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Title: My Pretty Maid - or, Liane Lester
Author: Miller, Mrs. Alex. McVeigh
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Pretty Maid - or, Liane Lester" ***

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



  NEW EAGLE SERIES No.682
  15 CENTS


  My Pretty Maid

  By

  Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller

  [Illustration]

  _STREET & SMITH
  PUBLISHERS,
  NEW YORK._



  MY PRETTY MAID;

  OR

  LIANE LESTER


  BY

  MRS. ALEX. MCVEIGH MILLER

  AUTHOR OF

  "Sweet Violet," "The Pearl and the Ruby," "The Senator's Bride,"
  "The Senator's Favorite," "Lillian, My Lillian," and numerous
  other excellent romances published exclusively in the
  EAGLE and NEW EAGLE SERIES.


  [Illustration: S AND S
  NOVELS]


  NEW YORK

  STREET & SMITH, PUBLISHERS

  79-89 SEVENTH AVENUE



  Copyright, 1898 and 1899
  By Norman L. Munro


  My Pretty Maid



Publisher's Note


Notwithstanding the fact that the sales of magazines have increased
tremendously during the past five or six years, the popularity of a
good paper-covered novel, printed in attractive and convenient form,
remains undiminished.

There are thousands of readers who do not care for magazines because
the stories in them, as a rule, are short and just about the time they
become interested in it, it ends and they are obliged to readjust their
thoughts to a set of entirely different characters.

The S. & S. novel is long and complete and enables the reader to spend
many hours of thorough enjoyment without doing any mental gymnastics.
Our paper-covered books stand pre-eminent among up-to-date fiction.
Every day sees a new copyrighted title added to the S. & S. lines, each
one making them stronger, better and more invincible.


STREET & SMITH, Publishers

79-89 SEVENTH AVENUE, NEW YORK CITY



MY PRETTY MAID.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER I. A DESPERATE CHANCE.
  CHAPTER II. FATE IS ABOVE US ALL.
  CHAPTER III. "MY PRETTY MAID."
  CHAPTER IV. SECRET LOVE.
  CHAPTER V. ROMA'S LOVERS.
  CHAPTER VI. AFTER THE CRIME.
  CHAPTER VII. GRANNY'S REVENGE.
  CHAPTER VIII. THE BROKEN ENGAGEMENT.
  CHAPTER IX. LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.
  CHAPTER X. ROMA SEEKS A NEW MAID.
  CHAPTER XI. THE BEAUTY SHOW.
  CHAPTER XII. "THE QUEEN ROSE."
  CHAPTER XIII. EDMUND CLARKE'S SUSPICION.
  CHAPTER XIV. ROMA FINDS AN ALLY.
  CHAPTER XV. "A DYING MOTHER."
  CHAPTER XVI. A LOVE LETTER.
  CHAPTER XVII. A CRUEL FORGERY.
  CHAPTER XVIII. LIANE'S FLEETING LOVE DREAM.
  CHAPTER XIX. WHAT DOLLY TOLD.
  CHAPTER XX. "AS ONE ADMIRES A STATUE."
  CHAPTER XXI. A HARVEST OF WOE.
  CHAPTER XXII. AT A FIEND'S MERCY.
  CHAPTER XXIII. A MURDEROUS FURY.
  CHAPTER XXIV. A STRAND OF RUDDY HAIR.
  CHAPTER XXV. A TRUE FRIEND.
  CHAPTER XXVI. TREMBLING HOPES.
  CHAPTER XXVII. WHEN HAPPINESS SEEMED NEAR!
  CHAPTER XXVIII. A SWORD THRUST IN HIS HEART.
  CHAPTER XXIX. THE BRIDAL.
  CHAPTER XXX. BEFORE THE DAWN.
  CHAPTER XXXI. WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLLED BY.



CHAPTER I.

A DESPERATE CHANCE.


"How fast the river flows! How it roars in my ears and drowns the sound
of your voice, my dearest! It is bearing me away! Oh, save me! save me!"

The river was the stream of Death, and the lone voyager floating out on
its rushing tide was a loved and loving young wife.

The frail white hands clung fondly to her husband's as she rested with
her head upon his breast, and the faint voice murmured deliriously on:

"How it rushes on--the wild river! How it rocks me on its broad breast!
It is not so noisy now; it is deeper and swifter, and its voice has a
lulling tone that soothes me to sleep. Hold me tight--keep me awake,
dear, lest it sweep me away to the sea!"

Ah, he would have given the world to hold her back, his darling, the
dearest of his heart, but the rushing torrent was too strong. It was
sweeping her away.

Several days ago a beautiful daughter--her first-born after five years'
wifehood--had been laid in her yearning arms.

But, alas! the first night of its birth, during a temporary absence of
the old nurse from the room, the little treasure had been stolen from
its mother.

Panic seized the whole household, and rigorous search was at once begun
and kept up for days, but all to no avail.

The father was frantic, but, though he would have given his fortune
for the return of the child, he was powerless; and now, as a sequel to
this tragedy of loss and pain, his dear young wife lay dying in his
arms--dying of heartbreak for the lost babe--poor bereaved young mother!

Tears rained from his eyes down on her pallid face as he strained her
to his breast, his precious one, going away from him so fast to death,
while outside, heedless of his despair, the golden sun was shining on
the green grass, and the fragrant flowers, and the little birds singing
in the trees as if there were nothing but joy in the world.

The old family physician came in softly, with an anxious, sympathetic
face, and whispered startling words in his ear.

A look of aversion crossed the young husband's face, and he groaned:

"Doctor Jay, I cannot bear the thought!"

"I feared you would feel so, Mr. Clarke, but all my medical colleagues
agree with me that nothing but the restoration of her child can save my
patient's life. It is the desperate chance we take when we feel that
all hope is lost."

"Then I must consent!"

"You are wise," the old doctor answered, tiptoeing from the room, only
to reappear a little later, followed by the nurse with a little white
bundle in her arms.

The low voice of the delirious woman went babbling on.

"Darling," murmured her husband, pressing his lips to her pale brow.

"Yes, yes, dear, I'm going away from you. Hark!"

The sudden wail of an infant had caught her hearing.

Her dull eyes brightened with returning intelligence, she moved
restlessly, and the nurse laid a wailing infant against her breast.

"Dear mistress, can you hear me? Here is your baby back again."

They had taken a desperate chance when all hope seemed lost.

By the advice of the consulting physicians, another child had been
substituted for the stolen one, and, at its helpless cry, hope crept
back to the mother's breaking heart; the rushing waves ceased to moan
in her ears, silenced by that little piping voice, and the sinking life
was rallied.

She lived, and the babe grew and throve in its luxurious surroundings,
and the mother worshiped it. No one ever dared tell her the truth--that
it was not her own infant that had been restored to her arms, but a
little foundling. No other child ever came to rival it in Mrs. Clarke's
love, and it was this fact alone that sealed her husband's lips to the
cruel secret that ached at his heart. He feared the effect of the truth
on his delicate wife, taking every precaution to keep her in ignorance,
even to moving away from his own home, and settling in a distant place.

Though he never relaxed his efforts to find his lost child, the years
slipped away in a hopeless quest, and Roma, the adopted girl, grew
eighteen years old, and her beauty and her prospects brought her many
suitors.

In his heart Mr. Clarke hoped the girl would make an early marriage,
for he was tired of living a lie, pretending to love her as a daughter
to deceive his wife, while an aching void in his own heart was always
yearning for his own lost darling.



CHAPTER II.

FATE IS ABOVE US ALL.


It was six o'clock by all the watches and clocks at Stonecliff, and the
girls at Miss Bray's dressmaking establishment hastily put up their
work and were starting for home, chattering like a flock of magpies,
when their employer called after them testily:

"Say, girls, one of you will have to take this bundle up to Cliffdene.
Miss Clarke wanted it very particularly to wear to-night. Liane Lester,
she lives nearer to you than any of the others. You take it."

Liane Lester would have liked to protest, but she did not dare. With a
decided pout of her rosy lips, she took the box with Miss Clarke's new
silk cape and hurried to overtake Dolly Dorr, the only girl who was
going her way.

"What a shame to have to carry boxes along the village street late in
the afternoon when every one is out walking! I think Miss Bray ought
to keep a servant to fetch and carry!" cried Dolly indignantly. "Oh,
look, Liane! There's that handsome Jesse Devereaux standing on the
post-office steps! Shouldn't you like to flirt with him? Let's saunter
slowly past so that he may notice us!"

"I don't want him to notice me! Granny says that harm always comes of
rich men noticing poor girls. Come, Dolly, let us avoid him by crossing
the street."

Suiting the action to the word, Liane Lester turned quickly from her
friend and sped toward the crossing.

But, alas, fate is above us all!

Her haste precipitated what she strove to avoid.

Drawing the veil down quickly over her rosy face, the frolicsome
wind caught the bit of blue gossamer and whirled it back toward the
sidewalk. Jesse Devereaux gave chase, captured the veil, and flew after
the girl.

She had gained the pavement, and was hurrying on, when she heard him at
her side, panting, as he said:

"I beg pardon--your veil!"

A white hand was thrust in front of her, holding the bit of blue gauze,
and she had to stop.

"I thank you," she murmured, taking it from his hand and raising her
eyes shyly to his face--the brilliant, handsome face that had haunted
many a young girl's dreams.

The dazzling dark eyes were fixed eagerly on her lovely face, and
his red lips parted in a smile that showed pearly-white teeth as he
exclaimed gayly:

"Old Boreas was jealous of your hiding such a face, and whisked your
veil away, but out of mercy to mankind I concluded to return it."

"Thank you, very much!" she answered again, and was turning away when
Dolly Dorr rushed across the street, breathless with eagerness.

"How do you do, Mr. Devereaux?" she cried gayly, having been introduced
to him at a church festival the evening before.

"Ah, Miss----" he hesitated, as he lifted his hat, and she twittered:

"Miss Dorr; we met at the festival last night, you know. And this is my
chum, Liane Lester."

"Charmed," he exclaimed, while his radiant black eyes beamed on Liane's
face, and he stepped along by Dolly's side as she placed herself
between them, intent on a flirtation.

"May I share your walk?" he asked, and Dolly gave an eager assent,
secretly wishing her girl friend a mile away.

But as she could not manage this, she proceeded to monopolize the
conversation--an easy task, for Liane walked along silent and ill at
ease, "for all the world," thought the lively Dolly to herself, "like a
tongue-tied little schoolgirl."

No wonder Liane was demure and frightened, dreading to get a scolding
from granny if Jesse Devereaux walked with them as far as her home.

Liane lived alone, in pinching poverty, with a feeble old grandmother,
who was too old to work for herself, and needed Liane's wages to keep
life in her old bones; so she was always dreading that the girl's
beauty would win her a husband who would pack the old woman off to the
poorhouse as an incumbrance.

She kept Liane illy dressed and hard worked, and never permitted her to
have a beau. Marriage was a failure, she said.

"What was the use of marrying a poor man, to work your fingers to the
bone for him?" she exclaimed scornfully.

"But one might marry rich," suggested innocent Liane.

"Rich men marry rich girls, and if they ever notice a poor girl, she
mostly comes to grief by it. Don't never let me catch you flirting with
any young man, or I'll make you sorry!" granny answered viciously.

She had not made her sorry yet, for the girl had obeyed her orders,
although her beauty would have brought her a score of lovers had she
smiled on their advances, but Liane had not seen any man yet for whom
she would have risked one of granny's beatings.

How would it be now, when her young heart was beating violently at
the glances of a pair of thrilling dark eyes, and the tones of a
rich, musical voice, when her face burned and her hands trembled with
exquisite ecstasy?

Old Boreas, why did you whisk her veil away and show Jesse Devereaux
that enchanting young face, so rosy and dimpled, with large, shy eyes
like purple pansies, golden-hearted, with rims of jet, so dark the
arched brows and fringed lashes, while the little head was covered with
silky waves of thick, shining chestnut hair? What would be the outcome
of this fateful meeting?

Sure enough, as they came in sight of Liane's humble home, there was
granny's grizzled head peeping from the window, and, with an incoherent
good evening to her companions, Liane darted inside the gate, hurrying
into the house.

But at the very threshold the old woman met her with a snarl of
rage, slapping her in the face with a skinny, clawlike hand as she
vociferated:

"Take that for disobeying me, girl! Walking out with that handsome
dude, after all my warnings!"

"Oh, granny, please don't be so cruel, striking me for nothing! I'm too
big a girl to be beaten now!" pleaded Liane, sinking into a chair, the
crimson lines standing out vividly on her white cheeks, while indignant
tears started into her large, pathetic eyes.

But her humility did not placate the cruel old hag, who continued to
glare at her victim, snarling irascibly.

"Too big, eh?" she cried; "well, I'll show you, miss, the next time I
see you galivanting along the street with a young man! Now, who is he,
anyhow?"

"Just a friend of Dolly Dorr's, granny. I--I--never saw him till just
now, when he asked Dolly if he might share her walk."

"Um-hum! A frisky little piece, that Dolly Dorr, with her yellow head
and doll-baby face! I don't want you to walk with her no more when he
goes along, do you hear me, Liane? Two's company, and three a crowd."

"Yes, ma'am"--wearily.

"Now, what have you got in that pasteboard box, I say? If you've been
buying finery, take it back this minute. I won't pay a cent for it!"

"It's finery, granny, but not mine. Miss Bray sent me to carry it to
the rich young lady up at Cliffdene, and I just stopped in to see if
you will make your own tea while I do my errand, for I shouldn't like
to come back alone after dark."

"Better come alone than walking with a man, Liane Lester!" grunted the
old woman, adding more amicably: "Go along, then, and hurry back, and
I'll keep some tea warm for you."

"Thank you, granny," the poor girl answered dejectedly, going out with
her bundle again, her face shrouded in the blue veil, lest she should
meet some one who would notice the marks of the cruel blow on her fair
cheek.

Her way led along the seashore, and the brisk breeze of September blew
across the waves and cooled her burning face, and dried the bitter
tears in her beautiful eyes, though her heart beat heavily and slow in
her breast as she thought:

"What a cruel life for a young girl to lead--beaten and abused by an
old hag whom one must try to respect because she is old, and poor, and
is one's grandmother, though I am ashamed of the relationship! I fear
her, instead of loving her, and it is more than likely she will kill me
some day in one of her brutal rages. Sometimes I almost resolve to run
away and find work in the great city; but, then, she has such a horror
of the poorhouse, I have not the heart to desert her to her fate. But I
could not help being ashamed of her when Mr. Devereaux saw her uncombed
head and angry face leering at us out of the window. Never did I feel
the misery of my condition, the poverty of my dress and my home, so
keenly as in his presence. I do not suppose he would stoop to marry a
poor girl like me, especially with such a dreadful relation as granny,"
she ended, with a bursting sigh of pain from the bottom of her sore
heart.

The tide swept in almost to her feet, and the sea's voice had a hollow
tone of sympathy with her sorrow.

"Oh, I wish that I were dead," she cried with a sudden passionate
despair, almost wishing that the great waves would rush in and sweep
her off her feet and away out upon the billows, away, from her weary,
toilsome life into oblivion.

But here she was at the gates of beautiful Cliffdene, the home of the
Clarkes, a handsome stone mansion set in spacious ground on a high
bluff, washed at its base by the murmuring sea.

She opened the gate, and went through the beautiful grounds, gay with
flowers, thinking, what a paradise Cliffdene was and what a contrast to
the tumble-down, three-roomed shanty she called home.

"How happy Miss Clarke must be; so beautiful and rich, with fine
dresses, and jewels, and scores of handsome lovers! I wonder if Mr.
Devereaux knows her, and if he admires her like all the rest? He would
not mind marrying her, I suppose. She does not live in a shanty, and
have a spiteful old grandmother to make her weary of her life," thought
poor, pretty Liane, as she paused in the setting sunlight before the
broad, open door.

At that moment a superb figure swept down the grand staircase toward
the trembling girl--a stately figure, gowned in rustling silk, whose
rich golden tints, softened by trimmings of creamy lace, suited well
with the handsome face, lighted by spirited eyes of reddish brown,
while the thick waves of shining, copper-colored hair shone in the
sunset rays like a glory. Liane knew it was Miss Clarke, the beauty
and heiress; she had seen her often riding through the streets of
Stonecliff.

"What do you want, girl?" cried a proud, haughty voice to Liane as they
stood face to face on the threshold, the heiress and the little working
girl.

"Miss Bray has sent home your silk cape, Miss Clarke."

"Ah? Then bring it upstairs, and let me see if it is all right. I have
very little confidence in these village dressmakers, though Miss Bray
has very high recommendations from the judge's wife," cried haughty
Roma Clarke, motioning the girl to follow her upstairs, adding cruelly:
"You should have gone round to the servants' entrance, girl. No one
brings bundles to the front door."

Liane's cheeks flamed and her throat swelled with resentful words that
she strove to keep back, for she knew she must not anger Miss Bray's
rich customer. But she hated her toilsome life more than ever as she
followed Roma along the richly carpeted halls to a splendid dressing
room, where the beauty sank into a cushioned chair, haughtily ordering
the box to be opened.

Liane's trembling white fingers could scarcely undo the strings, but
at last she held up the exquisite evening cape of brocaded cream silk,
lined with peach blossom and cascaded with billows of rare lace.

It was daintily chic, and had been the admiration of the workroom. All
the girls had coveted it, and Dolly Dorr had draped it over Liane's
shoulders, crying:

"It just suits you, you dainty princess."

The princess stood trembling now, for Roma flew into a rage the instant
her wonderful red-brown eyes fell on the cape.

"Just as I feared! It is ruined in the arrangement of the cascades of
lace. Who did it--you?" she demanded sharply.

"Oh, no, Miss Bray arranged it herself, I assure you," faltered Liane.

"It must be altered at once, for I need it walking out in the grounds
with my guests to-night. You're one of the dressmaker's girls,
aren't you? Yes? Well, you shall change it for me at once, under my
directions. Hurry and rip the lace off carefully."

Liane's heart fluttered into her throat, but she protested.

"I--I cannot stay. I should be afraid to go home after dark. I am sure
Miss Bray will alter it to-morrow."

"To-morrow! when I want it to-night? You must be crazy, girl! Do as I
bid you, or I'll report you to your employer to-morrow and have you
discharged."

Liane's throat choked with a frightened sob, and she dared not disobey
and risk dismissal from Miss Bray and a beating from granny.

"I will do it, but I am terribly afraid to go home alone," she
faltered, taking up the scissors and the garment.

"Nonsense! Nothing will hurt you. Here, this is the way I want it, and
be sure you do not botch it, or you will have to do it all over again!
Now, I am going down to dinner. I'll be back in an hour and a half, and
you ought to have it done by that time!" cried the imperious beauty,
sweeping from the room, though Liane heard her tell the maid in the
hall to keep an eye on that girl from the dressmaker's, that she did
not slip anything in her pocket.

The clever maid sidled curiously into the lighted dressing room, and,
as soon as she saw the tears in the eyes of Liane and the crimson
print on her fair cheek, she jumped to her own conclusions.

"You poor, pretty little thing, did Miss Roma fly in a rage and slap
your face, too?" she exclaimed compassionately.

"Certainly not!" the girl answered, cresting her graceful
chestnut-brown head with sudden pride. "Do you think I would allow your
mistress to insult me so?"

"She would insult you whether you liked it or not," the maid replied
tartly. "She has slapped my face several times in her tantrums since I
came here, and I would have quit right off, but her mother is an angel,
and when I complained to her, the sweet lady gave me some handsome
presents and begged me to overlook it, because her daughter was
somewhat spoiled by being an only child and an heiress. So I stayed for
the kind mother's sake, and if Miss Roma really did strike you in her
rage over the cape, let me tell Mrs. Clarke, and she will reward you
handsomely to keep silence!"

"But I assure you Miss Clarke did not strike me!" Liane protested.

"There's the print of her fingers on your face to speak for itself,
poor child!"

"That mark was on my face when I came," Liane answered, almost
inaudibly, out of her keen humiliation.

"Oh, I see. What is your name?"

"Miss Lester--Liane Lester."

"A pretty-sounding name! I've heard of you before, Miss Lester--the
lovely sewing girl whose grandmother beats her. All the village knows
it and pities you. Why do you stand it? Why don't you run away and get
married? You are so lovely that any man might be glad to get you for
his bride."

The color flamed hotly into Liane's cheek. She was proud, in spite of
her poverty, and it chafed her to have her private affairs so freely
discussed by Miss Clarke's servant.

"Please do not talk to me while I'm sewing," she said firmly, but so
gently that the pert maid did not take offense, but slipped away,
returning when the cape was nearly done, with a dainty repast on a
silver waiter.

"Mrs. Clarke sent this with her compliments. She heard about your being
up here sewing, and felt so sorry for you."

Liane had not tasted food since her meager midday luncheon, but she
was too proud to own that she was faint from fasting.

"She was very kind, but I--I really am not hungry," she faltered.

"But you have not had your tea yet, and one is apt to have a headache
without it," urged the tactful maid, and she presently persuaded Liane
to eat, although not before the cape was done, so great was her dread
of Miss Clarke's coarse anger.

The maid had adroitly let Mrs. Clarke know all about Liane, and now she
slipped a crisp banknote into her hand, whispering:

"Mrs. Clarke sent you this for altering the cape for her daughter."

Liane was almost frightened at the new rustling five-dollar bill in her
hand. She had never seen more than three dollars at a time before--the
amount of her weekly wages from Miss Bray.

"Oh, dear, I can't take this. It's too much! Miss Bray only gets five
dollars for the making of the whole cape," she exclaimed.

"Never mind about that, if Mrs. Clarke chooses to pay you that for
altering it, my dear miss. She is rich and can afford to be liberal
to one who needs it. So just take what she gives you, and say
nothing--not even to her daughter, who has a miserly heart and might
scold her for her kindness," cautioned the maid, who pitied Liane with
all her heart.

Liane cried eagerly:

"Oh, please thank the generous lady a hundred times for me! I love her
for her kindness to a poor orphan girl. Now, do you think Miss Roma
would come and look at the cape? For I must be going. Granny will be
angry at my coming back so late."

"Here she comes now, the vixen!" and, sure enough, a silken gown
rustled over the threshold, and Roma caught the cape up eagerly, crying:

"Ten to one you have botched it worse than before! Well, really, you
have followed my directions exactly, for a wonder! That will do very
well. You may go now, and if you think you ought to be paid anything
for these few minutes' extra work, you can collect it off Miss Bray, as
she was responsible for the alterations. Sophie, you can show the girl
out," and, throwing the cape over her arm, the proud beauty trailed her
rustling silk over the threshold and downstairs again.

"The heartless thing! I'd like to shake her!" muttered Sophie angrily,
as she led the way out of the beautiful house down upon the moonlight
lawn, adding:

"I'll go to the gates with you, so you won't get frightened at Mr.
Clarke's big St. Bernard."

"What a beautiful night, and how sweet the flowers smell!" murmured
Liane, lifting her heated brow to the cool night breeze, and the
pitying stars that seemed to beam on her like tender eyes.

"Would you like some to take home with you? You will be welcome, I
know, for the frosts will be getting them soon, anyhow," cried Sophie,
loading her up with a huge bunch of late autumn roses, "and now good
night, my dear young lady," opening the gate "you have a long walk
before you, but I hope you will get home safely."

Liane opened her lips to tell the woman how frightened she was of the
lonely walk home, but she was ashamed of her cowardice, and the words
remained unsaid. With a faltering "I thank you for your kindness;
good night," she clasped the roses to her bosom and sped away like a
frightened fawn in the moonlight, down the road along the beach, a
silent prayer in her heart that granny would not be angry again over
her long stay, and accuse her of "galivanting around with beaus."

Sophie leaned over the gate, watching her a minute, with pity and
admiration in her clear eyes.

"What a beautiful creature!--a thousand times lovelier than Miss Roma!"
she thought. "But what a cruel lot in life. It is enough to make the
very angels weep."



CHAPTER III.

"MY PRETTY MAID."


There was not a more nervous, startled maiden in all New England that
night than Liane as she flew along the beach, haunted by a fear of
drunken men, of whom Stonecliff had its full quota.

And, indeed, she had not gone so very far before her fears took shape.

She heard distinctly, above her frightened heartbeats and her own light
steps, the sound of a man's tread gaining on her, while his voice
called out entreatingly:

"Elinor, Elinor! wait for me!"

The sea's voice, with the wind, seemed to echo the call.

"Elinor, Elinor! wait for me!"

But Liane did not wait. She only redoubled her speed, and she might
have escaped her pursuer but that her little foot tripped on a stone
and threw her prone upon the sands.

Before she could rise a man's arms closed about her tenderly, lifting
her up, while he panted:

"Elinor, what girlish freak is this? Why wouldn't you wait for me,
dear?"

Liane gasped and looked up at him in terror, but that instant she
recognized him, and her fears all fled.

"Oh, Mr. Clarke, you have made a mistake, sir. You don't know me,
although I know what your name is. I am Liane Lester!" she cried
breathlessly.

He dropped her hand and recoiled in surprise, answering:

"I beg a hundred pardons for my apparent rudeness. I saw you flying
along as I smoked my cigar above the hill, and your figure looked so
exactly like my wife's that I flew after you. I hope you will find
it easy to forgive me, for you do resemble my wife very much, and,
although you are young and fair, you may take that as a compliment, for
my wife is very beautiful."

"I thank you, sir, and forgive you freely. I have never seen Mrs.
Clarke, but I have just come from your house, and was running home
every step of the way because I had to stay till after dark, and
I feared my grandmother would be uneasy over me!" faltered Liane,
blushing at his intent gaze, for the wind had blown her veil aside,
and her lovely features, pure as carven pearl, shone clearly in the
moonlight.

"And I am detaining you yet longer! Excuse me, and--good night," he
said abruptly, smiling kindly at her, lifting his hat and turning back
toward Cliffdene, while he thought with pleasure:

"What a lovely girl! She reminded me of Elinor when she was young."

Liane thought kindly of him, too, as she hurried along.

"What a noble face and gracious voice! Miss Roma Clarke is blessed in
having such a splendid father."

She had only granny, poor child; coarse, ugly, repulsive, cruel granny.
She could not even remember her parents or any other relation. A lonely
childhood, whose only bright memories were of its few school days, a
toilsome girlhood, robbed of every spark of youthful pleasure; coarse
scoldings and brutal beatings. It was all a piteous life--enough, as
Sophie, the maid had said, to make the very angels weep in pity.

Strange, as she hastened on, how Jesse Devereaux's eyes and smile
haunted her thoughts with little thrills of pleasure; how she wondered
if she should ever see him again.

"Perhaps Dolly Dorr will make him fall in love with her, she is so
pretty, with her fluffy yellow hair and big torquoise-blue eyes," she
thought, with a curious sensation of deadly pain, jealous already,
though she guessed it not.

The night was still and calm, and suddenly the dip of oars in the water
came to her ears. She looked, and saw a little boat headed for the
beach, with a single occupant.

The keel grated on the shore, the man sprang out, and came directly
toward her, pausing with hat in hand--a tall fellow, dark and
bewhiskered, with somber, dark eyes.

"Ah, good evening, my pretty maid. Taking a stroll all alone, eh? Won't
you have a moonlight row with me?"

"No, thank you, sir; I am in a hurry to get home. Please stand aside,"
for he had placed himself in her way.

"Not so fast, pretty maid. It is good manners, I trow, to answer a
stranger's courteous questions, is it not?" still barring her way.
"Well, show me the way to Cliffdene."

The trembling girl pointed mutely back the way she had come.

"Thank you--and again: Do you know Miss Roma Clarke?"

"I have just seen her at Cliffdene," she answered.

"So she is not married yet?"

"Oh, no," Liane answered, trying to pass, but he caught her hand,
exclaiming mockingly:

"Not married yet? Well, that is very good news to me. I will give you a
kiss, pretty one, for that information."

"You shall not! Release me at once, you hound!" cried the girl,
struggling to free herself.

But the insolent stranger only clasped her closer and drew her to him,
the fumes of his liquor-laden breath floating over her pure brow as he
struggled to kiss her shrieking lips.

And, absorbed in the conflict, neither one noticed a third person
coming toward them from the town--an exceedingly handsome young man,
who hurried his steps in time to comprehend the meaning of the scene
before him, and then shot out an athletic arm, and promptly bowled the
wretch over upon the wet sands.

"Lie there, you cur, till I give you leave to rise!" he thundered,
planting his foot on the fellow's chest while he turned toward the
young lady.

"Why, good heavens! Is it you, Miss Lester?" he cried, in wonder.

"Yes, Mr. Devereaux. I was hurrying home from an errand to Cliffdene
when this man jumped out of his boat, and threatened to kiss me."

"Apologize to the lady on your knees, cur!" cried Jesse Devereaux,
helping him with a hand on his coat collar.

The wretch obeyed in craven fear.

"Now tell me where you came from in the boat."

"From the nearest town," sullenly.

"Then get into that boat and go back to it as fast as you can row, and
if you are ever caught in Stonecliff again, I promise to thrash you
within an inch of your life."

The defeated bully obeyed in craven silence, but the gleam of his
somber eyes boded no good to the man who had so coolly mastered him.

Devereaux and Liane stood side by side, watching the little boat shoot
away over the dancing billows, leaving ripples of phosphorescent light
in the wake of the oars. Then he turned and took her hand.

"You had quite an adventure," he said. "Why, you are trembling like a
leaf, poor child!"

He felt like drawing her to his breast, and soothing her fears; but
that would not be conventional. So he could only regard her with the
tenderest pity and admiration, while clasping the trembling little hand
as tight as he dared.

Liane was so nervous she could not speak at first, and he continued
gently:

"It was rather imprudent for a young girl like you to be walking out
alone after nightfall. Did you not know it, Miss Lester?"

She faltered nervously:

"Oh, yes, I knew it! I was frightened almost to death, but I--I could
not help it!"

"Why?"

"My employer sent me on an errand to Cliffdene, and I was detained
there until after dark."

"They should have sent some one to see you safely home."

"Yes," Liane answered, shivering, but not making any explanation. She
hated in her simple, girlish pride to have him know how she had been
treated by Roma Clarke.

"I--I must be going now. Thank you ever so much for coming to my
rescue," she added, stooping to gather her roses, that lay scattered on
the sands.

Jesse Devereaux helped her, and kept them, saying as he drew her little
hand closely within his arm:

"I will carry them and see you safe home."

Arm in arm they paced along under the brilliant moonlight, with the
solemn voice of the ocean in their ears. But they were heedless. They
heard only the beating of their own excited hearts.

The mere presence of this man, whom she had never met till to-day,
filled Liane's innocent heart with ecstasy.

To be near him like this, with her arm linked in his so close that she
felt the quick throbbing of his disturbed heart; to meet the glances of
his passionate, dark eyes, to hear the murmuring tones of his musical
voice as he talked to her so kindly--oh, it was bliss such as she had
never enjoyed before, but that she could have wished might go on now
forever!

He made her tell him all that the stranger had said to her, and Liane
felt him give a quick start when Roma's name was mentioned, although
he said lightly:

"He must be some discarded lover of Miss Clarke."

"Yes," she answered, and, raising her eyes, she saw near at hand the
wretched shanty she called her home.

How short their walk had been--barely a minute it seemed to the girl!
But now they must part.

She essayed to draw her hand from his clasping arm, murmuring:

"I--I cannot let you go any farther with me, please! Granny does not
allow me to walk out with--with gentlemen! She told me to come home
alone!"

Jesse Devereaux protested laughingly, but he soon saw that Liane was in
terrible earnest, her face pale, her great eyes dilated with fear, her
slender form shaking as with a chill.

"Do you mean to say that you cannot have the privilege of receiving me
sometimes as a visitor under your own roof?" he asked, more seriously
then; but the girl suddenly uttered a low moan of alarm, and shrank
from him, turning her eyes wildly upon an approaching grotesque form.

Granny had worked herself into a fury over Liane's long stay, and at
last hobbled forth to meet her, armed with a very stout cane, that
would serve the double purpose of a walking stick and an instrument of
punishment.

And, in spite of her age, she was strong and agile, and Liane would
have cause to rue the hour she was born when next they met.

She strained her malevolent gaze all around for a sight of the truant,
and when they lighted on Liane and Devereaux, arm in arm, a growl of
fury issued from her lips.

Before Liane could escape, she darted forward with surprising agility,
and lifted her stout cane over the girl's shrinking head.

A start, a shriek, and Devereaux saw, as suddenly as if the old hag had
arisen from the earth by his side, the peril that menaced Liane.

That descending blow was enough to kill the frail, lovely girl, the
object of granny's brutal spite!

Another instant and the stick would descend on the beautiful head!

But Devereaux's upraised arm received the force of the blow, and
that arm fell shattered and helpless by his side, but the other hand
violently wrenched the old woman away from her victim, as he demanded:

"You vile beast! What is the meaning of this murderous assault?"

They glared at each other, and the old woman snarled:

"I have a right to beat her! She disobeyed my orders, and she belongs
to me. She's my granddaughter."

"Heaven help me, it is true!" moaned Liane, as he looked at her for
confirmation.

"Let me get at her! Let me get at her!" shrieked granny, intent on
punishing the girl, and writhing in Devereaux's clutch.

But Devereaux, with one arm hanging helpless at his side, held her
firmly with the other.

"You shall not touch her!" he said sternly. "You shall go to prison for
this outrage."

At that both the old woman and the girl uttered a cry of remonstrance.

Devereaux looked at Liane inquiringly, and she faltered:

"The disgrace would fall on me!"

"Yes, yes, she is my granddaughter," howled granny eagerly, seeing her
advantage. Devereaux comprehended, too. He groaned:

"But what can you do? You must not be exposed again to her fury!"

Granny glared malevolently, while Liane bent her eyes to the ground,
meditating a moment ere she looked up, and said timidly:

"I think you are right. I cannot live with granny any more, for she
would surely kill me some day. Let her go home, and I will go and spend
the night with Dolly Dorr, who lives not far from here."

"You hear what Miss Lester says? Will you go home peaceably, while she
goes to her friend for safety?" demanded Devereaux, eager to close the
scene, for he was faint from the pain of his broken arm.

Granny saw that she was cornered, and cunningly began to feign
repentance, whimpering that she was sorry, and would never do so any
more if Liane would only come home with her now, for she was afraid to
spend the night alone.

"She shall not go with you, you treacherous cat," he answered sternly,
releasing her and bidding her angrily to return home at once.

Cowed by his authority, she could not but choose to obey, but as she
started, she flung back one shaft:

"Better come with me, Liane, than stay with him, my dear. Remember my
warnings about rich young men and pretty, poor girls! A beating is
safer than his love!"

Liane's cheeks flamed at the coarse thrust, but Devereaux said
earnestly:

"Do not mind her taunt, Miss Lester. I will always be a true friend to
you, believe me!"

"You are a true friend already. From what horrors have you saved me
to-night?" Liane cried, bursting into tears. "Your poor arm, how
helpless it hangs! Oh, I fear it has been broken in my defense," and
suddenly sinking on her knees, in an excess of tenderest gratitude, she
pressed her warm, rosy lips to the hand that had so bravely defended
her from insult and injury.

"Oh, you are a hero, you have saved my life, and I can never forget
you!" she sobbed hysterically.

"Yes, my arm is broken; I must hurry back to town and have it set," he
answered faintly. "I must let you go on to Miss Dorr's alone, but it is
not far, and you are safe now. Good night," he murmured, leaving her
abruptly in his pain.



CHAPTER IV.

SECRET LOVE.


Liane gazed after Devereaux's retreating form in bewilderment, her
cheeks burning with the thought:

"He was angry because I kissed his hand! Oh, why was I so bold? I did
not mean to be, but it made my heart ache to see him suffering so
cruelly from his defense of my life! How pale he looked--almost as if
he were going to faint. Oh, I love him!" and she wept despairingly, as
she hurried to Dolly Dorr's, careless now of the beautiful roses that
lay crushed upon the ground where they had fallen.

Dolly was sitting on her little vine-wreathed porch, singing a pretty
love song, and she started in surprise as Liane came up the steps.

"Why, Liane, my dear, what is the matter? You are crying; your cheeks
are all wet!" she cried, putting her arms about the forlorn girl, who
sobbed:

"May I stay with you all night, Dolly? Granny has beaten me again, and
I have run away!"

"I don't blame you! You should have done it long ago. Of course you
may stay with me as long as you wish!" replied pretty little Dolly,
with ready sympathy, that might not have been so warm if she had known
all that had transpired between Liane and Devereaux, on whom she had
set her vain little heart.

But Liane was too shy and nervous to tell her friend the whole story.
She simply explained, when pressed, that granny had beaten her for
walking with Devereaux that afternoon, and attempted it again because
she was late getting home, after altering Miss Clarke's cape.

"So I ran away to you," she added wearily.

"That was right. We will all make you welcome," said Dolly cordially,
sure that her father and mother, and her two little brothers, would all
make good her promise.

"You should have seen them all peeping out of the window in amazement
this afternoon when I came walking up with the grand Devereaux at my
side," she continued consciously. "I asked him in, and he sat on the
porch nearly half an hour talking to me. When he was leaving, I asked
him to call again, and pinned some pansies in his buttonhole, and what
do you think he said, Liane?"

"I could never guess," the girl answered, with a secret pang of the
keenest jealousy.

"He said: 'What exquisite pansies! They remind me of Miss Lester's
eyes--such a rare, purplish blue, with dark shadings."

Liane caught her breath with stifled rapture, that he had remembered
her, but Dolly added wistfully:

"He must have read in my face that I was disappointed at not having
a compliment, too, for he went on to say that my eyes were just like
bluebells. Liane, which are the prettier flowers, pansies or bluebells?"

"I should say that it is all a matter of taste," Liane replied gently.

So presently they went upstairs to bed, but Dolly was so excited she
talked half the night.

"Liane, have you heard of the Beauty Show that is to be held in the
town hall next week?" she asked, as she rolled her yellow locks in kid
curlers to make them fluffy.

Liane shook her head.

"No? Why, that is strange. Every one is talking about it, and they say
that you and I are pretty enough to compete for the prize, although
Miss Roma Clarke intends to exhibit her handsomest portrait."

"Is it a portrait show?"

"It is this way, Liane: A Boston artist has a commission to design the
outside cover of a magazine for December, and he wants to get a lovely
young girl for the central figure--a young girl taken from life. So he
has advertised for five hundred pictures of beauties, to be delivered
by next week, when they will be exhibited on the walls of the town
hall, and judges appointed to decide on the fairest. Of course, the
artist himself is to be one of the judges, and they say that Mr. Clarke
and Mr. Devereaux will be two of the others, but I don't know the rest.
Don't you think it's unfair, Liane, to have Roma Clarke's father and
lover for judges? Of course, they will show her some partiality in
their votes."

Liane murmured with dry lips in a choking voice:

"Is Mr. Devereaux Miss Clarke's lover?"

"So they say, but I hope it's not true. I'm trying to catch him
myself," confessed Dolly quite frankly. "I don't really think it's
fair for Miss Clarke to compete for the prize, anyway. She ought to
leave the chance to some beautiful, poor girl that needs that hundred
dollars so much worse than she does!"

"A hundred dollars!" exclaimed Liane.

"Yes; just think of it! You must try for the prize, Liane."

"I don't know; I must think over it first. Wouldn't it seem conceited
in me? As if I were sure that I was a raging beauty?" doubtfully.

"Why, so you are! Every one says so, and you can see it for yourself in
the glass there! Prettier than I am, really!" Dolly owned magnanimously.

"Small good my pretty face has brought me!" sighed Liane.

"Well, it may get you that hundred dollars, if you try for it! And
it might have gotten you a nice husband long ago, but for your
cantankerous old granny! The idea of her slapping you for walking with
that splendid Devereaux! But I'll give him a hint, when I see him
again, never to go near you any more!" exclaimed Dolly, quite eager to
give the warning, for she thought:

"I didn't like the way he talked about her eyes; for she had certainly
made an impression on him, and I'm afraid I shouldn't stand much chance
if she went in to win against me. So I'm glad of granny's opposition
for once! If I'm lucky enough to marry him, I'll have Liane at my
house for a long visit, and introduce her to some good catches."

Liane little dreamed of these shrewd thoughts in the pretty, little,
yellow noddle, while Dolly prattled on:

"You have not seen the artist, either, have you? His name is Malcolm
Dean, and he's quite a handsome fellow. I wish one of us could
catch him, Liane! Why, I've heard he gets a fortune for everything
he designs, and that magazine has promised him a fortune for their
December cover."

"We had better go to sleep, Dolly, or we will be too tired to go to
work in the morning," suggested Liane, and Dolly obediently shut her
eyes and drifted off into dreamland.



CHAPTER V.

ROMA'S LOVERS.


Haughty Roma Clarke did not give another thought to the poor sewing
girl who had pleased her fastidious taste so entirely in the alteration
of her cape.

She threw the dainty wrap over her graceful shoulders, for the
September evenings already grew chill, and wandered out into the
grounds to watch for Jesse Devereaux, whom she expected to call.

Her restless, impatient nature would not permit her to wait patiently
in the drawing room to receive him. She thought it would be so
gloriously romantic to stroll about the grounds, clinging to his arm,
the splendid moonlight etherealizing her beauty, the murmur of the sea
in their ears, the fragrance of flowers all around them. She would not
be bothered here with papa or mamma coming into the room to talk to
Jesse, and breaking up their delightful tête-à-tête.

She went into a rose arbor near the gate, thinking that she would go
out to meet him as soon as she heard the click of the latch.

She had been there but a few moments when Liane passed by with the
maid, but she kept very still, though she thought:

"That girl is actually beautiful, and would look superb in good clothes
instead of that simple, dark-blue print gown. How foolish it seems for
poor girls to be pretty, when they can have nothing nice to set off
their beauty. I suppose they must always be pining for riches. How
that poor serving girl must have envied me while sewing on this cape!
Well, I suppose Miss Bray will give her perhaps twenty-five cents
for the extra work, and that will buy her a new ribbon. She ought to
be glad that I made her alter it, giving her a little extra pay from
her employer. Of course, she could not expect me to pay her myself.
My allowance from papa is much too small to permit me the luxury of
charity!"

She heard Sophie's light tread, as she returned to the house and
muttered:

"I hate that maid. I know she tells tales of me to mamma, and that
mamma believes everything, instead of scolding her for tattling! Never
mind, Miss Sophie; see if I don't pay you off some time for your
meddling! And as for giving you those old gowns you've been hinting
for so long, I'd stick them into the fire first!"

She gathered a rose, pulled it to pieces viciously, as if it had been
the pert maid she was demolishing, then sighed impatiently:

"Heigh-ho, how slow he is coming!"

The gate latch clicked, and she sprang up with a start, her eyes
flashing, her heart throbbing with joy.

She looked out, and saw the figure of a man coming along the graveled
walk.

As he came opposite she started forward, crying sweetly:

"Oh, Jesse, dear, is that you?"

The man stopped and faced her. It was her father, and he laughed
merrily:

"Not Jesse, dear; but papa, dear!"

Roma recoiled in bitter disappointment, and said petulantly:

"Jesse promised to come. Have you seen him?"

"No, I only walked outside the gates a little way. I saw no one except
a very lovely young girl coming from here. Do you know anything about
her, Roma?"

"If she was dressed like a kitchen maid in a print gown, she was a
girl from the dressmaker's who brought home some work," Roma answered
carelessly.

"I did not notice her dress in the moonlight. I could not keep my eyes
from her face, she was so very beautiful," Mr. Clarke replied, somewhat
dreamily.

Roma shrugged her shoulders scornfully:

"A poor girl has no business to be pretty," she exclaimed.

Mr. Clarke frowned at the sentiment.

"Roma, I do not like to hear you express yourself so heartlessly. You
would like to be pretty even if you were poor."

"I cannot even imagine myself poor like the common herd!" she retorted,
tossing her beautiful head with queenly pride.

If she had been looking at the man before her, she must have seen
that a strange look came upon his face as his secret thoughts ran
sarcastically:

"Ignorance indeed is bliss, in this case."

But he knew he could never tell her the truth, much as he sometimes
longed to do it, in a sudden anger at her ignoble nature. He could not
love the girl who had been taken from a foundling asylum, and placed
in the stead of his own lost darling. Ah, no, it was impossible! It
seemed to him that there was nothing lovable about Roma, although his
wife clung to her with devotion.

He looked at her as she faced him in the moonlight, so proud and
confident of her position; her jewels gleaming, her silks rustling as
she moved, and thought that, but for the chance that had brought her
into his home, she, too, might now be dressed like a servant as she had
so contemptuously said of poor Liane Lester.

He felt as if he should like to cast it into her face, the willful,
insolent beauty, but he clinched his teeth over the bitter words.

"Heaven help me to bear my cross for Elinor's sake!" he thought.

Roma suddenly came closer to him, and placed her hand on his arm,
saying coaxingly:

"Please don't be angry, papa, dear! I didn't mean to seem heartless!"

"I'm glad of that, Roma, for your heart should be full of sympathy,
instead of contempt, for that poor, pretty, little sewing girl."

"Yes, papa," gently answered Roma, for she intended to ask him for some
new jewels to-morrow, and did not wish to vex him.

"Tell me," he continued eagerly, "all that you know about this pretty
Miss Lester."

"I know nothing, papa. I never saw her before this evening, when she
brought home my work, and said she was one of Miss Bray's sewing girls.
Why, what an interest you take in her, papa! Did you stop and speak to
the poor girl?"

"She was running to get home in a hurry, and tripped and fell down;
I assisted her to rise. We introduced ourselves, and then she went
on; that was all," he explained. "Well, I will leave you to watch for
Jesse, while I go and talk to your mamma."

Beautiful Roma looked after Mr. Clarke with angry eyes, muttering:

"The idea of scolding me, his daughter and heiress, about that
insignificant little sewing girl! And he thought her very beautiful. I
wonder if mamma would be jealous if she heard of his open admiration! I
think I will give her a hint, and see!" and she laughed wickedly, while
she again turned her eyes toward the gate, watching for her laggard
lover.

"Why doesn't he come?" she murmured impatiently, for Roma was so
spoiled by overindulgence of a willful nature that she could not bear
to wait for anything. She was imperious as a queen.

As the minutes slipped past without bringing the lover, for whom she
waited so eagerly, her angry temper began to flame in her great,
red-brown eyes like sparks of fire, and she paced back and forth
between the arbor and the gate like a caged lioness, her bosom heaving
with emotion.

Jesse Devereaux, who had known her only as a bright, vivacious girl,
would not have known his sweetheart now, in her fury of rage at his
nonappearance.

Angry tears sparkled in her eyes, as she cried:

"If he could not keep his word, he should have sent an excuse. He must
know I shall be bitterly disappointed!"

All the beauty of the night mattered nothing to her now. The moonlight,
the flowers, the murmur of the sea, were maddening to the girl waiting
there alone for her recreant lover. Love and hate struggled for mastery
in her capricious breast.

Jesse Devereaux had been hard to win, but she prized him all the more
for that, and she could not bear the least apparent slight from him.

"He did not care to come; he has let some trivial excuse keep him
away! I will have to teach him that he cannot trifle with my love!" she
vowed darkly, flying into the house in a passion.

Seating herself angrily at her desk, she wrote:

  MR. DEVEREAUX: Your failure to keep your engagement with me this
  evening, without any apparent excuse, seems to me a sufficient excuse
  for breaking our engagement.

                                                                ROMA.

She tore a sparkling diamond from her finger, wrapped it in a bit
of tissue paper, and inclosed it in the letter, hurrying downstairs
again and sending it off to Stonecliff by a messenger, with special
directions to deliver it personally to Jesse Devereaux at his hotel.

Her feelings somewhat relieved by this explosion of resentment, Roma
laughed harshly, murmuring to herself:

"He will be here the first thing in the morning to beg me to take him
back, promising never to slight me so cruelly again. Of course, I will
forgive him, after pouting a while, and making him very uneasy, but
from this day forward he will have learned a lesson that I must be
first with him in everything. I will never tolerate neglect, and he
must learn that fact at once."

She was so agitated she could not go into the house just yet. She
wandered about the grounds, trying to overcome her angry excitement
before she went in, for she knew that her mother was sure to come to
her room for a little chat before retiring, and she could not bear her
questioning.

"Dear mamma, I know she idolizes me, but at times I find her very
tiresome," she soliloquized. "How tired I get of her lecturing on the
beauty of goodness, as if I were the wickedest girl in the world! I
know I am not goody-goody, as she is, and I don't want to be! Good
people don't have much fun in this world; they let the wicked ones get
the advantage and run over them always. However, I shall be as sweet as
sugar to her to-night, for I want her to help me tease papa to-morrow
for that set of rubies I want!"

She leaned upon the gate, letting the cool wind caress her heated brow,
waiting for her cheeks to cool, and her heart to thump less fiercely
with anger before she went in to encounter her mother's searching gaze;
but it would have been a thousand times better for her if she had gone
to sob her grief out on that mother's gentle breast, than waited here
for the fate that was swiftly approaching.

The dark, sinister-looking stranger who had insulted Liane Lester on
the beach had rowed back to shore as soon as Devereaux was out of sight.

He was interested in Roma Clarke, as his questions to Liane had plainly
shown.

He came slowly, cautiously, up to the gate, his heart leaping with hope
as he saw a beautiful head leaning over it that he hoped and believed
must be Roma's herself.

"What luck for me, and what a shock for her!" he muttered grimly, as he
advanced.

At the same moment Mrs. Clarke was sending Roma's maid out with a
message that it was so chilly she ought to come in, or she might take
cold.

She would not listen to her husband's remonstrance that Roma was with
her lover, and might not wish to be interrupted.

"Jesse can come in, too; I am sure he would not wish Roma to get sick
out in the night air with nothing on her head!" cried the anxious
mother.

"How you love that girl!" he cried testily, and she laughed sweetly.

"Are you getting jealous of my love for our daughter, dear? You need
not, for the first place in my heart is yours, but remember how
devoted I have always been to Roma, ever since she was born."

"I know, but has she ever seemed to show the right appreciation of your
devotion?" he exclaimed abruptly.

A deep and bitter sigh quivered over the wife's lips, but she parried
the question with a complaint:

"You are always insinuating some fault against my darling. Your heart
is cold to her, Edmund."

He put his arms around her, and kissed the still lovely face with the
passion of a lover.

"At least it is not cold to you, my darling!" he cried; and pleased at
his love-making, she momentarily forgot Roma, and nestled confidingly
against his breast.

He was glad that she could not know his secret thoughts, for they ran
stubbornly:

"She is right. My heart is indeed cold to Roma. I shall be glad when
Devereaux marries her and takes her away, and I do not believe it will
break my wife's heart, either; for she seemed to bear it well enough
when her daughter was away at boarding school those three years."

Meanwhile Sophie went away most reluctantly with her message, thinking:

"I am sure Miss Roma will not thank me for breaking up her tête-à-tête
with her lover, for, of course, she is staying out just to keep him all
to herself. But I cannot disobey Mrs. Clarke's commands, though I'll
saunter along as slowly as I can, so as to give Miss Roma a little more
time."

Sophie was an intelligent and good-hearted girl, and might have been
invaluable to Roma, if she could have appreciated such a treasure; but
by her selfishness and arrogance she had completely antagonized the
young woman, who only stayed, as she had frankly told Liane, for Mrs.
Clarke's sake.

As she strolled along, picking a flower here and there, and giving Roma
all the time she could, she thought of Liane with pity and admiration.

"There's a lovely girl for you! If she had been rich instead of Miss
Roma, I fancy she'd make a better mistress," she murmured, and then the
sound of subdued voices came to her ears.

"There she is at the gate with Mr. Devereaux, sure!" she thought, as
she saw two heads together, the man's outside, while the murmur of
excited voices came to her ears.

"I hope they aren't quarreling already! She had trouble enough hooking
him, to be sure!" she thought as she went forward noiselessly, perhaps
hoping to catch a word.

She was rewarded by hearing Roma say:

"I will come outside and talk with you. We must not run the risk of
being overheard by any one from the house."

The gate latch clicked as she stepped outside and joined her companion,
a tall, dark man, whom Sophie did not doubt must be Jesse Devereaux.

She led her companion out toward the high cliff, washed at its base by
the surging sea, and Sophie stole after them, thinking curiously:

"Now, what secret have they got, these two, that no one from the house
must overhear, I wonder? It is very strange, indeed, and I'll bet they
have a mind to elope, just to make a sensation! These rich folks will
do any foolish thing to get their names and pictures in the papers!
They think it's fame, but any jailbird can get published in the papers.
Well, I'll follow you, my lady, and there's one from the house who will
hear your secret in spite of your precautions."

She crept along after them, so near that if they had turned their heads
they must have seen the skulking figure; but neither Roma nor the man
looked back, but kept along the edge of the cliff on the narrow path,
talking angrily, it seemed to Sophie, though their words were drowned
by the roar of the sea, to the great chagrin of the curious maid.

"But they are certainly quarreling! Ah, now they are stopping! I don't
want to interrupt them yet; so I'll hide!" she thought, darting behind
a convenient ledge.

In the clear and brilliant moonlight the two figures faced each other,
perilously near to the edge of the cliff, and Sophie, peering at them
from her concealment, suddenly saw a terrible thing happen.

The man had his back to the sea, facing Roma, and both were talking
vehemently, it seemed, from their gestures; when all at once the girl
thrust out her foot and struck her companion's knee, causing him to
lose his balance. The result was inevitable.

The tall figure lurched backward, swayed an instant, trying to recover
itself, toppled over with a shriek of rage, and went over the cliff a
hundred feet down into the foaming waters.



CHAPTER VI.

AFTER THE CRIME.


Sophie Nutter could hardly believe the evidence of her own startled
eyes when she saw the terrible crime of her young mistress.

She knew that Roma was selfish and cruel, but she had never realized
that such depths of wickedness were concealed beneath her beautiful
exterior.

When she saw Roma push the supposed Jesse Devereaux over the face of
the cliff to a dreadful death, the hair seemed to rise on her head with
horror, and from her lips burst an uncontrollable shriek of dismay and
remonstrance, while she tried to spring forward with outstretched arms
in a futile impulse to avert the man's awful fate.

Too late! The writhing, struggling body went hurtling down over the
high cliff, and struck the water with a loud thud that dashed the
spray high in air. Then Sophie's limbs relaxed beneath her, and she
fell in a heap like one paralyzed, behind the ledge of stones, while
her terrified shriek went wandering forth on the air of night like a
wailing banshee.

But Roma had shrieked, wildly, too--perhaps in nature's recoil from
her own sin--so Sophie's protesting cry lost itself in dismal echoes.
Then all grew still save for the voice of the sea and the dash of water
churning itself to fury at the foot of the bluff.

The maid, crouching low in her concealment, heard Roma flying with
terror-haunted footsteps from the scene of her awful crime, and
muttered distractedly:

"She has murdered her handsome lover, the beautiful fiend! God in
heaven alone knows why! I thought she loved the very ground he trod on!"

The maid was suffering from severe nervous shock. She sobbed
hysterically as she thought of handsome Jesse Devereaux lying drowned
at the foot of the cliff, and beaten by the cruel waves that would
wash him out to sea when the tide turned, so that Roma's sin would be
forever hidden from the sight of men.

"I will go and inform on her at once! She shall suffer the penalty!"
she vowed at first; but when she thought of gentle, loving Mrs. Clarke
her resolution wavered.

"It will kill her to learn of her child's wickedness, the good, gentle
lady who has been so kind and generous to me! I do not know what to
do! I would like to punish the daughter, and spare the mother, but I
cannot do both," she groaned, in a state of miserable indecision.

It was some time before her trembling limbs permitted her to drag
herself from the spot; and when she gained the house and her bed she
could not rest. She tossed and groaned, and at length was seized with
hysterical spasms, obliging the housemaid to call for assistance.

In the meantime Roma, far less excited than Sophie, had also retired to
her room and flung herself down by the open window to await impatiently
the inevitable good-night chat with her mother.

"I wish she would not come. Her affection grows really tiresome at
times," she muttered rebelliously, as she heard the light footsteps
outside her door.

Mrs. Clarke entered and sat down close to her daughter, putting her
white hand tenderly on the girl's shoulder.

"Good girl, to come in when mamma sent for you," she said caressingly,
as to a child.

"You--sent--for--me!" Roma faltered, in surprise.

"Yes, by Sophie. I feared you would take cold, bareheaded out in the
night air."

"I have not seen Sophie," Roma muttered sullenly, with a downcast face.

"Why did Jesse leave so soon?" continued the mother curiously.

"He did not come. I have been walking in the grounds alone."

"But your papa said, dear----"

"Yes, I know; papa told you I was waiting for Jesse at the gate, but he
never came. He disappointed me!"

"Why, that is very strange, dear. And you are grieved over it, I see.
Your face is pale, and your whole frame trembles under my touch. Do not
take it so hard, darling. Of course Jesse was detained. He will come
to-morrow."

"He should have sent me an excuse, mamma!"

"He must have been prevented. I am sure he would not neglect you
purposely. He will explain to-morrow."

Roma tossed her proud head, with a bitter laugh.

"I tell you, mamma, I will not brook such negligence. I have broken our
engagement."

"Roma!"

The girl gave a reckless laugh of wounded pride.

"Yes; I sent him a note, with his ring, just now, setting him free."

"You were precipitate, Roma; you should have waited for an explanation."

"I did not choose to wait!"

"I fear you will regret it."

"I do not think it likely."

Mrs. Clarke gazed at her in sorrowful silence, whose reproach goaded
Roma into adding haughtily:

"I wished to teach Jesse, early, a lesson that I am not to be neglected
for anything; that I must be foremost always in his thoughts."

"But have you not gone too far in giving him this lesson? His thoughts
will not belong to you now."

"He will bring back his ring, and beg me to take it back to-morrow."

"Are you certain, Roma?"

"As sure as I am of my life!" with a confident laugh.

"Well, perhaps you know him better than I do, Roma, but I fancied Jesse
Devereaux very high-spirited--too high-spirited to bear dictation."

"He will have to bend to my will!" Roma cried arrogantly, and the
gentle lady sighed, for she knew that her daughter made this her own
motto in life. Power and dominion were hers by the force of "might
makes right."

Mrs. Clarke rose with a sigh and touched Roma's cheeks with her lips,
saying kindly:

"Well, I hope it will all come right, dear. Good night."

She returned to her own room, thinking: "Poor girl, she is the
miserable victim of her own caprice. I could see that she is too
terribly agitated to sleep an hour to-night."



CHAPTER VII.

GRANNY'S REVENGE.


The half dozen pretty young girls who served for Miss Bray were
light-hearted, hopeful young creatures in spite of their poverty, and
at their daily work they sociably discussed their personal affairs with
the freedom and intimacy of friends. Beaus and dress were the choice
topics just as in higher circles of society. Liane Lester was the only
quiet one among them, granny's edicts barring her both from lovers and
finery.

Dolly Dorr was turning them all green with envy the next morning
by boasting of the attentions she had received from the grand Mr.
Devereaux, when one of the girls, Lottie Day, interposed:

"He is not likely to call on you again very soon, for I heard Brother
Tom saying at breakfast this morning that Mr. Devereaux had broken his
arm by a fall last night."

A chorus of compassionate remarks followed this announcement, and Dolly
exclaimed vivaciously:

"I wish I might be allowed to nurse the poor fellow!"

Nan Brooks replied chaffingly:

"Miss Roma Clarke might have some objection to that scheme. They say
she is engaged to him."

"That's why I want a good chance to cut her out. The proud, stuck-up
thing!" cried Dolly indignantly, and from the remarks that followed it
was plainly to be seen that Miss Clarke was not a favorite among the
pretty sewing girls.

Roma had never lost an opportunity to impress them with the difference
in their stations and her own, as if she were made of quite a superior
sort of clay, and the high-spirited young creatures bitterly resented
her false pride.

Not one of them but would have been glad to see Dolly "cut her out," as
they phrased it, with the handsome Devereaux, but they frankly believed
that there could be no such luck.

In their gay chatter, Liane alone remained silent, her beautiful head
bent low over her sewing to hide the tears that had sprung to her eyes
while they talked of Jesse Devereaux's accident.

"It was for my sake!" she thought gratefully, with rising blushes,
though her heart sank like lead when she heard them saying he was
engaged to Miss Clarke.

"He belongs to that proud, cruel girl! How I pity him!" she thought.
"Yet, no doubt, he admires her very much. She does not show him the
mean, selfish side of her character, as she does to us poor sewing
girls."

She would have given anything if only she had not yielded to her
passionate gratitude, and kissed his hand.

"He was disgusted at my boldness. He believed I had given him my love
unasked, and he turned away in scorn. Yet how could I help it, he was
so kind to me; first saving me from that ruffian, then from granny's
blows? Oh, how could I help but love him? And I wish, like Dolly, that
I might be permitted to nurse him as some reparation for his goodness,"
she thought, her cheeks burning and her heart throbbing wildly with the
tenderness she could not stifle.

Every way she looked it seemed to her she could see his dark face,
with its dazzling black eyes, looking at her with an admiration and
tenderness they should not have shown, if he were indeed betrothed to
another. Those glances and smiles had lured Liane's heart from her own
keeping and doomed her to passionate unrest.

She listened to everything in silence, nursing her sweet, painful
secret in her heart, afraid lest a breath should betray her, until
suddenly Ethel Barry, the girl next her, exclaimed:

"How quiet Liane is this morning, not taking the least interest in
anything we say!"

"No interest! Oh, Heaven!" thought Liane, but Dolly Dorr interposed:

"You would be quiet, too, if you had been beaten as Liane was by granny
last night, and forced to seek refuge with a friend."

Liane crimsoned painfully at having her own troubles discussed, but
granny's faults were public property, and she could not deny the truth.

"She is old and cross," she said, generously trying to offer some
excuse.

"You need not take up for her, Liane. She doesn't deserve it!" cried
one and all, while Mary Lang, the oldest and most staid of the six
girls, quickly offered to share her own room with Liane if she would
never return to the old woman.

She was an orphan, and rented a room with a widow, living cozily at
what she called "room-keeping," and the girls had many jolly visits
taking tea with Mary.

Liane thanked her warmly for her offer.

"But will you come?" asked Mary.

"I cannot."

"But why?"

The girl sighed heavily as she explained:

"Granny came to Mrs. Dorr's this morning, all penitence for her fault,
and begged me to come home, promising never to beat me again."

"Do not trust her; do not go!" cried they all; but it was useless.

"She is old and poor. How could she get along without me? She would
have to go to the poorhouse, and think how cruelly that would disgrace
me!" cried Liane, who had no love for the old wretch, but supported her
through mingled pride and pity.

And she actually returned to the shanty that day when her work was
done, much to the relief of the old woman, who feared she had driven
her meek slave off forever.

"So you are back? That's a good girl!" she said approvingly, and added:
"They may tell you, those foolish girls, that I am too strict with you,
Liane, but I'm an old woman, and I know what's best for you, girl. It
was through letting your mother have her own way that she went to her
ruin; that's why I'm so strict on you."

"My mother went to her--ruin!" faltered Liane, flushing crimson, but
very curious, for she had never been able to extract a word from granny
about her parents, except that they were both dead and had been no
credit to her while living.

"Yes, her ruin," granny replied, with a malicious side glance at the
startled girl. "She ran away from me to be an actress when she wasn't
but seventeen, and a year later she came back to me with a baby in her
arms--you! She had been deceived and deserted, and you, poor thing, had
no lawful name but the one she had picked out of a book--Liane Lester."

"Oh, Heaven!" sobbed the girl, burying her white face in her hands,
thinking that this blow was more cruel even than one of the old woman's
beatings.

At heart Liane had a strange pride, and she was bitterly ashamed of her
low origin and her cruel grandmother, whom no one respected because of
her vile temper.

To be told now that she had no lawful name, that her mother had been
deceived and deserted, was like a sword thrust in the poor girl's heart.

She sobbed bitterly, as granny added:

"I didn't never mean to tell you the truth, but now that you are
getting wild and willful, like your mother was, it's best for you to
know it, and take her fate as a warning."

Liane knew the accusation was not true, but she did not contradict it;
she only sobbed:

"Did my mother die of a broken heart?"

"No, indeed, the minx; she got well and ran away again, and left you on
my hands."

"Is she living now?"

"She is, for all I know to the contrary. But she takes good care never
to come near me, nor to send me a dollar for your support."

"I take care of myself, and you, too, granny."

"Yes, the best you can; but she ought to help--the ungrateful
creature!" granny exclaimed so earnestly that she could scarcely doubt
the truth of her story.

It was a cruel blow to Liane's pride, and up in her bare little chamber
under the eaves that night she lay awake many hours sobbing hopelessly
over her fate.

"I would rather be dead than the daughter of a woman who was deceived
and deserted! Mr. Devereaux would never give me a second thought if he
knew," she sighed, with burning cheeks, as she sank into a restless
sleep, troubled with dreams in which her hero's magnetic, dark eyes
played the principal part--dreams so sweet that she grieved when the
cold gray light of dawn glimmered upon her face and roused her to
reality and another day of toil.

Very eagerly the girls questioned her when she reached Miss Bray's as
to granny's mood, and she answered quietly:

"No, she did not scold me or strike me this time; she was kind in her
way."

But she did not tell them granny's way of kindness, for her heart sank
with shame as she looked around the group of her light-hearted friends,
thinking how different their lot was from hers; all of them having
honorable parentage, and dreading lest they would not wish to associate
with her if they knew she had no right to her pretty name, Liane
Lester, that her wronged mother had simply picked it out of a story
book.

Miss Bray had a hurry order this morning--a white gown ruffled to the
waist--so she set all the girls to work, and as they worked their
tongues flew--they knew pretty nearly everything that had happened in
the village since yesterday.

The choice bit of gossip was that Miss Clarke's maid, Sophie Nutter,
had left her, and gone to Boston.

"They say she had a sick spell night before last, and went out of her
head, talking awful things, so that the servants were quite frightened,
and called up their mistress herself. Sophie had hysterical spasms, and
accused Miss Roma of dreadful crimes right before her mother's face,"
said Mary Lang.

"Miss Roma must have been very angry--she has such a temper," cried
Dolly, as she threaded her needle.

"Oh, Miss Roma wasn't present, and her mother took steps never to let
her find it out, you may be sure."

"It must have been something awful," said Lottie Day.

"I should say so! She declared to Mrs. Clarke she had seen Miss Roma
push Mr. Devereaux over the bluff and drown him! Just think--when Mr.
Devereaux had not been near the place, but was lying at his hotel with
a broken arm!"

"It was all a dream," said Miss Bray from her cutting board.

"Yes, but she could hardly be convinced yesterday morning that she had
not really seen Miss Roma commit a murder. They had to send for the
doctor to tell her that Mr. Devereaux was really alive at his hotel,
having broken his arm by a fall on the sands. They say she went off
into more hysterics when she heard that, and muttered: 'A fall over
the cliff was more likely, but how he escaped death and got to shore
again puzzles me. And why did she do it, anyway? It must have been a
lovers' quarrel. I must get away from here. She will be pushing me over
the bluff next.' And she had her trunk packed and went off to Boston,
though she looked too ill to leave her bed," added Mary Lang, who had
had the whole story straight from the housekeeper at Cliffdene.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE BROKEN ENGAGEMENT.


"Oh, how rash and foolish I have been!" thought Roma, the next day,
when she heard of Jesse Devereaux's accident.

"His arm broken by a fall on the sands last night--most probably on
his way to see me, poor fellow! And in my angry resentment at my
disappointment I have broken our engagement! How rash and foolish I
am, and how much I regret it! I must make it up with him at once, my
darling!" she cried repentantly, and hurried to her mother.

"Mamma, you were right last night. I regret my hasty action in
dismissing Jesse without a hearing. How can I make it up with him?"

"You can send another note of explanation, asking his forgiveness,"
suggested Mrs. Clarke.

"Oh, mamma, if I could only go to him myself!" she cried, impatient for
the reconciliation.

"It would not be exactly proper, my dear."

"But we are engaged."

"You have broken the engagement."

Roma uttered a cry of grief and chagrin that touched her mother's heart.

"Poor dear, you are suffering, as I foreboded, for last night's folly,"
she sighed.

"Please don't lecture me, mamma. I'm wretched enough without that!"

"I only meant to sympathize with you, dear."

"Then help me--that is the best sort of sympathy. I suppose it wouldn't
be improper for you to call on Jesse, at his hotel, would it?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Then I will write my note to him, and you can take it--will you?"

Mrs. Clarke assented, and was on the point of starting when a messenger
arrived with a note for Roma, replying to hers of the night before.

In spite of his broken right arm, Jesse Devereaux had managed a scrawl
with his left hand, and Roma tore it open with a burning face and
wildly beating heart, quickly mastering its contents, which read:

  Mr. Devereaux accepts his dismissal with equanimity, feeling sure
  from this display of Miss Clarke's hasty temper that he has had a
  lucky escape.

It was cool, curt, airy, almost to insolence; a fitting match for her
own; and Roma gasped and almost fainted.

Where was all her boasting, now, that she would teach him a lesson;
that he would be back in a day begging her to take back his ring?

She had met her match; she realized it now; remembering, all too late,
how hard he had been to win; a lukewarm lover, after all, and perhaps
glad now of his release.

Oh, if she could but have recalled that silly note, she would have
given anything she possessed, for all the heart she had had been
lavished on him.

With a genuine sob of choking regret, she flung the humiliating note to
her mother, and sank into a chair, her face hidden in her hands.

Mrs. Clarke read, and exclaimed:

"Really, he need not comment on your temper while displaying an equally
hasty one so plainly. He must certainly be very angry, but I suppose
his suffering adds to his impatience."

"He--he--will forgive me when he reads my second note!" sobbed Roma.

"But you do not intend to send it now, Roma!" exclaimed Mrs. Clarke,
with a certain resentment of her own at Jesse's brusqueness.

But Roma could be very inconsistent--overbearing when it was permitted
to her; humble when cowed.

She lifted up a miserable face, replying eagerly:

"Oh, yes, mamma, for I was plainly in the wrong, and deserve that he
should be angry with me. But he will be only too glad to forgive me
when he reads my note of repentance. Please go at once, dear mamma,
and make my peace with Jesse! You will know how to plead with him in
my behalf! Oh, don't look so cold and disapproving, mamma, for I love
him so it would break my heart to lose him now. And--and--if he made
love to any other girl, I should like to--to--see her lying dead at my
feet! Oh, go; go quickly, and hasten back to me with my ring again and
Jesse's forgiveness!"

She was half mad with anxiety and impatience, and she almost thrust
Mrs. Clarke from the room in her eagerness for her return.

It mattered not that she could see plainly how distasteful it was to
the gentle lady to go on such a mission; she insisted on obedience, and
waited with passionate impatience for her mother's return, saying to
herself:

"He is certainly very angry, but she will coax him to make up, and
hereafter I will be very careful not to let him slip me again. I can be
humble until we are married, and rule afterward. Mamma will not dare
leave him without getting his forgiveness for me. She knows my temper,
and that I would blame her always if she failed of success."

But there are some things that even a loving, slavish mother cannot
accomplish, even at the risk of a child's anger. Jesse Devereaux's
reconciliation to Roma was one of them.

The mother returned after a time, pale and trembling, to Roma, saying
nervously:

"Call your pride to your aid, dear Roma, for Jesse was obdurate, and
would not consent to renew the engagement. I am indeed sorry that I
humbled myself to ask it."



CHAPTER IX.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.


Jesse Devereaux had never spent a more unpleasant half hour in his life
than during Mrs. Clarke's visit. He admired and esteemed the gentle
lady very much, and it pained him to tell her that he no longer loved
her daughter, and was glad of his release.

Yet he did so kindly and courteously, though he was well aware that no
gentleness could really soften the blow to her love and pride.

"I have been betrothed to your daughter only two weeks, dear madam,
but in that short time I have discovered traits in her character that
could never harmonize with mine. We have both been spoiled by indulgent
parents; both are willful and headstrong. Such natures do best wedded
to gentle, yielding ones. It is best for our future happiness that we
should separate, although I should have kept faith with Roma, had she
not yielded to her hasty temper and broken the engagement," he said.

She looked at his pale, handsome face as he rested on the sofa, and
decided that he was only holding out for pride's sake. Surely he must
love beautiful Roma still--he could not hate her so soon.

"Roma is not headstrong, as you think; only hasty and impulsive," she
faltered. "See how she has humbled herself to you in the depths of her
love. Why, I left her weeping most bitterly over her fault, and praying
for your forgiveness. How can I go back and tell her you refuse it;
that you scorn her love?"

She was frightened, indeed, to return from an unsuccessful mission to
Roma. There were tears in her imploring eyes as she gazed at him.

"I do not refuse her my forgiveness; I accord it to her freely," he
replied. "Neither do I scorn her love, but I do not believe it can be
very deep, else she could not have been so angry with me last night.
And I am free to confess that my love was not of the strongest, either,
for I realize now that I am glad of my freedom, if you will pardon me
for my frankness, dear lady."

How could she pardon aught that must wound her daughter vitally? An
angry flush rose into her cheek, her blue eyes flashed.

"You are cruelly frank!" she cried; and he answered:

"I lament the painful necessity, but circumstances leave me no
alternative, Mrs. Clarke. I feel that I entered into an engagement
too hastily, and that its sudden rupture is a relief. I tender my
friendship to your daughter with profound gratitude for her kindness,
but I can never again be her lover."

In the face of such frankness she sat dumb. What was there to say that
could move him?

Her heart sank at the thought of Roma's disappointment. She rose
unsteadily to her feet, blinded by angry tears.

"I may still retain your friendship?" he pleaded, but her lip curled in
scorn.

"No, you are cruel and unjust to Roma. I despise you!" she answered, in
wrath, as she stumbled from the room, wondering at his heartlessness.

She would not have wondered so much if she could have known that
Roma had never really filled his heart, but that the glamour of her
fascinations and her open preference had somehow drawn him into a
proposal that had brought him no happiness, save a sort of pride in
winning the beautiful belle and heiress from many competitors. All the
while he did not really love her; it was just his pride and vanity that
were flattered.

There had come a sudden, painful awakening that fateful day, when
rescuing Liane Lester's veil. He had looked deep into those shy, lovely
eyes of hers, and felt his heart leap wildly, quickened by a glance
into new life.

Roma's eyes had never thrilled him that way; he had never wondered at
her great beauty; he had never longed to take her in his arms and clasp
her to his heart at first sight. This was love--real love, such as he
had never felt for the proud beauty he had rashly promised to marry.

In that first hour of his meeting with Liane, he cursed himself for his
madness in proposing to Roma.

Yet, he was the soul of honor. He did not even contemplate retreating
from his position as Roma's affianced husband. He only felt that he
must avoid the fatal beauty of Liane, lest he go mad with despair at
his cruel fate.

Then had followed the meeting with her again, that night when he had so
fortunately saved her from the insults of a stranger and the brutality
of her old grandmother. How proud and glad he had been to defend her,
even at the pain of a broken arm; how he had loved her in that moment,
longed to shelter her on his breast from the assaults of the cruel
world.

He could never forget that moment when, overcome by gratitude, the girl
had bent and kissed his hand, sending mad thrills of love through his
trembling frame.

Had he been free, he would have poured out his full heart to her that
moment, and the tender stars would have looked down on a scene of the
purest love, where two hearts acknowledged each other's sway in ecstasy.

But he was bound in the cruel fetters of another's love, from which he
could not in honor get free. His heart must break in silence.

He had to hurry away from her abruptly to hide the love he must not
confess.

In his sorrow and suffering that night, judge what happiness came to
him with Roma's angry letter, sent by special messenger, restoring his
ring and his freedom!

His heart sang pæans of joy as he let his thoughts cling lovingly to
Liane, realizing that now he might woo and win the shy, sweet maiden
for his own.

Very early in the morning he penned his note to Roma, making it
purposely curt and cold, that she might not attempt a reconciliation.

He felt so grateful to her that he was not at all angry, and thanked
her in his heart for her summary rejection.

The unpleasant interview with Mrs. Clarke over, he dismissed the whole
matter from his mind, and gave all his thoughts to Liane, chafing at
the delay that must ensue from his forced confinement to his room.

"You must let me get out of here as soon as possible, doctor. I have
something very important to do!" he cried eagerly.

"Love-making, eh?" bantered the doctor, thinking of Roma. "All right,
my dear fellow. I shall have you walking about in a few days, I trust;
but I warn you it will be a long while before you can do any but
left-handed hugging!"

"Pshaw!" exclaimed his patient; but he colored up to his brows. He was
indeed thinking of how impassionedly he would make love to Liane when
he saw her again.

"I shall ask her to marry me on the spot!" he decided joyfully,
"and--I hope I'm not vain--but I don't believe she will say no. We
must be married very soon, so I can take her away from her wretched
surroundings. That old grandmother can be pensioned off. She shall
never see Liane again after she is my wife. Of course, the world will
say I've made a mésalliance, but I'm rich enough to please myself, and
my darling is beautiful enough to wear a crown."

The doctor found him the most impatient patient in the world. He never
complained of the pain in his arm, though it was excruciating. He only
chafed at his confinement.

"I want to get out," he said. "Doctor, you know I'm one of the judges
at the Beauty Show to-morrow night."

"I'm going to let you go with your arm in a sling. Hang it all, I
wouldn't miss it myself for anything! Say, there's more than one beauty
in Stonecliff, but it goes without saying that you judges will award
the prize to Miss Clarke, eh?" cried the jocose physician.



CHAPTER X.

ROMA SEEKS A NEW MAID.


Roma's rage and grief at her mother's failure to set matters straight
between her and Devereaux were beyond all expression.

But, for very pride's sake, she concealed the deepest bitterness of her
heart.

She could not accuse her gentle mother of wanton carelessness, for
the tears stood in her deep-blue eyes as she told the story of her
interview, concluding sadly:

"Do not think, my darling, that I did not do my best to bring him to
reason, putting pride away, and telling him how devotedly you loved
him, and that it would break your heart to lose him now. He was cold
and unresponsive to all my pleadings, and as good as said he was glad
to be free of you. I confess I lost my temper at the last, and told him
I despised him, before I came away."

Roma did not speak, she only tapped the rich carpet with a restless
foot, indicative of a white heat of repressed anger; but Mrs. Clarke
did not read her mood aright; she thought she was bearing the blow with
fortitude.

In her keen sympathy she exclaimed:

"It is a cruel blow to your pride and love, my daughter, and I only
wish I knew how to comfort you."

Roma lifted her white face and glittering eyes to Mrs. Clarke's anxious
scrutiny, and actually laughed--a strange, mirthless laugh, that
chilled her mother's blood. Then she said, with seeming coolness:

"You can comfort me right off, mamma, by begging papa to give me those
rubies I've wanted so long! As for Jesse, he is only holding off from
pride! I shall win him back, never fear!"

"You shall have your rubies, dear," her mother answered kindly, though
she thought: "What a strange girl? How can she think of rubies at such
a moment?"

"Thank you, mamma, you are very good to me!" Roma answered prettily, in
her gratitude for the rubies; then, as Mrs. Clarke was going out, she
added: "I wonder if Sophie is well enough to get up and wait on me. I
am in need of her services."

Mrs. Clarke paused in some embarrassment, and answered:

"I shall have to lend you my own maid till I can get you another.
Sophie Nutter left quite abruptly this morning."

"I'm glad of it. I disliked the girl, and I suspected her of telling
tales of me to you!" cried Roma.

Mrs. Clarke neither affirmed nor denied the charge. She simply said:

"We should be kind to our servants, Roma, if we expect them to bear
good witness for us."

"Kindness is wasted on the ungrateful things!" Roma answered
impatiently. "I must have another maid immediately."

"But where shall we find her? Not in this little town, I fear. So we
must send to Boston."

"Wait! I have an idea, mamma!"

"Well?"

"I should like to have that neat little sewing girl that altered my
cape that night. She is so clever with her needle, she would be a real
treasure to me, and save you many dressmaking bills."

"Would she be willing to come?"

"We can find out by asking the old woman she lives with--you know,
mamma, that old tumble-down shanty at the end of town, coming out of
Cliffdene? It is a little more than a mile from here. Liane Lester
lives there with an old grandmother that beats her every day, I've
heard, and I've no doubt she would jump at the chance of a situation
here!"

Mrs. Clarke forbore to remind her daughter that she, too, had been
accused of beating her maid; she only said warningly:

"You would have to be kinder to her than you were to Sophie, or she
would not be likely to stay, my dear."

"How could you believe Sophie's fibs on me?" cried Roma petulantly; but
Mrs. Clarke turned the exclamation aside by saying:

"Perhaps you had better go and see about the new maid at once."

"Oh, mamma, I think you might do it yourself! I--I am too nervous and
unhappy to attend to it just now. Won't you just drive down into town
again and see about the girl?" answered Roma.

Mrs. Clarke did not relish the task, but she was so used to bearing
Roma's burdens that she assented without a murmur, and went out again
to see about the new maid, sadly troubled in her mind about what had
happened last night, when the delirious maid had told such shocking
stories on her daughter.

"It could not be true; of course not, but it is shocking that Sophie
should even have imagined such awful things! It all came of Roma being
cross and impatient with her, and making a bad impression on her mind.
Now, if this young sewing girl should consent to serve Roma, I shall
make it a point to see that she is not ill-used," she thought, as her
handsome carriage stopped at Liane's humble home, and the footman
opened the door and helped her out.

She swept up the narrow walk to the door, an imposing figure, thinking
compassionately:

"What a wretched abode! It will be a pleasing change to Liane Lester if
the girl will consent to come to Cliffdene."

She tapped on the open door, but no one replied, though she saw the old
woman's figure moving about in the room beyond.

"She is deaf and cannot hear me. I will just step in," she thought,
suiting the action to the word.

Granny was sweeping up the floor, but she turned with a start, dropping
her broom as a soft hand touched her shoulder, and, confronting the
beautiful intruder, asked:

"Who are you? What do you want?"

Mrs. Clarke smiled, as she replied:

"I am Mrs. Clarke, of Cliffdene. I wish to see Liane Lester."

"Liane's down to her work at Miss Bray's, ma'am, but you can tell me
your business with her. I'm her grandmother," snarled granny crossly.

"My daughter Roma has lost her maid; she wishes to offer Liane the
vacant place, with your approval. She will have a pleasant home, and
much better wages than are paid to her by Miss Bray for sewing."

Mrs. Clarke had never seen Liane Lester, but she felt a deep sympathy
for her from what she had heard, and was strangely eager to have her
come to Cliffdene.

So she waited impatiently for granny's reply, and as she studied the
homely figure before her, a sudden light beamed in her eyes, and she
exclaimed:

"How strange! I recognize you all at once as the woman who nursed me
when my daughter Roma was born. You have changed, but yet your features
are quite familiar. Oh, how you bring back that awful time to me! Do
you remember how my child was stolen, and that I would have died of
a broken heart, only that she was restored to me almost at the last
moment, when my life was so quickly ebbing away?"

The quick tears of memory started to the lady's eyes, but granny's
fairly glared at her as she muttered:

"You are mistaken!"

"Oh, no, I cannot be! I recall you perfectly," declared Mrs. Clarke,
who had an astonishing memory for faces.

"I never saw you before in my whole life! I never was a sick nurse!"
declared the old woman, so positively and angrily that Mrs. Clarke
thought that, after all, she might be mistaken.

"Really, it does not matter. I was misled by a resemblance, and I
thought you would be glad to hear of your nurse child again," she said.

A strange eagerness appeared on the old woman's face as she muttered:

"It's my misfortune that I haven't such a claim on your kindness,
ma'am. God knows I'd be glad to meet with rich friends that would pity
my poverty-stricken old age!"

Mrs. Clarke's white hand slipped readily into her pocket, taking the
hint, and granny was made richer by a dollar, which she acknowledged
with profuse gratitude.

"And as for Liane going as maid to your daughter, ma'am, I'd like to
see this Miss Roma first, before I give my consent. I want to see if
she looks like a kind young lady, that would not scold and slap my
granddaughter," she declared cunningly.

Mrs. Clarke colored, wondering if Sophie's tales had reached the old
woman's ears, but she said quickly:

"I would insure kind treatment to your grandchild if she came to serve
my daughter."

"Thank you kindly, ma'am. I believe you, but will you humor an old
woman's whim and persuade Miss Roma to come to me herself?" persisted
granny, with veiled eagerness.

"I will do so if I can, but I cannot promise certainly," Mrs. Clarke
replied, rather coldly, as she rustled through the door.

She was vexed and disappointed. Everything seemed to go against her
that day. How angry Roma would be at the old woman's obstinacy, and how
insolently she would talk to her, looking down on her from her height
of pride and position. It was as well to give up the thought of having
Liane come at all.

And how strangely like the old woman was to Mrs. Jenks, the nurse she
had had with her when Roma was born. She was mistaken, of course, since
the old creature said so; but she had such a good memory for faces, and
she had never thought of two such faces alike in the world.

But if Mrs. Clarke went away perturbed from this rencontre, she left
granny sadly flustrated also.

The old creature sat down in the doorway, her chin in her hands, and
gazed with starting eyes at the grand carriage from Cliffdene rolling
away.

"Who would have dreamed such a thing?" she muttered. "Here I have lived
two years neighbor to the Clarkes, and never suspected their identity,
and never heard their girl's name spoken before! Well, well, well! And
they want Liane to wait on Roma. Ha, ha, ha!"

She seemed to find the idea amusing, for she kept laughing at intervals
in a grim, mocking fashion, while she watched the road to Cliffdene as
if she had seen a ghost from the past.

"Will the girl come, as I wish? Will she condescend to cross old
granny's humble threshold? I should like to see her in her pride and
beauty. Perhaps she, too, might have a dollar to fling to a poor old
wretch like me!" she muttered darkly.



CHAPTER XI.

THE BEAUTY SHOW.


Roma was indeed surprised and angry at granny's summons. She flatly
refused to go, declaring:

"The insolence of the lower classes is indeed insufferable. Why, I
offered that girl a situation much more profitable than the one she
holds now, and here that crazy old witch, her grandmother, wishes to
annoy me with all sorts of conditions! Call on her, indeed, in her old
rookery of a house! I shall do nothing of the kind, but I will write a
note to the girl, at Miss Bray's, and I have no doubt she will fairly
jump at the chance, without saying 'by your leave' to that old hag!"

Delighted at the idea of outwitting the insolent old woman, as she
deemed her, Roma quickly dispatched a patronizing, supercilious note to
Liane, and waited impatiently for the reply.

She hardly gave another thought to poor Sophie Nutter, now that she
was gone. Least of all did it enter her beautiful head that the maid
had quit in fear and horror at the crime she had seen her commit that
night.

Mrs. Clarke, in her tenderness over Roma's feelings, had bound all the
servants never to betray Sophie's wild ravings to her daughter.

So, secure in her consciousness that her terrible deed had had no
witness, Roma tried to dismiss the whole affair from her mind,
believing that her victim lay at the bottom of the sea and could never
rise again to menace her with threats of exposure, as he had done that
night, bringing down on himself an awful fate.

The man she had remorselessly hurled from the cliff to a watery grave
belonged to an episode of Roma's boarding-school days, that she hoped
was forever hidden from the knowledge of the world. The thought of
exposure and betrayal was intolerable. It was a moment when she dare
not hesitate. Desperation made her reckless, branded her soul with
crime.

The strongest love of her life had been given to Jesse Devereaux. Woe
be to any one who came between her and that selfish love! Woe be to
Devereaux himself when he scorned that love! Turbulent passion, that
brooked no obstacle, burned fiercely in Roma's breast. Proud, vain,
self-indulgent, she would brook no opposition in anything.

Out of all the five hundred girls whose portraits had been accepted
for the Beauty Show, there was not one more eager than Roma to win the
prize--not for the money, but for the additional prestige it would add
to her belleship.

Her handsomest portrait had been offered, and Roma had scrutinized it
most anxiously, hour by hour, searching for the slightest flaw.

She had a wealth of rich coloring in eyes, hair, and complexion, but
her features were not quite regular; her nose was a trifle too large,
her mouth too wide. Aware of these defects, she would have been a
little uneasy, only that she counted on the votes of her father and
Devereaux as most certain. Besides, she considered that her brilliant
social position must prove a trump card.

"The palm will surely be mine, both by reason of beauty and belleship,"
she thought triumphantly, sneering, as she added: "The town will surely
choose one of its own maidens for the honor, and who would think of
awarding the prize to any one here except myself? True, they say
that all of Miss Bray's pretty sewing girls have had their pictures
accepted, and it's true that some of them are rather pretty, especially
that Liane Lester, but who would think of giving a vote to a common
sewing girl? I don't fear any of them, I'm sure! But, how I should hate
any girl that took the prize from me!" she concluded, with a gleam of
deadly jealousy in her great, flashing eyes, that could burn like live
coals in their peculiar, reddish-brown shade.

But an element of uncertainty was added to the situation, now, in the
defection of Jesse Devereaux.

"What if, in his passionate resentment against me, he should cast his
vote for another?" she thought, in dismay so great that she determined
to humble herself to the dust if she could but win him back.

She sent him flowers every day, and, accompanying them, love letters,
in which she poured out her grief and repentance; but, alas, all her
efforts fell on stony ground.

The recreant knight, busy with his new love dream, scarcely wasted
a thought on Roma. He replied to her letters, thanking her for the
flowers and her kindly sentiments, assuring her that he bore no malice,
and forgave her for her folly; but he added unequivocally that his
fancy for her was dead, and could never be resurrected.

"His fancy! He can call it a fancy now!" the girl moaned bitterly,
and in that moment she tasted, for the first time, the bitterness of a
cruel defeat, where she had been so confident of success.

She could not realize that he loved her no more, that the fancy she
had so carefully cultivated was dead so soon! The pain and humiliation
were most bitter. She rued in dust and ashes her hasty severance of her
engagement.

Added to the bitterness of losing his love was the pain of having him
vote against her at the Beauty Show.

"He will be sure to do so out of pure spite, even if he thought me the
most beautiful of all!" she thought bitterly. "Oh, I wonder for whom he
will cast his vote! How I should hate her if I knew! I--I could trample
her pretty face beneath my feet!"

In desperation she resolved to cultivate the acquaintance of the
artist, Malcolm Dean. He was to be one of the judges, she knew. Perhaps
she could win him over to her side.

Gradually she took heart of hope again.

It could not be possible Jesse's heart had turned against her so
suddenly. No, no! When they met again she would be able to draw him
back again.

She had heard that he was going to be present at the Beauty Show. She
would wear her new rubies and her most becoming gown for his eyes.

There were other girls than Roma planning to look their prettiest that
night, and one was Liane Lester.

Her girl friends had persuaded her to send in her picture with theirs,
and all six had been photographed in a large group by the Stonecliff
artist.

No one could gainsay the fact that it was a beautiful group, from the
petite, flaxen-haired Dolly, to the tall, stately brunette, Mary Lang.
Miss Bray was quite proud of them, and wished she had not been too old
and homely to compete for the prize.

"How sweet they look in their plain white gowns--as pretty as any
millionaire's daughters!" she said proudly. "Indeed, I don't see why
one of them can't take the prize? What if they are just poor sewing
girls? Almost any of them is as pretty as Miss Clarke, with her fame as
a beauty! But her pa's money helped her to that! Look at Liane Lester,
now; that girl's pretty enough for a princess, and if she had fine
fixings, like Roma Clarke, she could outshine her as the sun outshines
the stars! But, of course, I wouldn't have Liane know I said it,
because a poor girl must never cultivate vanity," she concluded to her
crony, Widow Smith, who agreed to everything she said.

Liane had been almost frightened at first when the girls insisted on
her going to the Beauty Show to see the exhibition of photographs, and
hear the prize awarded.

"For if you should be chosen, you must be there to receive the prize,"
cried Dolly.

"I could never dream of being chosen," the girl cried, with a blush
that made her lovelier than ever.

"You must come! Tell granny you have thrown off her yoke now, and
intend to have a little fun, like other young girls. If she rebels,
tell her you will leave her and live with me!" encouraged Mary Lang.

"You mustn't miss it for all the world!" cried Lottie Day vivaciously.
"Did you know that the ladies of the Methodist church intend to have a
supper in the town hall, also, that night?"

Little by little they tempted Liane to rebel against granny's arbitrary
will and accompany them.

"But I have nothing to wear!" she sighed.

"Oh, a cheap, white muslin will do! It will look real sweet by
gaslight, with a ribbon round your waist," suggested Miss Bray herself,
and then Liane's heart gave a thump of joy. She told them about the
five dollars Mrs. Clarke had given her for the work on Roma's cape, and
how she had kept all knowledge of it from granny, longing to enjoy the
money herself.

"You were quite right, since she takes every penny of your wages!" they
all agreed, while Miss Bray added kindly:

"You can get a sweet pattern of white muslin and a ribbon for your
waist and neck, with five dollars. I will cut and fit your gown for
nothing."

"And we girls will take parts of it home at night and help you make
it!" cried her young friends.

"Oh, how good you all are to me! I hope I may be able to return your
favors some day," cried the girl, grateful tears crowding into her
beautiful eyes.

And just then came the note from Roma Clarke, offering Liane a
situation as her maid.

The girl shared the note with her friends, and they were unanimously
indignant.

"The idea of thinking that any of us would stoop to be a maid!" they
cried, while Liane, with flushing cheeks, quickly indited a brief,
courteous, but very decided refusal of the young lady's offer.



CHAPTER XII.

"THE QUEEN ROSE."


"What impudence! She thanks me for my offer, but finds it quite
impossible to accept. And her note is worded as if written to an
equal!" cried Roma angrily, as she tossed Liane's answer to her mother.

Mrs. Clarke examined it somewhat curiously, commenting on the neatness
and correctness of the writing.

"She has made good use of her limited opportunities for education," she
said.

"But, mamma, the idea of her refusing my offer, to remain with Miss
Bray at three dollars a week."

"Perhaps there is a little pride mixed up with her position. She may
consider her present place more genteel, my dear."

"I really do not see any difference to speak of. Poor people are all
alike to me," Roma cried scornfully. "As for Liane Lester, I should
like to shake her! I suppose her pretty face has quite turned her head
with vanity! Why, mamma, she and those other sewing girls at Miss
Bray's have even sent their pictures to the Beauty Show."

"The competition was free to all, my dear, and poverty is no bar to
beauty. I have seen some of the prettiest faces in the world among
working girls. But still, I do not suppose any of Miss Bray's employees
can compete with you in looks," returned Mrs. Clarke, with a complacent
glance at her handsome daughter.

"Thank you, mamma, but you haven't seen this Lester girl, have you? She
is really quite out of the ordinary, with the most classic features,
while I--well, I confess my features are the weak point in my beauty. I
don't see why I didn't inherit your regular features!" complained Roma.

"You do not resemble me, but you are not lacking in beauty, dear. I
suppose you must be more like your father's family, though I never saw
any of them. But don't begin to worry, darling, lest you should lose
the prize. I feel sure of your success," soothed the gentle lady.

"But, mamma, there is Jesse, who will be sure to vote against me for
spite, and I'm afraid that papa is the only one of the judges I can
count upon."

"You cannot count upon him, Roma, because he has declined to serve,
fearing to be accused of partiality if he votes for you."

"Then I shall have to go entirely on my own merits," Roma returned,
with pretended carelessness, but at heart she was furious at her
father's defection, only she knew it was useless to protest against his
decision. She had learned long ago that she could not "wind him around
her little finger," as she could her adoring mother.

Again her hopes recurred to Jesse Devereaux. She must make every effort
to lure him back.

Her mother's patient maid grew very tired dressing Miss Roma for the
show when the night came.

"She was as fussy and particular as some old maid! I did up her hair
three times in succession before it suited! My! But she was cross as
a wet hen! I believe she would have slapped me in the face if she
had dared! I hope to goodness she may fail to get the prize, though
I wouldn't have dear Mrs. Clarke hear me say so for anything in the
world! But I'm just hoping and praying that some poor girl that needs
the money may get that hundred dollars!" exclaimed the maid to her
confidante, the housekeeper.

There was not one among the servants but disliked the arrogant
heiress, who treated them as if they were no more than the dust beneath
her dainty feet. They whispered among themselves that it was strange
that such a sweet, kind lady as Mrs. Clarke should have such a proud,
hateful daughter.

While Roma was arraying herself in the finest of silk and lace, set off
by the coveted new rubies, Liane Lester was making her simple toilet at
the home of Mary Lang, with whom she had promised to attend the show.

Granny had most grudgingly given her consent to Liane's spending the
night with Mary, since she dared not offer any violent opposition.
Since Liane had threatened open rebellion to her tyranny, the old woman
was somewhat cowed.

Liane put up her beautiful, curling tresses into the simplest of knots,
but she did not need an elaborate coiffure for the chestnut glory of
rippling, sun-flecked locks. It was a crown of beauty in itself.

She put on the crisp, white gown she had bought with Mrs. Clarke's
gift, and Mary helped to tie the soft ribbons at her waist and neck.

"Oh, you lovely thing! You look sweet enough to eat!" she cried. "Now,
then, put on the roses your mysterious admirer sent you to wear, and
we will be off."

Liane blushed divinely as she fastened at her waist a great bunch of
heavy-headed pink roses, that had been sent to Miss Bray's late that
afternoon, with an anonymous card that simply read:

  FAIR QUEEN ROSE: Please wear these sister flowers at the Beauty Show
  to-night.

No name was signed, but the merry girls all declared that Liane had
caught a beau at last, and that he would be sure to declare himself
to-night. They persuaded her to wear the roses, though she was
frightened at the very idea.

"Suppose some great, ugly ogre comes up to claim me!" she exclaimed
apprehensively, as she pinned them on and set off, all in a flutter
of excitement, for the town hall, clinging to Mary's arm, for she was
quite nervous over the prospect of the evening's pleasure.

Now, as she passed along the lighted streets to the festive scene, and
saw others, also gayly bedecked, hurrying to the same destination, she
felt a thrill of pleasant participation quite new and exhilarating.

"Just see what I have missed all my life, through granny's hardness!"
she murmured plaintively to Mary, who squeezed her arm lovingly, and
answered:

"Poor dear!"

The hall was already crowded with people, and the supper of the
Methodist ladies was busily in progress when they entered the place
that was gayly decorated with flowers and bunting, framing the pictures
that lined the walls.

"Let us walk around and look at the beauties," Mary said, and,
following the example of the other visitors, they mingled with the
crowd and feasted their eyes on the five hundred pretty faces that were
deemed worthy to compete for the prize.

They soon found out that Miss Clarke's portrait and the group of six
sewing girls claimed more attention than any others.

But there were many eyes that turned from the pictured to the living
beauty, and whispers went round that drew many eyes to Liane, wondering
at her marvelous grace.

Liane had never appeared at a public function in the town before, and
many of the people thought she was a stranger. Curious whispers ran
from lip to lip:

"Who is the lovely girl with the pink roses?"

Roma, in her rich gown and sparkling rubies, heard the question, and
bit her lips till the blood almost started.

"It is only one of the dressmaker's sewing girls!" she said haughtily,
and started across the room to her mother, who had paused to speak to
Jesse Devereaux.

He had just entered, looking pale and superbly handsome; but with his
right arm in a sling, and the lady, for Roma's sake, resolved to forget
her resentment and try to propitiate him.

"I am afraid I was too hasty that morning," she said gently. "Will you
forgive me and be friends again, Jesse?"

"Gladly," he replied, for he valued her good opinion, little as he
cared for her proud, overbearing daughter.

The next moment Roma, coming up to them, heard her mother exclaim, to
her infinite chagrin:

"Tell me, Jesse, who is that perfectly lovely girl in the white gown
with the pink roses at her waist?"

Jesse looked quickly, and saw Liane again for the first time since that
eventful evening on the beach, when he had saved her from insult and
injury. His heart gave a strangling throb of joy and love, mingled
with pride in her peerless loveliness.

"You are right. She is peerless," he answered, in a deep voice,
freighted with emotion. "Her name is Liane Lester."

"Impossible!" almost shrieked the lady in her surprise; but at that
moment Roma confronted them, her proud face pale, her eyes gleaming,
murmuring:

"Oh, Jesse, how glad I am to see you out again! No wonder you were
cross with me, suffering as you were with your poor arm. But I forgive
you all."

"I thank you," he replied courteously, and Roma took her station at his
side quite as if she had the old right.

He was vexed, for he was anxious to cross over to Liane and ask her
to have an ice with him. Then he would keep at her side all the rest
of the evening. He would see her home, too, and before they parted he
would tell her all his love, and ask for her hand.

With these ecstatic anticipations in his mind, it was cruel torture to
be kept away from her against his will by the two ladies, and, worst
of all, with an air as if they had a right to monopolize him all the
evening.

In desperation he asked them to take an ice with him, vowing to himself
he would escape directly afterward.

But Roma was thirsty that evening, it seemed. She took two ices, and
trifled over them, her mother waiting patiently, while Jesse, outwardly
cool and courteous, inwardly cursed his untoward fate, for he saw other
men seeking introductions to Liane, and loading her with attentions,
carried away by the charm of her beauty.

Still he could not shake off Roma without absolute rudeness, for she
clung to his arm persistently, though it was near the hour for the
announcement of the award of the evening, and yet he had not spoken one
word to fair Liane, the queen of his heart.

Suddenly Malcolm Dean ascended the rostrum, and the gay, laughing
groups about the hall became intensely still, waiting for his verdict.

"I am no orator," he smiled. "So I will briefly announce, as a member
of the committee of the beauty contest, that we examined the pictures
in detail to-day, and unanimously award the prize for most perfect
beauty to Miss Liane Lester!"

A breathless hush had fallen on the crowd as Malcolm Dean's voice was
heard speaking, and every ear was strained, not to lose a word--for
many a fair young girl was listening in feverish excitement, hoping to
hear her own name.

Roma's heart gave a wild leap, her eyes flashed, her cheeks paled, and
she half rose from her seat in uncontrollable excitement.

But the suspense of the aspirants for the prize lasted but a moment,
for Malcolm Dean purposely made his announcement audible to every one
in the hall:

"Miss Liane Lester!"

The name ran from lip to lip in excited tones, while many a young heart
sank with disappointment, so many had hoped to be chosen queen of
beauty, caring more for the honor even than the money.

Then the voices swelled into plaudits, and Liane, shrinking with
bashful joy, heard her name shouted from eager lips:

"Miss Lester! Miss Lester!"

Roma had uttered a stifling gasp of disappointment, and sank heavily
back into her seat.

"She is the most beautiful girl I ever saw!" cried Jesse impulsively.
It was cruel to tell Roma this, and he realized it, but his heart was
on his lips. He could not check it, though he saw the deadly fire of
hate leap into her flashing eyes.

Mrs. Clarke touched her daughter's arm caressingly, saying:

"Do not feel so badly over it, Roma, darling. No doubt the committee
were governed somewhat by partiality, thinking that the prize ought to
be given some poor girl who needed the money."

Jesse felt the delicate thrust, and answered quickly:

"You were struck with her beauty yourself, Mrs. Clarke!"

"Yes, she is a very pretty girl," she replied, rather carelessly, then
paused, as Malcolm Dean lifted his hand for silence, and said in the
hush that followed:

"Will Miss Lester please come forward and receive the prize?"

A wild impulse came to Devereaux to escort Liane forward. How proud
he would be to take that little fluttering hand and lead her to the
rostrum to receive the award! He knew that every eye would be on them,
that it would be a virtual declaration of his sentiments toward her,
but he gloried in the thought. He rose quickly, exclaiming:

"Excuse me, please!"

But Mrs. Clarke's voice, cold and grating, fell on his ear:

"Please escort Roma to the open air--to the carriage! Do you not see
that she is almost fainting?"

Roma was indeed drooping heavily against her mother, in pretended
weakness. Her ruse had its effect. Jesse had to offer his arm and lead
her from the room, followed by her mother. After some little delay
their carriage was found, and, while placing them in it, Mrs. Clarke
said coolly:

"Now if you will find my husband and send him to us, you will add
greatly to the obligation you have placed us under."

He bowed silently and hurried away, meeting Mr. Clarke, fortunately,
coming out. A hasty explanation, and they parted, Devereaux returning
to the room, wild to speak to Liane after all this baffling delay.

But the prize had been presented, and Liane was surrounded by an
obsequious crowd, offering eager congratulations.

By her side stood the handsome young artist, Malcolm Dean, gazing
with rapt admiration on her shy, blushing face, and then Devereaux
remembered that the artist had said, while they were deciding on the
pictures that afternoon, that this was surely the fairest face in the
whole world, and he should not rest until he knew the original.

"If the counterfeit presentiment can be so charming, how much more
lovely, the original!" he exclaimed.

And now by his looks Devereaux saw that his anticipations were more
than realized. The ethereal charm of Liane's beauty held him as by a
spell.

It seemed to Liane as if she had fallen asleep and waked in a brighter
world.

But an hour ago she had been poor little Liane Lester, the humble
sewing girl, who had spent her little fortune, five dollars, the
largest sum she had ever possessed at once in her life, on this simple
white gown for the festal occasion. Now she stood there, the centre
of admiring congratulations, receiving introductions and alternately
bowing and smiling like some great beauty and heiress.

She felt like an heiress, indeed, with that crisp new hundred-dollar
bill tucked into her belt, and her cheeks glowed with shy pride and
joy, for she had dared to indulge some trembling daydreams over gaining
the prize, and now she hoped they might be realized.

There were sad hearts there, too, for many a vain little maiden was
disappointed, among them Dolly Dorr, who stifled her chagrin, however,
and kissed Liane very sweetly, saying:

"Don't forget that I persuaded you to compete for the prize, although I
was afraid all the time you would carry it off from us all."

Every one laughed at Dolly's naïve speech. She was such a frank, pretty
little thing, and, next to Liane, the prettiest girl in Miss Bray's
employ.

But among all the disappointed ones, no one had been so vexed as to
leave the scene like Roma, and it was soon whispered through the room
that she had scolded her lover for giving his vote to Liane instead of
herself.

"I heard them quarreling; I was just behind Mrs. Clarke," said the lady
who had started the report, and she added that Roma had been taken
almost fainting to her carriage, unwilling to remain and witness her
rival's triumph.

There were many who rejoiced over Roma's defeat, and others who
wondered at Devereaux's disloyalty.

He should have paid her the compliment of his vote, since it could have
made no difference in the result, they said.

But Devereaux, returning to the hall, eager to speak to Liane, and
indifferent to comments on his actions, was forced to stand on the
verge of the crowd waiting his turn, till Dolly Dorr, espying him,
hastened to his side.

She said to herself that here was one prize, at least, that Liane had
not won yet, and she would lose no time trying to make good a claim.

"If he has quarreled with Miss Clarke, so much the better. Hearts are
often caught in the rebound," she thought eagerly, as she engaged his
attention with some bantering words.

Devereaux smiled kindly on the sunny-haired little maiden, but she
found it impossible to engross his attention.

She soon saw that his whole mind was fixed on Liane, and he could not
keep from watching her face, until Dolly said quite crossly:

"You are like all the rest! You cannot keep your eyes from off Liane
Lester, now that she has taken the beauty prize!"

Devereaux answered dreamily:

"I could look at her forever!"

His brilliant, dark eyes glowed and softened with tenderness, and a
passionate flush reddened his smooth olive cheek.

Dolly stared, and said sharply:

"Perhaps Miss Clarke wouldn't like that so well!"

"What has she to do with my looking at Miss Lester?" he cried
impatiently.

"But aren't you engaged to Miss Clarke?"

"No, I am not!"

"But everybody says so!"

"Everybody is mistaken."

Dolly's eyes beamed with joy as she cried gayly:

"Then you are free, Mr. Devereaux?"

He answered with a happy laugh:

"Free as the wind--free to look at Miss Lester as much as I choose--or
as long as she will allow me."

This did not please Dolly at all, so she said spitefully:

"I dare say she doesn't care whether you look at her or not! She has
no eager eyes for any one but that handsome Mr. Dean, and he has been
standing beside her ever since he gave her the prize, and walked back
to her seat with her, just as if they were lovers."

"You are trying to make me jealous, Miss Dolly!" he laughed, unwilling
for her to perceive the pain she gave him.

And he added, as some of the crowd around Liane moved aside:

"Please excuse me while I speak to Miss Lester."

Dolly made an angry little pout at him as he moved away. She had
forgiven Liane for winning the prize of beauty, but if she carried
off Devereaux's heart, too, why, that would be quite different. Liane
knew how Dolly had set her heart on him. It would be mean if she came
between them, she thought.

She managed to get near them when they met, and marked Liane's blush
and smile of pleasure.

"And she always pretended not to care for flirting! But I suppose she
will turn over a new leaf from to-night," she muttered jealously, as
she edged nearer, trying to overhear everything that passed between the
pair.

She had one triumph, at least, when she heard Devereaux prefer a low
request to walk home with Liane that evening.

"I am very sorry, but--I have already promised Mr. Dean," the girl
murmured back, in regretful tones.



CHAPTER XIII.

EDMUND CLARKE'S SUSPICION.


Roma Clarke gave her parents a very uncomfortable quarter of an hour
riding home that evening.

She threw pride to the winds, and raved in grief and anger at her
defeat in the contest for the beauty prize, charging it most bitterly
at the door of Jesse Devereaux.

Mr. Clarke learned for the first time now of the broken engagement,
and, on finding that it was Roma's fault, he could not help censuring
her severely for the folly by which she had lost her lover.

He thought bitterly in his heart: "Ah, how different my own sweet
daughter must have been from this ill-tempered, coarse-grained girl
who betrays her low origin in spite of the good bringing up and fine
education she has received! My poor wife! How disappointed she must
feel at heart, in spite of her brave show of affection and sympathy!
And, as for Jesse Devereaux, he is a splendid young fellow, and has had
a lucky escape from Roma's toils. I cannot feel that she will make any
man a lovable wife, though I shall be glad enough to have her married
off my hands!"

When Roma had gone, sobbing, to her room, he talked very earnestly to
her mother, somewhat blaming her for encouraging the girl's willful
temper.

"She is spoiled and selfish," he declared. "I for one am willing to own
that the prize was well given to Miss Lester. She is very lovely--far
lovelier than Roma!"

"How can you say so of our dear girl?" Mrs. Clarke cried reproachfully.

"Because, my dear wife, my eyes are not blinded, like yours, by love
and partiality, and thus I can do justice to others," he answered
firmly.

"You have never loved our daughter as you should. Therefore, I have
felt it my duty to love and cherish her the more!" she sobbed.

He took her tenderly in his arms, and kissed the beautiful, quivering
lips, exclaiming:

"Oh, my love, if our daughter were more like you, I could love her a
hundredfold better! But, alas, she is so different, both in beauty and
disposition, from my angel wife!"

"I have fancied she must be like your own relations, Edmund."

"Perhaps so," he replied evasively, continuing:

"This girl who took the prize this evening won my admiration, darling,
because she has a wonderful likeness to you in your young days, Elinor;
when we were first married."

"Oh, Edmund, I was never so exquisitely beautiful!" she cried, blushing
like a girl.

"Oh, yes, indeed; quite as beautiful as Liane Lester--and very lovely
still," he answered, gazing into her eyes with the admiration of a
lover, giving her all the tenderness he withheld from Roma, his unloved
daughter.

She nestled close to his breast, delighted at his praises, and
presently she said:

"It is rather a coincidence, your fancying that Miss Lester looks like
me, while I imagine that her grandmother--a dreadful old creature, by
the way--resembles Mrs. Jenks, the old woman who nursed me when Roma
was born."

Some startled questioning from her husband brought out the whole story
of her visit to granny.

"Of course I was mistaken in taking her for Mrs. Jenks, but the old
crone needn't have been so vexed over it," she said.

Edmund Clarke was startled, agitated, by what she had told him, but he
did not permit her to perceive it.

He thought:

"What if I have stumbled on the solution of a terrible mystery? The
likeness of Liane Lester to my wife is most startling, and, coupled
with other circumstances surrounding her, might almost point to her
being my lost daughter!"

He trembled like a leaf with sudden excitement.

"I must see this old woman--and to-night! I cannot bear the suspense
until to-morrow!" he thought, and said to his wife artfully:

"Perhaps I am selfish, keeping you from poor Roma in her distress."

"I will go to her at once, poor child," she said, lifting her fair head
from his breast.

"And I will take a walk while I smoke," he replied, leaving her with a
tender kiss.

He lighted a cigar, and started eagerly for the cottage of granny,
hoping to find her alone ere Liane returned from the hall.

His whole soul was shaken with eager emotion from what his wife had
told him about the old woman's identity.

In the cool, clean September moonlight he strode along the beach,
eager-hearted as a boy, in the trembling hope of finding his lost child
again.

What joy it would be to find her in the person of lovely Liane, who had
already touched his heart with a subtle tenderness by the wonderful
likeness that brought back so vividly his wife's lost youth in the days
when they had first loved with that holy love that crowned their lives
with lasting joy. Not one cloud had marred their happiness save the
loss of their infant daughter.

He had restored what happiness he could to Elinor by the substitution
of a spurious child, but for himself there must ever be an aching void
in his heart till the lost was found again.

He stepped along briskly in the moonlight, and to his surprise
and joy he found the old woman leaning over the front gate in a
dejected attitude, as if loneliness had driven her outdoors to seek
companionship with nature.

"Ah, Mrs. Jenks, good evening!" he exclaimed abruptly, pausing in front
of her and lifting his hat.

Granny started wildly, and snapped:

"I don't know you!"

"You have a poor memory," laughed Mr. Clarke. "Now, I knew you at once
as Mrs. Jenks, who nursed my wife when our daughter Roma was born. My
name is Edmund Clarke. We used to live in Brookline. I sold my property
there and moved away when Roma was an infant."

"I never heard of Brookline before, nor you, either!" snapped granny.

"Your memory is bad, as I said before, but you won't deny that your
name is Jenks?" Mr. Clarke returned.

As the whole town knew her by that name, she felt that denial was
useless, but she preserved a stubborn silence, and he continued:

"I came to ask you, granny, how you came by such a beautiful
granddaughter."

"Humph! The same way as other people come by grandchildren, I s'pose.
My daughter ran away to be an actress, and came back in a year without
a wedding ring, and left her baby on my hands, while she disappeared
again forever," returned granny, with an air of such apparent
truthfulness that he was staggered.

He was silent a moment, then returned to the charge.

"How old is Liane?"

"Only seventeen her next birthday."

"I should have taken her for quite eighteen."

"Then you would have made a mistake."

"Is her mother dead?"

"I don't know. I never heard of her after she ran away and left her
baby on my hands."

"Eighteen years ago?"

"No; not quite seventeen, I told you, sir."

"And you do not really remember Mrs. Clarke, whom you nursed at
Brookline eighteen years ago? Come, it ought to be fresh in your
memory. Do you not recall the distressing facts in the case? The infant
was stolen from my wife's breast, and she was dying of the shock when
a spurious daughter was imposed on her, and she recovered. You, Mrs.
Jenks, were sent to the foundling asylum for the child, and laid it
on Mrs. Clarke's breast, restoring her to hope again. You cannot have
forgotten!"

Granny Jenks looked at him angrily in the moonlight.

"You must be crazy! I don't know you, and I don't care anything about
your family history! Go away!" she exclaimed fiercely.

Mr. Clarke was baffled, but not convinced. He stood his ground, saying
firmly:

"You may bluster all you please, Granny Jenks, but you cannot shake my
conviction that you are the wretch that stole my daughter, and placed a
foundling in her place to deceive and make wretched my poor wife. This
girl, Liane Lester, is the image of my wife, and I am almost persuaded
she is my own daughter. If I have guessed the truth it will be wiser
for you to confess the fraud at once, for denial now will be useless. I
believe I am on the right track at last, and I will never stop till I
uncover the truth. And--the more trouble you give me, the greater will
be your punishment."

His dark eyes flashed menacingly, and the hardened old woman actually
shivered with fear for an instant. Then she shook off the feeling, and
turned from him angrily, reëntering her house, and snarling from the
doorway:

"I know nothing about your child, you crazy fool! Go away!"



CHAPTER XIV.

ROMA FINDS AN ALLY.


Dolly Dorr was right. Handsome Malcolm Dean had never quitted Liane's
side since the moment he had clasped her hand in congratulating her on
her triumph as queen of beauty.

He remained by her side, enraptured with her beauty and her bashful
grace, and he lost no time in preferring a request to walk home with
her that night, thinking to himself how sweet it would be to walk
with her beneath the brilliant moonlight, the little hand resting on
his arm, while the low, musical voice answered his remarks with the
timidity that showed how unconscious she was of her own enchanting
beauty.

He could scarcely credit what they had told him this afternoon when
examining the portraits: that Liane Lester was only a poor sewing girl,
with a cruel grandmother, who beat her upon the slightest pretext, and
never permitted her to have a lover.

"She looks like a young princess. It is a wonder that some brave young
man has not eloped with her before now," he declared.

"Every one is afraid of Granny Jenks," they replied; but Jesse
Devereaux only remained gravely silent. He had decided to win sweet
Liane for his own, in spite of a hundred vixenish grannies.

He had sent her the fragrant roses to wear, determining to disclose his
identity that night, and to win her sweet promise to be his bride.

Now his plans were all spoiled by the artist's sudden infatuation, and
he could have cursed Roma for the spiteful manoeuvring that had kept
him an unwilling captive, while Liane was drifting beyond his reach.

All his pleasure was over for to-night, yet he did not give up hope
for the future. His dark eyes had not failed to detect the joy in her
glance, and the blush on her cheek at their meeting, and his ears had
caught the little regretful ring in her voice, as she whispered that
she had already promised Mr. Dean.

Presently the people all began to go away, and with keen pain he saw
Liane leaving with her new admirer, her little hand resting like a
snowflake on his black coat sleeve.

"But it shall be my turn to-morrow," he vowed to himself, turning away
with a jealous pang, and pretending not to see Dolly Dorr, who had
lingered purposely in his way, hoping he would see her home.

Disappointed in her little scheme, she rather crossly accepted the
offer of a dapper dry-goods clerk, and went off on his arm, laughing
with forced gayety as she passed Devereaux, to let him see that she did
not care.

Devereaux did not even hear the laughter of the piqued little flirt.
He could think of nothing but his keen disappointment over Liane. He
returned to his hotel in the sulks.

After all his pleasant anticipations, his disappointment was keen and
bitter.

"How can I wait until to-morrow?" he muttered, throwing himself down
disconsolately into a chair.

Suddenly a messenger entered with a telegram, and, tearing it hastily
open, he read:

  Come at once. Father has had a stroke of apoplexy.

                                                                LYDE.

Lyde was his only sister, married a year before, and a leader in
society. He could fancy how helpless she would be at this juncture--the
pretty, petted girl.

Filial grief and affection drove even the thought of Liane temporarily
from his mind.

Calling in a man to pack his effects, he left on the earliest train for
his home in Boston.

But as the train rushed on through the night and darkness, Liane
blended with his troubled thoughts, and he resolved that he would write
to her at the earliest opportunity. He would not leave the field clear
for his enamored rival.

He realized, too, that the clever and handsome artist would be a
dangerous rival; still, he felt sure that Liane had some preference for
himself. On this he based his hopes for Malcolm Dean's failure.

"She will not forget that night upon the beach, and the opportune
service I did her. Her grateful little heart will not turn from me," he
thought hopefully.

Malcolm Dean was the only one he could think of as likely to come
between him and Liane. He had not an apprehension as to Roma Clarke's
baleful jealousy. And yet he should have remembered the hate that had
flashed from her eyes and hissed in her voice when she taxed him with
voting for Liane.

Again, she had nearly fainted when he was excusing himself to speak to
her successful rival.

And even now, while the fast-flying train bore him swiftly from
Stonecliff, Roma paced her chamber floor like one distraught, wringing
her hands and alternately bewailing her fate and vowing vengeance.

Before Roma's angry eyes seemed to move constantly the vision of her
rival in her exquisite beauty. Liane, in her girlish white gown, with
the fragrant pink roses at her slender waist--Liane, the humble sewing
girl she had despised, but who had now become her hated rival.

Jesse Devereaux admired her; thought her the loveliest girl in the
world. Perhaps, even, he was in love with her. That was why he had
taken so gladly the dismissal she had so rashly given.

A fever of unavailing regret burned in Roma's veins, the fires of
jealous hate gleamed in her flashing eyes.

"I would gladly see her dead at my feet," she cried furiously.

Before she sought her pillow, she had resolved on a plan to forestall
Devereaux's courtship.

She would go to-morrow morning to see the wicked old grandmother
of Liane; she would have a good excuse, because the old woman had
desired the visit, and she would tell her that Devereaux was engaged
to herself, and warn her not to permit her granddaughter to accept
attentions that could mean nothing but evil. She would even bribe the
old woman, if necessary. She was ready to make any sacrifice to punish
Jesse for what she called to herself his perfidy, ignoring the fact
that she had set him free to woo whom he would.

Granny was tidying up her floor next morning, when a footstep on the
threshold made her start and look around at a vision of elegance and
beauty framed in sunshine that made the coppery waves of her hair shine
lurid red as the girl bowed courteously, saying:

"I am Miss Clarke. Mamma said you wished to see me."

Granny dropped her broom and sank into a chair, staring with dazed eyes
at the radiant beauty in her silken gown.

As no invitation to enter was forthcoming, Roma stepped in and seated
herself, with a supercilious glance at the shabby surroundings. She
thought to herself disdainfully:

"To think of being rivaled in both beauty and love by a low-born girl
raised in a hovel!"

Yet she saw that everything was scrupulously clean and neat, as though
Liane made the best of what she had.

The old woman, without speaking a word, stared at Roma with eager eyes,
as if feasting on her beauty, a tribute to her vanity that pleased Roma
well, so she smiled graciously and waited with unwonted patience until
granny heaved a long sigh, and exclaimed:

"It is a pleasure to behold you at last, Miss Roma, as a beauty and an
heiress! Ah, you must be very happy!"

The young girl sighed mournfully:

"Wealth and beauty cannot give happiness when one's lover is fickle,
flirting with poor girls at the expense of their reputations."

"What do you mean?" gasped the old woman, and somehow Roma felt that
she was making a favorable impression, and did not hesitate to add:

"I am speaking of your granddaughter, Liane Lester. The girl is rather
pretty, and I suppose that her vanity makes her ambitious to marry
rich. She flirts with every young man she sees, and lately she has been
making eyes at my betrothed husband, Jesse Devereaux, a handsome young
millionaire. He loves me as he does his life, but he is a born flirt,
and he is amusing himself with Liane in spite of my objections. So I
thought I would come and ask you to scold the girl for her boldness."

"Scold her! That I will, and whip her, too, if you say so! I will do
anything to please you, beautiful lady," whimpered granny, moving
closer to Roma, and furtively stroking her rich dress with a skinny,
clawlike hand, while she looked at the girl with eager eyes.

Roma frowned a little at this demonstration of tenderness, but she was
glad the old woman took it so calmly about Liane, and answered coolly:

"So that you keep them apart, I do not care how much you whip her, for
her boldness deserves a check, and I suppose that you cannot restrain
her, except by beating."

She was surprised and almost shocked as granny whispered hoarsely:

"I would beat her--yes; I would kill her before she should steal your
grand lover, darling!"



CHAPTER XV.

"A DYING MOTHER."


Even Roma's cruel heart was somewhat shocked at granny's malevolence
toward her beautiful young granddaughter, but she did not rebuke the
old hag; she only resolved to make capital of it. So she said:

"I don't want you to kill her, but I wish you could take her away from
here, where Jesse Devereaux can never find her again. She is in my way,
and I want her removed!"

"It would be worth money to you to get her out of your way," leered
granny cunningly:

Roma hesitated a moment, then answered frankly:

"Yes, but I could not promise to pay you much. Papa makes me a very
small allowance."

The old woman crept nearer to the beautiful, cruel creature, and gazed
up into her face with an expression of humble adoration, while she
murmured wheedlingly:

"I would take her away from here--far away--where she could never
trouble you again, pretty lady, for a reward that even you could
afford to bestow."

"What is that?" cried Roma eagerly, and she was startled when granny
answered nervously:

"A kiss!"

"A kiss!" the girl echoed wonderingly.

Granny was actually trembling with excitement, and she added pleadingly:

"You are so pretty, Miss Roma, that I have fallen in love with you, and
for my love's sake I would like to kiss you once. If you grant my wish,
I will be your slave for only one kind look and kiss!"

She was softened and agitated in a strange fashion, but she could not
help seeing that Roma recoiled in surprise and disgust.

"Really, this is very strange! I--I am not fond of kissing old women.
I scarcely ever kiss even my own mother. I would much rather pay you a
little money!" she exclaimed.

Granny's face saddened with disappointment, and she muttered:

"So proud; so very proud! She could not bear a downfall!"

Roma flushed with annoyance, and added:

"You seem so very poor that even a small sum of money ought to be
acceptable to you!"

"I am miserably poor, but I love you--I would rather have the kiss."

If Roma had known the old woman's miserly character she would have been
even more surprised at her fancy. As it was, she hardly knew what to
say. She gazed in disgust at the ugly, yellow-skinned and wrinkled old
hag, and wondered if she could bring herself to touch that face with
her own fresh, rosy lips.

"I--I would rather give you a hundred dollars than to kiss you!" she
blurted out, in passionate disgust.

Instantly she saw she had made a grave mistake. Granny drew back
angrily from the haughty girl, muttering:

"Hoity-toity, what pride! But pride always goes before a fall!"

"What do you mean?" flashed Roma.

A moment's silence, and granny answered cringingly:

"I only meant that you would be humiliated if that pretty Liane stole
Devereaux's heart from you and married him. The other night I beat
Liane for walking with him on the beach by moonlight!"

"Heavens! It is worse even than I thought!" cried Roma, springing to
her feet, pale with passion.

She advanced toward granny, adding:

"Will you take her away by to-morrow, and never let him see her face
again if I grant your wish?"

"I swear it, honey!"

"There, then!" and Roma held up her fresh, rosy lips, shuddering with
disgust as the old crone gave her an affectionate kiss that smacked
very strongly of an old pipe.

"Be sure that you keep your promise!" she cried, hastening from the
house.

Granny watched her until she was out of sight, clasping her skinny arms
across her breast, after the fashion of one fondling a beloved child.

"How proud, how beautiful!" she kept saying over to herself in delight.
Then she went in and closed the door, while she sat down to make her
plans for gratifying Roma's wish.

Not a breath of last night's happenings had reached her, for she seldom
held communication with any one, being feared and hated by the whole
community, as much as Liane was loved and pitied. She knew nothing
of the popular beauty contest, and that Liane had won the prize of
a hundred dollars. If she had known, she would have managed to get
possession of the money ere now. Liane, having spent the night with
Mary Lang, had gone to her work from there, and was having an ovation
from her girl friends, who put self aside and rejoiced with her over
her triumph.

The proud and happy girl answered gratefully:

"But for your persuasions I should never have ventured to send in my
picture for the contest. I want to testify my gratitude by giving each
of you five dollars to buy a pretty keepsake."

They protested they would not take a penny of her little fortune, but
the generous girl would not be denied.

"I have seventy-five dollars left! I am rich yet!" she cried gayly, for
Liane was the happiest girl in the world to-day.

But it was neither her signal triumph nor the money that made her
happy, it was because she had seen Jesse Devereaux again, and his
radiant, dark eyes had told her the story of his love as plain as words.

Though she was grateful to the handsome artist for his attentions, she
was disappointed because he had kept Jesse from walking home with her
last night.

But she looked eagerly for some demonstration from him to-day. Perhaps
he would send her some more flowers, for he had whispered gladly as
they parted:

"Thank you for wearing the roses I sent you!"

Liane's heart leaped with joy at hearing the flowers had come from
Jesse, and she placed them carefully away that night, determined to
keep them always, for his dear sake.

How her heart sank when Dolly Dorr, who had been rather quiet and sulky
that morning, suddenly remarked:

"Mr. Devereaux went off, bag and baggage, they say, to Boston last
night, so I suppose that is the last we shall see of him!"

Liane could not keep from exclaiming regretfully:

"Oh, dear!"

"You seem to be sorry!" Dolly cried significantly.

All eyes turned on Liane, and she blushed rosy red as she bent lower
over the work she was sewing.

Dolly added curtly:

"I did not think you would be so ready to take away another girl's
chance, Liane."

"But he has broken with Miss Clarke. They quarreled last night," said
Lottie Day.

"I did not mean Miss Clarke. I meant myself. Liane knows he has paid me
some attention, and that I have set my cap at him! I thought she was
my true friend, but I caught her making eyes at him last night!" Dolly
exclaimed ruefully.

The gay girls all laughed at Dolly's jealousy, but Liane could not
say a word for embarrassment, knowing in her heart how baseless were
Dolly's hopes.

The angry little maiden continued:

"He told me last night that he was free from Miss Clarke; and I believe
I could win him if no one tried to spoil the sport. I would never have
introduced him to Liane if I had thought she would try to cut me out."

"Oh, Dolly, you know I have not tried. Could I help his coming to speak
to me last night?" cried Liane.

"No, but you needn't have encouraged him by flirting when he spoke to
you, blushing and rolling up your eyes."

A derisive groan went around among the merry band at Dolly's charge,
and Mary Lang spoke up spiritedly:

"Dolly Dorr, you are simply making yourself ridiculous, putting in a
claim to Mr. Devereaux because he happened to speak to you once or
twice! Any one with half an eye can see he's in love with Liane, and
I'll state for your benefit that he told her last night he sent her
that bouquet of roses, and he wanted to walk home with her, only Mr.
Dean was ahead of him!"

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" ran the chorus of voices, Liane drooping her head in
blushing confusion, and Dolly pouting with disappointment, while she
cried spitefully:

"He's nothing but a wretched flirt! He flirted with Miss Clarke, and
then with me, and next with Liane! I'm glad he got ashamed of himself,
and sneaked off; and I hope he will never come back!"

Her little fit of temper spoiled the rest of the day for the girls, and
Liane Lester was glad to get away at six o'clock, where, after a while,
she could be alone with her own thoughts.

But granny was sniveling, with her apron to her eyes, when she entered
the poverty-stricken room.

"What is it, granny? Are you ill?" she asked.

"No, I have bad news!"

"Bad news?"

"Yes; I've heard from my daughter, your mother, at last. She's dying
down to Boston, and wants you and me to come," with an artful sob.

"But, of course, we cannot go!" Liane said, with strange reluctance.

"But, of course, we can. I've got a little money; enough for the trip.
I've just been waiting for you to come and help me to pack our clothes."

"That will not take long. Our wardrobes are not extensive. But, I--I
don't want to go!" declared Liane.

"You unnatural child, not to want to see your poor dying mother!"
snapped the old woman.

"She has been an unnatural mother!" answered the girl warmly.

"No matter about that! She is my child, and I want to see her before
she dies, and you've got to go, willy-nilly! So go along with you and
get the tea ready; then we will get packed to go on the first train!"
declared granny, with grim resolution.



CHAPTER XVI.

A LOVE LETTER.


Liane's little sewing chair was vacant the next day, and there was
grief and surprise among the five girls present when Miss Bray
explained the reason.

Liane had sent her a little note the night before, she said, telling
her that her grandmother was taking her to Boston to see a dying
relative, and she did not know when she should be back, but hoped Miss
Bray would have work for her on her return. She left her dear love for
all the girls, and hoped she should see them soon again.

Every one expressed sorrow but Dolly Dorr, who from spite and envy had
suddenly changed from a friend to an enemy of Liane.

Dolly tossed her pretty, flaxen head scornfully and insinuated ugly
things about Liane following Jesse Devereaux to Boston. A dying
relative was a good excuse, but it could not fool Dolly Dorr, she said
significantly.

The other girls took the part of the absent one, and even Miss Bray
gently reproved Dolly for her slanderous words. The upshot of the
matter was that she grew red and angry, and developed the rage of a
little termagant. Taking offense at Miss Bray's rebuke, she angrily
resigned her position, tossed her jaunty cap on her fluffy, yellow
head, and flew home.

The ambition to captivate Jesse Devereaux had quite turned the silly
little noddle, and she was passionately angry at Liane for what she
denominated "her unfair rivalry."

But on reaching home and finding that her father had just been thrown
out of work, Dolly was a little flustrated at her own precipitancy in
leaving her place, especially as Mrs. Dorr, a weak, hard-worked woman,
bewailed their misfortunes in copious tears.

"Don't cry like that, mamma, I know of a better place than Miss Bray's,
where I can find work. Miss Clarke wants a maid," cried Dolly eagerly.

Mrs. Dorr's pride rebelled at first from her pretty daughter going into
service like that, but the notion had quite taken hold of Dolly, and in
the end the worried mother yielded to her persuasions, especially as
the wages were liberal, and would help them so much in their present
strait.

Dolly hurried off to Cliffdene, and asked for Miss Clarke, offering
her services for the vacant place, as Liane Lester had gone away.

Roma's red-brown eyes flashed with joyful fire as she cried:

"Where has she gone?"

"Her grandmother took her to Boston to see a dying relative, miss."

"Ah!" exclaimed Roma, and her heart leaped with joy as she realized
that granny had kept her promise to take Liane far away.

"Now I may have some chance of winning Jesse back again," she thought.

But Dolly's next words threw a damper on her springing hopes.

"Liane can't fool me with a tale of a dying relative! I believe she had
an understanding with Jesse Devereaux to follow him down to Boston,"
she exclaimed spitefully.

Roma started violently, her rich color paling to ashen gray.

"Jesse Devereaux gone!" she cried, in uncontrollable agitation that
betrayed her jealous heart to Dolly's keen eyes.

The girl thought shrewdly:

"She loves him even if he did tell me he was not engaged. Whew! won't
she hate Liane when she knows all!"

And, taking advantage of Roma's mood, she added:

"Liane has been flirting for some time with Mr. Devereaux, and the
night she got the beauty prize he sent her roses to wear, and voted
for her, and offered to walk home with her that night, only he was
disappointed, because Mr. Malcolm Dean had asked her first."

Roma, inwardly furious with jealous rage, tossed her proud head
carelessly, and answered:

"Mr. Devereaux cares nothing for the girl! He is engaged to me, but
we had a little tiff, and he was just flirting with her to pique me
because I would not make up with him just yet!"

Although she regarded Dolly as greatly her inferior, she was placing
herself on a level with her by these confidences, encouraging Dolly to
reply:

"Of course, I know he wouldn't marry Liane, but she was foolish enough
to think so, and I feel certain she's down to Boston with him now."

Roma knew better, but she only smiled significantly, giving Dolly the
impression that she agreed with her entirely, and then she said:

"I will agree to give you a week's trial, and mamma's maid can
instruct you as to your duties. When can you come?"

"To-morrow, if you wish."

"Very well. I shall expect you," returned Roma, abruptly ending the
interview.

When Dolly was going back the next day, she stopped in at the post
office for her mail, and the smiling little clerk in the window, as he
handed it out, exclaimed:

"Don't Miss Liane Lester work with you at Miss Bray's, Miss Dolly?
There's a letter for her this morning, the first letter, I believe,
that ever came for her, and now that I come to think about it, she
never calls here for mail, anyhow!"

Dolly's cheeks flushed guiltily, and her heart gave a strangling thump
of surprise, but she said, quite coolly:

"Yes, Liane works at Miss Bray's with me, and I'm going down there now,
so I'll take her letter, if you please, and save her the trouble of
calling for it."

The unsuspecting clerk readily handed it out, and Dolly clutched it
with a trembling hand, hurrying out so as to read the superscription
and gratify her curiosity.

"What a beautiful handwriting! A man's, too, and postmarked Boston.
Now, it must be Devereaux or Dean writing to her!" she muttered,
longing to open it, yet not quite daring to commit the crime.

She placed it at last in her pocket, thinking curiously:

"As I don't know where Liane is, of course I cannot forward this letter
to her, and--I would give anything in the world to know what is in it,
and who wrote it! Perhaps Miss Clarke would know the writing."

That evening, when she was brushing out the long tresses of Roma's
hair, she ventured on the subject:

"To-day the postmaster gave me a letter from Boston to Liane Lester,
but I don't know where to send it, and I am wondering who wrote it!"

She felt Roma give a quick start as she cried:

"Let me see it!"

Dolly giggled, and brought it out of her pocket.

"Oh! It is Mr. Devereaux's writing," cried Roma excitedly.

"So I thought, miss. Now I wonder what he wrote to her about? I must be
mistaken thinking he knew she had gone to Boston," cried Dolly.

Roma turned the letter over and over in her hand, her eyes blazing,
her cheeks crimson, her heart throbbing with jealous rage.

How dared he write to Liane? How dared he forget her, Roma, so
insolently, and so soon? She would have liked to see them both
stretched dead at her feet!

They looked guiltily at each other, the mistress and maid, one thought
in either mind. Dare they open the letter?

Dolly twittered:

"I shouldn't think you would allow him to write to her! He belongs to
you!"

She felt like making common cause with Roma against Liane, in her
bitter envy forgetting how often she had inveighed against Roma's pride
and cruelty. She continued artfully:

"The letter can never do her any good, because we don't know where to
send it. And--and would it be any harm for us to take a peep at it?"

"I think I have a right," Roma answered, her bosom heaving stormily,
then she clutched Dolly's arm:

"Girl, girl, if we do this thing--you and I--will you swear never to
betray me?" she breathed hoarsely.

"I swear!" Dolly muttered fiercely, in her anger at Liane, and then
Roma's impatience burst all bounds. She quickly broke the seal of the
letter, her angry eyes running over the scented sheets, while Dolly
coolly read it over her shoulder.

And if ever two cruel hearts were punished for their curiosity, they
were Roma's, the mistress, and Dolly's, the maid.

It was an impassioned love letter that Devereaux had written to Liane,
and it ended with the offer of his hand, as she already possessed his
heart.

The young lover had chosen the sweetest words and phrases to declare
his passion, and he explained everything that she might have
misunderstood.

He had fallen in love with her at first sight, but he was bound by
a promise to one he no longer even admired. In honor he could not
speak to Liane, but his betrothed had herself broken the fetters that
bound him, and he was free now to woo his darling. He had intended to
tell her so that night of the beauty contest, but Malcolm Dean had
rivaled him. Then had come the summons to his sick father, tearing
him away from Stonecliff. He must remain some time in Boston with his
sinking father, and his impatience prompted this letter. Would Liane
correspond with him? Would she be his beloved wife, the treasure of his
heart and home? He should wait with burning impatience for her reply.

Roma threw the letter on the floor and stamped on it with her angry
foot.

Not in such tender, passionate phrases had he wooed her when she
promised him her hand, but in light, airy words, born of the flirtation
through which she had successfully steered him to a proposal so quickly
regretted, so gladly taken back. Oh, how she loved and hated him in a
breath!

As for the girl, thank Heaven, granny had promised to keep her out of
the way. Ay, even to kill her, if she commanded it. It was strange
how the old woman had fallen so slavishly under her sway, but she was
thankful for it, though she shuddered still with disgust at remembrance
of granny's fond caress.

She said to herself that it were better for Liane Lester that she never
had been born than to cross her path again, and to take from her the
love of the man she had worked so hard to win, and then so rashly lost.



CHAPTER XVII.

A CRUEL FORGERY.


At the elegant family mansion on Boston's most aristocratic avenue,
Jesse Devereaux, watching by the bedside of his sick father, waited
with burning impatience for the answer to the letter in which he had
poured out the overwhelming tenderness of his soul.

No shadow of doubt clouded his love, he felt so sure of Liane's love
in return. Had it not trembled in her voice, gleamed in her eyes, and
blushed on her cheeks?

Oh, they would be so happy together, he and his young bride, Liane! He
would make up to her for all the poverty and sorrow of her past life.
Life should be flower-strewn and love-sweet for her now.

Of course he expected some opposition from Lyde, his proud, fashionable
sister, when she learned that he was off with his engagement to the
heiress, Miss Clarke, and meant to wed a poor girl, who worked for her
living. But he meant to stand firm, and when she saw how sweet and
beautiful Liane was, she would be ready to excuse him and accept his
darling for a sister.

In these rosy daydreams the hours flew, and on the second day after
posting his letter he received a reply.

It gave him something of an unpleasant shock when he held the square
blue envelope in his hand and read the ill-written address:

  MISTER JESS DEVEROW,
    No. -- Comonwelt Avnoo,
      Bostin,
        Mass.

His cheek flushed, and he sighed.

"Poor girl, of course she has had no opportunities of education, but
she can have private teachers, and soon remedy all that."

And he opened the letter with the eagerness of a lover, despite the
slight damper on his spirits, caused by his love's bad chirography,
united to even worse orthography.

His eager eyes traveled quickly over the small sheet with the awkward
sentences of one little used to epistolary work.

                                             STONECLIFF, the 17 Sept.

  DEER MISTER DEVROW: Deer me, what a s'hpise your letter wuz! I
  thought you wuz jest flirtin' with me! I had heerd what a flirt you
  wuz, so I jest tryed my hand on you! They told me you wuz ingage to
  the beautiful Miss Clarke, and I thought what fun to cut her out!

  But I didn't think I could do it. I didn' know as I was so pretty
  till I tuk the beauty prize that nite. Deer me, how glad I wuz of
  that money! I'm a grate heiress now, like Miss Clarke, ain't I?

  I'm much obleedge fur your offer to marry, but I can't see my way
  clear to accept, being as I don't love you well enuff. I never did
  admire these dark men with sassy, black eyes and dark hair. I've
  heern tell they are as jealous as a turk. I make bold to say, I think
  Mr. Deen is the style I most admire--deep blue eyes and brown curls.
  He seems to have took a fancy to me, too, and if he should ast me the
  question you did, I know I could say yes. Forgive if this pains, but
  it's best to be frank, so you won't go on loving me in vane.

  I'm grateful to you for your vote that helped to git me that hundred
  dollars! I'm goin' down to Bostin to see the sites, and buy me a red
  silk gown, I always wuz crazy for one!

                                                    Truly yours,
                                                        LIANE LESTER.

Devereaux sat like one dazed, going over and over the letter of
rejection. He could hardly realize that Liane's little hand had penned
those words.

No more cruel blow at a strong man's love and pride had ever been dealt
than that letter, showing the writer to be possessed of so shallow
a nature as to be incapable of appreciating the treasure of a true
heart's love, so ungratefully thrown away.

Jesse Devereaux thrust it away from him at last, and sat staring
blankly before him with heavy eyes, like one contemplating the ruins of
his dearest hope.

It seemed to him as if he had just laid some dearly loved one in the
grave. Hours and days of sorrow seemed to pass over him as he sat there
brooding darkly over his fate.

Was it indeed but an hour ago he had felt so hopeful and glad, telling
himself he had just found the sweetest joy of life in the dawn of love?

What foolish thoughts, what a misplaced love, what rash confidence in
an innocent face and demure, pansy-blue eyes!

She had just been flirting with him because she heard he was a great
flirt, and was engaged to Miss Clarke, and she wanted to see if she
could "cut her out." It was all heartless vanity that he had taken for
shy, bashful love. The ignorant little working girl had proved herself
an adept in the art of flirtation.

It was a crushing blow, and his heart was very sore. He had loved her
so, ever since the night they had first met, loved her with the passion
of his life! Even now the memory of her sweetness would not down. He
would be haunted forever by her voice, her glance, her smile, so
alluring in their beauty, so false in true womanly worth and grace,
will-o'-the-wisp lights, shining but to betray.

And Malcolm Dean was his rival in the heart of the lovely, coquettish
working girl! She admired his "deep-blue eyes and brown curls" as much
as she disliked "sassy black eyes and dark hair." She would marry him
if he asked her, she said. Jesse wondered cynically if Dean had been
merely flirting, too, or would his love prompt him to elevate pretty
Liane to the proud position of his bride.

Meanwhile, Liane, innocent as an angel, of course, of the letter that
Roma had sent in her name, had duly arrived in the city.

Her grandmother had taken her to cheap lodgings that night, and, after
they had been shown to a room, the old woman said abruptly:

"Now I'll go and inquire about my daughter."

Liane went to the window and looked out in awe at the lights of the
great city, wondering how far away from this spot Jesse Devereaux could
be to-night. Her young heart throbbed with joy at the thought of his
nearness, for she had no realization of the extent of Boston.

While she was musing and wondering granny returned, saying crossly:

"It seems I made a mistake in the address. She ain't here at all, but
I'm tired, and not a step shall I stir from this to-night, so we'll go
to bed, Liane, and I'll hunt her in the morning."

"But if she should die before morning, granny?"

"Let her die, then; I can't help it! Go to bed!" snarled the old woman,
creeping into bed; so Liane, seeing the uselessness of remonstrance,
followed her example.

The next morning, after breakfast, granny announced that she would
leave Liane in care of the landlady, while she went out in search of
the dying daughter.

"Let me go with you," pleaded the girl, with a vague hope of meeting
Devereaux somewhere on the street, all her thought clinging to him with
tender persistence.

"No, I won't have you along with me, but I'll come back for you as
soon as I find her," snapped granny, so sharply that Liane gave in and
watched her depart with keen regret.

"I should have liked to go with her to see some of the sights of the
great city," she sighed, so forlornly that the landlady said cheerily:

"Well, come in here and sit a while with my sick sister, and I'll hurry
up my morning's work and go out with you myself this afternoon."

Lizzie White was a pretty shop girl, just recovering from a spell of
fever, and she took an instant interest in the pretty new boarder.

"Sister Annie can show you all over the city," she said. "But,"
hesitatingly, "haven't you any other clothes to wear?" her glance
falling deprecatingly on Liane's simple dark-blue print gown and summer
straw hat. "It's time for fall things, you know," she added.

Liane blushed at the poverty of her attire, but answered gently:

"These are the best clothes I have, but I have a little money of my
own, and if I knew where to go, I would buy a blue serge suit."

"Sister Annie can take you to a place this afternoon--the very store
where I work when I am well," replied Lizzie encouragingly.

Afternoon came, but no granny yet, and Mrs. Brinkley offered to take
Liane out, saying it was such a pity to stay indoors all day when the
sun shone so bright and warm.

Liane accepted eagerly, and then her new friend, Lizzie, shyly
proffered her a new fall suit of her own to wear.

"Do wear it to please me, and because people will make remarks on your
print gown," she said eagerly, and the girl, fearful that Mrs. Brinkley
might be ashamed of her shabby attire, accepted gratefully.

Her appearance was indeed quite different when clothed in Lizzie's
brown cloth skirt, scarlet silk waist, and jaunty brown jacket, with a
brown walking skirt to match.



CHAPTER XVIII.

LIANE'S FLEETING LOVE DREAM.


Liane was enchanted with the beautiful city, and Mrs. Brinkley, who
felt a proud proprietorship in it, was delighted with her praises.

They went from one grand building to another, but the good woman soon
noticed that Liane seemed best pleased walking along the crowded
streets, and that instead of observing all that she pointed out, the
girl's eyes wandered wistfully from one face to another, as if in
search of some one.

"Are you looking for your grandmother?" she asked.

"Oh, no, ma'am," and Liane blushed like a rose.

"Then it must be your beau, you look so bashful. Have you got a beau in
Boston?"

Liane shook her pretty head, but she looked so conscious that the woman
plied her with curious questions, until the young girl owned that she
knew one person in Boston, a young man, who had spent several weeks at
Stonecliff. Then the curious matron did not rest until she had learned
his name.

"Jesse Devereaux! Was he handsome as a picture, with big, rolling,
black eyes? Yes? Why, my pretty dear, you must not set your heart on
him. He is one of the young millionaires up on Commonwealth Avenue, the
swellest young man in Boston. He would never stoop to a poor working
girl."

She saw the beautiful color fade from the girl's rosy cheek, and her
bosom heaved with emotion as she faltered:

"He was very kind to me at Stonecliff!"

Mrs. Brinkley knew the world so well that she took instant alarm,
exclaiming warningly:

"Don't you set any store by his kindness, child. No good comes of rich
young men showing attentions to pretty working girls. If you have
followed him here through a fancy for his handsome face, then you had
better go home to-night."

Eagerly, blushingly, Liane disclaimed such a purpose, saying granny had
brought her to see a relative.

"I--I only thought I might see his face in some of the crowded
streets," she faltered.

"It is better for you never to see his face again, for it's plain to be
seen he has stolen your heart," chided the widow. "Come, I'll show you
his grand home, and then you may understand better how much he is above
you, and how useless it is to hope to catch him."

Liane's cheeks burned at the chidings of the good woman, and tears
leaped to her eyes, but she did not refuse the proffer of seeing
Devereaux's home. She thought eagerly:

"I might see him at the window, or perhaps coming down the steps into
the street. Then, if he should come and speak to me joyfully, as he did
that night at the beauty contest, I believe even this good, anxious
woman could see that he loves me."

She walked along happily by Mrs. Brinkley's side, carrying the jaunty
brown jacket on her arm, as Lizzie had advised, for the sun's rays were
warm, and she was weary from her sightseeing. The scarlet silk waist
looked very gay, but if she had dreamed of the dreadful letter that had
told Devereaux she was coming to Boston to buy a red silk gown, she
would have torn it off and trampled it beneath her feet.

Her beautiful eyes sparkled with pleasure at sight of the splendid
homes of Boston's wealthy class, and she could not help exclaiming:

"I am not envious, but I would like to be rich and live in one of these
palaces."

"That you can never do, child, so don't think about it any more, as
I tell Lizzie, when she gets to sighing for riches," rejoined the
prudent matron. "Look, now, at that grand house we're coming to; Mr.
Devereaux lives there with his old father and his young married sister,
the proudest beauty in Boston. You see, I read all about them in the
society columns, and--oh!"

She paused with a stifled shriek, for the great front door of the grand
mansion had indeed opened, as Liane secretly prayed it would, and a man
came down the steps--Jesse Devereaux himself!

Leaving Lyde beside his father's bed, he was going out for a walk
to try to shake off the benumbing influences of the letter that had
shattered his air castles into hopeless ruins.

It seemed to him as if his thoughts had taken bodily shape, as he
beheld Liane there in reach of his hand, her timid, eager glance lifted
almost appealingly to his face.

He hesitated, he almost stopped to speak to her, so thrilled was he by
the sight of her lovely face again, but his eyes fell on the gay red
silk waist, and the words of her letter recurred to his mind:

"I'm coming down to Bostin to see the sites, and buy a red silk gown.
I've always been crazy for one."

She was here, she had the red silk gown she craved, and idle curiosity
had led her to pass his house, perhaps boasting to her companion,
meanwhile, that she had flirted with the owner and refused his hand.

A deep crimson rose to his brow, and his heart almost stopped its
beating with wounded love and pride. Just glancing at Liane with cold,
indifferent eyes, he lifted his hat, bowed stiffly, and passed her by
in scorn.

The girl, who had almost stopped to speak to him, gave a sigh that was
almost a sob, and dropped her eyes, moving on by Mrs. Brinkley's side
with a sinking heart.

"That was he, Jesse Devereaux himself," whispered the latter excitedly.
"My, what a cold, haughty stare and bow; enough to freeze you. You see
how 'tis, my dear? When city folks visit the country they're mighty
gracious, but when country folks come to the city, they don't hardly
recognize 'em."

Liane's pale smile at Mrs. Brinkley's observation was sadder than the
wildest outburst of tears.

"I see that you are right," she answered, with gentle humility that
touched her new friend's heart, and made her exclaim:

"Don't never give him another thought, honey. He ain't worth it. You're
sweet enough and pretty enough to marry the proudest in the land, but
nothing don't count now but money."

They hurried home to the poor lodgings, so different from the splendid
locality they had just left, and found granny just returned from her
search and in rather a good humor from the day's outing.

She did not scold Liane for going out, as the girl expected, but said
calmly:

"I was too late. I found Cora dead and the funeral just starting, so I
went with it, and saw her laid away in her last home. Then I thought I
had just as well finish the day looking over the things she left, but I
wasn't any better off by it, for the people where she boarded took it
all for debt."

She was lying straight along, but, of course, Liane did not know it,
and she tried to feel a little sorrow for the unknown mother laid in
her lonely grave to-day, but the emotion was very faint. She could not
grieve much for one she had never seen, and of whom granny had given
such a frankly bad report.

Her first thought was that now she could go back to Stonecliff, away
from the city that had held Jesse Devereaux, whose proud glance and
chilling bow had stabbed her heart with such cruel pain.

But on making this request, the old woman scowled in disapproval.

"Back to Stonecliff? No, indeed!" she cried. "I hate the place, and
I left it for good when we came away. You can get a place to work in
Boston, and we will stay here."

"Yes, it will be easy to get in as a salesgirl at the store where I
work. I'll recommend you," said the sick girl kindly.

Liane knew there was no appeal from granny's decision, and, after
thanking Lizzie for the loan of her gown and hat, she returned to the
shabby little room, longing to seek solitude in her grief.

But granny soon entered, carrying a bundle, and exclaiming:

"Mrs. Brinkley says you bought this dress to-day, and paid for it,
too! Now, where'd the money come from, I'd like to know?"

Liane had to confess the truth about the beauty contest, and, as soon
as the old woman took it in, she cried furiously:

"And you dared to spend that money for finery, you vain hussy?"

"It was my own, granny," Liane answered.

"Where is the rest of it? Give me every penny that is left, before I
beat you black and blue!" raged the old termagant.

"Granny, you promised never to beat me again if I would stay and work
for you in your old age," reminded Liane.

"I don't care what I promised! Give me the rest of the money before I
kill you!" hissed the savage creature, clutching Liane's arm so tight
that she sobbed with pain.

"Let go, or I'll call for help!"

"Dare to do it, and I'll choke you before any one comes!" winding her
skinny claws about the fair white throat.

Liane felt as if her last hour had come, and she was so unhappy she did
not greatly care, but she struggled with the old harpy, and succeeded
in throwing her off, while she said rebelliously:

"I will never give you the money while I live, and if you kill me to
get it, it will do you no good. You will be hanged for my murder."

Perhaps granny saw the force of this reasoning, for she desisted from
her brutality, whining:

"I'm so poor, so miserably poor, that you ought to give me every penny
you get."

"And dress in rags!" cried the girl indignantly. "No, granny, I will
never do it again, and if you illtreat me any more, I will run away
from you, and then you will starve."

She knew she would never have the heart to carry out her threat, but
she had found out that she could intimidate the old woman by the threat
of leaving, so she put on a bold air, and continued:

"Here is five dollars for a present, and it is all you will get of that
money. I gave away twenty-five dollars in keepsakes to my girl friends
before I left Stonecliff, and I have spent thirty dollars for some
decent clothes to wear. Now, I have given you five dollars, and I have
but forty left, and I shall keep that for myself, in case I have to run
away from you and hide myself from your brutality."

Granny snatched eagerly at the money, muttering maledictions on the
girl for her extravagance, but Liane, sitting with downcast eyes,
pretended not to take any notice of her, until the old woman, glaring
at her in wonder at the beauty that could win such a prize, demanded
harshly:

"Was Miss Clarke's picture in that contest?"

When Liane answered in the affirmative, she was startled at the woman's
anger.

"You dared to take that prize over beautiful Roma's head--you?" she
cried furiously.

"I did not take it. The judges gave it to me. The contest was open to
any pretty girl, rich or poor," Liane answered gently.

Granny looked as if she could spring upon the girl and rend her limb
from limb, so bitter was her rage. She moved about the room, clinching
her hands in fury, whispering maledictions to herself, but again Liane
forgot to notice her, she was so absorbed in her own troubles.

She had dreamed a fleeting dream of love and bliss, and the awakening
was cruel!

"I have been vain, foolish, to dream he loved me because he sent me
a few roses and offered to walk home with me that night. He was only
amusing himself," she thought, shrinking in pain from the cruel truth.



CHAPTER XIX.

WHAT DOLLY TOLD.


Seven weeks slipped uneventfully away.

The bright, cool days of October gave place to dreary, drizzly, bleak
November.

Liane had become absorbed into Boston's great army of busy working
girls. Lizzie White had secured her a position at a glove counter in
the same store with herself, and granny had rented two cheap rooms in
Mrs. Brinkley's house, and gone to housekeeping.

Her resentment against Liane continued unabated, and she never gave
the girl a kind word, but she refrained from acts of violence, lest
her meek slave should rebel and leave her alone, in her old age and
poverty, to fight the battle of a useless existence.

Meanwhile Judge Devereaux had died and been buried with the pomp and
ceremony befitting his wealth and position, and his son and daughter
had inherited his millions.

Roma Clarke did not fail to send a letter of the sweetest sympathy
to her former lover--a letter that in writing and expression was so
far different from Liane's letter that he could not fail to note the
difference.

"Poor Liane! What a pity her mind is not as cultured as her lovely
face!" he thought, with a bitter pang.

Since the day of their meeting on the avenue, he had not seen Liane,
and he supposed she had seen the sights of the city, bought some garish
finery, and returned to the wretched hovel she called her home.

He despised her for her shallow coquetry, but he could not help pitying
her poverty, and the wretched life with the old hag, from whose brutal
violence he had once rescued her at the cost of a broken arm.

"How gladly I would have taken her from her wretched lot to a life of
love and luxury, but she preferred Dean. I wonder if he has justified
her hopes?" he thought bitterly.

He grew more and more curious on the subject after his father's burial,
in the quiet that comes to a house of mourning, and he suddenly
resolved to return to Stonecliff and find out for himself.

The little seaside town looked very gloomy in the downpour of a cold
November rain, and the boom of the sea, lashed to fury in a storm, was
disquieting to his nerves, but he sallied forth to the post office, and
stood on the steps, watching to see Liane passing by on her way from
work, as on the first day he had seen her lovely face.

How freshly it all came back to him, that day but two months ago, when
he had followed her to restore her truant veil, and first looked into
the luring blue eyes that had thrilled his heart with passion.

What a mighty passion for the shallow coquette had been born in his
heart at that meeting--passion followed by pain! Ah, how he wished now
that he had never met her, that he had let the blue veil blow away
on the heedless wind! The little acts of kindness had brought him a
harvest of pain.

Even now, despite all, he was waiting and watching with painful
yearning for another sight of her face.

But the moments waned, and she came not.

He saw the other work people of the town going home through the falling
dusk. Four of Miss Bray's girls dropped in at the post office, flashing
surprised glances at his handsome, familiar face, wondering at his
return; then they went out again, and he thought that presently Liane
and Dolly would be passing also.

But he was disappointed, and presently he realized that it was useless
waiting longer.

"Dean must have married her and taken her off already, but it must have
been a very quiet affair. I have seen nothing of his marriage in the
papers," he thought with strange disquiet, as he came down the steps.

A handsome carriage, with prancing gray horses, in a silver-mounted
harness, with liveried footman, suddenly drew up at the curbstone, and
a brilliant face flushed on him from the window.

"Oh, Jesse, what a surprise! How do you do? Won't you look in our box
and bring me out my mail?" cried Roma Clarke gushingly.

There was nothing for it but obedience. Jesse came out to her with two
letters and a paper, and as she took them, she threw open the carriage
door, urging sweetly:

"Come home with me, do, and see papa and mamma. They will be so glad to
see you. Poor papa has been ill of a fever, and is just convalescing."

He was in a reckless mood. He accepted the invitation and went home
with her, but she did not find him a very congenial companion. He
ignored her coquettish attempts to return to their old footing.

"You hate me yet," she pouted.

"Not at all. I am glad to be your friend, if you will permit me," he
replied courteously.

"Friend!" Roma cried, in an indescribable tone.

He ignored the reproach, and said calmly:

"Tell me all that has happened since I went back to Boston. Who are
married and who are dead?"

"No one that you know," replied Roma, and she never guessed what a
thrill of joy the words sent to his heart.

He was glad. He could not help it, that Malcolm Dean had not married
Liane yet. He was yearning for news of her, yet he knew better than to
ask Roma for it. He knew it would only make her angry and jealous.

While he was alone in the drawing room, Roma having gone to apprise her
parents of his arrival, he was startled to see Dolly Dorr sidle in,
dressed in a dark-gray gown, with a maid's white cap and apron.

He arose in surprise.

"Miss Dorr! Is it possible?"

Dolly colored and hung her head, muttering:

"You're surprised to see me here as Miss Clarke's maid."

"Yes," he replied frankly; then a sudden thought came to him, and he
added: "And your pretty friend, Miss Lester? Is she at Cliffdene also?"

Dolly tossed her head scornfully.

"No, indeed, she is not here!"

"Where, then?" he asked eagerly, with a painful curiosity.

"Don't you know?" cried Dolly pertly, with her flaxen head on one side,
like a bird, and he answered quickly:

"Of course not!"

Dolly smoothed down her white apron with her little hands, and,
glancing at him sidewise with her bright blue eyes, returned
indignantly:

"Then, if you don't know, I can tell you. I used to like Liane, but I
despise her now. That beauty prize made a fool of the girl, and turned
her so silly no one liked her any more. She spent all that money for
gaudy clothes and cheap jewelry, trying to entrap that artist, Mr.
Dean. She was crazy about him, and didn't mind everybody knowing it,
either. So at last she went chasing off to some city after him, and I
don't know what became of her then, and I don't care, for every one
says she must have gone straight to the bad."

She studied his paling cheek with keen eyes for a moment, then added:

"But I almost forgot. Mr. Clarke sent me to show you up to his room."

Devereaux rose silently, and followed the pert maid upstairs.

It never occurred to Devereaux to doubt Dolly's story in the least. He
believed her a simple, truthful, shallow little maiden devoid of guile.

The little actress had played her part well, and Roma, listening behind
a curtain, was delighted with the skill of her pupil, so hastily
schooled a moment before in her artful story.

With a heavy heart Devereaux followed the scheming maid upstairs to Mr.
Clarke's apartment, where he met a joyful welcome.

"Ah, my boy, I have been ill for many weeks. It seems an age since
we parted that night at the Beauty Show," he exclaimed, as he wrung
Devereaux's hand, adding sadly: "The strangest thing of all is the
disappearance of the successful contestant for the prize. She went
away a day or two afterward, and no one has the least knowledge of her
whereabouts."

This was confirmation of Dolly's artful story, and Devereaux felt a
strange choking in his throat that kept him silent, while Mr. Clarke
continued eagerly:

"To tell the truth, I was deeply interested in the beautiful Miss
Lester, and felt a hearty sympathy for her troubles. She led a sad
existence with that wicked old grandmother, and I was on the point of
asking her to come and stay at Cliffdene as my typewriter, just to
give her a better home, you know, poor girl, when she disappeared so
strangely, going away, some people insinuate, to lead a gayer life,"
sighing.

Devereaux knew quite well, from the letter he had received from her,
that Liane could scarcely have filled the position of Mr. Clarke's
typewriter, but he was too generous to say so. He swallowed the lump in
his throat as best he could, and answered:

"I hope the insinuations are not true, but I cannot tell. I saw Miss
Lester once in Boston. It was a few days after the contest, and she was
walking past my home with a respectable-looking, middle-aged woman. I
have never seen her since."

"So it was to Boston she went? I wish I could find the poor girl! I
would try to interest my wife in her fate," exclaimed Mr. Clarke, but
that lady, entering at the moment, overheard the words, and frowned
angrily.

"I will have nothing to do with the girl, and the interest you take in
her is very displeasing to me," she said curtly.

Roma had worked busily, fostering jealousy in her mind until she almost
hated the name of Liane Lester.

She shook hands with Devereaux, welcomed him cordially, and returned to
the subject.

"Speaking of that girl," she said, "I feel that sympathy is wasted on
such as Liane Lester. At one time Roma and I were both so moved with
pity for her poverty that we offered her the position of Roma's maid,
with a good salary and a comfortable home, but the old woman and the
girl both refused, as if they had actually been insulted, though Dolly
Dorr, who worked with Liane, was glad enough to apply for the position
Liane refused, and fills it very acceptably to Roma. After that we took
no further interest in the girl, and rumor says that her head was quite
turned by vanity after getting the beauty prize, so that she and the
old granny moved away from Stonecliff."

Mrs. Clarke had pitied and admired Liane until her rivalry with Roma,
and the latter's specious tales had turned the scales against her, and
made her jealous of her husband's interest in the lovely girl, so she
said again, with flashing eyes and heightened color:

"I do not approve of Mr. Clarke's strong interest in the girl, and
would certainly never consent to receive her beneath the roof of
Cliffdene."

She did not understand the strange glance of blended reproach and pity
her husband bent upon her as he thought:

"My poor, deceived love, I cannot be angry with her, for she does not
understand the painful interest I take in this Liane Lester, foreboding
that she may possibly be our own child, doomed to poverty and woe,
while her place in our homes and hearts is usurped by an upstart and
an ingrate, without one lovable trait, but whom my poor wife feels
compelled to blindly worship, believing her her own child! Ah, how
unfortunate this illness that has prevented my tracing Nurse Jenks'
history!"



CHAPTER XX.

"AS ONE ADMIRES A STATUE."


Happily unconscious of her father's unfavorable opinion, Roma entered
and seated herself close to his chair, displaying an unwonted
tenderness for him that deceived no one but Devereaux, for whose
benefit it was designed. Both her parents knew that Roma was never
affectionate, except to gain some end of her own.

On this occasion she was unwontedly sweet and gentle, with a new
pensiveness in her manner more attractive to Devereaux than her usual
brilliancy. She made no bids for his attention; she seemed sadly
resigned to her fate, as her downcast eyes and stifled sighs attested.
It touched him, but he felt too sad at heart to console others, and he
soon tore himself away, returning that night to Boston, wondering if it
could be possible, that the same city had held Liane all this time that
he had supposed her safe at Stonecliff.

He knew that Malcolm Dean was in Philadelphia, and had been there for
some time, and he wondered if the artist's love for Liane had failed to
realize her confident hopes.

"Poor little thing! I pity her, with her sweet love dream blighted!" he
thought generously, as he awakened early the next morning, pursuing the
same sad train of thought.

A startling surprise awaited him after breakfast, where Lyde was
sitting going over the new magazines.

Her dark eyes brightened suddenly, as she exclaimed:

"Upon my word, Jesse, the beautiful face on the outside cover of this
magazine resembles perfectly the pretty girl from whom I buy my gloves!"

"Really!" he exclaimed, taking the magazine, and flushing and paling
alternately, as he saw before him the cover that Dean had designed,
with Liane's face for the central figure.

How beautiful it was? How beautiful! His heart leaped madly, then sank
again in his breast.

"Do you think it can be accidental, or is it really her portrait? She
is lovely, Jesse, with a natural, high-bred air, the darkest eyes, like
purple pansies rimmed in jet, and the most beautiful chestnut hair, all
touched with gleams of gold. I have woven quite a romance round her,
fancying her some rich girl reduced to poverty."

His heart was beating with muffled throbs, his eyes flashed with
eagerness, but he asked with seeming carelessness:

"What is her name?"

He was not in the least surprised when she answered:

"Miss Lester, and the other girls call her Liane. It is a pretty name,
and, oddly enough, I read it once in a novel. She must have been named
from it; don't you think, Jesse?"

"Perhaps so."

He could hardly speak, he was so excited, and Lyde rambled on:

"We have fallen in love with each other, pretty Liane and I. She always
hurries to meet me and show me her gloves. Her eyes smile at me so
tenderly, as if she were really fond of me, and I almost believe she
is, for when I allow her to try on my gloves for me, she has such a
caressing way, I almost long to kiss her. But then, perhaps, she has
the same manner with all, just to get trade," disappointedly.

Devereaux recalled the caressing touch of her lips on his hand that
night by the sea; her pretty, bashful gratitude, and groaned within
himself.

"Oh, my lost love, my false love!"

Aloud he said cynically:

"I thought you were too proud, Lyde, to notice a pretty salesgirl."

"Oh, Jesse, I like to be kind to them all, poor things! And they
appreciate a kind word and smile more than you might think. And many
of these girls are so very pretty, too, that really, if I were looking
for beauty, I believe I should seek it among the working girls in our
stores. This Liane Lester, too, is lovelier than all the rest, and her
voice so soft and sweet that, really, I am sure she must be a reduced
aristocrat."

He wondered if he dare tell her the truth about Liane, the story of his
love. Smilingly he said:

"You will have me falling in love with your pretty glove girl."

"Oh, not for the world!" she cried, in dismay. "My dear Jesse, never
think of loving and marrying out of your own set. One can admire beauty
in a poor girl as one admires beauty in a statue, but, lifted above her
station, my pretty Liane would not be half so admirable."

"Of course not," he replied cynically, and decided not to make her his
confidante.

All the same, he determined to see for himself again the lovely face
that had won Lyde's admiration. He knew where she bought her gloves,
and that afternoon he was close by when the little army of salesgirls
came pouring out into the street.

By and by came two arm in arm, Lizzie White and Liane, and his eyes
feasted again on the lovely face beneath the little blue hat, noting
with gladness its purity of expression.

"They lied. She is pure and innocent still, in spite of pardonable
vanity and girlish coquetry," he thought, with a subtle thrill of joy.

Then he saw Granny Jenks dart forward with a skinny, outstretched claw,
whining:

"I came for your wages, Liane. I was afraid you might fool away the
money before you got home."

"The old harpy!" he muttered, with irrepressible indignation, as he saw
her clutch the money Liane had earned by her week's toil.

Then he drew back quickly, lest she should see him, a sudden resolve
forming in his mind.

He would follow them, and find out where her home was, and if she
deserved the cruel things they said of her at Stonecliff. He felt sure
that she had been slandered, poor, pretty Liane, leading her simple,
blameless life of toil and poverty.

He thought with pleasure of Mr. Clarke's interest in Liane, and
promised himself to write to that gentleman all he could find out about
her, little dreaming of the cruel consequences that would follow on the
writing of the letter.

"Poor little girl, it is a shame that evil hearts should malign and
traduce her, living her humble life of toil, poverty, and innocence!"
Jesse Devereaux said to himself pityingly, on returning from following
Liane to her humble abode.

He satisfied himself that her surroundings, though poor, were strictly
respectable, and that she earned a meager living for herself and granny
by patient, daily toil, and he had turned back to his own life of ease
and luxury with a sore heart.

Keen sympathy and pity drove resentment from his mind, effacing all but
divine tenderness.

He longed for an intensity that was almost pain to brighten her daily
life, so weary, toilsome, and devoid of pleasure.

"Had she but loved me, beautiful, hapless Liane, how different her lot
in life would have been!" he thought, picturing her as the queen of
his splendid home, her graceful form clothed in rich attire, her white
throat and her tiny little hands glittering with costly gems, while
she leaned on his breast, happy as a queen, his loving bride.

He wondered what had become of Malcolm Dean, and why his ardent
admiration of Liane had waned so soon.

Almost simultaneously with the thought the doorbell rang, and Malcolm
Dean's card was presented to him.

"Show the gentleman in."

They stood facing each other, the handsome blond artist and the
dark-haired millionaire, and the latter recalled with a silent pang
that Liane preferred men with fair hair and blue eyes.

They shook hands cordially; then, as Dean sank into a chair, he noted
that he had grown pale and thin.

"You have been ill?"

"Yes, for weeks, of a low fever that kept me in bed in Philadelphia,
while my heart was far away. Can you guess where, Devereaux?"

"Perhaps at Stonecliff?"

"Then you have guessed at my passion for the beautiful prize winner."

"It was patent to all observers that night," Devereaux answered, in
a strangled voice, with a fierce thumping of the heart. Oh, God, how
cruel it was to discuss her with his fortunate rival, who had only to
ask and have.

Dean noticed nothing unusual. He continued earnestly:

"I don't mind owning to the truth, Devereaux. Yes, I lost my heart
irretrievably that night to lovely Liane Lester, and I made up my mind
to overlook the difference in our position and woo her for my own. But
I had to go to Philadelphia the next day, and I was detained there some
time getting my design ready for the magazine, and this was followed by
a spell of illness. At length, all impatience, I returned to Stonecliff
two days ago to seek the fair girl who had charmed me so. Fancy my
dismay when I found her gone, and no clue to her whereabouts!"

Again Devereaux's heart thumped furiously.

"You loved her very much?" he asked hoarsely.

"I adored her. She was to me the incarnation of simple beauty and
purity."

"And had you any token of her preference in return?"

"None. She was too shy and bashful to give me the sign the coquette
might have deemed befitting. She hid her heart beneath the drooping
fringe of her dark, curling lashes. Yet I dared to hope, and there was
one thing in my favor: I did not have a rival."

"You are mistaken!"

"How?"

"I was your rival!"

"You, Devereaux!"

They almost glared at each other, and Devereaux said hoarsely:

"I was in love with Miss Lester before you ever saw her face!"

"After all, that is not strange. Who could see her and not love her?
But was your suit successful?"

"No."

"Rejected?"

Devereaux flushed, then answered frankly:

"Yes."

Malcolm Dean could not conceal his joyful surprise.

"I cannot comprehend her rejection of your suit. I should have thought
you irresistible."

Devereaux struggled a moment with natural pride and selfishness, then
answered:

"She preferred you."

"Me? How should you know?"

"By her own confession to me."

Malcolm Dean was frankly staggered by his friend's statement. His blue
eyes gleamed with joy and his bosom heaved with pride.

"You have made me very happy, but how very, very strange that she
should have made such a confession to you," he cried, in wonder.

Again Devereaux had a short, sharp struggle with his better self and
his natural jealousy of the more fortunate lover of Liane, then his
pity for the girl triumphed over every selfish instinct, and he said:

"She was very frank with me--the frankness of innocence that saw
no harm in the confidence. On the same principle I see no harm in
confiding in you, Dean;" and he impulsively drew from his breast
Liane's letter.

Had he dreamed of the fatal consequences, he would have withheld his
eager hand.

There is love and love--love that has shallow roots and love that
cannot be dragged up from its firm foundations.

"Read!" said Devereaux, generously placing in his rival's hand Liane's
letter.

For himself he could have forgiven all her faults of innocence and
ignorance could she but have returned his love.

It did not occur to his mind that the artist could be in any way
different; that the ill spelling and the puerile mind evinced by the
letter would inspire him with keen disgust.

It only seemed to him that all these faults could be remedied by Liane
by the influence of a true love. The glamour of a strong passion was
upon him, blinding him to the truth that instantly became patent to
Dean's mind.

The artist, reading the shallow effusion, flung it down in keen disgust.

"Heavens, what a disappointment! Such beauty and apparent sweetness
united to shallowness and vanity!" he exclaimed.

"It calls forth your pity?" Devereaux said.

"It excites my scorn!" the artist replied hotly.

"Remember her misfortunes--her bringing up by that wretched old
relative in want and ignorance. Surely the influence of love will work
every desirable change in the fair girl who loves you so fondly,"
argued Devereaux.

Malcolm Dean was pacing the floor excitedly.

"You could not change the shallow nature indicated by that letter, if
you loved her to distraction," he exclaimed. "Mark how she confesses to
deliberate coquetry to win you from your betrothed; how cold-bloodedly
she gloats over her triumph. Why, my love is dead in an instant,
Devereaux, slain by this glimpse at Liane Lester's real nature. Thank
fortune, I did not find her at Stonecliff yesterday. I shall never seek
her now, for my eyes are opened by that heartless letter. Why are you
staring at me so reproachfully, Devereaux? You have even more cause to
despise than I have."

"And yet I cannot do it; Heaven help me, I love her still!" groaned the
other, bowing his pale face upon his hands.

"But, Devereaux; this is madness! She is not worth your love. Fling the
poison from your heart as I do. Forget the light coquette. Return to
your first love."

"Never!" he cried; but in all his pain he could not help an unconscious
joy that Liane could yet be won.

He had not meant to turn Dean's heart against her, but the mischief was
done now. Poor little girl! Would she hate him if she knew?

The old pitying tenderness surged over him again, and he longed to
take her in his arms and shield her from all the assaults of the cruel
world. Vain and shallow she might be; coquette she might be, yet she
had stormed the citadel of his heart and held it still against all
intruders.

"I am going now," the artist cried; turning on him restlessly. "This
is good-by for months, Devereaux. I think I shall join some friends of
mine who are going to winter in Italy, to study art, you know. Wish you
would come with us."

"I should like to, but my father is lately dead, you know, and
Lieutenant Carrington, my sister's husband, is ordered to sea with his
ship. I cannot leave Lyde alone, poor girl."

"Then good-by, and thank you for showing me that letter. What if I
had married her in ignorance?" with a shudder. "For Heaven's sake,
Devereaux, be careful of getting into her toils again. Better go back
to Miss Clarke, and make up your quarrel. Adieu," and with a hearty
handclasp, he was gone, leaving his friend almost paralyzed with the
remorseful thought:

"Would she ever forgive me if she guessed the harm I have done?"



CHAPTER XXI.

A HARVEST OF WOE.


Devereaux's thoughts clung persistently to Liane. He could not shut
away from his mind her haunting image.

Pity blended with tenderness, as putting himself and his own
disappointment aside, he gave himself up to thoughts of bettering her
poverty-stricken life, so toilsome and lonely.

He took up his pen and wrote feelingly to Edmund Clarke, telling him
how and where he had found Liane again, and of his full belief in
her purity and innocence, despite the cruel slanders circulating in
Stonecliff, the work, no doubt, he said, of some jealous, unscrupulous
enemy.

He assured Mr. Clarke that he was ready to assist in any way he might
suggest in bettering the fair young girl's hard lot in life.

The letter was immediately posted, and went on its fateful way to fall
into jealous Roma's hands and work a harvest of woe.

Affairs at Cliffdene were already in a critical stage, and it wanted
but this letter to fan the smoldering flames into devastating fury.

Mr. Clarke, impatient of his lingering convalescence, had taken a
decisive step toward recovering his lost daughter.

He had written a letter summoning old Doctor Jay, of Brookline, on a
visit, and he had explained it to his wife by pretending he wished to
avail himself of the old man's medical skill.

Doctor Jay was the physician who had attended Mrs. Clarke when her
daughter was born, and he received a warm welcome at Cliffdene, a guest
whom all delighted to honor; all, at least, but Roma, who immediately
conceived an unaccountable aversion to the old man, perhaps because his
little hazel-gray eyes peered at her so curiously through his glasses
beneath his bushy gray eyebrows.

There was something strange in his intent scrutiny, so coldly curious,
instead of kindly, as she had a right to expect, and she said pettishly
to her mother:

"I detest Doctor Jay. I hope he is not going to stay long."

"Oh, no, I suppose not, but I am very fond of Doctor Jay. He was very
kind and sympathetic to me at a time of great suffering and trouble,"
Mrs. Clarke replied so warmly that she aroused Roma's curiosity.

"Tell me all about it," she exclaimed.

Mrs. Clarke had never been able to recall that time without suffering,
but she impulsively told Roma the whole story, never dreamed of until
now, of the loss of her infant and its mysterious restoration at the
last moment, when her life was sinking away hopelessly into eternity.

Roma listened with startled attention, and she began to ask questions
that her mother found impossible to answer.

"Who had stolen away the babe, and by what agency had it been
restored?" demanded Roma.

Mrs. Clarke could not satisfy her curiosity. The subject was so painful
her husband would never discuss it with her, she declared, adding that
Roma must not think of it any more, either.

But, being in a reminiscent mood, she presently told Roma how she had
been deceived in old Granny Jenks' identity, and how indignantly the
old woman had denied the imputation of having been her nurse.

"I was so sure of her identity that her anger was quite embarrassing,"
she said.

Roma's thoughts returned to granny's affection for herself, and she
felt sure the old woman had lied to her mother, though from what object
she could not conceive. Her abject affection for herself seemed fully
explained by the fact of her having been her nurse child.

But she was, somehow, ill at ease after hearing her mother's story, and
longed eagerly to know more than she had already heard.

"I wonder if I dare question papa or the old doctor?" she thought when
her mother had left her alone, resting easily in her furred dressing
gown and slippers before a bright coal fire, while in the room beyond
Dolly Dorr was getting her bath ready.

Roma was devoured by curiosity. She sat racking her brain for a pretext
to intrude on her father and the old doctor, who were still in the
library together, chatting over old times when the Clarkes had lived in
Brookline.

A lucky thought came to her, and she murmured:

"I will pretend to have a headache, and ask Doctor Jay for something to
ease it. Then I will stay a while chatting with them and making myself
very agreeable until I can bring the subject around, and get the
interesting fact of my abduction out of them."

Stealing noiselessly from the room, she glided downstairs like a
shadow, pausing abruptly at the hall table, for there lay the evening's
mail, just brought in by a servant from the village post office.

Roma turned over the letters and papers, finding none for any one but
her father, but the superscription on one made her start with a stifled
cry.

She recognized the elegant chirography of Jesse Devereaux on the back
of one letter.

"Now, why is he writing to papa?" she wondered, eagerly turning the
letter over and over in her burning hand, wild with curiosity that
tempted her at last to slip the letter into her bosom.

Then, taking the rest of the mail in her hand, Roma went to the
library, thinking that the delivery of the mail would furnish another
plausible pretext for her intrusion.

There was a little anteroom just adjoining the library, and this she
entered first to wait a moment till the fierce beating of her heart
over Devereaux's letter should quiet down.

Her slippered feet made no sound on the thick velvet carpet, and, as
she rested for a moment in a large armchair, she could hear the murmur
of animated voices through the heavy portières that hung between her
and the library.

Believing that the whole family had retired, and that they were safe
from interruption, Doctor Jay and his host had returned to the tragedy
of eighteen years before--the loss of the infant that had nearly cost
the mother's life.

Roma caught her breath with a stifled gasp of self-congratulation,
hoping now to hear the whole interesting story without moving from her
chair.

In her hope she was not disappointed.

"I have never ceased to regret the substitution of that spurious infant
in place of my own lovely child," sighed Mr. Clarke.

Roma gave a start of consternation, and almost betrayed herself by
screaming out aloud, but she bit her lips in time, while her wildly
throbbing heart seemed to sink like a stone in her breast.

Doctor Jay said questioningly:

"You have never been able to love your adopted daughter as your own?"

"Never, never!" groaned Edmund Clarke despairingly.

"And her mother?"

"She knows nothing, suspects nothing; for the one object of my life has
been to keep her in ignorance of the truth that Roma is not her own
child. She has an almost slavish devotion to the girl, but I think in
her inmost heart she realizes Roma's lack of lovable qualities, though
she is too loyal to her child to admit the truth even to me."

"It is strange, most strange, that no clue has ever been found that
would lead to the discovery of your lost little one," mused the old
doctor, and after a moment's silence the other answered:

"One thing I would like to know, and that is the family from which Roma
sprang. It must have been low, judging frankly from the girl herself."

The listener clinched her hands till the blood oozed from the tender
palms on hearing these words, and she would have liked to clutch the
speaker's throat instead.

But she sat still, like one paralyzed, a deadly hatred tugging at her
heartstrings, listening as one listens to the sentence of death, while
Doctor Jay cleared his throat, and answered:

"I am sorry, most sorry, that your surmises are correct, but naturally
one would not expect to find good blood in a foundling asylum, though
when I sent Nurse Jenks for the child, I told her to get an infant of
honest parentage, if she could."

"Then you know Roma's antecedents?" Mr. Clarke questioned anxiously.

"My dear friend, I wish that you would not press the subject."

"Answer me; I must know! The bitterest truth could not exceed my
suspicions!" almost raved Mr. Clarke in his eagerness, and again the
clinched hands of the listener tightened as if they were about his
throat.

Hate, swift, terrible, murderous, had sprung to life, full grown in the
angry girl's heart.

She heard the old doctor cough and sigh again, and a futile wish rose
in her that he had dropped down dead before he ever came to Cliffdene.

Doctor Jay, all unconscious of her proximity and her charitable wishes,
proceeded hesitatingly:

"Since you insist, I must own the truth. Nurse Jenks deceived me."

"How?" hoarsely.

"She never went near the foundling asylum. She had at her own home an
infant, the child of a worthless daughter, who had run away previously
to go on the stage. Leaving this child on her mother's hands, the
actress again ran away, and the old grandmother palmed it off on you as
a foundling."

"My God! I see it all," groaned Edmund Clarke. "The old fiend exchanged
infants, putting her grandchild in the place of my daughter, and
raising her in poverty and wretchedness. I have seen my child with her,
my beautiful daughter. Listen to my story," he cried, pouring out to
the astonished old physician the whole moving story of Liane Lester.



CHAPTER XXII.

AT A FIEND'S MERCY.


Doctor Jay listened with breathless attention, and so did Roma.

Pale as a breathing statue, her great eyes dilated with dismay and
horror, her heart beating heavily and slow, Roma crouched in her chair
and listened to the awful words that told her who and what she was, the
base-born child of Cora Jenks, and granddaughter of old granny, whose
very name was a synonym for contempt in Stonecliff.

She, Roma, who despised poor people, who treated them no better than
the dust beneath her well-shod feet, belonged to the common herd, and
was usurping the place of beautiful Liane, whom she had despised for
her lowly estate and hated for her beauty, but who had become first her
rival in love and now in fortune.

To the day of her death beautiful, wicked Roma never forgot that bleak
November night, that blasted all her pride and flung her down into the
dust of humiliation and despair, her towering pride crushed, all the
worst passions of her evil nature aroused into pernicious activity.

Stiller than chiseled marble, the stricken girl crouched there,
listening, fearing to lose even a single word, though each one quivered
like a dagger in her heart.

Her greatest enemy could not have wished her a keener punishment than
this knowledge of her position in the Clarke household--an adopted
daughter, secretly despised and only tolerated for the mother's sake,
holding her place only until the real heiress should be discovered.

No words could paint her rage, her humiliation, her terrors of the
future, that held a sword that might at any moment fall.

Oh, how she hated the world, and every one in it, and most of all Liane
Lester, her guiltless rival.

While she listened, she wished the girl dead a hundred times, and all
at once a throbbing memory came to her of the fierce words Granny Jenks
had spoken in her rage against Liane.

"I would beat her; yes, I would kill her, before she should steal your
grand lover from you darling!"

Roma could understand now the old hag's devotion to herself. It was
the tie of their kinship asserting itself. She shuddered with disgust
as she recalled the old woman's fulsome admiration and adoration, and
how she had been willing to sell her very soul for one kiss from those
fresh, rosy lips.

How eagerly she had said:

"I will scold Liane, and whip her, too. I will do anything to please
you, beautiful lady!"

No wonder!

Roma was bitterly sorry now that she had not let granny kill Liane when
she had been so anxious to do it. She felt that she had made a great
mistake, for her position at Cliffdene would never be assured until
Liane was dead.

Edmund Clarke was certain now that Liane was his own child, and he
swore to Doctor Jay that he would find her soon, if it took the last
dollar of his fortune.

The old doctor replied:

"I do not blame you, my friend, for it does, indeed, appear plausible
that this Liane Lester must be your own lost child, and I can conceive
how galling it must be to your pride to call Nurse Jenks' grandchild
your daughter, while, as for your noble wife, it is cruel to think of
the imposition practiced on her motherly love all these years. But it
is certain that she must have died but for the terrible deception we
had to practice."

Edmund Clarke knew that it was true. He remembered how she had been
drifting from him out on the waves of the shoreless sea, and how the
piping cry of the little infant had called her back to life and hope.

"Yes, it was a terrible necessity," he groaned, adding:

"And only think, dear doctor, how sad it is that Roma, with a devilish
cunning, that must be a keen instinct, has always hated sweet Liane,
and has succeeded in poisoning my wife's mind against her, arousing a
mean jealousy in my uncomprehended interest in the girl! Think of such
a sweet mother being set against her own sweet daughter!"

"It is horrible," assented Doctor Jay, and he continued:

"But this excitement is telling on your nerves, dear friend, weakened
by your recent severe illness. Let me persuade you to retire to bed,
with a sedative now, and to-morrow we will further discuss your plan of
employing a detective to trace Liane and the fiendish Nurse Jenks."

"I believe I will take your advice," Roma heard Edmund Clarke respond
wearily, and Doctor Jay insisted on preparing a sedative, which he
said should be mixed in a glass of water, half the dose to be taken on
retiring, and the remainder in two hours, if the patient proved wakeful.

"I wish it was a dose of poison," Roma thought vindictively, as she
hurried from the room and gained her own unperceived, where she found
her maid waiting most impatiently to assist her in her bath.

"Never mind, Dolly, you can go to bed now. I went to mamma's room for
a little chat, and we talked longer than I expected, so I will wait on
myself this once," she said, with unwonted kindness in her eagerness to
be alone; so Dolly curtsied and retired, though she said to herself:

"She is lying. She was not in her mother's room at all, for I went
there to see, and Mrs. Clarke had retired. She must have been up to
some mischief and don't want to be found out. She had a guilty look."

Meanwhile Roma flung herself into the easy-chair before the glowing
fire, stretched out her slippered feet on the thick fur rug, and gave
herself up to the bitterest reflections.

"There are four people who are terribly in my way, and whom I would
like to see dead! They are Liane Lester, Granny Jenks, old Doctor Jay,
and Edmund Clarke, the man I have heretofore regarded as my father,"
she muttered vindictively.

She knew that the two last named would know neither rest nor peace
till they found Liane and reinstated her in her place at Cliffdene as
daughter and heiress, ousting without remorse the usurper.

"Ah, if I only knew where to find her, granny would soon put her out of
my way forever!" she thought, regretting bitterly now that she had not
made the old hag keep her informed of her whereabouts.

The spirit of murder was rife in Roma's heart, and she longed to end
the lives of all those who stood in her way.

"I wish that Edmund Clarke would die to-night! How easy it would be if
some arsenic were dropped into his sedative--some of that solution I
was taking a while ago to improve my complexion," she thought darkly,
resolving to wait until all was quiet and herself attempt the hellish
deed.

One death already lay on her conscience, and the form of the man she
had remorselessly thrust over the bluff stalked grimly through her
dreams. To her soul, already black with crime, what did the commission
of other deeds of darkness matter?

The death of Edmund Clarke so quickly decreed, she began to plan that
of the old doctor.

This was not so easy. He did not have a convenient glass of sedative
ready by his bedside. But she had noticed at supper that he was fond of
a glass of wine.

"I must poison a draught for him before he leaves Cliffdene," she
thought, regretting that she could not accomplish it to-night.

But Edmund Clarke's speedy death would delay the search for Liane a
while, even if it did not postpone it forever.

For the old physician was not likely to prosecute it after the death
of his patron. He could have no interest in doing so, though she would
make sure he did not by putting him out of the way if she could.

Her mind a chaos of evil thoughts, Roma rested in her chair, waiting
till she thought every one must be asleep before she stole from the
room to poison the draught for the man she had regarded until this
hour as her own father, and to whose wealth she owed her luxurious life
of eighteen years.

Neither pity nor gratitude warmed her cold heart. She had never loved
him in her life, and she hated him now.

In her rage and despair she had forgotten Jesse Devereaux's letter to
her father until, in a restless movement, she heard the rustle of paper
in her corsage.

An evil gleam lightened in her eyes, and she drew the letter forth,
muttering:

"Ah, this will beguile my weary waiting!"

In five minutes she was mistress of the contents.

It was the letter Devereaux had written to acquaint Edmund Clarke with
Liane's address--the fateful letter that was to betray the girl into
the hands of her bitterest foe.

Ah, the hellish gleam of wicked joy in the cruel red-brown eyes; the
stormy heaving of Roma's breast as she realized her great good fortune;
all her enemies in her power, at her mercy! The mercy the ravenous wolf
shows to the helpless lamb!

She laughed low and long in her glee, and that laughter was an awful
thing to hear.

"Oh, how can I wait till to-morrow?" she muttered. "Yet I cannot go to
Boston to-night, nor to-morrow, if Edmund Clarke dies to-night. Shall
I spare his life till I go to Boston, and have his daughter put out of
the way?"



CHAPTER XXIII.

A MURDEROUS FURY.


Hours slipped away while the beautiful fiend, so young in years, so
old in the conception of crime, crouched in her seat, waiting, musing,
pondering on the best schemes for ridding herself of those who stood in
her way.

She was eager as a wild beast to strike quickly and finish the awful
work she had set herself to do.

It seemed to her that she might never have another such opportunity for
ending Edmund Clarke's life as was offered to her by the conditions of
the present moment.

It was most important to get rid of him, she knew, and the sooner
the better for the safety of her position as heiress of the Clarke
millions. Let him die first, and she could attend to the others
afterward.

At the dark, gloomy hour of midnight, while the icy winds wailed around
the house like a banshee, Roma went groping through the pitch-black
corridors toward the room where Mr. Clarke lay sleeping with his
gentle, loving wife by his side.

Like a sleek, beautiful panther the girl crept into the unlocked door,
knowing the room so well that she could find her way to the bedside in
the darkness, and put out her stealthy, murderous hand, with the bottle
of poison in it, seeking for the glass that held the sleeping potion
Doctor Jay had prescribed.

Her heart beat with evil exultation, for it seemed to her that her
errand could scarcely fail of success. Edmund Clarke was sound asleep,
she knew by his deep breathing, and she decided that, after pouring the
poison into the glass, she would make enough noise in escaping from
the room to arouse him fully, so that he would be sure to swallow the
second dose ere sleeping again.

It was a clever plan, cleverly conceived, and in another moment it
would be executed, and no earthly power could save the victim from
untimely death.

But in her haste Roma made one fatal mistake.

In groping for the glass, she held the vial with the arsenic clasped in
her hand.

And she was very nervous, her white hands trembling as they fluttered
over the little medicine stand by the head of the bed.

That was why, the next moment, there came the sharp clink of glass
against glass as her hands came in contact with what she sought,
overturning and breaking both, with such a sharp, keen, crystalline
tinkle that both the sleepers were aroused suddenly and quickly, and
Mr. Clarke flung out his arms, clutching Roma ere she could escape, and
demanding bewilderedly:

"What is the matter? Who is this?"

"Edmund! Edmund!" cried his equally startled wife, hastily lighting
a night lamp close to her arm, in time to see Roma writhing and
struggling in her father's arms.

"Roma!" he panted.

"Roma!" echoed his wife.

It was a situation to strike terror to the girl's guilty heart.

But in her scheming she had not failed to take into account any
possible contretemps.

Failing in her efforts to escape before her identity was detected, Roma
laughed aloud, hysterically:

"Dear papa, do not squeeze me so hard, please; you take away my
breath! Why, you must take me for a burglar!"

Edmund Clarke, releasing her and not yet fully awake, stammered
drowsily:

"Yes--I--took--you--for--a--burglar. What do you want, Roma?"

"Yes, what is the matter, my dear?" added Mrs. Clarke wonderingly,
while Roma, mistress of the situation still, pressed her hand to her
cheek, groaning hysterically:

"Oh, papa, mamma, forgive me for arousing you, but I am suffering so
much with a wretched toothache, and I came to ask you for some medicine
to ease it!"

"Poor dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Clarke, with immediate maternal sympathy,
as she rose quickly from her bed and motioned Roma into her dressing
room, searching for remedies within a little medicine case while she
plied her with questions.

"When did it begin to ache, dear? Why didn't you send Dolly for the
medicine? It will make you worse, coming along the cold corridors!"

"For goodness' sake, don't tease! Give me the medicine quick as you
can!" Roma answered crossly, dropping into a chair and hiding her face
in her hands, her whole form shaking with fury at the failure of her
scheme to kill Edmund Clarke.

A blind, terrible rage possessed her, and she would have liked to
spring upon him and clutch his throat with murderous hands.

But she dare not give way to her murderous impulse; she must wait and
try her luck again, for die he must, and that very soon.

She could only wreak her pent-up rage by cross answers to the gentle
lady she called mother, and Mrs. Clarke, with a patient sigh of wounded
feeling, turned to her, replying:

"I did not mean to tease you, Roma, but here is some medicine. Put five
drops of it upon this bit of cotton and press it into the cavity of
your tooth, and it will give you speedy relief. In the morning you must
visit a dentist."

Roma lifted her pale face, and answered:

"Yes, I will visit a dentist, but not one at Stonecliff. I will go to
Boston by the early train."

"I will go with you and do some shopping," said her mother, who had a
very feminine love of finery.

"Very well," the girl answered, scowling behind her hand, for she
preferred to go alone on her mission to Granny Jenks.

But she realized that it would not do to offend the only person who
seemed to have any real fondness for her, so, making a wry face behind
her hand, she went up to Mrs. Clarke, saying gently:

"I did not mean to be cross to you, dear mamma, but I am in such agony
with this pain that I could not help my impatience. I want you to
forgive me and try not to love me any less for my faults, please."

Mrs. Clarke could not help wondering what favor Roma was planning to
ask for now, but she answered sweetly:

"I forgive you, dear, and, of course, I shall always love my daughter."

"But papa does not love me much. I often meet his glance fixed on me in
cold disapproval, and at times he is very stern to me!" complained Roma.

"That must be your fancy, dear. He could not help loving you, his own
daughter, dearly and fondly," soothed the lady, though she knew that
she had herself noticed and complained of the same thing in her husband.

"You do not love Roma as I do," she had said to him, reproachfully,
many times, getting always an evasive, unsatisfactory reply.

So she could not offer her much comfort on this score; she could only
put her arm about the form of the arch traitress, murmuring kind,
tender words, actually getting in return a loving caress that surprised
her very much, it was so unusual.

But Roma for the first time in her life comprehended the necessity of
fortifying her position by a staunch ally like her mother.

"I will go back to my room now. I must not keep you up any longer in
the cold, dear, patient mamma," she cried gushingly, as she kissed her
and left the room.

Mrs. Clarke was grateful for the caress, but she retired to bed with
the firm conviction that it would take a very large check indeed to
gratify Roma's desires in Boston to-morrow. Her affectionate spells
were always very costly to her parents.

"Do you think I had better take the second dose of that sedative? I am
very nervous from my sudden awakening, and wish we had locked the door
on retiring," her husband said petulantly.

"It would be very unkind to lock the door on our own daughter. Roma
was just now lamenting your sternness and lack of love and sympathy,"
returned the lady.

Edmund Clarke stifled an imprecation between his teeth, then demanded
earnestly:

"Have I ever failed in love and sympathy to you, dear Elinor?"

"Never, my darling husband," she answered, fondly clasping his hand.

"And never will my love fail you, dearest; but I cannot say as much
for Roma, whose nature is so unlike yours that I confess she repels
instead of attracts me," he exclaimed, reaching out for the medicine
and exclaiming impatiently on finding the glass broken and the draught
lost.

Ah, how nearly it had been a fatal draught, had not Heaven interposed
to save his life!

As he set it back on the table, he added:

"Why, here is a broken vial on the table beside the glass. I wonder how
it came there!"

"I do not know; but it really does not matter, dear. There, now, shut
your eyes, and try to sleep," advised his wife, knowing the importance
of sound, healthful sleep to the convalescent.

But to her dismay he arose and turned the key in the lock, saying as he
lay down again:

"I'll try to sleep now; but I'll make sure first of not being disturbed
again."



CHAPTER XXIV.

A STRAND OF RUDDY HAIR.


At early daylight the next morning a servant tapped at Edmund Clarke's
door with a message from Doctor Jay.

He found himself quite ill this morning, and must go home at once.
Would Mr. Clarke grant him a few parting words?

Mr. Clarke was up and dressed. He had just said good-by to his wife and
Roma, who had taken an early train to Boston.

He went at once to Doctor Jay's room, finding him seated by the window,
looking ill and aged from a bad night.

"Good morning, my dear old friend. You look ill, and I fear you have
not rested well."

"No; my night was troubled by ghastly dreams. I could scarcely wait
till morning to bid you good-by."

"I am very sorry for this, for I had counted on a pleasant day with
you. My wife and Roma are gone to Boston for the day, leaving their
regrets for you, and kindly wishes to find you here on their return."

The doctor started with surprise, exclaiming:

"It must have been an unexpected trip."

Edmund Clarke then explained about Roma's midnight sufferings from
toothache, necessitating a visit to her dentist.

"My wife would not have left me, but she felt sure I should not be
lonely, having you for company," he added regretfully.

"My dear friend, I should like to remain with you, and, rather than
disappoint you, I will wait until the late afternoon train; but--all
my friendship for you could not tempt me to spend another night at
Cliffdene!"

"You amaze me, doctor! This is very strange! Why do you look so pale
and strange? Why did you spend so uncomfortable a night, when I tried
to surround you with every comfort?"

"You did, my dear friend, and every luxury besides--even a key to my
door, which I forgot to use," returned Doctor Jay, so significantly
that Edmund Clarke reddened, exclaiming:

"It is not possible you have been robbed! I believe that all my
servants are honest!"

He thought that the old physician must be losing his senses when he
answered, with terrible gravity:

"Nevertheless, I was nearly robbed of my life last night!"

"Great heavens!"

Doctor Jay's brow was beaded with damp as he loosened his cravat and
collar, and pointed to his bared neck.

Edmund Clarke leaned forward, and saw on the old man's throat some dark
purple discolorations, like finger prints.

"Have you in your household any persons subject to vicious aberrations
of mind?" demanded Doctor Jay.

"No one!" answered his startled host, and he was astounded when his
guest replied:

"Nevertheless, a fiend in human form entered this room last night under
cover of the darkness and attempted to murder me by vicious strangling!"

"Heavens! Is this so?"

"You have the evidence!" exclaimed the physician, pointing to his bared
throat with the print of the strangler's fingers.

"This is most mysterious!" ejaculated Edmund Clarke, in wonder and
distress, while the physician continued:

"Last night I retired and slept soundly until after midnight, when
I was aroused by the horrible sensation of steely fingers gripping
my throat with deadly force. Vainly gasping for my failing breath, I
struggled with the intruder, who held on with a maniacal strength,
panting with fury as I clutched in my arms a form that I immediately
knew to be that of a woman, soft, warm, palpitating, though her
strength was certainly equal to that of a man. We grappled in a
terrible struggle, and I clutched my fingers in her long hair, causing
her such pain that, with a stifled moan, she released my throat, struck
me in the face, and fled before I could regain my senses, that deserted
me at the critical moment."

"This is most mysterious, most shocking! No wonder you are anxious to
leave Cliffdene, where you so nearly met your death. But this must be
sifted to the bottom at once, and the lunatic identified, for it could
be no other than a lunatic. I will have the whole household summoned.
We will question every servant closely!" cried Clarke eagerly, turning
to ring the bell.

But Doctor Jay stopped him, saying:

"Wait till I question you on the subject. Have you in your employ a
woman with red hair?"

"What a question! But, no. My women servants are all gray-haired or
black-haired, with one exception. That is Roma's maid, a pretty little
blonde, with the palest flaxen curls."

He looked inquiringly at the doctor, who replied:

"After my struggle was over and I was able to light a lamp, I found
entangled in my fingers some threads of hair--beautiful long strands of
ruddy hair, copperish red in the full light."

He took an envelope from his breast, and drew from it a ruddy strand
of long hair, holding it up to the light of the window, where it shone
with a rich copper tint.

"My God!" groaned Edmund Clarke.

"You recognize the hair?" cried Doctor Jay.

"It is Roma's hair!" was the anguished answer.

"I thought so!"

"You thought so! Is the girl, then, a lunatic, or a fiend? And what
motive could she have to take your life--an old man, who has never
harmed her in his blameless life?" cried the host, in consternation.

Edmund Clarke had never been confronted with such a terrible problem of
crime in his life. His face paled to an ashen hue, and his eyes almost
glared as he stared helplessly at his friend.

"I have a theory!" cried Doctor Jay.

"What is it?"

"The girl must have overheard our conversation last night."

"Impossible!"

"Why?"

Mr. Clarke revolved the matter silently in his mind for a moment, then
answered:

"Well, of course, not impossible, but quite improbable."

"Is there not a curtained alcove or anteroom next the library?"

"Yes; but why should the girl have suspected us--why concealed herself
there to listen?"

"Heaven only knows, but it is possible that some accident brought her
there--perhaps an errand of some kind--maybe to get medicine from
me for her aching tooth. She caught a few words that aroused her
curiosity, kept silence, and listened, overhearing the truth about
herself."

"It must indeed have happened that way!"

"And the shock drove her mad," continued Doctor Jay. "Her resentment
flamed against me for knowing so much of her low origin. In her first
senseless fury she sought my life."

"It is a terrible situation!" cried his friend, and both were silent
for a moment, gazing at the lock of hair as if it had been a writhing
serpent; then Clarke continued:

"It is a wonder the fiend incarnate did not seek my life also, thus
removing from her path the two who were plotting to oust her from her
position and reinstate the real heiress!"

But even as he spoke he remembered last night's accident when he had
been aroused by the clink of breaking glass and found Roma in hysterics
by his bedside.

He told Doctor Jay the whole story, adding:

"I could not imagine how the bottle came there. It was certainly not
on the stand when I retired to bed, and when I read the label this
morning, it ran: 'Poison--arsenic.'"

"I should like to see the bottle."

"Come with me," returned Mr. Clarke, leading the way to his room.

Fortunately the chambermaid had not disturbed anything yet, so the
fragments of the bottle and glass were found upon the table.

"It is a fearfully strong solution of arsenic, and I fancy she
intended to pour it into your sedative, so that in case you drank it
you would be silenced forever," affirmed the doctor.

They could only stare aghast at each other, feeling that Providence had
surely preserved their lives last night.

"She was nervous in the dark, jostling the bottle against the glass,
breaking both, and thus defeating her murderous game! The toothache
was probably a clever feint to explain her presence in your room,"
continued the old doctor, who had a wonderful insight into men and
motives, and seemed to read Roma like an open book.

A sudden terror seized on Mr. Clarke.

"She has taken my darling wife away with her! What if she means to
murder her, too? I must follow them on the next train and separate them
forever!" he cried frantically.

"I believe you are right, my friend."

After further thought and consultation, they decided that, although
Roma and Mrs. Clarke must be immediately separated, it would not
be prudent to reveal the truth to her yet, for the shock would be
sufficient to dethrone her reason. Therefore it would not be prudent to
arrest Roma yet for her attempted crimes.

"We have just time enough for a hasty breakfast before catching the
next train. Come!" cried Edmund Clarke, leading the way from the room.

In the corridor they encountered Dolly Dorr mincing along, with her
yellow head on one side like a pert canary; and her master, stopping
her, exclaimed:

"Your mistress had a bad time with the toothache, I fear, last night,
Dolly!"

Dolly, dropping a curtsy, answered slyly:

"Indeed she did, sir, and the medicine she got when she went after
Doctor Jay didn't help her one bit, for she walked the floor groaning
and sobbing all night."

They glared at her in amazement, while she continued, with pretended
sympathy:

"She would not let me sit up with her, poor thing, but I was stealing
back to her room to see if I could help her any when I met her flying
out of Doctor Jay's room, and she said she had gone for a remedy for
the toothache, and he burned her gums with iodine and almost set her
crazy with the pain. Then she scolded me for being up so late, and sent
me back to my room to stay."

She gave Doctor Jay a quizzical glance from her saucy blue eyes, but
his face was entirely noncommittal as he replied:

"I am very sorry I burned her so badly with the iodine, but I thought
it would give the quickest relief."

"Well, she has gone to a dentist in Boston now, and he may soon help
the pain," said Edmund Clarke, passing on, while Dolly Dorr muttered
suspiciously:

"There were mysterious carryings on in this house last night, for
sure!"



CHAPTER XXV.

A TRUE FRIEND.


Liane Lester, late that afternoon, when coming home from her work
with her friend, Lizzie White, saw again the handsome face and dark,
flashing eyes of Jesse Devereaux. He had believed himself unseen, but
he was mistaken.

Some subtle instinct had turned Liane's timid glance straight to the
spot where he was watching, unseen, as he believed.

The quick, passionate throb of her heart sent the blood bounding to her
cheeks and made her hands tremble as they clasped the envelope with her
slender weekly earnings.

But at the same instant Liane dropped the thick, curling fringe of her
lashes quickly over her eyes, for in his alert glance she met no sign
of recognition, and her heart sank heavily again as she remembered his
cold, careless greeting the day she had passed his house with Mrs.
Brinkley.

The good woman was right. He might have amused himself with her in the
country, but he was indifferent to her in town. He would not even take
the trouble to bow when they met by chance, as now.

But Liane had the most loyal heart in the world, and she could never
forget that night by the sea when Devereaux had saved her from the
insulting caresses of the dark-browed stranger, and afterward from
granny's blow, breaking his arm in her defense.

"How brave and noble he was that night! He was so handsome and adorable
that my heart went out to him, never to be recalled, in spite of all
that has happened since," she thought sadly.

With lowered lashes and a heart sinking heavily with its hopeless love
and pain, Liane passed on with her friend, little dreaming that she was
followed to her home by Devereaux, nor what dire consequences would
follow on his learning her address.

She was restless that night, and he haunted her dreams persistently,
and on the morrow she rose tired, and pale, and sad, almost wishing
she had not met him again, to have all the old pain and regret revived
within her breast.

The long day dragged away, and when she went home that evening she
found awaiting her the Philadelphia magazine that had her beautiful
face on the outside cover. Accompanying this was a batch of novels,
together with a basket of fruit and a bunch of roses.

"Hothouse roses and tropical fruit--you must have caught a rich beau,
Liane!" cried Mrs. Brinkley, as she delivered the gifts.

"Oh, no; there must be some mistake," she answered quickly, but her
heart throbbed as she remembered the meeting with Devereaux yesterday,
and she wondered if he could possibly be the donor.

"Impossible!" she sighed to herself, as the woman continued:

"There cannot be any mistake, for there is the card, tied to the
basket, with 'Miss Liane Lester, with kind wishes of a true friend,'
written on it. They came by a neat messenger boy, who would not answer
a single question I asked him."

"A charming mystery! Oh, what magnificent roses for the last of
November!" cried Lizzie, inhaling their fragrance with delight, while
Liane handed around the basket, generously sharing the luscious fruit
with her friends.

She was thinking all the while of the words Jesse Devereaux had said to
her on the beach that never-to-be-forgotten night:

"I will be a true friend to you."

The card on the basket read the same: "A True Friend."

It was enough to send the tremulous color flying to Liane's cheek,
while a new, faint hope throbbed at her heart.

Granny was out somewhere, or she would have got a scolding on suspicion
of knowing the donor of the presents. She wisely kept the truth to
herself, dividing the fruit with her friends, placing the books in her
trunk, and the roses in a vase in Lizzie's room, though she longed very
much to have them in her own.

That night her dreams were sweet and rose-colored.

She went to work with a blithe heart next morning, and, although it
was the first day of December, and a light covering of snow lay on the
roofs and pavements, she did not feel the biting wind pierce through
her thin jacket; her pulse was bounding and her being in a glow because
of the great scarlet rose pinned on her breast, seeming to shed a
summer warmth and sweetness on the icy air--the warmth of hope and love.

All day her visions were rose-colored, and her thoughts hovered about
Devereaux until she almost forgot where she was, and was recalled
unpleasantly to reality by a proud, impatient voice exclaiming:

"I have spoken to you twice, and you have not heard me! Your thoughts
must be very far away. Show me your best kid gloves--five and a half
size!"

At the same moment a small hand had gently pressed her arm, sending an
odd thrill through her whole frame, causing her to start and look up at
a handsome, richly dressed woman, whose dark-blue eyes were fixed on
her in surprise and dislike.

She knew the proud, cold face instantly. It belonged to a woman she had
seen on Edmund Clarke's arm the night of the beauty contest. It was his
wife, the mother of haughty Roma, and Liane comprehended instantly her
glance of anger--it was because she had taken the prize over Roma's
head.

Wounded and abashed by the lady's scorn, Liane attended to her wants
in timid silence, only speaking when necessary, her cheeks flushed,
her soft eyes downcast, her white hands fluttering nervously over the
gloves.

Mrs. Clarke selected a box of gloves, paid for them, and said in a
supercilious tone, quite different from her usual gentle manner:

"I will take the gloves with me. You may bring them out to my carriage
on the opposite side of the street."

She was purposely humbling Liane, and the girl felt it intuitively.
Her bosom heaved, and her blue eyes brimmed with dew, but she did not
resent the proud command, only took up the box of gloves and followed
her customer out of the store to the thickly crowded pavement and over
the crossing, where a carriage waited in a throng of vehicles on the
other side.

All at once something terrible happened.

Mrs. Clarke, keeping proudly in front of Liane, and not noticing
closely enough her environment of vehicles and street cars, suddenly
found herself right in the path of an electric car that in another
moment would have crushed out her life had not two small hands reached
out and hurled her swiftly aside.

Hundreds of eyes had seen the lady's imminent peril, and marked with
kindling admiration the girl's heroic deed.

Without a selfish thought, though she was exposing herself to deadly
danger, Liane bounded wildly upon the track and seized the dazed and
immovable woman with frantic hands, dragging her by main force off the
track of the car that, in the succeeding moment, whizzed by at its
highest speed, just as the two, Liane and the rescued woman, fell to
the ground outside the wheels.

Eager, sympathetic men bore them to the pavement, where it was found
that Mrs. Clarke was in a swoon, so deathlike that it frightened Liane,
who sobbed and wrung her hands.

"Oh, she is dead! The terrible shock has killed her! Can no one do
anything to bring back her life? She must not die! She has a loving
husband and a beautiful daughter, who would break their hearts over
their terrible loss!"

"Who is she?" they asked the sobbing girl, and she answered:

"She is Mrs. Clarke, a wealthy lady of Stonecliff, and must be visiting
in the city."

At that moment the lady's eyes fluttered open, she gazed with a dazed
air on the curious faces that surrounded her, and murmured:

"Where am I? What has happened?"

There were not lacking a dozen voices to tell her everything, loud in
praise of the lovely girl who had saved her life at the imminent risk
of her own.

"I--I did no more than my duty!" she sobbed, blushing crimson while
they all gazed on her with the warmest admiration. There are so few who
do their duty even in this cold, hard world, and one man exclaimed:

"It was not your duty to risk your life so nearly. Why, the car fender
brushed your skirt as you fell. It was an act of the purest heroism!"

Mrs. Clarke pressed her hand to her brow bewilderingly, murmuring:

"I remember it all now! I stepped thoughtlessly on the track, and when
I saw the car rushing down on me, I was so dazed with fear and horror
I could not move or speak! No, though my very life depended on it, I
could not move or speak! I could only stand like a statue, a breathing
statue of horror, facing death! My feet were glued to the rail, my
eyes stared before me in mute despair! Horrible anticipations thronged
my mind! Suddenly I was caught by frantic hands and dragged aside! I
realized I was saved, and consciousness fled."

At that moment the carriage driver, who had got down from his box and
was waiting on the curb, advanced, and said anxiously:

"Shall I take you back to the hotel, madam?"

"Yes, yes." She glanced around at Liane, and put out a yearning hand.
"Come with me, dear girl. I--I am too ill to go alone. Let me lean on
your strength."

Somehow Liane could not refuse the request. She felt a strange, sweet
tenderness flooding her heart for the proud lady who, up to the present
time, had used her so cruelly in unfair resentment.

She sent a message explaining her absence across to the store, and led
Mrs. Clarke's faltering steps to the carriage.

"Oh, I dropped the box of gloves in my rush to drag you from the track!
I must go back for them!" she cried, in dismay.

"No, miss, here they are. An honest man picked them up and handed them
up on the box this instant," said the driver, producing the gloves.

"Oh, my dear girl, no need to think of gloves at a moment like this!
How can I ever thank you and bless you enough for your noble heroism
that saved my life!" cried Mrs. Clarke fervently.

She gazed in gratitude and admiration at the exquisite face that owed
none of its charm to extraneous adornment. The wealth of sun-flecked,
chestnut locks rippled back in rich waves from the pure white brow, the
great purplish-blue eyes, the exquisite features, the dainty coloring
of the skin; above all, the expression of innocence and sweetness
pervading all, thrilled Mrs. Clarke's heart with such keen pleasure
that she quite forgot it was this radiant beauty that had rivaled Roma
in the contest for the prize. She said to herself that here was the
loveliest and the bravest girl in the whole world.

The carriage rattled along the busy streets, and Liane timidly
disclaimed any need of praise; she had but tried to do her duty.

"Duty!" cried Mrs. Clarke, and somehow her cold, nervous hand stole
into Liane's, and nestled there like a trembling bird, while she
continued with keen self-reproach:

"You have returned good for evil in the most generous fashion. I was
treating you in the most haughty and resentful manner, trying to sting
your girlish pride and make you conscious of your inferiority. Did you
understand my motive?"

"You were naturally a little vexed with me because I had carried off
the prize for which your lovely daughter competed," Liane murmured
bashfully.

"Yes, and I was wickedly unjust. You deserved the prize. Roma, with all
her gifts of birth and fortune, is not one-half so beautiful as you,
Liane Lester, the poor girl," cried Mrs. Clarke warmly. "Do you know
I am quite proud that my husband says you resemble me in my girlhood;
but, to be frank, I am sure I was never half so pretty."

Liane blushed with delight at her kindness, and bashfully told her
of her meeting on the beach with Mr. Clarke, when he had impulsively
called her Elinor.

"He told me then that I greatly resembled his wife!" she added, gazing
admiringly at the still handsome woman, and feeling proud in her heart
to look like her, so strangely was her heart interested.

Mrs. Clarke could not help saying, so greatly were her feelings changed
toward Liane:

"My husband admires you greatly; did you know it? He wishes to befriend
you, making you an honored member of our household. I believe he would
permit me to adopt you as a daughter, so strong will be his gratitude
for your act of to-day."

"Oh, madam!" faltered Liane, in grateful bewilderment, feeling that she
could be very happy with these kind people, only for proud, willful
Roma, and she added:

"Your handsome daughter would not want me as a sister!"

Mrs. Clarke hesitated, then answered reassuringly:

"Oh, yes, yes, when she learns how you saved my life to-day, Roma
cannot help but love you dearly!"

The carriage stopped in front of a grand hotel, and she added:

"I want you to come in and stay all day with me, Liane, dear. I am too
nervous to be left alone, and Roma has gone to a dentist and will not
be back until late afternoon."

Liane went with her new friend into the grand hotel, and they spent a
happy day together, the tie of blood, undreamed of by either, strongly
asserting itself.

Mrs. Clarke found Liane a charming and congenial companion, as
different from selfish, hateful Roma as daylight from darkness.

In spite of her loyalty, she could not help contrasting them in her
mind, so greatly to Roma's disadvantage that she murmured to herself:

"I would give half my fortune if Roma were like this charming girl!"

She lay on the sofa and talked, while Liane stroked her aching temples
with cool, magnetic fingers, so enchanting Mrs. Clarke that she caught
them once and pressed them to her lips.

"I love you, dear, you are so sweet and noble. Bend down your head,
let me kiss you for saving my life!" and Liane's dewy lips gave the
longed-for caress so fervently that it thrilled the lady's heart with
keen pleasure. How cold and reluctant Roma's lips were, even in her
warmest, most deceitful moods.

But ere the day was far advanced Edmund Clarke suddenly burst in upon
them, pale with anxiety lest wicked Roma had already harmed his gentle
wife.

He was astonished when he found her in company with Liane Lester.

Explanations followed, and surprise was succeeded by delight.

He was so sure that Liane was his own daughter that he longed to clasp
her in his arms, kiss her sweet, rosy lips, and claim her for his own.

But he did not dare risk the shock to his delicate, nervous wife.

"I must wait a little, till I can get proof to back up my assertion,"
he decided, so his greeting to Liane, though grateful and friendly, was
repressed in its ardor, while he thought gladly:

"Thank Heaven! She has won her way, unaided, to her mother's heart,
and that makes everything easier. I shall not have to encounter her
opposition in ousting Roma from the place so long wrongfully occupied."

"Do you know what I am thinking of, Edmund, dear?" said his wife. "I
wish to adopt Liane for a daughter."

He started with surprise and pleasure, his fine eyes beaming:

"A happy idea!" he exclaimed; "but do you think Roma would care for a
sister?"

She hesitated a moment, then answered:

"Frankly, I do not, but I have fallen so deeply in love with this dear
girl, and she seems already so necessary to my happiness, that Roma
must yield to my will in the matter."

At this moment Liane arose, saying sweetly:

"I am your debtor for a charming day, Mrs. Clarke, but it is time for
me to go now, or my grandmother will be uneasy about me."

"Then you must promise me to come here again to-morrow morning; for I
shall never let you work for a living again. Edmund, you must send her
home in the carriage," cried Mrs. Clarke, kissing her charming guest
farewell.



CHAPTER XXVI.

TREMBLING HOPES.


Mrs. Brinkley was amazed to see Liane coming home in an elegant
carriage, and when she entered she could not help exclaiming:

"Really, my dear, I shall believe presently that you and Mistress Jenks
must be rich folks in disguise! Here was your granny receiving a visit
from a grand young lady in a carriage this morning, and now you coming
home in another one, just when I was expecting you and Lizzie to come
trudging home, afoot, from work. It's rather strange, I think, and,
coupled with your gifts yesterday, it looks like you were fooling with
some rich young man that means nothing but trifling, though I hope for
your own sake it ain't so!"

There was a sharp note of suspicion in her voice, but Liane, inured
to harshness, dared not resent it, only shrank sensitively, as from a
blow, and meekly explained the happenings of the day, giving the bare
facts only, but withholding the promises Mrs. Clarke had made, too
incredulous of good fortune coming to her to make any boast.

Mrs. Brinkley flushed, and exclaimed:

"That was a brave thing you did, my dear, and I want you to excuse me
if I hurt your feelings just now. I spoke for your own good, wishing to
be as careful over your welfare as I am over my own sister Lizzie's!"

"I understand, and I thank you!" the young girl answered sweetly,
emboldening Mrs. Brinkley to ask curiously:

"Did the rich lady whose life you saved give you any reward?"

"She asked me very particularly to return to the hotel to-morrow, and
intimated that I should not have to work for my living any more!"

"Then your fortune's made, my dear girl. Let me congratulate you,"
cried Mrs. Brinkley. "I've news for you, too. I was lucky enough to
secure two new boarders for my two empty rooms this morning."

Liane feigned a polite interest, and she added:

"One was a man, a language teacher in a boarding school. I didn't like
his looks much. He is dark and Spanish looking, but he paid my price in
advance, so that reconciled me to his scowling brow and black whiskers.
The other is a seamstress, very neat and ladylike, and I believe I
shall find her real pleasant. Her name is Sophie Nutter, and his is
Carlos Cisneros."

Liane's eyes brightened as she exclaimed:

"There used to be a lady's maid at Cliffdene named Sophie Nutter. I
wonder if it can be the same?"

"You might make a little call on her and see. Her room is next yours,
and your granny has gone out to buy some baked beans for her supper."

Liane was glad that granny had not seen her come home in the carriage,
she hated having to explain everything to the ill-natured old crone,
and she started to go upstairs, but looked back to ask:

"Who was granny's caller?"

"I don't know. She was in such a bad temper when she went away, I
didn't dare ask. The young lady was all in silk and fur, with a thick
veil over her face, but some locks of hair peeped out at the back of
her neck, and they were thick and red as copper. She stayed upstairs
with granny as much as an hour, and when she left the old woman seemed
to be perfectly devilish in her temper. Seems to me I'd be afraid to
live with her if I was you, Liane!"

"So I am, Mrs. Brinkley, but she is old and poor, and it would be
wicked for me to desert her, you know!"

"I wonder what God leaves such as her in the world for to torment good
people, while He takes away good, useful ones, that can ill be spared!"
soliloquized the landlady; but Liane sighed without replying, and,
running upstairs, tapped lightly on the new boarder's door.

It opened quickly, and there were mutual exclamations of surprise and
pleasure. It was, indeed, the Sophie Nutter of Cliffdene.

"Do come in my room and sit down, Miss Lester. I'm so proud to see you
again!" cried the former maid.

Liane accepted the invitation, and they spent half an hour exchanging
confidences.

"I saw in a Stonecliff paper that you got the prize for beauty, and
no wonder! You are fairer than a flower, my dear young lady! But, my
goodness, how mad Miss Roma must have been! By the way, I saw her
getting out of a carriage here to-day, and she was closeted with your
granny an hour in close conversation. Does she visit you often?"

"She has never been here before. I cannot imagine why she came, but I
dare not ask granny unless she volunteers some information," confessed
Liane, as she started up, exclaiming: "I hear her coming in now, so I
will go and help her make the tea!"

"Bless you, my sweet young lady, you deserve a better fate than living
with that cross old hag!" exclaimed Sophie Nutter impulsively.

She was surprised when Liane turned back to her and said with a sudden
ripple of girlish laughter:

"Sophie, suppose my lot should change? Suppose Mrs. Clarke should do
something grand for me in return for saving her life to-day? Suppose
I were rich and grand, which it isn't likely I shall ever be! Could I
employ you for my maid?"

"Yes, indeed, my dear Miss Lester, and I should be proud, and grateful
for the chance to serve such a sweet, kind mistress!" cried Sophie
earnestly.

"Thank you, and please consider yourself engaged, if the improbable
happens!" laughed Liane, in girlish mockery, as she hurried out,
meeting in the hall a dark-browed stranger, from whom she started back
in dismay as he passed scowlingly to his room.

It was no wonder Liane recoiled in fear and dislike from Carlos
Cisneros, the new boarder.

The sight of his somber, scowling face, with its dark beard, recalled
to her that night upon the beach when Devereaux had saved her from a
ruffian's insults.

For it was the selfsame face that had scowled upon her in the moonlight
that night. It had terrified her too much ever to be forgotten.

He had evidently recognized her, too, from his start of surprise, and
the angry bow with which he passed her by.

Trembling with the surprise of the unpleasant rencounter, Liane
hastened to seclude herself within her own rooms.

Granny Jenks had just entered, and she was still in the vilest of
humors, glaring murderously at Liane, without uttering a word, and
giving vent to her temper by banging and slamming everything within her
reach.

Liane, gentle, sorrowful, patient, her young heart full of the
happenings of the day, and tremulous hopes for the morrow, moved softly
about, laying the cloth for tea on the small table, and helping as much
as the snapping, snarling old woman would permit.

The sight of her humility and patience ought to have melted the hardest
heart, but Granny Jenks was implacable. She only saw in the lovely
creature a rival to Roma, and an impediment that must be swept from her
path.

Most exciting had been the interview that day between granny and her
real granddaughter, and they had mutually agreed that Liane's continued
life was a menace not to be borne longer. The beautiful, injured girl
must die to insure Roma's continuance in her position.

When Roma left the house a devilish plot had been laid, whose barest
details almost had been worked out, and the beautiful schemer's heart
throbbed with triumph as she swept out to her carriage.

She had not noticed, on entering the house, a dark, scowling face at
the parlor window, neither did she guess that, while she was with
granny, the new boarder went out and slipped into the carriage,
unobserved by the driver, calmly remaining there and awaiting her
return.

When she entered the carriage and seated herself, looking up the next
moment to find herself opposite Carlos Cisneros, she opened her lips
to shriek aloud, but his hand closed firmly over her lips, and his
hoarse voice muttered in her ear:

"Scream, and your wicked life shall end with a bullet in your heart,
adventuress, false wife, murderess!"

The driver, unaware of his double fare, whipped up his horses and drove
on, while the strange pair glared fiercely at each other, the man
hissing savagely:

"I don't know how I keep my hands from your fair white throat,
murderess, unless I am lenient because I remember burning kisses you
once gave me before your false nature turned from me, and you fled from
the school, where you had wedded the poor language teacher secretly
while I lay ill of a fever. Cruel heart, to desert me while I was
supposed to be dying!"

"A pity you had not died!" she muttered viciously between her red lips,
and he snarled:

"It is not your fault that I am living! When I found you, after long,
weary search, at Cliffdene, that night, and you toppled me so madly
over the cliff, I am sure you meant to kill me!"

"Yes, I cannot see how I failed!" she muttered.

"If you wish to know, the explanation is easy. I was picked up more
dead than alive by a passing yacht, and carried to the nearest town,
where I spent weary months in a hospital from the blow I had received
on my head in falling over the bluff. I have but lately recovered, and
came here and found a position to teach in a school."

"You had wisely concluded to give up your pursuit of me?" she sneered.

"Yes, discouraged by the warm reception I got from you at Cliffdene;
but, fate having thrown you across my path again, I believe I ought to
make capital of it. You are my wife secretly, and you tried to murder
me. Both are dangerous secrets. Perhaps you would pay me well to keep
them?"

"I suppose that I must do so?" Roma answered, after a moment's
hesitancy, with bitter chagrin.

"Very well. I will take what money you have about you now, and I must
know what terms you will make for my silence. A liberal allowance
monthly would suit me best."

Roma emptied her purse into his hands, saying:

"If we agree upon terms of silence, will you promise never to molest me
again? Not even if I marry another man!"

"I promise! And I pity the fellow who gets you, if you treat him as you
did me!"

"The less you say on that subject the better! Do not forget that you
persuaded an innocent schoolgirl into a secret marriage, that she was
bound to repent when she came to her sober senses," she cried bitterly.
"But there, it is too late now for recriminations. I hoped you were
dead, but, since you are not, I wish only to be rid of you!"

"You can buy my silence!" replied Carlos Cisneros, so calmly that she
congratulated herself, thinking:

"He is not going to be dangerous, after all."

Aloud, she said:

"I will arrange to send you a monthly allowance of fifty dollars, the
best I can do for you! Will that satisfy your greed?"

"It is very little, but I will accept it," he replied sullenly.

"Very well; now leave me, if you can do so without attracting the
driver's attention. I shall be leaving the carriage at the next
corner," she said, and he obeyed her, springing lightly to the ground,
and disappearing.

"He was not very violent, thank goodness!" sighed Roma, believing that
as long as she paid him he would not betray her dangerous secrets; but
bitterly chagrined that he was not dead, as she had believed so long.

"Perhaps I can compass that later!" she thought darkly, as she gave the
order to the driver for Commonwealth Avenue.

She had determined to call on Lyde Carrington, with whom she had a
society acquaintance, in the hope of seeing Jesse Devereaux again.

Mrs. Carrington received her with graceful cordiality, and Roma
proceeded to make herself irresistible, in the hope of getting an
invitation to remain a few days.

"I shall have to remain in Boston several days to have my teeth treated
by a dentist, but mamma is compelled to return to Cliffdene to-night. I
think of sending for my maid to cheer my loneliness," she said.

"Come and stay with me," cried Lyde, falling into the trap.

She knew that Jesse had been engaged to the dashing heiress, and
amiably thought that their near proximity to each other might effect a
reconciliation.

She had a shrewd suspicion of Roma's object in coming; but she did not
disapprove of it; she was so anxious to see him married to the proper
person, a rich girl in their own set. She knew he was romantic at
heart, and secretly feared he might make a mésalliance.

But even while she was thinking these thoughts she remembered Liane,
and said to herself:

"If my pretty glove girl were rich and well-born, I should choose her
above all others as a bride for my handsome brother!"



CHAPTER XXVII.

WHEN HAPPINESS SEEMED NEAR!


Granny Jenks, after great bustling about and clattering of dishes, sat
down at last to copious draughts of strong tea, flavored with whisky.

"Oh, granny, aren't you taking a drop too much?" ventured Liane
apprehensively.

"Mind your own business, girl. I'll take as much as I choose! Ay, and
pour some down your throat, too, if you don't look out!"

Liane drank her tea in silence, while the old woman went on angrily:

"I want that forty dollars you kept back from me, girl, and I mean to
have it, too, or give you a beating!"

This was a frequent threat, so Liane did not pay much heed, she only
gazed fixedly at the old hag, and said:

"Granny, suppose I were to go away and leave you forever, do you think
you could be happy without me?"

"Humph! And why not, pray?"

Liane sighed, and answered:

"I was just thinking how I have been your slave, beaten and cuffed
like a dog for eighteen years, and I was wondering if in all that time,
when I have been so patient and you so cruel, if you had in your heart
one spark of love for your miserable grandchild!"

"Eh?" cried granny, staring at her fixedly, while Liane continued:

"Ever since I could toddle I have labored at your bidding, fetching
and carrying, with nothing, but scoldings and beatings in return, and
not a gleam of sunshine in my poor life. You have not shown me either
mercy or pity; you have made my whole life as wretched as possible, and
I have sometimes wondered why Heaven has permitted my sufferings to
continue so long. Now, I have a strange feeling, as if somehow it was
all coming to an end, and I wonder if you will miss me, and regret your
unnatural conduct, when I am gone out of your life forever?"

She spoke with such sweet, grave seriousness that the old woman
regarded her earnestly, noting, as she had never closely done before,
the beauty and sweetness of the young eyes turned upon her with such
pathetic solemnity.

"Maybe you mean to run away with some rascal, like your mother!" she
sneered at length.

"I was not thinking of any man, or of running away, granny; only, it
seems to me, there's a change coming into my life, and I am going out
of yours forever!"

"Do you mean you're going to die?"

"No, granny, I mean that I shall be happy, after all these wretched
years; that my starved heart will be fed on love and kindness, and I
want to tell you now that if Heaven grants me the blessings I look for,
I shall leave you that forty dollars as a gift, for then I shall not
need it," returned Liane solemnly.

"Better give it here, now; you might forget when your luck comes
to you. And--and, you ain't never going to need it after to-night,
anyway!" returned granny, with a ghastly grin.

"No, I prefer to wait till to-morrow!" the young girl answered, with
a sudden start of fear, for the glare the old woman fixed on her was
positively murderous.

She got up, thinking she would go down and see if Lizzie had returned
from her work yet; but granny sprang from her chair and adroitly turned
the key in the lock, standing with her back against the door.

Liane's eyes flashed with impatience.

"Let me out, granny!" she cried. "This is not fair!"

"Give me that money!" grumbled the hag, with the tone and look of a
wild beast.

"I--I--Mrs. Brinkley put it in a savings bank for me!" faltered Liane,
bracing herself for defense, for her startled eyes suddenly saw murder
in the old woman's face.

She felt all at once as if she would have given worlds to be outside
that locked door, away from the deadly peril that menaced her in the
beastly eyes of half-drunken granny.

She was not a coward. Yesterday she had faced death bravely for Mrs.
Clarke's sake, and would have given her life freely for another's; but
this was different.

To be murdered by the old hag who had blasted all her young life, just
as her hopes of happiness seemed about to be realized, oh, it was
horrible! Unrelenting fate seemed to pursue her to the last.

She drew back with a gasping cry, for the old woman was upon her with
the growl of a wild beast and the well-remembered spring of many a
former combat, when the weak went down before the strong.

Liane, who had always been too gentle to strike back before, now
realized that she must fight for her life. Granny intended to kill her
this time, she felt instinctively, and silently prayed Heaven's aid.

She opened her lips to shriek and alarm the household, but granny's
skinny claw closed over her mouth before she could utter a sound, and
then a most unequal struggle ensued.

Liane was no match for the old tigress, who scratched, and bit, and
tore with fury, finally snatching up a club that she had provided for
the occasion, and striking the girl on her head, so that she went down
like a log to the floor.

Granny Jenks snarled like a hyena, and stooped down over her mutilated
victim.

She lay white and breathless on the floor, her pallid face marked with
blood stains, not a breath stirring her young bosom, and the fiend
growled viciously:

"Dead as a doornail, and out of my pretty Roma's way forever!"

Suddenly there came the loud shuffling of feet in the hall, and the
pounding of eager fists on the locked door.

Granny Jenks started in wild alarm. She realized that the sounds of her
struggle had been heard, and regretted her precipitate onslaught on
Liane.

"I should have waited till they were all asleep; but that whisky fired
my blood too soon!" she muttered, as, paying no heed to the outside
clamor, she dragged the limp body of her lovely victim to the inner
room, throwing it on the bed and drawing the covers over it, leaving a
part of her face exposed in a natural way, as if she were asleep.

She was running a terrible risk of detection but nothing but bravado
could save her now.

She dimmed the light, and returned to the other room, demanding:

"Who is there? What do you want?"

Several angry voices vociferated:

"Let us in! You are beating Liane!"

At that she snarled in rage and threw wide the door, confronting Mrs.
Brinkley and her sister, with the two new boarders.

"You must be crazy!" she exclaimed. "I was pounding a nail into the
wall to hang my petticoat on, and Liane is asleep in the bedroom. If
you don't believe me, go and look!"

They did not believe her, so they tiptoed to the door and peeped
inside, and there, indeed, lay the girl, seeming in the dim half light
to be sleeping sweetly and naturally.

"You can wake her if you choose, but she said she was very tired, and
hoped I would not disturb her to-night," said artful granny coolly,
though in a terrible fright lest she be taken at her word.

They retreated in something like shamefaced confusion, leaving granny
mistress of the situation.

"What made you so sure she was beating the girl?" asked Carlos Cisneros
of Sophie Nutter, who had raised the alarm.

"I used to know them at Stonecliff, where they lived, and she beat her
there, poor thing, so when I heard the noise I thought she was at her
old tricks again!" replied Sophie, going back downstairs to the parlor,
where she had been looking at Mrs. Brinkley's photographs.

The language teacher followed her, and as he was rather handsome, and
knew how to be fascinating with women, he soon gained her confidence,
and found out everything she knew about Stonecliff, even to the cause
of her leaving Roma Clarke's service. His eyes gleamed with interest as
she added earnestly:

"Although I have seen Mr. Devereaux alive since, and they tell me I
was raving crazy that night, still I can never be persuaded that I did
not see Miss Clarke push a man over the bluff to his death."

She was astounded when he answered coolly:

"You were not mistaken, but the man was not Devereaux. It was another,
who held a dangerous secret of hers, so that she wanted him dead."

Sophie looked at him suspiciously.

"Did you see her push him over the bluff as I did? Ugh! That horrible
scene! It comes before me now, as plain as if it was that night!" she
shuddered.

She was amazed when he answered:

"I was the man she tried to drown!"

He was secretly delighted that there had been a witness to Roma's
crime. It made his hold upon her that much firmer.

He added, in reply to Sophie's gasp of wonder:

"I was saved by a passing yacht, and put in a hospital, where I nearly
died from a wound on my head."

Sophie gasped out:

"And--and aren't you going to punish the hussy?"

His eyes flashed, but he answered carelessly:

"Well, not just yet!"

"Shall you ever?"

"Wait and see," he replied. "Can you imagine what brought her into this
house to-day?"

"I cannot. I suppose she knew Granny Jenks at Stonecliff; but I am sure
she hated sweet Liane, because she carried off the beauty prize over
her head."

Carlos Cisneros gleaned all he could from Sophie, but he gave her no
further information about himself, content with making a very good
impression, indeed, on Sophie's rather susceptible heart.

Meanwhile, upstairs, granny, having locked the door with a stifled
oath, dropped down on the rug, and lay for long hours in a drunken
stupor, while the dreary night wore on.

Suddenly, as the bells hoarsely clanged four in the morning, granny
started broad awake, shivering with cold in the fireless room, and sat
up and looked about her, whimpering like a startled child:

"Liane! Liane!"

A sudden comprehension seemed to dawn upon her, and, getting up
heavily, she stalked into the inner room.

The dim lamp was burning low, casting eerie shadows about the room, and
she walked over to the bed, where she had thrown something the evening
before.

The ghastly thing lay there still, just as she had placed it with the
coverlid drawn up to the chin, the silent lips fallen apart, the eyes
a little open and staring dully, as granny placed her skinny claw over
the heart, feeling for a pulsation.

There was none. She had done her work well. Her victim--the victim
of eighteen years of most barbarous cruelty--lay pale and motionless
before her, the mute lips uttering no reproach for her crime.

The old woman gazed and gazed, as if she could never get done looking,
and then her face changed, her lips twitched, she blinked her eyelids
nervously, and sank down by the bed, overcome by a sudden and terrible
remorse.

"My God! What have I done?" she groaned self-reproachfully.

Far back in granny's life was a time when she had been a better woman.
It seemed to return upon her now.

She groped beneath the coverlid for Liane's cold, stiff hand.

"Liane, little angel, I am sorry," she muttered. "I would bring you
back if I could! Oh, why did the foul fiend send her here to tempt me
to the damnation of this deed? But she is safe now! Roma is safe now!
And she has promised that I shall not miss Liane's labor."

A new thought struck her. It would soon be day, and she must hasten to
hide the evidence of her crime.

She started up nervously, and busied herself searching Liane for
the coveted money, but not finding it, she began other necessary
preparations.

It was that dismal hour that comes before the dawn, when she stole
through Mrs. Brinkley's dark halls and passed like a shadow through the
side door, escaping safely into the street with a shawled and hooded
burden that must be safely hidden from the sight of men.

Lightly and softly fell the cold December snow, covering up the
footprints of the skulking woman; but they could not blot the dark
stain of crime from her black soul.

Dawn came slowly, and broadened into perfect day, and in the Brinkley
house the household stirred and went about accustomed tasks. Soon
granny's voice went snarling through the open door, calling shrilly
downstairs:

"Liane! Liane!"

Lizzie White answered back from the kitchen:

"She is not here!"

Then granny tapped on Miss Nutter's door.

"Is that lazy baggage in here?"

"I have not seen her since last night," answered Sophie, and presently
the house rang with granny's cries of anger and distress.

All went in haste to her rooms, and she reported that Liane had
certainly run away, as she had many times threatened to do. All her
clothes and little trinkets, together with her little hand bag, were
missing.

Granny's blended anger and grief were so superbly acted that her simple
listeners did not doubt her truth.

Mrs. Brinkley, thinking of the fine presents Liane had received from
some unknown admirer, secretly doubted the story the girl had told her,
and confided to Lizzie her belief that she had indeed eloped, and would
most likely come to a bad end.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A SWORD THRUST IN HIS HEART.


A hopeless love must always evoke pity in a generous mind. Devereaux
could not help being touched when he found Roma installed as his
sister's guest, and comprehended that it was love for himself that had
brought her there.

Men, even the bravest and strongest, are pitiably susceptible to
woman's flattery. Roma's persistent love, faithful through all
the repulses it had received, was a subtle flattery that touched
Devereaux's heart, cruelly wounded by Liane's rejection, and made him
think better of himself again.

Roma brought all the batteries of her fascination to bear on her
recreant lover that first evening, and he submitted to be amused with
charming grace, that thrilled her with renewed hope.

Mrs. Carrington, too, lent her womanly aid to further the little
byplay she saw going on between the estranged lovers. She knew that
propinquity is a great thing in such a case, and believed that
a reconciliation was certain. Of course, she did not know that
Devereaux's heart belonged to Liane, or she would not have been so
confident.

Roma telegraphed for her maid the next morning, fully resolved to make
the most of her visit, and after breakfast, when she saw Devereaux
preparing to go out, in spite of her blandishments, she asked him to
call on her mother at the hotel, and tell her that she would be Mrs.
Carrington's guest during her short stay.

She was more than ever determined to marry the young millionaire now,
and thus make her position in life secure, even if by any untoward
accident she should be ousted from her place as the Clarkes' daughter
and heiress.

Devereaux promised to do as she asked, and sallied forth, in reality
tired of Roma's company, though too polite to show it.

About the middle of the day he called at Mrs. Clarke's hotel to convey
Roma's message, and was surprised to find her father there also.

They greeted him most cordially, and Mrs. Clarke exclaimed:

"Is it not tedious, waiting by the hour for a caller who never comes?"

"Do you mean your daughter?" he asked, hastening to deliver Roma's
message.

"Then she has not heard of my accident yet?" exclaimed the lady.

"No!" he replied, and with unwonted animation she hastened to pour out
the whole story of yesterday.

She did not spare herself in the least, frankly describing her pride
and hauteur.

"I will not deny that I was vexed and jealous, and hated her because
she had rivaled Roma for the beauty prize," she confessed. "I am
ashamed of it now, and bitterly repented after learning her angelic
sweetness and nobility of heart."

Devereaux's heart thrilled with joy at these generous praises of lovely
Liane, and he listened in eager silence to all Mrs. Clarke had to say,
glad, indeed, that she proposed to adopt the girl, but wondering much
if Roma would agree to the plan.

"So, then, it is Miss Lester you are awaiting?" he said, with a
quickened heart throb.

"Yes; and I think it most strange that she has not kept her promise to
come here early this morning. If I knew her address, I should have gone
long ago to her house, but, unfortunately I forgot to ask it," sighed
Mrs. Clarke, while her husband listened to everything with a glad,
eager face.

"I wrote you, Mr. Clarke, two days ago, sending you her address, which
I had myself just discovered," said Devereaux, looking at him.

"That is very strange. I did not receive it."

"Perhaps it had not been delivered when you left home."

"Perhaps so."

"And," pursued Devereaux, with a crimson flush mounting up to his brow
at thought of seeing the dearest of his heart again, "if I can serve
you in doing so, I will go and bring Miss Lester here to see you. It
may be her excessive modesty that keeps her away."

They fairly jumped at his offer, and he hurried away, most eager,
indeed, to do them this favor, glad in his heart of this grand
opportunity for poor Liane.

Mrs. Clarke looked at her husband, with a half sigh tempering her soft
smile.

She exclaimed:

"He is in love with that charming girl! Could you not see it? Alas, for
my poor Roma!"

"Roma scarcely deserves our sympathy in the matter. She lost him by
her own folly," Mr. Clarke replied impatiently, and the subject was
dropped. He did not care to discuss Roma with his heart full of his own
dear child.

Meanwhile Devereaux took a carriage to Liane's humble abode, full of a
joy he could not repress at thought of seeing Liane again.

But he sighed to himself:

"I shall feel guilty in her presence, because I was indirectly the
means of her losing Malcolm Dean! Ah, had she but loved me instead,
what happiness would be mine instead of this aching loneliness of
heart."

When he alighted at Mrs. Brinkley's door and rang the bell, the small
family, excepting a servant, was out, and a neat maid answered the ring.

"Miss Lester?" with a comprehensive grin. "Oh, sir, she beant here! She
runned away last night with her beau!" she exclaimed.

It was like a sword thrust quivering in his heart, those sudden words.
He grew pale, and stared at her, muttering:

"Impossible!"

"But, sir, it's true as gospel! And her poor granny is in a fine taking
over it, too. She says as how Liane was cruel to go off so, and leave
her in poverty to end her days in the poorhouse!"

"Where is the old woman? I should like to see her," he said dismally,
hoping for some light.

"She's out, sir, looking for the girl, swearing to kill the man as
persuaded her off."

"And the family?"

"All out, sir. Mrs. Brinkley went to market, and her sister Lizzie to
the store, where she and Liane worked."

Devereaux pressed a dollar into the good-natured servant's hand, and
stumbled back to the carriage, almost blind with pain from this sudden
stroke of fate.

The servant looked after him with mingled wonder, admiration, and
gratitude, and describing him afterward to the family, exclaimed:

"The prettiest man I ever saw in my life--coal-black eyes and hair,
straight nose, dimple in his chin, slim, white hands, diamond ring,
good clothes, fit to kill! He must 'ave been another of Liane's beaus,
for, when I told him she had eloped, he turned white as a corpse, and
kind of staggered, like I had hit him in the face. But he didn't forget
his company manners, for he bowed like a prince and put a whole silver
dollar in my hand as he went back to his carriage."

"That sounds like Jesse Devereaux, Miss Clarke's lover!" cried Sophie
Nutter, and Mrs. Brinkley said quickly:

"Well, Liane knew that man, and was in love with him, but he snubbed
her with the proudest bow I ever saw, one day when we passed by his
grand home on Commonwealth Avenue."

"So he lives on Commonwealth Avenue!" remarked Carlos Cisneros, with
a flash of his somber, black eyes. He was thinking of the house he
had followed Roma's carriage to yesterday--the palatial mansion on
Commonwealth Avenue.

"So she is there at my rival's house, and she dares to think I will
let her marry him! And I have two scores to settle with the handsome
Devereaux!" he thought.

Devereaux could scarcely believe the terrible news.

He hoped there might be some mistake, and he determined to go to the
store and see if she might not be there.

But there were no pansy-blue eyes smiling over the glove counter, but a
pair of sparkling black ones, whose owner smiled.

"Miss Lester? No; she is not here to-day. I cannot tell you anything
about her; but there's her friend, Miss White, you can ask
her--Lizzie!"

Lizzie White hurried forward, but she could tell him no more than he
had already heard.

She wondered whom the handsome stranger could be, but she was too timid
to ask his name, only she thought within herself that he must surely be
in love with Liane, he was so pale and disturbed looking.

It seemed to her that he was most loath to accept the theory that the
girl had gone away with a lover.

"Is there no possibility she has run away alone to escape her
grandmother's cruelty?" he insisted.

Lizzie said she could not tell, she had never heard Liane mention any
man's name, but she had been more confidential with her mother.

"Could you--would you--tell me her lover's name?" he pleaded; but
Lizzie answered that it would not be right to betray her friend's
confidence.

"He was a rich young man, and not likely to marry my poor friend," she
added sorrowfully, and after that admission he could extract no more
from Lizzie.

With a sad heart he returned to the Clarkes' with his ill news.

Mr. Clarke was terribly excited:

"I will not believe she has gone with any man! I should sooner believe
that that old hag has made way with the girl! Give me the address,
Devereaux, and I will go and wring the truth from her black heart,
if you will stay and cheer my wife while I am gone!" he exclaimed,
springing up in passionate excitement.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE BRIDAL.


Dolly Dorr arrived duly that afternoon at the Devereaux mansion, her
little head full of fancies as vain as Roma's--both dreaming of winning
the same man.

But when Dolly saw her hero's magnificent home her hopes began to fall
a little. She began to comprehend that there were heights she could not
reach. Miss Roma would be sure to get him back now--of course, she had
come there for that purpose.

Dolly felt as angry and disappointed as was possible to one of her
limited brain capacity, but she hid her feelings and tried to attend to
her various duties as Roma's maid.

She saw that her mistress was subtly changed since she had left
Cliffdene. A harrowing anxiety gleamed in her eyes, and when they were
alone Roma was more irritable than she had ever seen her before.

The reason was not far to seek. Jesse Devereaux had returned a while
ago with news that nearly drove her mad.

It was the story of her mother's rescue yesterday by Liane Lester, and
the consequent resolve to adopt Liane as a daughter.

Roma listened to him with the most fixed attention; she did not move or
speak, but sat dumbly with her great, shining eyes fixed on his face,
drinking in every word with the most eager attention.

Inwardly she was furious, outwardly calm and interested, and at the
last she said, with marvelous sweetness:

"You have almost taken my breath away with surprise. So I am to have a
sister to dispute my reign over papa's and mamma's hearts! How shall I
bear it?"

He was astonished at the equanimity she displayed. She had a better
heart than he had thought.

"So you do not care?" he exclaimed curiously.

"What does it matter whether I care or not? No one loves poor Roma
now!" she sighed, with a glance of sad reproach.

The conversation had taken a reproachful turn, and he adroitly changed
it.

"But I had not told you all. Your parents' good intentions must come
to naught, for the reason that Miss Lester went away mysteriously
last night, and the cause of her disappearance is supposed to be an
elopement."

"Oh! With whom?"

Roma's attempt at surprise was not very successful.

"No one knows," he replied, and she exclaimed:

"How sorry poor mamma will be!"

"And you?" he asked curiously.

Roma had drawn so close to him that she could speak in an undertone.
She locked her jeweled fingers nervously together now in her lap, and
lifted her great eyes to his, full of piercing reproach, murmuring
sadly:

"It does not matter to me either way, Jesse. I have lost interest in
everything, now that you have turned against me!"

It was most embarrassing, her pathetic grief, and it touched his manly
heart with deepest pity.

"My dear girl, I am sorry you take our estrangement so hardly! Believe
me, I have not turned against you, as you think. I am still sincerely
your friend," he answered, most kindly.

But the great red-brown eyes searched his face with passion.

"Oh, Jesse, I do not want your friendship! I want your love--the love
I threw away in the madness of a moment! Give it back to me!" she
cried, with outstretched hands pleading to him.

Impulsively he took one of the jeweled hands in his, holding it
nervously yet kindly while he said:

"It is cruel kindness to undeceive you, Roma, but I cannot let you go
on hoping for what can never be! You never had my heart's love, Roma.
It was only an ephemeral fancy that is long since dead. I thought you
wished to flirt with me, and I entered into it with languid amusement.
Somehow--I never can quite understand how--I drifted into a proposal.
I regretted it directly afterward, and realized that my heart was not
really interested. You broke our engagement, and I was glad of it.
Forgive my frankness and let us be friends!"

But her face dropped into her hands with a choking sob, her whole
frame shaking with emotion, and he could only gaze upon her in silent
sympathy, feeling himself a brute that he could not give the love she
craved.

Roma remained several moments in this attitude of hopeless grief, then,
rising with her handkerchief to her eyes, glided slowly past him--so
slowly that he might have clasped her in outstretched arms had he
chosen.

But he remained mute and motionless, sorrow and sympathy in his heart,
but nothing more.

Sobbing forlornly, Roma passed him by, and went to her own room.

There Dolly had an exhibition of her imperious temper, culminating in a
threat to slap her face.

Dolly's quick temper flamed up, and she retorted fiercely:

"Slap me if you dare, and I'll leave your service on the spot! Yes, and
I'll go and tell Mr. Devereaux the fate of his letter to Liane Lester,
too! I--I--wish I hadn't never had anything to do with you, either. I'm
sorry I treated sweet Liane so mean! She was a heap nicer than you!"

Roma turned around quickly, holding out a pretty ring with a little
diamond in it.

"Don't leave me, Dolly; at least, not yet," she sighed mournfully.
"I'm sorry I was cross to you. Forgive me, and let's be friends again.
Take this little ring to remember me, for I shall never need it after
to-night!"

"What do you mean, Miss Roma?" cried the girl, slipping the ring
coquettishly over her finger, but Roma threw herself face downward on
a sofa without replying.

Dolly went into another room to arrange the clothes she had brought
her mistress, and to admire herself occasionally in a long pier glass,
and so the time slipped past, and in the gloaming Roma's voice called
faintly:

"Dolly!"

"Yes, miss."

Roma was standing up, very pale, very tragic-looking, by the couch, in
her hands a letter and a tiny vial of colored liquid.

"Dolly, you are to take this letter to Mr. Devereaux and ask his sister
to come with him to my room. Tell them both I have swallowed poison,
and shall be dead in a few minutes!"

Dolly snatched the letter and ran shrieking from the room, while Roma
sank back on the couch, her eyes half closed, her face death-white, the
vial of poison, half drained, clasped in her fingers.

Devereaux tore open the letter, and read the single line it contained:

"I cannot live without your love! I have taken poison!"

He and Mrs. Carrington almost flew upstairs after hurriedly telephoning
for a physician.

They knelt by her couch, reproaching her for her rashness, declaring
that they had sent for a physician to save her life.

"It is useless. I will not take an antidote. I am determined to die!"
she replied stubbornly, and looked at Devereaux reproachfully, while
Lyde caught her hands, exclaiming:

"Oh, Jesse, why couldn't you love her and make up with her, so that she
needn't have been driven to this?"

Encouraged by this outburst of sympathy, Roma whispered audibly in her
ear:

"If he would only make me his wife, I could die happy!"

"Do you hear?" nodded Lyde to her brother.

"Yes."

"I have dreamed of it so long. I have loved him so well, I cannot be
happy even beyond the grave unless I can call him my husband once
before I die!" sobbed Roma piteously, and by her labored breathing and
spasms of pain it seemed as if each moment must be her last.

"Give her her dying wish lest she haunt you!" whispered the nervous,
frightened Lyde.

Roma's sufferings grew so extreme that his reluctance yielded to pity.
He bowed assent, and hurried from the room to summon a minister.

The physician entered in haste, but Roma repulsed him.

"Stand back! I will not take an antidote! I am already dying!" she
screamed.

He caught the vial from her fingers.

"How much have you taken?"

"The bottle was full--and you see what is left!"

"Then God have mercy on your soul. I am powerless to save you from your
own rash act, poor girl, even if you permitted me to try. Why have you
done this dreadful thing?"

"A quarrel with my lover!"

"Yes, it is true," sobbed Lyde. "She and Jesse quarreled, and she
rashly swallowed the poison."

She added chokingly:

"They--they--are going to be married presently. Please stay to the
ceremony."

Jesse Devereaux entered at that moment with a minister.

Roma was moaning in pain, her eyes half closed.

"Can you do nothing, doctor?"

"Alas, no! She must be dead in a few minutes!"

He bent down and took her hand.

"Are you ready, Roma?"

"Oh, yes, yes! Heaven bless you, dear!"

The ceremony began in its simplest form, the minister standing close
by the couch to catch the faint responses of the dying girl. They were
uttered clearly and audibly, with a faint ring of joy in the accents,
very different from Devereaux's low, reluctant tones:

Then the minister said solemnly:

"I pronounce you man and wife!"



CHAPTER XXX.

BEFORE THE DAWN.


None could envy Edmund Clarke's feelings as he hastened on his way to
find out the fate of the fair girl he believed to be his daughter!

He could not credit the story of her elopement.

Harrowing suspicion pointed to the probability that Roma, having found
out the truth about herself, had hurried to Boston to have the real
heiress put out of the way.

What more likely than that the wicked girl had intercepted Jesse's
letter containing Liane's address and made capital of it to further her
own evil ends?

The man shuddered as he realized what a fiend he had cherished as his
daughter. He realized that it was the old fable of warming a viper in
the bosom that stings and wounds the succoring hand.

Roma could never come under his roof again. Her vile attempt on his
life and Doctor Jay's precluded such a possibility.

But he groaned aloud as he thought of having to break all the truth to
his frail, delicate wife--unless he should be able to first find Liane
and get the proofs of her real parentage.

With a trembling hand he rang Mrs. Brinkley's bell, starting back in
surprise when it was answered by no less a person than Sophie Nutter.

"Mr. Clarke!" she faltered, in blended surprise and pleasure.

"Sophie!" he exclaimed, following her into the little parlor, as she
said:

"Come in, sir. All the folks are out but me, and I must say I am
as much surprised to see you here to-day as I was to see Miss Roma
yesterday."

Artful Sophie, she distrusted Roma, and took this method to find out if
he knew of his proud daughter's goings-on.

"Roma here yesterday!" he exclaimed, in a voice of agony, feeling all
his suspicions confirmed.

"Yes, sir, she was here to see old Mistress Jenks yesterday, and spent
an hour with her!" returned Sophie quickly, scenting some sort of a
sensation in the air.

She saw him grow pale as death, and he almost groaned:

"Liane? Where was she?"

"At her work, sir, at the store."

"Where is she now?"

"It is thought she has run away with some rich young man, sir. She is
missing this morning, and all her clothes gone!"

"The old woman--where is she? I must see her at once!"

"Lordy, sir, the poor old creature ain't here this afternoon. She went
out to look for Liane, vowing to kill the fellow that persuaded her
away!"

Mr. Clarke had always liked Sophie when she was a member of his
household. Her kind, intelligent face invited confidence.

"Do you think that her distress was genuine, or was she playing a
part?" he asked, adding: "To be frank with you, Sophie, I have a deep
and friendly interest in Liane Lester, and I suspect foul play on the
old woman's part."

It needed but this to make Sophie pour out all that she knew of the
old hag's cruelties to Liane up to last night, when the sounds of a
supposed scuffle had penetrated to her ears, causing the family to
intrude on the old woman en masse, to find that granny had only been
driving a nail, and that Liane was asleep in bed.

"You saw her asleep?" he asked.

"Yes; we all tiptoed to the door, and she lay peacefully in bed, with
the covers drawn up to her chin."

"You are sure that she was breathing?" he asked hoarsely.

"Why, no, sir--but--my God, do you think there could have been anything
wrong?" cried Sophie, alarmed by his looks.

He answered in a voice of anguish:

"I suspect that you were looking at the corpse of sweet Liane; I
suspect that the noise you heard was old granny beating her to death,
and that she has hidden the dead away, and put out a hideous lie to
account for her disappearance!"

Sophie was so terrified that she burst into violent weeping.

But Edmund Clarke's face wore the calmness of a terrible despair. He
felt now that Liane had been foully murdered, and that nothing remained
to him but to take the most complete vengeance on her murderers.

He exclaimed hoarsely:

"Do not weep so bitterly, my good girl; tears will not bring back the
dead. All that remains to us now is to take vengeance on her enemies.
To do this we must find proofs of their crime. Come with me, and let us
search Granny Jenks' room."

It was not hard to break open the locked door, and they went into the
gloomy apartments, Sophie opening the window and letting in a flood of
light.

Then she saw what had escaped their eyes last night--stains of blood on
the bare, uncarpeted floor. In the bedroom, the pillow where Liane's
head had rested last night was also marked by red stains that told in
their own mute language the story of a terrible crime.

Their horrified eyes met, and he groaned:

"It is as I told you! She was murdered, sweet Liane! Oh, I will take a
terrible vengeance for the crime!"

Sophie replied with heartbroken sobbing, and they remained thus several
moments, shuddering with horror in the bare, fireless room.

But not a tear dimmed the man's eyes. He was stricken with despair
that lay too deep for tears. His heavy eyes wandered about the room,
lighting on a small black trunk in a corner.

"If I could only find the proofs!" he muttered, and unhesitatingly
broke the lock, scattering the contents out upon the floor.

It was filled with yellowing relics of a bygone day, and he turned them
over rapidly, saying to Sophie:

"I am searching for something to prove a suspicion of mine--a suspicion
of a deadly wrong!"

She dried her eyes and looked on with womanly curiosity, while he
picked up and shook a little red box in the bottom of the trunk.

A dozen or two trinkets and letters fell out on the floor, and he
searched them eagerly over, lighting at last on a slender golden
necklace belonging to an infant.

He held it with a shaking hand, saying to Sophie:

"See this little clasp forming in small diamonds the word 'Baby'? It
belonged to my wife in infancy, and when our little Roma was born she
clasped it on her neck."

"And Granny Jenks has stolen it!" she cried indignantly.

"Worse than that! She stole also the child that wore it!" he answered,
with a burst of the bitterest despair.

His heart was breaking with its burden of concealed misery, and
Sophie's eager, respectful sympathy drew him on till he could not
resist the temptation to tell her all, sure of her sympathy.

It was like reading a novel to Sophie--the story of the lost babe,
the spurious one substituted, and all that had happened since to the
present moment.

"Oh, my dear sir, I believe you are quite right! Sweet, beautiful Liane
was surely your daughter, while as for the other, she never had the
ways of a lady, for all her grand bringing up, and she had the same
cruel spirit like granny, always wanting to beat any one who displeased
her. She slapped my face several times when I was her maid, and maybe
you know, sir, that I left her service because I saw her push a man
over the cliff one night."

"I have heard it whispered that you fancied something of the kind. My
wife said you were crazy," returned Mr. Clarke.

"Crazy--not a bit of it, sir! It was God's holy truth! I can show you
the man! He escaped the death she doomed him to, and lives in this very
house!" cried Sophie, glad that she could defend herself.

"I should like to see the man!" cried Clarke, who was eager to get all
the evidence possible against Roma.

"He will be coming in directly from his school," cried Sophie; and,
indeed, at that moment a step was heard in the hall, and the dark,
bearded face of the new boarder appeared passing the door.

"Come in!" called Sophie imperatively, and as he obeyed: "Mr. Clarke,
this is Carlos Cisneros, the man Miss Roma pushed over the bluff."

Cisneros bowed to the stranger and scowled at the informer.

"Why did you betray my confidence?" he cried threateningly.

"Because I knew you wanted to get your revenge on her, and this man
will help you to it."

The two men glared at each other, and Mr. Clarke asked:

"Why did she thirst for your life?"

"I held a dangerous secret of hers, and she believed me dead. When I
hunted her down and threatened to betray her, she tried to kill me. She
pushed me over the bluff, but I was picked up by a passing yacht, and
my life was saved."

"What was that secret?"

"She has promised to pay me richly for keeping it," sullenly answered
the man.

"She cannot keep her promise, because she is not my daughter at all,
but an adopted one, and, finding out that she has attempted many
crimes, I shall cast her off penniless."

"That alters the case. If she cannot pay me for holding my tongue, I'll
take my revenge instead," answered Carlos Cisneros, with flashing eyes.
"Sir, Roma is my wife. We were married secretly at boarding school.
Then she tired of me and went home, while I was ill. When I hunted her
down she attempted to murder me!"

Suddenly they were startled by a tigerish snarl of rage.

Granny, creeping catlike along the hall, came suddenly upon the open
door, and the group within her room.

She staggered over the threshold, and glared like a tiger in the act of
springing.

Mr. Clarke, still holding the shining necklace in his hand, cried
bitterly:

"Miserable murderess, you are detected in your crimes! Here is the
proof in my hand that you are the fiend that stole my infant daughter
from her mother's breast, and made her young life one long torture!
Here upon the floor and the bed are the blood stains that prove you
murdered my child last night. My God, I only keep my hands off your
throat so that you may tell me what you have done with my precious
dead!" his voice ending in a hollow groan.

The detected wretch crept closer to Cisneros, whining:

"Don't let him kill me! I know I deserve it, but don't let him kill me!"

"Tell him the truth, then!" cried Cisneros, who, although not a very
good man himself, was astonished at the story he had heard, and felt a
keen disgust for the repulsive, whining old creature.

"What is it you want to know?" she muttered, gazing fearfully at Clarke.

"Was not Liane Lester my own child?"

"Yes, I s'pose it's useless to deny it, now that you've found your
baby's necklace in my trunk."

"And the girl I adopted as my daughter is your grandchild?"

"Yes--but you'll have to keep her now, and give her all your gold. You
won't never find Liane no more!" she muttered, with a cunning leer, as
of one demented.

"Tell me why you stole my child!"

"It won't do you any good to find out now. She won't never come back
any more!" she muttered stubbornly.

He groaned in anguish, but reiterated:

"I insist on having the truth. Answer my question."

"Tell him the truth, you she devil!" growled Cisneros, pinching her arm
as she huddled closer to his side.

She whined with pain, but she was mastered; she did not dare persist in
her obstinacy.

So she whimpered:

"My daughter Cora stole the baby from your wife's breast, and she loved
it so that I daren't take it away, lest she should die. So I let her
keep it, and when her own child came she wouldn't never have naught
to do with it, but clung to the other one, poor, crazy thing! So I
thought I would raise them as twins, but when Doctor Jay sent me to get
one from the foundling asylum in its place, the devil tempted me to
keep your baby because Cora loved it so, and I put my own grandchild
in your wife's arms, hoping you wouldn't find out the truth, and that
Cora's child would be a great rich lady. My poor girl went stark mad,
and they put her in the crazy asylum for life, but I was ashamed of the
disgrace. I told every one she had run away again to be an actress.
And I kept the baby to work for me till it grew a great girl, with
a face like an angel, and a heart like an angel, too, but somehow I
always hated her, because I had a bad heart!"

"And then your grandchild found out the truth, and came and told you to
kill Liane?" cried her accuser.

"How did you know that?" she demanded, shrinking in deadly fear.

"No matter how. You know it is true."

The light of mingled madness and defiance glared out of the woman's
eyes. She growled:

"Well, I had to do it when she told me. Roma always would have her way,
just like Cora, her mother! I said I hated to do it, the girl was such
a lamb; so sweet, so gentle; but you cannot take Roma's place from her
now, since Liane's dead: though I hated to do it, she was such a little
angel."

Sophie Nutter burst into violent sobbing, Mr. Clarke's lips twitched
nervously so that he could not speak, but Cisneros, with flashing eyes,
exclaimed:

"So you killed the sweet angel, you fiend from Hades! Well, I hope you
will swing for your diabolical crimes! A dozen lives like yours would
not pay for one like hers! Come, now, we want to know where you hid her
body."

She glanced at him resentfully, answering, to his surprise:

"They may hang me if they want to! I don't love my life since I killed
Liane! I miss her so, sweet lamb, I miss her so! I thought I hated her,
and I used her cruelly, but when she was dead, when I saw the blood on
her white face, I loved her! I kissed her little cold hand. I told her
I was sorry I had done it, and wished I could bring her back to life!
She was good to me, little angel, and I hate Roma because she made me
kill her! I told her it was not right to kill her, but she hounded me
to it! Now she can keep Liane's place at Cliffdene, but I don't want to
see her any more. Cruel, wicked Roma, that made me a murderess!"

She rocked her body miserably to and fro, maundering hoarsely on, while
Sophie's vehement sobbing filled the room as she recalled last night,
when she had looked her last on Liane's still, white face, cruelly
fooled by the old woman's lies.

Mr. Clarke cried, with fierce, despairing anger:

"No more of this paltering, woman! Tell us where to find Liane's body!"

To his joy and amazement, the half-crazed woman answered:

"Roma told me to throw her in the river or the sewer, but she was so
sweet I could not do it! I hid her in an old cellar, very dark and
cold, and when I begged her to speak to me, she opened her sweet eyes
again! Come with me, and I will show you!"

Almost afraid to hope that she spoke the truth, they followed the
half-crazed woman to an old unoccupied house several blocks away, and
there, indeed, they found Liane, faintly breathing and half frozen,
lying on the floor of a cold, dark cellar, half covered with some
scraps of carpet that granny had laid over her in her late repentance.

Again Sophie's passionate sobs broke out, echoed dismally by granny,
who muttered pleadingly:

"Don't take her from me if she lives; don't give me Roma to live with!
I hate her now, the wicked wretch, and I'd rather have my little angel,
Liane! I'll never beat her again; no, never! Do you hear me promise,
Liane?"

But there was no recognition in the half-open eyes of the poor girl,
as they searched their faces, and, pushing granny sharply aside, Edmund
Clarke took up his daughter in his arms and bore her back to Mrs.
Brinkley's, while Carlos Cisneros was sent in haste for a physician.

Granny, seeming to have no fear of arrest for her dreadful crimes,
hovered anxiously about, eager as any to aid in undoing her evil work.

Liane was laid in Sophie's soft white bed, and the girl said tenderly:

"I will nurse her myself, and no one knows better than I how to care
for her, for I used to be a nurse in a hospital."

"Keep the old woman out," said Mr. Clarke sternly, and she went back to
her own rooms, sobbing like a beaten child.

The doctor was soon on the scene, and he looked very grave, indeed,
when he had made his examination.

"It is a serious case," he said. "There has been a severe blow on the
head that stunned her, and all her faculties are benumbed. How long
this state will last I cannot tell, but I hope I shall bring her around
all right."

Mr. Clarke rejoiced exceedingly at even this small ray of hope, and,
engaging the doctor to remain until his return, set out impatiently to
Devereaux's house to tax Roma with her crimes.

He was burning with impatience. He could not wait, he was so eager to
tell wicked Roma the truth that all her schemes had failed, and that,
by Heaven's good mercy, Liane would be restored to her parents' hearts,
while she, the wicked usurper, would be driven out to live with the old
hag who had helped her in her nefarious plot against his daughter's
life.

He took with him Carlos Cisneros, and, unknown to them both, Granny
Jenks followed in their wake, cunningly curious to see how Roma took
her downfall.

At nightfall they reached the Devereaux mansion, just a few moments
after the ceremony that had made Roma the wife of the young
millionaire. Indeed, Lyde and the other two witnesses had just
withdrawn from the apartment, on Roma's request to be left alone with
her husband.

She looked up at him with shining, love-filled eyes, murmuring:

"Please kneel down by me, Jesse, so that I may put my arms around your
neck and die with my head upon your breast."

He pitied the rash girl so much that he could not refuse her anything
in her dying hour. He obeyed her wish, and held his arm around her with
her bright head on his bosom, expecting every moment to be her last.

But the minutes flew, and Roma showed not a sign of dying. Instead, her
breathing was very strong and regular, and she tightened her arms about
him, exclaiming:

"Oh, my husband, would you be glad if life could be granted to me now,
that I might live, your happy bride?"

"Do not let us dwell on the impossible, Roma," he answered kindly.

"But why impossible, Jesse, dearest? I am not really certain of dying.
I do not feel like it now, at all, and perhaps the dose I took was not
really sufficient to kill me! Now that I am your wife, it seems as if a
new elixir of life is coursing through my veins, and I long to live for
your precious sake! Oh, surely you do not wish me to die!"

Here was a dilemma, certainly. Jesse Devereaux, holding the warm,
palpitating figure in his arms, did not know how to answer her piteous
appeal, and he was saved the necessity, for at the moment the door
opened, admitting Lyde, followed by Edmund Clarke, with granny, who
had forced herself in, bringing up the rear.

Lyde had told him hurriedly what had happened, and he had asked to see
Roma; hence the intrusion.

The bride still clung fondly to her husband, and when they entered, she
exclaimed, in strong, natural accents:

"Papa, dear, congratulate us. We are married."

"So I have heard," he replied, with keen sarcasm, adding: "I was told
that you were dying, but you do not look much like it. Your cheeks are
red, your eyes bright and clear, and your voice does not falter."

Roma actually laughed out softly and triumphantly, saying:

"I have just told my dear husband that I do not feel like dying at all,
and that love and happiness have given me a new elixir of life."

Edmund Clarke would have spared exposing her if it had been really her
dying hour, but he saw that she had grossly deceived Devereaux, so he
returned, with bitter sarcasm:

"As you feel so strong and happy, I have some exciting news to break to
you."

"News, papa?" sweetly.

"Do not call me papa," he answered bitterly. "You know well that I am
not related to you, and that your discovery of the truth has caused
you to attempt the most heinous crimes to keep my real daughter from
coming into her birthright. I am here to tell you that your plot to
kill Doctor Jay and myself has been discovered. Your attempted murder
of Liane Lester came near success, but, happily, she has revived, and
Granny Jenks, your wicked grandmother, has confessed that you were
substituted in her place, and that Liane is my own child!"

"Heavens!" cried Devereaux, his arms falling from around Roma; but she
clung to him, exclaiming passionately:

"I am your wife! No matter what he charges, I am your wife; do not
forget that, Jesse!"

"And no doubt you pretended that you had swallowed poison, just to
entrap him in your toils!" cried Edmund Clarke scornfully, while
Devereaux, looking at her as she clung to him, exclaimed:

"Is this true, Roma?"

Her eyes flashed with defiance as she answered, rising, quickly:

"Yes, it is true. I only swallowed some colored water to frighten you
all, and to make you marry me, because I loved you so dearly! You must
forgive me, my darling husband, for you cannot alter anything now!"

He recoiled from her touch with loathing, and Mr. Clarke broke in:

"Do not trouble yourself over her words, Jesse, for she has no claim
upon you. She has already a living husband--one whom she tried to
murder, to put him out of her way, but he is here to testify to the
truth of my words."

Through the open door stepped the wronged husband with a manly air,
saying to startled Roma:

"Every man's hand is against you but mine, Roma, and even my heart
recoils at your wickedness; but I love you still, and if you will
repent of your sins and promise to lead a better life, I will take you
back, and our old dream of a dramatic life shall be fulfilled."

It was a noble touch in the life of a man who had not been very good,
but who was at least Roma's superior in everything, and she could not
help but recognize it.

Beaten, foiled, in everything, she turned to the man she had wronged,
saying:

"It is worth all the rest to find such a constant heart."

She laughed mirthlessly, mockingly, and left the room, scowling as she
passed at Granny Jenks, huddled against the door, holding back her
skirts from contact with her granddaughter, while she muttered: "I
don't love you any more, and I wish never to see you again. I am going
back to Liane."



CHAPTER XXXI.

WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLLED BY.


It was Christmas morning at Cliffdene, and snow lay deep upon the
ground, while the boom of the sea, lashed into fury by howling winter
winds, filled the air, but within all was light, and warmth, and joy.

A few days ago the Clarkes had come home, with their daughter Liane
restored to health after weary weeks of illness and nervous prostration
from her terrible beating at Granny Jenks' hands and the subsequent
exposure in the cold cellar.

They called her Liane still, because the name of Roma was associated
with so many unpleasant things that they had no wish for her to bear it.

Mr. Clarke had spent a thrilling hour making clear to his wife all the
happenings of the past eighteen years, but she had borne the shock
better than he expected. Her love for Roma, never as strong as the
maternal love, though carefully fostered, died an instant death when
she heard the story of the girl's terrible crimes. Bitter tears she
shed, indeed, but they were for her own daughter's sufferings in those
cruel years while she had been kept back from her own.

"We will make it up to her, my darling, by devotion now," cried her
husband, kissing away her tears; then they hastened to the bedside of
Liane, for she could not be moved yet from her humble abode.

After several days of unconsciousness she began to improve, and in a
week was able to have the truth carefully broken to her by her own
mother, who with Sophie Nutter shared the task of nursing her back to
health. Doctor Jay was sent for to assist with his medical skill, and
great was his joy to find her restored to her own, and so beautiful
and worthy, in spite of the rearing she had had from brutal granny,
the miserable old hag, who was so crushed by the contempt and scorn of
every one that she sought consolation in the bottle and drank herself
to death in a week, expiring miserably in a hospital.

As soon as Liane was well enough to see a visitor Mrs. Carrington
called.

"Do you remember me, my dear?" she asked, and Liane murmured:

"I sold you gloves."

"Yes, and fascinated me at the same time. I have been in love with you
ever since."

Lyde wondered at the sudden blush on the girl's cheek as Liane thought
within herself that she would be glad if Lyde's brother only loved her
also.

As for him, of course, she did not see him till she left her room, but
flowers came for her every day--great red roses, breathing the language
of love--and on the day before they went to Cliffdene, her devoted
mamma said:

"Dear, if you feel well enough, I should like you to send a kind little
note to Jesse Devereaux, thanking him for the flowers he has been
sending every day."

"I will write," Liane replied, with a blush and a quickened heartbeat,
and her fond mother added:

"Jesse is a fine young man, and admires you very much."

When he received the note, so neatly and gracefully written, without a
mistake in wording or spelling, Devereaux was puzzled.

It was certainly not like the writing of the letter in which she had
rejected him. He concluded that her mother or her maid Sophie had
written it.

"Poor girl, she will have to have private instructors to repair the
defects in her education," he thought.

A few days before Christmas the Clarkes bade a kind farewell to
the good-natured Mrs. Brinkley and Lizzie White, and returned to
Stonecliff, whither the news had preceded them in letters to friends.

Devereaux was at the station to bid them farewell, and by the most open
hinting he managed to secure from Mrs. Clarke an invitation to spend
Christmas with them at Cliffdene.

He arrived on Christmas morning, and was presently shown into the
holly-wreathed library, where Liane was sitting alone, exquisitely
gowned in dark-blue silk, from which her fair face arose like a
beautiful lily.

Devereaux's greeting was joyous, but Liane was cold and constrained.
She could not forget how he had snubbed her in Boston when she was only
a poor working girl.

But they had not exchanged a dozen words before they were interrupted
by the unexpected entrance of Dolly Dorr.

Dolly had been staying at her own home ever since Roma's flight with
her husband, and she had been having a hard battle with her conscience,
which culminated in the triumph of the right; hence her presence here
to-day.

Dolly made her little curtsy, and began bashfully:

"Miss Clarke, and Mr. Devereaux, I have wronged you both, and I have
come now to try to make amends."

They gazed at her in silent surprise, and she hurried on, eager to tell
her story and escape their reproachful eyes:

"Miss Liane, when you went away to Boston, I got a letter addressed
to you from the post office, and Miss Roma opened it, and we read it
together. Then she bribed me to answer it, and I guess Mr. Devereaux
has the ugly letter she made me write. Here's yours, and--please
forgive me. I am sorry I behaved so badly," tossing a letter into
Liane's lap and flying precipitately from the apartment.

Liane opened the letter bewilderedly, and read, with Devereaux's eager
eyes upon her face, and her cheeks scarlet, his passionate love letter
and proposal of marriage. As she finished, he said eagerly:

"I received a rejection in answer to that letter, but, Liane, dearest,
may I ask you to reconsider it?"

Her lovely eyes met his in a happy, eloquent glance, and, springing to
her side, he wound his arms about her, drawing her close to his breast,
while their yearning lips met in a long, clinging kiss.


THE END.



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Transcriber's Notes:


Added table of contents.

Italics are represented with _underscores_, bold with =equal signs=.

Page 8, Changed "ben" to "been" in "had been substituted."

Page 31, Retained possible typo (or uncommon spelling) "torquoise."

Page 84, corrected "cirrcumstances" to "circumstances" ("circumstances
leave me").

Page 91, added missing quote after "bear good witness for us."

Page 95, corrected "slipppd" to "slipped" ("slipped readily into her
pocket").

Page 121, removed unnecessary quote after "no difference in the result."

Page 134, changed ligature to "oe" in "manoeuvring" (ligature retained
in HTML version).

Page 135, removed unnecessary quote after "pretty, petted girl."

Page 149, "dying down to Boston" seems like an error but is reproduced
as printed.

Page 174, added missing comma in "It was my own, granny."

Page 180, corrected "presenty" to "presently" ("presently he realized").

Page 190, corrected "aristrocrat" to "aristocrat."

Page 193, removed unnecessary quote after "pale and thin."

Page 194, added missing quote after "her whereabouts!"

Page 196, added missing quote after "confiding in you, Dean!"

Page 211, removed unnecessary comma from "and whip her."

Page 212, added missing quote after "fiendish Nurse Jenks."

Page 224, changed ? to , after "door on retiring."

Page 229, changed ? to . after "Wait till I question you on the
subject."

Page 234, added missing quote after "and sobbing all night."

Page 263, corrected "clatttering" to "clattering" ("clattering of
dishes").

Page 277, corrected "Leslie" to "Lester" in "Miss Lester you are
awaiting."





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Pretty Maid - or, Liane Lester" ***

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