Otto turned round into the darkened room. It was true the whole
atmosphere of the house had long been one of latent worry. He
rested his hand silently on Ursula’s shoulder, and a great feeling
of assuagement spread over both their hearts. The Baby’s shrieks
were dying down into an exhausted gurgle. Both parents gazed deeply
at the child.

“Ursula,” said the Baron, presently, “if you feel strong enough, I
should like to have one or two people here for Christmas. I should
like to invite the Van Helmonts who were so kind to me during my
period of hard work at Bois-le-Duc. Theodore van Helmont and his
mother. They are our only relations of the name. And I think they
have been kept too much out of the family.”

“Are they really the only other Van Helmonts besides us?”
questioned Ursula.

“Yes,” he answered, recoiling hastily, as she had done, from the
proximity of his brother’s name; “but there is a brand-new Van
Helmont now--the heir!” He placed a soft finger against little
Otto’s bulgy cheek.

“True. How funny! Do you know, I had never thought of it.” She
colored. “I never think,” she added, “of what is so far away as
that.” She rose and kissed her husband, and held up the child to
him.

“Otto,” she added, “supposing--if--if there had been no baby,
and”--she stopped.

“The Horst would have been sold by auction,” he burst in,
violently, “two months after my death. Do you think I have ever
lost sight of that? All through this anxious year, Ursula, the
thought has never let me rest.”

The words frightened her. Could anything have brought home more
clearly the separation of their lives?

“Theodore van Helmont is a good fellow,” Otto went on,
“hard-working and honest. I thoroughly respect him. I should like
you to know him. But he isn’t much to look at.”

“Why have they never been here before? I don’t remember hearing of
them till you went to Bois-le-Duc.”

“Well, as I tell you, young Theodore isn’t much to look at. And my
father greatly objected to his cousin’s marriage at the time; he
never would see him after.”

“Whom did he marry?” asked Ursula, looking down into the cradle and
readjusting its coverlet. “I mean--_what_?”

“She was a farmer’s daughter from the other side of Drum. He picked
her up when staying here, some thirty years ago. I remember it
quite well. My father was furiously angry.”

“And he never forgave the son,” mused Ursula, with one finger in
her little Otto’s clammy clasp. “Not even the son. I thought people
always forgave _the son_.”

“I assure you she is quite a nice, motherly person, and so
unpretentious. That is what I like in her. It will be a pleasure
to have her here, if only mamma consents to put up with her
presence. Poor woman, she told me she had never even visited her
own relations. I suppose she didn’t dare.”

“Her own relations,” repeated Ursula. “Isn’t that a difficulty?”

“I don’t see why, if people would only take things simply! She can
go to them from here. No one believes more firmly than I do in true
nobility, but it is not dependent on surroundings.”

She smiled up at him; “Ah, Otto, you say that on account of--me?”

But the suggestion annoyed him with the pain of its voluntary
abasement. “The two cases have nothing in common,” he said, almost
angrily. “If there is a possibility that you or any one else might
draw absurd comparisons, I had better give up the idea at once.”

“No, no. I shall be glad to have them. Baby must learn to know and
be good to all his relations.”

“Next year might do for that. But, Ursula, talking of Baby’s
relations, we might ask your Uncle Mopius and his wife.”

“I consider Harriet has behaved disgracefully”--began Ursula.

“Just so; and your uncle enjoys the idea of our being angry about
the money. That’s why I want to ask him,” he added, proudly.

“Then, Otto, if it is to be a family reunion, should we not”--her
voice dropped to a whisper; she fingered a button of his
waistcoat--“ask Gerard too?”

“Yes, we will ask Gerard,” he answered, hurriedly, annoyed that she
should utter what he had been making up his mind to say. And then
he left the room without another word.

Ursula smiled to herself, and immediately began to apostrophize
the helpless infant: “And we will have a Christmas-tree, Baby,”
she said, “and a lot of beautiful lights, Baby. And warm socks and
shoes for the babies that haven’t got any, Baby. And you shall give
blankets and coals to all the old women, Baby.”

But even this appalling prospect did not move little Otto. He lay
staring steadily, and that constant frown, which his grandfather
said he had been born with, wrinkled the raw beef-steak of his
unfinished little face.

Meanwhile Otto had gone to tell his mother of the coming
festivities. The old Baroness did not seem to pay much attention,
immersed as she was in a sort of memoir which she had been recently
concocting to the glorification of her departed lord.

“What did you say young Helmont’s name was?” she asked, suddenly,
peering over her heavy gold eye-glasses.

“A family name, mamma--Theodore.”

“It is an insult,” said the Dowager, and her gaze once more fell on
the page in front of her.

       *       *       *       *       *

A fortnight later the various guests had all arrived; the Dominé
greatly approved of their coming. “Let others less favored share
your happiness,” he said to his daughter. The good Dominé, while
constantly eloquent of the battles of life, rejoiced at the peace
which he dreamed round about him. Yet he still had “Tante Josine.”
The light of his life had flitted away to the Manor-house.

Nobody could see Theodore van Helmont and contest the accuracy of
Otto’s statement that the young post-office clerk wasn’t much to
look at. One thing showed very plainly, and that was his peasant
blood. But he made no attempt to hide it; he had a quiet and
unassuming manner, like his lumbersome mother, and would hardly
have attracted attention but for his peach-like coloring, which
made him almost an Albino. He was awkward in the unaccustomed
vicinity of ladies, and spoke little, dropping away into the
shade, unless somebody touched on his hobby. This no one ever did,
except indirectly, for that hobby was “social science,” a number
of “ologies” unconnected with life. His mother often wondered that
so good a man could also be so clever; her own philosophy was of
the simplest, all condensed into one unconscious rule: never to
remember an injury, while never letting slip an opportunity of
doing a kindness. Her only attitude towards the old Baroness van
Helmont was one of respectful sympathy. Of Tante Louisa she felt
afraid, for Tante Louisa had asked her, on the evening of her
arrival, whether she believed in woman suffrage, and she had not
known what “suffrage” was. The Freule Louisa, it need hardly be
noted, believed in no suffrage at all. “If only we could stop the
million asses’ braying,” she was wont to remark, “perhaps we should
hear the lion’s voice at last.” This remark was not her own. She
had got it out of the _Victory_.

The quiet clerk, dull, with comparative content, over a merciful
volume of engravings, had pricked up his ears when he heard the
Freule start “a sensible subject.” It was small talk that did for
him, reducing his brain to chaos. “The principle of government by
majority,” he said, “being once universally accepted, there appears
to be no logical reason for leaving that majority incomplete.”

“Government by majority is a pleonasm,” said the Freule, tatting
away. She meant “an anachronism,” whatever she may have meant by
that. The young man hastily returned to his engravings.

“The majority is always wrong,” interposed the Dowager Baroness,
very decidedly, “and, therefore, the larger it is the more wrong
it must be.” She had remained in the drawing-room chiefly from
disgusted curiosity, and now sat listless, her delicate face like a
sea-shell among her heavy weeds.

“But, Mevrouw,” began Theodore again, from a sense of duty.

“Hush, it is certainly so, young man; besides, my husband always
said it was. I am so sorry to see a Van Helmont a Radical.” Her
face flushed impatiently, and, in the awkward silence, Ursula said
it was a beautiful starlit night.

“The stars are so pleasant in winter-time, are they not?” remarked
Theodore’s mother, whose fat hands lay foolishly in her substantial
lap; but the Freule van Borck was not going to stand such
sentiments as these.

“Oh yes,” she said, briskly; “Ursula always notices the weather.
Some people do, and never talk of anything else. I wish you would
tell me, Mynheer van Helmont--we were discussing the subject the
other day--would you rather do wrong that right may ensue, or right
for the sake of wrong?” The Freule was very fond of propounding
these problems of the “Does-your-mother-like-cheese?” order. Some
spinster ladies “affection” them just as _their_ spinster aunts
used to propose _Bouts Rimés_.

“You must leave me a few moments to consider my answer,” replied
Theodore, gravely.

This was quite a new experience for the Freule, and hugely
delighted her.

“A very sensible young man,” she thought. “And you, Gerard?” she
asked, turning to her nephew meanwhile.

Gerard had arrived at the Manor-house the day before; it was just
about a year since he had last slept in the house, and his mother’s
heart yearned over him.

“I should do what I liked best,” said Gerard, promptly, always
pleased to exasperate his aunt.

“Gerard, you have no principle. What does your cousin conclude?”

“Right and wrong, as we refer to them, are such very vague
terms, Freule,” responded the young clerk, thoughtfully. “But,
supposing the words to be used in their absolute sense”--the Freule
nodded--“I should do the immediate right.”

“Bravo,” said Otto’s deep voice from a distant sofa. “And now,
Ursula, will you give us some music?”

“Oh yes, music,” assented Theodore’s mother. “I love music. The
loveliest organ comes past our house on Fridays. I quite long for
Fridays to come round.”

The last sentence was addressed to the Dowager, who smiled
graciously, for she was watching Gerard.

“My daughter-in-law plays a very great deal,” said the Dowager.

But the evening was long. Every one hoped for diversion from the
Mopiuses, who were expected on the morrow, and a general yawn of
relief hung heavy round the bedroom candles.

“Theodore Helmont is straight right down to the bottom,” Otto said
to his wife as soon as they were alone. “You see how earnest he is,
and how wise. If ever you stand in need of a counsellor, Ursula, I
hope you will turn to Theodore. He is one of the few men on whom I
could fully rely.”

“You are my counsellor,” replied Ursula, wishing the words were
more widely true.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE SECOND MRS. MOPIUS


When the Baronial invitation reached Villa Blanda, Uncle Mopius
immediately said “No.” He wanted so exceedingly to go that
he revolted from himself, and then stuck to his assertion of
independence. For, most of all, he wanted not to want to accept.

“We have no need of their patronage,” he said, pompously, over his
morning paper. “Villa Blanda will cook its own modest Christmas
dinner. Ha, ha! I have no notion of sitting down to a coroneted
dish containing one skinny fowl.”

“What did you say?” asked Harriet, with an affectation of
indifference. “Were you speaking to me?”

“My dear, I said we should not accept.”

Harriet, who had been trying to make up her mind, was glad of this
timely assistance.

“And why not?” she questioned, sharply. “Of course we shall go.
What excuse would you give?” She did not wait for his answer.
“I don’t intend to have Ursula saying I’m afraid of her, or
ashamed, because of the money and marrying you. No, indeed; we
shall certainly go. Johan must hurry round to the dress-maker’s
immediately.” She stroked her pretty morning-gown. Her dress-maker
now was the one who had employed Mademoiselle Adeline.

“Dress-maker!” said Mopius, sharply. “Nonsense, Harriet; you have
more dresses already than my first wife wore out in all her life.”

“I am going to have two new evening-frocks,” replied Harriet,
ignoring the reference. “I have no good dinner things. They will
have to sit up all night to get them ready.” She smiled pleasantly
at her own importance.

“We’re not going,” said Mopius, settling his bull neck into his
shiny collar.

She looked across at him quickly, and again she smiled.

“Yes, we are, because I want to,” she said, cruelly, without a
shadow of playfulness. Mopius by this time had resolved that wild
horses should not drag him to the Horst.

A simple Dutchwoman, however, is not a wild horse. Alas, she is
more commonly a jade. Occasionally she is a mule.

Harriet sat down, watching her husband’s sullen face. Suddenly,
from love of ease, she changed her tone.

“Did he want to stay at home with his own wifie?” she said, “like
two turtles in a nest. Did he want to have a Christmas-tree all to
themselves, and buy her a lot of lovely presents? That was good of
him, and his wifie will give him a kiss for it.”

In the first months of their married life this tone had been fairly
successful; it had obtained for her the numerous fineries of which
Jacóbus’s soul now repented.

“Stop fooling, Harriet,” he now said, most unexpectedly. “I’m going
to remain where I am because I hate dancing attendance on lords and
beggarly great people. I’m a rich man, I am. And besides there’s a
meeting of the Town Council on Tuesday.”

“Did you hear me suggest,” continued Harriet, sweetly, “that it was
my intention to go?”

“Yes, hold your tongue and attend to your house-keeping. The beef
was underdone yesterday. It never used to be in my dear departed’s
time.”

“Jacóbus, that is your second allusion this morning to your dead
wife. It marks a new departure, for till now you had wisely kept
her in the background. But I must warn you, once for all, that I
won’t stand it. Besides, it’s quite useless. Didn’t I know the poor
fool? Wasn’t I present at her daily sacrifice? I am perfectly aware
that she loved you in a different way from mine. She was like a
faithful dog, poor creature, and you led her a dog’s life.”

A reproachful tear--not self-reproachful--stood in Mynheer Mopius’s
yellow eye.

“Mine is a more natural affection. I love you in a reasonable,
matrimonial way. Not only for your gray hairs”--Jacóbus
winced--“but also for the comforts of our mutual _entente_. So we
shall order two nice new dresses and depart on Tuesday morning.”

“Your aunt was a better woman than you, Harriet.”

“She was not my aunt; don’t call her so. Of course she was much
better than I. Had she not been, you would have been a better man.”

“I don’t understand,” said Mynheer Mopius, helplessly, “but I am
not going to the Horst.”

“_Don’t_ want to see wheels go round,” quoted Harriet, whose course
of novel-reading in all languages was very extensive, “but you
will, though.”

She went over to her writing-table and carefully indited a little
note. Jacóbus sat watching her nervously. She closed her envelope
and got up without speaking.

“Written to Ursula?” asked her apprehensive lord.

“Oh dear, no; there’s time enough for that. It’s a note to Madame
Javardy,” and she rang the bell. “Take this at once,” she said to
the servant.

Mynheer Mopius rose on his spindle legs, protuberant and goggling.

“I am master of this house,” he began, “and I forbid--”

“Leave the room, Johan,” broke in Harriet, with suppressed
vehemence; and, turning, as the man obeyed, “Jacóbus,” she said,
“listen to me for one moment. That man knows you ill-treated your
first wife. Everybody in the house knows it, but Drum society
doesn’t, so you needn’t mind. Poor thing, she never told; but I
shall, mind you, Mynheer the Town Councillor. If you ill-treat me,
I shall cry out--cry out as far as--as Mevrouw Pock, for instance,
and leave the rest to her!”

“Ill-treat you, Harriet!” spluttered Mynheer Mopius.

“Yes, ill-treat me. Do you know what they call Mevrouw Pock in
Drum? ‘Sister Ann,’ because she’s always on the lookout for
tidings. Mind they don’t call you ‘Bluebeard’ at the Club to-night.”

“They’ll say: What did you marry me for?” cried Jacóbus.

“Yes, they will--the women will; but the men will pity me, because
I’m young and good looking, and you’re--old, Jacóbus. Oh, don’t
bother,” she went on, hastily; “I’m sure I make you comfortable
enough, and you can have everything you want. Only, I’m not going
to put up with being teased out of pure whim, as you used to do. If
you’ve a reason for stopping, I’ll stop, but as you’ve no reason,
we go.”

She swept to the door.

“Harriet,” said Mopius, solemnly; “this is very wrong. You make
scenes, Harriet; a thing I detest--”

She came back to him.

“Scenes,” she repeated. “No, indeed. This is merely a conversation.
If we were to have a scene”--her dark eyes flashed--“I think I
should beat you, and if we were to have a second, I--I should kill
you. But we love each other; pray don’t let us have scenes.”

She left her consort to preen his ruffled feathers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Said Harriet on the night of her arrival at the Manor-house:

“I want to speak to you for a moment, Ursula, where nobody can hear
us. Come into my room.”

Ursula followed, wondering.

Harriet stood by her dressing-table in Madame Javardy’s wonderful
white cashmere, all embroidery, with silken Edelweiss. She seemed
uncertain how to begin.

“Ursula,” she said at last, “I suppose you were very angry with me,
weren’t you, for marrying your Uncle Mopius?”

“I?” exclaimed Ursula, in amazement. “No, indeed; why should I--”

Then she reddened, suddenly understanding.

“Oh, of course, I remember,” continued Harriet, “you don’t
care about money, and all that kind of thing. Still you married
Baron van Helmont. Yes, I know; he’s not as old as Mopius. Don’t
interrupt me. All I wanted to tell you was this: When I married, I
looked to my marriage settlements. Your uncle has plenty of money,
and I secured a handsome jointure, but, unless I should still have
children, the bulk of his property goes to you and your heirs. I
told him to make that arrangement and saw to his doing it. _I_
don’t want money for money’s sake, nor more than I’m entitled to.
Good-night.”

“Good-night,” echoed Ursula, and drew hesitatingly nearer.

“Don’t,” said the bride, holding her aloof. “I’m all right,
thanks. What a dear little boy you have! Good-night.”



CHAPTER XXIX

THE BLOT ON THE SNOW


The brothers got on very well at first; they sat silent or talked
about things which interested neither. They were as little as
possible alone.

Gradually, however, Gerard’s persistent lightheartedness produced
the opposite effect of a dead weight on the other man. His very
laugh, so easy, so frequent, jarred on Otto’s hearing.

“Debt is theft,” thought Otto. “How can he find it in his heart to
laugh with such debts as his?” And the Baron bent once more, with a
resolute sigh, over his weary pile of accounts.

Gerard, meanwhile, was manfully making the best of his return
to his old home. He rejoiced to be again among the familiar
surroundings, and especially he rejoiced in his mother’s company.
He spent long hours in her boudoir every morning, helping her with
the Memoir, and, therefore, talking much about old times. It was a
difficult diversion. He did his very best to laugh.

He also did his very best to make things pleasant with Otto.
Towards Ursula he could not but feel differently; he avoided her as
much as possible, and she, in her eagerness to conciliate, seemed
almost to be laying herself out to please him. Their relations were
strained, and everybody noticed it.

“And what do you say to the baby, Gerard?” demanded Aunt Louisa.

“Nothing, aunt. One has to say, ‘Tiddie, iddie, too-tums, then,’ to
babies, or something of that kind, and I don’t feel equal to it. I
never say anything to babies.”

“Ah, but this is _the_ baby,” retorted the old maid, annoyed.
“However, I can understand your not caring much about him; he has
definitely put your handsome nose out of joint.”

Gerard did not answer, in his sudden distress. And then, that
none might harbor such horrible thoughts with any show of reason,
he set himself to heroically admiring his little nephew, and the
forlornness of his affectionate nature soon facilitated the task.
Ursula was delighted at this _rapprochement_ on neutral ground. She
initiated her brother-in-law into many shades of infant development
where the careless observer would merely have seen a blank.

They were together by the cradle in the breakfast-room on the
morning of Christmas Eve. There was to be a small dinner-party in
the evening, the Christmas Tree for the villagers not taking place
till the following day. The Van Trossarts were coming, and Helena
Van Troyen with her husband. Helena had written to say that she
must bring a German friend of Willie’s.

“He is beginning to take notice,” said Ursula, for the twentieth
time. “Don’t you see how he opens and shuts his little fingers?”

“But he always did that,” objected Gerard.

“He did it without any reason,” exclaimed the young mother, sagely.
“He does it now _when he knows there’s something near_.”

Gerard laughed, Ursula laughed also; she was happy in the
possession of her husband, of her little son, all the warmth of a
woman’s home.

In another moment Gerard’s face had clouded over. “Ursula,” he
said, with a violent effort, “there’s one thing I _must_ ask you.
I ought to have asked it a year ago. It’s wickedness letting these
things rankle. Why did you make trouble between Helena and me?”

A flood of scarlet poured over her drooping face. She tried to
speak, but, for only answer, fresh waves came sweeping up across
the dusky damask of her cheeks. She sank down beside the cradle,
hiding away from him.

“Can you not guess?” she whispered--into the baby clothes.

No; he could not guess. He had already sufficiently wronged Otto
with regard to the Adeline business; all through the year he had
striven to convince himself that Mademoiselle Papotier must have
been mistaken. Spoiled darling of many women as he undoubtedly was,
he had not enough of the coxcomb in him honestly to believe that
this woman had acted solely from pique. Nor could he have uttered
that explanation, though it still hovered round him.

“Gerard, I knew,” said Ursula, so low that he had to bend over her
half-hidden head. “I _knew_. Oh, Gerard, if only you had married
the other one.”

Then a long silence arose between them, for Gerard had understood.
In the strange bluntness of our world-wide morality it had never
entered into this honorable gentleman’s head that any one could
deem Adeline’s claim on him an obstacle to his proper settlement.
And now that strange “cussedness,” partly chivalric and modest,
which always caused him to blow out the lights on his brighter
side, checked the easy vindication that he had actually offered
marriage to the foolish little dress-maker. He stood silent and
ashamed. Ursula did not lift her face from the sheltering coverlet.

When at last he spoke it was to say: “In one thing I have long
misjudged you, Ursula. I should like to confess that just now. I
didn’t believe you about that stupid rendezvous. I have admitted to
myself since then that you went, as you said, for another’s sake.”
He understood that Ursula had somehow constituted herself Adeline’s
protectress. “I want to confess that just now,” he repeated,
contritely.

She did not thank him for telling her he no longer thought her a
liar, and worse. “So you believe now,” she simply said, lifting her
head at last. “You believe in my honest acceptance of Otto.” Then
she rose from the floor, flushed and troubled, but with a proud
curve of her neck.

“Ursula,” said the young officer, as much troubled as herself,
“I thank God for the lesson you have taught me. I--if more women
thought as you do, we men would be better than we are.” His young
face was very solemn, he looked straight towards her. Unconsciously
she laid one hand on the breast of her little sleeping child, and,
with an upward flutter of her strong brave eyes, held out the
other. He took it, hesitated, and then, stooping, touched it with
his lips.

[Illustration: “SHE SANK DOWN BESIDE THE CRADLE, HIDING AWAY FROM
HIM”]

When he dropped it, there stood Otto, in the doorway, watching them.

He came forward into the room, pretending not to have seen.

“Well, Gerard,” he said, with forced geniality, “so here is the
heir. Some day I hope this young man will sit in my seat and look
after the dear old place better than I do.”

Gerard resented the palpable aim of the words.

“Who knows?” he replied, lightly. “He may never have money to keep
it up. If he has brothers and sisters, the estate goes to pieces
anyhow. What’s the use of your struggling and wasting your life for
an idea? Why not sell a couple of farms and have done?”

“That’s what you would do,” said Otto, grimly; “sell the whole
thing.”

“Yes, I should, if I really wanted the money.”

“I know you would,” shouted Otto, breaking loose, glad of the
pretext. “I know you would, you spendthrift! Spendthrift and
profligate, you would do anything--for pleasure.”

His eye flashed from one to the other, and Ursula read the flash.

She remained standing quite still, her hand on the baby’s coverlet.
Gerard shrugged his shoulders. “My dear fellow, don’t be so angry.
I shall sell nothing,” he said, and walked into the adjoining room.
Otto, already ashamed of himself, went out by the passage-door.

The baby was fast asleep, breathing heavily. Ursula remained
standing still.

       *       *       *       *       *

The room was very silent. Presently a quick spasm of trembling
shook her, and with a frightened glance to right and left, she
hurried away down the vestibule, out into the wintry morning.

She ran swiftly along the avenue and turned into the high road,
taking the longest route to the village because it had lain
straight in front of her. The gaunt ice-rimmed trees in the pallid
air swam round about her through a mist of her own creating; the
desolate plain, stretching white and cold, seemed to mock her with
its snow-bound loneliness. She shuddered as she ran.

Near the turnpike she stopped. She would meet a human being there,
the turnpike man. He would touch his cap. Not that. She shrank back.

And in the pause she asked herself where she was going. To her
father, of course, home to her father’s consistent love--the one
thing in this world she could forever rely on. Home, to the old
home, to weep out her agony upon one faithful breast.

And even as she pictured to herself for a moment what she would do
when she reached the comfort of that embrace, she felt that she
could not do it. There are valleys of the shadow through which a
true-hearted woman must take her way alone.

She stood, a black speck in the surrounding bleakness. The turnpike
man, peeping through his little window by his cosey stove, wondered
lazily why she did not come on.

At last she turned, and, slowly retracing her steps, branched off
into the park. Her one aspiration now was to get away from all
possible contact with sympathy. She went stumbling, as fast as she
could, over the uneven, snow-laden ground, deeper, only deeper into
the silence of the wood. Her foot caught in invisible roots, she
hurt herself without perceiving it. Her eyes were dry and hard,
despite the cloud behind them.

Gasping for breath, she sank down in the snow and leaned up against
a tree. All around and beyond her was the absolute desertion she
had longed for, stretching away in an unending sameness of confused
black pillars, whose naked tracery bore the pellucid vault of
heaven. The dull glitter, all-pervading, lighted up her forest
“sanctuary”; not a sound was heard, except when, once, a snapped
twig came rustling to the ground.

Her husband had doubted her honor. Even supposing he had done so
for the moment only, during the briefest flash of thought. What
did that matter? He had doubted her. Other words and acts now came
falling into their places, deepening an impression never before
perceived. She brushed them away indignantly; she wanted none of
these. It was enough.

She could never go back to him. How could she see him? How speak to
him? How could daily contact be possible between a husband and the
wife whom, for one instant only, his thought had sullied? He who
thinks thus once may at any hour pollute his thoughts anew. Priest
and priestess cannot kneel again in the temple one of them has
desecrated; no repentance, no forgiveness can wipe away the stain
across the marble god. She hung staring in front of her, and the
soaking snow crept upwards on her dress.

She had no wish to do anything tragic, to make any scene or
scandal. Only she felt that she _could_ not go back to her
husband’s welcoming smile. It was not the insult to herself,
although that drenched her cheek with purple; it was the new horror
that had arisen between them as if a toad were seated in his heart.
Gerard’s wickedness of loose living was not as bad as this. Oh, men
were horrible, horrible!

Something moved on the white ground in front of her, so close that
she could not but notice it. A red-breast, half frozen, hopped near
in a flutter of perky contemplation, wondering, perhaps, if she was
alive. She pitied the poor little forsaken creature, and felt in
her pocket, with a sudden movement that scared him, for some morsel
of bread which she knew could not possibly be there.

And as she sat, hopelessly waiting, she could not tell for what,
the distant boom of the village clock came faintly trembling
towards her in one long stroke, the half-hour.

Half-past--what? Previous warnings must have reached her unheard.
She looked at her watch. Half-past twelve. And at noon little Otto
would have cried out for her, dependent upon his mother for the
very flow of his life.

She started to her feet, and commenced running as best she
could among the trees. Constantly she stumbled in her haste;
once she fell prone into a yielding snowdrift. She hurried on
breathlessly--a clearing showed her the house; she rejoiced to see
it. How long the time still seemed till she had reached the step!
In the hall her husband crossed her path. She shrank aside: the
wailing of the child, above the nurse’s vain attempts at hushing,
already fell upon her ear.

Otto remarked with astonishment the condition she was in, but he
said nothing. Gerard’s voice could be heard in the distance, amid
the clash of billiard balls. He was teaching Harriet to play.

“Go,” said Ursula, roughly, to the nurse. She flung to the door of
the nursery, and, violently, locked it. Then she took the screaming
child to her breast. Her teeth were firm set; her whole face was
hard and rigid, but her eyes were very tender.

Half an hour later she went down to lunch. Her guests were talking
and laughing. Otto came forward immediately to speak about the
afternoon’s arrangements. The Van Trossarts must be fetched from
the station. The Dowager beckoned her aside.

“My dear,” said the Dowager, “the butcher has forgotten the
cutlets.”



CHAPTER XXX

CHRISTMAS EVE


That evening every one was to help Ursula in the arrangement of her
Christmas entertainment; but, as usual, a couple of willing spirits
did the work, and the rest lounged about and talked. A big tree
had to be decorated, and plenty of useful presents were awaiting
assortment and assignment. This Christmas benefaction had been a
long source of tranquil enjoyment to the young wife through the
expectant autumn weeks; she had made many of the presents herself
in the pauses from daintier work. She still endeavored to-night to
take an interest in it all.

Helena Van Troyen was among the lookers-on. She frankly confessed
that she had come to enjoy herself, and as an immediate step
towards the attainment of her object, she drew the gentlemen away
from the tree and around her. To her husband she said:

“_You_ may help,” and Willie walked away laughing. But the poor
relations were Ursula’s real adjuvants, delighted to be useful
while finding some occupation for their hands. The son stood on
a ladder half the evening, the mother’s dumpy fingers fashioned
innumerable little gold-paper chains. Willie started a conversation
with Harriet Mopius, and was getting on very well till he
unfortunately asked where she lived.

“Why, in Drum!” said Harriet, whereupon Willie felt annoyed.

“Yes, Gerard is my cousin,” cried Helena; “I am delighted to see
him again! He is an old admirer of mine, an accepted lover before
you were born, Herr Graf!”

She was all a-sparkle in palest pink and diamonds and her own
pearly vivacity. The German beside her bowed solemnly. He was a
very big German, five foot eleven by two, padded at the shoulders
and pinched everywhere else so as to look twice his original size,
like an enormous capital T. Mevrouw van Troyen called him her
_cavaliere serviente_, and had naturally brought him to the Horst,
with her maid, her King Charles, and her husband.

“You think me a child, Meine Gnädigste,” said the German. “Well, so
be it. Cupid was ever a child, yet Venus played with him.”

“What nonsense,” laughed Helena; “but you Germans are all so
sentimental; to us it is delightful, by way of change. My cousin
is not sentimental; he is charmingly opaque. Come here, Gerard, at
once; I want you to make friends with Count Frechenfels.”

There was an attempted challenge in her words and manner, as if she
called upon her quondam lover to determine how completely the old
wound was healed.

But Gerard had no intention of making friends with his belated
rival. He disliked the man; he would have disliked him in any case,
for, generally speaking, every Dutchman hates every German. The
feeling is inborn, and very deeply regrettable, but it has little
to do with the more recent annexation scare. Even the most ignorant
Hollander must be aware that the near oppressors of his country
have ever been, not Germans, but French. Racial discrepancies are
at the bottom of the antipathy, accentuated by the irritating
manner in which the overgrown young Teuton now often pats his dwarf
of an elder brother on the head. The Count had been distributing
pats all during dinner.

Gerard found it very hard work to be happy at the Horst. Even his
mother had turned against him, worrying him about a subject he
conscientiously avoided--his debts. And now Helena began bothering
him with a sequel to Finis. He felt Ursula’s eyes upon him, as he
had felt them all day; they were full of a dumb appeal, he could
not tell for what. The eyes did not answer his question.

Their hunted look grew all the more alarmed if he approached.
Did she already want him to leave the house? And if so, why? His
thoughts of Ursula were growing more kindly, more like the old
feeling of careless approval. That morning had revealed her to him
in quite a new, and very beautiful, light.

“Count Frechenfels is most interesting, Gerard,” said Helena. “He
was in the Franco-German war, and he has been wounded--everywhere!
There was room. My cousin also is a soldier--Herr Graf.”

“Ah!” said the Count, through his eye-glass. “Is it you that the
Baron was telling me of, who had served with the army of Africa?”

Gerard looked uncomfortable.

“But no, my dear Count,” said Helena, laughing; “that was my cousin
Ursula’s father! Gerard has never killed anything but ladies.”

“Ah!” said the German again, in a different tone, and dropped the
eye-glass. “La campagne des dames. Well, it is that in which the
worst wounds are received.”

“My cousin does not think so,” murmured Helena, cruel in her
coquetry. Gerard’s eyes blazed with a quick flash of resentment.
His sister-in-law had drawn near, from a helpless feeling that she
must amuse her guests.

“Ah, yours is a splendid army,” continued Helena, provokingly. “I
don’t think I should care to be an officer unless I could be a
Prussian. Victorious, irresistible, bronzed, scarred, the cross on
your breast--that’s a soldier! What’s the use of a sword that you
never can draw?”

“Come, come, you are too hard on your cousin,” said Count
Frechenfels, with patronizing complacency. “After all, he cannot
help himself. We Germans, also, we do not kill men in times of
peace.”

“At least not officers!” exclaimed Gerard, breaking loose.

The big Prussian replaced his eye-glass, with silently insolent
interrogation.

“You know as well as I, Herr Graf,” continued the young Dutchman,
hotly, maddened by the other’s contempt, “how many privates commit
suicide in German barracks, driven to despair by ill-treatment and
blows. This year’s official statement”--he turned first to Ursula,
then to Helena--“gives the number at nearly three thousand. Half
the truth, as Von Grietz assured me, not counting those who are
killed outright.”

“That is not true,” said the Count, coldly.

“What?”

“Your authorities are wrong. It is what the Liberals and Socialists
say, and that kind of people. And, supposing it _were_ true! Meine
Gnädigste, I had not expected to find a Radical among your friends.”

“You are quarrelling,” replied Helena, brusquely. “That is very
stupid, and very bad form. Of course you Prussians are brutal,
Count; we all know that, but it is what we like in you--at least,
we women. In our effete civilization you are deliciously fresh.”

“All I ask is to please,” said the Count, with an unpleasant grin.
“I will appear in a wolf’s skin, at your command.”

“Hush, you will make Gerard jealous! But imagine, Ursula, in the
West of Europe, an officer daring to flog his recalcitrant men! It
only bears out what I was maintaining. These are warriors: what say
you?”

“The Frau Baronin’s opinion has weight,” smirked the German, bowing
low. “She is the daughter of a hero,” and, perhaps unconsciously;
his half-closed eyes stole round to Gerard.

“I suppose if a man is a soldier, he ought to enjoy fighting,”
admitted Ursula, coming forward. “It seems a strange occupation for
a Christian, but my father doesn’t agree to that. You know, Gerard,
he always declares if he had two arms he would be off to Acheen.”

“Ah, Acheen!” cried Helena. “Just so; that’s where you ought to
be, Gerard! and every Dutch officer! That’s what I can never
understand. The whole lot of you dawdle about here in cafés and
ball-rooms, and the flag over yonder sustains defeat after defeat.”

“Tell Willie to go,” retorted Gerard.

“So I do. And he asks, ‘What! go and get killed?’ And I say,
‘Exactly.’”

“Meanwhile, it is we who are doing our best to defend your flag,”
interposed Count Frechenfels. “Your colonial army consists very
largely of Germans.”

“Then why do you not defend it better?” said Gerard.

The Count shrugged his shoulders. “What will you have? It is not
our own.”

Gerard turned mutely to Ursula. Her eyes were flashing. “There are
brave Dutchmen enough over yonder, Herr Graf!” she exclaimed, “and
brave Dutchmen enough here at home, willing and eager to go! All
cannot exchange into Indian regiments. Helena, why do you speak so
of our soldiers? There is not a nation in Europe has been braver
than ours!”

“Ah, bah!” said Helena. “Then why doesn’t Gerard go? You yourself
said your father would, and he is a clergyman!”

Ursula looked at Gerard. Again that strange alarm came into her
eyes, which still shone with indignation.

“I shall not go for your ordering, Helena,” answered Gerard, in
a burst of almost ill-mannered spite. “Honestly, I attach more
importance to Ursula’s opinion.”

Helena laughed.

“Quite right,” she said. “So do I. Only, unfortunately, Ursula
agrees with me. Ursula, you shouldn’t be afraid to say what you
think.”

“I?” asked Ursula, proudly. “Yes, I agree with you in one point.
I am my father’s child. I think every Dutch soldier who can”--she
looked steadily away from Gerard--“should help to blot out the
disgrace in Acheen.”

They were standing in a circle; the German twirled his mustache.

“When I go,” said Gerard, softly, “you will have to be very good to
the one loving heart I leave behind.” And he turned on his heel.

“Ursula,” exclaimed Helena, “your evening is decidedly dull. Your
relations from Bois-le-Duc are estimable people, but your evening
is dull. I think I shall go and help the estimable young man on the
ladder. Make him take _me_ for the top device of his tree, Herr
Graf. Challenge him if he says I am not enough of an angel!”

But other challenges had to be seen to first. Gerard waylaid his
antagonist ten minutes later.

“Count Frechenfels,” he said, “you have twice called me a coward in
the course of this evening.”

The Prussian drew himself up.

“And once a liar,” continued Gerard.

“I said nothing of the kind,” began the Count.

“And twice a liar,” amended Gerard. “And I hope you will give me an
opportunity of proving that I am neither.”

“I am at your service,” said the Count, stiffly. “You are quite
unintelligible to me, but I am fully at your service. I shall ask
Mynheer van Troyen to act for me.”

He was passing on with another bow.

“Oh, no nonsense about seconds,” cried Gerard. “That’ll stop the
whole business. I’ll arrange with you whatever you want arranged.”

The Prussian noble’s eyebrows rose in undisguised dismay.

“Mynheer,” he cried, “must I teach you the alphabet of honor? A
duel without seconds? Am I speaking to an officer and a gentleman?
It would be murder. Of course I refuse.”

Gerard barred his way, white to the lips.

“Count Frechenfels,” he said, gently, “allow _me_ to call _you_ a
coward.”

The Prussian stopped, suddenly frozen into bronze. The Iron Cross
gleamed, alive, on his breast.

“What do you want of me?” he asked, huskily. “I will shoot you with
pleasure whenever and wherever you like.”

“Come out to-morrow morning at seven,” replied Gerard. “It won’t
be light sooner. I shall expect you outside. What will you have?
Pistols? Swords? Rapiers?”

“Swords,” said the German, walking off.

He hurriedly hunted up Willie van Troyen.

“Your younger cousin,” he said, “he is--peculiar, is he not? There
is a suspicion of mental derangement?”

Willie roared with laughter.

“Gerard?” he cried. “No, indeed! Why he very nearly married my
wife.”

“A--ah!” said the German, suddenly thoughtful.

Gerard went up-stairs immediately, after a specially tender
good-night to “the one loving heart” that would care. He threw
open his window, and stood looking out into the frosty night. The
Christmas bells came pealing through the stillness. True, it was
Christmas Eve.

The bells were ringing their message of peace and good-will. Gerard
closed the window again. He had never fought a duel before. He had
never been present at one. Duels are as rare in the Netherlands as
in England. He wondered how many “encounters” the German had had.

He sat down to make a few farewell arrangements, as is best in such
cases. He wrote a long letter to his mother and a short one to
Otto. That was all. What did it matter? Even supposing--

He was furious with the weight of his dejection. He hoped that he
would kill the Prussian.

       *       *       *       *       *

At her dressing-room window also, late, stood Ursula, listening to
the bells. They had long since ceased to ring, yet still she heard
them on the starlit air. “Peace and good-will. Peace and good-will.”

Through the open door came the slow rhythm of Otto’s breathing. She
quailed as it fell on her ear. Nothing could change.

“Glory to God in the Highest,” she said, tremulously. And she
passed into the other room.



CHAPTER XXXI

“WHOSOEVER SHALL SMITE THEE--”


Before the house next morning, in the dull gray dawn, the two
antagonists met. It was bitterly cold and misty, with that wet
frost, all shadow and shiver, that precedes the late wintry sun.
Gerard drew his cloak around him as he saluted the Count. Under his
arm he held a long green baize bag.

“You still wish it to be swords?” he asked.

Count Frechenfels waved his hand in haughty acknowledgment.

“Permit me to precede you,” said Gerard, gravely.

They walked away into the park with quick, ringing steps. Only once
Gerard broke the silence. “Excuse me,” he began, looking round,
“but I think we had better go some distance. The clash, you know.”
The German repeated his gesture.

In silence, then, they reached the little clearing which Gerard had
selected. Here he paused. As it happened, the place was the same
where Ursula had fought her battle the day before. It was a natural
halting-place for those who wandered in the wood.

The robin lay stiff and stark with upturned legs. Gerard kicked it
aside.

Count Frechenfels looked to right and left. “Your doctor?” he said
at last. “Where is your doctor? At least you have arranged for a
medical man?”

“No, indeed; he would have warned the police,” replied Gerard.
“What do we want a doctor for?”

The German hesitated. “But it is murder,” he said, half to
himself. “No one does such things. Supposing one of us is badly
wounded. Mynheer van Helmont, you know that not one man in ten
would consent to meet you like this?”

“I don’t care about the other nine,” replied Gerard,
inconsequentially. He threw down his bag. “Count Frechenfels,” he
said, “you insulted the Dutch army in my person last night. There
is nothing more to be said.”

The Count began to get ready. “So be it,” he answered. He took up
one of the swords. “It is the Dutch army we fight on,” he said,
significantly. “However this mad affair ends, that is clearly
understood?”

“Of course,” replied Gerard, with some slight wonderment.

“Very well. I am ready, Mynheer. This is not a duel, but a fight!”

In another moment they were clashing at each other amid the
surrounding stillness, their swords ringing in the constant
concussion of the parry. The morning as yet was almost too dark
for their object, especially here, under the white-rimmed trees;
but as the metal shone and flashed in the haze, high over the
combatants’ heads the intensity of the moment’s expectation seemed
to clear away the mist. A sword duel, even when well ordered, is
always disconcerting because of the noise; in this case, as the
German had remarked, the combat, when it deepened, without umpire
or timekeeper, was not a duel but a fight.

“I shall kill him,” thought Gerard, but at the same moment he felt
that this would not be an easy thing to accomplish. It required
the utmost vigilance on his part to ward off his enemy’s blows;
he found but little opportunity for independent attack; he began
uncomfortably to realize that the Count was the better swordsman.
Also the Count was the taller of the two--a very great advantage.
Gerard set his teeth hard in the continuous crash of the other’s
onslaught. The whole wood seemed listening, holding its already
bated breath.

Suddenly--in a flash of lightning, quicker than thought--the young
Dutchman realized that his guard was gone, that his opponent’s
sword was upon him, bearing straight down upon his unprotected
head, with the certainty of terrible wounding, the possibility
of death! With unthinkable swiftness he understood it and even
found time--in that hundredth of a second--to await the inevitable
end. In that hundredth of a second, also, he saw his antagonist
swerve aside under the very force of sweeping downwards, swerve
with a sudden slip of his footing, just enough to cause the aim
to diverge, while exposing himself in his turn. In that hundredth
of a second Gerard knew, as it passed, that he had the German in
his power, that he, not the German, was become, by a twist of the
wheel, the irresistible victor, that his sword, once more curling
aloft, could descend where he chose. And he _did_ choose--still in
that immeasurable atom of existence--and struck his foeman, not
through the skull, but, with a quick revulsion from murder, in a
hideous long gash across the cheek.

It was over. The Count reeled and recovered himself as Gerard ran
forward to support him. Then, his long passion grown suddenly
cool, with his profusely bleeding victim beside him, Gerard felt
there was nothing left but to avow himself tardily “an idiot.” He
looked round desperately for the indispensable assistance he had
previously scouted. He would have called out, but what was the
use of calling? Even as he told himself that it would be utterly
useless, he became aware that his sylvan solitude was not deserted.
The figure of a woman, making towards him, became visible through
the trees.

He recognized her with immense relief--only Hephzibah, his Aunt
Louisa’s maid. Angular in every fold of her dark stuff gown and
shawl, that cross-grained female approached the little group in the
clearing.

“Help the gentleman to sit down, Jonker,” she said, without
looking at Gerard. And she began deftly arranging a bandage with
two spotless pocket-handkerchiefs which she produced from inner
recesses. They were her Sunday handkerchiefs (ready for the
morning’s devotional exercises). No cry of anguish broke from her
as she calmly tore them into strips.

Count Frechenfels watched her skill with evident satisfaction.
After all, why should he let himself be comfortably killed in
contradiction to all the correct rules of carving? He was contented
with himself: he had behaved with great magnanimity, like the
“grand seigneur” he was.

“I will go fetch a carriage from the stables,” said Gerard.

The woman nodded, engrossed in her work; when she had finished,
she stood waiting, erect by the wounded man, like a soldier on
guard.

It seemed a long time before Gerard returned with the brougham
which he had got ready unaided. As Hephzibah established the Count
in the carriage, the Jonker turned for one last look at the scene
of the combat, wondering whether he could account for that sudden
slip of his adversary’s to which he felt that he owed his life.
Something black in the hard snow caught his eye. He stooped quickly
and took up a woman’s dark glove, half imbedded and trodden down.
The Count’s foot must have slid on the soft kid. Gerard thrust the
glove into his pocket. One of Hephzibah’s squint eyes, at any rate,
was fixed on the Count.

A few minutes later the little brougham stopped before the doctor’s
house in the village street. The village street was empty, blinded,
and asleep, yet Gerard, on the box, as he sat amid the jingle of
the harness, felt that the dead walls were Argus-eyed, and that his
secret was become the world’s.

“Good gracious!” squeaked the doctor from his window, in a red
nightcap. “Good gracious, Jonker, what has occurred?”

“Nothing of importance,” replied the Jonker’s loudest tones. “Come
down, and I’ll tell you.”

Curiosity accelerated Dr. Lapperpap’s enrobing. Soon he was
examining the patient by the light of hastily raised blinds.

“And how did this happen?” asked Dr. Lapperpap.

“I did it,” replied Gerard, promptly. “Sword exercise.”

The doctor cast a quick glance from his twinkly black eyes. “H’m,”
he said; “an accident. _Of course._”

His tone rendered further discussion superfluous. It was arranged
that, for the present, the Prussian should remain where he was.
Gerard drove Hephzibah back to the Manor House; the good woman
despised all pomps and vanities, yet she was by no means insensible
to the honors of her position. The Count had presented her with one
florin.

Near the avenue she applied the carriage-whistle.

“I will get out here, Jonker, please,” she cried; and then,
standing in the early snow: “On Christmas morning!” she said, while
her whole figure grew heavy with reproach.

“Hephzibah, however did you come to be out in the wood?” asked the
Jonker, hastily.

“In their affliction they shall seek me early,” replied Hephzibah.

The quotation was inappropriate, for her omnifulgent eyes had
watched the gentlemen leave the house, but the sacredness of the
words staggered Gerard. He held out a gold piece.

“No, Jonker,” said the waiting-woman. “Not from you. Not for this.
It would be blood-money.” And she marched away, gaunt and grim,
down the lines of grim, gaunt elms.

As Gerard came up from the stables to the house he caught sight
of Ursula walking on the carriage sweep. For one moment a great
impulse came over him to go and ask her why she, as well as Helena,
seemed so anxious to have him out of the way. He could understand
Helena’s feelings--or, at any rate, he thought he could. Well, he
had spoiled the German’s fine countenance for the remainder of his
stay. Count Frechenfels would carry away with him a memento of his
visit to the Lowlands.

But what would be the use of worrying Ursula? Gerard hated to make
a woman uncomfortable. He had done it already, yesterday--after a
full year’s hesitation. And she had taught him a lesson he would
never forget. How greatly he had wronged this purest among women!
Generous natures always own an immense debt of gratitude to those
they have wronged.

“Gerard,” cried Ursula, “I have dropped a glove. I feel sure I
came out with a pair.” She held up one for him to see. Gerard had
a disastrous weakness for blurting out the very thing he wanted to
keep back.

“Not unless you have been in the wood already,” he said, producing
the missing article, which Ursula, of course, had dropped, not now,
but the day before. Then he put it back. “I want you to let me keep
this,” he added.

Her eyes grew troubled. “Oh, no--no,” she protested. “Give it back
to me at once!”

“But it can have no real value for you. Whereas, for me”--his voice
trembled with the memory of his terrible escape--“let me keep it,”
he said.

[Illustration: “GERARD THRUST THE GLOVE INTO HIS POCKET”]

Ursula knew not what to say or think. Slowly she dropped the
remaining glove on the ground at her brother-in-law’s feet; slowly
she raised her faithful eyes to the level of his own. In that
moment, quite unexpectedly, as by a revelation, he saw how very
beautiful she was. He stood before her dismayed, his heart full of
yesterday’s conversation, of this morning’s experiences. “Ursula,”
he stammered, “I--I am going to Acheen--at once!”

“I thank God,” she said, with solemn bitterness, and left him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile the wretched husband shrank back behind his dressing-room
curtains. It was true that he had begun to spy on his wife. He
hated himself for doing it. He despised himself for believing the
clear testimony of his eyes.

He went down to breakfast; somebody said he was looking ill.
“It is the worry at the close of the year,” he told his mother;
“this time I can certainly not make both ends meet.” Mopius had
a business-man’s suspicion of financial complications. Under the
influence of the sacred season and the baronial splendor around
him, he offered his “nephew Otto,” just before going to church, a
considerable loan, free of interest. The Baron courteously declined
it. “If Mopius were but a gentleman!” he reflected, with a sigh.

So the Dominé preached his festival sermon to various inattentive
ears. Gerard had disappeared, suddenly recalled to Drum; Helena
was wondering what had become of Count Frechenfels. Willie would
have been fast asleep but for Aunt Louisa’s persistent pokes; the
Dowager was trying to remember whether it was in ’42 or ’43 that
her husband had broken his arm out shooting three days before
Christmas. “Note,” said the Dominé, “that the message of peace is
brought by the hosts, that is, armies, of heaven. It is always so
in the history of the Church, as of each individual Christian.
Nowhere is this truth made more consistently manifest: _Si vis
pacem, para bellum_.” That was what the peasants of Horstwyk
admired most in their pastor. He quoted the New Testament at them
in the original Hebrew.

When the service was over, Otto remained behind to speak to his
father-in-law. The preacher’s last words still hovered about the
deserted pulpit: “Not till the city has surrendered does Emmanuel
issue his proclamation of peace and good-will.” Otto went into the
vestry where the Dominé was resting in his arm-chair, the Cross
showing bright on his ample black gown.

“I can’t bear it any longer!” exclaimed Otto. “I must speak of it
to some one. I must speak of it to _you_.”

“What is your trouble, my son?” said the Dominé, gently. “If we
confess our sins to each other, it often helps us to confess them
to God.”

Otto started back. “How do you know that it is a sin?” he asked.

“Our troubles usually are, are they not?” said the Dominé, simply.

“It is a sin, and it is not a sin. I cannot resist it. It is
stronger than I.”

“I will help you all I can.” The Dominé’s face grew very pitiful.
“In most of our troubles men can help, God in all.”

“But I have proof,” cried Otto, hastily. “So much proof--too much
proof. Only listen, father.”

He began speaking of his doubts, and the old man shrouded his face
with one hand--his only one--white and transparent.

When Otto ceased speaking, a long silence ensued. At last the
Dominé removed his hand, and Otto stared in horrified amazement.
The minister’s clear face had become dark purple; veins stood out
on his forehead which Otto had never perceived before. He began
speaking, in a very low voice, but that voice also was new to the
hearer:

“Go,” he said, “I have nothing to answer you.”

“But, father,” cried Otto, “speak to me. Pity me! For pity’s sake,
don’t let me lose the only friend I have!”

The Dominé rose to his full height, in his long robes, pointing to
the door.

“Go,” he repeated. “God forgive you. I cannot. Not at this moment.
_My Ursula!_ Go!”

And Otto, stalwart and sunburned, crouched to slink away.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE GREAT PEACE


The Christmas party at the Manor-house broke up not
over-pleasantly. Everybody seemed to realize the vague clouds that
hung over the dark end of the year. Some particulars regarding the
German visitor’s sudden indisposition had, of course, oozed forth
into the half-light, bewilderingly indistinct. Helena departed in
high dudgeon, frequently repeating to her husband that whatever had
happened--and she didn’t want to know--was undoubtedly Ursula’s
fault. Mynheer Mopius said that “the higher classes of this country
were hopelessly depraved.”

Count Frechenfels slipped away to his native land in silence, and
the military authorities took no cognizance of the affray. Of his
own free will, therefore, Gerard asked to be transferred to a
fighting regiment in the Indies, and very quietly and quickly he
got ready to embark. He was eager to go, to escape from duns and
the narrowness of his present hampered existence. And also to fly
from a vague new sensation which, whenever he turned to it, caused
his heart to leap up with dismay.

“I cannot understand why,” said the poor Dowager, feebly; “but,
somehow, I seem not to be able to understand anything any more.
It all used to be so different. Gerard, the whole _world_ cannot
have altered because your father died?” She gazed at him as if half
expecting to hear that it had. “And I wanted you to help me with
the Memoir,” she continued. “_You_ remember about the old, bright
days. Otto doesn’t know. And now you also are going away.”

She began to cry, looking so white and fragile, with the snoring
dog upon her lap.

“I couldn’t sell your father’s collections, Gerard, could I?” she
complained. “He wanted me not to. Still”--a long pause; her face
lighted up--“if that would keep you from going to that horrible
place, I--I think I could venture. I think he would understand if I
explained, when we meet again.”

“No, no, let me go,” said the young man, in a choked voice. “I
shall come back to you, mother, with a ‘position.’ You will be
proud of me.”

The Baroness shook her head.

“I am that already,” she said. “It is so uncomfortable here, I
do not wonder you have enough of it. Otto is always ‘busy’ with
‘business,’ like a shopkeeper, and Ursula doesn’t even love him.”

“Mother!” cried Gerard.

“Not as I understand love--not as I loved your father. But, as I
admitted, I no longer know. Sometimes I think I shall end like poor
grandpapa, my head gets so tired; only I am still so much younger
than he was, Gerard. Oh, Gerard, your father died too soon! God has
been very hard on me. I never say any clever things now, as I used
to do.”

In the hall, Gerard, still stunned and heart-sore, was waylaid by
Tante Louisa.

“I have got a little present for you,” began that lady, in her
most nervous falsetto. “It has cost me a great deal of privation,
Gerard. What with the increase of expenses everywhere--I have twice
already felt obliged to raise my ‘pension,’ although Otto pretends
to object--I really can hardly afford it. But, then, it is a
farewell gift.”

Gerard took the envelope she proffered him, gratefully, wondering
whether it contained ten florins or twenty-five.

“And I should like to say, Gerard,” subjoined the Freule in a
flutter, “that I highly approve of your conduct in going, and also
of your fighting the German. He was insufferable. Hephzibah has
told nobody but me.”

“Hephzibah,” said the Freule, in her own room. “In my youth I could
have married a Prussian. We met him at Schlangenbad. But I loved my
country.”

Gerard, opening his envelope, extracted a bank-note for one
thousand florins.

When the younger son had sailed away, with his strange new uniform,
to the land of falling cocoanuts and cannon-balls, the waves
of emotion at the Manor-house settled down into a disagreeable
ground-swell. Otto had made up his mind to “forgive and forget,”
a combination foredoomed to failure; Ursula walked straight on by
her husband’s side, with a gloved hand in his. It was useless to
talk about forgetting. She would never do that. Not as long as a
proud woman’s heart beat under her wifely bosom. With scrupulous
tenderness she smoothed the daily deepening furrows upon the
Baron’s careworn brow.

And the months passed on, exceedingly like each other, excepting
that Baron Otto made himself fresh enemies with every fresh act of
justice. He was stern, and, necessarily, stingy. It was true that
his honest impulse to discuss his suspicions with Ursula’s father
had cost him the last friend he possessed in Horstwyk. He clung the
more tenaciously to his life’s object. And he idolized his child.

On this point, at least, there could be sympathy between husband
and wife. Little Otto was querulous over his infantine troubles.
He disliked teething, and going to sleep, and cold water, and hot
water, and eczema. He did not take kindly to existence. It is that
class of children which, universally forsaken, hang on, by the
nails, to their parents’ hearts. There was no danger of Ursula’s
heart becoming atrophied. In one thing she did not obey her
husband; she slipped in and out among the poor a great deal more
than Otto knew.

But, having no money, she came with empty hands, and her visits
were rarely appreciated, except by the purely imaginary poor
person, who thought a glimpse of her bonnie face better than a
sixpence any day.

Winter was coming round again when Otto one morning received a
letter from a person who signed herself “Adeline Skiff.” The person
spoke of great wrongs she had suffered from Gerard, of present
distress, and of possible assistance. Otto had never heard of
Adeline Skiff, but with his usual thoroughness he took the next
train to Drum, and unexpectedly called upon the lady. He knew her
again when he saw her, although she was very much changed.

Adeline lived in a blind alley, among odds and ends. She was the
only inhabitant who wore a fringe, and this fact afforded her
daily satisfaction. Otherwise, her reputation was dubious, and her
slovenliness undoubted.

She received the Baron in a small front room, filled by a
sewing-machine and two children. She hastened to explain that her
husband, who was not over-kind to her, had lost his last place in
a lawyer’s office on account of his stubborn integrity; she got a
little dress-making, not much; she had hoped that Mynheer the Baron
might be moved to do something for her or her children. She pushed
forward two dirty-faced boys; Otto started, involuntarily, at sight
of the elder. Adeline smiled knowingly.

“I cannot verify your story,” said Otto.

Adeline looked up quickly. “Can’t you, really, Mynheer the Baron?”
she retorted.

“And my brother, did he not give you money?”

“Yes, he gave me three thousand florins,” replied Adeline, frankly,
“and my husband spent them.”

“I cannot help that,” said Otto.

No, he was not willing to assist her. She appealed but little to
his sympathy.

He could not believe she belonged to the “deserving poor,” and he
told her so. How had she got hold of her worthless husband?

“By advertisement,” replied Adeline, offended. “The same way your
worthy lady tried to get hers.”

“What do you mean? You are insolent,” said Otto, haughtily.

“Oh, of course, Mynheer the Baron; poor people always are when
they speak the truth. But when the Baroness was advertising for a
husband she couldn’t be sure that she’d get such a good one as you.”

“If you mean anything except insult,” said Otto, frowning, “tell me
the truth, and I will pay you.”

Whereupon Adeline told, with slight embellishment. Ursula had
answered advertisements, Gerard’s among the number. She had
“wanted” a husband. So, of course, she had accepted Otto’s
proffered hand.

“A _mésalliance_ is a mistake, after all. There is something in
blood,” thought Otto, in the train. He went home quite quietly. But
that evening, to Ursula’s wonderment, he dropped, for the first
time, his good-night kiss.

       *       *       *       *       *

That year’s winter opened dully. Otto had let the shooting; it was
a sacrifice of which he could not trust himself to speak. No one
came to the house in the absence of battues. Gerard wrote home
regular letters to his mother, bright letters, but the Baroness,
bored to death, was growing somnolent and slow.

Bad accounts of Gerard--mostly false--occasionally reached the
Manor-house. People said he was exceedingly wild and devil-may-care.
Rumor told, moreover, that he had got himself entangled, on the
journey out, with the governess of an English family.

“Thank God, we have the boy,” said Otto.

One evening, late in October, the father came into the nursery,
where Ursula was trying to make “Ottochen” balance himself against
a chair.

“Ursula,” began the Baron, hurriedly, “where have you been this
afternoon?”

Ursula slowly lifted her eyes to his excited face.

“At the ‘Hemel,’” she said, firmly. “Vrouw Zaniksen was ill again.
And her baby, too. They were absolutely destitute. So I went.”

“The baby is dead,” burst out Otto. “It is a case of malignant
diphtheria. I met the doctor just now. He warned me.” The father
sprang forward, placing himself between wife and child. “Leave the
room!” he cried. “Don’t come back to-day. Leave the child to me!”
He caught the boy so violently to his breast that Ottochen began to
cry. Ursula hurried away, unresisting, with that wail in her ears.

A few hours later, when they were alone together, she said, very
meekly, “Forgive me, Otto.”

He looked up wearily.

“I forgive you this,” he answered. Then, with an effort as of one
who breaks through a hedge, “But not,” he added, “the having
married me when you did not love me.”

She was a very proud woman, yet in this moment of his misery she
knelt down by his side. “Dear husband,” she said, “if I wronged you
it was in innocence. How, except by loving, can a woman’s heart
learn love?”

Otto sighed, crushing down the accusation that she had learned the
lesson since, but from another teacher.

“Ursula,” he said, “there is a foreboding in my heart to-night of
coming trouble. God grant it prove only a foolish fancy. But, if
not, then let us at least lighten each other’s load. Ursula, look
into my eyes. Tell me, dearest, that it is not true, this story of
your hunting for a husband, of your marrying me because others had
drawn back!”

“It is not true,” she said, bitterly, still kneeling, but with
scornfully averted glance.

“Tell me it is not true that you have ever loved any one else.”

This time she faced him fully. “It is not true,” she repeated.

“Ursula, God knows I have never wronged you by a word.”

“I have never wronged you by a thought,” she answered, rising to
her feet, and he felt that, whatever time might alter, one shadow
must remain.

“I love you,” he said. “I have loved you from the first. I shall
always love you through all my weakness and all my wrong.”

She put her arm round his neck and kissed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Twice during the night Ursula slipped away from her room to listen
at the nursery door. She crept back gratefully amid the perfect
silence. The slight irritation in her own throat was what people
always feel, she told herself, at the bare mention of diphtheria.
Yet all next day she kept away from little Otto.

She was sitting at the piano, when her husband came in to her, with
a white scare on his bronzed face.

“The child is not well,” he said, hoarsely. “I have sent for the
doctor.”

Ursula started up. “Oh, Otto,” she cried, “is it the throat?” Otto
nodded. “Then I can go to him,” she said, “now,” and ran from the
room.

The white spots were there; she saw them despite the little
creature’s struggles, and her heart sank. But she also had a few
white spots. There was so much false diphtheria.

The doctor, however, looked grave, and muttered, “Angina
pellicularis.” He was angry with Ursula. “I shall stay,” he said,
and she cowered down by the little bed.

Then followed an evening of unbroken anxiety. The child grew
rapidly worse, and the parents could do nothing but watch its
gaspings. Towards midnight the doctor performed the horrible,
unavoidable operation which gave it a little more air.

In the lull of suspense Ursula’s gaze fell upon Otto. “And you!”
she said, suddenly, “you are ill! You, too! Doctor!”

Otto sank back in responsive collapse.

“It’s no use holding out any longer,” he panted. “Doctor, I’m
afraid there’s something wrong with me too.”

“Let me look at your throat,” said the Doctor, harshly. “Here’s a
pretty bit of business,” he added, turning to Ursula.

Very shortly after there were two sick-rooms opening out of each
other, and the whole household trod softly under the near terror
of Death. All through the silent morning Ursula passed from bed
to bed, her own pain gone, feeling nothing but the dull agony of
useless nursing. Hephzibah had quietly installed herself as an
assistant. The child’s usual attendant was too full of personal
alarm. Tante Louisa came to the door with persistent whisper. Miss
Mopius left a bottle of fluid electricity and ten globules of
_Sympathetico Lob_.

The doctor, who had been away for his rounds, came back in the
afternoon and inserted a tube in the father’s throat also. Ursula
did not dare to question his solemnly sullen face.

One thought seemed chiefly to occupy Otto as he lay choking. He
had written on a piece of paper--finding no rest till they gave it
to him--the following words: “I must die before the child. Tell
the doctor to _make_ him live so long. Or kill me. Never Gerard,
Ursula. Never, never. You first. For another Helmont!”

She had read the message in her deep distress, and understood it.
Dutch law no longer admits entail. If Otto died childless, his
mother and brother were his legal heirs. But Ursula would be heir
to her _fatherless_ son.

She clasped her husband’s hand in response to the hunger of his
eyes, and when the doctor came she put the question which was
straining through them.

“Doctor, he wants me to ask it. If--if this were to be fatal”--she
went on bravely--“which do you think--first?”

“How do I know?” replied Dr. Lapperpap, roughly. “Pray to God for
both. Both of them need your prayers.”

Once again Otto signified his wish to write, in the short-lived
winter day.

“Never Gerard,” he scrawled. “You will help. By every means. Only
not Gerard. Promise.”

She bowed her head, but he pressed his finger on the final word.
In his dying eyes there was a passion of eagerness she could not
resist. Promise! promise!

“I promise,” she said. And it grew slowly dark.

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently Ursula came through the intervening door into the
nursery. Hephzibah looked up.

“Mevrouw,” she said, “it’s no use trying to deceive you. The baby
is dying. It can’t last many minutes. It’s the Lord’s doing.
Blessed be the terrible name of the Lord!”

Ursula knelt down and calmly kissed the little congested forehead.
What did the danger matter? Perhaps she was courting death.

Then she went back to her husband, and gazed deeply upon his
terrible struggle. She could do nothing to help him. But she felt
that this agony, also, was approaching its end.

Hephzibah knocked gently. “Mevrouw,” she whispered, “Mevrouw, it is
over. The poor little thing is at rest.”

Some moments elapsed before Ursula appeared. Then her face stood
out, in the dusk, hard and set.

“Go down-stairs,” she said. “Go away, and leave me alone with
my dead.” She pushed forth the waiting-woman, and locked the
nursery door behind her. For a moment she waited by the cot; then
she returned to the inner room. It was now quite dark. A quick
shuffling made itself heard in the passage. Somebody tried the
lock. Ursula took no notice.

Half an hour later she opened the door and passed out into the
hall. An oil-lamp was burning there. She shaded her eyes from its
glare.

On the staircase she met Aunt Louisa. “Come into the dining-room,
aunt,” she said. “There is something I must tell you.” She sank
down on the nearest chair, by the glitter of the untouched
dinner-table. “Dearest Aunt Louisa,” she said, “you mustn’t mind
too much. God has taken Otto to Himself. And--and He has taken baby
also.”

Aunt Louisa began to cry.

“Don’t cry,” said Ursula, almost impatiently; “_I_ don’t cry.”

“Otto and baby!” sobbed the Freule--“oh, Ursula, Otto and baby!”

“Yes, doesn’t it seem strange?” said Ursula, staring in front of
her.

After a moment’s pause she added, “Aunt Louisa, somebody must go at
once, I suppose, for the doctor, and also for the notary. Mustn’t
they?” She went across and rang the bell.

“Anton,” she said, “two messengers must be off instantly, one to
the doctor, one to the notary. No time must be lost. Anton, your
master is dead. And the Jonker is dead also.”

The man’s face grew white, and his eyes overflowed. Ursula turned
hastily away.

       *       *       *       *       *

The notary was the first to arrive. The widow received him alone.
After the usual preliminaries of condolence he told her that Otto
had left no will.

“I am sure of it,” said the notary, “for he talked the matter over
with me. Before the child’s birth he was anxious to disinherit the
old Baroness, his mother. When I told him that this would be quite
impossible, he said there was no use in his making a will.”

“The Baroness has no claim on the property now,” said Ursula. “She
is very nearly childish, as you are aware.” The Baroness would mean
Gerard.

“If Mynheer the Baron died after your little boy,” said the
notary, as gently as he could, “then his mother and brother are his
heirs. But, Mevrouw, if the Baron died first, then your little boy
inherited the property _at that moment_, and you, being a widow,
are the only person entitled to any estate left by your child.”

“My husband died first,” said Ursula.

Notary Noks rose in his agitation. “Then, madame,” he said, “you
are the owner of the Manor-house. Henceforth you are the Lady of
Horstwyk and the Horst.”

Ursula looked into the lawyer’s face. “It is an inheritance of
debt,” she said.



PART III.--CHAPTER XXXIII

INTRIGUE


“Ursula van Helmont is better,” announced Willie, dawdling into his
wife’s boudoir; “they say she will live.”

Helena glanced up from her book, not without a slight shade of
impatience.

“Who told you?” she asked. “Will you have some tea? It’s quite
cold.”

“Much obliged. Oh, everybody told me--they were talking it over at
the Club.”

“And supposing she had died,” continued Helena, carelessly, “of
this diphtheria or brain fever, or whatever she had, then I suppose
Dominé Rovers would have reigned at the Horst?”

“I suppose so,” replied Willie, eating a great hunch of plum-cake;
“but you mustn’t ask me, because I don’t understand. However, it’s
so idiotic that I dare say it’s law.”

Helena smiled.

“Really, Willie,” she said, “you are growing quite intelligent.”

“Oh, it’s not me,” confessed honest Willie. “Everybody was saying
it.”

A tinge of disappointment stole over Helena’s mobile face.

“And doesn’t it seem utterly ridiculous and unjust that if Ursula
Rovers marries again all the Helmont property will go to that Smith
or Jones, or whatever his name may be? It’s shamefully hard on
Gerard.”

“Of course Ursula will marry again,” said Helena. “People who have
been married like that always do.”

“Like what?”

“Willie, you are insufferable. Surely, ‘le secret d’ennuyer, c’est
de tout demander.’ Like that. Neither happily nor unhappily. They
have had a glimpse of possibilities. It is like gambling without
a decisive turn of luck either way; one goes on. _I_ should marry
again.”

“If I give you a chance,” grinned Willie, who understood _that_.

“Which you are not gallant enough to do. Unless you seriously
object, Willie, I should like to go on with my book.”

He walked across and took it out of her hand.

“_La Terre!_” he said. “Really, Nellie, your tastes are catholic.”

“Have you read it?” she asked, with a faint blush.

“Yes. Somebody told me it was Zola’s dirtiest, so I looked at it
once in a way.”

“Ah, there, you see, lies the difference. You read it for the dirt.
Yes, undeniably, Zola is dirty, but he is not immoral. However, I
think he is dull. He photographs caricatures, and that is in itself
absurd. One photographs realities; caricatures should be drawn. No,
I am not speaking to you, Willie; I am speaking to somebody as an
audience: one has to sometimes. I’ll throw away this book, if you
like.” She looked up at her husband almost entreatingly.

Willie hesitated, standing in the middle of the room.

“Oh no,” he said. “After all, it’s your business, not mine.”

“All right. Don’t eat too much cake.”

Helena returned to her volume, but not to her reading. Between her
eyes and the printed page there settled, immovable, a vision of a
handsome, animated, angry face, and once more she saw a blue-paper
novel flying into a corner of the room. “No man that really loves a
woman would like to think of her as reading such a book as that.”

She turned away, on her couch, and stared hard at the
pink-embroidered rosebuds on the wall.

“What! Crying?” exclaimed Willie, in great distress, coming round
from the window. “Why, Nellie, what’s the matter? Is your toothache
bad again?”

“Yes, very bad,” she sobbed, breaking down. “Do go, Willie, and
send me Mademoiselle Papotier with the little bottle of laudanum.”

Mademoiselle Papotier had remained at the Van Trossarts’, but she
frequently came to spend a few days with Helena. She now duly
appeared, summoned by loud cries from her host.

“Papotier,” said Helena, thoughtfully, “if ever I have a daughter,
I shall not educate her as you educated me.”

“That is a reproach, my dear,” replied the French governess,
serenely, knitting on steadily with mittened hands.

“No, it is a compliment. You developed the heart. You did right.
But I should kill it.”

“My child, I could not have killed your heart; it was too large.”
The little old doll laid down her work, to gaze affectionately at
her former pupil.

“Why has God sold us to men that we must live with them?” cried
Helena, passionately. “He should have given us to angels or to
brutes. We could have been happy with either of those.”

“Fi, donc, ma chérie,” said Mademoiselle. “The good God knows his
business better than you.”

“Ah, my dear Papotier, you are an orthodox Christian. You enjoy all
the consolations of religion and neglect all its duties. It is a
very advantageous arrangement to be an orthodox Christian.”

“It is,” replied the Frenchwoman, with a quick gleam of malice.
“For we Christians, although we do wrong like other people, at
least occasionally have the grace to leave off.” She dropped her
eyelids, and her needles clicked.

“Yes, when you are tired of it,” retorted Helena, who perfectly
understood the allusion to her penchant for her cousin. “And then
your priest gives you absolution. I would not buy off the flames of
hell at the rate of a florin per fagot.” She paused, meditatively.
“And feel them burning just the same,” she added. Then she laughed.
“Papot,” she said, “you do not know that I have got a new admirer?
No, I do not mean Willie, though he certainly is more considerate
than he used to be. My admirer is old, and fat, and yellow; his
name is Mopius, and he is uncle to the Queen of the Horst. I met
him there the Christmas before last. Him and his--charming young
wife.”

“Yes?” assented Mademoiselle, listlessly. “My dear, you have many
admirers. Fortunately they are platonic”--she sighed a little
sigh--“as were mine.”

“This one is obstreperous,” persisted Helena, glancing at the
clock. “He presented me with a big bouquet last night at the Casino
ball, making a fool of me before everybody. And he asked permission
to call without his wife. Such things should be done without
asking. I am expecting him even now.”

“My dear, what will you do with him?”

“I don’t know. Be revenged on him, some time, for last night’s
_Jocrissiade_.”

Mevrouw van Troyen shut down her teapot with a vigorous snap.

“There he is,” she said, as the bell rang.

“My dear, your tea is not drinkable.”

“What does that matter? Is it not for an admirer?”

Mynheer Mopius entered, looking as smart as a blue-speckled yellow
waistcoat could make him. His thin hair was observably neat; he
bowed off the retreating Papotier with a grace which bespoke his
familiarity with the saloons of the aristocracy.

“I am come, Mevrouw,” he said to the mistress of the mansion, “to
express my condolence. I assure you I felt for you last night.”

“Really? You surprise me,” said Helena, meaningly. “Certainly,
I deserved your pity. And every one else’s. But these mixed
entertainments are always a bore.”

“I was alluding,” replied Mynheer Mopius, solemnly, “to the tragic
death of our cousin Otto.”

“Oh, were you? But that’s several weeks ago. I don’t think I can
claim much sympathy on account of the death of my cousins. Please
don’t, Mynheer Mopius. Besides, he was your nephew--wasn’t he?--so
you can condole with yourself.”

“He was.” Mynheer Mopius thoughtfully stroked his hat. “We are
a--kind of connection, Mevrouw.”

“Ursula and you? So I understood,” retorted Helena, hastily. “I
hope Mevrouw Mopius is well? It was very kind of her to send me
those flowers last night.”

“How delicate! How high-bred!” reflected Mopius. “Oh, Mevrouw,” he
stammered, “it was nothing. The merest trifle--”

“But she must never do it, or anything like it, again.”

Mynheer Mopius was doubly charmed. Whenever he made a fool of
himself, he was tempted thereto by the belief that ladies found him
irresistible. Some few men develop that fancy. Surely, in Mynheer
Mopius’s case, his first wife was more to blame than he himself.

“The unfading roses are yours,” he said, simpering and bowing.

“Have another cup of tea,” interrupted Helena, sharply.

The old Indian, as we know, was a great connoisseur; he had gulped
down two bowls of hot water already, imagining that it would not
be proper to refuse. He meekly accepted a third, but its tepid
unsavoriness aroused his native assumption.

“If I may make so free,” he said, “I should like to ask where you
get--ahem!--_this_, Mevrouw”--he tapped his cup--“and what you pay
for it?”

“Two and ninepence, I believe,” replied the lady, sweetly. “If you
wish, I’ll ring and ask the cook. I’m glad you like it. There’s
plenty more.”

“Only two and ninepence!” exclaimed Mopius, horror-stricken.
“That’s the worst of it; you Europeans fancy you can get things
without paying for them. I was in the East myself for twenty years;
_I_ know what good tea is--nobody better. I was famous for my tea
at Batavia, Mevrouw, as Mevrouw Steelenaar told me, the Viceroy’s
wife. ‘Mynheer Mopius,’ she said to me, ‘where do you get this
delicious mixture?’ But I wouldn’t tell her. However, I’ll send you
some. ’Pon my soul I shall. You shall know what tea is. I’ll send
you a pound to-morrow. I’ll send you ten pounds.”

Helena bent forward from her listless couch; a lily of the valley
dropped away among the laces of her gown, and Mynheer Mopius caught
at it with eager, fat fingers.

“Mynheer, you will send me nothing,” said Helena, gravely. “Did
I not make my meaning plain enough just now?” Then, not wishing
to go too far, “I cannot receive presents, thank you.” And,
unconsciously, the twinkle in her angry eyes wandered away to a big
portrait of her florid Willie.

“Ah!” said Mopius, and put the lily in his button-hole. He did it
fondly, lingeringly. He understood that young husbands are jealous,
however unreasonably, of experienced, intelligent men of the
world. His manner exasperated her. “I am sorry,” he said, flicking
the flower. “I should have been only too glad, had there been
_anything_ I could have done for Mevrouw van Troyen.”

Mevrouw van Troyen burst out laughing. “Really?” she cried, “even
leaving me when I must go and dress for dinner? Mynheer van
Trossart dines with us to-night; he is going to take me to the
theatre.” She rose.

Mopius rose also, but hung back. “Ah, the Baron van Trossart,” he
said. “Just so! I am very anxious to make his acquaintance. Some
day, perhaps, I hope--” He hesitated, looking wistfully at Helena.

Suddenly his manner, his tone, his expression explained the whole
thing to her. It was not her young beauty that had attracted this
poor creature. She remembered having heard some one speak of the
town-councillor’s ambition. There was a vacancy in Parliament--

“You can stay and meet him now, if you like,” she said,
ungraciously, but grasping at vengeance swift and sure. “Oh yes, he
is well enough, thanks; only rather worried about this approaching
election for Horstwyk. They can’t find, I am told, a desirable
candidate.”

She paused by the door. One look at Mopius’s face was sufficient.
“I don’t take much interest in politics,” she continued; “but, of
course, my godfather does. He has so much influence. And he tells
me that at Horstwyk they want a moderate man, one that would go
down with many of the Clericals--a Conservative, in fact. Such
people are so difficult to find nowadays. Everybody is extreme.”

“But--but--excuse me,” stammered Mopius. “One moment, I beg. I had
always understood that the Baron van Trossart was a Liberal--”

“A Liberal? Oh, dear, no. He would be a Conservative if there were
any Conservatives left. As it is, he would never espouse the cause
of an extremist. He sympathizes with the Clericals in many things.
And now I must really go up-stairs. I will send my husband in to
amuse you. Don’t talk politics to him, Mynheer Mopius. He knows no
more about them than I.”[J]

Mynheer Mopius, left alone, wiped his blotchy, perspiring forehead.
It was a master-stroke to have insinuated himself thus into the
graces of this great lady whom he had been lucky enough to meet at
the Horst. He felt very friendly towards Ursula.

“Ah, Jacóbus,” he said to himself in the glass, “you will be ‘high
and mighty’[K] yet.” And he smiled at the vanity of women.

Willie came lounging in obediently, and carried off the worshipful
town-councillor to the smoking-room.

“A fine house, Mynheer van Troyen,” said the conciliatory Mopius.
“Exceedingly tasteful.”

“Oh, it’s well enough,” assented loose-tongued Willie. “But the
money’s my wife’s, you know. And, by Jove! don’t she keep it under
lock and key!”

Having reached the tether of his conversation, the young officer
fell a-yawning, and soon suggested a little quiet _écarté_.

“There’s half an hour more, at least,” he said.

Did Mynheer Mopius know the game? Yes, Mynheer Mopius had played
it twenty years ago in India. Ah, indeed; they play for high
stakes there! Willie suggested fifty florins. He played better
than Mynheer Mopius. Twenty years is a long time. When Baron van
Trossart joined the two gentlemen, Mynheer Mopius had lost five
hundred florins, but he found himself on quite familiar terms with
Willie, and in the same room with Baron van Trossart. He bowed
pompously, patronizing the man who had just plucked him. “His
wife would have accompanied him,” he said, “but that interesting
circumstances--” and he smiled knowingly to the great noble before
him, on whose haughty features the look of chronic moroseness sat
so well.

A little preliminary awkwardness was deepened by his praising, all
astray, the amiability of the Baron’s “charming daughter,” but
presently the tide flowed swiftly into its preconcerted channel,
Helena herself having entered, resplendent with a couple of diamond
stars, to direct its course.

“No, Mynheer van Trossart,” said Mopius, nervously hurried, “I
should never feel in sympathy with extremists. What we need
nowadays, as I take it, is moderation, pacification--the old
Conservative spirit, in fact.”

“Ah, yes, ah!” said the Baron. He was rather interested in Mopius,
having heard of him as one of those men who are willing and able to
spend money in a good cause, if thereby they can further their own.
“Just the person, perhaps, for a candidate,” he said to himself.

“Only,” continued Mopius, ingenuously, “such people are so
difficult to find. Everybody is extreme, and that frightens off
the undecided voters. Now, I cannot help sympathizing with the
Clericals in many points. We have wronged them. Undoubtedly, we
have wronged them. Each man, Mynheer van Trossart, ought to be
permitted to serve God in his own way.”

“Oh, undoubtedly,” said the Baron, a little uneasily, nevertheless.

“Personally, for instance, I take a great interest in the movement
on behalf of confessional schools. I am speaking, of course, of
private initiative.” He hesitated; Helena nodded encouragement
across the Baron’s meditative study of his cigar. “I would go
even a little further. I consider that some well-proportioned
concessions--The development of Atheism, Mynheer van Trossart, is
not one that I contemplate with satisfaction.”

The Government functionary turned in dismay. “Why, Mynheer,”
he exclaimed, “I had been quite given to understand you were a
Liberal?”

Helena’s voice broke the ensuing silence. “We really must go in
to dinner, papa. We shall be late for the theatre. Good-bye, Mr.
Mopius; my compliments to Mevrouw!” She took the Baron’s arm and
drew him away. “I like a fat fool,” she said on the stairs; “your
lean fool is only half a fool. He can’t look the part.”

FOOTNOTES:

[J] There are three political parties in the Dutch Parliament--the
Roman Catholics, the permanent Liberal majority (who are
aggressively anti-religious), and a small, much-persecuted
Protestant remnant. All issues of any interest are religious. There
is no longer a Conservative party.

[K] Title of Dutch Members of Parliament.



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE NEW LIFE


Ursula awoke from a long dream of suffering. The world was very
dark all around her, and she strove to lie still. But even while
she did so she knew by the steady pulse once more swelling in her
brain that the endeavor would prove fruitless. Alive again, she
must live.

Her husband and her child were dead. It was she who, despising
Otto’s fears of infection, had brought death into the house.
Something told her that Otto, had he survived, would tacitly have
laid the loss of the child at her door. And yet it was impossible
to say for certain. Death changes all our perspectives. Ursula’s
was not a nature to sink away into maudlin self-disparagement. She
did not dash the tears from her cheek, but she resolutely lifted
her head.

Nothing, however, makes us so tender towards those who loved us as
the thought that we have done them irreparable wrong. When Ursula
arose from her sick-bed, it was with the firm resolve to honor her
husband’s memory by the daily sacrifice of her whole self to that
which, but for her, might still have been his own life-task. She
took up his cross exactly where he had laid it down. That was all
she thought of--neither right nor wrong; neither God’s providence
nor her own unfitness--only to do exactly as Otto would have wished.

“I understand perfectly,” she said, sitting, cold, with the
blackness of her mourning about her. “I told you at the time,
Notary, exactly how it was. There is no ready money--not even
enough to pay the death duties. There is nothing except mortgages,
the interest on which only hard work can meet.”

[Illustration: “‘GOOD-BYE, MR. MOPIUS; MY COMPLIMENTS TO
MEVROUW!’”]

“You will have to sell some of the land,” replied the lawyer,
hopelessly. “You had better sell the whole place. You can’t keep it
up, anyhow. Not that present prices will ever pay off the mortgage.”

The widow remained silent for a moment; there was little of the
“nut-brown” color left in the stately face against the oaken chair.
“I shall never sell an inch,” she said, at last. “Never, as long as
I live.”

“That is a long time,” retorted the matter-of-fact man of business.
“A great deal may happen”--he glanced at his beautiful, beautified
client; “meanwhile, everything of value in the house belongs, I
understand, to the Dowager Baroness?”

“It does.”

“The Dowager Baroness, it appears to me, if I may venture to say
so, is lapsing into second childhood.”

No answer. The room was very lofty and empty. The far stretch of
naked country was very chill and bleak. The Notary got up to go.

“If I were you,” he said, “I should rid myself of the whole thing.
I should decline to inherit. It’s a hopeless thing from the outset.
Gerard will have his mother’s fortune to himself now, some day. He
is all the better off for having missed the dead weight which has
fallen on to your shoulders. It was a narrow squeak.”

She came up to him--quite suddenly, close. “You think that,” she
said, with thick utterance. “You understand that. Always remember
it. Do you hear?” A clear passion had overflowed the dull dark of
her eyes. Violently she mastered the trembling which shook her from
head to foot.

“Of course, my dear lady; it is evident. Your brother-in-law could
hardly have sold the property as you will. Yes, yes, as you will.
Never mind; take your time. It is an experiment.”

“No,” she said, “it is not an experiment. Good-day.”

Notary Noks considered himself a very shrewd man. He perfectly
comprehended the young Baroness’s resolution to play the fine
lady as long as she was able. “She’s been dem lucky,” reflected
the lawyer as he drove away; “but she’ll have to marry again, and
marry money if she wants to keep on. It’s a queer end of the Van
Helmonts.” He had known the pastor’s girl ever since she was a
baby; his opinion of the proud, pale woman from whom he had just
come away was distinctly unfavorable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ursula passed through the long, gray library, and, drawing a
curtain, softly entered the old Baroness’s rose-garlanded sanctum.

Through the south turret window the sunlight lay in an amber
bar. And, incased in the clear gold, like a fly, sat the little
black Dowager, surrounded by her papers, writing with the serene
concentration of a well-defined literary task. She looked up across
her glasses, pen in hand.

“I am busy,” she said, her tone full of mild annoyance. She was
always busy, the more so when Ursula disturbed her--endlessly busy
with the “Memoir,” noting down the same trifles over and over again.

“I know,” replied Ursula, meekly; “but I thought you would like to
have this, so I brought it you out of the hall.”

It was a letter from Gerard, away in Acheen, the first response to
the more explicit account of their common bereavement, coming back
to them across the wide void of five months’ illness and solitude.

The Dowager tore open the envelope. Ursula waited, uncertain how to
give least offence.

“There is a message for you,” said the Dowager when she had
finished reading; “but I shall not give it you. It is an absurd
message. It is an absurd letter in many ways. Poor Gerard, his
sorrows have turned his brain. Like mine. Like mine. Like mine.”

She gathered together her papers, aimlessly, scattering them as she
took them up.

“Stay with me, Ursula,” she said, querulously. “I have nobody to
help me with these important documents. There must be a letter
somewhere dated August the 5th, 1854. Or is it April--April, ’45?
It is a letter from a friend of your father-in-law; I forget his
name. I had it a moment ago. Or was it yesterday I had it? I was
reading it to cook. _She_ remembers things. She has been with me a
long time. She remembers my dear husband quite well.”

“I will look for it,” said Ursula, taking care not to disturb
Plush, who always made a bed for herself in the very midst of the
crackly confusion on the table. “Is this it?”

“No, indeed,” replied the Baroness, without glancing up to verify
her verdict. “You don’t know, Ursula. You are a new-comer. Cook is
right, though I told her some things are best left unsaid.”

She went on folding and sorting, muttering to herself with a quiet
little lady-like laugh.

“Gerard is ridiculous,” she presently broke out, with angry energy.
“He says he would have had to sell the place as well as you must
now, so where’s the difference? He is a fool. He would not have had
to sell it, no more than Otto. Did Otto want to sell it, Ursula?”

She sat back in her chair, glowering with her light blue eyes at
her daughter-in-law.

“No,” said Ursula, bending low over the writing-table.

“Aha! I thought you would try to deceive me. I forget a good many
things, but I remember this. Do you hear me, daughter-in-law? I
have never loved you; I had little reason to.”

Her voice rose shrill with quavery passion; she tried to steady her
feeble little frame with blue-veined hands on the massive arms of
her chair.

“But what does Gerard mean when he says--what does he say?--I
forget--he says I must be kind to you. What does he mean? I have
always been kind to you. But what right had you--better have plain
speaking--to come and steal away my house from my son? Eh?” She
started to her feet; the dog, disturbed by her cry, sprang up,
barking furiously. “What right?” she repeated. “It is Gerard’s--I
told him so. I told him to come and take it away from you. He
writes back, ‘No.’ He is a coward--a coward as they all are, for a
woman’s face.”

She sank back, whispering the final sentences, and began to cry,
with noiseless, unrestrained tears.

“Dear mamma, we will not sell it,” pleaded Ursula, though she knew
how uselessly. “You see, Gerard says again he would have done so.
Let us be glad, then, that he has not got it yet. Perhaps, some
day, when he thinks differently--meanwhile--in--trust--”

She stopped, not daring, nor caring, to proceed. But the Dowager
had only caught at one sentence.

“No, we will not sell it,” she repeated: “no, indeed. Attempt
such a thing and I appeal to the police! _You_ sell what belongs
to another! You! Listen, Ursula. I am not as strong as I was. I
forget things. I dare say you imagine I am growing childish. But
be sure of this: that however stupid I may seem to become, I shall
always know about the Horst. I shall watch over it for Gerard.
I have written to him to come back, and he will come. You alter
nothing--do you understand? Nothing. Oh, my God, I am a poor
defenceless old woman! Have pity upon me, and make my head keep
strong! Oh, if Theodore had only not died--not died! Oh, my God, my
God!”

She shrank together, like a lace shawl thrown aside, and the tears
trickled down among the trinkets of her watch-chain.

Ursula rose and went out into the deserted corridor. From one of
the stands by the distant hall-door a brown-tinged “Maréchal Niel”
fell to pieces with a heavy thud on the marble pavement.

“Monk!” cried the mistress of the mansion. “Monk!”

With great yelps of greeting the St. Bernard came bounding towards
her.



CHAPTER XXXV

“MRS. GERARD”


Ever since Otto’s sudden death the Freule Louisa had felt stirred
to practical philanthropy. Something about “redeeming the time”
had got wedged in one of her ears. With her own fair hand she had
concocted during Ursula’s long illness uneatable messes for the
invalid, and, mindful of the poor thing’s former overtures to
herself, she had very nearly brought on a recurrence of delirium
by insisting on reading Carlyle’s _French Revolution_ at the
bedside. Routed by the doctor, she had extended her uncertain
assistance to the village; but her efforts were much hampered by
the steadfast resolution that neither personally, nor through the
medium of her maid, would she incur any risk of infection. When
the turnpike-woman’s little boy went up to the Manor-house for a
promised bottle of wine the Freule rolled it across to him, her
smelling-bottle held tight to her nostrils, over the broad slab
before the open door. And somehow the little boy was awkward or
frightened, and the bottle rolled away down the steps in crimson
splashes and a puddle. All the village heard the story with a burst
of derisive reproach. “Which seeing it was after _confinement_,”
said the bottle-nosed turnpike-man, “a thing about which the Freule
couldn’t be expected to know.”

“You can never be quite sure with these people, Hephzibah,”
explained Freule Louisa, anxiously. “There is always a possibility
of your catching something they haven’t got.”

“What you catch soonest is what you can’t catch afterwards,”
replied Hephzibah, who meant fleas. Personally, the handmaid had a
weakness for domiciliary visits, which afforded her an agreeable
opportunity of telling the people of her own class--her inferiors,
as she called them--how entirely they themselves were to blame for
any misfortunes they might happen to have had.

On the gusty day which brought Gerard’s letter the Freule,
accompanied by her faithful attendant, had departed to the
Parsonage. Every Wednesday afternoon through the silent winter
months the “ladies” of the village met in Josine’s drawing-room,
and sewed innumerable nondescript garments for tropical converts
from nudity to the inspiring strains of long-drawn letters
monotonous with sickness and privation. Of this little Horstwyk
Society the Freule from the Manor-house was Honorary President. It
had taken to itself the appellation “Tryphena, Rom. xvi. 12,” and
had gloriously fought and conquered the opposition “Tryphosa” which
the doctor’s wife had rashly started--without Honorary President,
but with a mission-field that could boast two genuine murders.
Some of the Tryphena people rather regretted the annihilation of
Tryphosa. It had formed such a fruitful theme when the missionary
letters gave out.

“My dear Josine, I have got a most interesting report,” said the
Freule, eagerly, taking off her heavy boots in the little Parsonage
passage. The President and Secretary hated each other like
poison. “The man at Palempilibang has lost two more children from
dysentery--isn’t it dreadful?--and his wife has been so very bad
they will have to take her up to a hill station for change of air.”

“I cannot understand it,” argued Josine, as they advanced to
join the others; “I packed plenty of medicine in the box we sent
out last Christmas. I wrote to Leipsic on purpose so as to make
sure it should be genuine. And with me, when I have symptoms,
Sympathetico--”

“My dear, I should not imagine it of any use in actual disease,”
replied the Freule, hurriedly taking refuge from her own temerity
in the bosom of “Tryphena.”

“Ladies, I have a most interesting report for this day’s meeting,”
she began, with the common eagerness to promulgate calamity. “I
shall not spoil it by picking out the best bits beforehand, but
I must just tell you, because you will be so sorry to hear it,
that Jobson, of Palempilibang, has lost two of his remaining seven
children from dysentery, and his wife is so exceedingly weak the
doctor says she cannot remain at the station. Isn’t it very, very
sad? Ah, Juffrouw Pink, I am glad to see your cold is better.”

All the ladies looked at each other, and nodded sympathetically.
The Freule’s news was quite in keeping with the ancient order of
things. “Out yonder” was very far away, and people always died
there. When they died you had a vague conception that you were
getting your money’s worth. Juffrouw Pink, the very fat wife of
a church-warden, and a recent member, sat helplessly entangling
the fateful disease, in her woolly mind, with the crime of
Non-conformity. Mevrouw Noks, the notary’s angular consort, laid
down the little garment she had been engaged on.

“So _that_ will no longer be necessary,” she said, deliberately.
Josine, who liked to be noticeably sentimental, murmured, “Fie!”

Meanwhile, Hephzibah, in the kitchen, was overawing the little
Parsonage maid. But the thing was easy, soon effected, oft
repeated, and she yearned for bolder game. Presently the
drawing-room bell rang, and Hephzibah rose, aware that her weekly
deliverance was come.

Every Wednesday afternoon the Freule Louisa would check the
Secretary’s report-droning to remark, “My dear secretary, I am
sure you will excuse me, but might I ring just one moment for my
maid?” Somebody would, of course, hasten to comply with the noble
President’s request--the interruption was far from unwelcome to the
gossip-loving community--and the Freule Louisa would compliment
herself on again having invented a pretext to make sure of
Hephzibah’s obedience to orders. Practically, the pretexts were but
three: a handkerchief from the winter mantle, a forgotten letter
for the post, and the drying of the Freule’s boots. And Hephzibah,
having made her cross-grained appearance, immediately sallied out
on errands of her own. For the Freule never rang twice--lest she
should make the discovery she dreaded.

Hephzibah was not afraid of dirt or disease. Both she knew to
be the outcome of human wickedness, and with human wickedness
Hephzibah Botster had little to do. She feared only one thing in
this world, or the other world, the Intangible--consolidated and
incorporated for her in a great overshadowing conception--the
Devil. Hephzibah believed overwhelmingly in the Devil. Her
existence was full of him. And therefore, strong-minded saint
though she was, she did not like to find herself alone in the dark.

As a rule, she spent her Wednesday afternoons with Klomp, the lazy
proprietor of the tumble-down cottage in Horstwyk wood. Klomp was
what she chose to call “a sort of a distant connection of hers,”
he being disreputable, and a cousin-german. This disreputable man
she had, however, made up her mind to marry, for her chances were
infinitesimal, and she felt that the tidying him up would be a
glory and a joy.

As she now went zigzagging along the road, crooked in feature and
movement, through the sloppy haze of dull-brown bareness, she came
across a shy urchin who was gathering forbidden firewood. Him she
immediately accosted, like the Bumble she was.

“Do you know, you boy, who comes for children that steal?”

“Jesus,” stammered the frightened culprit, giving the invariable
answer of all Dutch children to any question that savors of the
Sunday-school.

“The Devil! The Devil! The Devil!” reiterated Hephzibah, with
impressive vociferation. “Do you understand me? The Devil.” She
attempted, ignoring physical impossibilities, to fix both her eyes
in one soul-searching stare. But the little boy lifted his own
pale-blue orbs in saucer-sized reproach.

“It’s very wrong to swear,” he said, gravely.

So Hephzibah continued her way, for “Answer not a fool,” she
reflected, “according to his folly.” She saw, through the gaunt
glitter of the trees, Klomp’s half-detached shutters hanging
forlorn. She wondered who had opened them on this usually deserted
side. Certainly not Klomp. She smiled grimly. She would put things
to rights, as was her custom, and scold him.

She heard voices inside the house, an unknown woman’s voice,
and laughter--actually laughter from Klomp, whose utmost exertion
in her presence hardly attained to a smile. She pushed open the
door and entered, indignant. Some chipped crockery was spread
over the crippled table, and behind an odorous paraffine-stove
and coffee-pot sat a frowzy female of spurious pretensions to
elegance--a female with whom Hephzibah was not acquainted, but
whose name was Adeline Skiff. The virtuous Abigail immediately
wrote down the stranger “a bad lot,” and less virtue would have
sufficed thus correctly to apprise her.

[Illustration: “‘DO YOU KNOW, YOU BOY, WHO COMES FOR CHILDREN THAT
STEAL?’”]

“Company! Dearie me!” cried Hephzibah, in a whole gamut of
spinsterly suspicion. “And where, pray, are Pietje and Mietje,
John?”

Klomp yawned.

“Wednesday, is it?” he said. “So much the worse.” After which
uncourteous allusion he subsided.

“Let me introduce myself to the lady,” interposed Adeline, all
mince and simper. “I am a cousin of Mynheer Klomp’s, and I have
come to stay with him for a week or two.”

“Cousin!” repeated Hephzibah, in a tone of flat denial. She stalked
to the table, and sat down square. “Now, John, I’m a distant
connection of yours, and I know all about your family. And what
cousin may you be, mum, pray, and on which side?”

“Oh, I never can remember those genesises!” cried Adeline, with a
charming laugh, as she hastened to arrange her fringe.

“Dirty hands!” reflected Hephzibah.

“My name is Botster,” she said, aloud, “and one thing I know for
certain, madame, that you never were a cousin of mine.”

Adeline looked surprised at this open aggression; but Adeline had
never liked disagreeables of any kind.

“Have some coffee?” she asked. “There is a little--a little taste
from the coating of the coffee-pot, whatever it may be, that gives
quite a peculiar flavor, as I was just telling Klomp.”

She laughed again, and the sluggard smiled contentedly.

“Oh, nobody ever rinses it out,” he said. “I boiled some ratsbane
in it the other day.”

Adeline shrieked.

“Of course, you are a stickler for neatness, Juffrouw--Juffrouw?”
cried Hephzibah, furiously, letting one of her eyes travel down the
soiled ribbons of the visitor’s tawdry dress. “I like people to be
tidy, not like you, Cousin John. Cleanliness is a great virtue,
Juffrouw. Perhaps you know it is placed next to godliness.”

“Yes, I see it is,” replied Adeline, with a gesture of sudden
malice--“sitting side by side.”

To such levity Hephzibah could allow no recognition. She was
burning to find out the intruder’s name, and, after some futile
strategy, which deepened the mystery, she boldly demanded it.

“Why, Klomp,” replied Adeline--“Klomp, of course. Isn’t it, Cousin
John?” She winked at Hephzibah’s relation impudently.

“I don’t believe it,” said Hephzibah.

“Well, if it isn’t, I’ll make it so. Some day, perhaps, I’ll tell
you more, and some day, perhaps, I sha’n’t. If you were going to
have a new white dress, what color would you have it trimmed?”

“If I, or any other decent person of our class, were going to have
a white dress, it would be a night-dress,” retorted Hephzibah, “and
she wouldn’t have it trimmed at all.”

At this Adeline giggled and Hephzibah glared.

“Any one can see,” said Juffrouw Skiff, “that you’re a thrifty body
and don’t waste your money on personal adornment. Married, I dare
say, eh?--ah?--and a large family to look after.”

Both Klomp and Adeline roared.

“I’m maid at the Manor-house,” said honest Hephzibah, proudly; “own
maid to the Freule van Borck.”

“You don’t say so!” Adeline’s manner had grown suddenly serious.
“Now that’s a remarkable coincidence. I’m very much interested in
your Manor-house, Juffrouw Potster. I know your people.”

“Really?” replied Hephzibah, politely. “I don’t remember seeing
you at any of our dinners. Did you come alone, or did you bring
your cousin Klomp?”

This time Adeline flushed scarlet, but she was resolved to avoid
a quarrel with a servant from the Horst. Deserted, for the
time at least, by her husband, she had heard of Ursula’s great
good-fortune, and had made up her mind to come and find out some
means of extorting money from the Helmonts. Her plan of campaign
was as yet undetermined; meanwhile she had taken the cheapest of
lodgings with Klomp, who was, of course, in no wise a relation.
“It will look better to say we are connected,” she had suggested,
intent upon “keeping dark” at first. “You can have the room for
ninepence,” had been Klomp’s only reply. “No attendance, mind.”

She now got up and walked to the window, with a glance at her
reflection against the greasy pane. “There are your girls, Klomp,”
she said, “with the child. The poor darling can never have enough
of that dear little porker. Hear him shriek with delight. Are _you_
fond of children, Juffrouw Boster?”

Klomp sauntered out to his affectionate Pietje and Mietje, now
strapping young women, both. Immediately Hephzibah came up behind
the smiling stranger by the open door. She had not much time to
lose.

“Look here, you!” she said, hoarsely. “What have you come here for?
After no good, I’ll be bound. But you leave this man, mind you.
Cousin or no cousin, he’s my man, not yours.” She was desperate at
the thought of her lessening only chance.

The other turned tauntingly in the doorway.

“Your man?” she repeated. “What d’ye mean? Can’t you take a joke,
you fool? You don’t imagine, do you, that I want to marry Klomp?”

Hephzibah shivered with horror and spite. Visions of King Solomon’s
impudent-faced fair ones rose up before her. “Jezebel,” she said,
inconsistently, but with commendable candor.

“Tut, tut!” answered Adeline, looking away. “Your dress is a
shocking bad fit. I’ll alter it for you. I had no idea you came
here courting, Juffrouw Boster--and in such a dress as that!”

Hephzibah longed to strike the woman, but she only stupidly
repeated, “What did you come for?” amid the laughter and cries of
the others close by. Then suddenly she stamped her foot.

“Go away, or I’ll make you.”

“You!” retorted Adeline, fairly roused. “What next, you Poster?
Know that you are speaking to your betters. Imagine the insolence
of it! I and Klomp! I! The insolence of it! Klomp and you; yes,
that is another matter. Here, Baby! Baby!” A sudden resolve seemed
to seize upon her. Her little boy of some three or four raw summers
came unwillingly towards the house, diverted from his course by
continual grabs at the porker’s wispy tail. “Do you see this
child?” asked Adeline, catching hold of a faded blue mantle, and
turning up a pretty though mealy little face. “This is my child, my
only one.” She had shrewdly left the infant at Drum.

Hephzibah started, and vainly pretended to have slipped. “Well?”
she said.

“His name is Gerard.”

Slowly the faithful servant lifted her crossed eyes to the other’s
better-favored face. “Hussy!” she said, deliberately, with all an
honest woman’s slow pressure on the term.

Adeline burned with the immediate umbrage of a girl who feels her
ears boxed. At a leap she resolved to rejoice in the rôle which had
long allured her.

“Menial,” she said, loftily, “know your place. You are speaking to
Mevrouw van Helmont.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Well,” reflected Hephzibah, pausing for breath on her hurried walk
back to the Parsonage, “I am glad that I _told_ her she was a liar.
Still--”

Queer stories about the Jonker Gerard had been rife in the
servants’ hall. The domestics of the Trossart household had added
their occasional items. It was pretty well known that Helena would
have married her cousin but for some sudden impediment. Judging by
appearances and gossip, there was nothing absolutely improbable in
Adeline’s story. In fact, Adeline very nearly believed it herself.
Hephzibah wished that vigorous denial could prove it untrue.

And then the child! Hephzibah screwed her wrinkled face up till
it looked like an enormous spider. That woman Lady of the Manor!
_That_ woman! Hephzibah shook her head as she hurried along. “Who
is thine handmaid,” she said, aloud, “that she should do this
thing?”

She was late, and she found the Freule waiting, shawled and
gaitered and exceedingly nervous, in the dim drawing-room, amid
driblets of unwilling conversation with Juffrouw Josine. Louisa
looked vehement reproaches, and longed for courage to speak
them; but Hephzibah was too violently excited by her afternoon’s
adventure to notice such trifles as these. The pair marched off
through the damp twilight.

“Red Riding-hood and the Wolf,” said Josine.

“Hephzibah,” began the Freule presently, in a trembling voice, “I
wish you would walk on the other side of the road. One can’t tell
where you may have been.”

Hephzibah obeyed with silent protest.

“Hephzibah,” hazarded the Freule a few minutes later, unable to
bear any longer the gray atmosphere of disapproval, “what is this
terrible secret you said you would tell me the other day? You have
alluded to it several times lately, and always declared you dared
not mention it in the house. Well, we are alone now, on the road.”

“Oh, it’s of no account,” muttered Hephzibah. “And I couldn’t shout
it across, besides,” she added, in a lower key.

“Well, come a little nearer, if you like, but not nearer, mind you,
than the middle.”

“It’s nothing,” said the maid, gruffly.

“Oh, but it is. Coming out, you told me it was most important. Now,
Hephzibah, you are in a bad temper because your conscience reproves
you.”

“My conscience!” exclaimed the immaculate maid. “My conscience
reproves me a hundred times a day!”

“So much the better. Then tell me your secret.”

A struggle was going on in the handmaid’s bosom. She prolonged
it for some distance, perhaps unnecessarily; but then she rather
enjoyed a moral struggle. At last she said, in a dull, dissembling
voice:

“I’m sure now, Freule, that Anne Mary steals cook’s perquisites. I
can prove it.”

“Pooh! Is that all?” cried the disappointed Freule. “You’ve talked
about that before, and I don’t care a brass farthing, Hephzibah. A
nice secret to make secrets of! Go along to the other side of the
road--do!”

Hephzibah obeyed, looking very wise.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE DEAD-AWAKE


“Supposing I had told my secret?” reflected Hephzibah, peeping
through the key-hole. “Supposing I had told my secret? If I hadn’t
met that woman at Klomp’s I believe I really should have told the
Freule this time. Wonderful are the ways of Providence! Imagine the
slatternly creature established here at the Manor-house playing the
mistress over--_me_!” Hephzibah peeped down again. “She in there’s
bad enough, the parson’s daughter. But at least she leaves a body
alone.” Then Hephzibah shuffled away on velvet slippers, the only
soft thing about her.

The key-hole which had attracted her was Ursula’s. My Lady sat at
her nightly task by the lamp. Her forefinger was inked, her earnest
forehead was puckered, yet the figures would not add up right. She
was learning book-keeping by double entry; twice a week a master
came from Drum.

She sighed, and pushed her hand in among her rumpled hair. Romance
is romance; alas, that in real life it should so seldom be
romantic! There was less money even than in Otto’s time. Therefore,
things went even worse with everybody than they had gone in Otto’s
time. She sighed, returning to her distasteful task.

All the villagers disliked her, and she knew it. They considered it
a slight upon themselves that their parson’s daughter should usurp,
by a fluke, the ancient throne of the Van Helmonts.

Ursula would not have minded this, however, had she known how to
pay her succession duty and make both ends meet.

As she sat thus, working and worrying, the door was suddenly
thrown wide open, and, without any warning, Hephzibah walked in.

Her face shone white; her whole manner and expression were as of
one sick with alarm.

“Come up-stairs, Mevrouw,” she said, in a shrill whisper; and when
Ursula hesitated she caught her by the sleeve. “Come up-stairs,”
she reiterated, leading the way, but refusing any further
explanation. Ursula mechanically followed. Gasping for breath, the
woman ran along a dim corridor, and then stopped in the dark of an
unused room.

“Hark!” she said, with uplifted finger.

“What?” answered Ursula, impatiently. “I hear nothing. Do you?”

For only answer Hephzibah passed behind her and closed the door,
through which a faint glimmer of light had come stealing. They were
then in absolute darkness.

“Well, what now? What is the matter?” repeated the young Baroness,
with some anxiety in her tone. In the obscurity she yet perceived
that Hephzibah had uplifted a finger.

“Hush!” said the maid. “You will hear it presently. There! There it
is!” She bent forward, clutching at her companion. “There it is!
What do you say now?”

Ursula fell back and tore open the door again, but the light thus
admitted only showed looming shapes.

“I hear nothing,” she said, faintly, dazed, alone with this
mad-woman. She had always had an undefined dread of the
crooked-eyed maid.

“Oh, my God, I had an idea that if you came it would stop!” cried
Hephzibah. “Oh, never mind the door. Door or no door, it won’t stop
now. I’ve heard it before, several times. It’s like a man gasping.
In there.” She pointed to the closed entrance leading to an inner
chamber. “Mevrouw, dare you really say you hear nothing at all?”

Ursula shuddered. They were standing in the deserted nursery; the
room adjoining was that in which Otto had died. Both were now
disused.

“Come, Hephzibah,” she said, soothingly. “There is nothing here;
you are mistaken. Come down-stairs. You are distressed, poor thing,
by the terrible memory of your nursing in this very room. Do not
think of it. I cannot trust my own thoughts to dwell on those days.”

[Illustration: “‘COME UP-STAIRS,’ SHE REITERATED”]

But the waiting-woman took no heed. She had fallen on her knees,
and remained thus, her face averted towards the closed door of the
inner chamber.

“O God, have mercy!” she wailed. “_She_ doesn’t hear it! What have
_I_ done? If I have done wrong, my fault is as nothing compared to
her sin! She must hear it. Surely she must hear it.” She paused a
moment, and in a calmer tone, “It isn’t fair,” she said.

Ursula had clutched her by the shoulder.

“What do you mean? What do you know?” asked Ursula, resolutely.

Still the woman did not seem to hear her.

“Hush!” said Hephzibah, falling, with uplifted finger, into her
earlier attitude of intentness. “Listen. A sobbing, choking noise,
as of a man gasping for breath. I often hear it there. Not always.
If I always heard it it might be fancy.”

“What do you know?” repeated Ursula, with persistent stress.

Hephzibah hesitated. Before her rose the image of Adeline, fringe
and all, giving orders in the store-room. She turned suddenly.

“Know, Mevrouw?” she said. “What should I know? A great deal less
than you, anyway. I’m only a poor servant. I suppose it’s some of
Satan’s doing. Ah, he’s mighty strong, is Satan--mighty strong!”
She slipped away towards the glimmer from the passage, muttering,
“Mighty, mighty strong,” and so stole from the room.

Ursula made no effort to retain her. The door fell to, and the
black silence seemed to thicken. Ursula stood quite still.
Involuntarily she listened, scornful of herself. Something creaked
in the next room, or near her--her heart leaped into her throat.
With an exclamation of impatience she threw open the intervening
door.

She had not entered these two death-chambers since her illness.
The inner one was empty and damply chill. Here the shutters were
thrown back, and through the gaunt window a bluish grayness fell
across the deeper dark. Ursula’s figure struck against the dim
twilight in a great black bar.

After a moment’s hesitation she walked to the window and gazed up
into the night. Amid a confusion of tumbled clouds an occasional
star lay peeping, like a diamond through black lace. One of them,
close above her, seemed to be watching steadily.

“Otto,” said Ursula, in a firm whisper, “I am doing my best. I am
trying to keep my promise. I don’t know how God judges me. I don’t
know. Otto, I am doing my best.”

She stood for some time thinking. Then she shivered, as if suddenly
realizing the clammy cold all about her, and hurried away.

In the corridor, just as the cheerful lamplight was broadening to
greet her, she met Aunt Louisa, who emerged in a great hurry from
her own private sitting-room. Aunt Louisa was evidently in one of
her “sinful fits,” as Hephzibah called them. (Hephzibah called
“sinful” whatever was distasteful to herself.) The Freule’s left
hand held a letter, and her right hand an envelope. She cried out
as soon as she caught sight of Ursula:

“Ursula, I _must_ have my interest! I didn’t ask you back for the
capital--not even when Otto died. But, Ursula, I must have my
interest.”

Ursula paused. The Freule’s whole face quivered with pink
excitement. Both her extended hands shook.

“I don’t understand, Aunt Louisa!” said Ursula, dizzily. “What is
it?”

“Now, Ursula, don’t say that. You know how nervous money matters
make me. And I’m afraid it was very foolish of me to give my money
to Otto, and I didn’t ask it back, not even when you got it all.”

“It’s a good mortgage,” interrupted Ursula, “and, besides, you
couldn’t ask it back.”

“Now don’t throw those law terms at my head,” cried the Freule, in
a tremulous screech, “for I don’t know what they mean. But I do
know that it’s very ungrateful of you to speak like that, Ursula,
after what I’ve done for you all. And I left the money in your
hands because I think you are strong, and altogether it is a very
interesting experiment. But I must have my interest. I can’t do
without my interest. Here’s my man of business writes that Noks
has prepared him”--the Freule referred to the paper which crackled
between her fingers--“for the possibility of there being some delay
in the payment of the next instalment. Now, Ursula, I pay my board
and wages punctually, and I can’t have that.”

“When is the next payment due?” asked Ursula.

“On the first of next month. Now, Ursula, don’t look like that.
It is you who are to blame, not I. Never have I been twenty-four
hours too late, though poor Theodore used to leave the money lying
about for days. But your mother-in-law once truly said that, at any
rate, you had this of royalty about you--you could do no wrong!
Well, _that_ is strong, and I have no objection. By-the-bye, your
mother-in-law meant it ironically. But strong people should, above
all, be honest, Ursula, and it’s dishonest to take advantage of the
helplessness of a poor ignorant spinster like me.”

“You will have your interest,” said Ursula, by the stair-head,
under the full glare of the lamp. “Noks was wrong.” And she went
slowly down into the vestibule. She felt that she must get away for
the moment from this suffocating house.

She took a hat and passed forth into the night. A cold little wind
was curling in and out among the trees. Everywhere spread the
grimness, the bare, black hardness of March, shrouded in darkness
and indistinctly threatening. Ursula’s yearning went out, in this
absolute solitude, to the husband whose strong love had lifted her
up and placed her thus terribly high. Even a servant still heard
his voice in its dying agony. Had she, then, the wife, already
forgotten him? No, indeed; more closely than during his lifetime
their existences were interwoven in her faithful fulfilment of his
charge. She was possessed with a sudden foolish desire to hear that
kind voice, that earnest voice again--aye, even the last gasp, as
did Hephzibah. She hurried in the direction of the church-yard, of
the vault where _he_ lay. He had loved her--loved her, lifted her
up--the simple village girl--to be my Lady Nobody. She wanted him
again. She wanted him.

All at once, as she was hastening on, the memory struck her, like
a new thought, of how he had doubted her honor. She stopped,
stock-still, in the middle of the road. Then, like a smitten flower
from the stem, she dropped by the side of a broad elm-tree, and for
the first time since her widowhood gave way to a passion of tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

“What’s this?” said a rough voice, close in front, and a dark
lantern flashed out its hideous wide circle. “What are you doing
here? Now, then, look sharp!”

The Baroness staggered to her feet.

“It is I,” she stammered--“Mevrouw van Helmont;” and then,
recognizing the local policeman, “I am not well, Juffers; help me
home.”

The man escorted her in amazed if deferential silence. He could
understand even a Baroness being suddenly taken ill, but he could
not understand a Baroness being out there alone at this time of
night. It was not difficult for her to read his thoughts as he
tramped on, lantern in hand; she gladly dismissed him, with an
unwisely large gratuity, as soon as the lights of the house came in
sight.

“Well!” he mused, standing, clumsily respectful, with the broad
silver piece on his open palm, “she isn’t too ill to walk, anyway.
Straight as a dart. Blest if I didn’t think it was Tipsy Liza! I
wish that _she’d_ march as easy when I takes her to the lock-up.”

Hephzibah came forward as the young Baroness entered the house.
With unusual politeness, but with averted eyes, she took that
lady’s hat. And Ursula, returning to her room, where her copy-books
lay patiently, painfully waiting, felt that henceforth she was,
more or less, in this silent servant’s power.

“I will go on,” she said, doggedly, settling down to “debtor” and
“creditor,” “with God’s help or without.”



CHAPTER XXXVII

POLITICS


Next day, the spring weather being mild and clawless, like a
couchant cat, Mynheer Mopius arrived at Horstwyk station. He wore a
silk neckerchief and new galoshes, for Harriet was a careful wife
to him in a way. He had not felt in good health of late, and his
leathery cheek had deepened to gamboge.

“Be very cautious what you eat, Jacóbus,” Harriet had said as he
was preparing to depart. “If you partake of anything greasy, you
are sure to be ill again.”

“I don’t care,” replied Jacóbus, recklessly. “I’d rather die than
not eat. What’s the use of living if there’s nothing left to live
for? I’d rather die at once than vegetate for thirty years on
slops. Pass me the pickles. I could wager that you make believe I’m
the baby that hasn’t come!”

Harriet smiled thinly. The greatest disappointment which can
befall a woman lay upon her. Stowed away up-stairs were a pink
berceaunette and a quantity of little garments that had never been
used.

“There’s not much chance of my getting rich food at the Horst,”
continued Mopius. “Ha! See? I should think they weigh out their
butter there.”

“Poor Ursula!” said Harriet, softly. After a few moments of
silence, she added, “It was such a pretty little boy.”

“Huh?”

“Jacóbus, how late will you want the carriage?”

“I sha’n’t want the carriage.”

“Not want the carriage?” Harriet well knew how he enjoyed
driving away from the railway station amid an admiring crowd of
acquaintances who walked.

“No, I shall come home on foot. Go you for a drive, Harriet; it’s
rather a nice day. It’ll put some color in your pale cheeks.”

She looked across at him gratefully.

“Law!” he said, “to think how you’ve gone off of late. Who’d have
thought it? You were a deuced fine woman, Harriet, in days gone by.”

“Oh, I’m a fine woman yet,” she answered. “You must leave me a
little time.” She got up and walked to the window. “Willem is
waiting,” she said. “Good-bye. Mind you don’t sit in a draught.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Upon arriving at Horstwyk, Mopius went straight to the Parsonage,
whence he could most conveniently order a fly for the Horst. The
Dominé came out into the garden, and gave his brother-in-law a
hearty greeting. Nevertheless, he hastened to cut off any risk of a
tête-à-tête.

“Josine will be delighted,” he said. “Let us go in to her. We have
not seen you for a long time, Jacóbus. Not since--” The Dominé
threw open the sitting-room door.

“Not since the funeral,” supplemented Jacóbus, standing in
the middle of the floor. “Ah, that was a very sad business.
Good-morning, Josine.” He shook his head mournfully. Jacóbus was of
opinion that social events should be made to yield their full meed
of emotional enjoyment.

“Ah me!” replied Miss Mopius, heaving an enormous sigh. The whole
apartment was littered with varicolored tissue-paper in sheets
and strips and snippets. Miss Mopius was fabricating artificial
flowers. Her whole face assumed an expression of deeply dejected
resignation.

“How do you do, Jacóbus?” she said. “I’m glad to see you. I hope
you are better. Sad, indeed. Did you say ‘sad’?”

“I did,” responded her brother, sitting down.

“Some people say ‘sad,’” explained Josine, in the same tone of
aggrieved acquiescence, “and some people say ‘bad.’ I say ‘bad.’”

The Dominé, who had remained standing near, emitted what sounded
like a slight grunt of impatience.

“Yes, Roderigue, you may object,” continued Miss Mopius, carefully
studying the pink paper frill between her delicate fingers, “but
nothing will deter me from doing my duty. And it is my duty to
point out distinctly that our dear Ursula has committed what I do
not hesitate to qualify as a _crime_. It may be painful to you as a
father--”

“Oh no, not any longer,” interrupted the Dominé.

“I am inexpressibly grieved to hear you say so. But it is all the
more incumbent upon me to show that I, at least, am not blinded by
affection--or, let me openly declare, by prejudice. I am devotedly
attached to my niece, but, as I regretfully confessed to Mevrouw
Noks, and--and one or two other people, with tears--aye, with tears
I said it”--Miss Mopius selected a wire and planted it in the heart
of her flower--“dear Otto was murdered; inadvertently, of course,
yet none the less wilfully murdered.” She shut her thin lips with a
snap, and twirled a wisp of green paper round the wire.

“The weather is nice and mild,” said Mopius, “and for the time of
year I should call it seasonable.”

“I notice an occasional crocus,” said the Dominé.

“He deserved a better fate,” said Josine.

She shook her red ringlets and put up a thin hand to her head. “My
heart aches,” she said, “to think how easily it might all have been
avoided. Ursula was a child. Poor Otto! he wanted a woman of more
experience--not a plaything, but a helpmate. He might have lived
forty years longer. Ah, he deserved--”

“You,” interrupted Jacóbus, fiercely, with a sneer, his habitual
form of humor. She bored him.

Miss Mopius rose to the occasion. Slowly she smoothed out her
crimson-figured wrapper. “Yes,” she said. “Me, if you like, or any
other woman past thirty. Jacóbus, you are unkind. Now you are here,
you might as well give me some money for ‘Tryphena.’ We are sending
out a box. I am making these flowers for it.”

“Flowers!” growled Mopius. “What--to sell?”

“No, no--to send. Freule Louisa has knitted seventy-three little
tippets for the school-children--that’s the useful part, Jacóbus.
And I make these flowers for their Christmas treat--that’s the
ornamental. I must admit,” cried Josine, with a simper, “that I
_always_ prefer the ornamental!”

“Where’s your missions?” queried Mopius. “I dare say they’ve got
flowers enough out there. Better than those.” He contemptuously
pointed a fat finger at a whole cluster of bright-colored balls.

“In Borneo, Jacóbus, among the wild Dajaks, the head-hunters,
Jacóbus.” She rested her work in her lap. “So you despise my poor
flowers? They will have, I feel confident, their message to those
savage hearts.”

“Bosh!” said Jacóbus.

“What, do you not believe in the civilizing influences of
refinement?” Josine spoke with sudden asperity. “What are you but
a Dajak?”--Jacóbus lifted his big bald head indignantly--“as the
President of the Missionary Conference so beautifully said--”

“I? What does he mean? Who talked about me?” burst in Jacóbus,
furiously. “If my candidature for Parliament exposes me--”

“You, I, everybody. What are we but Dajaks clothed and in our right
minds? I feel confident that when the innocent children hang up
my roses on the rude walls of their dwellings, their fathers will
take down the hideous heads of victims which now form their only
decoration. Jacóbus, could you leave a rosebud lying next to a
skull?”

“Josine, you’re a fool,” answered Jacóbus. “I wonder how Roderick
can find patience to live with you.”

The Dominé sighed, then coughed hastily, blushing.

“What do the city missionaries say?” persisted Miss Mopius, who was
accustomed to having the last word: “‘Beautify the home,’ ‘Put up a
picture in your room.’ Mine is the same principle. Jacóbus, after
thus rudely abusing me, you might give me a contribution.”

“Oh, well--there!” replied Jacóbus, fingering out a gold piece from
his waistcoat-pocket. “But I don’t believe in missionaries. They’re
all dashed nonsense and lies.”

The Dominé started by the window, like a war-horse that hears
the bugle-call. “Don’t say that, Jacóbus,” he interposed. “You
shouldn’t say that.”

“Shouldn’t? Shouldn’t? I know more about missionaries than you
do. A set of guzzling do-nothings, living on the money of silly
spinsters like her.” He pointed to his sister, who immediately put
her hand to her head.

“You forget that I also have seen something of heathen countries,”
replied the Dominé, with somewhat heightened intonation; “and I,
who was then a soldier of the sword, I delight to pay my tribute
of humblest admiration to the soldiers of the Cross. Theirs is a
certain daily sacrifice without possibility of fame or reward;
and you, Jacóbus--forgive me that I say it--you people who have
gone in search of money, where they go in search of souls, you,
on your return, should at least have the grace to be silent about
their occasional delinquencies, as they are about your continuous
atrocities. Of course I am speaking collectively. I have not the
slightest intention to insinuate--”

“Abuse Josine,” cried Jacóbus, floundering to his feet; “I see my
cab has come. Begad! why don’t you pitch into Josine?”

“Josine is a woman,” replied the Dominé, shamefacedly, following
his retreating brother-in-law down the passage. “I always feel that
we are at a great disadvantage with regard to the gentler sex,
though I freely admit that Josine--”

“Well, you needn’t work your steam off on me, and that when I so
seldom come to see you! By Jove! it’s too bad. Look here, Rovers, I
am going on to Ursula. I wanted to have spoken to you about serious
matters, instead of wasting my time on missionaries. You know, I’m
the Radical candidate for Horstwyk. Of course you’ll support me,
and Ursula will take her cue from you.”

“I have no politics,” replied the Dominé, resting his armless
sleeve on the gate-post; “and Ursula will judge for herself.”

“You mean to oppose me?” cried Jacóbus, suddenly filling the
fly-window with his big orange face.

“No; I never vote--I do not consider it a part of a pastor’s work.
But I certainly shall not influence Ursula.”

“Oh, be hanged to you!” retorted Mopius, immensely put out. “But
I’ll undertake to manage Ursula without any influence of yours.
Drive on, coachman--to the Horst.”

The Dominé crept away to his sanctum with slow shakes of the head.
He reflected that Mopius might have been right about “letting off
the steam.” But what can one do? Has Pericles not said that, “He
who knows a thing to be right, but does not clearly explain it,
is no better than he who does not know.” Again the Dominé shook
his head, and, with a mechanical glance at the foxed engraving of
Havelock, he hurried to his easy-chair and his Bible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mopius meanwhile was hastening to his second and far more important
interview. Gradually his ruffled feathers smoothed down, and
he smiled with a certain complacence. Rovers had always been a
wrong-headed fellow, and therefore obstinate. “Head-strong and
head-wrong” was a favorite formula with Mopius, who, of course,
considered himself to be neither. He had disapproved of Mary’s
marriage, although not knowing Captain Rovers at the time. Mary
was handsome, he said, and might have done better. Besides, some
exceptionally important people disapprove of all their relations’
marriages on principle.

Mopius was now the official candidate of the Radical party. He had
explained that he was uncle to the Baroness van Helmont of the
Horst, and everybody had immediately understood his fitness for the
post he coveted. For the influence of the Lady of the Manor must be
all-decisive. It wanted but a word passed round to the tenants, and
the election was secure. Was Mynheer Mopius assured of his niece’s
support? So many of these high-born ladies had a weakness for
religion. It was old-fashioned, of course, and the worse for wear,
but they inherited it, like the family jewels, or gout.

Mynheer Mopius shrewdly closed his eyelids. The movement was
eloquent of quiet strength. If that was all they wanted, he could
set them at rest. He had his little plan.

Well, that was all they wanted. He need only bring them a signed
declaration from Ursula, and they would recognize him. So he
started for the Horst to fetch it. Meanwhile--such things leak
out--he was practically their candidate already.

Only the Baron van Trossart had been disagreeable and exacting.
But he was notoriously an ill-tempered man. He had muttered
stupid insinuations about wolves in sheep’s clothing. And he had
finally insisted upon a written obligation from Mopius--“quite
between you and me, of course”--that the latter would always and
unconditionally vote with the Liberal party.

“Why, of course, Mynheer the Baron,” Jacóbus had said, eagerly.
“You must have misunderstood me when we met in Mynheer van Troyen’s
smoking-room. ‘Always and unconditionally vote with the Liberal
party.’ Where shall I sign it? I have not the slightest objection.
You will support me, I hope?”

“Yes, and be damned to you,” said the Baron van Trossart.

When Mopius arrived at the Manor-house Ursula was again closeted
with the notary. She rose with a swift impulse of relief as soon as
her uncle’s name reached her ear. She looked harassed. “You must
excuse me, Mynheer Noks,” she said, going to the door. “We can talk
it over again another time.”

“When?” said the notary.

“One of these days. To-morrow, perhaps. No, the day after.”

The notary followed her, inflexible.

“Mevrouw,” he said, “we can’t put off quarter-day. There is the
interest, and there is that bill I spoke of. Three thousand florins
are still wanting to make up the sum. In ten days’ time you _must_
have them.”

“Must!” repeated Ursula, haughtily, drawing herself up.

“Yes. Must. It’s not my ‘must,’ but the law’s. The law knows
nothing of great ladies. High or low, must is must.” Ah, thought
the irritated notary, Mejuffrouw Rovers, I had you there!

“Mynheer Noks, I cannot keep my uncle waiting.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Mopius was standing in the small drawing-room with the Guicciardi
ceiling, his fishy eyes unappreciatively fixed on a Florentine
inlaid cabinet full of cameos and signets.

“A lot of money here,” he said, by way of greeting, as Ursula
entered. “And what rubbish outside a museum! Why, my terra-cottas
at Blanda are ten times as effective.”

“The things belong to the Dowager Baroness,” replied Ursula.

“Why, you’re the Dowager Baroness now, ain’t you?” objected Mopius.
“Harriet said so when we sent our cards. Who’d have thought it
of Mary’s child? Not that I care a brass farthing for barons or
princes of any kind. You couldn’t make a greater mistake, Ursula,
than to imagine that I felt in any way proud about your elevation;
so don’t ever come offering to do me any service of any kind.”

“It is the last thing I should wish to do,” replied Ursula. “Won’t
you sit down?”

“Quite right, though I can’t say you put it very prettily. However,
in this family, it’s I that confer benefits. I’ve come here with
that object now. You’re a mighty fine lady, Ursula; but you may be
glad of a burgher uncle with a well-filled purse.”

Ursula waited, wondering.

“I’m going to offer you money,” said her uncle, bluntly.

Ursula dropped her eyes to the floor. “You are doubly mistaken,
Uncle Jacóbus,” she answered in her coldest manner. “I am not a
fine lady, nor am I a beggar.”

“Hoity-toity! Not a beggar? H’m. No money wanted? Ha!” Mopius got
up, in all the splendor of his well-clothed portliness. “How about
that bill which falls due on the first? Ah, you see, I know. How
about that, my Lady of the Horst?”

Ursula rose also. She was not too proud to accept assistance. But
of some of our friends we know at once that their seeming favors
cannot really be to our advantage. It is only a question of finding
out.

“Does everybody in Drum know all about my affairs?” asked Ursula,
her pale face turning very red.

“Everybody? Fie! am I everybody? Ursula, I can never forget that
you are my own sister Mary’s only child.”

“No,” replied Ursula, “I suppose not.”

“But a good many people do know, undeniably. And that must end. It
hurts my feelings. I am not a windbag of a noble. I am a simple
gentleman, a hater of shams. I like money to ring clear on the
counter, full weight.” Jacóbus patted his waistcoat-pocket. “So,
Ursula, this is what I have to propose: Things can’t go on in the
present manner, nor can I have my niece sold up. I offer to make
you an annual payment of five thousand florins--”

“Uncle Jacóbus!”

Mynheer Mopius smiled with contented deprecation.

“That is your side of the matter. As long as I represent the
district of Horstwyk in Parliament. That is mine.”

“But you may never represent Horstwyk in Parliament?”

Mynheer Mopius sat down again.

“That depends upon my Lady of the Horst,” he said. “So you see it
is very simple. You intimate to your tenants that you wish them to
vote for Mopius, and I pay in to your bankers the sum I have just
named.”

Ursula remained silent, thoughtful.

“It is pure generosity on my part,” continued her uncle; “for,
anyway, you surely wouldn’t have instructed them to vote on the
other side. But that’s my way. I don’t mind. And I’m glad to help
my sister Mary’s child.”

Ursula seemed slowly to have understood the very simple
transaction. Her uncle watched her with a trace of anxiety in his
unhealthy eyes. Surely there was nothing in his offer dishonest or
dishonorable?

“There is one little objection to the arrangement you propose,”
said Ursula, at last.

“Of course,” replied Mopius; “women always have one little
objection to every arrangement--it is their way of getting the last
word.”

“I mean one objection which renders all others superfluous. You are
the Liberal candidate, and my sympathies are with the Clericals.”

Mynheer Mopius sat back, puffing and snorting.

“Nonsense!” he said--“Ursula, nonsense! What do women know about
politics? Your father confessed he knew nothing, so he can’t have
taught you. And Otto, I was given to understand--”

“Let us leave Otto out of the question, please,” interrupted
Ursula, with some asperity. “In this matter, at least, I am my own
mistress.”

“But the traditions of the Van Helmont family--”

“The traditions of the Van Helmont family are, of course,
Conservative, and Conservatism is dead. At this moment I, a woman,
have to choose, according to my feeble lights, between State
atheism and a persecuted sect.”

“And lose,” said Mopius, “the five thousand florins.”

But that was a stupid move. Ursula’s eye kindled in the silence
which ensued.

“Ursula,” exclaimed Jacóbus in despair, for he saw his chances
fading, “you are utterly unreasonable! How dare you suggest that I
am an atheist, that I have any objection to religion? I distinctly
approve of religion. It is a praise-worthy and highly respectable
thing, and I always allow the servants to go to church. Your aunt
Josine is right: you are nothing but a foolish child. What do you
know about politics?”

“Very little,” replied Ursula, calmly; “but it seems to me that the
less one knows about politics, the better one can choose between
principles. And I choose the principle of liberty to worship God.”

Jacóbus flourished his big hand till he almost touched her face.
“Hang your quiet way!” he cried. “There’s no talking to a woman
like you. So you mean to tell me your mind’s made up, you fool?
Instead of living here in luxury and splendor, all settled and
comfortable, as I suggest, you’ll let this over-mortgaged place
come under the hammer, and go home to your old father without
clothes to your back?”

Ursula stood, black and tall, by the desolate hearth. “Uncle
Mopius, I don’t want the money, but I’m very sorry not to be able
to do as you wish. This is my sole opportunity, my single bit of
influence, so to say, in my new position, and I must use it as I
think best.”

Tears of spite swam across Mynheer Mopius’s vision. “Ursula,” he
said, “you--you idiot, why didn’t you tell me you had political
opinions _before_?”

“I didn’t know you cared--but what difference would that have
made?” she answered, innocently.

He caught up his hat with an indignant swoop. “Never again,”
he said, “shall you touch a penny of mine. You are ruining my
prospects and your own, from sheer caprice. I shall never, now, be
a member of Parliament. But I’ll pay you out. And to think that you
have done this--you, who are my own sister Mary’s child.”

“Yes,” replied Ursula, grimly. “I always was.”



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE OLD BLOT


“What now?” exclaimed Ursula, still standing where Mopius had left
her, by the great unused fireplace. “I cannot even trust Noks, who
chatters. Poor father knows nothing about business. I am quite
alone.”

Even as she spoke there flashed across her mind a memory of her
husband’s words: “Not Gerard. Never Gerard. If ever you want a
counsellor, turn to Theodore Helmont.”

Hardly knowing what she did--certainly not knowing why she did
it--she sat down and wrote a telegram, then and there, to this
cousin she barely knew.

“Can you come here for two days? I greatly desire it.”

As soon as the boy had ridden away she wished she had worded her
message quite differently. An hour later she wished she had not
sent it at all.

“Mamma,” she said at luncheon, speaking very loudly and distinctly,
as people had to do nowadays with the old lady, “I have asked
Theodore van Helmont to come and stay here for a day or two.”

“Whom?” asked the Baroness.

“Theodore van Helmont.”

“The house is yours, Ursula, now, to do what you like with,
but”--the Dowager began to cry--“you might have asked somebody with
another name.”

“It is on business,” replied Ursula, curtly.

“Business again,” said the old lady, in an aggrieved tone; “since
my poor Theodore died one would think we kept a shop. Oh, ask him,
by all means. He is the plebeian young man. I have nothing to say.
It is the invasion of the--the--what, Louisa?”

“I suppose you mean the Goths and Vandals,” replied Louisa, very
busy with her meal, which she always treated seriously. “Well,
the Goths and Vandals were a strong new element; they were just
what an effete society wanted. The great misfortune of our modern
civilization is that all the Goths and Vandals have been used up.”

“Invasion of the Goths and Vandals,” repeated the Dowager. “But I
don’t mind. All I ask is to be allowed to finish my ‘Memoir.’ Then
I shall go and sleep with Theodore and the children. You won’t put
me in the big vault, will you, Ursula? Do the graves belong to
Ursula, too?”

“No, no,” said Ursula, hastily.

“Who did you say was coming to stay here?”

“Theodore van Helmont, mamma, from Bois-le-Duc.”

“Theodore,” repeated the Dowager, reflectively. “That was Henry’s
son. I’m glad he’s coming. He will be able to tell me in what year
his father made that ridiculous marriage--the first _mésalliance_
in the Helmont family.”

“I could have told you that,” declared Louisa, brightly. “’54 or
’55.”

“I want to be exact,” replied the Dowager, in her uncertain drawl.
“I’ve got it somewhere among my documents, but I couldn’t find it
again.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Two days passed without any answer. Ursula’s heart burned within
her: at the thought of this neglect she turned suddenly hot and
cold. In her quietly imperious necessity she had never doubted but
that her summons would be obeyed.

Several times during the twenty-four hours the old Baroness would
ask when the guest was expected.

“We are in mourning, Ursula,” she said. “I hope you will not forget
that we are in mourning. I think you went out of it too soon for
your father-in-law. But perhaps your customs are different.” (This
was a standing, oft-repeated grievance.) “However, it is barely
nine months since your husband died.”

“It is six,” replied Ursula; “I shall not forget.”

“The young man does not seem too anxious, certainly,” interposed
Aunt Louisa, over her crochet. “You ask him, and he doesn’t reply.
I prefer the days of chivalry.”

“But you don’t remember the age of chivalry, Aunt Louisa,” said
Ursula, whose patience was distinctly overwrought. She objected to
hearing her own innermost thought thus clearly stated by the Freule.

“No; I was born fifty-seven years ago; I am in no way ashamed of
it,” replied Aunt Louisa, coolly. “But what has that to do with
the subject? You must be very unimaginative, Ursula, or have read
very little. If you weren’t so careless about your books, and
didn’t let them get dog-eared (as you do), I should lend you Madame
de Roncevalles’ book on ‘The Decline of European Manners.’ It is
wonderfully interesting. It proves from the fossil remains that the
cave-dwellers, at their cannibal banquets, always ate the women
first.”

“Louisa, it is time I had my piquet,” objected the Dowager, who
never forgot her game. She had taken the old Baron’s place as
Louisa’s partner, and somehow considered the continuation of this
time-honored institution as an almost religious tribute to her lord.

Under the reproachful wonder of her two companions, Ursula began
to remember with increasing clearness that her impression of
Theodore van Helmont had been decidedly unfavorable. She had not
been able to understand her husband’s admiration; but then, Otto
and she so seldom sympathized. She remembered a grave young man, an
awkward man, one of those irritating people who were always judging
themselves, and had a logical reason for everything they did.
There are people who constantly seem to be standing aside to look
themselves down, superciliously, from head to foot. She wished more
than ever that she had not sent her telegram. But, unfortunately
for most of us, it is easy to say “Come,” and impossible to say
“Don’t.”

The only time she had met this cousin was on the occasion of those
Christmas festivities, when the house was full of guests. It was
a time on which she could not bear to dwell. For it was then that
Gerard--

She stopped suddenly when the thought of all this first rushed
back upon her. Since her illness it seemed as if the past had been
locked away in a cupboard with many partitions, where its several
incidents lay, not forgotten, but unrecalled. One by one, at the
touch of Chance, the various doors flew open, and some memory,
sweet or painful, would leap forth from a seeming nowhere into the
light.

She was out in the wood, on the windy March day, with Monk by her
side, and all around her the black tree-trunks streaked the sullen
sky. She realized that she was close to the spot where, on that
Christmas Eve two years ago, she had sunk to the ground in the
snow--the spot where Gerard had afterwards found her glove.

Why had Gerard fought that frantic duel? Otto had said that nobody
fought duels but desperadoes. And certainly, as far as Holland was
concerned, Otto must be accounted right.

Still, in this matter he had judged his brother harshly. Ursula
believed that the duel had been fought in defence of the national
flag, and she felt that, had she been a soldier, she would have
done the same.

Not in this matter only had Otto wronged a nature he could not
understand. Gerard, as their mother had said, was a sunbeam,
genially playing from flower to flower. He was a firebrand newly
lighted, that fizzes and crackles in its youth, before settling
down to a steady glow. Now that he was away in Acheen his good
qualities seemed all to stand out against the background of the
home that had lost him. She had known him all her life; all during
her long childhood, her long girlhood, he had been her playmate,
her companion--more than that, the bright Phœbus of her modest
horizon, her Prince--in his uniqueness--of Cavaliers. Everything
around her, in the Manor-house, in the neighborhood, was connected
with memories of joint pastimes and pranks. Ever since she could
toddle she had been very fond of Gerard, with the tranquil
affection of practised chums. But now he had fairly forgotten her.
In his frequent letters to his mother--letters full of tenderness
and rose-color--he never even sent a token of remembrance.
Stop--there had been that message the Baroness had declined to give
in the first letter after their common bereavement. Perhaps there
had been more. Ursula did not think so, for the Dowager gradually
communicated her darling’s epistles to every one, repeating and
rereading them in scraps. Had she not immediately let slip the very
message in question--“Gerard says he would have sold the place in
any case, so where’s the difference?”

Ursula sighed. Yes, after all, Otto was right. It couldn’t be
helped. Gerard’s letters never spoke of danger, but, through
others, news had reached Horstwyk that the Jonker had, on several
occasions, greatly distinguished himself. By-and-by he would come
back, “rangé,” and marry--marry a little money, and then--

Then her task would be done.

Meditating thus, she reached the very spot which she had determined
to avoid. A blackbird broke in, almost fiercely, upon her reverie,
and she looked around. In an instant there rose up before her the
meeting by the Manor-house on that Christmas morning, and again she
heard Gerard’s voice saying, as he bent over an old brown glove, “I
want you to let me keep this. It will be the most precious thing I
shall ever possess.”

The whistling wind struck her hot cheeks; the great dog beside her
leaped up, nose foremost, with vague, mute sympathy. She rushed
away from the horrible place, tearing her crape in unmindful haste,
hurrying to the open, the boundless heath, where the whole air was
in a ferment of conflicting currents, that caught her and buffeted
her, and flung her hither and thither amid a chorus of moans and
sobbings, barks, laughter, and shrieks.

When at last she paused for breath, in a lull, she saw that she was
not far from Klomp’s cottage. So she got under cover of the trees
again, and directed her footsteps to the little tumble-down house.
She had a weakness for Klomp. He was so signally “undeserving.”

By the door leaned Adeline, and at a glance each woman understood
that the other had recognized her.

“Klomp, here’s the Baroness!” cried Mejuffrouw Skiff, retreating
a little before the suddenness of an encounter she had hitherto
vainly sought.

“Wish her Nobleness a very good day for me,” replied an uncertain
voice from dingy depths unknown.

“Poor man, he’s asleep,” said Adeline, boldly. “Was it anything
particular you wanted with him, Mevrouw?”

Ursula smiled. “No, indeed,” she said. “On no account would I
disturb his well-earned rest.”

“Well-earned it is,” retorted Adeline, pertly. “His younger
daughter’s ill, and he’s been sitting up with her all night.”

Ursula’s manner changed. “Mietje? I am sorry to hear that. Can I
see her? What is the matter?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Nothing much, I fancy. You needn’t know what, I
suppose, as long as you send the regulation broth.”

Ursula turned away, almost eagerly. That she should meet this woman
now! She had lost sight of her and her story, gladly, for years.

“I suppose you don’t remember me, madame,” said Adeline, acidly.
She had noticed the quick movement of aversion.

“Oh yes, I remember you,” replied Ursula, standing still. “But
certainly I did not expect to find you here.”

“Yet what is more natural, Mevrouw the Baroness van Helmont, than
that I should come to have a look at my relations.”

“I did not know the Klomps were any relations of yours.”

“I did not mean the Klomps.”

The two women looked at each other.

“Well,” said Ursula, in measured tones, “I hope you are doing
better than you were. Good-morning.”

But again Adeline stopped her. “I am not doing well at all. As your
Nobleness so kindly takes an interest in my career, I should like
to explain my position, if your Nobleness would deign to listen.”

Suddenly the dog, Monk, who had been suspiciously watching the
frowzy stranger, broke into a fury of disparagement which no
commands from his mistress could quell. Adeline was horribly
frightened. With a very cowed manner she retreated behind the door,
but she shrieked from that place of safety that the matter was one
of the greatest importance.

Ursula, having compelled the growling dog’s obedience, with one
firm hand on his collar, called to the poor soul to come forth
again.

“Say your say,” she decreed, “and have done.”

“It’s only this,” whined Adeline, on the door-step: “I’m destitute,
deserted with my child, not knowing where to turn, and I’m Gerard
Helmont’s wife.”

She had calculated her foolish “coup;” she was aware that a wide
gulf yawned between Ursula and possible denial from Gerard.

“So it’s I,” she added, quickly, “who am the Baroness van Helmont,
though not of the Horst--_you_ know why; and all I ask is a few
hundred florins and to let me go in peace.”

“Do you mean to say,” queried Ursula, “that you claim to be Gerard
van Helmont’s legal wife?”

“Yes; and it was you that wanted him to marry me, so, in part, the
fault is yours,” responded Adeline, who enjoyed lies for the mere
telling, even when there was nothing to be gained. “Therefore,
give me a generous sum for Gerard’s child, and let me go. Why,
_everything_ ought to be his, the young Baron’s--all the wealth and
magnificence that you’ve got hold of, nobody knows how.”

And Adeline began to cry real drops. Men cannot yet manufacture
genuine diamonds. Women can.

But, notwithstanding her weeping, there was much spite, and even a
little menace, in her tone.

“Down, Monk, down!” said Ursula. “I shall not ask you for further
proof of your story, simply because I know it is not true. I wish
it were. I am fully conscious that you have a claim to be what you
say you are and are not. Could I help you to obtain its recognition
I would do so; but otherwise I can do nothing for you. I have
no money, and therefore can give you none. In a couple of years
perhaps there will be more at my disposal, and then, if things
remain unchanged, you may write to me, and I will do what I can for
your boy. That is all. Now you had better go away from here. Have
you understood me?”

“Give me twenty-five florins,” said Adeline.

[Illustration: “‘I SUPPOSE YOU DON’T REMEMBER ME, MADAME’”]

Ursula drew the straining dog towards her, and passed down the
narrow path. Half-way she hesitated.

“Oh, keep straight!” she burst out, pleadingly; “keep straight, for
the child’s sake. I’ll send you the twenty-five florins, if you
want them. Let me have your address in Drum, and I’ll try to find
you decent work. Oh, be an honest girl, for the love of God!”

“Send me the twenty-five florins,” said Adeline.

Ursula crept back into the wood; her eyes were full of tears.

“Oh, Gerard, Gerard!” she said; “this is _your_ work. God forgive
you for deserting her. No pure-hearted woman can.”



CHAPTER XXXIX

THE COUNSELLOR


As she emerged into the avenue Ursula noticed a figure in front
of her which she immediately recognized. It was walking at a
deliberate pace, a valise and an overcoat thrown over one arm. The
dog gave the alarm, and the figure looked round.

“Why did you not telegraph for the carriage?” thought Ursula.

The young man waited; his fresh-colored face shone out in the
all-pervading gloom.

Ursula wondered, as she drew nearer, what deliverance she expected
from this pink-eyed little innocent. He looked like a solemn
peach. How could she broach her unusual subject? Visible shyness
was not one of her qualities; but she smiled rather foolishly as
she walked, thought Theodore Helmont, and, for so recent a widow,
improperly.

“You have come up on foot from the station?” she cried. “I wish we
had known. Why didn’t you telegraph?”

“Telegrams are expensive,” replied the young man.

This sounded promising.

“I only got my leave this morning,” he continued. “I couldn’t let
you know, so I simply came.”

“Ah, you had to get leave?” said Ursula, her conscience smiting her.

“Yes; government officials always must. Most people must who work
for their bread. I am a post-office clerk.”

“I know, I know,” answered Ursula, hastily. “Of course I know,
_Cousin_ Helmont. Please put down your bag; it will be quite safe.
I will send one of the laborers to fetch it.”

“I can easily carry it myself,” he said, more courteously;
“I always do.” And, although this time he said nothing about
expenditure, she felt that he considered the tip.

After that the conversation lagged. Presently the young man said,
with much timidity:

“There is one thing I should greatly like, if you would be so very
kind. My mother is exceedingly anxious about railway travelling of
any sort, and she made me promise to let her know at once of my
safe arrival. They couldn’t telegraph at the station. Would there
be a possibility, perhaps, of forwarding a message?”

“Oh, certainly,” replied Ursula, demurely. “But--you
know--telegrams are expensive.”

Theodore’s pure eyes grew troubled.

“The matter is altogether different,” he said. “Perhaps, if you
will allow me to explain--”

Ursula burst out laughing.

“Certainly not,” she exclaimed. “What do you take me for? Of
course, I perfectly understand. The boy shall get ready at once.”

Theodore looked straight in front of him.

“I only wanted to say,” he went on, doggedly, “that my mother’s
anxiety is not irrational. She is quite unaccustomed to travelling
herself, and we have never been parted before.”

Ursula stood still on the Manor-house steps. “Never been parted
before!” she exclaimed. “Woe is me, what have I done?”

Theodore blushed in fresh waves of crimson. “Now you are laughing
at me,” he said, and his tone was distinctly annoyed. “You mustn’t
laugh at me. I am not at all accustomed to the society of ladies,
and if you laugh at me we shall not be able to get on.”

“No--no, I really meant it,” Ursula hastened to say. “I honestly
fear I have been exceedingly inconsiderate. I wish that your
mother had accompanied you.” (“Oh dear, no,” she reflected; “there
the expense comes in again!”) “But _you_ must not say you are
unaccustomed to the society of ladies--”

“My mother is not a lady like you,” he remarked, quickly.

“I am Ursula Rovers,” she replied--“the pastor’s daughter. I
remember Mevrouw van Helmont very well.”

       *       *       *       *       *

In the solitude of her dressing-room she wondered what would be
the next development of her devotion to Otto’s memory, and chid
herself for the ungracious thought. Then she went down to luncheon,
expecting to find her guest in a corner of the library turning over
picture-books. That was the only pose in which his former visit had
left him photographed on her brain.

To her astonishment, she heard him in earnest discussion with Aunt
Louisa. “My dear Ursula,” cried the latter lady, running forward,
“your cousin Van Helmont is a most interesting young man. I have
been telling him about European manners, and he most sagaciously
remarks that the best of manners is to have none. How delightfully
true!”

The subject of this outspoken eulogy did not seem at all abashed by
it; probably he was accustomed to his mother’s estimation of her
only son.

“Pardon me,” he calmly protested; “I was saying that I had read
that observation somewhere. I am not prepared to maintain that it
is absolutely correct.”

“Oh, what does it matter whose it is,” cried the Freule.
“Everything we say must have had its origin with some one, so
everything is really original. Now that never struck me before. How
new!”

“Yes,” replied Ursula. “Will you have a rissole?”

“Thank you, my dear. One more, please. Thank you. Personally, what
I most reprobate is the walking in line, like ducks. ‘Do as others
do.’ The Bible says, ‘Do as you would be done by’--a very different
thing. I hope, Mynheer Helmont, that you are unconventional, as I
know your father was.”

“I do not remember my father well,” answered Theodore, pondering
whether he could not get away that night.

“Oh, I never _met_ him,” said Louisa, just as the old Baroness
entered. The poor old lady, who would have said ‘J’ai failli
attendre’ in palmier days, now accorded all precedence to her
literary labors.

“My dear,” continued the Freule, addressing her, “this young man is
exceedingly interesting. I had forgotten him, but now I remember I
thought so the last time he was here. The best thing is to have no
manners. Now doesn’t he put that well?”

“I dare say he finds it convenient,” responded the Dowager. “How
do you do, Mynheer Helmont? I am very glad to see you. I wish you
would tell me when your father died?”

“It is seventeen years ago,” replied Helmont, wonderingly.

“Quite impossible. I feel sure you are more than sixteen.”

“I am twenty-four, but--”

“Mamma means ‘married,’ I believe,” suggested Ursula, gently.

“‘Married,’ that was what I said,” declared the Dowager, sharply.
“Ursula, my soup is cold again. Manners or no manners, young
man, you shouldn’t make fun of a woman old enough to be your
grandmother.”

“I disapprove of such early marriages!” exclaimed the Freule.
Ursula’s eyes and Theodore’s met. She burst out laughing, but he
looked uncomfortably grave. “After luncheon,” she said, “I must
take you round, Mynheer Helmont. It is no use showing you the
stables; we have only three horses left, and they are of the kind
that would better do their work unseen.”

He followed her obediently when they rose from table, and she
pretended to take an interest in the small sights she had to offer
her guest. The same can hardly be asserted of Theodore. He was
painfully silent while she “made conversation,” wondering all the
time in what way she should broach the one subject she cared to
speak about.

In this, however, he hastened to her assistance, for his patience
came to an end, while hers still hung on a thread. They were
standing in the palm-house, when he suddenly looked up at her--he
had some little height to look up--and asked,

“What did you want me for, please?”

She had been laughing about some of the gardener’s queer names for
the roses; her voice suddenly changed, and everything but pain died
out of it.

“I believe we are ruined,” she said, facing him, “and Otto made me
promise, if ever I wanted advice, I would appeal to you.”

He seemed still to listen, plucking at the nearest leaves, for a
moment after she had finished. Then he said, as if speaking to
himself,

“Well, I’m very glad, at any rate, that I didn’t ask a holiday for
nothing at all.” He glanced up at her anxious face. “Holidays are
very rare with us, you know,” he added, apologetically. “I couldn’t
soon get leave again.”

“Yet I don’t suppose you can help us,” continued Ursula,
relentlessly. “Nobody can.”

“When people get down as low as that,” replied the young clerk,
frigidly, “they can usually help themselves. I presume that,
however much money you may happen to possess, you want more. That,
I believe, is what people of your class call ‘being ruined.’”

She felt that he wronged her the more by this constant distinction,
after what she had said on the Manor-house steps. “I possess no
money at all,” she said, wroth with herself for the helpless
confession. “And in about a week’s time I must have three thousand
florins.”

“In other words,” he answered, with an angry wave of his short arm
round the greenhouse, “you _must_ spend thirty thousand florins
with an income of twenty-seven. Other people have an income of one
thousand, and spent _that_.”

“No,” she replied, “it is not that. We will say no more about it.
Come, let us walk on.”

“Pardon me. It takes one person to start a subject, but two to drop
it. Will you permit me to express myself plainly?”

“Oh, certainly. Dear me, Mynheer van Helmont, I had understood you
to say you were shy?”

“Again I beg your pardon. I can understand fun, and I can
understand earnest; but which is it to be?”

“I apprehend you. You do not recognize humor outside the comic
papers. You are like my father. _I_ laugh most at the dentist’s. It
is to be earnest, please.”

“The house is crowded with treasures. Sell one or two.”

“I cannot; they belong to my mother-in-law.”

“Do away with a carriage you can’t pay for, and go on foot.”

“I cannot. I keep a sort of boarding-house, and my two boarders pay
for the carriage, not I.”

“Eat dry bread instead of hot lunch.”

“And drive away the boarders! There, you see, I answer plainly,
too. Do you really imagine that if I could have solved my
difficulties by merely eating dry bread I would have troubled you,
a comparative stranger, to come all the way from Bois-le-Duc?”

“I don’t know. The women of ’93 could be guillotined, and willing,
but they couldn’t eat dry bread.”

However, his tone was gentler, and his manner less assured.

“Now will you let me, as we return to the house, explain how
matters really stand?” she said. He nodded silently, and under
the bare, sky-piercing oaks she softly told him the long story of
her father-in-law’s slow purchase and last testament, of Otto’s
life-work and dying charge, of her struggle to continue what they
had begun in expectation of better times. He listened, his boy-face
puckered up.

“It is your name, too,” she said, in conclusion, “your race, your
blood.” And she measured the little plebeian beside her.

“Yes,” he said.

“There it lies. And each rood that belonged to a Van Helmont four
hundred years ago belongs to a Van Helmont now.”

“It belongs to _you_,” he replied, quickly. “And afterwards?”

She faltered.

“It will never pass from my keeping till it passes to a Van
Helmont,” she said, “so help me God!”

In that moment even he could not press the point.

“You must give me time,” he said; “I have three days’ leave. Do
not let us mention the subject again till the day after to-morrow.
Meantime, I will have a look round and try to discover if you can
keep on, supposing the three thousand are found.”

“Thank you. But do you know about land?” She was just a little bit
piqued. “I assure you I am very slowly learning.”

“Oh, I know. My mother is a farmer’s daughter. I have always been
about with my uncle. If mother had given me my choice, I should
have been a common farmer myself.”

“A Van Helmont!”

“Pooh! That’s what mother said!”



CHAPTER XL

THE NEW BAILIFF


As ill-luck would have it, Helena wrote to announce her visit for
the last evening of Theodore’s stay at the Manor-house. She arrived
before dinner, bringing the unwilling Willie along with her.

An almost oppressive quiet had reigned in the mansion, only
rarely disturbed by the deep voice of Monk. The guest had spent
most of his time out-of-doors, returning occasionally to closet
himself with great memoranda and account books. Tante Louisa
complained bitterly that she got next to nothing of his interesting
conversation; Ursula anxiously fought shy of him; the Dowager,
unexpectedly meeting him in the hall, asked her _confidante_, the
cook, who he was.

“I shall stir them all up a bit,” said Helena to her husband in the
carriage. “I have seen them already once or twice since the event,
and you can’t go on looking lugubrious forever. Besides, I don’t
believe Ursula is inconsolable. I shall ask her.”

“No, you won’t,” said Willie.

“Willie, don’t put my back up, or you’ll make me do an unlady-like
thing.”

“You won’t ask her, because you can’t. I’d bet you a gold piece
that you wouldn’t dare.”

“You wouldn’t like me to dare.” Helena’s eyes strayed away through
the carriage window.

“Indeed I should. I like pluck of any kind. In a horse, or a woman,
or a dog.”

“Only not in a man!” exclaimed Helena, a little bitterly.

“In a man it goes without saying. By-the-bye, what atrocious brutes
these horses of Ursula’s are. I’ve an idea, Nellie, that she’s very
badly off.”

“All the more reason for her to console herself. A poor widow
remarries much sooner than a rich one, and with far less
opportunity.”

“’Tisn’t said that she’d better herself. If she marries she ought
to marry Gerard. It would be her bounden duty.”

“Thank you, for Gerard’s sake,” retorted Helena, now very bitterly
indeed. And they lapsed into silence. Was there really any prospect
of Ursula’s marrying Gerard? It was this question which had long
held Nellie van Troyen’s heart as in a vise, pinching it and
torturing it, and refusing to let it rest. It was this question
which now hunted her to the Horst. She was determined to see with
her own eyes how matters stood. “I shall find out,” she told
herself. “I must, even if I have to _ask_ her. To think of Willie’s
trumpery gold piece! It is horrible, all the suffering. But my life
is a beautiful romance.” She smiled, and reflectively arranged her
dress. “You like me, you know, Willie,” she said, “in pink.”

“Yes,” he replied, “though I don’t know why. Blue suits your fair
complexion better. But, somehow, I can’t bear to see you in blue.”

“I know why. Shall I tell you? It is because you have some
delightful memories connected with a creature in blue.”

“You are wrong,” he said, quite coolly. “It is because I have some
detestable memories connected with a creature in blue.”

“Oh, ‘delightful,’ ‘detestable,’ that is all one in such cases. So
you see, I was right. Here we are.”

“Well, shall we wager?” he asked, as he helped her to alight.

“If you like. But you are pretty sure of your gold piece, for I
certainly shall not trouble her unless she drives me to it.”

“So much the better. Don’t dare, and pay me.”

“Willie, I believe you would sell your soul for money,” she cried.

He laughed.

“No, no, not his soul,” she said to herself, half aloud, as she
climbed the great stone steps. “Only his body--only all he’s got to
sell!”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Dowager came forward to meet her niece, who had always been a
favorite with the old lady, and the only possible successor she
could consider with equanimity. “My dear, I am so glad you are
come,” she said, with a return of her vanished sprightliness. “Your
visits are like those of the angels. And the house is so dull.
Though certainly, at this moment, we have a guest.”

“A guest?”

“Oh, he is Ursula’s guest. One of the--the other Helmonts, that
nobody ever used to see. But these are the days of the bend
sinister. We have fallen on evil times.”

Helena stood taking off her wraps, the little old lady helping her.
“My dear,” began the latter, somewhat tremulously, “I wish you
would do me a kindness. I want you to come and stay with us for a
few days, and I will read you what I have written about the good
old past. I read it to Ursula, but she does not know what it is all
about. She is not one of us; it will interest _you_. There is a
great deal in it about your mother.”

“Yes?” said Helena. “Is it ready, aunt?”

“Ready, my dear? Oh dear no; how could it be ready? But I can show
you what I have done. Do you know, I begin to fear it will never be
ready!”--the Dowager’s voice nearly failed her. “To give me plenty
of time to write the memoir, your uncle ought to have died a great
many years ago.” Then, vaguely realizing that she had incorrectly
expressed her meaning, she began to cry with unmistakable
persistence.

“Hush, hush!” exclaimed Helena, in her most impulsive tones.
“Auntie, I shall be delighted to come; we will talk over the old
days, as you say, and all the fun I used to have with Gerard. But
would you not rather pay us a visit?” She drew the little lady’s
arm through her own. “I am so sorry. This is very hard for you--and
for Gerard--this about Ursula.”

“My dear, I thank you, but I cannot.”

The Dowager nestled confidentially against the silver-pink sleeve
of the fair creature beside her. They cooed over each other like a
pair of high-bred doves. “I dare not leave the house for a single
night. I have an idea that something would happen if I did. I am
the last of us all, and I am set here to watch. When Gerard comes
back--Helena, you do not think, do you, that they will really leave
it to her forever?”

“Poor auntie!” said Helena, softly stroking the transparent cheek.
“Poor auntie!”

“What I cannot understand is that _he_ doesn’t come and take it
away from her!” cried the Dowager, with sudden energy. “I wrote to
him to do so. Gerard never was a coward. But I fear that Louisa’s
explanation is correct.”

“What is Freule Louisa’s explanation?” questioned Helena, quickly.

“She says that Gerard is in love with Ursula, and always has been.
She says that _that_ is why he went to India. If what she says is
true, then Ursula has robbed me of both my sons.” And again the
poor, forlorn old woman began gently to whimper.

“Perhaps it is not true,” replied Helena, pensively. “Come, auntie,
let us sit in the window-seat and talk of Gerard. I suppose he will
be coming back before long.”

“I don’t know. I forget. Oh, Nellie, you don’t know how dreadful it
is to grow old and forget. I can’t find my words sometimes, though
I take care that nobody notices it. I feel that it would never do
for Ursula to discover that I have not all my wits about me. Who
knows what she might not do? _Sell the place, perhaps!_”--her voice
dropped to a whisper. “Imagine that! Or sell some of your uncle’s
dear art treasures that he bade me keep. She doesn’t care for them,
I know, for she never seems to see them even. I’ve watched her
constantly. Oh, Nellie, I’m set here as sentinel, and--my strength
is failing.”

Helena felt that, irrational as she knew the feeling to be, she
_could_ not but think ill of Ursula.

“I forgot one of the poor children’s birthdays last week,” wailed
the Baroness--she alluded to her dead infants that slept beneath
“The Devil’s Doll”--“and Ursula didn’t remind me to take any
flowers. I have never forgotten before.”

Ursula entered at the moment, tall and straight in her heavy gown.
To both the gracefully drooping women, whose soft clothes and
figures intermingled against the darkening window, her presence at
that moment seemed more than ever an insult.

“Shall we have lights?” she said, in her clear voice.

“Oh, in the drawing-room, pray,” replied her mother-in-law,
pettishly. “Mynheer van Helmont is gone in there. He was looking
for you.”

Ursula withdrew into an adjoining apartment. It was very large and
lofty, and the figures on its tapestried walls, half hidden under
the great masses of shadow now clouding around them, peered forth
in vaguely distorted gloom. Theodore was pacing the parqueted floor
with moody tramp. He came forward at once.

“I want you,” he said, hurriedly. “I must leave to-night. So we may
as well have our talk at once.”

“I am quite ready,” she answered. “I did not wish to press you.
Will half an hour suffice?”

“Ten minutes. Everything worth saying in this world by one human
being to another can be said in ten minutes. But I should like you
to sit down.”

“Very well,” she said. “No, not an easy-chair. Thanks.”

“I have looked into everything, superficially,” he began, resuming
his march in the dusk. “I must, in the first place, beg your pardon
for misjudging you all. I came here with false impressions. When
a man grows up, as I have done, in the bourgeois daily fight with
poverty, he is apt to form erroneous impressions of the life which
his ‘grand’ relations lead, especially when his impressions are
gained by hearsay. I beg your pardon.”

He paused for a moment; then, as she did not answer, he continued:

“In the second place I want to express my--my admi--my
_recognition_ of the way in which you have carried on your
husband’s work. Few women, I imagine, would have taken up such a
load or borne it so bravely. I didn’t like your sudden telegram. I
thought of the people who jump into the water and then call out to
strangers to save them. There! that’s off my mind. I am not good
at compliments or excuses. I’ve no manners, as Freule Louisa says.
Now to business.” His tone, which had been agitated, immediately
dropped to the habitual growl that masked his shyness.

“He reminds you,” Helena had said, when they met by the
Christmas-tree, “of a peach with a wasp inside.”

“The truth is as you stated,” he resumed; “nothing but hard work
can keep the whole thing going. A forced sale would mean ruin.
On the other hand, barring such extra expenses as death duties,
you ought, with rigid economy, to pay your way.” He paused for a
moment. “With rigid economy,” he repeated.

“I know,” said Ursula, softly.

“There is nothing so hopeless as farming without capital--you
know that better than I do. But the cherry orchards pay, and so,
especially, do the osier plantations. Without these latter you
could hardly get on. You have good tenants, on the whole. One of
them, however, will have to go.”

“I know,” said Ursula again, in the same tone, through the
darkness; “but he can’t.”

“He must. I see we understand each other--the home-farm man--your
sort of agent. I don’t say he is dishonest. Otto seems pretty well
to have stopped that--but he is expensive--you can’t afford him.”

“I cannot make cheese myself,” pleaded Ursula, a little helplessly,
for her. “I tried once, and nobody could eat it. It--it didn’t
stiffen.”

But her stern adviser vouchsafed no responsive smile.

“It’s a matter of life or death,” he said; “the work that fellow
does must be done by another man.”

“But where would you find a better?”

“I can’t find a better, but I can find a cheaper.”

“Have you got him?”

“Yes; I mean myself. Stop a minute--let me explain. I told you I
had always wanted to be a farmer”--his voice grew nervous again.
“I’m sick of being a genteel sort of manikin in a pot-hat. I’m
especially sick of the post-office. I’m going to take that farm and
work it.”

“But, Mynheer Helmont, this sudden decision--”

“It isn’t a sudden decision. It took twenty-four hours to come to,
and its twenty-four hours old already. I’ve announced it to my
mother.” He again made a pause, away at the farther, darkest end.
“Oh, I dare say you don’t like it,” he burst out; “I didn’t expect
you would. But it’s going to happen, all the same. To have as my
lady Baroness’s close neighbor a farmer bearing her name--”

“I was not thinking of that,” she interrupted him. “For, of course,
a gentleman-farmer--”

But he would not allow her to proceed.

“A gentleman-gammon!” he cried, still out of the distant darkness;
“a common, common farmer. Nothing in all the world--not even
drink--costs half as much as gentility. But, remember, if it isn’t
pleasant for you people, it’s a hundred times worse for my mother
and--” He broke off. “But she’ll do it,” he lamely concluded the
sentence.

Ursula rose and came up the big room to look for him.

“Sit down, please,” he said, hastily; “I haven’t done. Please sit
down till I’ve done. Women are such bad listeners!” She obeyed,
knocking the chair against something which crashed to the floor. “I
hope that isn’t anything expensive!” exclaimed Theodore, emerging
from his corner. His tone chid her as if she had been an awkward
child.

“It didn’t sound broken,” replied Ursula, meekly; “but I suppose
you object to my getting a light?”

For only answer he struck a match, revealing a cloisonné vase which
lay in a pool of water and a tangle of white anemones upon an
Oriental rug. The match flickered out.

“That’ll keep,” said Theodore, coolly. “I only want half a minute
more. There is still one point, the most important. The three
thousand florins we require next week will be found.”

“But how?” Ursula’s voice betrayed her.

“Oh, not picked up on the high-road. When I say ‘found,’ of course
I mean provided and paid for. _I_ shall provide them. You can
imagine that, poor as we are, we do not live on my salary only. As
a matter of fact, I possess about twenty-seven thousand florins;
I have looked so much into your private affairs that I suppose
you have a right, if you care, to know something of mine. Three
thousand, therefore, I will advance, if you can give me sufficient
security.”

“That is just what I cannot do.”

“That remains to be seen. Freule Louisa mentioned that you still
had a valuable diamond brooch.”

Ursula was thankful he could not see the hot flare of her
resentment.

“And do you think,” she said, scornfully, “that I would not have
sold _that_? But it isn’t mine to sell. It is an heirloom. I must
keep it, like the rest.”

“It is legally yours,” he replied, “and therefore you must _not_
keep it. Besides, I trust that you will be able to redeem it in the
slow course of the years. All ladies like diamonds. I promise to
take good care of yours. Bring the thing down before the carriage
starts. And now perhaps I had better ring for somebody with a
cloth.”

“Stop!” she cried; he had lighted another match and was looking for
the bell-rope. “Before you do that I want to say--”

“Don’t. I really do not think there is anything more to be said
just now.” He had found the bell and pulled it.

“But I do not want to do this. I do not want--”

“I know you don’t. Did not I tell you so? However, permit me to say
that I have as good a right to interfere in this matter as you. I
am quite as much of a Helmont--even a good deal more.” His voice
rolled out like the threat of a recoiling dog.

A female servant knocked and entered, letting in a flood of
light from the hall. She gazed with decorous astonishment at the
occupants of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Ursula,” said Willie, coming in with the others, “is it true that
you have let the shooting?”

“No; that was not one of my crimes,” replied Ursula, with a
petulant laugh. “Otto did it immediately after Gerard’s departure.”
Then her voice softened. “I believe it was the greatest sacrifice
he ever made. You know, he was such a splendid shot.”

“He was,” assented Willie, with that solemn admiration which no man
can suppress.

“But, Ursula, I remember you used to say you hated ‘splendid
shots’?” suggested Helena, looking back over the arm which still
supported the Dowager. They were passing in to dinner. Willie,
glancing up, saw mischief in his wife’s blue eye.

“They are better than stabs,” answered Ursula; and from that moment
it might be evident to any one that these two women meant war. It
would not, however, be the feminine skirmishing of intrigue and
innuendo, for Helena, as we know, was reckless, and Ursula blunt.

“I want to sit next to poor dear auntie,” said Helena, as they took
their places. “Mynheer van Helmont, I suppose _your_ habitual seat
is next to the lady of the house? Are you going to stay here long?”

“I have no habitual seat,” replied Theodore, awkwardly. “I leave
to-night. I am only a three days’ guest.”

“Yes; no one of your name could be anything else at the Horst now.
Not even the head of the house, away in Acheen.” She smiled sweetly
and turned to the Dowager.

Theodore was mortally afraid of this fine lady, all soft texture
and vague perfume, like a rose. But he found conversation
hardly easier with Ursula, in spite of the sullen admiration he
unwillingly accorded her.

“Your mother will be glad to have you back,” said Ursula.

“Yes, indeed,” he replied, fervently. “And I to go--back,” he
added, blushing.

“You know, it was impossible,” Helena’s voice rang out again.
“We are speaking of your uncle Mopius, Ursula. They have had to
withdraw his candidature. He is a very good sort of man--oh,
very good--but he is not what Freule Louisa calls ‘strong.’ Papa
tells me it is quite impossible, though I’m sure I worked hard
for him--didn’t I, Willie? Your uncle says it’s all _your_ doing,
Ursula. He was very rude about you to papa. I had to stop him, and
remind him you were become my cousin by marriage.”

“Indeed,” replied Ursula.

“Would you like to hear what he said?”

“I cannot say I care.”

“Well, as we are quite among ourselves, perhaps it is better you
should know. He said that your elevation had turned your head. You
know, Ursula, he is rather, rather--pardon me the word--vulgar!”

She had spoken French. The servant, by the sideboard, rattled his
plates.

“And he said your political opinions were deplorable. What are your
political opinions, Mynheer van Helmont?”

“Deplorable,” replied Theodore, with a ready championship which
astonished himself.

“Ah, you two are in close sympathy, I see. So much the better.” She
dropped her voice. “But is it not a strange thought to you, Mynheer
van Helmont, that this old place is now certain to pass, in due
time, to Ursula’s children, whatever their name may happen to be?”

“No,” replied Theodore; “it’s no business of mine.”

“Ah!” she exclaimed, angrily. “The Baron van Helmont thinks
differently, no doubt. Why, if Ursula has some seizure to-night, I
suppose we shall soon see a Lord Mopius of Horstwyk! Fie, Mynheer
van Helmont, this poor creature at my side has more spirit than
you.”

Ursula could not avoid hearing enough of this aside to understand
its meaning. She felt that everybody had heard it. Passionate
as she was, she fixed her eyes on the table-cloth. She remained
conscious that Helena, that everybody, even while the talk went on,
was watching her. At last she lifted them--those steadfast brown
eyes.

“It is six months to-day,” she said, “exactly six months. Only six
months since Otto and Baby died.” And she rose from the table.

“Ursula, you have forgotten the dessert,” cried Aunt Louisa,
lingering.

Ursula turned back.

“True,” she said. “I beg everybody’s pardon. Won’t you try some of
mamma’s preserved orange-leaves, Helena? You will find them as good
as ever.”

In the hall, just as the carriage had driven up which was to convey
the three visitors to the station, Ursula appeared with a small
parcel in her hand; she gave it to Theodore, who buttoned it out of
sight, without even saying “Thanks.”

“There is one thing still,” she began, hurriedly. “You heard about
the election. I had a letter yesterday from the Opposition Caucus,
asking me if I wished to put forward a candidate, or would accept
one from them. I have none. I have one. I mean, I had thought,
hearing what you said at dinner, that, if your political opinions
were theirs--”

“I have no political opinions,” he answered, moving away from the
sheltering pillar to the light where the others stood grouped.

She put out one hand. “I am sorry,” she stammered, trembling from
head to foot. “I had thought--it is the one only thing I could have
done to thank you--to express my gratitude--”

“I want no thanks,” he replied, literally shaking off her hand.
“Gratitude, pshaw! I told you a couple of hours ago that I have as
much right to do this as you have. I am not _all_ peasant, Mevrouw.
You remind me too frequently of that side.” And he went and took
up his own valise. “The servants forget these things,” he said to
Helena.

When they were all gone, Ursula crossed the cold emptiness of the
hall and encountered Hephzibah. The maid shrank away. “Hephzibah,
I want you to do me a favor,” said the young Baroness. “Would you
take this letter, when you go to the Parsonage to-morrow with the
Freule, and give it to a person who is staying at Klomp’s? Please
give it into her own hands. There is money in it.”

“H’m,” reflected Hephzibah, watching the tall figure in its slow
ascent. “Money in it. Is there? And why? Throw a barking dog a
bone.” She shook her head. “If I hear that noise up-stairs again,”
she muttered, “I’ll write to the Jonker, wife or not. But I’ve
said that so often before! And if the Jonker’s got a wife already,
what business had he wearing Mevrouw’s glove in his bosom and
duelling? I saw him pick it up. It’s a bad world, a bad world. But
I’m a blessed body to feel how bad it is. I told cook about the
groanings, though I didn’t explain their reason, so she only said I
ought to take medicine.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Well, Willie, I’ve lost my wager,” declared Helena, as soon as
they were rid of the “post-boy.”

“I don’t know about that, but pay up anyhow. You deserve to,
Nellie, for your treatment of Ursula. Poor thing, she behaved very
well, I thought. She’s quite lost that magnificent rich complexion
of hers. She looks sallow.”

“Oh, that will come right when she marries little Theodore,”
replied Helena, with tranquil satisfaction. “The person I am sorry
for is auntie. I’m sure I cried with her for nearly an hour.”



CHAPTER XLI

THUNDER IN THE TROPICS


The scene changes.

For one moment we look, with clearer eyes than the poor old
Dowager’s, across the cruel waste of waters into a very real
dreamland, and we see Gerard, Baron van Helmont, after two years of
weary waiting for glory, wearily waiting for glory still.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gerard van Helmont stood before his hut in the compound of the
little fort under his command on the Acheen River. All round him
trembled, with soft persistence, the thousand breathings of the
tropic night.

An hour ago it had flung itself, the sudden blackness, down the
slopes of the Barissan Mountains, and away across the green
islands of the Indian Ocean. It had fallen with the swiftness of
a blow, wiping out all the luxuriance of dreamy glories that lay
reposefully burning in endless variations of verdure under the
moist veil of paludal heat. The wide sea of tropical foliage that
laughed down the sides of the valley till within a few yards of
the river fort had sunk back from view like a swiftly receding
tide, and a living silence now brooded over these jungles a-quiver
with hate. The roar of the million frogs in the marshes had at
last ceased to beat against never-accustomed ears, and all the
other manifold murmurs and flutterings had died down to one dully
penetrative tone, whose ringing music, in its rhythmical rise and
fall, swelled upon the ear of the listener like the pulse-beat of
the world. Now and then the sudden howlings of distant wild dogs
broke out hideously, or the clattering shriek of the _tokkèh_
resounded from the woods. And throughout the long darkness came
the swish of the turbid water among its reeds and overhanging
branches, as it went playing around the masses of logs and rotten
refuse over which it quarrels day and night in slow pushings with
the sea.

Nature under the equator knows not even the semblance of rest. In
Northern countries she at least appears to sleep; here she sits
through the cooler hours on her couch listening.

Certainly there was no rest for Gerard van Helmont, or for any
Dutchman at that time in Acheen; there was only the tension of
expectant inactivity amid all-encompassing treachery, hundred-eyed
and hundred-handed. Barbaric murder lurked behind every tree and
behind every smiling face that bent in allegiance. For if an
Achinese stoop low before the Kafir it is with the idea, in rising,
of ripping him up.

Gerard in this small “Benting” had fifty men under his orders,
European and native fusileers. His nearest neighbors were
established about half a mile off in a similar intrenchment, a
certain number of these permanent camps having been constructed to
keep open the way to the sea, for the invading force had gone up
the valley into the interior.

The lanterns along the outer side of the wall had been lighted;
their yellow reflection created a circle of vaguely lessening
defence. Across this, into the dark tangle beyond the clearing,
peered solitary sentinels by their guns. A sergeant tramped past.
The night was starless and misty.

“Werda?” cried a sentry.

Something had moved, he thought, behind the glooming bushes.
Something always seemed to be moving--creeping forward through the
whispers of the forest, in the incessant alarm of guerilla night
attack.

“Nonsense, it’s too early,” said the sergeant. “Besides, we’re
quite safe now, here in these pacified districts. Keep a good
lookout, all the same.”

Gerard smiled, overhearing the concluding exhortation. He knew that
they were not safe--no, not for one moment. The friendly villagers
from the farther side of the marsh who had sold them victuals that
morning might even now be meditating a raid, one of those terrible
Achinese swoops and withdrawals, the hand-to-hand swarm up the
battlements--Allah il Allah!--On!

He lighted a cigarette, and wondered how many he still had left.
It was painfully lonely and humdrum and wearing. Danger becomes
humdrum; death can become humdrum, they say. Occasionally he
met his brother officer from the neighboring fort. Otherwise
not a white-faced Christian, except his own garrison, and the
commissariat people from the camp, at long intervals, with stores.

He was thinking--no, not of home. Soldiers--thank God!--do not
always think of home.

He was thinking of his men. One of them, an Amboinese, had
got himself killed that morning through sheer temerity and
disobedience. There were a couple of these insubordinates in the
Benting, who, wearying of inaction, had broken out once before on
the spree--that is to say, on the hunt for a grinning, long-haired
devil with a klewang. He had punished them, of course, but at
daybreak this morning Adja had slipped away alone, and had fallen
into the hands of friendly Achinese. Gerard knew what that meant.
Death by the most prolonged of cruelties, a slow chopping away of
all parts except such as keep life extant. He sighed as he thought
of the poor fellow’s fate, and the inevitable reprisals, and all
the official bother and blame.

And he reflected on certain instructions issued not long ago. The
army, whose women and children were daily exposed to fiendish
barbarities, had been reminded that every Achinese was a man and a
brother, and must be treated as such. Kindness to prisoners (even
if they owned to having boiled your envoy); kindness to villagers
(even if they potted you as you passed their houses)--these were
of the elements of Christian warfare. It was quite true. And,
moreover, the good people at home that write, in their slippers, to
the newspapers never pardoned an act of cruelty, unless practised
by the foe.

“I must speak to the other fellow, I suppose,” said Gerard. “I
wonder how he takes it? Sergeant, send Popa along,” and he passed
into his hut, that the interview might seem more imposing under
the yellow glare of the lamp. The hut certainly had nothing
impressive about it, with its bamboo walls and uneven furniture.
There was a small rug by the bed, a red blot on the planks which
alone distinguished this abode from the mud-floored homes of the
soldiery. And two or three of the articles scattered about bespoke
the refinement of their owner.

Popa presented himself, a lithe little fellow, brown and fierce. He
saluted.

“Popa, you know what has happened to Adja?”

“Tjingtjang, Lieutenant,” replied Popa, saluting again.[L]

“You may be thankful that you didn’t accompany him this time. If
you had--” He paused, and looked at the man.

“Perhaps--forgive me that I say it--we should not have been caught,
Lieutenant.”

“In that case your punishment would have awaited you here. You
understand that _any_ attempt at insubordination will henceforth be
repressed with the utmost severity. I _will_ not have it. You can
go.”

Popa saluted again, and tripped off. His heart was hot within him
for the loss of his comrade.

“They call us ‘tiger-faces,’” he reflected; “they will call us
‘tiger-tails.’”

“A splendid fighter,” said Gerard, aloud, “like so many of these
Amboinese. And nothing to be gained but death or unrecorded glory.
God forgive the worthies at home, who care for no man’s soul or
body as long as consols remain at par! If some of us didn’t love
fighting for its own mad sake (which I certainly don’t) where would
their Excellencies’ consols be?”

Then he lighted another cigarette, and once more told himself that
really this time he must count his store. So he would--to-morrow.

He threw himself in his single rocking-chair and yawned. What
should he do the live-long evening? What had he done through the
creeping weeks and months? What could one do? It was the emptiness
which tormented him--the not doing anything: he wanted to be
with the invaders on ahead. He groaned over this misfortune for
the five-hundredth time. Otherwise, Acheen was not half a bad
place--much more spacious and much more _mouvementé_ than Holland.
Of course it was always horribly hot, and here where he lay, by the
marsh, it was even especially unhealthy. Everybody sickened. But
then, on the other hand, there were no duns. Gerard looked down at
his lean, yellow fingers. Yes, he had altered.

But what matter? Who cared? Only he wished he had had something to
show for it. He felt that the Home Government may send you to kill
savages, but they ought to provide plenty of savages for you to
kill.

In the military club at Kotta Radja he was popular. He would always
be popular with brave men anywhere because of his unpretending
unselfishness. And many of his comrades liked a fellow who was
Baron van Helmont, you know, by George! and he never seems to
remember, though, somehow, you never forget.

He devoutly wished himself in the club at this moment. They would
be playing, and there would be unlimited tobacco.

“Werda?” He leaped to his feet. A swift brightness swept across the
gloom outside. A signal rang clear. At his cabin door a sergeant
met him.

“Friends, Lieutenant,” said the man.

Under the protection of a suddenly uplifted fire-ball, half a
dozen soldiers in dark uniform were seen approaching the Benting,
whistling a signal as they came. Gerard recognized a party from the
neighboring fort, his companion in exile at their head. Greatly
surprised, he went down to the gate.

“You, Streeling!” he cried. “What, in the name of mischief, brings
you here? That light of yours will rouse the neighborhood.”

“Put it out, somebody,” said the new-comer. “I only fired it as
we emerged from the wood. I felt no desire to test your sentries,
thanks.”

“Well, what have you come for?”

“And why shouldn’t I take my walks abroad in the cool of the
evening? Isn’t this the pacified zone?”

Gerard’s brother-commander was a facetious little man, melancholy
by nature, and with a melancholy history, which he kept to himself.

“Let’s go into your hut and I’ll tell you,” he said. “Have you
anything left to drink?”

“Only brandy.”

“Lucky fellow to have plenty of spirits still!” He settled himself,
by right of sodality, in the rocking-chair, the proprietor of the
shanty crouching on the bed.

“It’s just this,” began Streeling, with suppressed excitement.
“Krayveld’s turned up at my place from the ships with important
despatches. The steam-launch can’t get any farther to-night, and he
says they must be taken on to the front, in any case, at once. It
appears they’ve big plans for to-morrow up yonder.” He jerked his
head in the direction of his hopes.

“Yes,” said Gerard, and his downcast eyelids twitched.

“His orders are that one of us is to take them on by road, and that
_he_ is to remain in command for the man that goes. He doesn’t know
the road, you know--what there is of it, damn it!”

“Yes,” replied Gerard, continuing the close study of his
cigarette-point. “_Which_ is to take them on?”

“There’s the nuisance. The ‘Vice’ has left that to us to settle.
Didn’t know which had least fever, you know. But one of us may go.”

“Yes,” repeated Gerard, with a sigh; “I suppose it must be you.”

“I suppose it must,” admitted the little man, echoing the sigh.
“I’m the oldest, you see. It’s risky work. You’re as likely as not
to get hashed into mince-meat by some of those klewang brutes. Save
us from our friends, say I!”

“True, I hadn’t thought of the risk,” replied Gerard, with much
alacrity. “I’ll go, if you like. In fact, you know, I think it had
better be I.”

“Why? Nonsense. You were awfully seedy when I was over here last
week. And it strikes me you’re looking pale to-day. The miasma’ll
be murderous at this time of night round by the second swamp.”

“Yes,” said Gerard again, endeavoring to improve the lamplight.
“How long is it--did you say--since your fever went?”

The other did not answer immediately, and in the silence that
ensued Gerard let fall one word from the tips of his lips:

“Humbug!”

“Humbug, am I? And what are you? Yah!”

The two men looked at each other.

“Well, then, if it must be, it must be,” said Streeling,
submissively; “I don’t want to spoil your chances, old man. Let’s
draw lots.”

“You _are_ the eldest,” admitted Gerard. “Thanks.”

“The eldest ought to remain in command,” replied Streeling, with a
grin. “But I’ll tell you what--we’ll sit by the doorway, and if the
first man that passes is a native, it’s yours. That’ll give me the
odds, for you’ve got more Europeans.”

“Done,” said Gerard, and they waited near the dark entry in
silence, puffing.

Presently Popa came by.

“Damn my luck!” ejaculated the little officer, with great energy,
somewhere deep down in his throat. He got up. “Well, it’s fairly
earned, and I wish you joy. I hope you’ll have a chance to-morrow
of getting near the blackguards. Meanwhile I must make myself as
comfortable as I can.”

“Oh, as likely as not you’ll see me back before breakfast
to-morrow. However, if there’s a fight on, of course I shall ask
leave to stay.”

“Of course. Well, here are the despatches. And--by Jove! Helmont,
I beg your pardon--here are your letters that Krayveld brought up
with him. I quite forgot, thinking of other things. Well, I wish
you joy, that’s all I can say.”

“Thanks. I suppose I had better be getting ready.”

“How many men will you take? Half a dozen?”

“A sergeant and six fusileers. I shall let the men volunteer.
But I want a couple of natives for the sake of their ears and
eyes.” Gerard went out and set to work at once, selecting the best
men from among a swarm of candidates. Half an hour afterwards
everything was ready; the eight dark figures filed through the
purposely darkened gateway: who could say what eyes might be
watching, alarmed by Streeling’s sudden blaze? Gerard came first,
with the sergeant, their loaded revolvers in their hands. Popa
brought up the rear.

Gerard reflected that he owed his good-fortune to Popa’s opportune
appearance. “Well, I’ll take you,” he said. “You’re in want of
something to cheer you up. But none of your pranks, mind.”

Popa saluted.

A clearing, as has been said, surrounded the Benting; immediately
beyond that, however, the party plunged into the forest, and were
obliged to advance along the narrow path in single file. They had
about two miles to go.

The night hung heavy in the enormous trees and among the tangled
masses of underwood. Stars there were none, and the air seemed to
be full of gray floatings that veiled its usual transparency. So
much the better.

It was very silent now. The whole line of them went creeping
forward, with eyes to right and left, everywhere alert, every
footstep hushed, as the dim trunks loomed through the darkness in
continuous clumps. It was the custom of the Achinese to lurk by
these pathways day and night, waiting with infinite patience for
the rare chance of killing a single foe. At any moment their shriek
might burst forth and their scimitars might flash. The air all
around was full of indistinct movement, soft and sultry under the
palms and waringin-trees.

“’St! What was that?” They all stood as granite, finger on trigger.
Only some faint breath high above them touching the never-silent
tjimaras.

“Confound them tjimaras, sir!” whispers the sergeant. “They’re
every bit as bad, sir, as women’s tongues.”

“’St! Forward.” Every now and then Gerard halts and listens; his
thoughts are of the precious packet sleeping on his breast.

In fact, it was madness, this night excursion along the most
uncertain of foot-paths. Why couldn’t they send up their despatches
earlier?

Krayveld had answered that they couldn’t send them before they got
them. Gerard shrugged his shoulders in the dark. Despatches _from_
Government were hardly likely, he thought, to be worth a single
soldier’s life.

With a feeling of very real relief he reached the rice-fields
beyond the wood. He stopped and counted his men. Rear-guard there
all right? Forward. Who’s that making his poniard click?

Far in the distance, miles away, lay a couple of sleeping villages;
those nearest had been razed to the ground; some brute was howling
among the ruins. From the fort rang the beat of the hour, as struck
by a sentry on a wooden block, breaking across the solitude with
terrifying distinctness. Eleven.

Beyond the rice-fields, through the tall, still grass, and by the
sickening marshes, with their reeds and sleeping water-fowl, then
up again into the great forest, darkling, dangerous. Into the
depths of the forest, deeper, deeper.

“Hist!” In a moment the men had formed round their leader, for the
noise of crackling branches resounded in every ear. Again.

The enemy was upon them!

“Kalong. Kalong,” said one of the Amboinese.

“It’s the big bats, sir, out feeding,” echoed the sergeant.

“I know,” replied Gerard. “What’s all this row about? Single
file. We shall have to be doubly careful.” And on they went, with
that occasional breaking of twigs around them that was infinitely
worse than the silence had been. It would now prove impossible
immediately to distinguish an approaching assassin. The darkness
seemed to thicken, as with a flood of ink.

At last they once more stood outside the jungle. Before them,
with an open space intervening, lay the camp, black against the
darkness of the plain. All around stretched the rapid ruin of a
roughly widened clearing; the smell of roots and rotting plants and
freshly-hewn logs was almost insupportable. It would have signalled
the camp from afar. Every one who has slept in these clearings
knows the odor. From time to time a rocket went up in silence,
piloting the patrols.

“Halt!” said Gerard. “What’s wrong behind?”

“Rear man missing, sir.”

He turned sharply. “Impossible!” No one ventured to contradict him,
but their silence did not alter the fact that Popa had dropped away.

“We must go back,” said Gerard. “He must have fallen. How did you
not notice?”

“Please, Lieutenant, it was the crackling. I thought it was the
Kalongs.”

They retraced their steps in glum anxiety, and searched back into
the forest for nearly half a mile. At last Gerard dared go no
farther; already his military conscience pricked him. The military
conscience almost always pricks.

“I must take on the despatches,” he said. “After that we can see. I
don’t understand at all. He can’t have fallen. You, Drok, surely we
have gone far enough?”

“We have gone too far, Lieutenant,” replied the man in an
awe-struck whisper. “I saw him farther on than this.”

“Very well; it can’t be helped. Forward.” In grave procession the
little party reached the camp.

       *       *       *       *       *

Having delivered up his despatches, Helmont asked first for
leave to stay and see to-morrow’s operations, and secondly for a
search-party to hunt up his missing man. It cannot be said that the
Colonel jumped at the latter proposal.

The next day was to be an important one, and he wanted every soul
that could to get a decent sleep.

“Depend upon it,” he said, “the fellow has been cut down by a
marauder. They always cut down the last of the troop.”

“Yes, but I should like to find that marauder,” replied Gerard, “or
the corpse. May I go back with my own men?”

“Oh, certainly,” said the commanding officer, a little testily.
“You may go back all the way, if you like. Good-night.”

So the little troop slipped away from the encampment and back into
the jungle again. They all considered it hard lines, but entirely
unavoidable. And they peered the more closely into the dark.

Presently one of the native soldiers stopped on a slope and
pointed to the bush close behind him. None of the Europeans could
distinguish anything.

“Man gone down here,” he said; “there’s a track.” He knelt and
began cautiously feeling along the ground. “Lieutenant, there’s a
man gone down here,” he repeated; “gone into the Aleh-Aleh (the
long grass); you could see if it wasn’t so black.”

A path of any kind there certainly was not; still, Gerard consented
to reconnoitre a short distance, cautiously following the trail.

It turned abruptly, and after a few steps which rendered them clear
of the trees, the little party stood enclosed in tall green spikes
on every hand.

“’Tis along here to the right,” persisted the fusileer. Here, at
least, the dark sky hung free above them, and the air was fresher
than in the wood. Gerard hesitated. “We shall lose ourselves,” he
said. But even as he spoke a faint purl of human voices reached
them, evidently coming from some distance farther on down below.
For a moment they crouched, with straining ears. Then “Forward,”
said their leader, and they slunk through the labyrinth, with
constant precaution lest any weapon should catch, pausing to
hearken, seeking the sound.

Their pulses quickened as they realized that it was drawing
nearer. After a slow descent, which seemed wellnigh endless, they
could even distinguish a flow of sound in suppressed but eager
torrent. It was impossible to distinguish words, yet suddenly each
man’s heart asked the self-same, silent question: Why were these
Achinese marauders, with whom they were on the point of colliding,
conversing in _Malay_? The voice ceased.

The Aleh-Aleh broke off unexpectedly on the ridge of a steep
incline. Gerard, slipping forward, sprang back under shelter, not a
moment too soon. In the sudden opening he had descried above them,
a little to the right, as the fusileer had foretold, a dozen of the
enemy grouped on a narrow, bamboo-protected ledge round a tiny,
low-burning lamp. Cautiously he now peeped forth, and by the feeble
flicker recognized the wretched Popa, bound and stripped to the
waist, in the centre of the group.

“There,” he said, pointing. “Forward.” Slipping and crawling along
the edge, so as to keep clear of the swish of the grass, the men
followed him up. Under them the abyss fell straight.

On the skirts of the little plateau they stopped. They could now
plainly perceive that Popa had a gaping klewang wound across his
shoulder. What feeble light there was had been turned full upon
the prisoner, the wild forms of his captors sinking away into the
darkness. They have been arguing with him, reflected Gerard, trying
to induce him, by the usual horrible threats, to desert. Judging by
the man’s countenance, they had now accorded him time to consider.

Even while his comrades stood watching, waiting--to shoot were to
imperil the central figure--the allotted moments must have run
themselves out. One of the Achinese sprang to his feet, his big
gold button twinkling, and with a hideous flash of his scimitar
across the dilating stare of the soldiery, he swept off one of the
prisoner’s ears. Another started up with a similar movement, but
before he could fling himself forward a shrill chorus of shrieks
overflowed on all sides. Somehow, he can never tell how, Gerard was
up on the ledge, in the midst of them; Popa’s assailant had fallen,
shot through the breast; a dozen distorted, yelling faces were
seething around the drawn sword of the “Wolanda.”

Thirty seconds, swift, interminable, an unbroken clash of steel
through the smoke and crash of the bullets--thirty seconds
intervened before his soldiers, getting up to him, plunged fiercely
forward, with bayonet and poniard, into the indistinguishable mass.
The little lamp had immediately rolled over; the solemn darkness
shook with a turmoil of oaths and outcries rising high above the
clang of the fighting and the thud of the fallen. In a moment it
was all over. Yet the trembling air still seemed to listen among
the sudden silence of the tall tjimara-trees.

A heavy groan shuddered slowly forth. Then another. And again
another in a different voice.

Gerard struck a match and lighted a pocket-lantern. Of his seven
men, three, including Popa, still stood upright; a fourth rose,
stumbling, from the dark confusion on the ground. Of the three
remaining, two were already dead (one decapitated), and the third
lay unconscious. Not one of the Achinese was able to continue the
fray.

“Hurry up,” said Gerard, cutting Popa’s bonds. “No, I’m not
wounded; it’s nothing but a scratch. We’re quite near the camp; the
least hurt must help the others.”

The tomtom, the enemy’s well-known alarm, came thumping down the
valley, re-echoed on every side from twenty watchful hiding-places.

“Hurry up for your lives!” cried Gerard. In shamefaced silence Popa
pointed to an easier track. Slowly and laboriously the two badly
wounded were passed down by the others; the trail was followed back
again; the foot-path was reached. Near the entrance to the wood a
patrol met them, sent out on the report of the firing.

“And you, Popa, speak,” said Gerard, after the tension was over.

“It is my crime, Lieutenant; the fault be on my head. I observed
the trail as we went by; my thoughts were heavy for the murdered
Adja. I wandered down it a few steps in my curiosity, knowing I
could soon rejoin you. Suddenly one struck at me from the darkness
through the grass.”

“And why did they not come after us?” questioned Gerard.

“You were gone on, up above; the grass is high. There were two of
them only; I was alone, marauding.”

“You shall be shot to-morrow,” said Gerard.

“Lieutenant, it is right.”

       *       *       *       *       *

But on the morrow nobody had any time to think of shooting Popa.
At a very early hour, in the dewy silence of sunrise, the gates of
the fortified camp were thrown back, and the stream of soldiers,
solemnly emerging, went curling down into the rice-fields, with a
long glitter of guns. All eyes were fixed on the farther frontier
of forest, where stretched, half-hidden, the low, sullen line of
the enemy’s defence. A couple of advance forts, whose small cannon
were proving especially troublesome, had been marked out for
the morning’s attack. Of late these operations had been greatly
restricted, and the men now sent out accepted gratefully a
possibility of painless death. For the shadow of cholera lay lurid
upon the camp.

Gerard was indeed in luck, as Streeling had said, after all these
wistfully patient months. He had taken a sick man’s place, and was
acting as a (mounted) captain.

In the slow splendor of the burning daybreak, across that vast
expanse of increasing sun, the “right half of the seventeenth
battalion,” separating from the main body, advanced with half
a company of sappers, under cover of artillery, against the
fortifications of Lariboe. They were barely within range when
the enemy opened fire from his lilas or little cannon, almost
immediately backing up the discharge with the flat bang of numerous
blunderbusses and the rarer whistle of the breech-loader. The roar
of his resistance now became continuous, and soon his intrenchments
ran like a torrent of flame under rapidly thickening clouds.

At a distance of some two hundred and fifty paces the troops
halted, momentarily, to send back a volley in reply. Then on they
went again, silently filling up the gaps in their ranks, while,
after the custom of Eastern warfare, a hailstorm of curses and
abusive epithets now mingled with the deadlier missiles that poured
into their midst. At fifty paces the order was given to charge.

The men, rushing forward to their special point of attack, found
themselves arrested by an outer hedge of thick bamboo bushes,
with a broad border of bamboo spikes. Once close up against this
position they were somewhat more sheltered from the fire of the
central line, and, moreover, protected by the artillery behind
them; but the garrison of the fort did not leave them one moment
unharassed. They were now compelled to unsheathe their knives, and,
with the aid of the sappers, they began calmly carving a passage
through the dense obstruction of the bamboos.

A few terrible minutes elapsed. Some of the soldiers, cut by the
spikes, flung themselves in furious effort against this living
wall; others recoiled for a moment, disheartened by the groans
of the wounded around them, feeling hopelessly arrested between
advance and retreat. Then, as death still continued to blaze
down upon them, amid the taunts of the enemy, they rushed bravely
to their task again, cheered by their officers, who well knew the
strain of such an obstinate impediment. Every moment of delay was
calamitous. Through an opening the fort became visible, lying well
back behind a field, its ramparts vaguely crowded with brightly
turbaned heads. And half-way between hedge and fort rose insolently
the banner of Acheen’s Sultan, with its crescent and klewangs, over
a stuffed doll, intended for a caricature of the idolized Dutch
General, ignominiously hanging by the feet.

[Illustration: “THEY BEGAN CALMLY CARVING A PASSAGE THROUGH THE
DENSE OBSTRUCTION”]

Not one man who was there but will remember with what a fury of
reprisal this childish insult filled our breasts. Amid shouts
of execration the attack on the breach was renewed; but at that
moment, above the hacking and swearing, a dark mass, rushing
swiftly from the background, rose mighty in mid-air, and at one
leap--grown historic--Helmont’s horse cleared spikes, soldiers, and
bamboos, and landed serenely on the farther side. Then, galloping
up to the derisive effigy, Helmont rapidly cut it loose, bringing
down the enemy’s flag along with it, and, flinging the colors
of Acheen across his revolver, he fired through them five swift
barrels at the clustering turbans which were concentrating their
aim on this unexpected target. Then, holding the image superbly
aloft, he began backing his horse--all in one exquisite instant of
time--and fell heavily, horse, rider, and effigy rolling together
amid a sudden rush of blood. Before and behind rose a mingling
yell as of wild beasts wounded. A little brown Amboinese, his
clothes and limbs torn and ensanguined, ran forward, having fought
his way first through the aperture, and flung himself as a screen
across the prostrate officer. Only a moment longer and the whole
lot of them, with faces distorted and uniforms disordered, came
pouring over the field under a fierce increase of projectiles. They
swept upward in the madness of the storm, the brief pandemonium
of shouts, shrieks, and imprecations, the whirlwind of firing and
fighting, in a mystery of dust and smoke. And a cheer, leaping
high above that hell, leaping high with a human note of gladness,
announced that the fort had been carried, that victory was won. Up
with our own orange rag on the summit! Hark to the shrill blare of
the bugle! Hurrah!

They disengaged Helmont from his dying charger and carried him away
to the ambulance. In undressing him, cutting loose the clothes, the
doctor came on his parcel of letters, and, a moment afterwards,
on an old brown glove. The left hand still firmly clutched the
hideously grinning doll. Popa would permit no one to force the
fingers asunder--Popa, who, in spite of his shoulder-wound, had
obtained leave that morning to get himself killed by the enemy if
he could, and who certainly had done his best. The doctor gently
put aside the relic and the opened letters. Gerard had still read
them the night before. There had been one more, which he had read
twice over, and had then burned carefully and ground to dust.

“Helmont,” cried the purple Colonel, hurriedly, stooping low by the
young man’s unconscious ear. “Can’t you understand what I’m saying?
I’ve only a moment. It’s the Military Cross. Gentlemen, surely that
should call him to life again. Helmont, I swear, by the heavens
above us, it’s bound to be the Military Cross!”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Dowager looked up from her placid embroidery and smiled to
Plush. Beyond the great gray window the sleepy twilight was softly
sinking back into an unbroken veil of mist. “What a dull drab day
it has been!” said the Dowager. “I wonder--” But she left her
sentence unfinished. And the folds of the curtain hung dense. For
an Angel of Mercy has drawn it across our horizon.

FOOTNOTE:

[L] Achinese torture. The Dutch soldier says, “Lieutenant,” etc.



CHAPTER XLII

THE FINGER OF SCORN


It was quite true that the days at the Horst were drab-colored.
They seemed to be that even all through the long and brilliant
summer, and their darkening could hardly be called perceptible
when the northern sun sank from sight for seven slow months.
Time appeared to lower over the house with the dumb threat of an
approaching thunder-storm. And some people are fretful before a
thunder-storm; and some hold their breaths.

The Bois-le-Duc Helmonts were settled at the Home Farm. The
tranquil mother had said: Oh yes; she still knew how to milk cows;
it would really be rather amusing! And she had spread her fat hands
on her ample lap and smiled her good-natured smile. But Theodore
had frowned. “Leave the cow-milking,” he had said, bitterly, “to
the Baroness Ursula.” As soon as he got away from Ursula he felt
that he hated her.

His temper did not improve during the first year of his new
occupation. Work as he would--night and day--he could not make up
for initial mistakes, nor could he victoriously combat increasing
agricultural depression. The dispossessed farm-steward successfully
harassed him on every hand. If Otto, the lord of the manor, had
made himself unpopular by putting down abuses, what must be the
fate of this stranger, with his perky, boyish face? The whole
neighborhood, for miles round, was full of people with grievances,
some deep down, of Otto’s inflicting, others freshly bleeding under
Ursula’s hand. And a low tide of resentment was secretly swelling
under smooth water against My Lady Nobody.

Ugly stories began to be told about her, diligently propagated
by Meerman, the discarded agent. As if all her administrative
sins were not sufficient, accusations had lately cropped up which
appealed far more vividly to the popular imagination. Substantial
housewives whispered behind her back “Fie! fie!” and young fellows
winked to each other, grinning. No one knew whence these stories
had suddenly sprung, but everybody had heard them. A patient
inquirer might, perhaps, have traced their origin to Klomp’s
cottage in the wood.

When they first reached the ear of the village constable that
worthy portentously shook his head. It was in the tavern parlor
of Horstwyk, where the lesser notables sat nightly, pipe in hand,
waiting for each other to speak. The village constable was a great
man, chiefly because he managed to keep clear of animosities, and
his opinion carried weight. Every man present, leering up at him
in the peculiar, deliberate peasant way, felt that he knew more
than he deemed it wise to acknowledge, and they all approved his
prudence. But nothing could more resistlessly have condemned the
Lady of the Manor. The Law--mysterious Weigher of all men in secret
balances--_knew_.

“There’s something written up against her,” they reflected,
awe-struck. Juffers, the constable, merely said:

“The Lady Baroness is a very charitable lady. I wish you all
good-night.”

He shook his head to himself all the way home, and in passing
a particular spot, by a great elm-tree, on the road near the
Manor-house, he flashed his dark-lantern across the ground, as if
struck by a sudden doubt.

Just then--some two years after Otto’s death--there were plenty of
rumors afloat to interest the village cronies. Quite recently lazy,
good-for-nothing Pietje Klomp had come to grief, “as everybody had
always expected she would,” in the usual “good-for-nothing” manner.
Strangely enough, her equally lazy and worthless father had driven
her forth from under his roof with unexpected energy--an abundance
of oaths and blows--when, confident in his oft-proven affection,
she ventured to confess her now hopeless disgrace. After half a
night of hail and snow in the wood she had crept back to obtain
admittance from the pitiful Mietje, but next morning her inflexible
parent had once more turned her adrift. She had watched for
an opportunity while he dozed, and then quietly slipped to her
accustomed seat. During several days this singular duel had lasted,
and ultimately, of course, the woman’s persistence had triumphed.
Klomp only ejected the girl when he had to get up, anyhow. As long,
therefore, as he remained on his bench by the stove she was safe.
And Mietje, tearfully exerting herself, took care to anticipate all
her father’s few wishes--for coffee, fuel, last week’s newspaper,
_et cetera_--and to keep him “immobilized” during a great part of
the day. He was not unwilling, provided he could scowl at Pietje in
the pauses of his almost continuous snore.

[Illustration: “SUBSTANTIAL HOUSEWIVES WHISPERED BEHIND HER BACK,
‘FIE! FIE!’”]

Ursula, of course, heard from Freule Louisa what Freule Louisa had
heard from her maid. So Ursula called to see the criminal. She had
compromised with the ladies of her household, and only went to
visit such patients as the doctor had certified free from any risk
of infection. The village, knowing this, wrote her down a coward.

“May I come in?” asked Ursula at Klomp’s door.

No answer; for the door was locked, Klomp would not stir to open
it, and Pietje dared not pass near her father. She cowered in her
corner, stiller than any scratchy mouse.

Ursula rattled the lock in vain. Then she peeped through the
window, darkening its dirt, and saw Pietje’s woful eyes staring out
of the gloom from the floor. With the resolute movement she herself
delighted in, she thrust up the low window from outside and stepped
over the sill.

“Would you shut it, please, m’m, now you’re _in_?” said Klomp’s
sleepy voice.

Ursula sat down in the middle of the room, facing Pietje’s dark
corner.

“I’ve come to see _you_,” she said, very severely.

She could not help herself. She knew that it was every right-minded
woman’s duty under these circumstances to be very, very severe.

Pietje moved a little uneasily, but did not rise. So, without
delay, Ursula began her lecture. It was very conscientious and
rather long, and all quite true and exceedingly severe. After
the opening sentences Pietje’s head bent low, and about mid-way
she began to cry. She had not cried much during the scenes with
her father, and tears now seemed to come to her as a pleasurable
relief. Entering into the spirit of the thing, she cried so very
loud that Ursula’s lecture had to come to an abrupt conclusion,
tailless, like a Manx cat. In how far Pietje calculated on this
result none but she may presume to decide.

“So, of course, you must go to a reformatory,” said Ursula, firmly.
“I am willing to help you on condition that you take _my_ advice.”

“Don’t want to go to no performatory,” sobbed Pietje, with vague
perplexities concerning circuses and ballet girls. “Father’ll keep
me if I says I’m sorry.”

A grunt from the other end of the room.

“Pietje, you have behaved very badly,” continued Ursula. “It seems
to me that you hardly understand the wickedness of your act. You
only regret its unpleasant results. No, Pietje, you are”--she felt
it her positive, painful duty to speak plainly--“a very wicked,
guilty, evil-hearted girl.”

“Dear me, Mevrouw,” growled a voice half-choked against a sleeve,
“can’t you leave the poor creature in peace?”

“No, Klomp,” replied Ursula, “’tis my duty to help you both. I
understand and appreciate your righteous anger, but, fortunately,
_I_ can provide Pietje with a home. It is only natural you should
not wish her to remain near Mietje.”

At this very moment Mietje came down-stairs.

“Father, here’s your li--yes, sister’s going to stay with me,” she
said.

“Get you up-stairs again,” shouted Klomp, with a big oath, “and
don’t come down till I call you.” He sat up, his listless face full
of fire. “Now, Mevrouw,” he said, “you just kindly go back to the
Manor-house, please. That’s where you belong--_now_--and thank your
stars for it. And leave poor people like us to settle our troubles
between us. Pietje’s a poor, ignorant girl, and she ’ain’t got the
wit to go hunting for a husband--least of all in the papers. She
just took the first villain that came fooling her way.”

“But, Klomp, I had understood--” began Ursula, rising with dignity.

“No, you hadn’t, m’m; there’s just the mistake. You hadn’t
understood nothing, begging your pardon. Nor, in fact, you needn’t.
There isn’t anything to understand.”

He actually got up, and, shuffling across to the door, he opened
it. There could be no mistaking his exceptional earnestness now.

“Well,” said Ursula, gently, preparing to depart, “when you want
me, when Pietje wants me, send up to the Manor-house, and I will do
whatever I can.”

He bolted the door behind her.

“Father--” began Pietje, timidly.

“Hold your tongue,” he broke in. “I don’t want to know you’re
there.” And he threw himself down violently on his bench.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ursula had nearly reached home before the meaning of Klomp’s attack
recoiled upon her brain. “Looking for a husband in the papers.”
Suddenly she understood. It was the old story of the trysting-place
cropping up again. Not for nothing had Adeline stayed with the
Klomps! Her brow mantled, and with quite unusual _hauteur_ she
acknowledged the salute of two passing laborers.

The men looked at each other.

“Stuck up, ain’t she?”

“Yes”--with immediate oblivion of all former graciousness--“so she
allus was.”

The old Baroness received her daughter-in-law in a tremble of
pink-spotted excitement. There were letters from Acheen--exceedingly
important letters! Ursula must sit down at once and listen. Gerard
had been in action. Gerard had done something wonderfully brave. He
had been just a little bit wounded in doing it--oh, nothing, the
merest scratch; but it happened to be the right hand, so a comrade
wrote for him. He was going to be rewarded in some magnificent
manner--made a colonel?--and the deed had been so very brave he would
probably soon be sent home again. _That_ was the Dowager’s reward.

“Sent home?” repeated Ursula, motionless in her chair. “Mamma, did
you say he was wounded?”

“Oh, the merest scratch,” replied the Dowager, testily. “He says
so himself. Ursula, you always try to make people nervous. Gerard
never lied to me. And, you see, he is coming back. If he were
really hurt he would never undertake so long a journey. I remember
my poor dear husband”--she always avoided, if possible, saying
“papa” to Ursula--“once cut his hand with a bread-knife so badly
that he couldn’t use it for nearly a month.”

“Oh yes,” admitted Ursula, hastily. “Yes--yes, I dare say it is
nothing. I am glad, mamma, I am glad. I am proud of him.”

“You!” replied the old Baroness, quite rudely, in a tone altogether
strange. “What is he to you? When he comes back, Ursula, he will
take away the Horst.”

“I dare him to do it!” said Ursula, fiercely. She drew herself
up, looking down on the poor little heap of ruffles by the
writing-table. Some moments elapsed before she spoke again. “I
found the letter you were looking for, mamma,” she said, and her
voice had grown quite gentle; “it is one from the late Prince Henry
to papa.”

“Thank you, Ursula. I am afraid I was rude to you just now. I have
no wish to be rude to you, nor to any one. It is not in my nature
to be rude. But this news from Acheen has excited me. I am not as
young as I was”--she peered across, with a quick glance of anxiety,
at her daughter-in-law--“yet I am thankful to reflect that Gerard,
when he comes, will find me but very little changed.”

The Freule Louisa came in. “Have you heard?” she asked. “Now,
that’s the kind of thing I like, and I never expected it of Gerard.
I always thought Gerard was a bit of a coward, a curled darling of
the drawing-room, like Plush. Didn’t you, Ursula?”

“No, indeed,” replied Ursula.

Freule Louisa giggled suddenly. “Well, I dare say you knew better,”
she said. “Only I hope he won’t come back too soon.”

“Why? What?” exclaimed the Dowager. Ursula had left the room.

“Because Tryphena has just sent him out a large box of Javanese
tracts to get distributed among the enemy. We feel that the
Achinese should not be killed, but Christianized. Ursula’s father
behaved very badly about the tracts. He said that the only way to
get them ‘sent on’ would be for the soldiers to wrap their bullets
in them. Scandalous, for a Christian minister, and so I told
Josine.”

“Louisa--”

“And he says, besides, that the Achinese don’t know the language.”

“Louisa--”

“As if they couldn’t learn. I dare say there isn’t much difference.”

“Louisa, when Gerard comes he will send Ursula back to her father.”

“I doubt it. You know, _I_ have always said--”

“Don’t say it again; it sounds like--like blasphemy.”

The Dowager seemed for the moment to recover all her intellectual
force.

“He will take back the Horst--do you hear? They dare not refuse it
him after what he has done. And he will marry money. Then nothing
will be left me to do after I have seen him except to finish my
Memoir before I depart in peace. I should like to tell Theodore
that the Memoir was finished.”

“If he is going to prove so strong a man,” replied Aunt Louisa, “I
think I shall leave him what little money I possess. But what is
that? A mere drop in the ocean. I am a poor woman, Cécile, as you
know.”



CHAPTER XLIII

ARRESTED


That evening some household duty called Ursula into the unused
up-stairs corridor, which as a rule she avoided. And as she
passed the “Death-rooms” she very nearly came into collision with
Hephzibah, issuing from them, eyelids downcast.

Ursula felt that the woman had been watching her, as usual. And
although, as a rule, she resisted the feeling, to-day, by a sudden
impulse, she turned like a dog at bay.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, why do you come here at all?” she
said.

“Why do you?” retorted the woman, adding “Mevrouw.”

“I never do; I was only passing,” said Ursula.

“Ah, you _daren’t_. But I must. I can’t help myself. I can’t rest
down-stairs. I seem to hear it calling to me all the time. Mevrouw,
it _drags_ me up. There’s guilt in this house. It won’t sleep.”

Ursula leaned up against the wall and closed her eyes.

“Have you anything you wish to say to me, Hephzibah?” she replied.
“If so, say it.”

The woman hesitated.

“No, I’ve nothing to say to you,” she began, slowly. “I suppose
it’s true, Mevrouw, that the Jonker is coming home?”

“Of course it’s true.”

Hephzibah began moving away.

“If you go in there, Mevrouw,” she said, “perhaps you’ll hear it
to-night. It’s groaning and gasping worse than ever to-night.”

She ran down the long passage.

“O Lord! O Lord, have mercy!” she murmured. “I’ve done what I
could to make amends. I thought, after what I’d done, I should
never hear it again. O Lord, I’m not a bad woman! There’s those sit
in high places is a great deal worse than me.”

“The creature is crazy,” said Ursula, aloud, as she pushed open the
door of the antechamber.

In the inner room all was dark and still. Ursula shut herself in,
and sank down by the bed.

“Otto, I have done my best,” she said.

An immense weight of guilt lay upon her. Gerard was grievously
wounded, was dying; perhaps already dead. Who could tell what was
happening out yonder, in the fatal sun-blaze? Before a message
could be flashed across the waters his body would already lie
rotting in the red-hot ground. And his soul, for all she knew,
might be standing, even now, by her side.

“Gerard, I have done it for the best,” she whispered.

But the words brought her no relief. She knew that if this man
died his life would be required at her hands. And if he returned
alive, yet broken in health, mutilated, crushed, she would have to
confront him ever after, reading in every furrow of his forehead
the charge against herself.

“I have done right,” she gasped. “I could not do otherwise. I have
done right.”

And her thoughts went back to Otto, dying here, gasping out with
every successive stifle his last, his only appeal. For a long time
she knelt there, her face upon her hands.

“If only some one would answer!” she thought. “If only one of them
would speak!”

The place was very silent. She could hear the dog Monk sniffing and
vaguely whining beyond the outer door.

“If only Otto would answer me! If only he would release me! What am
I that I must bear this weight single-handed? If only I knew--if
only I knew!”

A great agony fell upon her, such as was strange to her strong
and steadfast nature. She wrung her hands, and, prostrate against
the oaken, empty bedstead, in impotent protest, she moaned softly
through the darkness.

Suddenly some one--something--struck her through the darkness,
heavily; she fell back, losing consciousness, across the floor.

When she opened her eyes they rested on Hephzibah. The
waiting-woman knelt, with a crazed expression on her white
face, peering close down upon Ursula, by the faint glimmer of a
night-lamp on the floor. Ursula shuddered, and dropped her eyes
again.

“Not dead!” exclaimed Hephzibah, in a distinctly disappointed tone.

This touch of involuntary humor restored the invalid. She tried
to sit up, and lifted one hand to her hair, which seemed to have
grown oppressively warm and unsettled. She brought away her fingers
covered with blood.

“I am bleeding still,” she said. “What has happened, Hephzibah?
Help me, please.”

The woman pointed impressively to a clumsy carved ornament lying
near her, which had fallen from among several others placed on the
rickety canopy of the bed.

“_That_ struck you,” she said. “I thought it had killed you.
‘Judgment is mine,’ saith the Lord.”

Ursula staggered to her feet. She became conscious of the great dog
standing close beside her--attentive, benevolent. His deep eyes
met hers; they were overflowing with sympathy. Steadily gazing, he
wagged his tail.

“Help me to my room,” commanded Ursula. “There is no necessity
for saying anything more. Get me some water.” She gave her orders
calmly, and the woman obeyed them. “Leave me,” said Ursula, at
last, lying back on a sofa with a bandage over her brow.

As soon as she was alone she got up, still dizzy, and rang the bell.

“The brougham,” she said to the man.

He hesitated, in doubt if he could possibly have heard aright.

“The brougham,” she repeated. “Tell Piet to get it ready as soon as
possible. I am going far.”

“Your nobleness is not hurt?” he stammered.

“No, no. Be quick.” She hastily found a hat and mantle--she had
recently laid aside her mourning--and then waited till the carriage
was announced.

“To the notary,” she said. “Tell Mevrouw that I shall not be back
till late.”

Mynheer Noks lived some way out, on the farther side of Horstwyk.
The coachman, unaccustomed to any sudden orders, whipped up his
horse in surly surprise, and reflected on the chances of meeting
the steam-tram.

His mistress did not think of the steam-tram to-day, often as she
recalled, in passing it, her wild drive with Otto, and Beauty’s
cruel death. To-day she sat motionless in the little close
carriage, watching the lamps go flashing across the road-side trees
in a weary monotony of change.

“_If_ it had killed me!” that was all her thought. She had never
realized till this moment the possibility of immediate death. There
would always be time, she had reasoned, for final arrangements,
death-bed scenes. People did not die without an illness, however
sudden. Besides, when she had risen from the long prostration of
her early widowhood, “God has not permitted me to die,” she had
said. “He knew I had a mission to fulfil.”

And now--supposing she had never regained consciousness?

She saw the lights of Horstwyk pass by, and wondered if she
should never reach the notary’s, and reproached herself for her
foolishness.

“The notary is in?” she asked, eagerly, at his door.

Yes, the notary was in. He was entertaining some friends at dinner.
Ursula drew back. “Show me into an office, or some such place,” she
said. The notary, convivial in dress and appearance, came to her in
a little chilly back room, full of inkstains and dusty deeds.

“Nothing is wrong, I hope,” he began; then, noticing the queer
bandage under Ursula’s dark-red bonnet, “You have had an accident?”

“No,” replied Ursula. “Mynheer Noks, I am sorry to disturb you just
now, but I can’t wait. If I were to die to-night, who would be my
heir?”

“That depends upon whether you have made a will,” replied the
notary.

“I have not made a will.”

“In that case your father is your natural heir.”

“So I thought. Then, notary, I must request you--I am very sorry to
trouble you--but I must request you to make my will to-night.”

“My dear lady, certainly. I presume you have brought your written
instructions? Leave them with me, and to-morrow I will bring up a
draft which we can talk over together.” Ursula stopped him by a
gesture.

“I must have the document signed and sealed,” she said, “with its
full legal value, to-night.”

The notary stared at her; then he looked ruefully down at his
resplendent, though already much crumpled, dress-shirt.

“I can’t help it,” continued Ursula, desperately. “It will only
take you a moment--”

“Only a moment! Dear madame, documents of such importance--”

“Yes, only a moment. Just two sentences. That is all.”

The notary sat down with a sigh, and drew forward a sheet of paper.
“You wish to say?” he asked, and shivered--twice. The first shiver
was real, the second ostentatious.

The second caused Ursula to disbelieve both.

“Only this: if I die without other arrangements--”

“Pardon me. I must already interrupt you. You cannot die ‘with
other arrangements’--the expression is exceedingly faulty--if you
make a will.”

“I can alter it, surely!” exclaimed Ursula.

“Only by another will.” The notary sighed and looked at the clock.
Quarter-past ten.

“Very well. I wish everything I possess to pass unconditionally to
my brother-in-law, the Baron van Helmont.”

The notary gave a visible start, and pricked his pen into the great
sheet of paper. He nodded his head with complacent approval.

“Should he be dead,” continued Ursula, “I wish it to belong to his
cousin, the Jonker Theodore. That is all.”

“Quite so,” said the notary. “Quite right. And now, Mevrouw, I
have only one objection.”

“No objection,” interrupted Ursula, vehemently. “There is none.
Surely you have understood me?”

“I have understood you, but the objection remains. The thing can’t
be done. That is all.”

Ursula started up.

“Can’t be done!” she cried. “I am the best judge, Mynheer Noks, of
what I choose to do with my own. I understand your being vexed at
my disturbing your party; but if you refuse to draw up my will as I
desire, I shall drive on till the horse drops, in search of another
attorney.” She trembled from head to foot.

But the lawyer was also exceedingly angry. He had always, since
Otto’s death, disliked and distrusted “My Lady.”

“You may drive to Drum, if you wish to,” he replied, “but you won’t
find a lawyer who can alter the law. No, Mevrouw, nor can I, even
though you disturb my party to get it done. Be sure that _I’d_
draw up a deed of gift, if you chose, this minute; but the law’s
stronger than you or I. And as long as your father lives he must
come into half of your property.”

“My father!” repeated Ursula. “Do you mean that I cannot disinherit
him?”

“You cannot. If you happen to die before him, half of your
possessions _must_ pass to him. That is the law of the land; and,
as I remarked, the law is stronger than you or I.”

“It is stronger than justice,” said Ursula.

The notary shrugged his shoulders.

“The case is altogether exceptional,” he answered. Again he
shivered, and looked at the clock. “So I suppose we may as well
leave the will-making to a more convenient occasion,” he added,
half rising.

“No,” replied Ursula, with an imperious movement; “make it at once,
if you please, just as I said. Never mind its being illegal. You
will be law, and my father justice.”

“It is exceedingly incorrect,” said the notary.

“A great race like that of the Van Helmonts cannot let itself be
tied down by every paltry police regulation,” replied Ursula,
proudly. How often had she said so to herself, remembering her
first experience of Gerard’s _hauteur_ at the railway station,
hammering the thought firmly into her “bourgeois” heart: the
high-born are a law unto themselves! So Gerard had understood, so
Otto, and so she herself.

“Write it down,” she said, “and leave the rest to us.”

“Now, at once?”

She clinched her hands to avoid stamping forth her impatience.

“Now, at once,” she said.

“But there must be witnesses, Mevrouw.”

“Must there? Well, there are the servants, if some one can hold the
horse, and--” She stopped.

“Witnesses,” she repeated. “You mean people who must learn what I
have just told you? Oh, but that is infamous! No, no! Do you hear?
I will not have it. I don’t care for your infamous laws. What I
have said is between you and me. As long as I live no ‘witnesses’
shall know it.”

“You wish to make a secret will,” replied the lawyer, coldly.
“Well, there is no objection to that. I will write it out for you,
and you can copy and seal it. Then I draw up a deed of deposit, and
the witnesses only witness that deed. But all this will take time.
My guests will be thinking of departing. My wife--”

“Draw up a form,” exclaimed Ursula; “I will copy it to-night. My
father and Gerard will respect my plainly stated wishes, even
if--something were to happen to-night.”

Her voice dropped.

The notary glanced sideways, as he wrote, at the tall figure
pacing restlessly to and fro. She was not natural, not herself;
and herself, in his eyes, was strange enough for anything. That
bandage! How had she come by so sudden a wound? What was the
meaning of this unseemly hurry? He wondered uneasily whether this
strange woman was minded to make away with herself. He resolved
to do what he could to prevent it--a Christian duty, if rather an
unwilling one.

“Here is the paper,” he said, rising. “Nothing more can, with
decency, be done to-night. It has, you will understand, not the
slightest legal value.”

“Give it me,” she replied; “I shall expect you to-morrow morning
with your clerks. Thank you; I am sorry I was obliged to disturb
you. Mynheer Noks. Can I pass out unobserved?”

He unlocked the office entrance for her, holding up the oil-lamp.
Under the little portico she looked back.

“I do believe,” she said, “you think I am going to kill myself.”

“Mevrouw!” he stammered, horrified, over the wine-stain on his
shirt-front--“Mevrouw!”

“Set your mind at rest, my good notary. Only fools think they can
kill themselves. God has not made life quite so easy as that.”

The carriage-lights came twisting round to the little side gate.
As the footman held open the door there was a glitter of polished
glass and a cosey vision of shaded silk.

“Come to-morrow morning early,” said Ursula, with her foot on the
step, “and you shall have one of my poor father-in-law’s regalias.”

As soon as she knew herself to be out of sight she pulled the
check-string and ordered the coachman to drive to the Parsonage.

“There goes eleven o’clock,” said Piet to his companion. “One would
think there was truth in what people say.”

“What do people say?” asked the footman.

“Why, that Mevrouw likes being out by herself of nights. At the
tavern they were calling her ‘night-bird.’”

“I know what they _used_ to call her,” grinned the fresh-faced
young footman. “It used to be Baroness Nobody.”

“Oh, every one knows that. But hold your tongue. The Jonker Gerard
never would allow a whisper on the box. He seemed to hear you in
the middle of the night.”

“The Jonker Gerard was a real gentleman,” replied the footman,
crossing his arms.

Ursula, as the carriage neared her old home, looked out anxiously,
seeking for the light above the hall-door. It was gone; yet
she knew her father to be in the habit of sitting up late. She
lifted the carriage-clock to the ray from one of the lanterns: a
quarter-past eleven.

“Let me out,” she said; “I will go round to the back.”

For a moment she stood, in the chill night, by the study window,
listening. She knew perfectly well that she was acting foolishly;
but that seemed no reason for leaving off.

“I must do it to-night,” she said; “I cannot sleep until it is
done.”

She knocked at the window, timidly, terrified at the prospect of
meeting with no response. The soughing of the trees struck cold
upon her heart.

“Father!” she cried, with a sudden note of pain. “Father! Father!”

Somebody moved inside, and soon the heavy shutters, falling back,
revealed the Dominé’s mildly astonished face against the large
French window.

Ursula brushed past him and threw herself into the faded old
leather chair. She looked up into his questioning eyes for one long
moment; then, as the _home-feel_ of it all came over her--the room,
the books, the loving countenance--she dropped forward on her hands
and broke into convulsive weeping.

“Don’t be frightened,” she stammered between her sobs. “Nothing
has happened. It’s only--only--” She wept on silently. Presently
she dried her eyes. “It’s only--nothing,” she said, smiling. “I am
stupid. I have come to you for courage, Captain, as when I was a
little girl.”

The Dominé laid his single hand upon his daughter’s head, and under
his gaze she found it very difficult to keep to her brave resolve.

“No, no, you must scold me,” she said. “That is not the way.”

“You do the scolding yourself, child. It is only fair that one of
us should attempt the comforting. Have you hurt your forehead?”

“Yes,” replied Ursula, quickly. “It is not much, but it has upset
me. It has upset me, you see.”

“Ursula, Ursula, when a woman like you finds cause for tears, a
bodily pain comes almost like a diversion. Dear child, I know your
path is far from smooth. Sometimes I wonder whether we did right.
It seems to me as if, with you, it would have been ‘No crown, no
cross.’”

“You ought to be proud of my career,” said Ursula, still resolutely
smiling.

“And, I know, the home-cross is the worst cross,” continued the
Dominé, as his eyes involuntarily wandered to a simpering portrait
of Josine upon his writing-table. “Attack is not so hard, as all
young soldiers soon find out. It is standing patient under fire.”

“You pity me. You encourage me,” said Ursula, with sudden
vehemence. “You think I am not to blame. But if I were to blame for
my misfortunes? If I were wrong? If I had brought them on myself?”
She looked up anxiously.

“I should pity you all the more.”

“Father”--Ursula rose--“do you think I could ever become a
criminal?”

“Let him that standeth,” replied the Dominé, “take heed lest he
fall.”

“And if he be fallen already?”

“There is no better posture for prayer.”

The little room, so warm, so _anheimelnd_, grew very still. At that
moment, perhaps, Ursula would have confessed everything.

But before she could utter another word the door was thrown
violently open, and Miss Mopius, in a red flannel bed-gown and
nightcap, rushed over the threshold with a recklessness which
entangled her in the Dominé’s paper-basket, and precipitated her, a
brilliant bundle of color, on the hearth-rug.

“I wish you would knock!” cried the Dominé, irrational from sheer
annoyance. Ursula had started back into the shade, and her aunt did
not at first perceive her.

“Roderigue,” gasped Miss Mopius, “there are thieves in the house!”

Burglary was Miss Mopius’s most persistent bugbear.

“What? Again?” said the Dominé.

“Hush. Not so loud. This time I distinctly heard them.”

“You always do,” interrupted the Dominé, who was an angel, but
angry.

“At the window just under me, as I awoke from a restless sleep,
I heard them, Roderigue. And I _saw_ them. I saw two figures
stealthily creeping. Ah!” Miss Mopius, who had hissed out all this
from the landing, now clutched her brother-in-law’s arm. “We shall
be murdered,” she sobbed. “Shut the door, Roderigue; lock it. I
don’t know how I ever managed to summon up courage to come down.”

She gave a shrill scream as something moved behind her. Ursula
stepped forward.

“Fear sees every danger double,” said the Dominé, with a smile to
his daughter. “Go up-stairs again, Josine, and take some of your
Lob.”

“Ursula!” cried Miss Mopius, in a fury--“Ursula, if I die, my blood
will be on your head! I was ill enough, Heaven knows, this evening,
and now I shall have a sleepless night.” She put her hand to her
side. “Ah!” she said. “Ah!” Her face was deadly pale. “It is not
enough that I devote my whole life to your poor old father, while
you--live in luxury and pomp.”

“I am very sorry,” answered Ursula, lamely. “You have dropped all
the Sympathetico on the carpet.”

It was too true, and this misfortune annihilated Josine. In her
hand she held the bottle, from which the stopper had escaped as she
fell.

“I had forgotten it,” she said. “I had to take some before
venturing down. Now I sha’n’t get a wink of sleep. But I shouldn’t
have got that, anyhow.” She shuffled towards the door. “Roderigue,
would you mind watching me up the stairs? I certainly saw two
men. But, of course, it is very dark. Is Ursula going to stay all
night?” Up-stairs, at her bedroom door, she turned. “Nothing wrong,
I suppose, at the Horst?”

“No,” called back the Dominé from the hall.

“Of course not--only mad pranks. Ursula’s behavior is criminal.”

The Dominé’s thoughts lingered over this last word as he returned
to his daughter. “She did not even observe your bandage!” he said.

“The room is dark,” replied Ursula. “I am going now, but I just
wanted to ask you this. I came to ask it. By-the-bye, Captain, did
you know that if I were to die you would succeed to the Horst and
the Manor of Horstwyk?”

“Yes, I knew,” replied the Dominé, gravely. “But you are young, and
I am old.”

“Captain, dear, if ever you own the Horst, I want you to give it to
Gerard.”

“Yes,” replied the Dominé, more gravely still.

“You will, won’t you?”

“Let me ask you another question: Why don’t _you_ give it to
Gerard, then?”

She faced him. “Because I can’t,” she said. “Don’t ask me, father.
It isn’t mine to give.”

“Ursula, that would be exactly my standpoint. Property is never
ours; we are God’s stewards. And if I became owner of this great
estate--God forbid, child, God forbid!--I should hardly deem it
right to disannul my responsibilities by abandoning them to another
man.”

“You think the property is better in other hands?” cried Ursula,
eagerly.

“I do not wish to say that of Gerard,” replied the Dominé, gently.
“Responsibility changes character; even the reckless Alcibiades
felt as much. Still, I cannot help observing, Ursula, in what a
marvellous, I might well say miraculous, manner the estate has
passed away from Gerard, to fall into your hands. Surely, if
ever man can trace Divine interference, it is here. No, Ursula,
inexplicable as the course of events would be to me, I see God’s
action in them too plainly to venture on resistance. Never should I
_dare_, child, to return the estate to Gerard. God, in prolonging
your child’s frail life for those few minutes, _God himself took it
from him_.”

Ursula fell back to the door. “And afterwards?” she stammered.
“Afterwards?”

“The afterwards is God’s. It is only when every soldier plays
general that God’s war goes wrong. But, dear girl, you are young; I
am old; we are all, young and old, in His hands.”

“Let me go away, father,” gasped Ursula, putting out her hands as
if to keep him from her. “It is near midnight. I must go home. The
servants won’t understand.”

He led her to the carriage, out into the night wind again.

“Obey orders,” he said, softly. “It’s so magnificently simple--like
Balaclava. Says the private: The general _may_ be wrong, but I,
if I obey, _must_ be right. And our General cannot be wrong.” He
leaned over the door of the brougham in closing it. “Be of good
courage,” he whispered. “I have overcome the world.”

She caught at his hand and kissed it in the presence of her
sleepily staring footman. Then she sank back among the cushions as
the brougham rolled away.

“Divine interference,” she murmured--“Divine interference. Oh, my
God! my God!”

The Dominé stood watching her away into the darkness.

“Ursula and Gerard!” he reflected. “Had Gerard but acted
differently! How I wish it could have been! For to human
perceptions the estate seems rightfully his. I trust I have
entirely forgiven Otto the wrong he did my child!”

He had done so, fully; but a doubt of the fulness was one of his
most constant troubles.



CHAPTER XLIV

AFRAID


“Ursula, you look ghastly,” said Tante Louisa at breakfast next
morning, “and the whole house is full of your gaddings about.”

“Ursula,” said the Dowager, spilling her egg, “have I told you that
Gerard is coming back?”

“Yes, she knows,” interposed the Freule, hastily. “I can assure
you, Ursula, that the servants disapprove.”

“The servants!” echoed Ursula, with such immeasurable scorn of the
speaker that the latter could not but feel somewhat ashamed.

“No one can afford to brave his servants’ opinion,” the Freule
rejoined, with asperity. “No, not the bravest. Even Cæsar said
he was glad to feel sure that all the servants thought well of
Copernica. You will find out your mistake too late, if once the
servants are against you.”

“Everybody is against me,” replied Ursula, bitterly.

“Now, Ursula, how unjust that is! I am sure, not to speak of
myself, your dear mother here has always shown you the greatest
consideration.”

“Oh, certainly, and my father, too!” exclaimed Ursula. “I was not
thinking of them. And the villagers. And the people at the Hemel.
They all love me, too.”

“It is for the Helmonts’ sake, then,” mumbled the Dowager. “They
all love the Helmonts.”

“They don’t love you, and you know it,” said Freule van Borck,
incisively. “As for me, of course I admire those who dare to
confront popular hate. ‘Drive over the dogs!’ That would be my
theory. I envy the woman who had the opportunity of saying it. All
I advise is--take care.”

“I do,” replied Ursula, “of them all, as much as my limited means
allow. And this is the way they repay me.”

“Ursula, my dear, your charities are all wrong. To give with as
much discrimination as you do, you ought to be able to give much
more. Only the very rich can afford to give judiciously.”

“Aunt Louisa, I believe that is very true,” replied Ursula, gravely.

“Of course it is. There are lessons, child, which only a gradual
tradition ultimately develops. I am a Radical, of course. That is
to say, I am an Imperialist. I believe in the Napoleons of history.
But, genius apart, it takes half a dozen fathers and sons before
you produce enough collective wisdom to float a family. And I
have always declared you were a remarkable woman, Ursula; but I
should hardly say of you, as your father-in-law once said of some
celebrated artist: ‘Heredity? Nonsense! Why, Genius is a whole
genealogy.’”

“Did Theodore say that?” cried the Dowager. “Now, I did not
remember. But he was always scattering witty things, in bushels,
like pearls before swine.”

“Thank you,” said Louisa, who had not learned in the least to bear
with her sister’s infirmity.

“I don’t mean--Louisa, you must write that down for me. There is
nothing that distresses me more than the thought how incomplete my
work will be at the best.”

“Mynheer van Helmont is asking to see the young Mevrouw,”
interposed a servant. Ursula rose hastily.

“Take my warning to heart,” Aunt Louisa called after her--“about
the servants.”

“I am not afraid of servants,” replied Ursula, disappearing through
the door.

“Again!” said the Baroness. “He comes here constantly, and at
all hours. It is not yet half-past nine. Louisa, when he marries
Ursula, we can go and live on the farm. Ce sera le comble.”

“I tell you,” replied Louisa, coolly, “that Gerard is going to
marry Ursula, and then all will come right.”

“And I tell you,” echoed the Dowager, with an old woman’s
insistence, “that Gerard is going to marry Helena, sooner or later.
I have always known it.”

“Helena? Helena? Why, she’s married already. Really, Cécile, I
believe you are going crazy?”

“I know, I know,” replied the Dowager, in great confusion. “But her
husband might die. Otto died.”

“Pooh!” said Tante Louisa, departing.

The Dowager also beat a hurried retreat. She sat down in her
boudoir, and gathered poor grumpy rheumatic old Plush on to her lap.

“They’ll find me out,” she reflected. “If only I could hold on till
Gerard comes.” And her chin shook.

       *       *       *       *       *

“You are come so early,” said Ursula to Theodore, “that I suppose
your news is especially disagreeable.”

“If so, it meets with a fitting welcome,” replied her visitor. “But
you have guessed right. Ursula, you remember my telling you that
the Hemel cottages by the Mill, the worst on the property, must
come down, and you said they couldn’t?”

“You said they couldn’t,” interrupted Ursula. “Who was to pay for
rebuilding them?”

“Well, whoever said it said wrong. They could. They have come down
of themselves.”

“What?”

“One of the middle walls has given way during the night, and the
three cottages are a wreck.”

“Oh, is any one hurt?” Ursula clinched her hands.

“Only you,” answered Helmont, with a sneer--not at her. “All the
whole filthy rabble are encamped outside among their household
goods swearing at you.”

Ursula sat silent for a moment. “They never paid any rent,” she
said at last.

“No, of course not.”

“That is something to be grateful for. Theodore, I cannot help
it. You know I cannot help it. Nor could Otto. How could we make
good, in our poverty, the result of half a century’s profusion and
neglect?”

“I did not say you could help it. And now we shall have the
inspector, and the hovels will have to be put up again somehow. But
how?”

“How?” repeated Ursula, vaguely. “Never mind. Wait a little. We
shall see.”

“Wait!” exclaimed Theodore. “Twenty-four hours! Have you no more
diamonds?”

“No. Theodore, I am beginning to feel that I can fight no longer. I
owe it to you that you should receive the first warning. I am going
to give up.”

He turned on her hotly. “What, frightened already?” he cried.

“Frightened?” she repeated, growing pale. “Why frightened?” A
sudden light seemed to strike her. “Oh, you mean because of what
they say against me in the village. What do they say against me in
the village, Theodore?”

“If you know, I needn’t tell you,” replied Theodore, pale also
under his ruddy glow, unconsciously wondering how much had reached
her.

“They say that I used dishonorable means to secure my husband.
There is not a word of truth in it, Theodore.”

“I know that,” he answered, much relieved. “If I didn’t know that,
I should long ago--” He checked himself, as much from pride as from
any gentler feeling.

“Have given it up,” she quietly concluded his sentence. “You are
right. I have been making up my mind. I, too, give over.”

“Mynheer Noks is asking to see Mevrouw,” said the man-servant, once
more disturbing her, in the same careless, impersonal voice.

Theodore started at the name. “Do nothing in a hurry,” he
pleaded--“nothing to-day. As a personal favor to myself. I have a
right to ask that. The villagers will say you are afraid.”

“I promise,” she answered, “for to-day. I have no right to refuse
you. But I am not afraid of villagers.”

A moment later she stood opposite the notary.

“I have brought the deed of deposit, Mevrouw,” said that
functionary. “And my witnesses are waiting in the hall. Have you
the document ready?”

“No,” replied Ursula. “My good Notary, I owe you most ample
apology, but I cannot help myself. I have been compelled to abandon
the idea of making a will.”

The notary stared at her for a moment, too angry to speak. He
was a rough man by nature, as she had seen, but not devoid of
intelligence. At last he burst out, “Then go and--see ‘Rigoletto,’
Mevrouw, next time you visit at Drum.”

Ursula had never been to the opera in her life, Mynheer Mopius’s
one attempt to take her having failed.

“I do not understand,” she said, “but I see you are angry. It is
very natural. All I can say is, that I ask your forgiveness. I did
not know, when I came to your house last night, that I could not
leave my money away from my father.”

“But you knew when you left,” said the lawyer, surlily.

“True, but I had not had time to reflect. I see now that I must
leave things as they are.”

“I, too, have had time to reflect, and I have come exactly to the
opposite conclusion. You will probably survive the Dominé; you say
that you do not intend to marry again; then the best thing you can
do is to draw up a will as you intended.”

Ursula looked down at the carpet pattern.

“I am an old friend of the Helmont family,” continued Mynheer Noks.
“I do not deny, Mevrouw, that I was sorry to see this manor pass
out of their hands. I should be still more sorry, and so would
every one, to find the Mopius family ruling here.” He hesitated;
then, with an effort, “Mevrouw,” he said, “you are, perhaps, the
best judge of your own conduct; but, after your visit last night,
you will pardon my calling it strange. I don’t know whether you
came of your own free choice. I don’t know what tragedy is being
played here. I don’t want to know. But something is happening: I
can see that.” Almost involuntarily he pointed to Ursula’s wounded
forehead. “All I say is, be careful. You acquired all this property
by the merest accident. If any one could have proved that Mynheer
Otto lived half an hour longer--there would be no question of any
will of yours.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Ursula. “Do you dare to accuse me--”

“I accuse nobody. I only say be careful. There are strange stories
floating in the air, and your strange conduct can only augment
them. It only wants an unscrupulous lawyer--”

“I am not afraid of lawyers,” said Ursula, standing calm and
queenly. “I have humbly begged your forgiveness, Mynheer Noks; I
can do no more. This interview is at an end.”

She swept to the window, looking out on the lawn, the near
cottages, the far-spreading trees.

“I am afraid of myself,” she whispered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later the post brought her a letter from Uncle Mopius.

It was a complaining letter, full of the writer’s continual
ill-health and all his sufferings and disappointments; but it had
an unexpected wind-up.

“This year, once in a way,” wrote Jacóbus, “I am going to make you
a birthday present, that you may be able to keep up the honor of
the family in the face of those beggarly Helmonts, who, I hear, are
abusing you everywhere. I hope you will use it for _display_. Show
the naked braggarts that a wealthy burgher is a better man than
they.”

The envelope contained a check for two thousand florins.

Ursula stood holding it contemplatively on the palm of her
outstretched hand.

“He is wrong about the date,” she said to herself. “My birthday is
next month--not that any one except father cares. But I will keep
the money; it will do to rebuild the cottages.”

She wondered if Harriet knew of the gift; she fancied not. In
reality it was entirely due to Harriet’s influence.

Ursula stood by the writing-table on which lay her dead aunt’s
faded bit of bead-work: “No Cross, no Crown.” She recalled her
father’s inversion of the words.

“Uncle Mopius has mistaken the date,” she said, aloud; “and
to-day, of all days in the year, he sends this money. I accept the
omen. I will not confess at this moment; I will not give up. No one
shall say that my motive was either fear or despair. I will fight
them all.”



CHAPTER XLV

THE HOME-COMING OF THE HERO


The rebuilding of the cottages was undertaken without delay,
and, chiefly to comply with Mynheer Mopius’s injunction, an
entertainment was organized by Ursula in honor of her birthday.
It was a feast of the usual kind, in the village school-room,
with dissolving views, and still more rapidly dissolving cakes.
The whole village criticised the various good things provided,
especially the patently didactic slides, and went home replete and
grumbling. Furthermore, last year’s potato-crop having failed,
the village demanded provisions. These also Ursula distributed,
especially in the Hemel, as far as the two thousand florins could
possibly be made to stretch. Even elasticity has natural limits,
and presently dissatisfaction rumbled forth again.

That spring, however, remains memorable in the annals of the Hemel.
In April its oldest inhabitant died. He had been breaking up all
through the winter, and his gradual decline had been watched by
every man, woman, and child in the place. For, firstly, he was the
only one among them who could be described as “pretty well off;”
secondly, he was a childish bachelor; and, thirdly, every household
in the hamlet laid claim to some form of connection with “Uncle
Methuselah,” as they called him, though nobody wished him that
patriarch’s tale of years.

Uncle Methuselah having died intestate on the seventh day of April,
every able-bodied adult in the Hemel, not to mention the children,
stood outside Notary Noks’s little office-door on the morning
of the eighth. There was much jostling and jesting, also some
affectation of sorrow by those who considered that laughs should be
taken in disproof of relationship.

The raggedest of the ragged troop, fat Vrouw Punter, had actually
concealed an onion under her tattered shawl. Her face was so
resolutely jovial that she fancied the lachrymose vegetable might
prove useful in her interview with the man of law; for she had
heard, and devoutly believed, that if you but held such a thing in
your hand, at an emergency, your eyes were certain to overflow.
Most of the others poured forth rivers _ad libitum_, scorning
artificial assistance.

But Notary Noks put a stop to that. “Come up in succession,” he
said, “and those who feel bad take a turn outside.”

A list was made out of some seventy claimants, and then a period of
darkest anxiety and suspicion began for the Hemel. Every day, as it
slowly wore itself out, deepened the agonizing conviction that “the
judges” were cutting their slices off the communal cake. “Humpy
Jack,” who could fluently read words of three syllables, gave voice
to the general sentiment. “A legacy in the lawyers’ hands,” he
said, “is just like a lump of ice on a red-hot stove.”

Pessimists shook their heads and expressed an opinion that “nobody
would get nothing.”

In a fortnight the excitement reached fever-heat. Meanwhile,
numerous members of the community regularly visited--and called
upon--Ursula.

At last, on a beautiful spring day, full of promise and hope, all
the heirs, or their legal representatives, obeyed a summons to
fetch each man his share. Not a soul but was amazed by the vagaries
of “the judges,” and annoyed by their rapacity. The people who
received a couple of hundred florins were almost as angry as those
who stared down on half a dozen silver pieces in a grimy palm. Yet
surely the queer fractions and subdivisions should have convinced
the unconvincible.

But after the return of the anxiously expected gold-seekers, a
general appeasement settled upon the whole clan. Then followed a
brief period of frizzling and frying, of dancing and shouting,
and the children’s cheeks were shiny and the parents’ breath
was strong. And the voices of the singer and the swearer were
abundantly heard in the land. Then the flame burned low, like a
dying “Catherine-wheel,” and fell away. Seven days after the visit
to “the judges” not a penny of Uncle Methuselah’s inheritance was
left in the Hemel.

On the eighth day several woe-begone faces appeared at the
kitchen entrance of the Horst. Not one of these faces, according
to information freely vouchsafed, belonged to “a cousin” of the
patriarch.

Horstwyk, as always, pulled up its collective nose. “Can anything
good come out of the Hemel?” it asked. Besides, Horstwyk had other
matters to interest it. Scandal about Ursula had become more
general than ever, and to this was soon added the all-engrossing
topic of “the Baron’s” return. He came back as soon as the chill
Dutch summer could feebly be counted on to cherish this hero-son
of the soil; he came back, enfolded in wraps and coverings, with
the imprint of wearying pain on his white but unchangeably handsome
face.

“Your rooms are quite ready at the Manor-house,” said Ursula,
having gone with the Dowager to greet him on his arrival in
Amsterdam. The Dowager could only sit silent with her hand in his;
it had been her intention to ask him if really he had been wounded,
but she had got sufficient answer before the question could be put.

“Thank you,” said Gerard, “I am going to stay a few days with the
Trossarts, and I shall be glad to come and see you from Drum. I am
thinking of settling down for the present at the Hague.”

Ursula bit her under-lip. The Dowager’s pale eyes flashed fire.
“For the present.” Of course. The best legal advice, she supposed,
could be obtained at the Hague.

“Gerard,” she said, and her eyes grew soft again as she filled them
with his presence, “what is the use of letters that only tell half
the truth?”

“It is a fair average,” he answered, gayly. “Why, even before the
introduction of the penny-post man had discovered that the object
of speech is to dissemble. A dumb man with expressive eyes would
tell all his secrets. And there has been since the creation of the
world no greater multiplier of falsehood than the penny-post.”

“A man who daren’t answer straight is bound to take refuge in
nonsense,” replied the Dowager, feeling quite young and clever
again. “I wasn’t speaking of the penny-post. What you say there
is so like your father, Gerard. Don’t you remember how he used
to declare that the breeding of centuries, after having come
triumphant out of the French Revolution, had been killed in fifty
years’ time by the railway and the penny-post? I have got that down
in the Memoir. You remind me so much of your father, Gerard. I must
show you what I have written since you went away.”

And then they began talking of many tender memories, and Ursula
left them alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gerard had resolved from the first to avoid anything that could
have the appearance of a home-coming to Horstwyk. This sentiment
Ursula, of course, understood. But there are no more powerless
creatures in the world than its rulers, big or little. It was
a case of the driver driven. For the population of the whole
neighborhood made up its heavy mind to do honor to “the Hero,”
as everybody seemed agreed to call him. It was an excellent
opportunity of protesting against Ursula’s government, of
glorifying the _ancien régime_, and of saluting the national
flag; also it gave a great many nonentities a notable chance of
displaying their importance: there would be speeches, and favors,
and, best of all, wide-spread good cheer. Once a committee had
been formed and subscriptions gathered, both Gerard and Ursula saw
that resistance would be vain. So they gave in, separately and
simultaneously, each with the best possible grace, and the Lady of
the Manor promised flowers and a collation, and invited the gentry
for several miles round. Also she drove with the Dowager to inspect
the triumphal arches in course of erection at the distant limit of
the Commune, on Horstwyk village square, at the Manor-house gates.

The appointed day dawned white with early heat, rippling over as
the sun rose higher into the color-glories of triumphant June. The
splendor of the cloudless morning lay almost like an oppression
upon the drowsy pastures and the dusty roads. The washed and
smartened crowds by the park gates and near the church shone
visibly with heat and happiness. As always at the beginning of
every public holiday, “the temper of the crowd was excellent:” the
local reporter of the _Drum Gazette_ remembered that stereotyped
phrase without requiring to make a note of it.

The Manor-house carriage with Ursula inside met the train at the
market-town station, and, by an irony of fate, she had to drive
along the highway seated next to her brother-in-law. It was still
stranger, perhaps, that this should be the single occasion on which
she appeared since her widowhood, before all the country-side, in
the rôle of Lady of the Manor. The “county families”--her cousins
by marriage--gathered around her with abundance of malevolent
curiosity.

Gerard was very silent and reserved; she saw how distasteful the
whole ceremony was to him. He still looked ill, in dark clothing,
with his military cross on his breast.

At the first triumphal arch, where a white stone marked the extreme
limit of Horstwyk, the simple reception commenced. It had been
distinctly arranged that only the returning soldier was to be
honored as such. The Burgomaster’s welcoming speech, therefore, was
all glory and gunpowder, and could hurt no one, not even Ursula,
though she might have drawn her own conclusions, had that been
necessary, from the silence which had attended her solitary drive
to the station. Loud cries of “Long live the Baron!” now resounded
on all sides; they broke out afresh as the carriage halted by
the church, where the school-children sang a couple of patriotic
anthems, and the Dominé, wearing his Cross of the Legion of Honor,
held a second discourse. The village band having played a military
march, the carriage drove off to the Horst. It was unattended, a
sore point with the tenantry, whose proposal to get up a mounted
guard of honor had been met by Gerard’s unhesitating rebuff.

Everybody he cared about (and a good many other people) had
assembled to welcome him on the Manor-house lawn. The Van Trossarts
were there, and the Van Troyens; and Helena, a fond though fitful
mother, had brought her baby girl. A big luncheon was served in
the house for the guests, and another outside for the members
of the committee and the numerous village notables. Ursula sat
calculating the cost all through her father’s toast, which was
necessarily rather a repetition of his speech, a glorification of
bravery, secular and religious. Nobody could doubt that Gerard was
utterly miserable.

Nor could any one ignore the delight of the Dowager. She stood
by her son’s side, bowed yet beaming, all through the sweltry
afternoon. It was her feast-day. She drank in with eagerly upturned
countenance the unceasing flow of banal compliments, seeming to
derive some personal satisfaction from the clumsy praises of the
peasantry. For, after luncheon, while the children’s sports were
in progress, the returned warrior endured a congratulatory levee.
Farmer after farmer came up, red-hot with clumsy good feeling;
farmer after farmer remarked:

“Now, Jonker, you’ve kept up the honor of Horstwyk, say.”

Gerard, rousing himself, found a kind word of recognition and
interest for each. Ursula, as she watched him from afar, saw on the
altered features the old smile.

Once she drew near to him suddenly. “How much you must have
suffered!” she said. “I had no idea--I--”

He looked at her gravely.

“Not as much as you,” he answered. “I would not have exchanged my
fight for yours.”

“Gerard, you do not mean that,” she said, quickly, avoiding his
gaze. “Now that you see the old place again, after all these
months, you are glad it is still there, still--ours. You would not
willingly now have lost a rood of it. Say so--say so, _now_.”

Her voice grew desperately pleading.

Gerard waited long before he answered. “I am glad it is yours,” he
said at last, “as you seem to care. I should not care for it to be
mine.”

She sprang back as if he had stung her. For the rest of the time
she remained with Theodore, trying to believe that she did not
observe the “county people’s” impertinences. She felt Helena’s eyes
upon her constantly, and was surprised by their benignity. That
woman must be a worse woman than Helena Van Troyen who can receive,
immutable, a little child from God.

All through the sultry splendor of that long-drawn summer day
the peasantry enjoyed themselves in their own peculiar manner.
Towards five o’clock a slate-colored bank of cloud began slowly to
border the far horizon, as if rising to meet the yet lofty sun.
One carriage after another emerged from the stables, and the local
grandees drove away. Then the people gathered for a final cheer,
before melting in groups towards their respective neighborhoods to
finish the evening, many of them, alas, in drink.

[Illustration: “THE CARRIAGE HALTED BY THE CHURCH”]

“Hurrah,” cried the Burgomaster, “for the hero of Acheen! Hurrah!”

“And now,” said Gerard’s clear tones in the ensuing silence, “a
cheer for the giver of this whole entertainment, the Lady of the
Manor! Hurrah!”

It was a mistake, but Gerard knew nothing of Ursula’s unpopularity.
His chivalrous impulse met with but feeble response. A strident
voice--one of those voices you hear above the crowd--even cried
out, though hesitatingly, “Down with all thieves!” A murmur of
approbation from the immediate surrounders saluted the words.
Ursula overheard them, and, looking up, saw a pair of villanous
eyes fixed evilly on hers. “Who is that man? Do you know?” she
said, turning to Theodore.

“That man,” he answered, with studied carelessness. “Oh, nobody. A
writer that the notary has lately taken on. His name is Skiff.”

“Stay to dinner,” said Ursula. “We shall be quite a small party.
Immediately afterwards Gerard goes back to Drum with the Van
Trossarts. I want you to see them to the station.”

“Very well. There is a thunder-storm coming up.”

“Is there? I don’t mind thunder-storms. But this one is several
hours off. You will be able to get back in time.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was about ten o’clock. The great curtain of deepening blue
had crept steadily upward, sweeping its broad rim like a mass
of cotton-wool across sun and sky, and gradually mingling with
night in one unbroken heaviness. The black weight now lay low on
the thick, expectant air. The summer evening was pitchy dark and
threatening.

Inside the Manor-house everything was once more quiet, with the
numbness that follows on a long day’s fatigue. A light glimmered
here and there in the big, dim building. In the basement the
servants were busy washing up. From time to time a distant yell of
drunken merrymaking or sheer animal excitement came faintly ringing
through the solemn denseness of the trees.

Ursula sat alone in her room, thinking of many things, especially
of Gerard’s reply to her question regarding the Horst. On her side
that question had assumed the importance of a supreme appeal. How
coldly he had pushed it aside!

“I know not what to do,” she reflected. “I cannot advance or
retreat. Merciful Heaven, how he has suffered! And the suffering
has taught him nothing.”

The noise from the village beat vaguely against her ear. It was
growing louder, coming nearer, but she did not remark it. She
looked up as from a trance, when Hephzibah broke, unannounced, into
the room.

“Mevrouw, they are coming!” shrieked the waiting-woman, her white
face still whiter from terror. “Save yourself! Escape by the
terrace!”

“Silence! Keep calm,” answered Ursula, long ago accustomed to
recognize the poor creature’s insanity. “If you can calm yourself,
tell me what is wrong.”

“There’s no time,” burst out Hephzibah, “for calmness. They are
coming--the people, up the avenue! They swear they will murder you,
or burn down the castle! Save yourself! Save yourself! Down by the
stables.”

Ursula, hearkening, distinguished indeed the fierce roar of an
approaching mob.

“Hush!” she said, white to the lips. “Go up-stairs to Freule
Louisa. Tell her to reassure the Baroness. Nothing will happen--do
you hear me?--if you all keep calm.” She spoke slowly and
impressively. “But if there is to be shrieking and screaming, I
cannot answer for the consequences.”

Then, brushing past the momentarily paralyzed servant, she went
out into the entrance hall. Its white pillars shone dimly in the
insufficient lamplight, half hidden behind gay patches of flowers.
The house had not been decorated for the occasion, but the stands
had been refilled and freshened up, and a floral “Hail to the
Hero!” of the head-gardener’s fabrication, still hung unfaded over
the great dining-room door.

The loud menace of the swiftly approaching danger rolled up with
increasing distinctness under the lowering heavens. Ursula could
plainly distinguish enthusiasm for the rightful Van Helmont and
denunciation of the usurper. “After all, they are right,” she
thought, bitterly; “they little know how right.” Somehow the
reflection seemed to bring her assurance. She now remembered,
without bitterness, all the manifold charities which the usurper,
unlike the rightful lords, had constantly dispensed, as bread from
her own mouth, to both deserving and undeserving poor.

She went out on to the wide steps and stood waiting; the hot air
struck her pallid face, and the clouds seemed to sink yet lower.

In another moment the cries all around her struck a yet crueler
blow. A dark mass, yelling and drunken, was surging vaguely across
the blackness of the lawn--the lowest rabble of the purlieus of
Horstwyk, and all the aristocracy of the Hemel.

“Down with the usurper!” “Down with the tyrant!” “We won’t have any
thieves in Horstwyk!” “Long live the hero of Acheen!” “Down with
the parson’s daughter!” And, cruelest of all, “Down with the light
o’ love!”

For one instant, as those mad words reached her, Ursula shrank
back, and a torrent of crimson swept over her cheeks. Juffers, the
constable, had supplemented Adeline’s stories, telling how, even in
her early widowhood, Mevrouw had despised all decorum.

At sight of the single light-robed figure standing there in
the dull radiance from the hall, the shrieking, struggling
conglomeration swerved back. There came a lull; then the wild
shouts went up anew.

“As no Helmont’s to have it, let’s burn down the house!” cried
a dominating twang, which Ursula recognized. A yell of approval
swelled high around the words. The logic of this tribute to the
family immediately enchanted every one; and all the half-grown
boys and raw youths in the horde howled with delight at the
prospect of so grand a conflagration. The tumult for some time,
however, rendered action of any kind impossible. Then followed the
inevitable ebb.

“There is no necessity for burning anything,” said Ursula, in
far-reaching tones; “the house is full of defenceless women. I am
here. What do you want?”

Another roar answered her, and, with re-echoing cries of “Burn it!”
the mob swayed forward to the steps.

Suddenly the fierce note of fury changed to a shrill surprise.
Ursula felt a hand upon her arm. Removing her eyes for the first
time from the turmoil in front of her, she saw the little Dowager
standing by her side.

“Go in, mamma--go in,” she whispered, hurriedly. But the little
Dowager did not remove the hand.

“Hurrah for the old Baroness?” screamed a drink-sodden voice.
The response was lost in an uproar of terror, as the darkness
momentarily vanished, and the whole scene--the massive building,
the soaring beeches, the upturned distorted faces, the two figures
on the threshold--all stood out white for one brilliant instant
before the opening heavens crashed down the full weight of their
pent-up derision in torrents of mingling rain and thunder on the
wasps’ nest beneath them which men call the world.

Mechanically the two women fell back under shelter. The rush of
water poured past them like a falling curtain amid the tumult of
the elements. The startled and blinded crowd, as flash followed
flash, sought an insecure refuge under the great trees of the park,
still restrained by that pair of locked and steadfast women from
roughly invading “the House.” The whole place was wrapped as in a
whirlpool of contending fire and water. Vaguely the half-sobered
drunkard realized that the young Baroness stood inviolable, girdled
by God.

       *       *       *       *       *

House and park were black and still in a widespread drip and shine
of water, when Theodore van Helmont, drenched to the skin, sprang
from his flecked and foaming steed and rang softly at a side-door.
He ran to the corridor, where Ursula met him, lamp in hand.

“That I should have been too late!” he gasped. “O God! Forgive me,
Ursula, that I should have been too late!” The tears sprang forward
as he looked at her, and rained down his cheeks.

“Don’t,” she said. “You hurt me.” She had never seen a man shed
tears before. “Of course you were too late. How could you help it?”

He mastered himself with an effort. “How pale you are!” he said.

“Well, of course, it is hardly a pleasant experience. It was my own
fault for encouraging conviviality. It is over now, Theodore. Be
comforted; you could have done nothing had you been here.”

“I could at least have died first,” he muttered. And he went away
without saying good-night.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Hephzibah had carried the alarm to Freule Louisa, the latter
had run screaming to the Dowager.

“And where is Ursula?” the old lady had asked, gasping and
trembling.

“Ursula has gone out to meet them, like the mad creature she
is. Dear Heaven, we shall all be murdered! Come away with me,
Cécile--come away! We can get out at the back and take refuge at
the gardener’s. Come immediately--come away!”

The Dowager rose, tottering, from her easy-chair.

“I am going to Ursula,” she said.

“To Ursula? Oh, mercy! Cécile, have you turned crazy, too? Let her
get herself killed if she wants to; what business is it of yours?
Oh, Heaven, I’m so frightened, I daren’t stay a second longer. Come
with me! You surely don’t care so remarkably for Ursula?”

“That may be,” replied the Dowager, with one foot already on the
stair; “but I am going to her now.”



CHAPTER XLVI

THE FATAL KNIFE


Mynheer Mopius was slowly dying. He amused himself with playing the
part and schooling Harriet, little realizing that her willingness
to accept the fiction found its source in her certitude of the fact.

“Harriet has become quite docile,” reflected Jacóbus; “she will
make an excellent wife for my old age. I had always a gift for
managing women. Look at Sarah, my first, whose character was
fundamentally selfish. Love, based upon obedience, that is the
secret of wedded bliss. But it would never do to let the women know
it. When a woman knows a secret there’s no secret left to know.”

Mynheer Mopius spent much of his time in bed, especially the
daytime. At night he would gasp for breath and have to be helped
to an easy-chair, and Harriet nursed him, carefully balancing her
strength.

“Two invalids are no use to any one,” she said, when stipulating
for repose in an adjoining apartment.

“My first wife--” began Mopius, but Harriet stopped him.

“That subject’s tabooed,” she said. “Why, Jacóbus, it is months
since you mentioned her. Your first wife died. What would you do
if, at this moment, I were to die?”

“Marry again,” replied Jacóbus, coughing against his pillows, and
looking exceedingly yellow and bilious and unwholesome.

“It takes two to do that,” said Harriet, coloring, as she spoke,
under the reproach of her own acceptance.

“Does it?” answered Mopius, clinking his medicine-bottles.

“Jacóbus, we have never quarrelled. Don’t let us begin now. There
is only one question I should like to ask you without requiring
an answer. How many people did you propose to when left a widower
before you got down to me?” She left the room abruptly, and in the
passage she struck her white hand across her face.

Not very hard.

Jacóbus sat up and adjusted his nightcap. “Ah, you see, she ran
away,” he said. “A year ago she’d have braved it out. I shall still
make something of Harriet.”

She came back presently with a bundle of papers. It was part of
her daily task to read aloud all the official documents connected
with the government of Drum, which were sent to the caged Town
Councillor. Jacóbus fretted incessantly at the thought how
everything was going wrong.

“The people in the streets look just as usual,” said Harriet; but
that consideration afforded her husband no comfort. She yawned
patiently over endless statistics regarding gas and drains. It was
her ignorance which caused her to wonder whether the town would not
have been governed far better without a council, and especially
without an official printing-press.

“It is time for my medicine,” said Mopius, who, by saying this five
minutes too early, constantly succeeded in suggesting an omission
on Harriet’s part. “Well, what says the Burgomaster concerning
the market dues? He is a fool, that Burgomaster. And so are the
aldermen. Heigho! I wonder what will become of this poor town when
I am gone! It is strange how greatly I have attached myself to it.
Almost as much as if it had been my birthplace. But I had always
‘une nature attachante.’ It is a great mistake.”

“Not necessarily,” said Harriet.

“Yes, yes. Life is too short: here to-day, gone to-morrow. Ah,
well! Is that idiot going to lower the rent for market stands?”

“I don’t know,” said Harriet, wearily, turning over her pile
of documents; “I’ll read you the whole lot; you can see for
yourself.” And she did read, monotonously, for an hour and a half,
Mopius following everything with eager interest, interrupting,
gesticulating, nodding approval or, more frequently, dissent.

“Right, right,” said Jacóbus, in high good-humor over somebody’s
opposition to the powers that be in Drum. “Give it them well. I
never approved of knuckling under to grandees. You gain nothing but
kicks by bowing to ‘My Lord.’ Ah, they’ll miss me when I’m dead,
Harriet, and so will you.”

“Yes, I shall miss you,” replied his wife. “Dear me, Jacóbus, what
shall I do with my time all day?”

“First you will cry,” said Jacóbus, with ghastly enjoyment of a
far-off possibility; “and then you will get tired of crying.” He
waited a little ruefully for a disclaimer. “And then you will begin
to enjoy your money.”

“By-the-bye, that is a subject we have never spoken about since the
marriage settlement,” said Harriet, holding one of the stiff yellow
papers against her cheek. “At least, _I_ have never spoken about
it. Of course, you tell me twenty times in a week that you will
leave me a lot of money; but that counts for nothing. I believe you
used to say the same thing to Ursula. Seriously, Jacóbus, have you
ever made a will?”

“I have,” said Jacóbus, enjoying his importance.

“I thought people who had been notaries always died intestate. If
you had died intestate, Jacóbus, I suppose Ursula would have had
all your money?”

“Ursula and that foolish Josine. Ursula, Baroness van Helmont, of
Horstwyk and the Horst. This conversation appears to me unpleasing,
Harriet.”

“Unavoidable conversations almost always are.” Harriett’s face was
entirely hid by the “Report on Sewage.” “Has this will of yours
really appointed me your heir?”

Mynheer Mopius fell back and gasped. “Can you not wait a little
longer?” he said--“a very little longer?”

“Jacóbus, I am only repeating what you have told me over and over
again. I want to know, if you please, whether you have really left
your whole fortune to me.”

She drew near to the bed.

Mynheer Mopius sat up again, and looked askance at his wife
anxiously. “I’m getting better,” he said. “I feel a great deal
better to-day.”

“I’m so glad. You look better. And now, Jacóbus, answer my
question, on your honor.”

“Harriet, I do believe you want me to die. I don’t think I shall
last much longer; still, don’t reckon too much on my speedy demise.
I heard the other day of a man who was buried and resuscitated, and
lived forty years afterwards.”

“Nonsense,” replied Harriet, unsympathetically. “If you were
buried, I should hardly be asking about your will. Now tell me.”

“What if I don’t?”

Harriet shrugged her handsome shoulders. “I suppose the truth
is you have left me nothing,” she said, walking away, “and you
don’t want to avow your life-long lies. One can never trust your
boastings. Perhaps there isn’t so much to leave.”

“You will be a rich woman, Harriet,” answered Mynheer Mopius,
solemnly, “a very rich woman. Yes, I have left you all, on
condition that you never marry again.”

“A foolish condition,” said Harriet, once more applying the
“Report.” “Should the question present itself, I would certainly
not be influenced by considerations of that kind.”

“Hum!” said Jacóbus. “Well, now I have told you. So let’s talk of
something else. I wish you would give me my jelly.”

She got it for him. “And if I marry, everything goes to Ursula, I
suppose,” she persisted. “Well, so much the better for Ursula.”

A sudden jealousy flashed into his orange-green eyes. “I believe,
if I died, you would marry the doctor,” he said.

Her face flushed protest; her heart thumped assent. “You have no
right to say that, or anything like it,” she cried. “I have been a
faithful wife to you, Jacóbus. Keep your dirty money.”

Her rising violence always cowed him. “Tut, tut,” he said; “so I
shall. For many a long year, perhaps, and after that you may have
it.”

“Not on those conditions.” She turned away from him altogether.
“Make your will over again,” she said. “Do you hear me? And leave
your money to Ursula, whose, in fact, it is by right. I am content
with my settlement, as I told you at the time. You will remember
that I told you to leave your money to Ursula. Money, with me,
is not the one thing worth living for and talking about. But I
wanted, in honesty, to warn you. You had better send for the lawyer
to-night.”

“What nonsense!” he cried, angrily. “To hear you talk, one would
think I hadn’t a week left to live. Is that what the doctor thinks,
pray? The wish is father to the thought.”

Harriet controlled herself forcibly. She came close to the bed.
“You needn’t make it to-night,” she said, softly. “But you had
better make it soon.”

       *       *       *       *       *

About a fortnight later Mynheer Jacóbus Mopius was buried with all
the pomp he had himself prescribed. All his virtues and dignities
were engraved upon his tombstone, so that his first wife’s
adjoining one looked very bare by comparison. His last words had
been, in a tremulous, squeaky sing-song:

    “If thy dear hand but lift the fatal kni-i-ife,
    I smile, I faint, and bid sweet death ‘All hail!’”



CHAPTER XLVII

TRIUMPHANT


The day after the attack on the Manor-house Ursula came down to
breakfast as usual.

“Has Monk not been found yet?” she asked.

In the servant’s face she read disaster. She had not missed any
of the menials in the hour of danger, presuming them to be hidden
away under bedsteads up-stairs, but she had been astonished by the
prolonged absence of the dog.

“Yes, Monk had been found,” said the servant, uneasily.

She cast a quick glance at his shifty eyes; then, without further
question, she went down to the basement, straight to the mat where
the St. Bernard slept. Monk was lying there, in a great huddled
mass of brown and white wool, motionless. Before she had come near
she knew he was dead. She stood for a moment by his side. Already
the limbs were stiffened, the eyes rolled back. She understood that
he had been decoyed the day before, and poisoned.

She knelt down and kissed the soft, white head.

“I used to think I was alone,” she said, as she rose.

A maid came towards her.

“Yes, it’s a pity, Mevrouw, is it not?” said the maid. “The old
Mevrouw sent me to ask you to go to her in her boudoir.”

Ursula obeyed the summons. As she entered, the Dowager rose to meet
her.

“My dear,” said the old lady, trembling very much, “you saved the
house last night. I’m afraid I have not always been fair to you.
I am old, Ursula; you must forgive an old woman’s prejudices. But
you are worthy to be a Van Helmont. Your father-in-law would have
appreciated your conduct, my dear.”

Henceforth there was one recent event on which the Dowager’s mind
remained perfectly clear. Its fierce terror seemed to have burned
it in. Much that had happened since the old Baron’s death was a
blank or a muddle, but she was always ready to talk of the attack.
And she spoke, therefore, with far greater kindness of the heroine.

“Yes, Ursula is strong,” assented Tante Louisa.

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently came the tidings of Uncle Mopius’s death, and very soon
after that a letter from Harriet. She told Ursula quite frankly
that she intended to marry again, as soon as her period of mourning
was over, so that there would be no use in first pretending to
ignore the fact. “Therefore,” she wrote, “I can only lay claim to
the ten thousand[M] a year of my marriage settlements, and, barring
a handsome legacy to Josine, you are your uncle’s heiress.”

Ursula dropped the letter on her writing-table and sat thinking,
till disturbed by one of Theodore’s frequent business calls. These
unavoidable discussions were rarely agreeable.

“First, I can tell you,” he began, “that Juffers has been
dismissed.”

“Good,” replied Ursula. “That is only right. It would be foolish to
pity him.”

“Secondly, nothing will result, I fear, from the judicial inquiry
as regards either the attack on the house or the murder of the dog.”

“That, too, is natural. It was a drunken outburst. Still, somebody
must have been the deliberate instigator, or the dog would not have
lost his life. I am sorry they can’t find out who did that.”

“I think I know. That new clerk of Noks’s has some grudge against
you. Would you like Monk’s murderer punished, Ursula?”

A responsive flame shot into her eyes. They met Theodore’s.

“Oh no,” she said, quickly. “No, no. Leave the man alone,
Theodore.”

“Thirdly--the usual worries. The old refrain, ‘Money! money!’ Money
wanted for the expenses of Gerard’s reception. Money wanted for
the completion of the cottages. Money wanted for a new roof on the
Red-dyke Farm. If only we had more money, Ursula, all would be
well. As it is--”

She interrupted him. “There is money,” she said. “I am a rich
woman, Theodore.”

He smiled an annoyed little smile. “Very funny,” he said, “if
only--”

“It is quite true.”

“Oh,” he exclaimed, suddenly understanding. “Has that precious
uncle of yours disinherited his wife?”

She colored angrily. “My uncle’s wife is quite able to manage her
own affairs,” she said. “Be thankful, you, that henceforth there
will be money enough and to spare.”

“How much do you think?” he questioned, with a man’s curiosity to
know the figure.

“Some twenty-five to thirty thousand florins a year, Theodore.
We shall be able to carry out all your improvements--all Otto’s
improvements--all that he used to say he would do if he could--all
he could have done if he had married his cousin Helena. And I
shall have a chance of trying my charity schemes. We must build an
Institute. You must help me, Theodore; there will be heaps to do.
We must do it all--all!” She spoke hurriedly, feverishly, as one
who crushes down a tumult in her heart.

Theodore stood looking at her, his face puckered and puzzled. “All
the fun of the thing is gone,” he said.

“The fun?”

“Yes, the fun. Can’t you understand? I can’t explain. There’s
nothing more for to-day. Good-morning.”

“Theodore, I wonder whether thirty thousand florins will suffice to
purchase their affection?” She paused. “Their armed neutrality,”
she slowly said.

       *       *       *       *       *

But when left alone her manner changed. She sank down by the
window--looking out, looking out. The other day in her supreme
appeal she would have abandoned everything to Gerard on his coming
home; she had hoped against hope. And what had been his reply? “I
am glad you have it, if you like it. I would not have exchanged my
struggle for yours.” The words came to her now with superficial
meaning; long afterwards she learned to fathom their sorrowful
compassion.

“It is God’s doing,” she pleaded, still gazing away upon the
landscape, “God’s answer. He confided these hundreds of human
beings to my care, and now gives me the means to help them. I dare
not abandon them to Gerard--to ruin. Right is an abstract idea. It
were wrong to do right.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The next two days brought Ursula a strange medley of emotions.
Gerard had telegraphed immediately after the riot, offering his
services; but she begged him not to come over just yet. She dreaded
all contact with him. She dreaded his pale face.

He, on his part, gladly held aloof. He was looking for a small
house at the Hague, where he expected his mother to come and live
with him. The Dowager meanwhile waited patiently. Gerard had only
been back a fortnight. To her it seemed one brief yesterday.

Meanwhile the news of Ursula’s accession to wealth filled the
province. In one moment the tide turned completely, and the waters
of adulation came running from all sides to her feet. Tenants
and tradespeople vied with each other in denouncing those who
had wronged her. Demands for improvements and repairs poured in
hourly; petitioners of all kinds jostled accredited beggars on the
Manor-house steps. A rumor had gone forth that the young Baroness
really intended to spend her wealth on the property, and when early
requests received a hearing, and vague projects got bruited, then
enthusiasm knew no bounds. Not more than a week after the attack
on the Manor-house Ursula was compelled to exert herself, amid a
storm of delation, to prevent both a criminal trial and a lynching
of scape-goats by lesser offenders. She would have extended small
mercy to the poisoner of her dog had not a story recently reached
her ears, after going the round of the neighborhood, to the effect
that the notary’s new clerk had been found one evening, not far
from his home, lying in the road unconscious, with the coat
thrashed off his back.

Ursula, a little dazed amid this sudden revulsion, could even smile
at the faces that beamed upon her and serenely decline the honors
of a swift counter-demonstration after the manner of Gerard’s
reception. She could make every excuse for the fawning of those
whose daily bread lies in a master’s hand, but what hurt her to
the quick was the sudden melting of the “cousins,” who poured down
upon her like icicles suddenly struck by the beams of a belated
sun. They could not understand her shivering in the bath of their
congratulatory condolence. Ursula pushed the Barons and Baronesses
aside.

But the rush of popularity was pleasing, even when correctly
estimated; the importance was pleasing; and the possibility of
fulfilment--the sudden nearness of life-long ideals--was most
pleasing of all. It was all so sudden, so unexpected. Ursula,
triumphant, gasped for breath.

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning, three days after the news reached her, Ursula rang the
bell and sent for Tante Louisa’s maid.

“Hephzibah,” she said, “if you are so wretched in this house--and
your face proves it--why do you remain?”

Hephzibah began to whimper.

“Klomp won’t have me,” she said; “not unless I bring him enough
money to support me. He can’t but just support himself, he says.
And Pietje and her child would have to be boarded out.”

“You shall have the money. You can go and tell him so--that is
settled.”

But Hephzibah lingered with her apron to her face.

“Forgive me, Mevrouw,” she said; “I never meant no harm to you--but
we’re all poor, guilty sinners; and that woman Skiff, the insolent
liar, pretending to be wife to honest folks, and then bringing
along another husband of her own!”

“You have done me no wrong that I know of,” replied Ursula, calmly;
“but I see you are uncomfortable here, and I am willing to help
you. Do you hear your foolish voices still?”

Hephzibah shuddered; then she said, enigmatically,

“No, I don’t. Not _after_--Nevertheless, repentance comes too late.
I’m not as bad as other people, but I’m doomed to be unhappy;
privileged, I should say.”

“You can go,” said Ursula.

Hephzibah turned by the door.

“Why don’t you marry the Jonker?” she began, suddenly; “I know he
loves you. He loved you when he didn’t ought to, and I know he
loves you still.”

“Peace, woman!” exclaimed Ursula, rising fiercely. “The Jonker does
not love me, nor I him. Go you, and marry your clod.”

A few hours later, as Ursula was sitting alone, thinking--“Why,”
asks Freule Louisa, “does Ursula always sit thinking, since her
inheritance came? Is she counting up her money? Oh, fie!”--as
Ursula sat alone thinking, a stone flew suddenly through her open
window, alighting almost at her feet. It had a paper attached to
it, and the paper bore these words:

“Beware of Adeline Skiff and her husband. They will work your
downfall, if they can.”

She turned the paper over and over. She had no doubt that it came
from Hephzibah, whom she--and the world generally--believed to be
mildly crazy. She knew that Hephzibah had suspicions regarding many
things, but she also had always known these to be harmless. Nobody
would attach any importance to Hephzibah’s mutterings.

Ursula smiled sadly.

The paper lay in her lap. And now, unexpectedly, as she gazed down,
a great fear fell upon her, she could not have told whence. For the
first time she was frightened, afraid of a secret enemy, afraid of
discovery, exposure. Who was this man Skiff, the notary’s clerk?
What did he know? What could he do? She started up.

To be forced, against her own will, to surrender! To be compelled
to do what she would so gladly have done of her own accord, if she
had but known how! She set her teeth tight.

An hour later, in the early fall of the slow August evening, Ursula
knocked at Skiff’s humble door. Adeline opened it, and immediately
tossed her head. “And what may you please to want of me?” she
asked.

“I wish to speak to your husband,” replied Ursula.

“Find him, then,” said Adeline, and banged the door.

The insult did Ursula good in this hour of universal adulation. It
braced her.

She took a few steps down the lonely lane, reflectively, and then
remembered the public-house at the end. She wondered she had not
thought of it before. She called to a child at play, gave it a
penny, and bade it tell Skiff he was wanted at home immediately.

“Wanted at home, you hear!” she cried after it, as she hastily
retreated.

The urchin scampered off and burst into the bar-room. “My lady
Baroness wants Mynheer Skiff!” he screamed. “She’s waiting in the
middle of the road.”

This bomb-shell, at least, had its desired effect, which a quieter
summons from Adeline might easily have missed. Amid general but
silent astonishment, and much arching of eyebrows, Skiff started up
and stumbled out.

“I wonder he ain’t afraid of another beating,” said one of the
topers.

“He gets drunk so as not to be afraid,” replied another.

Ursula’s heart almost failed her when she saw the miserable little
creature come lurching down the lane. Oh, the humiliation of
condescending to such a low hound as this! At this moment, standing
awaiting his approach, she touched the lowest depth in all her long
descent of suffering.

She had not made up her mind what to do. She had no plan. Only she
was resolved, in accordance with her character, immediately to face
uncertainty.

He slouched up and jerked his hat, “And what can I do for you,
ma’am?” he said.

She sickened at his manner, feeling as if a snail were creeping
across her hand. “Answer a simple question,” she replied. “What do
you want of me?”

He swayed to and fro, passing his hand across his eyes. “I’m a poor
man,” he said, “a very poor man. A little money never comes amiss.”

“Money?” she echoed. “What should I give you money for? Drink? You
will get no black-mail out of me!” Her gorge rose; she felt her
pulse grow steady again.

“Now, ma’am, best be civil,” remonstrated Skiff, with tipsy
ferocity. “Black-mail isn’t the word, yet there’s stories enough
about you to make a little hush-money worth your while. You’d
better pay up, my lady; you’d better pay up!”

“Threats! And to me!” exclaimed Ursula, scornfully. But at this
moment the cottage door was thrown open and Adeline came running
out.

“Don’t let her off too easy!” cried Adeline. “Skiff, you fool,
how much did you say? It shall be five thousand florins if it’s
a penny, my lady. Or we’ll show you up, Baroness Helmont of the
Horst!”

With Gerard’s return Adeline had grown utterly reckless in her
fierce hatred of Ursula.

“I am glad you speak so plainly,” said Ursula, coldly. “In this
manner you will certainly never get a penny out of _me_.”

For only answer Adeline poured out a flood of accusation, sprinkled
with foul language, from which Ursula gathered for the first time
what tales had been circulated against her in the village.

She stood frozen to marble--to marble splashed with mud that no
current of years would ever again remove. “That is all?” she said
at length, when Adeline paused for breath.

“All!” shrieked the woman. “Skiff, d’ye hear my lady? She don’t
think it’s enough! I wonder what your two lovers’ll say, madam,
Theodore and Gerard!”

“Hold your tongue,” growled the man, shamefacedly, “or I’ll make
you. She has such a temper, my lady, she goes off her head at
times. I hope your nobleness’ll forgive her and remember I’m a poor
man.”

Ursula had understood, as the torrent swept down upon her, that
these people knew nothing--absolutely nothing. They could not
hurt her, except by such vague slander as any man may speak. Her
secret was still her own, entirely her own, shared by none but a
half-crazy creature, whose tardy story, if told, would never carry
conviction. And now her set face grew gentle, and the floodgates of
her charity opened.

[Illustration: “‘IT SHALL BE FIVE THOUSAND FLORINS IF IT’S A
PENNY, MY LADY’”]

“I will arrange for your emigrating to Canada,” she said, “if you
promise to sign the pledge.”

“Oh, I’ll sign it, and willingly,” answered Skiff. “If I may make
so bold, how much would you make it, my lady?”

“That will depend on many things,” replied Ursula, and turned to
go. “I will have no money wasted.”

Adeline stood in the path, looking as if she would fain have struck
her successful rival.

Ursula paused.

“You poor thing,” she said, “I cannot understand what you have
against me. I am in no way responsible for your ruin. Believe me, I
did all in my power to persuade Baron van Helmont to make you his
wife.”

No other words the Baroness could have uttered would have enraged
Adeline more than these. The woman stood foaming at the mouth with
the hysterical passion of her class.

“You! You!” she sobbed out. “_He asked_ me to marry him, do you
hear, like the true-hearted gentleman he was! And I threw him over
for Skiff! What I said later was a lie, as you know; but I’d have
kept up the game if the child hadn’t died, as it did last year,
more’s the pity! And I _could_ have been Baroness van Helmont, if
I’d chosen. So there! You can take my leavings, madame.”

Ursula came a step closer; her face seemed to alter suddenly.
“Answer before God,” she said; “did Gerard van Helmont offer you
marriage before your child was born?”

“Yes, I tell you--yes!” laughed back Adeline, impudently. “There;
you didn’t expect that, did you? There’s pleasant news for my lady
so proud! Take Miss Adeline’s leavings, do!”

The man, who had stood watching them, stumbled forward.

“Go in, d’ye hear?” he said, roughly, “or I’ll give you another
taste of yesterday’s dinner.” He turned to Ursula with a leer
he intended for a smile. “You must forgive her, Mevrouw,” he
said, bowing. “She’s a bit fantastical, as I said, but I know
how to manage her. I hope that Mevrouw will kindly remember the
arrangement she has just made with myself.”

FOOTNOTE:

[M] $4100.



CHAPTER XLVIII

A WIFE FOR GERARD


Ursula walked back through the darkening fields. She knew herself
now to be safe, yet she hung as one trembling in the recoil from
the flash across a sudden abyss. _Supposing_ she had discovered
that these horrible creatures held her in their power? Would she
have flung herself down into degradation unspeakable? She hoped
not; she trusted not. Yet the oppression of wrong-doing was upon
her, the fatal closing of successive links, the terror of the
“might have been.”

Then every other reflection died away, and one thought only spread
large in falling shadows across the clear blue sky.

How greatly had she wronged Gerard through all the silent years!
It was but a single point--this question of Adeline’s ruin; it was
“no business of Ursula’s”--oh, pure sisters of the impure!--yet how
deeply had it influenced her womanly heart in all her thoughts of
him! She could understand, in her own pride, his haughty shrinking
from self-assertion before the bar of her complacency. How many
err as he! How few make good their error! She saw things more
calmly now than in that ignorant girlhood which seemed to lie so
far behind her. Her thoughts dwelt sweetly on the companion of
her childhood; his happy, noisy youth, his early manhood, now so
steadfast in its slow endurance. And her strong eyes grew dim
beneath the dying day.

On the steps of the Manor-house a gay party were assembled,
laughing and talking, in a bouquet of bright dresses. Helena van
Troyen ran forward to meet her.

“We have been waiting to see you,” she cried. “I have brought
Toddlums--the baby--and also some one I knew would interest you
all--Gerard’s Colonel from Acheen.”

“How delighted mamma will have been!” said Ursula, a little
hypocritically, as she advanced to be introduced to a tall
gentleman, all brick-dust and mustache.

“Colonel Vuurmont’s descriptions of Gerard’s bravery are too
charmingly thrilling,” said Helena. “Dear Gerard! And so romantic!
Tell Mevrouw van Helmont, Colonel, about that bit of brown glove.”

“Mevrouw, Mevrouw, that is a kind of a sort of a secret,”
expostulated the Colonel, looking slightly bored.

“A secret! when half a dozen men saw it produced, and all Kotta
Radja knew and teased him about it afterwards! Nonsense! Ursula,
you must know that when Gerard was so terribly wounded--terribly
wounded, it appears, and in four different places--they found an
old brown kid glove on his breast. Isn’t that delicious? I had
_hoped_ the glove was mine, but Gerard says it wasn’t. There, nurse
has let Toddlums upset herself again. Come, Ursula; I can’t bear to
hear the child scream like that.”

The two men remained on the steps. “You must know, Van Troyen,”
said the Colonel, “that Helmont maintains there is no love-story
connected with that glove at all; only it would be a pity to spoil
your wife’s amusement. He says that the glove saved his life in a
duel, through his adversary slipping on it, and that he wore it as
a kind of talisman.”

“I certainly remember about a duel,” replied Willie, “with a
foreign officer, who had said, I believe, that Dutch soldiers were
wanting in courage.”

“Helmont was just the right man to say that to,” remarked the
Colonel, quietly.

“Ursula, I have got a wife for Gerard at last,” said Helena,
fondling her baby. “On the whole, I think, she is suitable, though
it has cost me a lot of trouble to admit it. But I am growing old,
and have a baby, and one learns to see things differently. I have
talked to him about it all, and I think he understands.”

“Really!” replied Ursula, much interested in Toddlums.

“But men are so contrary! He pretends that he is going to live in
the Hague with his mother, and never marry. Gerard never marry!
‘Ah, quel dommage d’un si bel homme!’ I have explained all about it
to aunt. She is rather exacting, but, on the whole, I believe she
agrees with me.”

“Has this young lady means of her own?” asked Ursula.

“Fie! what a question! The very last I should have expected from
you! Yes, the lady has means of her own. She has recently come into
a fortune. They will be able to live in some style, as the Baron
and Baroness van Helmont should.”

“And you think Gerard consents?”

“Oh yes, I feel sure he will. To begin with, he says he won’t,
which is always a very good sign. And then there are others. I
suppose you have no idea who the lady is?”

Helena looked up sharply, with petulant good-will, into Ursula’s
grave face.

“I? No; how should I tell? Do I know her?”

“Oh yes, better than I ever did. But, really, we must be going; we
have missed our train as it is. I was so anxious to tell you about
this coming marriage of Gerard’s, and to express my admiration of
your bravery last week, that, for the first time since her birth,
I have neglected Toddlums. Colonel Vuurmont admires you awfully,
Ursula. He says he wishes he had had you out in Acheen.”

“He had Gerard,” replied Ursula, simply.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening the young Baroness’s “family circle” gathered, as
usual, round the shaded lamp. Ursula tried hard to bestow due
attention on Tante Louisa’s prattle; the Dowager had sunk to sleep
over a bundle of letters which she had been laboriously sorting,
first according to their writers, and then, all over again,
according to their dates.

The month’s _Victory_ lay spread out before Tante Louisa, who was
holding forth in Batavo-Carlylese.

“Napoleon was the world’s ruler by right of power,” said Louisa.
“Kings are they who can rule. An hereditary king is a puppet.”

“But the other day you sang the praises of heredity,” suggested
Ursula, politely.

“Did I? Well, that also was consistent. We praise things for the
good in them; we blame for the bad. There is nothing so consistent
as inconsistency.”

A tap at the terrace-window awoke the Dowager. The Dominé stood
outside with Josine. Ursula started up in delight, for her father’s
visits were of the rarest.

The Freule immediately took possession of the pastor, while Josine
considerately settled down by the Dowager to tell her of recent
successes gained by Sympathetico in arresting mental decline.

“I disagree utterly,” broke out the Dominé, as soon as he had
heard a few words of Louisa’s jargon. “The world is not ruled by
human strength, forsooth! but by the power of God. In big things
and little, it is we who make trouble by not marching straight. If
only we would do the moment’s duty, leaving the responsibility to
the Commander-in chief! To do a great right, do a little wrong!”
exclaimed the Dominé, spluttering in his energy. “It is the worst
lie ever invented! It is the curse of a little evil conscientiously
done that wrong must breed wrong forever. Satan himself is nearer
than a Jesuit to the kingdom of God!”

Suddenly Ursula looked up from her work. “Is that not putting it
rather strongly, papa?” she said.

“It is the simplest of Christ’s teachings,” cried the excited
Dominé. “It is the deepest conviction of my heart. Never was
good got out of a false start! To deny that is the confusion of
all distinctions--the death of all discipline. Ursula, would you
make of the Lord’s army a company of free-shooters? Right is
right; wrong is wrong; shout it out upon the house-tops! If you
don’t know, for the moment, _what_ is right, ask God to help you.
_When_ you know, do it. That is all philosophy and all religion.
Sufficient for the day is the duty thereof!”

He had got up, pacing the room with rapid stride, and waving his
empty sleeve.

“I’m excited, ladies,” he said, wiping his forehead. “This
afternoon I heard the dying confession of a man who has ruined his
whole life and his brother’s by a generous lie told in his youth.
It is not to remain a secret; I will tell the story to you some
day. Well, Mevrouw, that is a pretty child of Helena van Troyen’s!”

“Captain, listen.” Ursula followed her father out on to the terrace
after he had taken leave. “Do you really mean it all?”

He did not ask what she alluded to, but answered straight: “From
the bottom of my heart. You know I mean it. Remember our talk about
Gerard. And you, too, mean it. Did you not go down last week, like
a soldier’s daughter, to face the mob!”

“Papa--” began Ursula.

“Why are the Helmonts going away?” asked Josine’s voice behind her.
“I shall miss Theodore’s mother very much. She is a good, plain,
sensible body, and not above taking judicious advice.”

“Going away? How do you mean?” asked Ursula.

“Yes, going away. Don’t you know? How odd! She told me that
Theodore had come in this afternoon, after having met the Van
Troyens, and had said in his disagreeable way (though she didn’t
call it that, but I think him very disagreeable), ‘Mother, our
work here is done; we are going back to Bois-le-Duc.’ She couldn’t
get anything more out of him. He went away and banged the door. So
selfish.”

“Josine!” called the Dominé on ahead.

“Coming! coming, Roderigue. How odd, Ursula, that you didn’t know
that!”

Ursula stood looking after her father’s vanished figure. “To-morrow
I shall tell him,” she said.



CHAPTER XLIX

FACE TO FACE WITH HERSELF


She stood on the terrace, amid the gloom of the placid, moonless
night. The great house gleamed dully white behind her, and the
wealth of foliage that embowered it stretched in black masses
beyond.

“It is the end,” she said, clutching at the flimsy folds about her
throat. “What a pitiful little end it is!”

Fronting the facts calmly, as was her manner, she knew everything
she had striven for to be now fully in her power. At last every
enemy was silenced, every danger averted; with the money just
inherited she could begin her great work of regenerative charity;
in fulfilling her dead husband’s ideals she could accomplish her
own.

Had she desired greatness for herself, now was the moment to grasp
it firmly as it lay in her hand. “No, I have not desired it for
myself,” she said aloud.

She had done her evil deed for Otto’s sake, for the sake of all
these Helmonts. She had done it with the desperate self-persuasion
that the wrong she was committing was better than all right.
She had taught herself fiercely to believe it so, strengthened
again and again in the teeth of growing conviction, by Gerard’s
recklessness, by Otto’s dying entreaty, by her own invigorating
failures, dangers, sudden deliverances. She had struggled to
believe that God Himself was helping her in this self-appointed
mission--the saving of Horstwyk and all its dependencies under her
righteous rule.

She knew now that the truth was otherwise. She had known it long,
with a gathering clearness that broke in sunlight through the fogs
of her own calling up; but now, in the sudden hush of the contest,
the falling away of all adverse winds to dead calm, she saw God’s
reality of right as she had not beheld it before. Right is right.
Little wrongs do not bring forth great blessings. Her father, in
his simplicity, spoke true.

She herself--what had she called up in the hearts of these people
around her, by the sense of the great wrong done to Gerard, but a
foolish, fruitless hate, to be bought off now by the vilest of all
persuaders--gold? She loathed--suddenly--this filthy popularity
she had thought pleasant for the moment. Better, a thousand
times better, the frank rebellion against her stern and sterile
righteousness, better than _this_. And for her own heart--she knew
that her sin had brought her own heart no profit. Far from it. With
loathing she remembered Hephzibah and Adeline and Skiff, and all
the possibilities of shame. Oh, her father was right, a thousand
times. The outcome of evil is evil, the outcome of sin is sin.

She had been resolved ever since the day of Gerard’s return to
Horstwyk, though she was not aware of her own resolve, to give up
the Manor to its rightful lord. Resolved to do it, come what may,
leaving the further development of events to Him whose the end will
most certainly be if only the beginning be His.

She would have done it at all costs, but now God, in His mercy,
made the duty yet plainer. The moment was come to which she had
ever looked forward, when the Manor would be safe in Gerard’s
hands. He was about to unite himself in marriage to some wealthy
woman. He would be able, as Helena had unwittingly pointed out, to
fulfil the duties of his position.

So far, so good. She could reason calmly; she could even face the
shame of her confession. She could see herself pointed at, hooted
by all. She would be punished, she supposed, when the crime got
abroad. Even if the Van Helmonts were merciful--as why should
they be?--Government punished such criminals as she. She would be
sentenced, in open court, to a long period of solitary confinement
or of penal servitude--she did not know which--as a common convict.
That was inevitable. She stopped for one moment in her rapid walk
along the terrace. Pooh, she had judged that issue so many times
already! When a citizen commits a crime, the State must attempt to
check him. The State punishes crime, and God punishes sin. The two
have but little in common. So far, so good.

But now! now! She pressed both hands to her forehead, staring out
wildly into the darkness. She loved Gerard. She knew that she loved
him. She loved him since his return; but Adeline’s confession had
opened the floodgates of her heart’s admiration for the man she had
wronged. She was one of those women who fancy there can be no love
without respect; she had taught her own soul that early lesson. But
now she knew that she loved him. She had honored Otto and dutifully
admired him, but this--now at last she recognized it--was love. She
loved his manliness, his uprightness, his chivalry; the pale face
she herself had discolored, the form she had wounded, the glory her
guilt had called forth. Aye, she even loved the memory of youthful
errors courageously atoned for.

God punishes sin. Perhaps, if she had let all things take their
natural course, Gerard might in due time have made her his wife.
However that be, now, at any rate, nothing need have kept them
apart. For she knew that Gerard also loved her, in spite of this
unwilling marriage to which his womankind were pressing him. And
between her and him arose up, for all eternity, the shadow of her
crime. She herself must speak the word, crushing down his righteous
love into a pool of scorn.

She sank by the parapet, with her face on the stone, and then
nothing disturbed the breathless silence but one sudden, suddenly
arrested moan.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Ursula came down next morning there were circles under her
eyes. Yet she had slept peacefully enough towards dawn. It must
have been the merest accident that Aunt Louisa noticed--for the
first time, she declared--some faint suggestion of gray about her
niece’s brown ripple of hair.

“I am going to town on business,” said Ursula, “so I shall want the
carriage, if you please.”

“Dear me, how annoying!” exclaimed Tante Louisa. “I had been
wanting to drive across to Mevrouw Noks, and arrange about
Tryphena. You’re sure you couldn’t select another day?”

“Quite sure,” answered Ursula, cutting bread. “It is business which
can’t be put off.”

“Well, that’s very provoking. But if you’re going to town you must
bring me some floss-silk from the Berlin-wool shop.”

“I am going to the Hague,” answered Ursula.

“The Hague? Oh, you’re sure to be able to match it there. I must
give you a bit to take with you.” Tante Louisa felt aggrieved, for
did she not pay her “pension”?

       *       *       *       *       *

Ursula, alone in her compartment between Horstwyk and Drum, could
not but reflect on her first railway journey with Gerard. “The
great of this earth are above the common law.” She smiled bitterly
at the thought of the error. There may be two social laws for
high and humble; there may be even two civic laws for rich and
poor--there are no two laws of right and wrong with the Judge of
all the Earth.

But at Drum acquaintances got in, and she had to talk of the
weather. She said it was very fine, though a little too warm. It
was a pity, she said, that the days were growing so short already.

Arrived at the Hague, she thought she had better begin by hunting
for Aunt Louisa’s silk. She tried several shops without success. At
last she found herself compelled regretfully to desist.

She hailed a passing tram-car, which took her to Gerard’s lodgings.
As she lifted an unfaltering hand to the bell the door was suddenly
drawn back, and Gerard himself appeared, coming out. Both of them
started aside for the moment.

“You here?” exclaimed the Baron. “We very nearly missed each other.
I had no idea you were coming.”

“Nor had I,” she replied, “till I came. I want to speak to you,
Gerard.”

“Yes,” he assented, without inviting her to enter. “Can I walk
on with you? I am due at the Ministry in half an hour. You have
connections, if I remember right, in the Hague?”

“I was coming to you,” she answered. “Let me go into your room for
a moment. I shall not keep you.”

Reluctantly he led the way.

The thud of the closing door crashed down upon her heart; in the
sudden stillness and shutting-out she realized that the crisis was
come: her courage sank. And while leaning against some unnoticed
support she was angry with the pride within her which could not
as much as ask for a glass of water. The room swam past her eyes
in a swift recognition of many familiar objects--mementos of her
child-life with the owner--among a recent glitter of gaudy trophies
and gleaming swords. As he threw back his coat she noticed, with
dull indifference, that he was dressed for some Ministerial
mid-day reception. Somehow she connected this fact with his life
in society, his search for a suitable wife. She sank into a large
arm-chair, shielding her brow for one instant with both hands.

Gerard waited, standing by his writing-table. The room seemed very
subdued after the glare of the noisy street.

Presently she lifted her still white face--as a vessel might right
herself, suddenly becalmed.

“Gerard,” she said, “I have come to tell you something I have long
been wanting to tell you; but I didn’t tell you, and that makes it
all the worse. I have wronged you very cruelly.”

She rose and remained standing before his stern attitude, grown
suddenly rigid, his crossed arms, and relentlessly downcast gaze.

“I am not come to ask forgiveness,” she went on, hurriedly. “I am
come to make confession and then to leave you. There is nothing to
be done but to confess. Gerard, when Otto died, and Baby, it all
depended, you remember, upon the question who died first. I said
that it was Otto who died, and I inherited the property from Baby.”

She paused with a gasp. He neither spoke nor moved.

“It was Baby who died before Otto, Gerard, and you were Otto’s
heir.”

A faint flush crept over Gerard’s firm-set cheeks. It was the only
proof that he had understood.

“That is all I have to say,” she went on, in the silence closing
round her. “But I wanted to say it to you first before repeating it
to strangers.”

Then, suddenly, amid that deepening stillness, she felt that she
must get away, must escape, and she hurried towards the door.

“Ursula!” said Gerard’s voice behind her, quite gently.

She turned; he had lifted his eyes, and his steadfast gaze met hers.

“Have you really nothing to say?” he continued. “No explanation? No
extenuation of such conduct? _No_ excuse?”

She drew herself up. “What would be the use of all that?” she
answered, coldly. “Who listens to a criminal’s perversions? I have
told you now, and you know.”

“I knew before,” he said.

When the words had struck her ear, an instant of expectation
intervened. Then she caught at the wall beside her, saw him, as she
did so, check a futile impulse to spring forward, and once more
stood outwardly calm.

“I learned the news some weeks ago,” he continued. “On the night
before the battle, as it happened. I got a letter from--some one
who knew.”

“From Hephzibah,” said Ursula. “But then--when you came back--why--”

“When I came back I told her to await my good pleasure. I myself
was waiting for this moment, Ursula. God only knows _how_ I have
waited for it, hoped for it--” He broke off.

“Then be thankful it has come,” she answered, in the bitterness of
her righteous abandonment.

“Yes, it has come. And now there is nothing else to say?”

“No, there is nothing else to say.”

She fancied she caught a strange flicker in his firmly fixed eyes.

“And of what use will the Manor-house be to a poor beggar like
myself?” he went on. “You had much better have kept it--you, who
are rich.”

She flushed scarlet under the taunt.

“May I go?” she asked, almost meekly, under the pain at her heart.
“You will do what you like with the Manor. Perhaps you will sell
it. Though Helena van Troyen tells me you are going to marry a rich
wife of her choosing--and your own.”

“Did Helena van Troyen tell you that?” he asked, uncrossing his
arms, and the brightness of his nature seemed to come flowing back
from all sides.

[Illustration: “‘I AM COME TO MAKE CONFESSION AND THEN TO LEAVE
YOU’”]

“Yes; but do not be afraid. She mentioned no names. Besides, it is
no business of mine. I do not know whom she means.”

“I am sorry it is no business of yours,” replied Gerard, coming
boldly forward, “for, Ursula, she means yourself.”

“She--she--” stammered Ursula.

“And so do I.” Very quietly he put his arm around her, and drew
down the tired head upon his breast. “We have both of us suffered
quite enough,” he said.

The tears came swelling across her eyes.

“Through my fault,” she whispered--“my fault.”

“Let _me_ find the criminal’s extenuations, Ursula. Do you really
think, you poor, noble creature, that I do not understand?”

“I must confess to my father,” she continued, in the same tremulous
whisper. “To my father and the world.”

“To your father, if you will. But the world has not been injured by
anything you have done, and you owe it no reparation. It is not our
function to supply the world with the empty scandals it delights
in. Suffering is a holy but a very awful thing. We will have no
more superfluous suffering, Ursula.”

“It shall all be as you wish,” she humbly answered, her head at
rest upon his shoulder. She closed her eyes. “Gerard, I am not
afraid of them. I was never afraid of them. But from the very
first, I think, I was afraid of God.”

“God be thanked for it!” said Gerard, softly. And a flood of
sunlight, falling leisurely around them, lighted into sudden
brilliance the cross upon his breast.


                              THE END



                      WILLIAM BLACK’S NOVELS.


      A DAUGHTER OF HETH.
      A PRINCESS OF THULE.
      DONALD ROSS OF HEIMRA.
      GREEN PASTURES AND PICCADILLY.
      IN FAR LOCHÂBER.
      IN SILK ATTIRE.
      JUDITH SHAKESPEARE. Illustrated by ABBEY.
      KILMENY.
      MACLEOD OF DARE. Illustrated.
      MADCAP VIOLET.
      PRINCE FORTUNATUS. Ill’d.
      SABINA ZEMBRA.
      SHANDON BELLS. Illustrated.
      STAND FAST, CRAIG-ROYSTON! Illustrated.
      SUNRISE.
      THAT BEAUTIFUL WRETCH. Illustrated.
      THE MAGIC INK, AND OTHER STORIES. Illustrated.
      THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A HOUSE-BOAT. Ill’d.
      THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PHAETON.
      THREE FEATHERS.
      WHITE HEATHER.
      WHITE WINGS. Illustrated.
      YOLANDE. Illustrated.

                  12mo, Cloth, $1 25 per volume.

                 WOLFENBERG.--THE HANDSOME HUMES.

            Illustrated. 12mo, Cloth, $1 50 per volume.

                         HIGHLAND COUSINS.

           Illustrated. 12mo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 75.

   Complete Sets, 26 Volumes, Cloth, $30 00; Half Calf, $57 00.


                  CHEAP EDITION, IN PAPER COVERS:

_Donald Ross of Heimra._ 8vo, 50 cents.--_Sabina Zembra._ 4to, 20
cents.--_Judith Shakespeare._ 4to, 20 cents.--_Shandon Bells._
Illustrated. 4to, 20 cents.--_That Beautiful Wretch._ Illustrated.
4to, 20 cents.--_Sunrise._ 4to, 20 cents.--_Macleod of Dare._
Illustrated. 8vo, 60 cents. Illustrated. 4to, 15 cents.--_Green
Pastures and Piccadilly._ 8vo, 50 cents.--_Madcap Violet._ 8vo,
50 cents.--_Three Feathers._ Illustrated. 8vo, 50 cents.--_A
Daughter of Heth._ 8vo, 35 cents.--_An Adventure in Thule._ 4to,
10 cents.--_In Silk Attire._ 8vo, 35 cents.--_Kilmeny._ 8vo, 35
cents.--_The Strange Adventures of a Phaeton._ 8vo, 50 cents.--_The
Maid of Killeena, the Marriage of Moira Fergus, and Other Stories._
8vo, 40 cents.--_The Monarch of Mincing-Lane._ Illustrated. 8vo, 50
cents.--_The Strange Adventures of a House-Boat._ Illustrated. 8vo,
50 cents.--_In Far Lochâber._ 8vo, 40 cents.--_Prince Fortunatus._
Illustrated. 8vo, 50 cents.--_Stand Fast, Craig Royston!_ 8vo, 50
cents.


             PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.

[Illustration]

_The above works are for sale by all booksellers, or will be sent
by the publishers, postage prepaid, to any part of the United
States, Canada, or Mexico, on receipt of the price._



                         BY A. CONAN DOYLE


THE REFUGEES. A Tale of Two Continents. Illustrated. Post 8vo,
Cloth, Ornamental, $1 75.

A masterly work.... It is not every year, or even every decade,
which produces one historical novel of such quality.--_Spectator_,
London.


THE WHITE COMPANY. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 75.

... Dr. Doyle’s stirring romance, the best historical fiction he
has done, and one of the best novels of its kind to-day.--_Hartford
Courant._


MICAH CLARKE. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 75; also
8vo, Paper, 45 cents.

A noticeable book, because it carries the reader out of the
beaten track; it makes him now and then hold his breath with
excitement; it presents a series of vivid pictures and paints two
capital portraits; and it leaves upon the mind the impression of
well-rounded symmetry and completeness.--R. E. PROTHERO, in _The
Nineteenth Century_.


ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth,
Ornamental, $1 50.


MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth,
Ornamental, $1 50.

Few writers excel Conan Doyle in this class of literature. His
style, vigorous, terse, and thoughtful, united to a nice knowledge
of the human mind, makes every character a profoundly interesting
psychological study.--_Chicago Inter-Ocean._


THE PARASITE. A Story. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1
00.

A strange, uncanny, weird story, ... easily the best of its class.
The reader is carried away by it, and its climax is a work of
literary art.--_Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette._


THE GREAT SHADOW. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 00.

A powerful piece of story-telling. Mr. Doyle has the gift of
description, and he knows how to make fiction seem reality.
--_Independent_, N. Y.


             PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.

[Illustration]

_The above works are for sale by all booksellers, or will be mailed
by the publishers, postage prepaid, on receipt of the price._



Transcriber’s Notes:


Missing and extra quotation marks fixed. Missing periods added.
Inconsistent hyphenation is common for the period and was not
changed.

Changed “allreument” to “allurement” on page 3. (rejoicing in
universal allurement)

Changed “weathen-beaten” to weather-beaten on page 7. (the
weather-beaten little Thucydides)

Changed “suprised” to “surprised” on page 106. (People would not be
surprised)

Removed extra “he” from page 162. (Then he said, slowly)

Changed “which” to “wish” on page 163. (I wish she wasn’t.)

Removed extra “came” from page 189. (Antoinette came to stay)

Changed “deliciouly” to “deliciously” on page 246. (you are
deliciously fresh)

Changed “suprised” to “surprised” on page 285. (Adeline looked
surprised)

Changed “swan” to “swam” on page 306. (Tears of spite swam across
Mynheer Mopius’s vision)

Changed “consin” to “cousin” on page 308. (cousin she barely knew)

Extra “with” removed from page 325. (stay with us for a few days)

Changed “entertaiment” to “entertainment” on page 383. (the giver
of this whole entertainment)





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Lady Nobody - A Novel" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home