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Title: Wayfaring Men - A Novel
Author: Lyall, Edna
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.

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WAYFARING MEN

A Novel

By Edna Lyall

Author of “Doreen,” “Donovan,” “We Two,” “To Right the Wrong,” etc., etc.

_“Every man’s task is his life-preserver. The conviction that his work
is dear to God and cannot be spared, defends him.”_

--Emerson

New York

Longmans, Green, and Co.

London And Bombay

1896


               Thou goest thine, and I go mine,

                   Many ways we wend;

               Many days, and many ways,

                   Finding in one end.

               Many a wrong, and its curing song;

                   Many a road, and many an inn;

               Room to roam, but only one home

                   For all the world to win.”

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0007]



WAYFARING MEN



CHAPTER I


               “So is detached, so left all by itself,

               The little life, the fact which means so much.

               Shall not God stoop the kindlier to His work,

               Now that the hand He trusted to receive,

               And hold it, lets the treasure fall perforce?

               The better; He shall have in orphanage

               His own way all the clearlier.”

                        R. Browning.

“I wonder what will become of Ralph Denmead,” said Lady Tresidder, “it
is one of the saddest cases I ever heard of; the poor boy seems to be
left without a single relation.”

“Yes,” said Sir John, musingly. “Just the way with these old decayed
families, they dwindle slowly away and then become extinct. There was
no spirit or energy in poor Denmead, the man was a mere hermit and
knew nothing of the world or he wouldn’t have made such a mull of his
affairs.”

“Yet Ralph seems to have the energy of ten people,” said Lady Tresidder,
glancing as she walked at the river which wound its peaceful way through
the park and reflected in the afternoon light the early spring tints of
the wooded bank on its further side. At no great distance a boat glided
swiftly over the calm water: in the stern sat a dark-haired, handsome
girl of nineteen, while the vigorous little rower seemed to be not more
than eleven.

“Poor little chap,” said Sir John, “he is terribly cut up about his
fathers death. I wish we could have kept him here a few days longer,
but it’s better that he should be put at once into his guardian’s hands.
There’s no fear that Sir Matthew Mactavish will not do all that’s right
for him, if only for the sake of his own reputation.”

“I suppose he is a very charitable man,” said Lady Tresidder.

“Oh, yes, extremely charitable, and very well thought of. For myself,
I frankly own I don’t like the way in which he mixes up speculation and
philanthropy, and I’m not at all sure that he was always a good adviser
to poor Denmead. But he’ll be kind enough to Ralph I’ve no doubt. The
boy is his godson, and Denmead was one of his oldest friends. By the
bye he was to be at the Rectory by five o’clock, and the boy ought to
be there to receive him. They had better be landing, and Mabel can drive
him to Whinhaven in the pony chaise.”

He began to make vigorous signals to the occupants of the boat, who
somewhat reluctantly came ashore and slowly mounted the rising ground to
the house.

“Come in and have some tea while they are putting in Ranger,” said Lady
Tresidder, kindly. “Sir John thinks you ought to be at the Rectory when
your guardian arrives, and Mab will like a drive with you.”

Ralph grew grave at the thought of a return to the desolate Rectory
with its darkened windows and awful stillness; he sighed as he followed
comfortable motherly Lady Tresidder into the drawing-room where flowers
and well-used books and a cosy tea-table, and some needle work, just put
aside, gave a curiously homelike air to the whole place.

“Come and sit by me,” said his hostess in that friendly voice which more
than anything helped him to forget his troubles. And perhaps it was the
thought of the hard future confronting him which made Lady Tresidder
glance so often at the little fellow who had outgrown the stage for
petting, and who in spite of his smallness was really thirteen, innocent
and ignorant of the world, and with a touch of the chivalrous gentleness
of manner that had characterised his father, but in other respects just
a high spirited, enthusiastic, hungry boy.

His honest brown eyes grew less wistful as he waded blissfully through
the huge slice of Buzzard cake with which Mabel had provided him, but he
found the goodbyes hard to say, all the harder because of the kindness
he received. It was only afterwards, as they drove up the steep hill
in the park, and turned for a last look at the river, that he could
remember without a choking in his throat, Lady Tresidder’s motherly
kiss, and Sir John’s kindly farewell and cheery words about future
visits, and the half sovereign with which he had “tipped” him.

There had been no particular reason why the Tresidders should have
been so good to him. Sir John was not the Squire of Whinhaven, indeed
Westbrook Hall was not even in his father’s parish: but they had been
practically Ralph’s only friends ever since he could remember and some
of his happiest hours had been spent with Mab, who being many years his
senior and a country girl of the best sort, had been able to teach him
to ride and drive, to fish, to row, and to care for animals as devotedly
as she herself did.

Mab had a frank, hail fellow well met manner which contrasted rather
curiously with her beautiful womanly face and delicately chiselled
features; the world in general considered her somewhat off-hand and
brusque, but she had in her the makings of a very noble woman, and the
boy owed much to her companionship. They were very silent as they drove
through the park, but it was the comfortable silence of friends who
have perfect confidence in each other. Ralph seemed to be looking
with wistful eyes at every familiar turn of the road; his eyes rested
lingeringly on the grey walls of the house down below, and the gleaming
silvery river, and the old hawthorn bushes, and the fine old chestnut
trees.

“Mab,” he said at length, “may we stop for a minute, and just see the
bullfinches? Look, there is one of them out of the nest and trying to
fly; the cat will get hold of it.”

“Why, to be sure,” said Mab. “Will you care to take it with you to
London? It is fledged and I think you could rear it. Would you like it?”

“Rather!” said Ralph emphatically. “And I have a cage at home that would
do for it.”

So the young bullfinch was carefully placed in a covered basket, and
half an hour later Mabel Tresidder put down the two forlorn young things
at the door of Whin-haven Rectory wondering how they would prosper in
life.

A severe-looking old housekeeper came out at the sound of the wheels.

“So you’ve come back, Master Ralph,” she said looking him over
critically to see that he was clean and presentable. “That’s a good job,
for Sir Matthew has been here ten minutes or more, and the lawyer from
London with him. Are you coming in, Miss?” she added glancing with no
great favour at Miss Tresidder, and calling to mind how often in past
days she had led Ralph through bush and through brier to the great
detriment of his clothes.

“No, I will not come in,” said Mab, “and this is not my real good-bye
to you, Ralph, for I shall stay and speak to you to-morrow morning after
the service.”

She waved her hand to him, and drove swiftly off, while old Mrs. Grice
muttered something uncomplimentary about “new-fangled” ways, and not
liking females at a funeral.

Ralph, meanwhile, had carefully hidden away the basket containing the
bullfinch, and now stood in the little hall with a heavy heart. The
quiet of the house was terrible, and the low murmur of strange voices in
the study accentuated the misery and desolateness, which seemed to grow
more and more oppressive every moment.

“For goodness sake!” exclaimed old Mrs. Grice, “don’t stand there
staring at nothing, like a tragedy actor, but go in and make yourself
agreeable to the gentlemen; wait a bit, wait a bit, your hair’s all
rumpled up, not seen a brush since the morning, I’ll be bound.”

Ralph, made meek by his misery, obediently turned into the room to
the right of the door, his own special sanctum where he had worked and
played ever since he could remember, and having brushed his wavy brown
hair into a state of immaculate order went slowly back once more to the
silent little hall which was not even enlivened now by the presence of
old Mrs. Grice. Nothing was to be heard save the ticking of the clock
and the low murmur of voices from the adjoining room, not a creature was
there to take compassion on the shy desolate boy. He looked up at the
black representation of Lord John Harsick and Katharine his wife, which
hung upon the wall above the old oak chest, and the tears started to his
eyes as he remembered how he had helped his father to mount this rubbing
from a brass, some two or three years before. The stately old couple
stood there holding each others’ hands, he fancied that they looked
down on him with a sort of pity because he was left so utterly alone. He
stood hesitatingly on the threshold of the study, dreading to enter, but
at length impelled to move by a worse fear.

“If they come out and catch me here they’ll think I’m eavesdropping!” he
thought to himself, and therewith manfully turned the handle, and walked
in.

The study was in reality the drawing-room of the Rectory, a pretty room
with a verandah and French windows opening on to it, and upon one side
of the fireplace there was a cosy little recess where the Rector had
been wont to keep his choicest flowers, and where the light from
a little western window fell upon the marble bust of a sweet-faeed
woman--the mother whom Ralph could remember just in a vague dreamy
fashion. Seated now at his father’s writing-table was an old gentleman
with a kindly, astute face, and remarkably thick white hair. Standing
with his back to the fireplace was a middle-aged man whom Ralph at
once recognised from the photographs he had seen as his godfather, Sir
Matthew Mactavish.

He looked up anxiously into the shrewd Scottish face, with its reddish
hair just touched with grey, its keen steel-coloured eyes, its somewhat
wrinkled forehead and ready smile. It was a powerful and an attractive
face, but with something about it curiously different to the faces to
which Ralph had been accustomed; the genial country squires, and the
country parsons had nothing in common with this brisk, managing man of
the world.

“Well, my boy,” he said with a kindly greeting, “I’m glad to see you.
You’ll not remember me for you were but a little fellow when I was last
here. Let me see, they call you Raphe, don’t they?”

“Not Raphe, but Ralph,” said the boy, and into his mind there darted
the recollection of a scene that had once been funny but now seemed
pathetic, of a discussion upon his name between his father and two old
antiquaries, and of how one of them had patted him on the head with the
gruff-voiced injunction, “If any one calls you ‘Raphe’ tell him he’s a
fool.”

It was impossible to call such a man as Sir Matthew a fool, and the boy
turned to greet the lawyer, and was surprised to find that unlike the
typical solicitor of fiction he was a very noble looking man of the old
school, gentle and courtly in manner, and evidently understanding how
embarrassing the interview must be to a lad of thirteen.

“Sit down, Ralph,” said Sir Matthew, motioning him to a chair, “there
are several things I must talk to you about.”

Ralph obeyed, not without a curious sensation at being ordered about in
his own home by a perfect stranger. “Mr. Marriott and I,” resumed his
godfather, “have been looking into your father’s affairs on our way
from London, and as a matter of fact they were pretty well known to me
before. I grieve to say, my boy, that he has left you quite unprovided
for.”

“I--I knew,” said Ralph, “that father had lost a great deal of money
lately--it was through some company that failed: he told me he never
would have speculated, but he wanted very much to make money and send
me to Winchester and then to Oxford; he couldn’t do that, you know, only
out of the living. But he blamed himself for having done it; he said it
was no better than gambling.”

Sir Matthew had paced up and down the room restlessly during this
speech, he seemed to be moved by it, and it was the lawyer who first
broke the silence. “You are happy,” he said to Ralph, “in having the
memory of a father who was just enough to recognise his own mistakes,
and noble enough to confess them. Be warned, my boy, and never in the
future dabble in speculation.”

Sir Matthew returned to his former position on the hearthrug. “In the
meantime,” he said with displeasure in his tone, “his more useful study
will be how to live in the present.”

“That,” said Mr. Marriott gravely, “is a matter which you, Sir Matthew,
will no doubt help him to consider.”

Ralph, with a child’s quick consciousness that something lay beneath
these words which he did not altogether understand, glanced from one to
the other in some perplexity. He saw that Sir Matthew was angry with the
lawyer, and that the lawyer disapproved somehow of Sir Matthew.

“I wish Mr. Marriott had been my godfather,” he thought to himself. “I
like him twice as well. Sir Matthew orders one about as though he bossed
the whole world.”

And then, as often happens, he was forced to modify his rather severe
criticism of his godfather, for Sir Matthew with a genuinely kind glance
drew him nearer, and laying a hand on his shoulder, said in the most
genial of voices:

“Don’t you be afraid, my boy, I’ll see you through your trouble. Leave
everything to me. We’ll have you a Wykehamist as I know your father
wished, and then make a parson of you, eh?”

“Oh no, thank you,” said Ralph, “I couldn’t be a clergyman, I don’t want
to be that at all.”

“Eh! What! you have already some other idea? Come tell me, for it’s a
real help to know what a boy’s tastes are.”

“I want to be an actor,” said Ralph quietly.

“What!” cried Sir Matthew. “Go on the stage? Oh, that’s just a passing
fancy. No gentleman can take up play-acting as a profession. No, no, I
don’t send you to Winchester to fit you for such a trumpery calling as
that. If you’ll not be a parson what do you say to trying for the Indian
Civil Service? I’m much mistaken if you have not very good abilities,
and for a man who has to make his own way in the world, why India is the
right place.”

“I should like to go to India,” said Ralph, thinking of certain tales of
jungle life and thrilling adventures with man-eating tigers that he had
lately read.

“Very well,” said Sir Matthew briskly, “that’s decided then. To
Winchester for six years, then a choice of the Church or the Indian
Civil Service. There’s your future my boy, and I will see you fairly
started in life whichever line you choose. To-morrow you shall come back
with me to London, so run off now and let them get your things together,
and Mr. Marriott and I will make all the necessary arrangements with
regard to your father’s effects.”

Not sorry to be dismissed, Ralph made his way upstairs, where he found
the housekeeper already busy with his packing. She made him collect what
few possessions he had, two or three pictures, some tools, some books
and a toy boat; but what she termed “the rubbish,” such as bird’s
eggs, mosses, fossils, imperfect models of engines, and such like, she
entirely declined to handle. “The rubbish” must be left, and Ralph with
an odd sinking of the heart, as he remembered how short was the time
remaining to him, began his sad round of farewells. He stole quietly up
to the attic from which the harbour could best be seen, and watched the
stately ships going into port. Then he walked through the garden with
lingering steps; he had worked in it with his father so long and so
happily that every plant was dear to him; to leave it just now in this
May weather, when the Gloire de Dijon on the south wall was covered with
exquisite roses, when the snapdragons, which as a little fellow he had
delighted in feeding with spoonfuls of sugar and water, were just coming
into flower, when the bedding-out plants, which but three weeks ago they
had planted were actually in bloom--this was hard indeed! Could it be
only three weeks since that half-holiday when, with no thought of coming
trouble, they had worked so merrily together?

Passing through the green lauristinus arch he paced slowly on between
the strawberry-beds now white with blossom. That Saturday had been their
last really happy day, for the next morning’s post had brought the news
of his father’s great losses, and though the Sunday’s work had been
struggled through, the Rector had never been the same again, the
burdened look had never left his face.

Ralph thought it all over as he rested his arms on the little iron gate
leading into the glebe, his eyes wandering sadly over that distant view
which he had always loved, with its stretch of gorse and heather, and
to the right the beautiful woods of Whinhaven park, just now in the full
perfection of their spring tints. Well, it was all over now, and the
place was to pass into the hands of strangers, and somehow he must get
through his goodbyes. Making his way to the stable, he flung his arms
about the neck of old Forester the pony, choked back a sob in his throat
as he unfastened Skipper the Irish terrier, and picking up in his arms
a scared-looking white cat, ran at full speed down the drive, across the
common, with its golden gorse and dark fir trees, until he reached the
coastguard station. Beneath the flag-staff, with a telescope tucked
under his arm, there stood a cheery-looking official in trim reefer and
gold-laced cap. It was Langston--the head of the coastguard station, and
one of Ralph’s best friends.

“I have come to say good-bye, for to-morrow I’m going to London,” said
the boy hurriedly. “And I want to give you Skipper, if you care to
have him. He’s of a very good breed, father said, and he’s an awfully
friendly dog. And if you had room for Toots as well I should be awfully
obliged. I know he’s not worth anything, and ever since Benjamin was
lost Toots has been sort of queer, always mewing and roaming about
looking for him. But T think if you buttered his feet he would stay, and
he’s a real good mouser.”

Langston promised to adopt both dog and cat, but he would not allow all
the giving to be on one side. He went into his house and returned in a
few minutes with a little pocket compass.

“I’ll ask you to accept that, Master Ralph,” he said, as he gripped the
boy’s hand in a friendly grasp. “You’ll maybe have rough times in life,
but steer well, my lad, steer well, and be the man your father would
have had you.”

“How does one steer if one doesn’t know which is the right way to go?”
 said Ralph with a sigh.

“Why it’s then that you’ll hear your captain’s orders,” said the
coastguardsman. “Cheer up, Master Ralph, it don’t all depend on the man
at the wheel.”



CHAPTER II


               “Ill is that angel which erst fell from heaven,

               But not more ill than he, nor in worse case,

               Who hides a traitorous mind with smiling face,

               And with a dove’s white feather masks a raven,

               Each sin some colour hath it to adorn.

               Hypocrisy, Almighty God doth scorn.”

                        Wm. Drummond, 1616.

|Dinner proved a trying meal that evening, although Sir Matthew and Mr.
Marriott exerted themselves to talk, and were both of them very kind to
their small companion. Afterwards they adjourned once more to the study
where for the sake of the old lawyer a fire had been lighted.

“The nights are still cold,” he said drawing a chair towards the hearth,
and warming his thin white hands; “May is but a treacherous month in
spite of the good things the poets say of it. I understand that your
father’s illness was caused by a chill,” he added, glancing kindly at
Ralph.

“He caught cold one night when they sent for him down in the village,”
 said Ralph, tears starting to his eyes. “He was called up at two o’clock
to see a man who was dying: there was an east wind, he said it seemed to
go right through him. But then you know he had been very much troubled
because of his losses; for the last ten days he had scarcely eaten
anything, and had slept badly.”

Sir Matthew paced the room restlessly, but when he spoke his voice was
bland and calm.

“A noble end!” he said, “dying in harness like that; carrying comfort to
the dying and then lying down upon his own death-bed; a very noble end.”

Something in the tone of this speech grated on Ralph, he shrank a little
closer to the lawyer.

“Why do I hate him?” thought the boy. “He’s going to send me to
Winchester with his own money, I ought to like him, but I
can’t--I can’t!”

At that moment old Mrs. Grice appeared at the door asking to speak with
Mr. Marriott. He followed her into the hall returning in a minute or two
and approaching Ralph.

“My boy,” he said, laying a kindly hand on his shoulder, “if you want to
see your father’s face again it must be now.”

Together they went up the dimly lighted staircase to the room overhead,
Sir Matthew following slowly and with reluctance, a strange expression
lurking about the corners of his mouth. Many thoughts passed through
his mind as he stood looking down upon the still features of his dead
friend; if the pale lips could have spoken he well knew they might have
reproached him; and yet it was less painful to him to look at the stern
face of the dead, than to watch the grief of the little lad as, through
fast falling tears he gazed for the last time on his father’s face. It
was a relief to him when the old lawyer drew the boy gently away, and
persuaded him to return to the study fire.

“I will be good to his son,” thought Sir Matthew as he looked once
more at the silent form. “I will make it up to Ralph. He shall have the
education his father would have given him. And then he must shift for
himself, I shall have done my duty, and he must sink or swim. The
very sight of him annoys me, but it will be only for a few years, and,
meantime, I must put up with it.”

So Ralph for the last time slept in the only home he had ever known,
and woke the next day to endure as best he might all the last painful
ceremonies through which it was necessary that he should bear his part.
When the funeral was over he left Sir John Tresidder to talk with the
lawyer and Sir Matthew, and drew Mab away into a sheltered nook of the
walled kitchen garden where stood a rabbit-hutch.

“These are the only things left,” he said, mournfully. “Should you care
to have them, Mab? I should like them to be at Westbrook for I know
you would be good to them. Rabbi Ben Ezra is the best rabbit that ever
lived, and he’ll soon get to care for you. Sarah Jane is rather dull,
but I suppose he likes her, and she doesn’t eat her little ones or do
anything horrid of that sort like some rabbits.”

“I will take no end of care of them,” said Mab; “but it seems a pity that
you should leave them. Could you not take them with you?”

“If I were going to live with Mr. Marriott I wouldn’t mind asking
leave,” said Ralph, “but there’s something about Sir Matthew--I don’t
know what it is--but one can’t ask a favour of him. I’d far rather give
up the rabbits.”

“Perhaps you are right,” said Mab. “And by the bye Ralph, let me have
your new address, you are to live with your guardian are you not?”

“They say Sir Matthew is not exactly my guardian. But father’s will was
made many years ago and he was named as sole executor, and father wrote
to him the day before he died asking him to see to me. Here comes the
man to say your carriage is ready.”

“Very well,” said Mab. “And tell Mrs. Grice I will send over for the
rabbits. Good-bye, dear old boy. Don’t forget us all.”

She stooped down, and for the first time in her life kissed him, and
Ralph having watched at the gate till the carriage was out of sight,
suddenly felt a horrible wave of desolation sweep over him, and knew
that he could not keep up one minute longer. Running down the road he
fled through the churchyard never stopping till he found himself in a
lovely sheltered fir grove--his favourite nook in the whole park; and
here, while the nightingales, and the cuckoos, and the thrushes sang
joyously overhead, he threw himself down at full length on the slippery
pine needles that covered the warm dry ground, and sobbed as though
his heart would break. They had always called this particular nook the
“Goodly Heritage,” because whenever friends had been brought to see it
they had always said to the Rector: “Ah, Den-mead, your lines are fallen
in pleasant places.” Poor Ralph felt that this saying was no longer
true, he thought that the pleasantness had forever vanished from his
life, and the prospect of going forth into the world dependent for every
penny upon a man whom he vaguely disliked was almost more than he could
endure. The boy had a keenly sensitive artistic temperament, but luckily
his father’s strenuous endeavours had taught him self-control; he did
not long abandon himself to that passion of grief but pulled himself
together and began to pace slowly through the grove crushing into
his hand as he walked a rough hard fir-cone. And then gradually as he
breathed the soft pine scented air, and watched the sunbeams streaking
with light the dark fir trunks, and glorifying the silvery birch trees
in a distant glade which sloped steeply down to a little murmuring
brook, he realised that the past was his goodly heritage, his possession
of which no man could rob him, and in thankfulness for the home which
had been so happy for thirteen years he set his face bravely towards the
dark future.

“Waterloo, first single, a child’s ticket,” said Sir Matthew Mactavish
entering the booking-office an hour or two later.

“But I am thirteen,” said Ralph quickly.

“Then he must have a whole ticket,” said the official, and Sir Matthew
frowned but was obliged to comply.

“You are so absurdly small,” he said glancing with annoyance at his
charge as they passed out on to the platform, “you might very well have
passed for under twelve.”

Ralph felt hot all over, partly because no boy likes to be told that he
is small, partly because he was angry at being reproved for not standing
calmly by to see the railway company cheated. How could it be that a man
as wealthy as Sir Matthew could stoop to do a thing which his father
in spite of narrow means would never have thought of doing? He could
as soon have imagined him stealing goods from a shop as attempting
to defraud in this meaner, because less risky, fashion. However, Mr.
Marriott happily diverted his thoughts just then.

“Are you fond of Dickens?” he said kindly. “Have you read his ‘Tale of
Two Cities,’ or his ‘Christmas Tales?’”

Ralph had read neither, and was soon leaning baek in his corner of
the railway carriage, forgetful of all his wretchedness, cheered
and fascinated, amused and filled with kind thoughts by the story of
Scrooge, and Mar-ley’s ghost, and Tiny Tim, and the Christmas turkey.

It was with a pang of regret that he bade old Mr. Marriott farewell when
they reached London, and illogically yet naturally enough he felt far
more grateful for the parting sovereign and the kindly glance which the
lawyer bestowed on him, than for his adoption by Sir Matthew. A sense
of utter desolation stole over him as Mr. Marriott disappeared, and he
followed his guardian into a hansom and found himself for the first time
in the heart of London. To his country eyes the crowded thoroughfares,
the grim houses, the bustle and confusion, and the sordid misery seemed
absolutely hateful; it was not until they happened to pass a theatre,
and he caught sight of the name of a well known actor that his face
brightened and his tongue was unloosed.

“Oh!” he exclaimed, “does Washington act there? Is that his own
theatre?”

“Yes, to be sure,” said Sir Matthew; “you shall go some night and see
him.”

“Oh, thank you!” said Ralph rapturously; “how awfully good of you.
Father took me once to hear him at Southampton, he was playing in ‘The
Bells’ one Saturday afternoon. It was splendid; there was the dream you
know, you saw it all before you. He dreamt of the court of justice, and
all the time it was his own conscience that was killing him, and his
remorse for having murdered the traveller in the sleigh. I thought I
should have choked at the end when he believed they were hanging him; he
just says, you know, in a sort of gasp, ‘Take the rope off my neck!’ and
then he falls back dead, and the play ends. It felt so jolly to get out
of the dark theatre into the street, and to find the sun shining, and
everything as jolly as usual, and to know that all that dreadful misery
wasn’t really true.”

“Not true?” said Sir Matthew reflectively. “H’m!” He looked with a sort
of envy at the boy’s clear innocent eyes, then he turned away; whether
he were absorbed in his own thoughts or in the observation of the dingy
crowd, it would have been hard to say.

They paused at a house in Bow Street where he had to make some inquiry,
and Ralph fell into a happy dream about his latest hero the great actor,
returning with a pang to the uncomfortable present when the hansom at
length drew up at a house in Queen Anne’s Gate.

Feeling very small and desolate he followed his guardian up the broad
steps and into the imposing entrance hall.

“Wipe your shoes,” said Sir Matthew, in his brisk authoritative tone.

Ralph obediently complied, and saw somewhat to his amusement that the
same command was printed in large black letters on the mat.

“When I have a house of my own,” he reflected, “there shall be a doormat
with SALVE on it. Then the chaps will know I’m awfully glad to see them,
and that I’m not thinking first of my carpets.”

Sir Matthew, meantime, had been talking to a greyheaded butler; Ralph
only caught the closing remark: “And let someone show Master Denmead up
to the school-room.”

The butler looked at the small lonely boy in his black suit. “Fraulein
and Miss Evereld are out, sir,” he replied unwilling to send this
sad-faced little lad into the utter solitude of the upper regions.

“Oh, very well, then you had better come with me, Ralph,” said Sir
Matthew, and he led the way upstairs. The boy glanced nervously round
as they entered. This was not one of the homelike, comfortable, used
drawing-rooms such as he had grown to love at Westbrook Hall, but a
great saloon upholstered in the best style of a well-known firm, and as
lacking in soul and individuality as a Parisian doll.

There were several people present. Lady Mactavish a peevish-looking
woman with small suspicious blue eyes and a nervous manner, shook hands
with him and looked him over in a dissatisfied way as though mentally
reflecting what in the world she was to do with him.

“Janet,” she called turning to her elder daughter, “this is poor Mr.
Denmead’s son.”

Janet, a somewhat sharp-featured elever-looking girl of four-and-twenty,
came up and shook hands with him, but her cold light eyes beneath the
fringe of red hair, looked to him unfriendly. She just passed him on to
her younger sister who was enjoying a comfortable little flirtation at
the other side of the room with a middle-aged officer.

“This is Ralph Denmead, Minnie,” she said, returning to her former
place, and resuming the interrupted conversation with a lady caller.

Minnie, who was also redhaired, had a more friendly expression, she
smiled at him as she shook hands.

“Fraulein has taken Evereld to her French class, but they will soon be
home, and then they will look after you,” she said, motioning him to
a chair at some little distance from herself and the Major. It was a
modern imitation of an antique chair, very hard in the seat, very high
from the ground, and with rich carving all over the hack which made any
sort of comfort impossible. As he sat on it with his legs uncomfortably
dangling, he saw the lady who was talking to Janet put up her
long-handled eye-glass, and inspect him critically as if he had been
some strange animal at the Zoological Gardens. However small schoolboys
were not interesting, she soon put down the eye-glass and turned to Miss
Mactavish with a question which arrested Ralph’s attention.

“By the bye, have you read ‘The Marriage of Melissa’? It is the book of
the season, you must get it my dear at once, everyone is talking of it,
and it is an open secret that Sir Algernon Wyte and Mrs. Hereward Lyne
wrote it, though of course it appeared anonymously.”

“What is it? A society novel?”

“Yes, and such a plot! There’s a tremendous run upon it they say, and
wherever you go you hear people discussing it.”

Then followed a graphic account of the chief characters, and the most
difficult situations; it was a plot which made the boy’s ears tingle. He
wriggled round in his chair and tried to become interested in the vapid
talk of Major Gillot and Minnie, it was doubtless very interesting to
them, but to him it seemed the most insane interchange of bantering
compliments and teasing replies that he had ever heard. Was this love
making? he wondered. If so, they did it much better in books. It was not
in this fashion that Frank Osbaldistone wooed Di Vernon, or that John
Kidd made love to Lorna Doone.

He looked wearily across to the hearthrug where Sir Matthew was shouting
unintelligible jargon about the money market into the ear of a deaf
old Scotsman; then in desperation tried to listen to Lady Mactavish’s
grumbling voice as she related her difficulties to a soothing and
sympathetic friend.

“You are always burdening yourself with other people’s affairs,” said
the purring voice of the adept in flattery.

“Well,” said Lady Mactavish, “you see my husband is one of those men who
inspire confidence. They all turn to him naturally. And I do assure you
he has a perfect passion for adopting children. There’s this boy to-day.
To-morrow it will be some other sad case. A little while ago it was
Evereld Ewart, poor Sir Richard Ewart’s little girl. You must see her
by and bye. Yes, we have taken her in and her nurse and her German
governess. It’s been a very great anxiety to me, a great responsibility,
though I make no complaint of the child. Still one likes to have one’s
house to oneself.”

“And dear Sir Matthew,” remarked the friend, “is fast turning it into an
orphan asylum. But there it’s just like him! so noble-minded! So ready
to give and glad to distribute!”

There came a little interlude with the tea. Ralph handed about cups and
hot scones which looked very tempting he thought. But there was no cup
for him; evidently boys of his age were not supposed to feed in the
drawing-room. He returned to the mock antique chair with its bony
back and thought wistfully of the drawing-room at Westbrook Hall, and
wondered whether Mab was at this very moment finishing that particularly
good Buzzard cake to which she had so lavishly helped him yesterday. At
lunch he had been too miserable to eat, but now he was ravenous, and to
be at once hungry and lonely and unhappy was a sensation he had never
before experienced. How was he to bear this detestable new life? How was
he to take root in this uncongenial soil?

His dismal reverie was interrupted by Lady Mactavish’s voice: “Just
ring the bell, Ralph. By this time she must surely be in.” Then as the
butler appeared, the welcome news came that Miss Evereld was at that
moment on the stairs. Orders were given that she should come in at once.

Ralph looked eagerly towards the open door, and watched the entrance
of a little girl who was apparently about a year or two younger than
himself. She was dressed in a short black frock trimmed with crape, but
nothing else about her was mournful, her nut-brown hair seemed full
of golden sunbeams, her rosy face was dimpled and smiling; she seemed
neither shy nor forward, but stood patiently listening to the remarks
of Lady Mactavish, and old Lady Mountpleasant, as long as was necessary,
then having received a warm greeting from Sir Matthew, who appeared to
be genuinely fond of her, she caught sight of Ralph and crossing the
room shook hands with him in an eager friendly way. The tide of general
conversation rolled on, but the two children stood silently looking at
each other for a minute or two. At last Evereld had a happy intuition.

“Are you not hungry?” she said.

“Yes, starving,” said Ralph, with a pathetic glance at the scones.

“It’s no good,” said Evereld, noting the look. “We never have anything
down here, but we’ll try and slip away quietly. No one really wants us
you see. And I’ll beg Bridget to make us some hot buttered toast. She is
the dearest old thing in the world.”

“Does she live here?” said Ralph, as though he doubted whether anything
superlatively good would be found beneath Sir Matthew’s roof.

“She is my nurse,” said Evereld. “We came from India you know last
February. Her husband was a soldier but he died, and then she came to be
our servant. Look, some more callers are coming in, now is our time to
slip out.”

Ralph gladly followed the little girl as she glided dexterously from the
room, and it was with a sense of mingled triumph and relief that they
found themselves outside on the staircase.

“Fraulein Ellerbeck and I have been talking all day about your coming,”
 said Evereld, as they toiled up to the top of the house. “The telegram
only came at breakfast.”

“They must all have thought it an awful bore to have me,” said Ralph,
remembering Lady Mactavish’s preference for having her house to herself.

“We schoolroom people didn’t think it a bore,” said Evereld, gaily. “You
can’t think how dull it is to have no one to play with. I could hardly
do my French this afternoon for wondering about you, and once when the
master asked me something about the difference between _connaître_
and _savoir_, I said, by mistake, ‘Ralph Den-mead.’ It was dreadful!
Everyone laughed.” She laughed herself at the remembrance. “But, you
see, I had been thinking how well we should get to know each other.”

A comforting sense of comradeship crept into Ralph’s sore heart; he
forgot his troubles for a while as he looked at the merry face beside
him. It was what he would have called an “awfully jolly” little face,
with soft curves and a dainty little mouth and chin, a rounded forehead
from which the hair was unfashionably thrown back, and a pair of clear
blue eyes that made him think of speedwell blossoms.

Evereld led him in triumph to the schoolroom to introduce him to her
governess, and Miss Ellerbeek’s warm German greeting, so unlike the
chilly reception he had met with in the drawing-room, at once set him
at his ease. Bridget, too, accorded him a hearty welcome, and brought
in enough toast even to satisfy a hungry schoolboy. She was a motherly
person, with one of those rather melancholy dark faces of almost Spanish
outline which one meets with among the Mayo peasants. But not all her
wanderings or her troubles as a soldier’s wife and widow had robbed her
of that delicious quaint humour which brightens many a desolate Irish
cabin, and which brightened some parts of this great desolate London
house.



CHAPTER III


                   “I do not love thee, Dr. Fell,

                   The reason why I cannot tell;

                   But this alone I know full well,

                   I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.”

|Precisely why the house seemed to him so dreary Ralph would have found
it hard to say. It did not usually strike people as anything but a model
English home. Something had, however, given the boy a clue, and already
he vaguely guessed, what no one else suspected, that there was a
skeleton in the cupboard. Little enough had fallen from his father’s
lips during those last days, yet Ralph had gathered an impression that
in some way Sir Matthew was connected with that disastrous speculation
which had ruined his father. He was far too young and ignorant to
understand the matter, and even had he been sure that Mr. Marriott knew
all the facts he could not have asked the old lawyer to explain things
to him, for was not Sir Matthew his godfather? a godfather, moreover,
who had generously undertaken to provide for him till he was grown up?
He was ashamed of himself for not being able to feel more grateful, but
that vague dislike and distrust which he had felt during their first
talk at Whinhaven Rectory, only grew stronger each hour.

When the last guest had departed, Sir Matthew was beset by eager
questions.

“Why did you adopt that horrid little schoolboy, papa?” said Janet,
reproachfully. “You are far too generous.”

“My dear, you forget; he is my godson, and I couldn’t leave him without
a helping hand. His father entrusted him to me.”

“They are all ready to sponge upon you, papa,” said Minnie. “A
reputation for generosity is a terrible thing.”

“For a man’s daughters, eh?” he said, laughingly. “Well, my dear, I
don’t want you to be troubled in the least. The boy will be going to
Winchester in September, and we shall only have him in the holidays. As
for little Evereld, we shall not be keeping her after her first season
unless I’m much mistaken.”

“It’s true she is an heiress,” said Lady Mactavish, critically, “but
I doubt if she will make a very stylish girl. And she’s far too
conscientious to get on well in society.”

“Well, well, we shall see,” said Sir Matthew, easily. “Already she has
one fervent admirer. Bruce Wylie makes himself a perfect fool about the
child.”

“He’s old enough to be her father,” said Janet.

“But she couldn’t have a better husband,” said Sir Matthew, in the voice
that meant that no more was to be said. “Nothing would give me greater
satisfaction than to see poor Ewart’s daughter safely under the
protection of a man like Wylie, before the heiress-hunters have had time
to torment her.”

“You remember that he dines with us this evening?” said Lady Mactavish.

“Yes, to be sure; let me have a list of the guests. And, my dear, remind
me that I promised Lady Mountpleasant to open the bazaar for the Decayed
Gentlefolk’s Aid Society at the Albert Hall next month.”

“We are no sooner off with one bazaar than we are on with another,”
 protested Minnie. “Bazaars seem to me the curse of the age.”

“Blessings in disguise, my dear,” replied her father, with a smile. “The
days of simple humdrum giving are over, and nowadays, with great wisdom,
we kill two or more birds with one stone. To my mind, the bazaar is a
most useful institution, and I should be sorry to see it abandoned.”

“Ah, you would ruin yourself with giving, if I allowed you to do
it,” said Lady Maetavish, glancing up at him with an air of pride and
admiration which for the moment made her hard face beautiful.

The words touched him, and as he left the room he stooped and kissed her
forehead. Yet, on the way down to his library, an odd sarcastic smile
played about his lips, and he thought to himself, “They have yet to
learn that, had St. Paul been a man of the world, he would have added
a postscript to his famous chapter, and said, ‘For charity is the best
policy.’”

In the meanwhile the schoolroom party were snugly ensconced in the
window-seat overlooking St. James’s Park. Ralph had been cheered by
the sight of a regiment of Horse Guards, and Miss Ellerbeek had been
beguiled into telling them stories of the Franco-Prussian War and of
her brother’s adventures during the campaign. By and bye, as the evening
advanced, they were interrupted by the appearance of old Geraghty the
butler.

“Sir Matthew would like you to be in the drawingroom before dinner, Miss
Evereld,” he said, “and I was to say there was no need for the young
gentleman to come down. Maybe he’s tired after the journey,” concluded
the Irishman, adding these polite words of his own accord, for Sir
Matthew had curtly remarked, “Not Master Denmead, you understand.”

“That means that Mr. Bruce Wylie is coming!” cried Evereld, joyously.
“He’s such a nice man, and he always brings me chocolate--real French
chocolate. I never go down unless Mr. Wylie is there. You’ll like him,
Ralph; he has such nice kind eyes, and such a soft voice.”

“Well, you must run and dress, my child,” said Miss Ellerbeck; “and I,
too, must be wishing you both goodnight, for I go, as you remember, with
a friend to the Richter concert. We will light the gas for you, Ralph,
and then you must, for a short time, make yourself happy with your
Charles Dickens. Evereld will soon come back to you.”

She bade him a kind good-night, and Ralph took up “The Cricket on the
Hearth” and tried to read. But it would not do; the book had ceased to
appeal to him. He threw it down, lowered the gas, and returned to the
open window, leaning his arms on the sill and looking down through the
bars at the dim road beneath, with its endless succession of cabs and
carriages. For a little while it amused him to count the red and yellow
lamps as they flitted by, but soon his sorrow overwhelmed him once more.
It was the first time he had been alone since that morning hour in the
fir-grove at Whinhaven, and now once more all the misery of his loss
forced itself upon him. He was well fed, well housed, and his immediate
future was provided for, yet, perhaps, in all London, there was not at
that moment a more desolate little fellow. To be violently plucked up
by the roots and for ever banished from that goodly heritage that had
so far been his, was in itself hard enough; but to belong to no one in
particular, to be planted down and expected to grow and thrive among
loveless strangers seemed intolerable, and no ambitious dreams of a
future in India came now to his help! He saw nothing before him but an
endless vista of this same pain and aching loss. Tomorrow would be as
to-day, and all real happiness had, he fancied, gone from him for ever.
There is nothing quite so poignant as a child’s first great grief,
though mercifully, like all acute pain, it cannot last long.

The passing lights down below had long ceased to interest him, but
presently through his tears he happened to notice the pointers and the
Pole Star, and found a sort of comfort in what had for so long been
familiar. At any rate the same sky was over Whinhaven and London,
and the motto which he could remember puzzling over in his childhood,
illuminated in one of the Rectory rooms, returned now to his
mind--“Astra castra, Rumen lumen.” It was true that the stars were his
canopy, but was God his light? Had He not plunged his whole life in
darkness, and set him far away from love and help and all that could
keep a boy straight?

The Westminster chimes rang out just then into the night air, startling
him back from his perplexed wondering. Ralph was not of the temperament
that is liable to doubt. He took life very simply, and it would have
been almost impossible seriously to disturb the faith into which he had
grown up; the wave of wretched questioning passed, and he knew in his
heart that just as over the great city with its debates and crimes, its
sorrows and struggles, the bells ring out their message, so heavenly
voices are ringing through the consciences of men, guiding, controlling,
influencing all. Had not his father always said it was mere miserable
cowardice to believe that darkness would triumph over light, that
selfish competition would in the end conquer? Love was to be the victor.
Love was to rule. And the great deep bell as it boomed out the hour
seemed to his fancy to ring--“Love! Love! Love!” over the restless crowd
of hearers.

In the meantime, however, his heart was still aching with the loss of
the man who had been friend and companion, teacher and father in one.
Surely since God loved him He would send some one to comfort him? Some
one whose voice he could hear, whose hand he could grasp. For after all
it was the outward tokens of love and comfort that he craved, as all
beings of a threefold nature must crave them. A spiritual love could not
as yet suffice him.

Now as Ralph leant on the window-sill crying quietly, much as a soldier
slowly bleeds on a battlefield because there is no one to staunch his
wound, the schoolroom door opened. He had expected some one to be sent
to his great need, but had pictured to himself a man. He glanced round
into the dim room and started when he saw, instead, only a little
white-robed figure.

“Of course,” he thought to himself in his disappointment, “I ought to
have known. It is only Evereld come back.”

“Oh, it’s you,” he said, with profound dejection in his voice.

“Are you all in the dark?” said Evereld.

“I’ve been looking at the carriage lamps,” he replied, evasively.

Evereld made no comment, she knew quite well that he had been crying,
and a great shyness stole over her--a terror of not being able to reach
him, and yet a consuming desire somehow to comfort him. She remembered
that in her own grief grown-up people had always tried to soothe her
with the adjuration, “Don’t cry, darling.” She had never found any
comfort in the words, and of course they would vex a hoy. Dick would
have hated them.

“Do you know,” she said suddenly, “in some ways you do so remind me of
Dick.”

“Who is he?” asked Ralph, still in the dejected voice.

“Dick is my brother,” said Evereld. “He died last winter. There was
an outbreak of cholera. On the Thursday father and mother died, on the
Friday Dick and I were taken ill, and when I got better they told me
he was gone. I was the only one left.” Her voice quivered a little. She
ended abruptly.

“Oh!” cried Ralph, like one in pain, and instinctively he caught her
hand in his and held it fast. There was a silence. It seemed as if they
did not need words just then.

Ralph had not found the strong man of his dreams; he had found instead
a little girl with griefs greater than his own, and he felt a longing to
comfort her and care for her, and as far as possible to be to her what
Dick would have been.

“Was he older than I am?” was his first question.

“He was thirteen,” said Evereld. “His birthday was in last September--on
the 15th.”

“And I was thirteen in September, too,--on the 9th,” said Ralph.

“Only a week between you--how strange!” said Evereld. “And about
soldiers he was just like you. When you rushed to the window this
afternoon and saw all the little details about the Horse Guards’
uniforms, that I never much noticed before, you made me think of Dick
directly. He was crazy about uniforms, and Bridget used to make them for
him. We’ll get her to make you one.”

“Do you think she would?” said Ralph, forgetting his troubles. “We could
act all sorts of things then, you know. Do you like acting? 55

“I love the dressing-up part,” said Evereld, “I don’t much care about
the talking, Dick used to do most of that.”

“I’ll do that part,” said Ralph blithely, for although shy and reserved
with his elders, he was never at a loss for words in a charade, and the
two instantly fell to discussing future plans, forgetting every grief
and care in the bliss of perfect companionship.

“Let us come down now,” said Evereld, presently. “Geraghty promised to
bring us whatever we liked. We’ll sit on the lowest flight of stairs,
you know, and he’ll help us as the dishes come out of the dining-room.
It’s such fun. I always do it when there’s a dinnerparty.”

Ralph consented willingly enough, and found something cheering in the
general air of excitement that pervaded the house. They sat cosily on
the rich stair carpet with its soft Eastern colouring, a funny little
pair, he in his deep black, she in her white Indian muslin, watching the
servants as they hurried to and fro, and enjoying what Evereld termed
“that nice sort of late-dinner smell.”

“But it makes one awfully hungry,” said Ralph, and the good-natured
Geraghty, catching the words, murmured a comforting assurance as he
passed by, “I’m coming to you directly, sir,” and in a minute or two
with a beaming face he reappeared with two delicious oyster patties.

“How clever you are, Geraghty,” said the little girl. “You always know
just what will be nicest.” Whether Geraghty had much regard for their
powers of digestion may be doubted, but he took a rare delight in
tempting them with every delicacy, from prawns in aspic, to that curious
dish called “Angels on horseback.” Ralph was half way through a huge
helping of ice pudding when a momentary pang of doubt and reproach
seized him. Ought he to be feasting on the very day of his father’s
funeral? Evereld saw the change in his face, and helped by what she had
lately lived through, was able to read his thoughts. “Dick will be so
glad that I’ve got you,” she said, smiling, though Ralph fancied there
were tears in her eyes. “I somehow think that your father and mine will
be talking together to-night.”

And those few comfortable words were more to the boy than any number of
sermons on the resurrection; all his vague beliefs were freshened into
living parts of his everyday existence, and for the first time he knew
for himself what had been to him hitherto merely things that others told
him.

A sudden lull in the roar of voices from the diningroom now took place,
after which the Babel of many tongues rose once more. “They are just
beginning dessert,” said Evereld. “That was grace, and in a few minutes
the ladies will be coming upstairs. I think we had better go to bed
now.”

So they parted, after having arranged that in the walking hour on the
next morning, they would go together and sail Ralph’s little schooner in
St. James’ Park.



CHAPTER IV


                        “Of my grief;

               By the silence of life, more pathetic than death’s!

                   Go--be clear of that day.”

                        E. Barrett Browning.

|The Park seemed dull and well-nigh deserted when, at about ten o’clock
on the following day, Fraulein Ellerbeck and the two children made their
way to the water’s edge. Fraulein said she would establish herself on a
seat in a sheltered nook not far off, and the children carried her book
and her knitting-bag for her, chatting as they walked. Pacing slowly
towards them was a figure which somehow arrested their attention.

“Why,” said Evereld, lowering her voice, “it is surely the man we saw as
_Benedick_, last March, Fraulein. It’s Hugh Macneillie, the actor.”

Ralph looked curiously and with great interest at a member of the
profession which had such charms for him.

Macneillie was a man of about seven and thirty, with chestnut-brown
hair, strongly marked features, and a muscular, well-knit figure.
About his clean-shaven face there was an air of profound gravity which
surprised Ralph, who could not conceive how a man capable of acting
_Benedick_, and noted for his subtle sense of humour, could wear such
an anxious and melancholy expression. He glanced at them with dreamy,
absent eyes and paced slowly by.

Yet the little group had not been altogether lost on Hugh Macneillie in
spite of the unseeing look in his eyes. He had carried away a curiously
vivid impression of the two children, their black garments and their
fresh young faces. He gave an impatient sigh, and paced on with quicker
steps, yet turned again to walk by the side of the water, every now and
then glancing at his watch with an air of vexation. He had been waiting
there for a good hour, and he was in a mood which made waiting specially
irksome.

“I will give her till half past ten,” he thought to himself, and walked
doggedly on, his face growing more and more haggard as the time
passed by. At last the Westminster chimes rang out the half hour; he
mechanically took out his watch again to verify the time, and setting
his teeth hard turned to go.

At that moment there suddenly appeared, walking towards him, a very
beautiful woman. It was difficult to say precisely in what her great
charm lay. Her every movement was full of grace, and although she was
dressed with scrupulous quietness--indeed with a simplicity that was
almost severe,--no one could have passed her by without a lingering
glance. Her complexion was pale but very fair, her hair was like spun
gold, contrasting curiously with the brown, deep-set eyes; and
though the mouth was a little too wide and betrayed a not ever strong
character, both face and manner were full of that indescribable
fascination which carries all before it.

Macneillie, though he met her in the company of other people every day
of his life, though he had known her for at least ten years, went to
meet her now with his heart throbbing painfully. She gave him a charming
little greeting, and apologised prettily for being so unpunctual.

“It is Elizabeth’s fault,” she said, glancing at the maid who
accompanied her. “She allowed me to oversleep myself. You can wait for
me on that bench Elizabeth, I shall not be long.”

The maid walked back to the seat where Fraulein Ellerbeck sat with her
knitting, and Macneillie, who had scarcely spoken a word as yet, broke
the silence as they paced on together. “I had almost given you up,” he
said, a world of repressed impatience in his tone.

“That’s the wisest thing I ever heard you say, Hugh,” she replied
lightly, though with a secret effort. “But you must go further. It must
be not only almost, but altogether.”

“Don’t let us talk in parables,” said Macneillie, passionately. “You
can’t compare an hour’s waiting in a park with ten years waiting through
the best part of a man’s life.”

A look of pain flashed across her face: there was remorse and tenderness
in her voice as she replied. But there was not the love he had once
heard there, and he knew it well enough.

“Poor Hugh!” she said, “I have treated you very badly. But how am I to
help myself. We have waited for each other, as you say, these ten years,
but you know well enough that my father and mother will never consent.
They have made up their minds that I shall make a very different
marriage.”

“In other words,” said Macneillie between his teeth, “they have made up
their minds to sell you to the highest bidder.”

“No, no, you are so exaggerated, Hugh. Every one can’t look at the
matter as you with your religious education in the Highlands look at
it. Marriage is, after all, an arrangement affecting many people and
interests. We are not living in a romance but in the prosaic nineteenth
century. And I must not just please myself. I must think of what will
best help on my career; my first duty is undoubtedly to help and to
please my parents who have done so much for me.”

“You didn’t think so ten years ago,” said Macneillie.

“Ten years ago I was a foolish girl of seventeen. You had been very good
to me when the year before I had been taken straight from school and set
down alone and friendless in a travelling company. It was natural enough
that I should love you then, Hugh--you who shielded me and helped me.”

“But later on,” said Macneillie, clenching his hands, “when you no
longer were lonely and friendless, when fame had come to you and all the
world was at your feet, you very naturally needed me no longer, and your
love died. Mine was never that sort of love--it will always live.”

Christine Greville looked down with troubled face. Ambition and the
importunities of her parents had for the time stifled her love. She felt
cold and hard. His passionate constancy annoyed her. “I wish,” she said
plaintively, “you would not speak like that, Hugh. I hate to think that
I have pained you, or spoiled your life; but what am I to do? What am I
to do?”

He turned to her eagerly.

“Be true to your best self, Christine. Trust the man who loved you long
before this Sir Roderick Fenchurch had ever seen you. I’m not blind! I
can see the advantages you might gain by marrying him! You would be very
rich. You could have your own theatre, you would leap at once to a much
higher position. But do you dream that such a marriage would be happy?
Why, you have hardly a taste in common, and he is old enough to be your
father.”

“Oh, as to happiness,” she said, impatiently, “I have long ceased to
expect that. Don’t think me brutal if I speak plainly. I have had your
love all these years, and it has not made me really happy. And if I
married you, Hugh, I should not be happy at all. You are much too good
for me, your standard of life is far too high. You would not be able to
draw me up, and I should be always longing to drag you down to my level.
It would be a life of perpetual strain and tension.”

“No, no,” he cried passionately, and as he spoke he caught her hand
in his as though he felt that she was slipping from him. “Together,
darling, we should be happy, we should be strong to work for art’s sake
and for truth’s sake--strong to fight all that is evil.”

They had paused, and were standing now beside the railing that fenced
off the grass and bushes, and within a stone’s throw of Ralph and
Evereld; half unconsciously Macneillie watched the progress of the
toy boat as the soft summer wind filled its white sails. At a little
distance the ducks swam about the wooded island, and in the golden haze
Queen Anne’s Mansions loomed up impressively like some great fortress.

“But I don’t want to toil and to struggle like that,” said his
companion, petulantly. “Every word you say only proves to me how far we
have drifted apart, Hugh. You have a sort of ideal of me in your mind
not in the least like the true Christine. I tell you I am tired of all
your ideals and aims and dreams of raising the drama. That is not what I
care for. I care for success and applause--yes I do, don’t interrupt me.
I care for them, and I must have them. And I want a better position, and
I want much, much more money. I want other things, too, which you can
never give me. You’ll never be a rich man, Hugh, it’s somehow not in
you; you’ll never push your way to the very front of the profession. But
I must do that, nothing but the very first place will satisfy me. I have
ten times your ambition.”

“By that sin fell the angels,” said Macneillie.

“Don’t quote Shakspere, we have enough of him every evening,” she said,
forcing a laugh. “And for me, I am not an angel as you very well know.
Come, let us make an end of this useless talk. My father is at this
moment discussing settlements with Sir Roderick, and in a day or two all
the world will know that the marriage is arranged.”

Macneillie’s lips moved but no words would come--he breathed hard.

“Don’t look like that, Hugh,” she exclaimed. “We shall often see each
other; we shall be the best of friends; and when I have my own theatre,
why you shall be the first to find a place in the company.”

A look of hot anger flashed across Macneillie’s haggard face.

“Do you think I would accept such a post?” he said, indignantly. “For
what do you take me?” Then, his tone softening to ‘tender reproach, “You
don’t understand a man’s love--you don’t understand!”

“Perhaps I don’t understand it,” she said, looking rather nettled; “but
I have met plenty of men who were dying for love of me one month and
raving about some one else the next. There, I must go home. Talking
only makes matters worse. Go and take a good walk, Hugh, or you will act
abominably to-night. _Au revoir!_”

She beckoned to her maid and turned away abruptly, anxious to put an
end to an interview which had been trying to both of them. Her face
was grave and down-east as she walked, and more than once she sighed
heavily. She had never been formally betrothed to Macneillie, but there
had been a private engagement between them, and she had spoken quite
truly when she said that his care during her girlhood had shielded her
from many perils. Her love for him had been very real; she had struggled
long against the opposition of her parents, but at last her strength had
failed, and little by little she had yielded to the influence which by
degrees had paralysed her powers of loving.

“Door Hugh,” she thought to herself, remorsefully. “He is terribly cut
up. But I was never good enough for him. Sir Roderick and the low level
will suit me much better.”

After he was left alone, Macneillie did not move for some minutes. He
just leant on the iron fence with clenched hands and set face, despair
in his heart. The voices of the two children to the right fell on his
ear, mingling strangely with his miserable thoughts.

“I shall lose her! I shall lose her!” cried the boy in a tragic voice.

“How came you to let go of the string?” asked his small companion.

“I had forgotten all about it; I was thinking of those people. Hurrah!
the wind is shifting; she is coming nearer. I do believe I could reach
her with my stick.”

Macneillie watched the boy’s strenuous efforts to recapture the tiny
craft, which seemed almost within his reach, yet somehow always eluded
him. Suddenly, at the very moment when his stick had touched the boat,
he lost his balance and fell headlong over the low foot-rail into the
water.

Macneillie had hurried to the rescue before Evereld’s cry of terror had
reached Fraulein Ellerbeck. He lifted out the dripping boy and laid him
on the path, and Ralph, recovering from the shock and rubbing his wet
eyelashes, looked up to find a grave face bending over him and to meet
the inquiry of the kindest blue-grey eyes he had ever seen.

“None the worse for your bath, I hope?” said Macneillie, smiling a
little.

“No, thank you,” said Ralph, struggling to his feet and looking very
much like Johnnie Head-in-air when “with hooks the two strong men hooked
poor Johnnie out again.”

“It was awfully good of you to help me,” he added, gratefully.

“And now let us rescue the boat,” said Macneillie, winning golden
opinions from the children by the real pains he took to capture the _Rob
Roy_, and the same from Fraulein Ellerbeck by his courteous farewell.

“So few Englishmen,” she remarked, “know how to bow. You must take a
lesson from him, Ralph.”

“And, oh, Fraulein,” said Evereld, as they walked briskly home, that
Ralph might change his clothes, “did you see what a long time Miss
Christine Greville stayed talking to him? And part of the time they were
quite close to us, and we heard her say that soon every one would know
she was to be married--I think, to some very rich man--and she would
have a theatre of her own, and Mr. Macneillie should act there.”

“You should not have listened, my dears,” said Fraulein Ellerbeck,
uneasily.

“But, indeed, Fraulein, we couldn’t help it; her voice was so very,
very clear, it reached us every word just like raindrops pattering on
leaves.”

“And so did his voice too,” said Ralph. “He seemed quite angry when
she said that. He said he would never accept such a post, and that she
didn’t a bit understand how he loved her.”

“Well, well,” said Fraulein, “let us say no more about it now; and
be sure you never repeat what you accidentally overheard. It may be a
secret from people in general, and it would be more honourable if you
treated it as a secret.”

The children promised that they would do so, but, like the celebrated
parrot, though they said nothing, they thought the more, and Macneillie
became their great hero. Through him they had both received their first
glimpse into the unknown region where men and women loved and suffered;
and, since they both were missing the familiar home life and the close
companionship of parents, they seized eagerly on this new outlet
for certain feelings of reverence and hero-worship which they both
possessed.

Could the actor have known what sympathy and devotion these two felt for
him, or how real was their childish love and admiration, he would have
felt, even at that bitter time in his life, a touch of amused gratitude
and wonder. Wholly unknown to himself he was filling the minds of two
somewhat desolate little mortals, brightening their tedious days, and
drawing them out of themselves and their own troubles.

Often, in after years, they would laugh to think what pleasure they had
found in running downstairs before the breakfast gong had sounded, that
they might get possession of the _Times_ and see the announcement of
“Hamlet,” in which Macneillie was appearing. And one morning it chanced
that their two smiling faces were still bent over the paper when Sir
Matthew came into the room.

“Well,” he said, kindly, “what good news have you found?”

For once Ralph forgot the shy stiffness of manner which usually crept
over him at his guardian’s approach.

“Oh,” he said, in an eager boyish way, “We were just looking at the cast
for ‘Hamlet.’”

“To be sure. I had quite forgotten that you were stage-struck, and
that I had promised you to go to see Washington. You must get Fraulein
Ellerbeck to take you some day.”

“We would much rather see Macneillie,” said Evereld, “for it was
Macneillie, you know, who helped Ralph out when he tumbled into the
water.”

“Very well,” said Sir Matthew, “then do that instead. Fraulein
Ellerbeck, will you take tickets for them?--and the sooner the better,
for I hear there has been a great run on the seats there since the
announcement of Miss Creville’s marriage. She’s to marry Sir Roderick
Fenchurch at the end of the season.”

Ralph and Evereld having poured forth delighted thanks, discreetly kept
silence when the conversation turned on Miss Greville’s betrothal.

“They say, you know,” said Janet, “that it is a great surprise to every
one, and that it was always supposed she would marry Macneillie.”

And in response to this every one had something to say about the
probability or the improbability of such a story, save the two children
who, with a proud pleasure in feeling that Macneillie’s secret was safe
in their keeping, went on eating bacon with the most absolute control of
countenance.

When the eagerly awaited day at length arrived and the two
hero-worshippers were sitting in bliss at the theatre, they found some
difficulty at first in recognising Macneillie. He was just the Danish
prince and no one else. It was only when both hero and heroine were
called before the curtain, that they could at all think of him as the
same man they had seen a few weeks before in St. James’ Park.

As he led forward Miss Greville the contrast between them was curiously
marked. She, with her smiling face, her air of perfect ease and content,
seemed thoroughly to enjoy the warm reception. He, on the other hand,
merely bowed mechanically, and looked as if this interlude were
highly distasteful to him; the children could have fancied that he was
positively nervous, though they doubted whether an experienced actor
could really know what nervousness meant.

After that call before the curtain they lost the sense that _Hamlet_
himself was actually present; always through the passionate scenes
and the tragic death which followed, it was not entirely _Hamlet_, but
Macneillie with his own personal troubles that they saw; they wondered
much how he could get through his part, and more and more after that day
his name continually recurred in their talk, in their games, and even in
their prayers.

Just at the close of the season they saw him once again. Fraulein
Ellerbeck had promised that on the first fine Saturday they should go
to Richmond Park, taking their lunch with them. They had learnt from the
conversation of their elders at the breakfast table that it was the
very day on which Miss Christine Greville was to marry Sir Roderick
Fenchurch. The marriage was to take place at a small country church, and
was to be of a strictly private character. They had talked of it more
than once as they sat at lunch under the trees in the park, and early
in the afternoon as they wandered along the quiet paths and watched the
deer grazing peacefully, their minds were full of their hero and his
trouble. Suddenly Evereld gripped hold of her companion’s arm.

“Look!” she exclaimed in a low voice. “Is it not Mr. Macneillie?”

Ralph’s heart beat fast as he glanced at the approaching figure. Had
their incessant thought of him conjured up a sort of vision of the
actor? Or was it indeed himself? Nearer approach answered the question
plainly enough. It was undoubtedly Macneillie, but there was something
in his ghastly face which struck terror into the boy’s heart, it
reminded him of that awful shadow of death which he had seen stealing
over his father on that last never-to-be-forgotten day. Apparently quite
unconscious of their presence, Macneillie passed by, but in a minute
Ralph, to the amazement of Fraulein Ellerbeck and Evereld, had rushed
back and overtaken him.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, panting a little; “but I am the boy you
saved the other day in St. James’ Park. And--and please will you take
this knife as a remembrance.”

He thrust into Macneillie’s hand a little old-fashioned silver fruit
knife which had belonged to his father.

The actor evidently dragged himself back with an effort to the world
of realities. He looked in a puzzled way at the boy and at the embossed
handle of the knife.

“You are very good,” he said in a perplexed tone. “Yes, yes, I remember
you now--you and your boat. But I don’t like to take your knife away
from you.”

“But, indeed, I never use it; I always eat peel and all,” said Ralph
with an earnestness which brought a smile to Macneillie’s face. “We went
to see you as _Hamlet_, and you were splendid! Please take it. You don’t
know how awfully I like you.”

Macneillie’s eyes gave him a kindly glance and his cold fingers closed
over the boy’s small hot hand in a hearty grip.

“Then I will certainly use it,” he said. “It shall travel in my pocket
for the rest of my life. But only on condition that you take this. Don’t
get into mischief with it.”

And with a smile he put into his hand a clasp-knife, and while Ralph was
still lost in admiration of the longest and sharpest blade he had ever
seen, Macneillie passed rapidly on and disappeared among the trees.

“Oh, Ralph, how delightful!” cried Evereld, as the boy rejoined them.

“How could you be so brave as to go up and speak to him?”

“I’m awfully glad he took the fruit knife,” said Ralph. “But I wish
he hadn’t given me this. It’s such a beauty and I had done nothing for
him.”

“Perhaps you had,” said Fraulein Ellerbeck, thoughtfully. “The unseen
and unrealised help is often the most real help of all.”



CHAPTER V


“_The recognition of his rights therefore, the justice he requires of
our hands or our thoughts, is the recognition of that which the person,
in his inmost nature, really is; and as sympathy alone can discover that
which really is in matters of feeling and thought, true justice is in
its essence a finer knowledge through love._”

“_Appreciations,_” Walter Pater.

|Six years after that memorable August day, Ralph and Evereld might
have been seen on the tennis ground attached to the pretty house near
Redvale, which Sir Matthew was pleased to call his “little country
cottage.”

It was decidedly one of those cottages of gentility which once caused
the devil to grin. But in spite of that it was a very charming place.
Its windows commanded an exquisite view over the hills and woods of one
of the southern counties, and its gardens were the admiration of the
whole neighbourhood. The tennis-lawn lay to the left of the house in
a cosy nook of its own, and there was no one to see the vigorous game
which the two were playing. This was a pity, for the play was skilful
and dainty to watch, and the players themselves were worth looking at.

Ralph, who had been a remarkably small boy, was never likely, as
Geraghty expressed it, to be “six foot long and broad,” but he had
developed into a well-proportioned, healthy-looking fellow, and still
retained his open, boyish face, expressive brown eyes, and thick, wavy
brown hair. Evereld was even less changed, she was still very small and
young for her age; and although she was fast approaching her eighteenth
birthday she wore the sort of nondescript dress which girls often wear
during their last year in the schoolroom, her skirt revealing a pair of
pretty ankles, and her hair still hanging down her back.

The contest was an exciting one, but it ended in a victory for Ralph,
whose greater strength usually conquered.

“I am heavily handicapped,” said Evereld, throwing up her racket with a
laugh. “We’ll borrow the vicar’s cassock and the Lord Chancellor’s wig
and you shall play a set in them and see if I don’t beat you then!”

“Come and rest,” said Ralph, strolling towards the little shady arbour
at the side of the lawn. “The sun is grilling.”

“You would find it worse if you had all this weight to endure,” said
Evereld, shaking back the cloud of nut-brown hair which hung over her
shoulders. “I shall take to plaiting it up, then at least one would be
cool.”

“No, don’t!” protested Ralph. “You’ll never look half as nice
afterwards. And besides, when girls do up their hair they always leave
off being natural and get grown-up and horrid, and can’t talk sense to a
fellow.”

“My hair has nothing to do with being natural,” said Evereld, fanning
herself with a big fern. “How could I help being natural with you, when
we have been together all this long time? How I do wish I were a boy and
might have gone in for the Indian Civil, too. By-the-by, Ralph, is that
to-day’s paper? Is there any news about your exam?”

“They sent the wrong paper,” said Ralph taking it up. “See, it’s last
night’s _Evening Standard_ instead of this morning’s; they have been
taking a nap down at the bookstall. I wonder if there really is anything
in at last. It seems hard lines to keep us on tenterhooks from the 1st
June till August.”

“I don’t believe you have worried about it. Your head was full of those
private theatricals the moment the exam, was over. How well they went
off! I never saw Sir Matthew so nice to you. He really did for once
appreciate you.”

“That was because other people praised me” said Ralph. “He would never
have said one word of his own accord. You’ll never find him committing
himself before he knows whether he will be swimming with the stream.”

“Ralph, do you know I think you are growing rather hard. I hate to hear
you say things like that about Sir Matthew. If Fraulein were here she
would have a hundred instances of his kindness to tell us.”

“Yes she would,” owned Ralph. “She has been our good angel all these
years. Worse luck to that old professor who married her and left us to
ourselves. Why, Evereld, just look at it in that way. What should
you and I have been like if all this time we had only had the sort of
indifferent cold charity which the Mactavishes have given us? Oh, I know
there has been money spent on me: do you think I have ever been allowed
to forget that for a moment? But Sir Matthew spoils with one hand the
good he does with the other. Thank heaven, I shall soon be on my own
hook. I wonder what life out in India will be like--and what the chances
of getting any cricket are?”

Evereld fell to talking of happy reminiscences of Simla, and they were
planning all manner of impossible arrangements for the future, in which
they fondly imagined their present brotherly and sisterly relations
would be maintained, when Bridget suddenly appeared upon the scene.

“Miss Evereld,” she exclaimed, “you’d best be coming in to change your
frock, my dear. Sir Matthew has come down without any warning from
London. He’s in the library, Mr. Ralph and they did tell me he was
askin’ for you. Geraghty he just passed me the word that he thought Sir
Matthew was troubled in his mind about some little matter.”

Ralph flushed.

“You see now,” he exclaimed, turning to Evereld, “if I haven’t gone and
failed in that wretched exam! What on earth shall I do if I have?”

“Why, you will go in for it again next year,” said Evereld
philosophically. “But who says you have failed? It may be nothing to
do with the exam. Besides, you know that your coach and Professor
Rosenwald and Fraulein--I mean Frau Rosenwald--all thought you were
safe to pass.”

“I know I had worked hard,” said Ralph. “Well, let me go and hear the
worst at once.”

“Don’t despair so soon. As for me, I believe you have passed, and that
it is only some business matter that’s worrying Sir Matthew. Good
luck to you. Don’t stay long in the library. I shall be dressed in ten
minutes.”

She waved her hand gaily and ran upstairs, while Ralph, with a great
dread hanging over him, went to the library.

With other people he was invariably cheerful and talkative, but with Sir
Matthew he was never his best self. To begin with, he was always ill
at ease, and by a sort of fate he seemed destined to say and do exactly
what, would annoy his patron. If he was silent, Sir Matthew was in the
habit of rating him for his dulness. If he laughed and talked, he was
ordered not to make so much noise. If he hazarded an opinion he was sure
to meet with a snub, and at all times and seasons he was hedged in by
significant reminders that he was eating the bread of charity. It was
well for him that he had seen comparatively little of the Mactavishes,
thanks to his life at Winchester and to his friendship with Evereld and
her governess; but he had seen enough to do him considerable harm and
to plant seeds of pride, and hardness, and distrust of humanity in his
heart.

Sir Matthew was sitting at his bureau. He glanced up as the door opened,
bestowed a curt nod upon Ralph and went on writing in silence.

“They told me you were inquiring for me,” said Ralph nervously, noting
at once the storm signals in Sir Matthew’s face.

“I did send for you,” said the master of the house grimly, as he signed
his name with two flourishing M’s, and methodically folded, directed and
stamped his dispatch.

Ralph, horribly chafed by the manner of his reception and by the
suspense, turned to the window and took up a newspaper which was lying
near it.

“Rut that down,” thundered Sir Matthew, as though he had been ordering a
child of four years old.

“Sir?” said Ralph, in angry astonishment.

“Do you think I don’t understand your game,” said Sir Matthew. “You
are pretending to look for news of your examination when all the time
you perfectly well know that you have failed.”

“Failed!” cried Ralph turning pale, and realising how little he had
believed in failure when he had talked of the possibility with Evereld.
“Who says I have failed? Where are the lists?”

He snatched at the paper again, neither heeding Sir Matthew’s orders nor
his scoffing laugh. Here was the list of the successful candidates, and
with eager eyes he looked down it. The name of Denmead was not there.

Sir Matthew silently watched his expression of bewildered despair, but
though it would have appealed to some men it did not appeal to him.

“Now that the newspaper corroborates what I told you, perhaps you
believe my word,” he said sarcastically. “I beg your pardon,” said
Ralph, “I did not mean to doubt you--but the shock-------”

“Now my good fellow, you may as well be silent, the less said about a
shock the better; you know perfectly well that you never deserved to
pass that examination. You had idled away your time over cricket and
theatricals, and now you have to face the consequences.”

“You are the first person to say that,” said Ralph, resentfully. “They
all told me I had an excellent chance and was well prepared.”

“The examiners, however, thought differently,” said Sir Matthew; “your
work was miserable. I have this very day been making special inquiries
into the matter, that I may not judge you unfairly. You have not only
failed, but failed ignominiously. Don’t fidget about while I am talking
to you; sit down and listen to me for I have much to say.”

Ralph forced himself to obey in silence.

“I am perfectly well aware,” resumed Sir Matthew, “that nowadays young
men think nothing of failing, that they go in for an examination time
after time with light hearts while their unfortunate fathers have to pay
the piper. You were not in a position to behave in that fashion. And
you would have shown, I think, a finer sense of honour if you had worked
well.”

“I did work,” said Ralph emphatically. “If you------”

Sir Matthew raised his long hand and waved it downwards in a silencing
manner that was peculiarly his own.

“I say nothing,” he continued, in his cool, measured tone, “as to what
I might have expected after the large sum I have thrown away on your
schooling at Winchester; I say nothing as to the three months in Germany
and the special coach I provided for you; I say nothing of the manner
in which I took you at once into my own house when there was no one to
stand by you; I say nothing as to the fatherly care I have bestowed on
you all these----”

He broke off abruptly, for Ralph, with the look of one goaded past
bearing, had sprung to his feet.

“No,” he cried passionately, “at least that word you shall not use:
there was never anything fatherly about you. All those other things that
you east in my teeth though you say you won’t mention them--they are
true enough, and I have tried to be grateful--I--” he half choked in
the desperate struggle between his pride and a certain sense of courtesy
which still clung to him--“I will try always to be grateful.” He strode
across the room to the window, panting for air. A chuckle escaped Sir
Matthew.

“You were always a good hand at acting,” he remarked, “but I shall be
obliged if you will come down from your high horse and remember that I
am talking about a business arrangement. Don’t waste my time, but listen
to what I have to say to you.”

Ralph paced back again to the hearthrug and stood there, looking
steadily down at his patron. It somehow seemed as if in those few
moments he had passed from boyhood altogether, even Sir Matthew noted
the change in his look and bearing. “The only thing,” he resumed, “in
which I ever saw you really exert yourself was in that play at the
end of the season. I quite admit that you learnt the part of _Charles
Surface_ at very short notice and that you acted it far better than
any amateur I ever had the pain of watching. But to play a part in ‘The
School for Scandal’ is one thing, and to be fit to play your part in
life is another. You will never, I am convinced, be sharp enough for the
Indian Civil Service, I shall not permit you to go in again for it next
year. I have already wasted too much upon you and shall not throw good
money after bad. That’s always a mistake.”

Ralph could not calmly stand by and hear his whole future overturned
without a word; he broke in eagerly, perhaps rashly.’ “Yet many have
failed the first time and afterwards turned out well,” he pleaded. “The
standard of age, too, is likely to be raised they say. I would work my
hardest. If you will let me try again-----” But once more Sir Matthew
gave that expressive downward wave of the hand.

“No,” he said peremptorily, “You have had your chance and lost it.
Still, I am loth to turn my back altogether on an old friend’s son, and
for my own satisfaction I offer you one more opportunity. I will make a
parson of you. Do you remember that snug little vicarage up in the north
of England where last year we went to call on a Mr. Crosbie? Years
ago the Mactavishes owned the living; it had been in the family for
generations. My father at a time when he was pressed for money sold it
to old Crosbie. I have long wished to have the property again, and only
to-day Crosbie happened to be in town and I got him to promise me that
if I bought the living he would undertake to retire in four years. You had
better not tell it in Gath, for of course the promise to retire is a
strictly private matter, but for the rest it’s all legal enough. Next
month you will be twenty. In four years you could be ordained priest,
and I will undertake to see you through your training and to put you
into this living. It’s three hundred and a house; you could be happy
enough up there, and for your father’s sake I am willing to do as much
as that for you.”

There was something so artificial in those last words that Ralph, whose
anger had been rising every moment, now broke forth indignantly.

“Is it for his sake that you put before me a temptation of this sort?
You surely know--you must know--that my father would never have accepted
a living obtained in that way. Had you offered it him, and had it been
worth ten times the money, he would not have touched it with a pair of
tongs. Why, the thing is rank simony!”

“You receive offers of help in a somewhat curious fashion, young man,”
 said Sir Matthew with a sneer. “But in spite of that I still think you
are very well cut out for a parson. Your dramatic instincts and your
good voice would fit you well enough for the Church, and you are already
able, I perceive, to preach to your elders and betters.”

Ralph winced at the sarcasm, but he caught hold of the weak point in his
opponent’s argument.

“No,” he said, emphatically, “I am not fit for the work of a clergyman.
The only thing that can fit a man for that is a distinct call from God.
You are tempting me to go in for the loaves and fishes, and you dare
to say that you do this for my father’s sake--my father, who would have
starved first!”

“Perhaps he would,” said Sir Matthew coldly. “He was, as all his friends
knew, an unpractical fool. You needn’t look as if you could kill me. He
had excellent abilities but no power of pushing his way, and he left you
a beggar in consequence, proving, according to scripture, that as he had
neglected to secure future provision for his family he had denied the
faith and was worse than an infidel. Now, to return to business; are you
going to accept this offer of mine, or do you intend to be a pig-headed
idiot, and affect to be calling a mere matter of business simony?”

Ralph’s eyes lighted up.

“I mean,” he said quietly, “to be true to my father’s ideals.”

Sir Matthew broke into a discordant laugh.

“Did his precious ideals feed you and clothe you and send you to
Winchester? Don’t you know by his own confession that he had mismanaged
his affairs?”

“I know,” said Ralph indignantly, “that, whatever his faults, he was at
least an honest man.”

He had meant no insinuation whatever, but the words galled his companion
terribly. Sir Matthew rose to his feet in a towering passion.

“You impertinent, ungrateful fellow, do you dare to insult me in my own
house? Go, sir, get out of my sight! I have had enough of you. Let us
see now how your ideals will support you! Leave my house and never set
foot in it again!”

Ralph, too angry and sore to realise all that the words meant, turned
without a word and left the library.



CHAPTER VI


               “The grace of friendship--mind and heart,

               Linked with their fellow heart and mind;

               The gains of science, gifts of art;

               The sense of oneness with our kind;

               The thirst to know and understand--

               A large and liberal discontent:

               These are the goods in life’s rich hand,

               The things that are more excellent.”

                        William Watson.

|The moment the door had closed behind the boy Sir Matthew’s anger
cooled. For the time it had been genuine, for quite unintentionally
Ralph had used words which stung him as no others could have done. There
were two things in the world that the company promoter sincerely cared
about--successful speculation, and his reputation as a philanthropist.
His adoption of Ralph had been almost entirely a speculation, one of the
specious bits of kindness which he had intended to redound to his own
honour and glory. Having once undertaken the lad’s education he could
not for his own credit’s sake turn back, but from the very first he had
shrewdly guessed that it would prove a bad investment, and Ralph had
been a thorn in his side. To begin with, the boy was in face curiously
like his father, and Sir Matthew had some lingering remains of affection
for his old friend, even though in his heart he despised him for not
being more of a man of the world. He had not lived the life of a company
promoter without having grown perfectly callous to the sufferings of his
victims, but yet the conscience that was not dead but dormant within him
had been faintly stirred at Whinhaven when he realised that the Hector’s
ruin had been his work. Partly to salve his conscience, but chiefly
because the world would applaud the action, he had adopted Ralph. The
boy, however, had not taken kindly to the part assigned him. He never
showed off well before visitors, never learnt to pose as a grateful
recipient of unmerited kindness. On the contrary, Sir Matthew always had
an uncomfortable feeling that Ralph saw through him, and knew him to be
a humbug. As a matter of fact, the taunting allusions he had just made
to Mr. Denmead’s mistakes and errors of judgment had driven his hearer
far from all recollection of Sir Matthew’s actions or character; Ralph
had thought only of that inward picture stamped indelibly upon his
brain of the high-minded and scrupulously honourable father, who somehow
seemed to him more of a living reality as he spoke than the angry,
self-important patron confronting him.

“He was at least an honest man!” The words had intended no reflection
on Sir Matthew, but they had gone straight to the company promoter’s one
vulnerable spot, and for the moment had sharply pained him. Incensed
at the perception that this fellow might hurt his jealously guarded
reputation,--that reputation for benevolence which was part of his
stock-in-trade, he had burst forth into angry denunciation, and in one
indignant sentence had severed all connection between them.

He took out a memorandum book now, and made an entry in it with much
deliberation, then sat for some time wrapped in thought, gnawing
absently at his pencil case, a trick which he had acquired, and of which
the dinted surface of the silver bore tokens.

“One may trust a Denmead to be honourable,” he reflected with a curious
sense of satisfaction. “The boy will never mention that little private
arrangement as to Crosbie’s retiring in four years. I have bought the
living and now the question is how can I use it best to further my own
ends? After all, it’s just as well that this fool has refused it. I can
use it as a bait for some one else, and I’m quit of Ralph for ever.
Though the boy is so like his father in face there’s much more go in him
than there ever was in poor Denmead. He has a bit of the sturdy pluck
and energy of his little Welsh mother. Pshaw! I needn’t trouble about
him. He’s the sort that will swim and not sink, and a little course of
starvation will bring him down from his impossible heights and teach him
that he must do as other men do.”

With that he rose and left the library in search of his wife, and having
chatted pleasantly enough with her at afternoon tea, he casually alluded
to Ralph’s departure.

“What!” said Lady Mactavish, “Is he going out to India, do you mean.”

“Not that I know of,” said Sir Matthew with a laugh.

“He has failed ignominiously in his examination, and has been most
insufferably impertinent to me. I have given him his _congé_, and he
will trouble us no more.”

“The ungrateful boy!” said Lady Mactavish indignantly, “after all that
you have done for him too.”

“He has behaved very badly,” said Sir Matthew; “and I think, my dear, we
are well quit of him. I shall not see him again, but you had better just
say good-bye to him, and by-the-by, I think you might give him a couple
of five-pound notes; I should be sorry to launch him into the world
without a penny in his pockets. It might make people think that I had
been harsh with him.” Ralph had gone straight up to the schoolroom in
search of Evereld, but something had delayed her and he found the place
deserted. Throwing himself down on the window-seat, he let the soft west
wind cool his flushed face and tried to think calmly over the interview
with Sir Matthew. The attack on his father had angered him as nothing
else could have done, and it was over this rather than over his own
future that he mused. The sound of Evereld’s voice singing in the
passage roused him, but before she had reached the schoolroom, the
red baize door leading from the other part of the house creaked on its
hinges, and Lady Mactavish appeared upon the scene.

“I was looking for you, Ralph,” she said, entering the room in front of
Evereld. “I learn, to my great annoyance, that you have failed in your
examination, failed ignominiously. It is quite clear to us all that you
have not been working properly.”

“But every one says that the Indian Civil is such a dreadfully stiff
exam,” said Evereld, “and he did work very hard in Germany; they all
said so.”

“Don’t interrupt me, my dear,” said Lady Mactavish. “It is not a matter
you can understand. After all that Sir Matthew has done for you. Ralph,
I think at least you might have behaved properly to him. He tells me
that you were so impertinent that he has been forced to order you out of
the house.”

“I had no intention of being rude,” said Ralph, standing before her with
much the same expression of impatience, curbed by a sense of obligation
with which he had always taken her fault-finding.

“I am quite aware that your intentions are always, according to your
own account, immaculate,” she said scathingly, “but, unfortunately,
your words and actions don’t correspond with them. You have behaved
abominably to the man who has fed, and clothed, and housed you all these
years, a man who has wasted hundreds of pounds on your schooling.”

“Believe me, I do not forget what he has done for me,” said Ralph
eagerly. “I am grateful for it. But he used words of my father which
were cruel, words which no son could patiently have listened to.”

“Nothing can excuse the way you have behaved,” said Lady Mactavish, “so
say no more about it. What are your plans?”

“I have made none,” said Ralph, “except to go by the six o’clock train.”

“Where are you going?”

“To London,” he replied.

Lady Mactavish glanced at him a little uneasily. She could not without
prickings of conscience think of turning this boy adrift.

“Sir Matthew, with his usual kindness and generosity, asked me to give
you these,” she said, holding out the bank notes. “Though you have
so much disappointed and pained him, he will not let you be sent away
without money.”

But Ralph drew back; there was a look in his eyes which half frightened
Evereld.

“Thank you,” he said, “but I cannot take them; after what passed just
now in the library it is out of the question.”

Lady Mactavish looked uncomfortable. “You have been so shielded and
cared for that you don’t realise what the world is. You will certainly
be getting into trouble. I desire you to take these.”

“I am sorry to refuse you anything,” he said with studied politeness.
“But you ask what is impossible.”

“Your pride is perfectly ridiculous,” she said, turning away with a look
of annoyance. “However, I shall retain these notes for you, and when you
have realised your foolishness, you can write and ask me for them.”

Something in her tone, touched Ralph. It seemed to him that perhaps
after all she had taken some little thought for his well-being, and that
behind her grumbling, ungracious manner, there was more real heart than
he had dreamed.

“Will you not let me say good-bye to you?” he said. “You must not think
I am ungrateful for the home you have given me all these years.”

She took leave of him more kindly than he had expected, after which
he turned thoughtfully back into the schoolroom, where he found poor
Evereld sobbing her heart out.

“Oh, don’t cry,” he said as if the sight of her tears had added the last
straw to his burden. “It can’t be helped, Evereld, and after all, had
I got through my exam. I should have been going abroad before so very
long. And you are going to school for a year. There will be no end of
friends for you there.”

“They won’t be like you,” sobbed Evereld, “You are just like my brother
now. Oh, how I wish we were really brother and sister, then they
couldn’t turn you out like this.”

“I wish we were,” said Ralph with a sigh, as he realised how utterly
he had now cut himself off from intercourse with her.

“All we can do, I suppose, is to hear of each other through the
Professor and Frau Rosenwald. They will never let me write to you at
school. It’s not as if I were your brother really or even your cousin.
They’re awfully strict at schools about that.”

“Well,” said Evereld, resolutely drying her eyes, “We can write in the
holidays, and in a little more than three years’ time I can do just
exactly what I like. Promise, Ralph, that you will come to me when I am
one and twenty. Promise me faithfully.”

“I promise,” he said. But as he spoke it seemed to him that by that
time a thousand things might have happened to divide them. He had
a perception somehow that, once broken, that brotherly and sisterly
intimacy could never again be the same thing. Later on, Evereld knew
that it was indeed at an end, but for the moment his promise cheered
her, and she set herself to work to make the most of the present.
“Come,” she said, “tea is getting cold, and you must eat all you can,
for who knows where you will dine. Oh, Ralph! what do you mean to do?
Where shall you go in London?”

“I think I shall go first to my father’s solicitor, old Mr. Marriott. He
was kind to me when I left Whin-haven, and he will know the whole truth
about things, and will perhaps advise me.”

“Shall you go in for the Indian Civil again?”

“I don’t think so, for most likely all that part is true enough. I must
have failed badly; I never was any good at exams. No, I have a great
idea of trying my luck on the stage. That was always my wish since the
day when my father took me to see Washington. We often laughed over the
plan and discussed it, and he had none of that horror of the stage which
so many parsons profess to have.”

“That would be delightful,--a thousand times better than going to India!
And perhaps we shall go to see you act. And oh! perhaps you’ll get to
know Macneillie!”

“I have no idea where Macneillie has gone to,” said Ralph. “He has not
played in London for the last six years; somebody told me he had started
a Company of his own in the provinces. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to find
out, and write to him. Unless our hero-worship threw a very deceptive
halo round him, he must be an awfully kind-hearted man. Come! drink
to my good fortune, and then like an angel just help me to sort out my
things. Tea, and this notion of yours about Macneillie make me feel like
a giant refreshed. After all, it will be jolly enough to be on one’s own
hook after eating the bitter bread of charity all this time.”

“Yet I rather wish you had taken those hank notes,” said Evereld. “How
much money have you, Ralph, to start with?”

He felt in one pocket and produced a florin. “That will take me to
London,” he said. He felt in another and produced half a sovereign, “on
that I can live for a week,” he remarked.

“And after that?” said Evereld.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“There are night refuges I believe, where for a penny one can lie in a
box and warm oneself with a leather coverlet. And failing these, there
is always the Park, where you can enjoy part of a bench without any
charge at all.”

“Ralph, I’m not going to allow it,” said Evereld, her firm little mouth
assuming its most resolute expression. “Do you think I should have
let Dick go away to starve upon twelve shillings while I was lapped in
luxury? I took you for my brother, the very first night you came, and
I’m not going to give you up, whatever you say.” She unlocked her desk
and took out four sovereigns. “This is all I have left of my allowance;
I wish it were bank notes like the ones you refused. But you can’t
refuse mine, Ralph.”

He hesitated. “I don’t think I ought to take them,” he said.

“Why not?”

“The world would be shocked. What right have I to your money?”

“Every right, since we belong to each other. And as to the world it has
nothing whatever to do with the matter. Don’t waste time, Ralph. Please
take it for my sake.”

He could not resist the blue eyes brimming with tears, but let her place
the money in his hand and gave her a brotherly hug. Then they hastily
began to collect his possessions, talking bravely of the future, and
many times alluding to their old hero Mac neillie.

In the meantime in Geraghty’s pantry two other friends were colloguing;
Bridget having learnt the fate that was to befall her young gentleman
was opening her heart to her elderly _fiancé_.

“It’s turnin’ of him out that they’re after,” she said indignantly,
“And him a fine handsome boy and knowin’ just nothin’ of the world.
Sure thin, Geraghty, it’s a sin, it’s just a mortal sin, and him without
connictions, let alone relations.”

“Where will he be goin’?” asked Geraghty thoughtfully.

“I heard them say he was goin’ to London, and you know what that will
be meanin’ when a boy’s got neither money nor friends to keep him in the
right way. It breaks me heart to think of it.”

“Well, maybe I’d better be tellin’ him of Dan Doolan’s house at
Vauxhall. He’d be with good dacent folk there and they’d not be askin’ a
high rint. Here, give me that tray. I’ll fetch down the schoolroom cups
for ye, and that’ll give me a chance to speak with him.”

Geraghty had always been a favourite in the schoolroom, and Ralph
turned to the old fellow now with a hearty appreciation of his kindly
thoughtfulness.

“We shall all miss you, Mr. Ralph,” he said. “And if I might make so
bold as to be giving you the ricommindation of some rooms in London,
where they tell me you’re going, I think you’d find them respectable,
which is more than can be said for many places. The house belongs to
Dan Doolan, that’s my sister’s husband’s uncle, he and his wife are very
dacent folk and they would do their utmost for you and give you a warm
welcome.”

“Trust the Irish for that,” said Ralph, “I’m very much obliged to
you, Geraghty, for I hadn’t an idea where to look for lodgings. Come,
Evereld, now you will feel much happier about me.”

He took down the address, and then, with the help of

Geraghty and Bridget and Evereld, the packing was finished and the
moment of leave-taking arrived. The butler had carried down the last
portmanteau, Bridget had invoked blessings on his head and gone away
wiping her eyes with her apron, and the two friends were left in the
quiet schoolroom.

“Remember your promise,” said Evereld earnestly.

“I will remember,” said Ralph. “And after all it is likely enough that
we shall meet before that. Courage, dear! Don’t fret. The time will soon
pass.”

“Here is a book for you to read in the train,” she added, afraid to say
much, lest she should break down. “You must have a Dickens to comfort
you, and this will be the best, for the wind is very much in the east
to-day, as dear old Mr. Jarndyce would have said.”

She gave him her own copy of “Bleak House” and Ralph, with a choking
sensation in his throat, bent down and kissed the sweet rosy face that
was still so childlike. After that, without another word, he left the
house, and Evereld, running to her bedroom, watched him until he had
disappeared in the distance, then, throwing herself on the bed, cried as
though her heart would break.



CHAPTER VII


“_Is our age an age of genuine pity? I have my doubts, It is
pre-eminently an age of bustle, and fuss, and fidget; but I think we are
lacking in tenderness._”--Dr. Jessop.

|After the pain of his farewells had begun to wear off a little, Ralph,
being naturally of a hopeful temperament, turned not without some
pleasurable feelings to the thought of the future that lay before him.
More and more his old dreams of becoming an actor filled his mind, and
in the sudden change which had befallen his fortunes he saw something
not unlike a distinct call to return to his first ideal. He clung all
the more to the thought because of the uprooting he had just undergone,
and as he travelled through the Surrey hills on that summer evening,
found comfort in the anchorage of a firm resolve to do all that was in
his power to fit himself for his new vocation. That one did not climb
the ladder at a bound he of course knew well enough, and he had sense to
guess that it would be a difficult matter to get room even on the lowest
step of the ladder. A hard struggle lay before him, but he was full of
vigorous young life and did not shrink from the prospect. Then, too,
he was keenly conscious of the relief of no longer depending upon the
Mactavishes. He could exactly sympathise with Esther in “Bleak
House,” who was always sensible of filling a place in her godmother’s
establishment which ought to have been empty. It was something after all
to be free, even though not precisely knowing how he was to keep body
and soul together.

With the exception of old Mr. Marriott there seemed few to whom he could
apply for advice. His late master at Winchester was away in Switzerland;
the Professor and Frau Rosenwald were in Dresden and were little likely
to be able to help him, while of friends of his own age he had scarcely
any, owing to Lady Mactavish’s dislike to his accepting invitations for
the holidays which would have made return invitations necessary.

On reaching Charing Cross he went straight to Sir Matthew’s house in
Queen Anne’s Gate, left his luggage there, arranged to come the next
day and pack the few things he had in his room, and then walked to Ebury
Street to inquire whether Mr. Marriott were at home. London had such a
deserted air that he began to fear that the solicitor would have joined
in the general exodus. But fortune favoured him, Mr. Marriott was in
town still and had just returned from the City. He was ushered into a
comfortable library, where, in a few moments, the old lawyer joined him,
receiving him in such a kindly and courteous way that the friendless
feeling which had taken possession of him on his arrival in London quite
left him.

“I hope you will excuse my coming at such an hour and to your private
house, but I half feared you might be away and I was very anxious for
your advice,” he said, when the old man’s greetings were ended.

“I’m heartily glad you did come to-night,” said Mr. Marriott. “For
to-morrow I go to Switzerland with my sister and my daughter. Is Sir
Matthew still in town? Are you staying with him?”

“He has this very day turned me out of his house,” said Ralph, and he
briefly told the lawyer what had passed.

“This seems a serious matter,” said Mr. Marriott. “We must talk it over
together, but in the meantime, I will send round for your things, and
you will, I hope, spend the night here. After dinner, we will put our
heads together, and see what can be done.”

Ralph could only gratefully accept the hospitality, and it proved to be
just the genuine old-fashioned hospitality that does the heart good, and
is as unlike its forced counterfeit as real fruit is unlike its waxen
imitation.

Old Mr. Marriott’s sister proved to be one of those eternally young
people who at seventy have more capacity for enjoying life than many
girls of eighteen. Her vivacious face, with its ever varying expression,
her kindly human interest in all things and all people, did more to
drive bitter recollections from Ralph’s mind than anything else could
have done. Moreover, he lost his heart to pretty Katharine Marriott,
though she was many years his senior. Her large, serious, brown eyes,
and her air of gentle dignity seemed to him perfection; he could have
imagined her to be some stately Spanish lady in her black, lace
dress, and though she said little to him, her whole manner was full
of sympathetic charm. When the ladies had left the table, Mr. Marriott
began to make further inquiries as to what had passed that afternoon.

“Is it not possible,” he suggested, “that you too readily took Sir
Matthew at his word? He has been kind to you all these years, has he
not?”

“He has carried out what he undertook,” said Ralph, “and twice,
no--three times--I remember that he really spoke kindly to me. For the
rest of the six years he has never noticed me at all except to find
fault.”

“Do you mean that you got into trouble? That your school reports were
bad or anything of that sort?”

“No, they were decent enough, and I was never exactly in any scrape,
but somehow, in little ways I always managed to displease him; spoke
too much, or too little, or too loud, or not distinctly. If one made the
least noise in coming into a room or closing a door he couldn’t endure
it, or if one stole in with elaborate care and quietness, he would start
and say a stealthy step was intolerable to him. As to breakfast, the
only meal we ever had with him as children, it used to be a time of
torture, for if you held your knife or fork in a way which did not
exactly meet his ideal way of holding a knife and fork, he made you feel
that you had committed a crime.”

“So there was never much love lost between you,” said Mr. Marriott, with
a smile. “Well it is what I feared would happen when I last saw you. Did
he often mention your father’s name?”

“Hardly ever, except when some guest was there who was likely to be
impressed with his kindness in having adopted a poor clergyman’s son,”
 said Ralph, flushing hotly at certain galling recollections. “It was
never until this afternoon, though, that he dared to speak of my father
as an unpractical fool who had left me a beggar, and to taunt me with
the high ideals which would never have kept me from starving.”

“And did this lead to your quarrel?” said the lawyer, his brows
contracting a little.

“Yes,” said Ralph, “I replied that my father was at least an honest man,
and he seemed to take that as a sort of personal affront--I’m sure I
don’t know why. He went into a towering rage and ordered me out of his
sight.”

“He is morbidly sensitive as to his reputation,” said Mr. Marriott, “and
no doubt he thought you knew something to his disadvantage. Did it ever
occur to you as strange that he should have adopted you?”

“At first I thought it was because he had really cared for my father
and because he was my godfather, but before long I began to think it was
chiefly as a sort of telling advertisement,” said Ralph, with a touch of
bitterness in his tone.

“All three notions were probably right,” said the lawyer, “but there
was yet another reason of which I can tell you something. On the day we
reached Whinhaven and began to look through your father’s papers, one
of the very first things I came across in his blotting-book was the
rough draft of a letter with a blank for the name in the first line.
Seeing that it bore reference to the unlucky investment he had made, I
glanced through it. It bitterly reproached the man he was writing to,
for having recommended him to place his money in the company which had
just gone into liquidation, and alluded to assurances that had been
given him of this friend’s close knowledge of all the details, and
complete confidence in the safety of the company. I recollect that one
sentence referred to you, and your father said, ‘Should this illness of
mine prove fatal, I look to you, as Ralph’s godfather, to do what you
can for him, for it was in consequence of your advice that I made this
unfortunate speculation.’”

Ralph started to his feet. “It was Sir Matthew then who ruined him!”

“Well,” said the lawyer, “on reading that I looked up and casually asked
him if he knew who your godfathers were, he replied that he was one,
and that to the best of his recollection, the other had been a distant
kinsman of your father’s, a certain Sir Richard Den-mead, who had died
a few years before. Then, without further comment, I handed him the
letter, remarking that of course, I had no idea on reading it that it
bore reference to himself. He was naturally annoyed and upset, but was
obliged to own that it was the draft of the letter he had received. He
was doing what he could to justify himself when you came into the room,
and what passed after that you no doubt remember.”

“I remember,” said Ralph, “that he patronised me--he--my father’s
murderer. The word is not a bit too strong for him. He murdered my
father just as truly as if he had stabbed him to the heart. It was not
the cold that killed him, it was the misery and the depression and the
anxiety for the future. And this false friend of his is the man that
goes about opening bazaars, and posing as a profoundly religious man!
Faugh! It’s revolting!”

“I have never liked Sir Matthew Mactavish,” said Mr. Marriott, quietly.
“It is wonderful to me how he impresses people; there must be some germ
of greatness in him or he couldn’t do it. I am quite aware that the
discovery of the truth must make you feel very bitterly towards him,
but if you will take an old man’s advice you will dwell upon the past as
little as possible. You can do no good by thinking of the injury he has
done you, and you will have to be very careful how you speak of him,
or in an angry moment you may make yourself liable to an action
for slander; legally you know a thing may be perfectly true, but if
maliciously uttered and in a way that injures another in his calling it
may be nevertheless slander. So you must not proclaim your wrongs
from the housetops. How the question is what are you to do to support
yourself?”

“I want to try my luck on the stage,” said Ralph. “It was my wish long
ago, and I believe that I might make something of it. I shall never be
much good at examinations.”

“It seems rather the fashion for young fellows to try it nowadays,” said
the lawyer, “but I should think the life was a very hard one, and like
all other callings in this country it is much overcrowded. Still you
might do worse. I will give you a letter to Barry Sterne; he is a client
of mine and might possibly be able to help you. At any rate he would
give you his advice.”

Ralph caught at the suggestion, and when the next morning the Marriotts
started for Switzerland they left him in excellent spirits.

“Are you quite sure you have enough to live on until you get work,”
 asked the old lawyer, drawing him aside at the last moment. “I will
gladly lend you something.”

“Thank you,” replied Ralph. “But I have enough to live on till the end
of September.”

“And by that time we shall be in London again,” said Mr. Marriott. “Be
sure you come to see us and let us know how you prosper.”

It was not without some trepidation that later in the morning Ralph
presented himself at the house of Barry Sterne, the great actor. He sent
in Mr. Marriott’s letter of introduction and waited nervously in a
small back sitting-room, the window of which opened into one of those
miniature ferneries which one associates with the operating room of a
dentist. Three dejected gold-fish swam aimlessly up and down the narrow
tank, and the ferns looked as if they pined for country air. It was a
relief when at length he was summoned into the adjoining room. Here
the sun was shining, and there was a general sense of ease and comfort,
Barry Sterne himself harmonising very well with his setting, for he was
a good-natured looking giant with a most genial manner, and his broad,
expansive face beamed in a very kindly fashion on his visitor.

“I’m afraid I can’t do anything for you,” he said, but the words carried
no sting because the tone was so delightful. “I have hundreds of these
applications, and it’s about the most disagreeable part of my life to be
for ever saying ‘no’ to people.”

He put a few questions to him, all the while observing him attentively
with his keen eyes.

“Well, you see,” he remarked, leaning back easily in his chair and
telling off the various items on his fingers as he proceeded. “Things
seem to me to stand like this. You have a good presence, a good voice,
a good manner; but you have no experience, you have had no special
preparation, you have no money, and you have no friends or relatives
in the profession. There are three points for you and four against you.
That means that you will have a very hard struggle, and will have to
be content to take any mortal thing you can get. Are you prepared for
that?”

“I am prepared to begin at the very bottom of the profession if only it
will give me a real chance of getting on,” said Ralph.

“To make a fool of yourself in a pantomime, for instance,” said the
actor, eyeing him keenly. “Or to walk on and say nothing in a piece that
runs for a couple of hundred nights?”

“Yes, I would do it,” said Ralph, thoughtfully. “If, in the meantime, I
was really learning and making some way.”

“Right,” said Barry Sterne. “That’s the way to set to work. But as
a rule a gentleman thinks he must step into the first ranks of the
profession straight away, which is a confounded mistake. I’ll write you
a note of introduction to Costa, the agent. You may thoroughly trust
him, and he may perhaps be able sooner or later to put you in the way of
something. I wish I knew of any opening for you. But I’m off to America
next month with Miss Greville’s Company.”

The name instantly recalled Macneillie to Ralph’s mind.

“When I was a small boy,” he said, “Mr. Macneillie was once very good
to me. If he were in London still, I might have gone to him. Do you know
what has become of him.”

“Hugh Macneillie? Why he would be precisely the man for you. He went to
America about six years ago, had a tremendous success over there, and
when he came back to England started a travelling company of his own.
Oh, Macneillie is a sterling fellow, you couldn’t do better than try to
get in with him. Costa will be able to tell you his whereabouts.”

After that, with a few kindly words and good wishes, Ralph found himself
dismissed.

The day was intensely hot; however, he set off at once for the agent’s,
handed in Barry Sterne’s letter, was sharply scrutinised by Costa’s keen
Jewish eyes, and had his name entered upon the books, after paying five
shillings.

“You must not be too sanguine,” said the agent, his dark melancholy face
contrasting oddly with Ralph’s fresh colouring, and hopeful eyes. “I
have one thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine names down of members of
the profession who are out of employment, or of people who seek to enter
the profession. You bring up the total to two thousand.”

Ralph turned a little pale. “Is it so bad as that,” he said. “Then I
have no chance at all it seems to me.”

He asked for Macneillie’s present address and went off in very low
spirits to write his letter, pack up his worldly goods, and take up his
quarters in the rooms which Geraghty had recommended.

People seldom do things well when they are in low spirits, and Ralph,
who detested giving trouble or asking favours, wrote a stiff, short
letter to Macneillie, asking his advice and inquiring whether he could
possibly give him a place in his company. It was precisely the sort of
letter which Macneillie received by the dozen from stage-struck youths
in all parts of the country. Had he spoken of his boyish hero-worship
of the actor, or of their encounter at Richmond, there would have been
a human touch about the letter which would at once have appealed to
the Scotsman; he would certainly have made a special effort for one so
closely connected with the most tragic day of his life. But Ralph after
floundering hopelessly in a sentence which alluded to the past, tore up
his sheet of paper and wrote the bald, curt note, which so ill conveyed
the real state of his case.

Macneillie, wearily returning from a rehearsal of four hours’ length,
in which his temper had been severely tried, found the missive in his
dreary lodgings at a south-coast watering place, hastily glanced through
the contents and thrust the letter into his letter-clip among other
similar requests, about which there was no immediate hurry. A fortnight
later he wrote the following short reply:

“Dear Sir,

“I have no opening at present in my company, and if you really intend to
go into the profession, and have realised that it demands incessant
and most arduous work, I should strongly advise you to begin at the
beginning of all things. Try to get taken on as a super at one of the
leading theatres, where you will have opportunities for studying really
great actors. Costa is a trustworthy agent.

“Yours truly,

“Hugh Macneillie.”

The letter chanced to arrive in Paradise Street on a foggy September
evening when Ralph was in particularly low spirits. He had expected much
from Macneillie and was proportionately disappointed. It seemed almost
as if an old friend had shut the door in his face, nor did he quite
realise that few men as busy, and as much tormented by importunate
scribblers as Macneillie, would have troubled to answer his appeal at
all. What was he to do? Where was he to turn for work? And how much
longer would Evereld’s money hold out? The question was more easily than
satisfactorily answered. It was clearly impossible that he could exist
much longer in Paradise Street, and though its dingy room and bare,
scanty furniture was far from inviting, yet he had grown fond of his
good-natured landlord and took a kindly interest in the whole family of
Doolans, with their easy, happy-go-lucky ways, and strong sense of
humour. Life was lonely enough now. What would it be if he were
altogether without a home in this great wilderness of London?



CHAPTER VIII


“_A man who habitually pleases himself will become continually more
selfish and sordid, even among the most noble and beautiful conditions
which nature, history, or art can furnish; and, on the other hand, any
one who will try each day to live for the sake of others, will grow more
and more gracious in thought and bearing, however dull and even squalid
may be the outward circumstances of his soul’s probation._”--Dean
Paget.

|Ralph’s chief comfort at this time was in a certain free library at no
great distance from his lodgings. He made his way there now, and for a
time lost the sense of his troubles in the world of books. This evening
he had the good fortune to light upon Stanley Weyman’s “House of the
Wolf,” a story which gave him keener and more healthy enjoyment than he
had known for many a day. When he came back to the everyday world again
and set out for his return walk to Paradise Street, he found that the
fog had very much increased and it was with great difficulty that he
could make out his way. As he was groping cautiously along an almost
deserted street, he was startled by the sound of a shrill, childish
voice.

“Let me go! Let me go!” it cried passionately. “How dare you stop me?
How dare you?”

Ralph ran in the direction of the sound, until in the fog and darkness,
he cannoned against the form of a man who turned angrily upon him,
revealing as he did so, in the dim lamplight which struggled through the
murky air, the evil face of an old _roué_. Fighting to free herself from
him, like a little wild-cat, was the figure of a mere child; her vigour
and agility were wonderful to behold and it was a task of no great
difficulty for Ralph to help in freeing her from the clutches of the
two-legged brute. Spite of the imperfect light, the child had been
quickwitted enough to recognise the new comer as a protector, and she
clung firmly to his hand as they went down the foggy street, never
pausing until all fear of further molestation was over. Then, panting
for breath, she stopped for a minute beneath a lamp-post, and in the
little oasis of light, looked searchingly up into his face as though to
make quite sure what manner of man he was. He saw now that she must
be older than he had thought; from her height he had fancied her about
eleven but he realised both by her face and her expression, that she
must be at least fifteen. Her colouring was curiously like Evereld’s but
the face was sharper, and had a funny look of assurance and knowledge
of the world, which was, nevertheless, belied by the childish curves of
cheek and chin, and by the nervous pressure with which she still clasped
his hand.

“I don’t know a bit what this street is,” she said, with tears in her
voice, “And if I don’t soon get home grandfather will be dreadfully
anxious about me.”

“Where is your home?” asked Ralph, feeling curiously drawn to the
forlorn little mortal who had crossed his path so strangely.

“It’s in Paradise Street, Vauxhall,” said the child.

“Ah, that’s lucky!” said Ralph. “My rooms are there too. What takes you
out at this time of night? It’s not safe for you to be wandering about
London alone.”

“I always do go alone,” said the child, a little indignantly. “And no
one ever dared to bother me before. One of the dressers always walks
with me as far as our roads lie together, but this bit I always do alone
ever since I went to the theatre.”

“Oh you are on the stage,” said Ralph, his interest increasing; “Well,
you are lucky to have work; it’s more than I can get.”

“I used only to dance,” said the child, eagerly. “But now I have a
little part of my own, but of course you won’t know my name yet, it’s
not much known. I am Miss Ivy Grant.”

There was a comical touch of pride and dignity in the words. Ralph’s
lip twitched, but he bowed gravely and said he was delighted to make
her acquaintance. Then, having walked a little further, they suddenly
realised what road they were in and without much more difficulty groped
their way home to Paradise Street.

“I want you to come in and see my grandfather,” said Ivy, pausing at her
door. “He will be very grateful to you for having helped me.”

Ralph hesitated. “It is late for me to come in now,” he said.

“It won’t be late for grandfather, he never settles in till after
midnight. He is half paralysed. Please come.”

He couldn’t find it in his heart to resist the pleading little
voice, and Ivy took him through the narrow passage and into the front
sitting-room, where they found a fine looking old man whose flowing,
white beard and many coloured dressing-gown gave him a sort of Eastern
look. The small, grey, critical eyes, however, were not Eastern at all
and when he spoke Ralph fancied that he could detect a slight Scotch
accent, which together with the tone of voice made him think somehow of
Sir Matthew Mactavish.

He looked searchingly at the new comer, but on Ivy’s hurried explanation
held out his hand cordially, thanking him for coming to the child’s aid
with a warmth which was evidently genuine.

“She has to be breadwinner-in-chief to the establishment,” he said,
with a smile, “And being a wise-like little body seldom gets into
difficulties. Being a useless old log myself I should long ago have
been hewn down and cast into the Union had it not been for the Ivy that
supported me.”

“You say those pretty things because you know it will make me come and
kiss you,” said Ivy, saucily, as she threw off her cloak and hat and
wreathed her arms about the old man’s neck. “And now while I get your
coffee ready you must talk to Mr. Denmead, for he wants work at the
theatre and can’t get it.”

“Half a dozen years ago when I was dramatic critic for the _Pennon_ I
might have done something for you,” said the old man, wistfully. “But
now I am little but a burden as I told you. A few pupils come to me
still for lessons in elocution, and I have the training of Ivy who is
going to be a credit to me.”

As he spoke he glanced towards the little housewife who with an air of
importance was preparing the supper. Ralph thought he had never before
seen any one move with such grace, and though her face was lacking
in the simplicity and peace which characterised Evereld, it was a
particularly winsome little face.

“How did you get on to-night little one?” said the old man.

“Very well,” said Ivy as she poured the coffee out of an ancient
percolator into three earthenware cups which had seen hard service.
Ralph observed that she kept the cup without a handle for herself, and
carefully selected him one which was without a chip on the drinking
side of the rim. “But I might easily have broken my leg,” she continued,
cheerfully; “for that stupid Jem had forgotten to shut one of the traps
properly, and Mr. Merrithorne stumbled and hurt his ankle badly.”

“What part does he play?” said her grandfather.

“Oh he hasn’t very much to do, he is a rather stupid footman and he was
bringing in the luncheon tray with the property pie and that old fowl
which wants painting again so badly, and when he tripped up, the pie
went bowling down the stage, and the fowl landed in Miss West’s lap and
every one roared with laughter. She was dreadfully angry, but afterwards
when it seemed that Mr. Merrithorne was really hurt she was rather sorry
for him.”

“Who is his understudy?”

“I don’t know. It is such a little part, perhaps he hasn’t one. But he
was limping dreadfully as he went away. I shouldn’t think he could act
to-morrow.”

“It’s possible that might give you a chance,” said the professor of
elocution. “A stupid, countrified man-servant you say, Ivy? Are you
pretty good at dialect?”

Ralph laughed, for he knew that he was an adept at a certain south
country dialect, and without more ado stood up and gave the Professor
a short and highly humourous dialogue between a ploughman and his boy,
with which he had often made Evereld and her governess laugh.

“Good,” said the Professor, his grey eyes twinkling, “I think you’ll
do young man; but come to me to-morrow morning at nine o’clock and I’ll
give you a few hints about voice production.”

Ralph coloured. “You are very good,” he said, “but to tell the truth
I am at my wit’s end for money and much as I would like lessons can’t
possibly afford them.”

“Pshaw! nonsense,” said the Professor, knitting his brows. “I’m already
in your debt, for it might have fared ill with the child had you not
taken care of her tonight. If I can give you a helping hand, nothing
would please me better. And after the lesson you might go round with
Ivy, and I’ll give you an introduction to the manager. He’s a man I knew
well at one time.”

Ralph’s face lighted up. “I should be very grateful,” he said, eagerly,
“for this waiting about for work is tedious enough, and I shall be
starved out before long.”

He went home much cheered and with great expectations. The Professor
interested him; there was something half mysterious about the
white-haired old man which puzzled him and picqied his curiosity. He was
particularly benevolent and kindly and yet he seemed as unpractical as
a mere visionary, and was surely to blame in letting a child like Ivy go
to and from the theatre each night alone.

Clearly the granddaughter was manager-in-chief as well as breadwinner,
and as he thought of her winsome little face with its shrewd, light-blue
eyes, slightly _retroussé_ nose, and small, firm mouth he felt a keen
desire to see more of her. She was so quaint in her brisk, housewifely
arrangements, so deft and clever in all her ways; a little conscious at
times, and quite capable of posing for effect, but lovable in spite of
that.

“I could soon laugh her out of those little affectations,” he thought to
himself. “And there is such a look of Evereld about her that she must at
heart be good. She is very clever, possibly she is even cunning, and she
has extraordinary tact--almost too much for such a child.”

He went to sleep and was haunted all night by that funny, pathetic,
little face of the child actress. Together they fled from a thousand
perils, and when next morning he saw her again face to face, it seemed
to him that they were quite old companions.

“Good day,” said the Professor in his bland, pleasant voice as Ralph was
ushered into the dreary little room. “Sit down for a minute, I have not
yet finished with my other pupil. Now sir! don’t mumble like a bee in a
bottle. You know well enough how to get the clear shock of the glottis
and that’s the secret of voice production. You have the voice and the
lungs and the knowledge of the method, but you are lazy, incorrigibly
lazy!”

The young man crimsoned and with an effort burst out with one of
Prospero’s speeches:

                        “I pray thee, mark me.

               I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated

               To closeness and the bettering of my mind

               With that which, but by being so retired,

               O’er prized all popular rate, in my false brother

               Awaked an evil nature.”

There he was arrested; for the Professor thundered on the floor with his
walking stick, looking as if he would much have enjoyed laying it about
the victim’s shoulders.

His scathing sarcasms, his merciless interruptions, his sharp criticism,
would have tried the patience of Job himself, but his unfortunate
pupil struggled on and really improved marvellously, while Ralph sat an
observant spectator, learning not a little from all that went on. At the
close of the instruction the old man’s serenity of manner returned--he
even praised the youth he had so violently abused but a minute before.
The reason of this soon transpired; he needed his help with the next
pupil. “You are not pressed for time?” he asked, with a smile. “Then I
shall be much obliged if you will kindly help my new pupil, Mr. Denmead,
with the first exercise.”

The victim glanced somewhat anxiously at the clock, but the Professor
was evidently an autocrat, and it would have been easier to refuse a
request made by the Czar himself.

“You will lie at full length on the floor,” said the Professor, with a
lordly wave of the hand towards Ralph. “My pupil, Mr. Bourne, will then
kneel on your chest, and you will in this position practise the art of
breathing.”

Ralph obeyed, not without a strong sense of the absurdity of the whole
scene. Could Sir Matthew Mactavish have seen him at that moment, lying
on the bare boards of a dingy lodging-house in Vauxhall, with a young
reciter of no mean weight kneeling on his chest, with a paralytic
and mysterious old sage roaring and shouting instructions and beating
impatient tattoos with his stick at intervals, while a pretty young girl
sat by the window covering stage shoes with cheap pink satin, how amazed
he would have been.

This was certainly beginning at the beginning of all things. By eleven
o’clock that morning he was for the first time in his life entering the
stage door of a theatre,--it was one of the outlying suburban houses at
which there was a stock company and a frequent change of plays,--while
Ivy, with her funny little air of importance, showed him all that she
thought would interest him.

The manager, a somewhat harassed looking man, took the Professor’s note,
read it hurriedly, and glanced keenly at Ralph.

“Does Mr. Merrithorne act to-night?” asked Ivy, anxiously.

“No, my dear; he won’t be fit to go on again for a month at least. I
understand, Mr. Denmead, that you are a pupil of Professor Grant.”

“Yes,” said Ralph, “but I am quite a novice.”

“H’m,” said the manager, taking a long look at him. “You’re positively
the first man that ever made that confession to me. I’ve a mind to try
you. Come with me, and I will give you the part. You can read it at
rehearsal if you haven’t time to learn it.”

Ivy beamed with delight when he returned to her.

“The manager was just in his very best temper,” she said, happily. “Come
to this quiet corner, and I’ll see that no one interrupts you.”

The part was short and simple, and Ralph, who had an excellent memory,
learnt it easily enough. But when it came to rehearsing his scenes
in the dreary vastness of the empty theatre amid distant sounds of
hammering and scrubbing, and the perfectly audible comments of his
fellow actors, he felt in despair; there was no getting inside the
character, he could only feel himself Ralph Denmead, in uncomfortable
circumstances, and breathing a curious atmosphere of hostility. He went
home feeling nervous and miserable, but Ivy’s talk helped to amuse him,
and distract his attention.

“They will like you when they get used to you,” she said,
philosophically. “But some of them think you are just a wealthy amateur,
and that you have paid for the chance of appearing in public. We all
hate that kind of man. Some others say you are an Oxonian wanting a
little amusement during the long vacation, and that you will be going
back to the University next month. And Miss West thinks you are a
disguised nobleman.”

“Well, then, they’re all of them wrong,” said Ralph, obliged to laugh
in spite of himself. “I’m not a disguised duke, nor even a marquis, but
just plain Ralph Denmead, with very few coins in his pocket, and not a
single relation or rich friend to help him.”

When the evening came, Ralph found that the flatness and coldness of the
morning had entirely passed; every one seemed in better spirits, and the
two men who shared his dressing-room were friendly enough directly they
found he was a genuine worker, not a mere _dilettante_.

A youngster who was neither conceited nor grasping, but was content to
begin with a very small part, and a still smaller salary, was quite
a phenomenon, and, as usual, Ralph’s good humour and common-sense,
together with his readiness to see fun in everything, stood him in good
stead.

When the last awful moment arrived, and he stood at the wings in
his gorgeous livery of drab and scarlet, with powdered hair and
knee-breeches, he found that the atmosphere of hostility which he had
felt so oppressive at rehearsal was entirely gone.

“Good luck to you!” said the heavy man, laying a fatherly hand on his
shoulder. “Never fear; you’ll do well enough.”

And with these words to hearten him, he took that first desperate plunge
into the icy-cold waters of publicity.

Ivy’s face beamed upon him as he returned.

“That applause was for you,” she said, rapturously, “and they don’t
generally laugh nearly as much after that blunder with the luncheon
table.”

“But I see where I might improve it,” said Ralph, thoughtfully. And
truly enough he did improve each night he played the servant and other
small parts.

Then, at the end of a month, Merrithorne’s ankle recovered, he returned
to the theatre, and Ralph once more found himself out of work.

What was his next step to be?



CHAPTER IX


               “If I were loved, as I desire to be,

               What is there in the great sphere of the earth,

               And range of evil between death and birth,

               That I shall fear, if I were loved by thee?”

                        Tennyson.

|If yer plase, yer honour, Mr. Geraghty is below, and would like to see
yer honour if its convaniant,” said little Nora Doolan, thrusting her
untidy head into the cheerless back room in Paradise Street.

Ralph, who was pacing to and from learning a part in a Shakesperian play
which he was little likely to act as yet, glanced round with brightening
face.

“What? Dear old Geraghty!” he exclaimed. “I’m glad he has looked me up.
Show him upstairs Nora, for I should like to have a talk with him.”

The old man-servant responded with alacrity to the warm welcome he
received.

“It’s delighted I am to see you again, Mr. Ralph,” he exclaimed, looking
him over with an air of satisfaction as though he had some share in his
well-being. “And it’s in good health that you are looking, sir, and no
mistake.”

“Nothing like hard work, Geraghty, for keeping a man well,” said Ralph.
“And I hope I’m settled now for some time to come. You can tell Miss
Evereld that I’m at the very theatre we so often used to go to, and that
I have the pleasure of seeing Washington act every night.”

“I’m glad to hear it, sir,” said Geraghty. “We all knew long ago, sir,
that you’d make a first-class actor; it took but a little small bit of
discrimination to see that much.”

Ralph laughed. “Well, Geraghty, you mustn’t run away with the notion
that I’m a star, for, as a matter of fact, I am nothing but a super at
a pound a week. But it’s better to begin at the beginning in a good
theatre than to be cock-of-the-walk in a fifth-rate one.”

“To be sure, sir, it’s just what I was saying but now to my sister about
placing her eldest girl. ‘Never mind how little she earns the first
year or two,’ said I, ‘but for heaven’s sake place her in a gentleman’s
family, and don’t let her demean herself by takin’ service with them
that hasn’t an ounce of breeding to bless themselves with. Let her be
kitchen or scullery-maid or what you will, but have her with gentry.’”

“Geraghty,” said Ralph, with a mischievous smile, “You have such a
respect for birth that it’s my firm conviction you’ll be the last and
most staunch supporter left to the House of Lords.”

Geraghty laughed all over his face, and his broad shoulders shook.

“I’ve seen just a little too much of the aristocracy to pin my faith to
them, sir. Handsome is as handsome does, and gentle is as gentle does.
But from the House of Lords and their marrin’ and muddlin’--Good Lord
deliver us!”

Ralph who had purposely provoked this tirade from the Irishman, laughed
and changed the subject by an inquiry after Evereld.

“Well, thank God, she’s getting on finely, sir. Seems as if there was a
special Providence over orphans, and Bridget she says why that’s natural
enough, that their parents can see better how to guide them bein’ higher
up so to speak. But, however that may be, at first we all thought she’d
fret her heart out with missin’ you, sir. But in September, Bridget
took her down to the school at Southbourne, and though she was a bit
faint-hearted at the notion, she’d no sooner set eyes on the place than
she was sure she’d be happy there. Bridget says it’s the most beautiful
house and garden you ever saw, and all so comfortable and homelike in
spite of the size. And Miss Evereld writes that she’s as happy as the
day is long, and that they’re teaching her how to nurse sick folks, and
that she’s learnt to darn her own stockin’s--a thing she never got a
chance o’ doin’ at home--and to dance the minuet, and to do algebra, and
I don’t know what beside. But, from what Bridget told me, I foregathered
that it wasn’t a school where they cram them like turkeys for Christmas
or geese for a Michaelmas fair, but just a home on a large scale for
turnin’ out well-mannered young gentlewomen who’ll have a very good
notion how to manage a home on a smaller scale.”

When the old Butler had gone, Ralph fell into a reverie. The effect of
hearing all about Evereld had been to make him long very impatiently for
the end of their separation. It was true that when she returned to the
Mactavishes at Christmas he could write to her without any breach of
regulations, but there seemed no chance of their meeting, and he greatly
missed his old companion. He began to weave all manner of visions of
future success, and to imagine that in an incredibly short space of time
he had gained quite a high position at Washington’s theatre, that he met
Evereld in society, and that Sir Matthew, who always paid homage to the
successful, became quite friendly and cordial to him. How strange it
would be to be invited as a distinguished guest to the very house in
Queen Anne’s Gate where he had been snubbed and scolded as a boy.

It was with something of a shock that he came back to the prosaic
present and found himself merely a super about to go through, for the
fiftieth time, the wearisome business which was his allotted share in a
play which was likely to run for many months more.

It was just at Christmas that he was confronted by one of those
decisions that form the chief difficulty of an actor’s career. To seize
the right opportunity of promotion, yet to avoid “Raw haste,” half-sister
to delay to have precisely that right judgment which often determines
the success or failure of a life, is hard to all mortals, but hardest
to those of the artistic temperament. The temptation to escape from
the monotony of his present work came to him through the Professor’s
granddaughter.

To little Ivy Grant he had from the very first seemed a full fledged
hero. He was the first man she had ever looked up to, for although
devoted to her old grandfather it was not easy to respect the Professor.
He seemed, to shrewd little Ivy, a very weak old man, and she despised
the weak, not understanding at all that habit of making large allowance
for human infirmity which grows with the growing years. The old man was
a confirmed opium eater. The habit, begun in a time of physical pain and
great mental worry, had now bound him fast in its cruel chains, and the
kindly benevolence which had struck Ralph at first sight as so strange
a contrast with his blameworthy neglect of Ivy’s safety, was all due to
the influence of the drug. His will was now not in the least his own,
and though he had his moments of exquisite exaltation he had always
to pay for them by times of black depression and misery. Under these
circumstances the child’s life could hardly be a happy one; she was,
moreover, scarcely strong enough for the late hours and the exposure to
all sorts of weather which her work entailed, and in spite of her
brisk, managing ways she began to crave for something more strong and
trustworthy to support her than her grandfather whose simile of the
lifeless trunk of the tree kept up by the ivy supporting it, had been
singularly near the truth.

When Ralph no longer played at the same theatre, and their meetings
became less frequent, the little girl flagged and lost heart. She had
good impulses but she was easily led, and her friendship with Ralph had
filled her with a sense of dissatisfaction with her own life, and the
lives that most nearly touched her own. Her busy little brain began
to form eager plans for the future, and at last fate put in her way a
chance which revived her drooping spirits, and lighted up her blue
eyes with hope. Her good news arrived on Christmas day, otherwise the
festival would have been cheerless enough, for the old Professor had
slept in his invalid chair the whole of the morning, and Ivy, sitting
in solitary state beside the fire, had eaten a sober little Christmas
dinner consisting of a slice of cold meat and a mince-pie kindly given
to her by the landlady. Then having tidied the bare little room, and
stuck a solitary piece of holly in the window that people might see
she was “keeping Christmas” properly, she returned to her place on the
hearthrug, and tried to become interested in a penny novelette which
should have been exciting, but somehow failed to touch her.

“Stupid thing!” she exclaimed presently, throwing the book to the
further end of the room with a little petulant gesture. “I can’t even
cry when the heroine dies. What is the good of a book if you can’t cry
over it?”

Just then there came a tap at the door, and in walked Ralph with his
cheerful face, and in his hands was a great bunch of ivy and mistletoe.

“A happy Christmas to you,” he said, taking her cold little hand in his.
“How’s the Professor? Not worse I hope?”

“He is no worse,” said Ivy, “but he has been asleep all day, and it’s
dreadfully dull. Where did you get such lovely evergreens?”

“Walked out into the country this morning, right away beyond Hampstead.
As for the mistletoe, that’s a particular present from Dan Doolan, and
I’ve just had to kiss seven small Doolans beneath it before they would
let me out of the house. Now your turn has come.”

Ivy laughed and protested, but was thrilled through and through by the
kiss, though it was just as matter-of-fact as that which he had bestowed
on Tim Doolan, aged three. Her little, pale face lighted up radiantly,
but unobservant Ralph saw nothing of that, he was bestowing all his
energies on the decoration of the dreary, little room, and crowning with
ivy the portraits of sundry great actors and actresses.

“Do you think Mrs. Siddons ever looked as stiff and forbidding as this?”
 he said, glancing round with a smile, as Ivy held him a laurel branch to
put above the frame.

“Yes,” she replied, saucily. “She must have looked like that when she
said in awful tones, ‘Will it wash?’ to the poor frightened shopman who
was serving her.”

“Ah, perhaps. Well, Ivy, there is no fear that you will ever strike
terror into any one’s heart.”

“Who cares for striking terror into people?” she replied, merrily,
and as she spoke she began to float dreamily away into an exquisitely
graceful skirt-dance; her little, childish face growing more and more
sweet and tranquil as she proceeded.

Clearly dancing was her vocation. Ralph stood with his back to the fire
watching her perfect grace: it seemed to him the very poetry of motion.
And Ivy was at her very best when she was dancing; at other times her
ways occasionally jarred on him, her acting left much to be desired, and
a certain vein of silliness in her now and then awoke his contempt,
but when dancing she seemed like one inspired; he could only wonder and
admire.

“Some day you will be our greatest English dancer,” lie said, as once
more she settled down into her nook beside the fire.

“I don’t want to be that,” said Ivy, “English dancers are never made so
much of as foreigners, and besides, a dancer’s position is not so good.
I mean to be an actress.”

“It’s a thousand pities,” said Ralph. “Why do people always want to do
things they can’t do well.”

Ivy pouted.

“Grandfather doesn’t wish me only to dance,” she said. “And besides I
have just heard of quite a fresh opening. What would you say to earning
two pounds a week?”

“I should say I’m not likely to do that yet awhile,” said Ralph,
philosophically.

“But you can! you can!” said Ivy, clapping her hands joyfully. “There’s
an opening for you as well as for me, for I specially asked. It’s a ‘fit
up’ company and we should be wanted in February when the pantomime is
over.”

“Where?” asked Ralph, looking incredulous.

“For a tour in Scotland. A ‘fit up’ company too, and nothing to provide
but just wigs and shoes and tights.”

“Who is the manager?”

“The husband of the leading lady. His name is Skoot.”

“Don’t like the name,” said Ralph, laughing.

“Why what’s in a name?” said Ivy. “The poor man didn’t choose it. For
my part I think it is better than assuming some grand name that doesn’t
belong to him. And then his Christian name is Theophilus.”

But Ralph still laughed.

“Worse and worse,” he said. “Theophilus Skoot is a detestable
combination. Dick, Tom, or Harry, would have been better. No, no, Ivy; I
think we had better stay where we are.”

Ivy looked much disheartened, and to change the subject Ralph suggested
that they should go together to the Abbey. This pleased her, she forgot
the Scotch tour and only revelled in the bliss of the present. To
walk to church on Christmas day with her ideal man, to feel the subtle
influence of the beautiful Abbey, the lights, the music, the religious
atmosphere, seemed to her a sort of foretaste of heaven, a slightly
sensuous heaven perhaps, but the highest she was as yet capable of
imagining. Ralph was not sorry to have the child with him, for his
Christmas had been lonely enough. But his thoughts wandered far away
from her during the service. He was back again at Whinhaven listening to
his father’s voice, or he was with Evereld and her governess listening
to solemn old chorales at Dresden.

Presently a very slight thing recalled him to his actual surroundings.
The sermon was about to begin and some one sitting in front of him rose
to go just as the text was given out:

“And in the fulness of time God sent------”

He heard no more for the vacant place had revealed to him, at a little
distance in front, a profile which ‘arrested his whole attention.
Something in its earnest, absorbed expression, in its exquisite purity,
in the listening look of one who is eager to learn, appealed to him
strongly. Then suddenly his heart gave a bound, for it was borne in upon
him that he was looking at Evereld. Not the Evereld he had left on
that summer day as a playmate and comrade, but a new Evereld who had
developed into a woman--the one woman in all the world for him. He did
not wish the sermon ended, he could have been almost content to sit on
there for ever just watching her; that curious description of heaven as
a place

               “Where congregations ne’er break up,

               And Sabbaths never end,”--

a notion which has east a gloom over so many children’s hearts, seemed
to him in his present mood after all not so impossible.

When the service was really over, and the people began to disperse, he
was in a fever lest he should be unable to reach her, and it was not
until he had discovered that Bridget was her companion that he could
feel at all secure of any real talk with her.

Ivy, quite unconscious of all this, wondered a little when he paused
in the nave; but she did not at all object to standing there with him,
looking into the dim beauty of the stately building, and with a proud
little consciousness that many people glanced at them as they passed by.
It was so nice, she reflected, to go to church with a man like Ralph,
a man wholly unlike any other she had yet come across in her short and
rather dreary life.

Meanwhile, Evereld was drawing nearer. Ivy was just admiring her
dark-green jacket and toque with their beaver trimmings, and longing to
have just such a costume herself, when she saw a vivid colour suffuse
the wearer’s face, her blue eyes shone radiantly, her lips smiled such a
welcoming smile at Ralph that no words, no hand-clasp, seemed necessary.
Side by side they passed together out of the Abbey, while Ivy, in blank
surprise, followed in their wake.

“To think that you were there all the time and that I never knew it,”
 said Evereld, when the greetings were over. “Where is Bridget? How
surprised she will be. Look, Bridget, here is Mr. Ralph come back.”

“An’ it’s glad I am to see you, sir. There’ll be no need, I’m thinkin’,
to wish you a happy Christmas, for I can see by your face that you’ve
got it.”

Ralph did, indeed, seem to ‘be in the seventh heaven of happiness, but
as he gave a cordial greeting to the old servant he happened to notice
Ivy’s wistful, little face, and, with a pang of reproach for having
altogether forgotten her, he took her hand in his and introduced her to
Evereld.

“This is a little friend of mine,” he said. “The granddaughter of
Professor Grant, my elocution master.” Evereld liked the look of the
little fairylike figure, but she seemed to her the merest child, and
after a few kindly words she thought no more of her, being naturally
absorbed in Palph and having so much to say to him after their long
separation.

Ivy, with a sigh, dropped behind with Bridget, who, in her motherly
fashion, took her under her special protection as they crossed the wide
road near the Aquarium, little guessing that this small person was well
used to going about London quite alone at all hours.

“And how are things going at Queen Anne’s Gate?” asked Ralph, when
Evereld had told him all about her life at Southbourne.

“It’s so dull I hardly know how to bear it,” said Evereld. “You see, I’m
too big now for children’s parties, and, of course, I’m not out yet. I
miss you all day long, and no one so much as speaks of you, except now
and then Mr. Bruce Wylie, and he always did like you.”

“Not he,” said Ralph. “He made believe, though, for the sake of pleasing
you.”

“I see that you have not lost your way of thinking evil of people,” said
Evereld, reproachfully. “Mr. Wylie is the kindest man I know.”

“But you don’t know him,” said Ralph. “You merely see him now and then
and like his pleasant way of talking, and find him a relief from the
Mactavish clan.”

“And how much do you know him?” said Evereld, teasingly.

“Not much, certainly,” he was constrained to own with a smile, “and
it may be jealousy that makes me decry him. Yet, if instinct goes for
anything, he is a man I should never trust.”

“What! such a frank, straightforward sort of man as that?” she
exclaimed, in dismay.

“I know he’s very plausible, I know he has many good points even, but
I fancy he could persuade himself that anything was right if only it
promoted his own ends.”

“At any rate, he is the one person who ever troubles to inquire after
you, and I believe that is the chief reason I have for liking him.”

Ralph was so well content with this speech that he let the subject drop,
and, as Evereld was eager to hear all that he had been doing since
they had been separated, he began to give her an amusing account of the
straits he had been in and the work he had obtained. Far too soon they
reached Sir Matthew’s house, and were obliged to part.

“You will write when you can?” said Evereld, wistfully, as she lingered
for a moment on the steps with her hand in his. “I don’t think Sir
Matthew has any right to object, and I shall want to know what you
decide about Scotland.”

“Yes, you shall hear directly it is decided,” said Ralph, trying to feel
hopeful. “I wish I knew what would be the wisest thing to do.”

Then, with a lingering glance into the sweet eyes lifted to his, he bade
her good-bye and turned away.

“How I wish I were the Professor’s little granddaughter,” she thought
to herself as she glanced down the dark road after them, with a sick
longing to be going too. And, had she but known it, Ivy was at that
very time thinking enviously of Ralph’s old friend and of her many
advantages.

Meanwhile Geraghty threw open the front door, and in the cheerful light
that streamed through the hall Evereld caught a vision of Sir Matthew
coming down the stairs, and, taking her courage in both hands, she
entered the house and went straight up to him.



CHAPTER X


               “Savage at heart, and false of tongue,

               Subtle with age, and smooth to the young,

                   Like a snake in his coiling and curling.”

                        T. Hood.

|So you have been to the Abbey?” he said, smiling benevolently upon her.

“Yes,” she replied, her blue eyes looking straight into his. “And we
have seen Ralph. He was there, too, just behind us. He walked back with
us.”

Sir Matthew frowned slightly. Then, recollecting the presence of the
servants, he beckoned Evereld to his study.

“Come in here, my dear,” he said, in his soft voice. “You are quite
right to tell me all so frankly, and it is natural enough that you
should be pleased to meet your old playfellow. But you must remember
that things are not now as they once were.”

“Ralph and I shall always be friends,” said Evereld, gently, but with a
firmness which startled her guardian. “Things are not altered between us
because we don’t live under the same roof now. How could that alter us?”

“My dear, it is for Lady Mactavish and myself to decide who shall or who
shall not be your friends,” he said, with quiet decision.

“That may be,” said Evereld, “as far as new friends are concerned, but
I cannot unmake a friend to order--no, not even if the Queen commanded
it.”

They both smiled a little. Sir Matthew paced the room in silence.

“I must not forbid her to hold any communication with him,” he
reflected, “or let her feel that I am a tyrant and they a couple of
martyrs. After all, she is so young and simple and innocent; no mischief
will come of it.”

“Has Ralph found work?” he inquired, not unkindly.

“Yes,” she said, “at Washington’s theatre; and perhaps he is going on a
Scotch tour.”

“Good!” said Sir Matthew, approvingly. “After all, he has talent, and
will make himself a name in time. His best chance would be to marry some
experienced actress older than himself. That has answered very well in
one or two cases. His birth and education would go for something, and if
he plays his cards well the stage may make his fortune. By-the-by, Bruce
Wylie is to dine with us to-night. You like him, do you not?”

“Oh, yes,” said Evereld, “I like him very much.”

And Sir Matthew, satisfied with the warmth of her tone, dismissed her
with a paternal kiss, and an injunction to put on her prettiest gown in
honour of the festival.

Bruce Wylie was certainly the most attractive and amusing of the men
who visited the Mactavishes. He had the easy, comfortable air of an
old friend, and he came and went at all hours, yet never seemed to be
present when he was not wanted. His fair hair and short, fair beard
contrasted rather curiously with his dark, keen eyes. He had a brisk,
kindly, pleasant manner, and a particularly winning voice. There
was about him, too, a saving sense of humour, and the rather heavy
atmosphere of Sir Matthew’s household always seemed less oppressive when
he was present. He was a first-rate _raconteur_, and Evereld was never
tired of listening to his stories.

It was all in vain that she tried to see him with Ralph’s eyes. She
decided in her own mind that his hard experience of the world had made
Ralph somewhat cynical and distrustful. He had convinced her with regard
to Sir Matthew, but to belief in Bruce Wylie she still clung with all
the loyalty of her fresh, innocent youth.

And yet the ladies had only left the dining-room a few moments when
Bruce Wylie revealed a very different side of himself.

“Ewart’s little girl is looking prettier than usual tonight,” he
remarked, as he picked out the preserved apricots from a small dish
in front of him, leaving only bitter oranges and citrons for those who
might come after.

“Yes,” said Sir Matthew, “Southbourne has done wonders for her. She had
better have another six months there.”

“Was she not eighteen in the autumn? She will want to come out next
season.”

“I don’t think it,” said Sir Matthew. “She is happy enough there, and
we shall do well to keep her from the heiress-hunters till she is safely
betrothed to you.”

“Poor little soul!” said Bruce Wylie, reflectively. “There would be no
danger in letting her see a little of the world first.”

“We won’t risk that,” said his companion. “What’s to prevent her falling
in love with some young fellow and refusing to look at you. If she ever
lost her heart, she would be the veriest little shrew to manage--there
would be no taming her. We might prevent her marrying till she was of
age, but you know what revelations would come about when her affairs
were looked into. No, no; she must be safely married to her worthy
solicitor, Bruce Wylie, as soon as possible after she leaves school.”

Bruce Wylie seemed lost in thought. Sir Matthew watched him,
half-suspiciously. They were friends and confederate? but the company
promoter trusted no one in the world implicitly.

“You are thinking that it is a risky venture,” he said, quietly, “but
under the circumstances it’s far the best thing that can be done. If the
South African affair goes on as well as it promises, her money will be
safe enough in the long run; and if a smash comes, why her money will be
gone, but our names and reputations will be safe, and no great harm will
come of it.”

“I was not thinking of that,” said Bruce Wylie. “There’s another side
to the business, and one can’t altogether overlook it. I am fond of the
little thing, and I honestly believe she likes me, but if anything of
this should ever leak out, if, after we were married, her suspicions
were roused, why then, as you say, I can imagine that the taming process
might be difficult. Spite of her china-blue eyes, there’s a pretty spice
of determination in Ewart’s little girl.”

“My dear fellow, you astonish me,” said Sir Matthew, impatiently. “With
enough on your mind to burden most men heavily, you can yet find time to
worry over the matrimonial squabbles that may ruffle your future peace.
When once she’s your wife you’ll be able to do what you please with
her.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Bruce Wylie. “It’s just those little,
gentle women with hardly a word to say for themselves who are always
astonishing people by hidden stores of force and courage and daring at
some critical moment.”

“The only possible difficulty with Evereld would be her friendship for
Ralph Donmead,” said Sir Matthew, “and, as ill luck will have it, the
fellow turned up again to-day.”

“D------ him!” exclaimed Bruce Wylie. “How was that?”

“Saw her at the Abbey, and had the audacity to walk home with her. She
told me all about it with the utmost frankness, and without so much as a
change of colour. I don’t think there is any mischief done yet, but the
less she sees of him the better. It seems that he is doing pretty well
on the stage; at least, I gathered so.”

“Well,” said Bruce Wylie, reflectively, “it is always easy to set a
scandal afloat about an actor, and if she seems losing her heart to him
that is the line we must take.”

And therewith the two friends fell to talking of other business
arrangements.

*****

When Ralph turned away from the house in Queen Anne’s Gate, the
happy excitement of the past hour suddenly gave place to a sobering
realisation of things as they were. He, Ralph Denmead, a super at a
pound a week, had had the audacity to fall in love with a girl of
whose fortune he had, indeed, very vague ideas, but who had always been
considered an heiress. That was a situation he liked very little, but
it was characteristic of him that he did not sink into any very great
depths of depression. He was not easily depressed, having been born with
one of those equable tempers which are as delightful as they are rare.
Then, too, his very indifference to money for its own sake, the habit
he had inherited from his unworldly father of a positive dislike of all
display and a contempt for all but the simplest tastes, came now to
his aid. Extremes meet. And the marriage, which would have seemed a
perfectly simple and desirable arrangement to a selfish fortune-hunter,
seemed also perfectly possible to Ralph with his unconventional way of
looking at things. He disliked her fortune, would gladly have foregone
it altogether, but saw no reason in the world why it should stand as a
barrier between them. If she loved him all would be well. He hoped she
did love him, but was not certain. Only in that last quiet good-bye
of hers something in its very self-control had given him hope; for the
first time she seemed to shrink a little from showing how much she felt
the parting. She was wholly unlike the little girl he had left sobbing
in the schoolroom at Sir Matthew’s country cottage a few months before.

As he thought of this, a sort of wild desire to succeed in his
profession, and to succeed quickly, took possession of him. His present
position at the foot of the ladder seemed no longer tolerable. Patient
plodding had been well enough earlier in the day, but now the fiery
impatience of youth began to get the better of him. He turned eagerly
to Ivy. They had by this time reached Westminster Bridge, and the cold,
fresh wind from the river and the wider view seemed in harmony with
his eager longing for a fuller, freer life, for an escape from the dull
routine of his present work.

“Tell me more about this Scotch tour” he said, eagerly. “Do you think
there is really a chance of our getting into the company? Does your
grandfather think Skoot a decent sort of fellow?”

“Oh yes,” said Ivy, her face lighting up radiantly. “Come and talk to
him about it. He has seen both the manager and his wife: he used to know
them long ago. Oh, do think it over again. Just fancy how beautiful it
would be to see Scotland! We would go to Ellen’s Isle together and see
the Trossachs!”

Ralph laughed. “I fear there are no theatres on the shores of Loch
Katrine,” he said.

“Well,” said Ivy, looking disappointed, “we should at any rate see
mountains, and the travelling would be such fun. I have never been
on tour in my life, hardly ever out of London even. Come in and see
grandfather and talk about it.”

Ralph was persuaded to follow her into the dreary, little house, and
much to Ivy’s satisfaction her grandfather was awake and seemed in
excellent spirits. He was inclined to see everything in the world
through rose-coloured spectacles, and was about as fit to advise any one
as a baby of three years old. But his venerable aspect and his smiling
benevolent face were, nevertheless, impressive and Ralph listened
eagerly to all that he said. It was quite true that he had known this
manager and his wife many years ago: they were most estimable people.
Skoot himself had real talent, his wife not much more than a pretty
face, but they were thoroughly worthy people; she was a woman with whom
he could trust Ivy, he had never heard a word against her. He should
miss Ivy, but the landlady would take care of him and the experience
and even the change of air would be very good for the child. He strongly
advised Ralph to try and get into the Company, it was a chance which did
not occur every day. He would give him a letter of introduction and he
could see the manager to-morrow.

At any other time Ralph would have perceived that the old man’s advice
while he was under the influence of the opium was worth nothing at all.
But now the bland, comfortable voice and hopeful auguries weighed with
him. He accepted the offer of the introduction, and the Professor, urged
by Ivy, who brought him ink and paper and put the pen between his limp,
lazy fingers, actually wrote the letter. After that Ralph bade them
good-bye, went home to dress for the evening, and then set out for the
Harriotts’ house where he had been kindly invited to dine; while Ivy
went to the dress rehearsal of the pantomime. In the evening he talked
over his prospects with Miss Marriott and her niece, giving a very
roseate description of the Scotch proposal. The ladies both advised him
to close with so good an offer; Mr. Marriott would not commit himself,
only counselling him to be sure to have his agreement drawn up in a
legal way, and suggesting that he might take the advice of Washington.
But this, as Ralph knew, would not be so easy; for Washington was a busy
man and though greatly beloved by all his employés had little to do with
them personally. Moreover in his heart of hearts Ralph knew that the
great actor would counsel him to plod on patiently, and every moment he
felt that this had become less possible to him.

The end of it was that he seized the very first opportunity of seeing
Theophilus Skoot, and finding him a very decent-looking man, exceedingly
hopeful as to the business they would do in Scotland, and quite willing
to come to terms, he signed the agreement for a six months’ provincial
tour for which he was to receive a salary of two pounds a week, and
went back to Paradise Street in excellent spirits to receive Ivy’s
congratulations.



CHAPTER XI


“_We ought all to count the cost before we enter upon any line
of conduct, and I would most strongly warn any one against the
self-deception of fancying that he who wishes to be an ambassador of
peace can do otherwise than weep bitterly_.”--Frederick Denison Maurice.

|During the weeks that followed, the only thing which marred Ivy’s
complete happiness was a certain jealousy of the bright-faced girl they
had met at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. She was constantly asking
Ralph questions about Evereld Ewart; at times he seemed pleased to talk
of her, at other times his face would grow grave and he would answer
only in monosyllables in a way which perplexed his small devotee not a
little. However, she gathered that he did not see any more of his old
friend and consoled herself by hurrying off to Whiteley’s sale to buy a
jacket and hat as much like Evereld’s as her purse would afford.

She wore them for the first time on the foggy February morning when
Ralph called for her at her grandfather’s rooms to take her to King’s
Cross. For it had been arranged that she should travel with him to
Dumfries where he was to place her under the special care of the
manager’s wife. The old Professor seemed much depressed when the parting
actually came; he kept looking at the child with wistful eyes and slowly
counting out money for the journey with a small, a very small surplus,
in case of accidents as he said.

“Have you kept enough for yourself?” asked Ivy, throwing her arms round
his neck. “I shall be away six months you know.”

“I have enough to last me a couple of months,” said the old man, “with
what my pupils will bring in. And by that time you will be able to send
me a little. You are to have a good salary--a very good salary and no
travelling expenses when once you’re in Scotland.”

“Yes, yes,” said Ivy, gaily. “I shall be as rich as a queen when I come
back.”

The old man’s eyes filled with tears.

“Yes, when you come back,” he said, huskily, “When you come back. You
will do what you can for her if she needs help?” he added, shaking hands
tremulously with Ralph.

“I will, indeed,” said Ralph, heartily; and there was something in his
look and tone which satisfied the Professor and robbed the parting of
its worst pain.

Ivy, too much excited to feel the leave-taking, sprang into the cab with
a joyous sense that at last, like the heroine of a fairy tale, she was
setting out into the world to seek her fortune. It was scarcely right
that she should be starting with the fairy prince beside her, he ought
to have turned up later in the plot and just at some critical moment.
Still real life could not always be regulated by the rules of fiction
and she reflected that it was much nicer to have him at once.

She leant back in her corner of the third-class carriage, and thought
what care he had taken of her, how much more gentle his manner was than
the manner of any one else she knew, and how blissful it would be to act
with him for six whole months. He did not talk to her very much, being
still busy with his parts, but she was quite content with the mere
pleasure of his presence and with the delightful novelty of her first
long journey. The Company were to play “Macbeth,” “East Lynne,” “Guy
Mannering,” “Rob Roy,” “The Man of the World,” “Jeannie Deans,” and
several short plays such as “Cramond Brig,” a great favourite in
Scotland. Ivy was not well pleased with her parts in “Macbeth,” being
cast for _Donal Bain, Fleance and Macduff’s_ boy. But she reflected that
in the first part she would always come on with Ralph since he was to
play _Malcolm_, as well as the part of second witch, while later on she
should have the pleasure of being killed by him in his character of
first murderer. Ralph seeing irrepressible mirth in her face asked what
was amusing her.

“I have to call you ‘a shag-haired villain,’” she said, laughing till
the tears ran down her face, “and you have to stab me in the fourth
act.”

“We will have a private rehearsal then, beforehand,” said Ralph,
smiling. “And you will find my red wig very awe-inspiring, I can tell
you.”

Ivy looked pityingly at her fellow-travellers, wondering how they
endured their humdrum lives, and full of radiant hopes for her own
future.

The fogs of London had soon given place to bright sunshine, and it
seemed to her that she had left behind all that was cheerless and was
going forth into a glorious world of possibilities. It was certainly a
red-letter day in her life’s calendar.

The arrival in Scotland, however, was not so cheerful. The cold which
they had not greatly noticed in the railway carriage, seemed bitter
indeed when they left the train at Dumfries.

It was nearly six o’clock and there was little light left. What there
was, revealed snowy roads and slippery pavements. Ivy shivered and clung
fast hold of Ralph’s hand as they made their way to the manager’s
rooms, a red-headed porter, much resembling the shag-haired murderer
in “Macbeth,” going on before them with a luggage truck. He paused at
a high house in a particularly dingy street. The door was opened by a
shrewd, hard-featured woman who, upon Ralph’s inquiry, told them that
Mrs. Skoot was in, and ushered them upstairs to a room where the remains
of dinner still lingered on the table, and a large, portly lady, with
blonde hair and big cow-like eyes, sat with her feet in the fender
reading a novel.

“So there you are, dear,” she said, greeting Ivy affectionately, but
retaining a greasy thumb in the book to keep her place. “I’m glad
you’ve come, for Mr. Skoot has just arranged to have an extra rehearsal
to-night.”

“Is this Mr. Denmead?” she inquired, extending her hand graciously and
taking a rapid survey of him from head to foot. “Have you found rooms
yet?”

“No, I have not,” said Ralph, his low-toned voice and quiet manner
contrasting most curiously with her loud accents. “I was going to ask
you if there is any list of lodgings.”

“To be sure,” she said. “Here it is; you’ll find those all very good and
reasonable. I’ve known most of them myself in past years.”

Ralph thanked her and turned to go, glancing with some compassion at
Ivy. “I shall see you again at rehearsal,” he said. “Mind you have
something to eat first.”

“Oh, yes, I’ll see to her,” said Mrs. Skoot, vociferously. “She’s to
board with me you know, her grandfather made me promise that. Half-past
seven for the rehearsal, don’t forget. Your landlady will be able to
direct you to the theatre.”

“What an awful woman!” thought Ralph to himself. “The Professor must be
out of his mind to let Ivy be with her for six whole months. She may be
all that’s virtuous--but as a constant companion! Poor Ivy! I wonder how
such a decent little fellow as Skoot comes to have such a wife!”

At this point in his reflections they reached the first house on his
list, but found the rooms already secured by other members of the
company. The same result followed the next application, and yet again
the next. He began to grow tired of wandering about the snowy streets,
and catching sight of a card in a window announcing that rooms were to
be had, he paused at a neat but unpretentious house and once more made
his inquiry.

A very prim-looking widow appeared in answer to his knock; she seemed
favourably impressed with his appearance and mentioned her terms.

“That will do very well. I want the rooms for a week,” said Ralph,
longing to get into a house, for he was half-frozen and very hungry.

“I don’t take lodgers that keep late hours,” said the widow, cautiously.
“I like to lock up by half-past ten, sir.”

Ralph made an ejaculation of dismay. “I’m afraid I can’t promise that,”
 he said. “I’m an actor, you see, and am not likely to be in by that
time.”

The woman’s whole face stiffened, her very cap seemed to grow as rigid
as buckram, her upper lip lengthened. “We only take _Christians_ here,”
 she said in a severe way, and then without another word she closed the
door.

It was the first time he had ever been made to feel himself an outcast
on account of his profession, and for a minute the words, by their
injustice, stung him. Then his sense of fun conquered and he laughed to
himself as he walked on with bent head in the teeth of the bitter, east
wind.

Referring once again to the list of professional lodgings, he consulted
the porter who told him which was the nearest house, and here he at last
got taken in, by a dishevelled but smiling landlady.

“There’s Mr. Dudley, one of Mr. Skoot’s company, in my house now,” she
said. “Maybe you could share the sitting-room.”

Ralph hesitated, but without more ado the woman stepped into ‘her front
parlour and put the case to the present occupant.

“Oh, by all means,” said a hearty voice; and the door was thrown back
and into the narrow passage stepped a tall, powerful-looking man of
about forty, his large, clean-shaven face, twinkling eyes, and broad
mouth full of good humour. Ralph knew at a glance that it was not at all
a face of high type, but it was genial and attractive and it contrasted
most singularly with the forbidding face of the widow who only housed
Christians.

“Come in, my boy,” said the hearty voice; “you look half frozen.”

“It was the landlady’s proposal,” said Ralph. “You are sure you don’t
mind?”

“To be sure not! ‘Mine enemy’s dog, though he had bit me, should stand
this night against my fire.’ Skoot was telling me about you. The little
brute has called a special rehearsal; you had better look sharp and get
something to eat for there’s no knowing how long they will keep us at
it. The Skoots were always great hands at rehearsing.”

“You have travelled with them before?”

“Yes, many years ago, and there’s not much love lost between us.
Shouldn’t have taken this berth now, if I hadn’t been out of an
engagement for some time. I have my doubts if the tour will be a
success. Skoot is awfully hampered, you see, by having to run his wife
as leading lady.”

Ralph prudently forbore to make any comment, but the thought of acting
with Mrs. Skoot was a sort of nightmare to him.

“Have the rest of the company all arrived?” he asked.

“Yes, I think so. There’s little Ivy Grant--she’s coming on very well
indeed, devilish pretty girl into the bargain. Then there’s Miss Myra
Kay, a brunette, rather prudish, used to be in Macneillie’s company,
but lost her health, and is now only just starting afresh. As for the
men--well, you’ll see for yourself by-and-by--half of them in my opinion
are sticks, and the other half roaring ranters. Hulloa, you’ll find that
a bad speculation. Never order coffee in Great Britain, for they don’t
know how to make it. Take to whisky, my boy. It’s the only thing for
strolling players.”

“Thanks, I detest it,” said Ralph, “and if professional landladies don’t
understand coffee-making, why I’ll brew it myself as we used to do at
Winchester.”

“I thought you had been at a public school. What made you take up with
the stage? Didn’t your people object?”

“I am alone in the world,” said Ralph. “My guardian wanted me to be a
parson, but I couldn’t go in for that, and so, being turned out of his
house, I thought I would try to realise an old dream of mine and be an
actor.”

Dudley had watched him keenly during this speech. He was a man who had
led a notoriously evil life, but he had a good deal of kindliness in his
nature, and there was something in Ralph’s transparent honesty, in his
evident purity of heart and life that appealed to him. Bad as his own
record had been he was wholly without the fiendish desire to drag other
men down with him.

“Your dreams were probably very unlike the reality.” he said, with a
smile. “Are you prepared to rough it?” Ralph laughed, and gave him
the account of the straits he had been reduced to, and Dudley having
described the merits and drawbacks of a provincial tour under Skoot’s
management, suggested that they had better be setting off for the
rehearsal.

They had scarcely opened the stage door when Mrs. Skoot’s shrill voice
made itself heard. She was vehemently complaining about some mistake
made by the baggage man, and the poor harassed culprit stood meekly to
receive her angry threats of dismissal, not daring to proffer excuse or
explanation. Ivy looking scared and cold, stood not far off; her whole
face lighted up when she caught sight of Ralph, and she stole over to
whisper in his ear, “Isn’t Mrs. Skoot dreadful?”

“Suggests the queen in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” he replied, smiling. “Off
with his head!”

Ivy was obliged to laugh a little.

“That is Miss Myra Kay,” she said, indicating a pale, slim girl, who was
pacing to and fro, book in hand. “I think she is very selfish; they
say she hardly speaks to any one, but just takes care of herself and is
quite wrapped up in her own affairs.”

“Take care,” said Ralph, warningly; “you may be overheard.”

Dudley now introduced him to one or two of the actors, and before long
the manager himself arrived. He seemed in good spirits, greeted Ralph
pleasantly, pacified his wife, and promptly set them all to work.

Only too soon, however, they realised that the length of the rehearsal
depended on Mrs. Skoot and not on her husband. Although it was no
business of hers she seemed unable to refrain from constant interruption
and fault-finding, and before the evening was over she had reduced Miss
Kay to tears, had tormented poor Ivy into the worst of tempers and had
goaded most of the men into a state of sullen wrath.

At last, after four hours of this, Mr. Skoot looked at his watch and
announced that it was half-past eleven. Time was the only thing which
had ever been known to conquer Mrs. Skoot; she wisely bowed to the
inevitable, and having reminded Miss Kay that the call was for eleven on
the following morning, she allowed herself to be helped into a handsome
fur cloak, and telling Ivy to follow her, quitted the theatre.

Ralph went back to his rooms in low spirits and the next morning did
not much mend matters, for they were kept rehearsing from eleven in
the morning till five in the afternoon. Had it not been for Dudley’s
unfailing good humour, his flashes of fun, and his genial kindliness,
Ralph thought he could not have endured so great a contrast to the whole
atmosphere of Washington’s theatre.

He began to feel a sort of angry contempt for the manager who seemed
but a tool in the hands of ‘his wife and was quite indifferent to the
annoyance she gave to others.

But in the evening when “Macbeth” was given, when, for the first time in
his life, he had one of Shakspere’s characters to portray, he forgot all
the previous misery. Into the comparatively small part of _Malcolm_ he
had put an amount of thought and study and imagination which surprised
Dudley, and the elder man, as they walked home together, spoke words of
hearty commendation and encouragement which cheered the novice’s heart
as nothing else could have done.

On the day before they were to leave Dumfries for Ayr, it chanced that,
being released earlier than usual from rehearsal, Ralph suggested a walk
to Ivy. It was the first chance they had had for any sort of relaxation,
and Ivy listened with delight to the proposal of a visit to the grave of
Burns and to Lincluden Abbey.

She was not at all pleased when as they drew near to the Burns’
mausoleum they caught sight of Myra Kay. As yet Ralph had made no way at
all with this pale, dark-eved girl, they had scarcely exchanged a dozen
words, and her manner was very reserved and distant. All that he knew
about her was the little he had gleaned from the men of the company. It
was reported that her marriage was to take place in the summer, and that
she was engaged to an actor named Brinton who was now in Macneillie’s
Company. She had the reputation of being cold, cautious, and
conventional, but in comparison with Mrs. Skoot she was so delightful
that Ralph felt drawn to her and was chafed by a perfectly clear
consciousness that for some reason she disapproved of him. He was
pleased when she volunteered a few tepid remarks about Turnerelli’s
sculpture, and to Ivy’s disgust he asked her if she would not join them
in their walk to Lincluden Abbey.

She hesitated for a moment, then with a glance at his open, boyish face
seemed suddenly to arrive at some determination more important than that
of the mere decision to take a walk.

“I will come part of the way with you,” she said. “But since my illness
I am not much of a walker. It is one of the few grudges I harbour
against Mr. Macneillie.”

“You were in his Company?”

“Yes, and at Oxford, while playing in an outdoor representation of
‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ got soaked to the skin and had to wear the
wet clothes. The rest of them escaped with colds but I was laid up for
six months. The manager was extremely good to me I must say, and in
August I hope to be back again in his Company.”

“You like him then as a manager?”

“Yes, indeed, there couldn’t be a better. I don’t know how I shall
ever endure all these months with the Skoots, and had I known that that
scoundrel Dudley was to be in the Company I should never have accepted
the engagement.”

Ralph raised his eyebrows. “That’s a severe word,” he said.

“It’s no more than he deserves,” said Myra Kay, frowning. “I am
astonished that you can share rooms with him and make him your friend.”

“He is very likely no worse than many others,” said Ralph, nettled by
her tone.

“No worse!” she said, scornfully. “Is it possible you do not know that
he is the wretch who figured in the Houston case? You must remember
it--the stir was so great and it is not eighteen months ago.”

“I was at school eighteen months ago and never troubled my head with
_causes célébrés_.”

Myra Kay walked on in silence for a few moments; then she briefly told
him the facts of the case and was pleased to see him wince.

“The man has been properly punished,” she continued, with satisfaction,
“and now no decent manager wall have him--at any rate, till the details
of the case are forgotten. He is desperately hard up for money, and
every one cuts him. I hope, now that you know all this, you will have no
more to say to him.”

“Perhaps he has turned over a new leaf,” said Ralph, looking up from
the discoloured track where they were walking to the pure white fields
beyond.

Myra Kay gave a sarcastic little laugh.

“You are far too innocent, Mr. Denmead,” she said; and Ralph thought
there was an unpleasant touch of patronage in her tone. “Does he look as
if he were repenting?”

“Men can’t go about in sackcloth and ashes,” said Ralph; “and you surely
wouldn’t have him cultivate a face a yard long? It’s his nature to be
full of fun, and, for my part, I would far rather have to do with a
man who has been openly punished than with a hypocrite who sins with
impunity and goes about posing as a philanthropist.”

He thought resentfully of Sir Matthew.

“I can’t think how you can speak to him,” said Myra Kay bitterly, “For
your own sake, and for the sake of the profession, you ought to have
nothing to do with him. It was not just a common case of wrongdoing--it
was a specially atrocious affair throughout. They say you are the son
of a clergyman. I should have thought you would have had better judgment
than to mix yourself up with such a man.”

“He is precisely the sort of man my father would have befriended,” said
Ralph, warmly. “There was nothing of the Pharisee about him. I remember
how when all the village cut a man who had been in prison for some
bad offence, he found out the fellow’s one vulnerable point--a love
of flowers--and had him up with us at the Rectory the whole of one
Bank-holiday, pottering about the garden and greenhouse, and as happy as
a king in exchanging plants with us, and helping to bud roses.”

“That may be well enough for a clergyman, but for you--a mere boy,
knowing so little of the world--it is different. You ought not to have
chosen such a man as your companion.”

“I didn’t choose him,” said Ralph, with some warmth. “An ‘unco guid’
widow shut the door in my face, because I was an actor, and said she
only took in Christians. Then at the next place I went to they gave me
shelter and kind words, and Dudley was goodness itself to me. If I cut
him now I should be a contemptible cad.”

“Well,” said his companion, with a shrug of her shoulders, “you must
‘gang your own gait.’ But remember that I have warned you.”

She turned back soon after this, and Ivy, who had thought the whole
discussion very tiresome, skipped for joy when a bend in the road hid
her from view.

But Ralph seemed unusually silent, and as they looked at the ruins of
the old abbey, Ivy could not at all understand the shadow that seemed to
have come over his face.

Not a word ever passed Dudley’s lips about his previous life, but there
were not lacking people who promptly told him that Ralph Denmead had
just learnt all about it; and when they moved on to Ayr, he said in his
blunt way:

“You’ll not care that we should pig together any longer, I daresay?”

“I had much rather share diggings with you than with any of the others,”
 said Ralph, heartily. “If I’m not in your way, that is? You are the only
man who has shown me the least kindness.”

Dudley made an inarticulate exclamation. He was more touched than he
would have cared to own.

“You are thankful for small mercies,” he said, “and gratitude is a rare
thing in the profession. But I like you, lad, and am glad to have you as
a chum. You shall not have cause to be ashamed of me.”

And so throughout the strange vicissitudes of the Scotch tour these two
oddly-contrasting characters bore each other company, and for some time
Myra Kay kept aloof from them both.



CHAPTER XII


“_All these anxieties will be good for you. They all go to the making
of a man--calling out that God-dependence in him which is the only true
self-dependence, the only true strength_.”--Letters of Charles Kingsley.

|During the first month Theophilus Skoot’s Company prospered as well as
could be expected. A week at Glasgow and a week at Edinburgh, with full
houses, cheered every one; but after that, as they went northward, the
days of dearth began. It was now past the middle of March, and the old
proverb,

                   “As the light lengthens

                   The cold strengthens,”

was fulfilling itself in very bitter fashion. Perhaps people were
disinclined to turn out of their comfortable homes on such bleak
evenings; at any rate, the week at Stirling proved a dead failure, and
Perth was wrestling with the influenza demon, and had little leisure to
bestow on strolling players.

It was here that one evening Ralph, for the first time, learnt what it
is to work without a salary.

He was sitting on a basket, waiting for his cue, with “Pendennis” to
cheer him into forgetfulness of fatigue and cold, when Dudley returned
to the dressing-room, with an odd look lurking about the corners of his
mouth.

“The ghost walks,” he said, in sepulchral tones.

“What do you mean?” said Ralph, laughing.

“It’s all very well to laugh. You won’t be able to do that long. There’s
no treasury to-morrow, my boy. ‘The manager regrets,’ etc., etc.”

“No treasury!” echoed Ralph, blankly..

“I’m not surprised,” said Dudley; “I was always doubtful whether Skoot
would hold out long. But we may have better luck at Dundee.”

“And if not, how are we to live?” asked Ralph, recollecting how small a
sum he had to fall back upon.

“Why, my dear boy, we must live like the birds of the air, who eat other
folk’s property, and then fly away.” Ralph looked gloomy.

“Well, after all,” he said, “the debts will virtually be Skoot’s, not
ours. And, as you say, other places may not be so bad as Perth has
been.”

This was exactly what the manager observed as they journeyed on from
town to town. He was always apologetic, always bland and pleasant; but
not another penny was ever forthcoming. In other respects, however, the
tour was less unpleasant than at first. The rehearsals were shorter, and
Mrs. Skoot did not venture to irritate them quite so much, but solaced
herself instead with whisky. Moreover, their common trouble formed a
sort of bond of union between the members of the Company; they grumbled
together, and cheered each other up; they were extraordinarily kind
in helping one another; all the little jealousies and quarrels were
forgotten in the general anxiety and distress. As to Myra Kay, she was
like another being altogether; she nursed Ivy through a long and
tedious cold, she forgave Ralph for his friendship with Dudley, and she
discussed ways and means in the most helpful fashion. Her experience
and good advice were of considerable use to Ralph, while, when their
prospects were at the darkest, Ivy managed to extract comfort from
dreams about the future, and would listen by the hour to Myra’s plans
for the summer, and to discussions about her wedding and her trousseau.

And so the weary weeks dragged on, until at last, towards the end of
April, they found themselves at Inverness. By this time they were all
beginning to grow desperate for want of money, and Ralph, after a
hard struggle with himself, conquered his pride and wrote to old Mr.
Marriott, telling him of the plight he was in. It was not until the last
day of their engagement at Inverness that the reply, bearing the name
of the firm on the envelope, was placed in his hands. He tore it open
eagerly and turned pale as he read the contents:

“Basinghall Street, E. C.

“21th April.

“Dear Sir,

“With reference to your letter of the 25th inst., I beg to inform you
that Mr. Marriott has been very dangerously ill with influenza, and to
recruit his health he has been ordered to take a voyage to Australia. I
regret that in his absence I do not feel myself at liberty to make you
any advance. I am, dear sir, yours truly,

“W. G. Maunder.”

The next day they moved on to Elgin. The manager looked miserable
and depressed; Mrs. Skoot, though not quite sober, read novels more
assiduously than ever, and among the actors there were loud complaints,
and angry threatenings of a strike. At Elgin the audiences were better
than might have been expected, and the Skoots seemed to revive a little
as they moved on to the neighbouring town of Forres. But the luckless
Company still toiled unpaid.

Ralph’s patience was now almost exhausted. Ivy had received piteous
letters telling of her grandfather’s difficulties, and every day it
seemed less and less probable that they would ever again receive their
salaries from the manager.

Forres certainly did not look like a place where they would attract
large audiences, and an indescribable feeling of hopelessness stole over
him as he gazed at the old gabled houses and at the one long, irregular
street which formed the chief part of the town. How much longer could
he possibly endure the weary, distasteful life? The halls with their
miserable accommodation behind the scenes--for in few towns had they
found a proper theatre;--the cheap lodgings with their dirty rooms; the
daily marketing under difficulties; and the revolting spectacle of
Mrs. Skoot drowning her discomfiture in drink--all these had become
intolerable.

“Let us go for a walk,” said Ivy, despairingly. “At any rate out of
doors we can have air and sunshine--we shall have enough of our wretched
rooms later on.”

“Come and see the river,” said Myra Kay. “They say there are lovely
views by the Findhorn.”

Ralph consented, and the three walked out together into the country,
and did their best to forget the troubles that hemmed them in, as
they wandered among the flowery fields, where Ivy gathered violets and
primroses to her heart’s content. Presently by the river, among the soft
early green of the bushes, they came to a fallen tree, and here they
established themselves while Ralph read to them. They had indulged in
two or three of Dickens’ novels at an old bookstall in Edinburgh in
their days of plenty, and when fortune frowned upon them these shabby
volumes had proved a perfect godsend. They had solaced many a cold
journey and brightened many a dreary lodging-house, and they helped now
to distract them from the thought of their daily increasing troubles.

It seemed to Ivy when she looked back afterwards, that this afternoon by
the Findhorn was the last really happy day she was ever to know. She sat
cosily ensconced on the tree trunk with her lap full of flowers which
she delighted in arranging; and Ralph lay on the grass at her feet with
his head propped against the smooth surface of the fallen beech tree.
She noticed how the short waves of his crisp, brown hair contrasted with
the silver-grey of the bark, and how the careworn look which had grown
upon him during the tour was entirely banished now as flashes of mirth
passed over his face, caused by the sayings of Grip the Raven.

Myra Kay sat just beyond him; she was knitting socks for her _fiance_,
listening at times to the reading, but more often dreaming of her own
future. Everywhere there was that sense of hope and joyous expectation
that seems to belong to the spring-time: the birds sang as Ivy had never
heard them sing before; the lambs frisked delightfully in the soft,
green meadows near their somewhat uninteresting mothers; and into her
half-taught, eager mind there somehow floated new ideas of the meaning
of “green pastures and still waters,” and a firmer confidence in a
Shepherd who would not forget even the members of a travelling company
in grievous straits up in the north of Scotland.

“Oh don’t let us go just yet!” she exclaimed, as Ralph closed the book.
“It can’t be time to go back to those stuffy rooms.”

“I’m in no hurry,” said Ralph, stretching himself, and falling back into
a more comfortable attitude.

He could not see Ivy’s face, but he could see her little, slender
fingers as they pulled the petals off a daisy. The result seemed to
displease her; she threw away the remains of the flower, and gathering
another diligently pulled off each pink-tipped petal, but again threw
the stalk from her with a little impatient gesture. Then she began upon
a third, and had become absorbed in her counting, when suddenly she felt
Ralph’s hand lay hold of hers.

“Caught in the act,” he said, laughing. “Don’t you know that
fortune-telling is illegal?”

“Not if you tell your own,” said Ivy.

Something in her voice made him look at her, and for the first time
in her little childish face he detected an expression which made him
clearly understand that he was not dealing with a mere girl but with
a woman. Long ago he had realised that her hard experience of life had
robbed Ivy of the innocent ignorance which had kept Evereld so young;
but he had naturally fallen into the habit of treating her as he would
have treated any other girl of fifteen with whom he was brought into
constant companionship. Thinking it over now it suddenly occurred to him
that during the Scotch tour Ivy had lost her brisk, managing way, that
she was very different from the independent little being who ordered
the Professor’s affairs for him, that she had become unnaturally fond of
being helped and protected. An uncomfortable fear crossed his mind, but
he thought it best to laugh and try to change the subject.

“Are you doing the old thing that Evereld and I used to be fond
of!--‘Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor?’ And have you always been fated
to wed the thief that you throw away one daisy after another?”

“That’s a silly old rhyme,” said Ivy. “Of course I should never think of
marrying any one who wasn’t in the profession.”

“Oh, that’s quite a mistake,” said Ralph, lightly, determined that he
must be cruel only to be kind. “Two of a trade seldom agree, you know.
You should marry a dreamy philosopher who needed waking up, and being
looked after.”

Ivy blushed, and was silent, and Ralph was not sorry to be taken to task
by Myra Kay for his rash assertion that two of a trade never agreed.
They fell into a merry bantering discussion during which Ivy recovered
herself.

After all, she reflected, why should she be unhappy because he had
teased her a little? His words no doubt meant nothing at all; she would
not spoil this happy afternoon by tormenting herself.

“To-morrow’s my birthday,” she said, gaily, as they walked back to
Forres. “I’m going to be sixteen. There’s no rehearsal, and I vote that
we three have a real picnic.”

“Carried unanimously,” said Ralph. “We might go as far as this Heronry
they speak of. The longer we are out of our dismal diggings the better.”

The play that night was “Macbeth,” and anything more unlike the
arrangements at Washington’s theatre it would be impossible to conceive.
Mr. Skoot was apologetic, Mrs. Skoot endeavoured to be very affable,
and the Company with that readiness to perceive fun, and the real
good-nature which never failed them in an emergency, made the best of
the many discomforts. They dressed behind screens, they laughed and
joked, they had wild hunts for lost belongings, and they chattered
incessantly between the acts under cover of the noisiest piano-playing
which could be produced by one of the ladies, who, with a waterproof
cloak over her costume, did duty as the entire orchestra.

A choice selection of Scotch airs was being hammered out at the close of
the Fourth Act, when Ralph, who was groping in a heap of miscellaneous
garments in hopes of rescuing the wig he had worn as first murderer,
and had hastily thrown off during a desperately hurried change into
_Malcolm’s_ attire, found himself close to Dudley.

“The manager is positively enjoying himself,” said the comedian. “Skoot
is after all a wonderful man. I shouldn’t wonder if he was persuading
himself that this confounded tour will prove a success. That fellow
lives on dreams. His wife is the one for business.”

At that moment Mrs. Skoot, in the most elegant of stage nightdresses,
and with her taper all ready to be lighted at the right moment, appeared
for the sleep-walking scene. Ralph often wondered what effect she had at
a distance; the near view of her was appalling.

“I am afraid you have a great deal to put up with,” she said, in
unusually gracious tones, smiling in a ghastly way beneath her paint.
“But we must all learn to take the fortune of war. Our next place will
be comfortable enough.”

They were joined just then by Myra Kay in the costume of the
_Gentlewoman-in-Waiting_.

Mrs. Skoot, who, as a rule, was at daggers drawn with her, accosted her
now pleasantly enough.

“I hear that you and Ivy have planned an excursion for to-morrow?” she
said. “Come and breakfast with us at nine o’clock before the start. And
you, too, Mr. Denmead.”

They accepted the invitation in some surprise, and as the curtain was
rung up Mrs. Skoot requested Dudley to light her taper, and presently
sailed on to the stage for her great scene, leaving them in astonishment
at her unwonted good-humour.

The next day Ralph went, as he had promised, to the manager’s rooms in
time for breakfast. He was within a few yards of the door when he came
upon the heavy man, and his son, a young and very indifferent actor who
usually played four or five small parts.

“Have you heard the news?” they exclaimed. “The Company’s dried up.”

“What?” said Ralph, in dismay.

“The manager has absconded,” said the heavy man, pompously. “Went off by
the first train this morning. It seems that last night when we were all
safely out of the way the baggage man took everything to the station.
Then Skoot and his wife stole out of their lodgings early this morning
without rousing a soul, and here we are landed high and dry in the
north-east of Scotland. Pleasant prospect, isn’t it?”

Ralph felt indeed that they were in a desperate plight. He moved on
mechanically to the open door of the manager’s rooms, and caught sight
of a little group in the entrance passage.

The landlady, shrill-voiced and indignant, was telling the whole story
to Myra Kay; and Ivy, with an open letter in her hand, and traces of
tears on her little, piquant face stood close by.

She was the first to catch sight of him, and hastened forward to greet
him.

“Oh, Ralph, I’m so glad you have come!” she exclaimed, piteously. “What
am I to do? What can I do?”



CHAPTER XIII


               “Who bides his time--he tastes the sweet

               Of honey in the saltest tear;

               And though he fares with slowest feet,

               Joy runs to meet him, drawing near;

               The birds are heralds of his cause,

               And like a never-ending rhyme

               The roadsides bloom in his applause,

                   Who bides his time.”

                        J. W. Riley.

|Have you had bad news from home?” asked Ralph, taking the letter which
Ivy held towards him.

“Yes,” she said, in a broken voice. “They have had to move my
grandfather to the hospital.”

It was but too clear, as Ralph at once perceived from the letter, that
the old Professor was never likely to recover, and that Ivy’s home had
ceased to exist. The landlady wrote to demand rent, and since it
was impossible to pay this, there would doubtless be a sale of the
Professor’s few belongings.

And here was this pretty girl of sixteen, stranded, without a penny in
her possession, in a remote Scotch town, where it was impossible to meet
with an engagement.

“What am I to do?” she said, lifting her piteous eyes to his with an
appeal that moved him more than he quite liked. He wished that he had
not guessed her secret on the previous day, and that he could treat her
once more in the matter-of-fact-elder-brotherly fashion which he had
once adopted. But this was no longer possible; nay, he felt an almost
irresistible longing to say to her: “I will take care of you. We will
set the world at defiance, and bear our troubles together.”

Fortunately he thought of Evereld, and instantly tried to picture her
in the same plight. How would he have felt towards a man who had taken
advantage of her poverty and helplessness to place her in a position
which must, more or less, have compromised her?

He folded the letter and gave it back.

“Don’t worry yourself more than you can help,” he said, kindly. “I will
talk things over with the others, and we will manage somehow to get you
back to London.”

But discussion threw very little light on the main difficulty of how to
raise the necessary money. Every member of the company was desperately
poor, and although Myra Kay offered to take charge of Ivy as far as
London, she had only just enough money to pay for her own railway
ticket. Some intended to go back to Inverness, others were setting
out for Edinburgh or Glasgow, and all were grumbling loudly, and
anathematising the Skoots who could scarcely have chosen a more
inconvenient place than Forres for their flight.

He had counted a good deal on Dudley’s good nature; but the comedian
proved the most unsatisfactory adviser of all.

“Oh don’t worry your head about Ivy Grant,” he said. “Depend upon it
such a pretty girl will win her way somehow or other. It’s much more to
the point what you and I are to do.”

Ralph did not stay to argue the question. Myra Kay was to leave by the
next train for the south, and he was determined that somehow or
other Ivy must go with her. He went up to his room, threw most of his
possessions into a portmanteau, and went to try his fortune at the
pawnbrokers. It was broad daylight, but he had long ago ceased to feel
any shame at being reduced to such straits. He went to-day, however,
with a heavy heart; for he was only too well aware that he could not
hope to raise much money on the few shabby clothes, and the wigs, shoes,
and such like, which had supplemented the theatrical costumes provided
by Skoot. Many weeks before, his father’s watch and chain had been
parted with, so that he had nothing of much value, and his spirits sank
lower and lower as the pawnbroker checked off the garments one by one at
terribly small prices.

In the very atmosphere of the shop there seemed something depressing;
tales of sordid misery seemed woven in with the shabby rugs and carpets,
the stacks of heterogeneous clothing; and tragedies seemed bound up with
the workmen’s tools, the musical instruments, the relics of household
furniture.

“Twenty-five shillin’s and saxpence,” said the master of the shop, “Will
I be makin’ oot the teeckets?”

“What’s the price of a third single to London?” asked Ralph. “I must
raise enough for that.”

“Ye canna do it, sir, not with these, it’s juist beyon’ ony man’s
contrivin’. Why I’m thinkin’ the teecket to London will be a matter of
twa punds.”

He appealed to his assistant.

“It’s preceesely forty-two shillin’ and saxpence,” said the young man,
regarding the actor with some interest.

“There’s still the portmanteau,” said Ralph.

It was an old one of the rector’s, solid and good of its kind.

“I’ll gie ye a couple 0’ shillin’s for it,” said the pawnbroker. “But
ye’ll no be gettin’ to London, sir, upon twenty-seven and saxpence.”

“It must be done,” said Ralph, with a determined look which took the
Scotchman’s fancy. “Make out those tickets, and I’ll be with you again
in five minutes.”

“The laddie’s weel-bred,” said the old man to himself. “He’ll win his
way depend on it, there’s grit in him. Yon’s none of your false French
polishin’; it’s sound, good breedin’ and grit.”

Ralph, true to his word, appeared again in a few minutes carrying a
Gladstone bag, an overcoat, and a mackintosh. The bag with the change of
linen in it which he had hoped to keep, went for a little more than
he had expected, and with the overcoat brought in enough money for
the journey, and ninepence to spare. He decided not to part with the
mackintosh, and gathering up his sheaf of tickets, bade the old Scotsman
good-day, and went at once to the manager’s deserted rooms.

Ivy had grown tired of talking to the landlady, and being in spite of
her troubles exceedingly hungry, had taken her place at the forlorn
breakfast table, and was trying to find comfort in a cup of cold coffee.

“Come, that’s a good idea,” said Ralph, cheerfully. “And now I think
of it, I, too, am hungry. Why should we not eat? After Mrs. Skoot’s
pressing invitation it’s a clear duty!”

Ivy smiled, and began to fill his cup for him.

“What do the rest of the company think I had better do?” she asked,
anxiously.

“They all agree that you had better go back to London with Miss Kay. She
will not be able to take you home with her, but I’ve been thinking it
over, and I’m sure your best way will be to go to my old landlady Mrs.
Dan Doolan. She is the soul of good-nature and as long as they have a
crust in the house they will share it with you.”

“But I don’t know them, and I can’t go and beg,” said Ivy, with an air
of distaste.

“I will write a letter to them which will explain everything,” said
Ralph. “They are good, trustworthy people who will see that no harm
happens to you; they will. I daresay, house you while you look for
another engagement.”

“How am I to get the money for my ticket?”

“I will see to that for you.”

“But you have no money?”

“Are you so sure of that?” said Ralph, smiling as he rattled the coins
in his pocket cheerfully.

The girl’s face brightened. “You have enough for both of us?”

“I am going to stay in Scotland. I shall keep enough to get along with,
you needn’t be anxious.”

But this was quite too much for Ivy, she hid her face and burst into
tears.

“I can’t go alone,” she sobbed. “I won’t take your money, and leave you
behind in this horrid place. Oh, please, please let us stay together.”

For a minute he wavered--the sight of her tears was almost more than he
could endure; the sunshine streaming in through the uncurtained window
turned her brown hair to gold, and revealed in a way that half-dazzled
him the wonderful grace of every line of her figure. With an effort,
he turned away, and began doggedly to pace the room till he recovered
himself, and, with that instinct for straightforward dealing which
always characterised him, frankly answered her suggestion.

“That would never do: you will see if you think for a minute. You are no
longer a child, and people would say horrible things about you.”

“But you always say we are not to trouble about slanders. You don’t like
conventional people, and yet here you would have me made miserable, for
fear unkind tongues should talk.”

“We can’t throw aside all conventions,” said Ralph; “many of them are
good and useful in their way. Are you and I so superhuman that we can
afford to do without all safeguards? I know you think me hard-hearted,
but some day you’ll thank me for persuading you to go with Miss Kay.”

Ivy shook her head. “It’s because you don’t really like me; you mean to
be kind, just kind and nothing more. I hate your kindness!”

All the grief and love and passion that was pent up in her heart seemed
to break loose into this wild, little speech.

Ralph began to pace the room again, he understood her only too well, and
he was sorely perplexed as to what he should do. At last he came to the
somewhat original determination to treat her as he would have liked in
her place to be treated. He sat down by her, and said quietly:

“We are all of us unhinged this morning, but I want you, Ivy, to try and
see things as they really are. I’m going to tell you what not another
soul in the world knows, for it will help you to see how we stand.
I have a friend in England who is as yet only my friend, but I’m
presumptuous enough to dream--to hope that some day she will be my
wife.”

“Then very naturally you can’t care much what happens to other girls,”
 said Ivy, perversely.

“I care a hundred times more,” said Ralph. “It is just through her that
I have learnt to reverence all women. Were she in your plight up here in
Torres should I not think any man a brute who risked her good name, who
didn’t do his utmost to shield her and help her unselfishly?”

Ivy did not reply; her wistful blue eyes were fixed on his now with the
questioning look of a child who is trying to grasp some quite new idea.
She had seen all through her precocious childhood and girlhood a great
deal that called itself love, but was only selfishness and animal
passion, and now through her sorrow and disappointment she was beginning
faintly to perceive another kind of love altogether, a love that was
divine and ennobling. It was just a far-away glimpse such as she had
gained of the landscape one day, when, in spite of cloudy weather, they
had climbed Moncrieffe Hill, and as the mist every now and then cleared
off for a few minutes, they had seen the sun shining on lovely scenery
far far in the distance. She had the same sense now that the glimpse
of love she had gained was real and true, and that the mist was a mere
passing discomfort.

“I am sorry I was angry,” she exclaimed. “I don’t mean what I said,
then. I like you to be my friend and to help me--at least if it’s right
for me to let you.”

“Of course it’s right,” said Ralph. “Didn’t your grandfather trust me to
take you down to Scotland and place you with Mrs. Skoot? I owe it to him
since she has deserted you, to see you safely back in London, and I will
write a line at once to Mrs. Dan Doolan explaining things.”

“Thank you,” she said, in a sad, meek little voice. And as he began
to write, her little, sensible, managing ways came back to her and she
began to cut thick slices of bread and butter and wrap them up for
the journey. She then consoled the landlady with her travelling trunk,
packed her few possessions into the smallest compass possible, and by
the time Myra Kay called for her, was waiting ready dressed, looking,
indeed, very pale, but with an air of determination about her firm
little mouth which Ralph could not help admiring.

There was a great bustle of departure, but when he had posted his
letters and had taken Ivy’s ticket and stood alone outside the railway
carriage with nothing more to do, a sense of loneliness began to steal
over him. For the first time it occurred to any one to ask what plans he
had made for himself.

“Where are you going, Mr. Denmead?” said Myra Kay.

“I’m going to take a walking tour,” said Ralph, lightly; “probably I
shall work my way down to Glasgow, and try for an engagement there.
By-the-bye, where is Macneillie’s Company now?”

“Just dispersed,” said Myra, cheerfully, as she reflected that her lover
would be in London to meet her. “Macneillie generally winds up soon
after Whitsuntide and starts again at the beginning of August. He has
promised to take me on again then.”

“If he has an opening you might say a word for me,” said Ralph, “and
Ivy, let me have a line to say how you get on. I shall have to call for
letters at the Stirling post-office, for I hope to hear of an engagement
by that time.”

Just at that moment he was hailed by a familiar voice from a smoking
carriage, and looking round he saw Dudley leaning out of the window.

“So you are off to the south, too!” he said. “Lucky fellow, how did you
manage it?”

The train had already begun to move, but the comedian with a beaming
face still leant out of the window describing to the last moment the
extraordinary run of luck he had had at billiards.

“Go and play the same game,” he counselled; “it’s the only way to raise
the wind. Good-bye, my boy! Meet again in better times.”

He waved his hand cheerfully and was borne away, but the thing which
lingered longest in Ralph’s sight was Ivy’s wistful, little face, as to
the very last she gazed back at him.



CHAPTER XIV


               “And forth into the fields I went,

               And nature’s living motion lent

               The pulse of hope to discontent.

               “I wonder’d at the bounteous hours

               The slow results of winter showers;

               You scarce could see the grass for flowers.

               “I wonder’d while I paced along;

               The woods were fill’d so full with song,

               There seem’d no room for sense of wrong.”

                   “The Two Voices,” Tennyson.

|It was just ten minutes past eleven by the station clock when Ralph,
having parted with his companions, found himself outside in the
highroad. He felt horribly desolate, and stood for a minute or two
dismally contemplating a flaming red and yellow placard of a scene in
“Cramond Prig,” which they had invariably played after “East Lynne.”
 Wretched as his experiences with the Company had been, they had at least
been less dreary than solitude. He sorely missed Ivy’s bright face, and
the comedian’s cheerful companionship. There was a certain bitterness
too in the reflection that no one had taken much thought of what was
to become of him, and that even Dudley, who had been kind and friendly
enough in the past, had never dreamt of foregoing his journey to London
and of taking two tickets to Glasgow.

With a last look at Forres he turned his steps southward and somewhat
drearily set off on the first stage of his journey. He meant to reach
Grantown that evening, and Grantown appeared to be at least two and
twenty miles off. Fortunately the weather was all in his favour: it was
one of those mornings of early May when the sun is bright and warm and
the air deliciously fresh, and he had not gone far along the uphill road
before his spirits revived. After all he was young and in good
health, and there was something not altogether unpleasant in entire
independence. He reflected with a laugh that although a change of
clothes might be desirable, a knapsack would have been heavy to carry,
that the great coat though useful on a cold night would have been
unbearable at the present moment, and that the sixpence left to him
after stamping the letter to his landlady and letters to the managers of
an Edinburgh and a Glasgow theatre, would at any rate keep him for a few
days from actual starvation. Then for a while he forgot his difficulties
altogether in sheer enjoyment of the country. The lovely outline of the
Cluny hills, the glimpses of the river Findhorn, the beautiful parks
surrounding many stately houses, looked their very best on this perfect
spring morning. He caught the glowing sunlight through the young leaves
just unfolded and thought that the delicate tracery of dark boughs
seemed as though ablaze with emeralds. He had walked for about two hours
when he came to a little country church and burial ground, and paused
partly to rest, partly to look up at the beautiful viaduct which at a
great height spanned the river Divie.

“Ay, ay,” said a voice, that seemed to rise from one of the graves.
“There are many tourists that stop to admire yonder seven-arched work of
man’s devising, but few--very few that pay much heed to the works of the
Almighty.”

There was a strong northern accent about the words; and the careful,
precise English showed that the speaker was better used to reading than
to speaking the language.

Ralph had started a little at the suddenness with which the silence had
been broken, and on turning round, he saw a venerable-looking old man
with bushy grey hair and beard, and shrewd yet kindly glance. Evidently
he was the minister of this place. Ralph raised his hat, and smiled a
little.

“May not the skill of man be taken as one of God’s works?” he said.

“No doubt, no doubt,” replied the minister. “When rightly applied that
is to say. But railways, sir, are the devil’s own weapon; they desolate
and mar the country they enter; they bring to the country folk all the
evil of the towns and cities. You have a prophet in your own land that
has told you this in plain words, but you will not heed him, but go on
multiplying the works of evil to your own undoing.”

“On such a day as this I am all in favour of walking,” said Ralph,
amused at the minister’s earnestness.

“Sir! it’s a grand exercise, you’ll not be finding a better; there are
your bicycles that bend a man’s back like an overstrung bow, and your
tricycles that are no light diversion to push up our Scottish hills, and
there are those works of the evil one which whirl you through creation
at such a pace that you are no wiser at the end of a journey than you
were at the beginning of it. But a man that walks, sir, must be blind
and deaf if he’s not a better man after his walk than he was before.”

“Well, I shall be able to test your theory,” said Ralph. “For I am
walking as far as Glasgow.”

“And which way will you be taking?” asked the minister. “You should
spend a few days among the Grampians, if you are anything of a
mountaineer.”

“I must push on as fast as I can,” said Ralph; “and by the most direct
route. They told me at Forres that after Grantown I had better make for
Kingussie.”

“If you’ll come into the Manse, I will show you on the map the very
route I have often travelled myself in past days,” said the minister.
And Ralph, nothing loth, followed him into his house, and was soon
poring over a big ordnance map, and receiving some very helpful
information from the old man.

They were interrupted before long by a knock at the door, and the
appearance of an aged housekeeper with a large, well-fed, tabby cat in
her arms.

“The feesh is on the table, sir, and it’s a sair temptation for puss,
puir wee thing, starving hungry as she is.” Ralph sprang up to take
leave, glancing humourously at the fat tabby, who was in such haste for
her food. The minister noted the glance; he noted, too, for the first
time, the extreme shabbiness of his guest’s clothes, and certain signs
of under-feeding about him.

“We’ll no keep puss waiting, Tibbie,” he said. “But just lay another
place at the table, for I hope this gentleman has time to dine with
me.” Then as Ralph hesitated to accept the hospitality he overruled
all objections by adding: “You’ll be doing me a real kindness if you’ll
stay, for it is not very often that I get a visitor to talk with in this
country place.”

He led the way as he spoke into the adjoining room, a plainly-furnished
parlour with nothing ornamental about it, but with a certain charm of
its own, nevertheless, from its pure cleanliness and simplicity. Puss
occupied a chair on her master’s right hand, and purred loudly through
the somewhat long grace, and Tibbie, having provided for the wants of
the visitor, left them to enjoy the meal in peace. For dinner at the
Manse was not an affair with many courses, but just freshly-caught fish
from the river, baps baked that morning by the housekeeper, a salad from
the garden, and the remains of a cheese which had been a present to the
minister on New Year’s day.

“Now the majority of travellers, as I was saying,” continued the
minister, “are just hurried over the viaduct, causing us nothing but
distraction and annoyance, but a pedestrian like yourself really sees
the place, and cheers the day for us and brings us something to think
about.”

“I spent the first thirteen years of my life in a country rectory,” said
Ralph. “And remember what a quiet time we had.”

“And are you studying for the ministry?” asked the old man.

“No,” said Ralph. “My guardian gave me the chance of doing that, but
I think you will agree that one can’t be a parson just for the sake of
earning a living.”

“Certainly not, sir, certainly not. You are quite in the right. No man
should take up such work without a clear call; far better seek some
other profession.”

“That is what I did,” said Ralph, colouring a little. “But I know very
well that you’ll not approve of my profession. I am an actor, and am on
my way now to Stirling where I hope to hear of a fresh engagement either
at Edinburgh or at Glasgow.”

Surprise, consternation, regret, were plainly visible in the old man’s
face. He said nothing for a moment, it bewildered him to find that this
young fellow with his straightforward manner and ingenuous modesty,
should have anything to do with the stage.

“I am thinking that you will be asking me as you did of the viaduct--may
not the skill of man be taken as one of God’s works?” he said,
thoughtfully. “And I’m fain to confess that I have ever considered
theatres as the highway to hell, and actors as so many servants of the
devil. May God forgive me if I have failed in charity and dealt out
harsh judgment to them.”

So they fell into talk together, and Ralph told of the landlady who had
shut the door in his face, and assumed that he was no Christian. He told
of some of the arrangements at the two theatres in London with which he
was acquainted. He told more than one story which he had heard from
Myra Kay of the good that Hugh Macneillie had done. And the old minister
listened and pondered these strange sayings in his heart, looking all
the time with a sort of wistfulness at the fresh, hopeful face opposite
him--a face which somehow haunted him long after Ralph had left the
Manse.

“He had been through a hard apprenticeship, and I doubt he had little
enough in his pockets,” reflected the old man as he paced the bare,
little parlour.

“He’d been defrauded of his pay and had looked on the evil as well as on
the good, but still he pleaded like a born advocate for his calling--his
art; and spite of his troubles there was a blithe look in his face which
sore perplexes me.”

He walked to and fro many times, finally he took a Bible from the shelf
and turned over the pages until he came to the words he sought. They
were these: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

“It was _that_ his look kept bringing before me,” he said to himself,
and he sighed because he knew that there was too little of the element
of joy in his life, and that he plodded on from day to day, considering
religion a privilege and a duty, but somehow missing the gladness which
might have been his. Ralph meanwhile, much refreshed by the rest and
food and by his host’s kindly words, tramped on contentedly enough
through the wild, desolate country which led to Grantown. The sun was
just setting as he reached the village; workmen were making their way
homeward, some children with little, dusty, bare feet were playing
battledore and shuttlecock in the road, the ruddy light on their hair
looked like burnished copper.

“Come awa bairns, it’s time ye were a’ in bed,” called a comely mother
standing in the open doorway of one of the houses.

“Just a wee whilie,” pleaded the children.

“Ah!” she replied, yielding under protest, “You’re an awfu’ care to me!”

But there was love and pride in her eyes nevertheless, as she watched
their play.

Ralph sighed a little as he tramped on. He was now both hungry and
tired, and began to consider his plans; it was quite clear that he could
not afford the price of a bed, and it was still too light to venture
upon such shelter as might be found in barns or under hedges. He turned
into a baker’s shop, secured a good-sized stale loaf, and then for want
of anything better to do, found his way to the railway station where he
amused himself by looking out trains which he had no money to travel by,
after which, having had the good fortune to find a _Glasgow Herald_ in
the waiting-room, left behind by some traveller, he read until it was
quite dusk. The quiet little place roused into a sort of activity about
a quarter past eight when two trains arrived, one from Perth, the other
from Elgin, and Ralph sauntered on to the platform with a faint hope
that he might see some face that he knew--he could almost in his
loneliness have welcomed the Skoots! But very few passengers alighted,
and directly they had been seen off the premises the porters began to
lock up for the night--no more trains were expected.

“After all,” reflected Ralph, as he left the village behind him, and
tramped along the highroad in the gathering gloom, “if I had gone out to
the colonies I should think nothing of camping out for a night. There’s
no more disgrace in it here than there. And luckily there’s no law, as
there is in England, against sleeping under a hedge, I can’t be had up
as a vagrant in Scotland. How, if only I had not been forced to sell
Macneillie’s knife it would have been handy enough for cutting this loaf
which must certainly have come out of the Ark.”

He wrenched off the top with difficulty and laughed to himself as he
thought how horrified Lady Mactavish would be, could she see him now in
the shabbiest of clothes, tramping a dusty road and munching stale bread
as he went.

“Most certainly I should have Sir Matthew’s charitable dole of ten
pounds thrust into my hand,” he said, with an exulting sense that come
what would, he would never apply for that relief. “Rather than go to him
for help, I would willingly turn into that Refuge for destitute men at
Edinburgh, which we saw as we walked down the Canongate.” He shuddered
a little as the recollection came to him of the sort of man he had seen
seeking shelter there. At any rate out of doors he would have fresh air
and no companions in misery.

He must have walked nearly five miles from the village, before he saw in
the faint starlight a large farmhouse with many outbuildings. “This is
the place for me,” he thought, making his way into the yard: but he had
yet to learn the difficulties before him. The doom of a hopeful-looking
barn were securely fastened, and, as he crossed the yard to some other
outbuildings, up sprang a huge dog from his kennel, with angry growls
and fierce barks. He walked up to the mastiff, with swift, light steps,
patted its head, fondled its ears, and explained to it the situation.
The dog was mollified, understood that the intruder’s intentions were
honourable, and even licked his hand, which Ralph took very kindly.

Looking round searchingly, he made out, at last, a sort of open shed,
near the stables, and moving across to this, had the good fortune to
discover a cart with trusses of hay in it.

“This will exactly suit me my friend,” he said, with a farewell pat to
the dog. “May you sleep as comfortably in that lordly kennel of yours!”
 And, so saying, he climbed up into the cart, stowed the remains of his
loaf in a safe place, and with deft hands had soon made himself as warm
a bed as could be desired, out of the hay.

He slept soundly, being healthily tired with his long walk--so soundly,
indeed, that though cocks and hens and ducks and turkeys, all began,
at an early hour, to blend their voices in a countrified, but scarcely
musical chorus, he heard nothing. In his dream, Miss Brompton, in a
waterproof, was thumping out “Scots wha hae,” between the acts; and
presently, when certain strange rumblings slightly disturbed him, he
dreamed that it was the thunder in the first scene of “Macbeth,” finally
waking himself up by laughing at the comical sight presented by Mrs.
Skoot as she vainly tried to drag him out of his witch’s cloak that he
might appear as Malcolm. Her angry, impatient face convulsed him with
mirth, and it was with no small bewilderment that he awoke to find
himself straggling out of a heap of hay, while from above, the amazed
face of a red-whiskered man gazed down upon him. The rustic’s round,
light-grey eyes had a scared look, and Ralph suddenly remembered where
he was, and began to apologise and explain. The cart no longer stood
in the shed, but had rumbled out into the highroad, and the driver had
evidently no intention of proceeding, while his uncanny visitant still
remained among the hay.

“Gude preserve us!” he exclaimed, “I was thinkin’ the cart was bewitched
when I harkened to yon fearsome laughter.”

Ralph shook off the hay and leapt lightly into the road; his agility
and grace seemed to strike still deeper awe into the heart of the
countryman, who stared like one fascinated.

“A doot you hef brought luck with you to the farm, sir,” he said,
looking down into the comely face and laughing eyes of his astonishing
guest. “And there would hef ben a bowl o’ milk set for you had you
bin expeckit. But it will be a fery long time sinee the Brownies hef
veesited us, and there’s bin nae luck aboot the farm for mony a year.”

“Great Scott! the man thinks I’m a ‘Robin Goodfellow’ or a warlock!”
 thought Ralph, highly amused. “And he’s far too much afraid of me to
offer me a ride in his cart.”

“I’m just a wayfaring man,” he tried to explain. “Very grateful for the
shelter of your hay-eart on a cold night.”

“Oh, ay,” said the carter, still evidently holding to his own opinion.
“And it is fery glad we are to be seein’ you, sir. And a ken weel that
it’s na for human bein’s to come into our place at night. Lassie wad
bark till ilka soul in the hoose was wakened, and she will be flying at
the thrapple o’ ony mortal man. But dogs hef aye descreemination to tell
the Brownies when they see them. I will be wishin’ you gude day, sir.”

And so saying, he drove off hastily, leaving Ralph to trudge along in
solitude, until catching sight of a stream at a little distance from the
road, he reflected that the best things in life were to be had free of
charge, and that a morning bath would freshen him for the day.

As for the driver he chanced to look back from a distance, and catching
sight of his uncanny visitor just as he took a header into the water,
was for ever confirmed in his opinion that he had seen and spoken with a
Brownie.

The second day’s walk proved even more enjoyable than the first had
done, except that there was no kindly old minister to provide a midday
meal. But the sense of freedom, the bracing air, and the loveliness of
the road beside the river Spey, with glimpses every now and then of the
Cairn Gorm range, were things to be remembered through a lifetime. With
Aviemore specially, he was delighted. He began to weave plans for the
future, and to dream of wandering with Evereld among those exquisite
hills with their craggy rocks cropping out here and there from between
dark pines and delicately fresh birches, while beyond there stretched
great pine woods, and mountains whose summits were still white with
snow. Kingussie furnished him with bread and with a somewhat draughty
sleeping apartment in the ruined castle which goes by the name of the
Ruthven Barracks; but the night air was keen, and many a time he longed
for the warmth and comfort of the hay-cart. There was something dreary,
too, in the desolate shell of the old residence of the Comyns, and he
awoke with a feeling of depression which was curiously foreign to him.
The morning was cloudy, and the waters of the Spey felt icy cold as he
plunged into them; however, the walk through Glen Tromie which the old
minister had specially recommended to him soon made him warm enough, and
the wild beauty of Loch Seilich, and its surrounding precipices fully
justified the praises which his guide had bestowed on them. He rested
for some little while by the loch, ate his last crust, and counted over,
as a miser counts his gold, the three pence which must somehow carry him
to Glasgow.

“I must certainly eat less,” he reflected, ruefully, having only dared
the previous night to buy a pennyworth of bread. “The worst of it is
this mountain air makes one so confoundedly hungry. I shall soon
be reduced to eating birds’ eggs, or to singing in front of village
alehouses in the hope of earning money.”

His reverie was interrupted by the falling of some heavy drops of
rain; he set out once more on his walk seeing plainly enough from the
threatening sky that a storm was at hand. It came indeed with a speed
which surprised him. Clouds, which blotted out the landscape, hemmed him
in; the rising wind roared through the wilds of Gaick, and the rain
came down in sheets, blinding and drenching him, for no mackintosh yet
invented could have stood the pitiless deluge which showed no sign of
abating, but rather increased in violence. Worst of all, he missed his
path so that there was not even the comfort of knowing that every step
was bringing him nearer his destination. On the contrary, he began to
fear that he had altogether lost himself.

The further he went the more hopeless he grew; he was wet to the skin,
every bone in his body ached, and no sign of a track was to be found.
It seemed to him that he was the only living creature in this vast
solitude, and his delight was unbounded when at length, through the
driving rain and mist, he caught sight of a figure approaching him. A
collie sprang forward and barked, and was called back by its master, a
tall, manly figure with a crook in his hand, and under his arm an ugly
little black lamb, He seemed not unlike a picture of the Good Shepherd,
and Ralph instantly felt confidence in the clear, kindly eyes which
looked out at him in a friendly fashion from beneath the Scotch bonnet;
there was something noble and winning in this dark-bearded Highlander.

“Can you put me into the track for Dalnacardoch?” asked Ralph, as he
returned the shepherd’s greeting. “I have lost my way in the mist.”



CHAPTER XV


          “Through ways unlooked for, and through many lands,

          Far from the rich folds built with human hands,

          The gracious footprints of His love I trace.”

                   Lowell.

|ANgus Linklater was in no danger of mistaking the traveller for a
Brownie; one of his long, keen glances told him much of the truth about
Ralph, for he had the rare gift of insight and his kindly heart warmed
to the tired wayfarer.

He at once protested that it was out of the question to go on in such
weather to Dalnacardoch, and invited Ralph to take shelter in his
cottage, which was but a few minutes’ walk.

Ralph hesitated for a moment. The rain streamed down his face and neck,
his boots felt like a couple of reservoirs, and the thought of shelter
was very tempting.

“I will tell you just how it is with me,” he said; “I have but a few
pence left and must reach Stirling before I have a chance of getting my
letters and further supplies. I think I must press on, for there is no
time to be lost.”

“Put ony thought o’ troublin’ us oot o’ your head, sir,” said Angus,
instantly reading his companion’s thoughts, and beginning to walk on
beside him. “The hame is just a but and a ben, and you’re kindly welcome
to a’ that we can gie you in the way o’ food and shelter for the night.”

“You are very good,” said Ralph. “If you can conveniently take me in I
shall be thankful. But don’t be putting yourselves out for me. When
I tell you that I slept last night in the ruins of the old castle at
Kingussie, and in a hay-cart near Grantown the night before, you will
see that to be under a roof at all will be a luxury to me.”

He laughed. The shepherd gave him another of those sympathetic,
discerning looks.

“You have had trouble I see,” he said. “But I’m thinkin’ that you’re
meetin’ it in the right way.”

“Oh,” said Ralph lightly, “I’m just an actor out of work. For several
weeks we have had plenty to do and no money; now we have neither money
nor work, and I am hoping to get into another company.”

“It’s no right that ony man should work without wages,” said Angus;
“it’s clean against Scripture. But just for a wee while I’m thinkin’
that it’s maybe no sic an ill thing for us to learn that a man’s life
consisteth not in the abundance o’ the things which he possesseth.”

“Well, it’s not hard to agree to that now that I’m close to your house,”
 said Ralph, “but I’ll confess to you that I was beginning to despair
before I met you.”

“Ay,” said Angus, a smile crossing his face, “Ilka ane o’ us is apt to
be like this stray lamb that was tryin’ to mak’ its way hame and was
scairt almost to death with encounterin’ deefliculties. It might have
hed the sense to know that as the sayin’ goes, ‘Where twa are seekin’
they’re sure to find.’”

“Is that one of your Scottish proverbs?” said Ralph, struck by the
beauty of the thought.

“Ay, it is, sir, and it often comes to my mind when I’m after the sheep.
Ye mauna despair though you’re oot o’ work. We are maist o’ us ready
to say ‘The Lord’s my shepherd,’ but at the first glint o’ trouble
we change the psalm and say ‘but I’m terrible feart that I’ll come to
want.’”

There was a sort of dry humour in his manner of saying these last words,
and Ralph smiled.

“I see you are a thought-reader,” he said, “as well as a thinker.”

“Oh, as for that,” said the shepherd, “those that spend their lives
amang the mountains have aye mickle time for thinkin’. It’s a gran’
preevilege to be set to mind the sheep.”

They were now within sight of the cottage and Angus Linklater led the
way through a little garden; at the sound of their footsteps his wife
opened the door, it seemed almost as though she were expecting her
husband to bring some one back with him, but after one glance at the
visitor her eagerness died away; she was a grave woman with dark hair
parted plainly beneath her white mutch, and with a certain sadness in
her eyes and in her voice. Her welcome was, however, as hearty as the
shepherd’s and before long she had furnished Ralph with her husband’s
Sunday garments and was busily preparing tea. When the tired traveller
emerged again from the back room in dry clothes, he thought nothing had
ever looked more comfortable than that homely little kitchen with
its fire of logs, its old grandfather clock, and its quaint, corner
cupboard, black with age. Some lines of Stevenson’s came to his mind as
Mrs. Linklater made room for him by the hearth.

                   “Noo is the soopit ingle sweet,

                   An’ liltin’ kettle.”

Delicious too was the tea and the oatcake after his monotonous bread
and water diet. Angus was still out attending to the lamb he had brought
home, and Ralph wondered whether the shepherd and his wife lived alone
in this quiet place. Among the few books on the shelf, he noticed,
however, sundry modern adventuring books which had been the delight
of his childhood. “I see you have some children,” he said, finding his
hostess not nearly so talkative as the shepherd had been.

“We hae a son,” she replied, her eyes filling with tears, and crossing
the room she took down “The Dog Crusoe” and showed him the inscription
on the flyleaf.

It was a prize for good conduct awarded to Dugald Linklater. Ralph
instantly felt that he had touched on a sore subject but whether the son
were dead or a source of trouble to the mother he could not guess. The
book was still in his hand when Angus returned.

“Ah,” he said, with a sigh, “you’re lookin’ at puir Dugald’s prizes.
We’ve lost him, sir. But he’ll come hame yet. I’m no dootin’ that. He’ll
come hame.”

Little by little Ralph gathered the facts of the case. It seemed that
Dugald had been a clever and promising lad, that Lord Ederline having
a fancy for him had taken him as his valet, and for a time all had gone
well. But London life had proved too full of temptation for the young
Scotsman, the betting mania had seized him, and had swiftly dragged him
down, until ruined and disgraced he had disappeared into those hidden
depths which are sought by the failures of all classes. It was now three
years since anything had been heard of him, but the father and mother
still lived in the belief that he would return, and Ralph understood now
the expectant look which he had noticed in the sad face of his hostess
as he walked up the garden path with her husband.

The absent son seemed to dominate their thoughts and it was with
something almost like envy that Ralph, in his singularly desolate life,
thought of this apparent waste of love. Was it pride, or shame or sheer
wickedness that kept Dugald away from such a home, he wondered?

The Linklaters kept very early hours, and after “taking the Book” and
“composing their minds to worship,” they bade their guest good-night.
A bed had been extemporised for him on a comfortable old settle where,
with the shepherd’s plaid to keep him warm, he thought himself in
luxurious quarters. But sleep would not come to him at that hour in
the evening and he lay for a long time watching the ruddy glow from the
dying fire on the hearth and musing over many things. He was glad
that the storm had overtaken him and that he had found shelter in this
Highland cottage, for in its atmosphere there was something curiously
peaceful and homelike. It was many, many years since he had felt so much
at one with any household--almost it seemed to him like a return to
his old home. For, perhaps, nothing has more effect on a sensitive,
receptive mind than moral atmosphere; while those sweet, subtle
associations, which are the aftermath of a happy childhood, are more
readily awakened by this native air of the soul than by things which can
be actually seen.

He took leave the next morning with a sense that these people had become
his friends, and that somehow they would meet again. The shepherd would
fain have helped him on his way, but he knew better than to offer what
his guest would little like to receive; nor did he, of course, realise
how very few were the pence still remaining to him. They gave him the
best breakfast the house would furnish, and Mrs. Linklater insisted on
wrapping up a shepherd’s pasty, which she said would make a luncheon for
him; then, with kindly cordiality, they bade him farewell, begging him
to let them know how he prospered.

Cheered by their friendliness, Ralph walked in very good spirits through
the Gaick Forest to Dalnaeardoch, and thence, after a brief rest, made
his way southward to Tummel Bridge. The air felt fresh after the storm
and walking was delightful, but he found no friendly shepherd’s cottage
to shelter him, and passed a very cold and comfortless night under the
shelter of a rick, which proved distinctly uncomfortable as sleeping
quarters. Twice he was roused by mice running over his face, and in the
dead of night a groan and the falling of some heavy object at his very
feet made him start up. It proved to be a drunken and very dirty tramp,
whose neighbourhood was highly undesirable, and Ralph shifted his
quarters to the other side of the rick where the keen, north-east wind
was far from pleasant. He woke again in the grey dawn, feeling stiff
and miserable. The tramp still retained the leeward side of the rick,
so there was nothing for it but to resume his journey, and gradually
the morning mist cleared and the sun rose, revealing the fine outline of
Schiehallion and chasing away the chill discomfort of the night. Indeed,
by the time Ralph had reached the village of Fortingall, he was both hot
and sleepy, and finding the kirkyard deserted, he lay down on a sunny
patch of grass, with his head resting on one of the stone ledges that
flanked the railings round the famous yew tree of three thousand years
old. How long he slept he could not tell, but he awoke at length to the
consciousness of hunger. Having eaten all the bread he had saved from
the previous night, he wandered towards the kirk, and hearing the sound
of a voice through the open windows, realised for the first time that it
was Sunday. The preacher was giving out the One hundred and twenty-first
psalm, and pausing to listen, he heard, to the familiar tune of
“French,” the following quaint metrical version.

               “I to the hills will lift mine eyes.

               From whence cloth come my aid?

               My safety cometh from the Lord,

               Who heav’n and earth hath made.

               Thy foot he’ll not let slide nor will

               He slumber that thee keeps.

               Behold he that keeps Israel

               He slumbers not nor sleeps.

               “The Lord thee keeps, the Lord thy shade

               On thy right hand doth stay;

               The moon by night thee shall not smite,

               Nor yet the sun by day.

               The Lord shall keep thy soul; he shall

               Preserve thee from all ill.

               Henceforth thy going out and in

               God keep for ever will.”

As the last words were sung, Ralph made his way to the door and entered
the little building, just as the congregation stood up to pray. He felt,
as he had done in the shepherd’s cottage, that sense of fellowship
which was what he needed in his loneliness; nor could the length of
the sermon, with its bewildering array of heads, spoil for him that May
morning, and the strengthening influence of the calm worship hour,
which seemed to him more spiritual, more grand in its simplicity, than
elaborately ornate and showy ceremonials.

He went on his way refreshed, and, taking the road to Fearnan, soon
reached the shores of Loch Tay. Away in the distance Ben Lawers rose
rugged and stern against the pale blue of the sky, and the walk left
nothing to be wished in the way of beauty. The only drawback was the
growing sense of fatigue that come over him. He wondered that a walk
of eighteen miles could so exhaust him. It was true he had been out of
training when he started from Forres, and had walked many miles each
day upon short rations, but he was dismayed to find that his powers of
endurance were not greater.

It was evening by the time he reached the Bridge of Lochay, and learnt
that he was within a mile of Killin. Feeling now tired out, he resolved
to go no further; moreover, he had learnt from experience that it was
better to sleep at a little distance from towns or villages. He paused
to talk to an old labouring man who was leaning over the bridge. To the
left there was a lovely little wood closely shutting in the river; to
the right, the stream wound its way through green hayfields, and on
through the wild beauty of Glen Lochay to the distant hills which were
bathed now in a mellow, sunset light. Learning from his companion that
he could get food close at hand, Ralph made his way to the little white
old-fashioned inn just beyond the bridge. Its walls were covered
with creepers, its garden gay with flowers, and in the porch were
two comfortable chairs. The landlady seemed a little surprised at his
request for two penny worth of bread: she would have been yet more
surprised had she known that he gave her his very last coins in payment;
for the rest, she answered his questions about Killin, and the distance
from thence to Callander, and let him rest as long as he liked in the
porch, bidding him a friendly good-night when at dusk he once more
resumed his journey. Evidently the inn closed early on the Sabbath, for
Ralph heard the door shut and bolted behind him.

He paused, and looked round in search of shelter. Not far off, the
ground sloped steeply up, and fir-trees were planted about it. Climbing
over the low stone wall, he made his way towards a fallen tree, the
wide-spreading roots of which pointed darkly up against the twilight
sky. It lay just as it had fallen in a wintry gale, its rough bark was
veiled here and there by clumps of brake fern, and the turf still grew
between the roots as it had grown when the tree was torn out of the
earth by the storm. It proved a good shelter from the cold night wind,
and Ralph crept closely down beneath it, and soon slept. His sleep,
however, was disturbed by horrible dreams, and when in the early morning
he awoke unrefreshed and with aching head, he felt no inclination to
stay longer in his lair. Stretching his stiff limbs, he stood for a
minute looking at the wonderful view before him. Beyond the river there
lay a grand panorama of mountains; here and there were large plantations
of fir, then came wild, bare tracks of heather, black and cheerless
now without its bloom, but relieved at intervals by grey boulders and
patches of grass, while little, white cottages were dotted, like rare
pearls, about the landscape.

A good swim in the river revived him, after which he went on to Killin,
and, seeing little chance of selling his mackintosh there, hoped for
better luck that night at Callander; and learning that there was a short
cut to Glen Ogle, left the road and struck across the mountainside,
gaining, as he walked, fine views of Ben Vorlich. Toiling up in the sun
proved warm work, however, and by the time he reached the gloomy, narrow
glen he was thankful to wait and rest. He wondered whether it was the
effect of the place or merely his own fault that such deadly depression
began to creep over him. The stern, purple mountains seemed to frown
on him, the tiny stream down below in the middle of the glen looked
miserably insufficient for its wide, rocky bed, and the lingering mists
of early morning still hung about in weird wreaths. This was the sixth
day on which he had been a vagabond, and he began to wonder whether he
should ever reach Glasgow. With an effort he shook off for a time the
sense of impending evil, and forced himself to eat the remains of the
loaf he had bought on the previous night.

“Now,” he thought to himself, as once more he tramped on, “I am bound,
whatever happens, to reach Callander this evening. I must walk or
starve; that will be a good sort of goad.”

The road was mostly down hill, and he made a brave start, passed Loch
Earn, which lay far below in the valley, looking exquisitely lovely in
the May sunshine, and then toiled up again towards Strathyre, pausing
only to ask for some water at a grey, slate-roofed farm on the outskirts
of the village. Here he learned the comforting fact that it was but
“eight miles and a bittock” to Callander, and went on in better
spirits. Away to the right he caught beautiful glimpses of the Braes
of Balquhid-der, and at last, to his relief, came down to the shores of
Loch Lubnaig.

But the loch was nearly five miles long, and before he had gone half its
length such intolerable pain and weariness overpowered him that he could
hardly drag one foot after another. He was forced to rest for a while;
then once more blindly staggered on, wondering what was going to happen
to him and counting the milestones with the eagerness of despair. At
length the loch was passed, and the two railway bridges. He knew that he
must be in the Pass of Leny, and as he toiled up the hill could hear the
rushing sound of the river among the trees to the right. Then came the
moment when he could do no more, but sank down half-fainting by the
roadside, his head resting on a rough seat which had been placed against
the wall. How long he lay there he could not tell, but he was roused by
the sound of footsteps close at hand. Half opening his eyes he caught
sight of two hard-featured men, who glanced at him critically and
shrugged their shoulders.

“Drunk,” he heard one of them say, “and as early in the afternoon as
this!”

The words rankled in poor Ralph’s mind.

“If I had not tried to be honest it would never have come to this,” he
reflected. “Because my clothes are shabby and my boots in holes they
judge me. Well, it’s what the poor always have to put up with!”

He dragged himself to his feet, and, noticing for the first time some
steps in the wall and a path leading down to the river, thought he would
hide his misery and escape from further comments. He was parched with
thirst, too, but to reach the water proved hopeless. Though the river
was swollen with the recent storm, it went surging and foaming below
him among the rocks in a way which made him feel sick and giddy. He just
staggered on by the narrow, rocky track and the wooden gallery till he
reached the smoother path beyond, which led into a little wood, and here
once more his powers deserted him, and he again lost consciousness.

When he came to himself he was lying uneasily across the path, his head
on the mossy bank and his feet hanging perilously over the water. It
just crossed his mind that he might easily enough have lost his life had
he fallen in the opposite direction, and he wondered dreamily whether
it would not have simplified matters, yet, wretched as he was, he felt
somehow glad to be alive. Away in the distance he could see Ben Ledi
rising in its tranquil beauty beyond the foaming river. There was a
rocky islet, too, in the centre of the flood, with a tall, stately
fir-tree growing upon it, the dark foliage strongly contrasting with the
white foam and the vivid green of the trees on the further bank. To his
fancy, the rushing river seemed to ring out the tune of

               “I to the hills will lift mine eyes,”

as he had heard it sung on the previous day at Fortingall Kirk.

All sorts of half-misty memories thronged his fevered brain. He thought
he was walking again with Angus Linklater as he carried the ugly
little black lamb; or he was out boating with his father; or he was at
rehearsal, and Mrs. Skoot was wrathfully haranguing him. Through all
these feverish fancies, there remained the ever-present consciousness of
physical misery, and the rankling recollection of the words he had heard
from the two men who had passed him on the road. Presently, yet another
fancy took possession of him. He was sitting with Evereld in a theatre,
and could distinctly hear the actual words of Shylock’s part:

               “What, what, what? ill luck, ill luck?”

               “I thank God, I thank God. Is’t true, is’t true?”

               “I thank thee good Tubal; good news! good news! ha,

                        ha, where? In Genoa?”

|The voice was certainly not Washington’s. He was puzzled.

“Thou stickest a dagger in me,” it resumed, then suddenly broke off, and
in ‘the pause that followed he heard steps approaching. He opened his
eyes, but saw only the familiar view of Ben Ledi and the foaming river.
He had no notion that just behind him stood a tall, striking figure, and
that some one was keenly studying him, not with the critical harshness
of the passers-by in the road, but with the reverent sympathetic manner
of the artist.



CHAPTER XVI


“_Every man’s task is his life-preserver. The conviction that his work
is dear to God and cannot be spared, defends him._”--Emerson.

|Can I do anything for you?” asked a mellow, penetrating voice.

Ralph shifted his position a little, and looking round, saw a man
bending over him with a curiously attractive face, chestnut-brown hair
fast turning white, large, well-shaped, blue-grey eyes, and that mobile
type of mouth which specially belongs to the actor. He had a strange
impression of having lived through this scene before, and in a moment
there flashed back into his mind a recollection of his first day at Sir
Matthew’s house, of his adventure in the park, and of how Macneillie had
pulled him out of the water. “Oh, is it you?” he cried, with a relief
that could hardly have been greater had he met an old friend.

Macneillie in vain racked his memory: he could not in the least recall
the face. However, he was not going to betray this. “Glad I came across
you,” he said. “I often come down here by the river to study a part,
this path is little frequented till the tourist season begins. Let me
see, where did we last meet?”

“You will hardly remember it,” said Ralph; “it was at Richmond. I was
quite a small boy and ran up to thank you for having pulled me out
of the water a few weeks before in St. James’ Park. You gave me your
knife.”

A look of keen and sudden interest flashed over Macneillie’s face.

“Of course!” he exclaimed; “I remember it all perfectly. I’m very glad
to have come across you again. What is the matter now? You look very
ill. Are you taking a walking tour?”

Ralph smiled. “I set out from Forres last Wednesday morning with
sixpence in my pocket,” he said. “It has been a roughish time.”

“I should ‘think so, indeed,” said Macneillie, glancing from the
slightly-built figure to the thin, finely-shaped hands, and realising
in a moment how little fitted this lad was to endure hardships. “From
Forres you say? What was it I was hearing a day or two ago about Forres?
Oh, to be sure, Skoot’s Company came to grief there.”

“Yes, I was in the company,” said Ralph. “Skoot left us in the lurch,
and it was a sort of _sauve qui peut_.”

“So you belong to the profession,” said Macneillie. “That gives you
another claim upon me. Perhaps you are the very Mr. Denmead that Miss
Kay mentioned in her letter.”

“Yes, I am Ralph Denmead. Miss Kay promised she would inquire if you had
any opening for me.”

“We’ll see about that, but in the meantime, if I’m not much mistaken,
the influenza fiend means to work his will on you. By the look: of you I
should say that you were in a high fever.”

“I don’t know what is the matter with me,” said Ralph, miserably. “I
suppose I fainted just now in the road. I know that a priest and a
levite looked at me, said I was drunk, and passed by on the other side.”

“Trust them to leap to the worst conclusions,” said Macneillie. “It’s
the way of the world. But come, I must somehow contrive to get you to my
house.”

Ill and exhausted, Ralph for the life of him could not keep the tears
out of his eyes.

“You are very kind,” he said, brokenly; “but I didn’t mean to thrust
the part of Good Samaritan on to you. I’m not fit to come to a decent
house.”

He looked down at his travel-stained clothes, and at the holes in his
boots.

“Did you mean to lie here all night?” said Macneillie. “No, I meant to
get on as far as Callander and to pawn this mackintosh. I am better.
I’ll push on now. Perhaps there may be a hospital.”

“Well, there isn’t, as it happens,” said Macneillie, watching him
attentively as he struggled to his feet; “and it’s two miles to
Callander, and if you think I’m going to allow you to walk as far as
that you’re much mistaken. I’m a very indifferent Good Samaritan, having
no beast to set you on, but if you’ll try to come with me to the little
village of Kilmahog which is not far off we can rest at a cottage I know
of, have a cup of tea, and take the coach from the Trossachs which will
pass there in about an hour. As for your scruples in coming home with
me, you must just make away with them. My mother has often received me
in quite as bad a plight years ago when I was struggling to get my foot
on the ladder. We most of us have to go through it unless we happen to
belong to an old professional family.”

As he talked he had slipped his arm within Ralph’s, and was guiding him
up the narrow path, which, after a steep climb landed them once more in
the road. Without waiting for much response he went on, telling story
after story of his own early days as an actor, and at length the tiny
village of Kilmahog came into sight, and they paused before a little,
low white cottage with a picturesque porch and tiny garden. The mistress
of the house seemed delighted to see her visitor, and responded most
hospitably to his request for a cup of tea while they waited for the
coach. She took them into a parlour hung round with sacred pictures,
and possessing a most curious bed made on a sort of shelf in a curtained
recess. Ralph looked longingly at it as he sank into a chair, but
Macneillie shook his head.

“Yes, I see you want to be Mrs. Murdoch’s patient, but those ‘congealed
beds,’ as I always call them, are not well-suited to a fever.”

“And when did ye come hame, sir,” inquired the landlady, returning with
the tea tray; “and hoo are ye likin’ your braw new hoose?”

“I came home at the end of last week,” he replied; “and as for the house
it’s to my mother’s liking and that’s all I care for. We hear the trains
a trifle too plainly for my taste, but she likes that, says, you know,
that they are a sort of link with me when I’m away.”

“Ah, but Mrs. Macneillie she’s main prood o’ her beautiful rooms, but
I’m thinkin’ it’s mair because it’s her son that’s made them a’ for her.
She was in Kilmahog last month settlin’ the account for the milk, and
she said to me that if a’ mithers were blessed with such a son as hers
there’d be a hantle less sorrow in the warld. Those were her verra
words, sir.”

Macneillie laughed. “My mother was always prejudiced in my favour,” he
said. “It’s the one subject you can’t trust her upon.”

The good woman bustled off to make the tea, and the actor turned again
to Ralph.

“My mother is the best nurse in the world: she will soon have you well
again.”

“Why not let me stay here?” said Ralph. “It would give you less trouble.
I shall only spoil your holiday, and perhaps bring the infection into
your house.”

“Oh, we have most of us been down with this plague already,” said
Macneillie, cheerfully. “I know you covet that antique bed, but we
must have you in a more airy room than this. Perhaps it will make you
hesitate less if I tell you in strict confidence that the new house
would never have been built at all if it had not been for you.” Then,
seeing the bewilderment of his companion’s expression, “I’ll tell you
just how it was some day, it’s too long a story now, for I hear the
tea-things coming.”

Ralph, utterly at a loss to see how Macneillie could be under any sort
of obligation to him, was obliged to leave the riddle unsolved for the
present. The tea revived him, and when the coach came into sight he
almost thought he could have walked that last mile. A dreamy sense of
relief began to steal over him as they drove on beside the river between
the wooded hills and through the pretty environs of Callander, until
at last they reached the main street itself, and turning sharply to the
left began to climb a steep road. Here, nestling cosily under Callander
crag, with fresh green woods behind it, stood the comfortable, squarely
built stone house that the actor had planned for his mother. The coach
paused at the iron gate, for it was out of the question that they
should drive up the steep approach to the front door; indeed, it was not
without difficulty that Ralph dragged himself up the pebbly incline; he
was panting for breath by the time they reached the house, and it was
with some anxiety that he looked up at the white-capped old lady who
stood to greet them in the porch.

“Mother,” said Macneillie, “this is my friend, Mr. Denmead. He has
walked all the way from Forres, and is quite fagged out.” The keen,
shrewd eyes of the Scotchwoman had perceived from a distance the sorry
plight of the visitor, and she looked now not at his deplorable boots
and shabby coat, but at the honest, dark eyes lifted to hers; she saw
directly that they were full of dumb suffering.

“I am glad to see any friend of my son’s,” she said, and there was
something curiously comforting in the homely sound of the Scottish
accent, but when she had shaken hands with her guest an almost motherly
tenderness stole into her voice. She begged him to come in and rest,
made minute inquiries as to the hour when the fever attacked him, and
having left him installed on a sofa in the dining-room, drew her son
into the hall. “Hugh,” she said, “the poor laddie is very ill. I will
go and make a room ready for him, and you had better be fetching the
doctor.”

“I will by-and-bye, but first let us get him settled. Put him into my
room, it’s the most airy. I’ll tell you who he is, mother.” The two had
gone upstairs as they were speaking, and Macneillie closed the door of
his room behind them, and began helping in a deft, sailorlike way to
strip the sheets off his bed. “He is the boy I told you about years ago,
who saved me from making an end of myself on Christine’s wedding
day.” At the name, a sort of shudder of distaste passed through Mrs.
Macneillie; it was a name very rarely mentioned by either of them, and
the mother fondly hoped that at last her son had banished from his mind
all memory of that romance of his youth. But, dearly as they loved each
other, there was a good deal of reserve between them, and she could not
tell how it was with him. After his absence in America, he had come back
looking much older, but apparently in good health and spirits, and more
than ever engrossed by his work. Little as she liked his profession,
for she was full of old-fashioned prejudice and clung to all her old
traditions, she nevertheless often blessed it in her heart for she saw
that he lived for it, and, spite of herself, could not help taking some
interest in his efforts to raise the drama, to give only such plays as
were worth acting, and to manage his company in the best possible way.
Still it was undoubtedly the grief of her life that her son had chosen
the stage instead of the ministry, and he was quite aware of it, and
was obliged to get on without her entire sympathy. She was unable to see
that he was really doing quite as good work as any minister in the land,
nor did she understand that an actor in refusing to follow his clear
vocation, would be as blameworthy as a divine who put his hand to the
plough, and then looked back. She did not speak a word now until they
had the clean sheets spread and all things ready for the invalid. Then
she drew her son’s face down and kissed it.

“I shall love to wait on him, Hugh, now that you have told me that.”

“You’ll like it for his own sake too,” said Macneillie. “It takes
a fellow of good mettle to tramp more than a hundred miles on
six-pennyworth of bread, and wear the look he wore when I found him.
Oddly enough, too, I learnt something about him from Miss Ivay’s letter
on Saturday; he belonged to that company that failed, and she told me
that she much feared he had spent almost all the money he had left,
on sending back to London a forlorn little child-actress who had been
deserted by the manager’s wife.”

“A child? Poor wee thing! There are many perils and dangers in your
profession, Hugh, you can’t deny that.”

“Yes there are,” he said, “but I am not sure that life in society, or in
other professions, or in shops and factories, isn’t even more risky. As
for this little Ivy Grant, you may be quite happy about her; he had the
good sense to send her to trustworthy friends.”

No more was said, for it was time to fetch the invalid and to send for
the doctor. But later on, Mrs. Macneillie opened her heart to her son.

“It’s all very well, Hugh,” she said, “to think that everything is made
right by the little girl being in good hands for the time; but you mark
my words, it will be the same story over again as your own. This poor
lad will be shielding and helping Ivy Grant, and when she has other
admirers, why she’ll throw him off like an old glove. It will be your
own story over again, Hugh.”

“I hope not,” said Macneillie. “Let us believe he would have done as
much for any distressed damsel. He is a generous fellow, and every inch
a gentleman; why must we assume that he has fallen in love with the
lassie?”


“Didn’t I find him sobbing his heart out the moment he was left to
himself?” said Mrs. Macneillie.

But at this her son would do nothing but laugh, “My dear mother,” he
said, “That is just the sure and certain sign that he has the influenza,
but as to that far worse malady no sign whatever.”



CHAPTER XVII


               “So, from the pinched soil of a churlish fate,

               True hearts compel the sap of sturdier growth,

               And between earth and heaven stand simply great,

               That these shall seem but their attendants both.”

                        Lowell.

|FOR some days Ralph gave his new friends a good deal of anxiety; no
doubt the worry and the underfeeding of the past nine months had told
upon him, and culminating in this week of hardship and exposure had left
him very ill-fitted to resist the modern plague which was scourging the
country. By the time he had turned the corner and was able to spend part
of each day in the adjoining room, he had wound himself very closely
about the hearts both of the mother and the son. For there was something
in his blithe cheerfulness which was very winning and which not even the
depression that always accompanies influenza could affect for very long,
any more than Sir Matthew Mactavish’s treatment could really embitter
his nature, though it occasionally made him speak a few cynical words.

Macneillie had by this time heard the story of his life, and had set his
mind at rest by offering to have him in his company at the beginning of
August. He wrote, moreover, to a friend of his, the manager of one of
the Edinburgh theatres, and tried to obtain a temporary engagement for
him, to fill up the summer months. To this there was for some days no
response, and Ralph, who was beginning to chafe at the thought of his
penniless condition, grew depressed, and with the sensitiveness of a
convalescent feared that he was a burden to his kindly host. Macneillie
was quick to discern what was passing in his mind.

“Pining for that hospital you were so anxious to find at Callander?” he
said one afternoon when he had found Palph unusually depressed.

The invalid smiled.

“Not exactly. But I’m wishing I needn’t spoil your holiday.”.

“Have you forgotten what I told you as we waited for the coach that day
at Kilmahog?” said Macneillie, bracing himself up as though for some
effort. “This house would never have been built if it had not been for
you. I saw you hardly took in what I was saying, but it’s as true as
that you and I sit here together smoking. I will try to tell you the
whole story.”

“Years ago, when I was a young fellow playing juvenile lead in Castor’s
travelling company, there joined us a little, forlorn girl of sixteen,
fresh from school, and utterly innocent. She was very unhappy, and I,
naturally enough, fell into the sort of position that you fell into with
Ivy Grant. She badly wanted a protector, and I did what I could for her.
Well, little by little, this sort of friendship drifted into love, and
though our engagement was not made public and was never recognised by
her parents, they did not exactly forbid it or in any way hinder our
intercourse, being shrewd enough, I suppose, to see that had they done
so, their daughter would only have become more resolute and determined.
Things drifted on like this for ten years. For five of these years we
were acting in the same theatre in London, and I was fairly satisfied
to wait, and never once doubted her. But there came a time when she
felt hampered in her profession for want of money, and just then came
an offer of marriage from a man who, though old enough to be her father,
was immensely rich. He had a title moreover, and as far as I know, he
was not a bad fellow--had he not been of decent repute, I am sure she
would not have married him. Still I had seen enough of him to know that
they had not a taste in common, and the misery of it all unhinged me.
She was to be married at the close of the season, and every night--twice
on Saturdays--we had to act together. It all went on like some ghastly
dream”--he pushed back his chair and began to pace the room as though
the recollection were intolerable. “The play was invariably ‘Hamlet;’ I
have never been able to face the thought of acting the part again. The
only thing that carried me through was a sort of desperate resolve to
keep up appearances for her sake. There had been, naturally enough,
a certain amount of gossip about us, but few knew that we had been
actually engaged, and in the very worst of the time there was a sort
of odd sense of triumph, for I knew that I was acting behind the scenes
with a perfection which I was never likely to touch before the curtain.
It told on me, though. When the end of the season came I had been
for eight nights without sleep, and after saying good-bye to her, and
realising that there was no need to keep up any longer, all power of
rational thought seemed suddenly to go from me. I had acted my part so
well that she believed that I had become reconciled to the thought of
her marriage, and I suppose she thought that I should take that position
of friend, which she wished me to take. At any rate her last words were
a request that I would be present at the little country church where the
wedding was to take place.

“I left it uncertain whether I would go or not, and went home debating
which would really be best for her, which would set her most at ease.
Could I for the time efface myself so completely as to play the part
of an old friend? If she had really cared for the man she was to marry,
that would have been possible; I could have rejoiced in her happiness.
But this, as things were, I thought out of the question. And then in the
darkness of the night, as I lay wondering stupidly which would be
the best for her, a wild notion that it would be best if I were dead
suddenly took possession of me. I was too worn out to think anything
at all about the right and wrong of the matter; it was just an
overmastering idea that crowded out every other consideration. I even
forgot my own mother,---that has always seemed to me the most incredible
part of the whole business. When morning came, I made my preparations
and walked out, with no notion at all as to place, but only a vague
wish to be away from bricks and mortar. After a time I found myself in
Richmond Park, and was making for a quiet glade I knew of, when there
came a sound of footsteps hurrying after me, a small boy was speaking to
me, telling me I had saved him once, and begging me to accept a silver
knife. Here it is you see--I have carried it ever since.”

Palph in amazement looked at his father’s old fruit knife; could such a
trifling thing have played so great a part in the life of his friend?

“I only parted with yours the other day at Forres,” he said, “when
everything that could be spared had to go to the pawnbroker.”

“Well, I’m glad it is gone,” said Macneillie. “This is the only souvenir
needed. I have had presentations both before that time and since, but
never one that touched me as yours did. Your emphatic assurance that
fruit-knives were of no use to you, since you always ate peel and all,
tickled my fancy and made me smile; that was the first step back to
life. And then your boyish praise was so real that it pleased me, and
your hero-worshipping face haunted me. It reminded me that I should be
missed at any rate by some, and when I reached the glade I was glad that
by a sudden impulse I had given you my knife in exchange. Being thus
disarmed there was nothing to do but to lie down and rest, and what with
the heat of the day and the long walk, I somehow fell asleep at last.
When I work my brain was perfectly clear again, but there was this
little embossed knife to remind me of the narrow escape I had had. I
remember that in the distance the deer were feeding peacefully, and
within a few hundred yards of me rabbits were scampering to and fro. A
great longing for home seized me as I lay there watching them, the sort
of hunger that always comes over a Scotsman when he has been long away
from the mountains. So I hurried back to town, packed my portmanteau,
and took the night train to the north. There! that is all I have to tell
you; and perhaps now you’ll understand that you are no ordinary stranger
to me and to my mother, but that you belong to us.”

“It is good of you to have told me,” said Ralph, “to have trusted me
with so much. But I, too, have a confession to make. That day, when we
were in St. James’ Park, Evereld and I knew who was talking with you as
you walked up and down, and once when you stopped close to the water we
could not help hearing what you both said. I think it was partly that
which made us look on you as our special hero.”

Macneillie paced the room silently, seeing with all the vividness of a
powerful imagination that scene in the far past: the broad sunny path,
the calm expanse of water, with its little wooded island, the white
sails of the toy boat, the two children watching its progress, and
beyond the trees on the further side of the park the great gloomy pile
of Queen Anne’s Mansions looming up against the sky. Again he seemed
to stand in his misery beside the iron railing looking down into a face
which was deliberately hardening itself against him, yet was still the
face that haunted his dreams with its strange inexplicable fascination.

Since her marriage he had never seen Christine; at first he had
purposely avoided her, and after his return from America had still
deemed it prudent to refuse a London engagement, and to enter on that
career as manager of a travelling company which had now for some years
absorbed his thoughts and his energies. He wondered often whether
their paths would ever again cross, and with a certain sturdy Scottish
resolution he held on his way, neither seeking nor avoiding a meeting.

He was still talking to Ralph on this summer afternoon, when his mother
came into the room with the letters of the second post.

“Ha, here is one from Edinburgh,” exclaimed Macneillie. “Now we shall
hear your fate. Well, it’s not much of an offer but better than nothing.
Middle of June to the end of July, that will fit in well enough. To
be walking gentleman after the parts you have been playing will be
uninteresting, but you will at any rate be secure of your salary, and
will be acting with better people. Here is the list of plays; let us see
who the stars are.”

Glancing down the paper he gave a perceptible start.

“That’s an odd coincidence after what we were just talking about,” he
said, handing the list to his companion; and Ralph saw that in the first
week of July, Christine Greville was to appear as _Ellen Douglas_. He
hardly knew whether he were glad or sorry. Naturally his affection for
Macneillie tended to make him a somewhat severe judge of the woman who,
after a ten years’ betrothal, had forsaken her lover and married for
money; but nevertheless he wanted to meet her, and Macneillie was not
ill pleased at the chance of thus learning indirectly how Christine
prospered in the life she had chosen.

Somehow the news seemed to cheer them both. Macneillie stood gazing out
of the window, lost in thought.

The rain had ceased, and though the sky was still in part overclouded
there were little rifts of blue, and in the west a bright gleam which
swept across the hills facing the window in a long level line of golden
brightness. Above, were the dark mountain tops, below, in deep shade,
the woods; and the points of the trees stood out sharply defined
along the broad intervening strip of sunlit grass. He could not have
explained his own feelings, but it seemed to him that some unexpected
gleam of brightness had come, too, into his overclouded life.

During the days that followed something of the old hero-worship began to
reassert itself in Ralph’s heart as he learnt to understand more of his
friend’s character. To the genius and fervour and romance of the Kelt,
Mac-neillie united a singularly strong and virile nature, and although
he had shaken off some of the trammels of the school of theology to
which his mother still belonged, he was emphatically one whose life was
ruled by faith. This was indeed generally recognised, although he was
not given to many words; but the world agreed in describing him by that
unsatisfactory phrase, “a religious man,” and many in the profession
could testify that his religion was of that pure and undefiled kind
which is known not so much by words or outward observances, as by the
living of a good, manly life.

There was, to Ralph’s mind, something very touching in the relations
between the actor and his mother. His care in avoiding all topics that
could pain her, his solicitude for her comfort, and the pleasure he took
in the restful home-life, which could only be his at long intervals,
formed but one side of the picture. There was the ineffable pride of the
old lady in her only son, her delight in his success being only modified
by the unconquerable scruples which she still felt as to the stage,
scruples which were, however, difficult to maintain in all their fulness
when she was every day confronted by so admirable a representative of
the actor’s profession.

As soon as it was practicable, Macneillie made the convalescent spend
a great part of each day out of doors, at first in the garden or in
the wood at the back of the house, and later on, when walking became
possible, on the hill-side near the wishing-well, where far away from
houses and with a glorious panorama of lake and mountain they rested for
hours on the heather.

It was at these times that Ralph received some of those lessons in his
art which were later on of the greatest service to him.

By the middle of June he had shaken off the last effects of the
influenza, but although he was thankful to have scoured an engagement,
he left Callander very reluctantly, only comforting himself with the
reflection that at the beginning of August he should once more be
with Macneillie, and able perhaps to do a little in return for all the
kindness that had been shown to him.

His Good Samaritan started him on his way with sound advice, and all
things needful for a fresh beginning, and the weeks in Edinburgh passed
pleasantly enough.



CHAPTER XVIII


               “On the oppressor’s side was power;

               And yet I knew that every wrong,

               However old, however strong,

               But waited God’s avenging hour.”

                        Whittier.

|AT length the day arrived when Christine Greville was to appear. A
rehearsal had been called for eleven, and it so happened that Ralph
reached the stage door just as the “star” with her maid in attendance
drove up. He had naturally been very anxious to see her, and was pleased
that their meeting should be in bright sunlight, not in the dreary gloom
of the empty theatre. He caught a vision of fair hair beneath a broad
black straw hat, and of blush roses that harmonised well with the
beautiful but rather grave face. Then it chanced that in alighting, Miss
Greville dropped her parasol, and Ralph of course promptly stooped to
pick it up for her.

“Thank you,” she said, and her low voice thrilled him. “It was careless
of me.” As she spoke her lips smiled, but he thought the brown eyes that
for a moment met his fully were the saddest as well as the sweetest he
had ever seen.

The doorkeeper having now perceived her hastened forward, and she passed
into the building.

It was with some surprise that in glancing round she saw that Ralph also
had entered. Something in his manner had pleased her, and she presently
turned to the manager with a question.

“Who is that young fellow behind us?” she inquired, lowering her voice.

“He is a pupil of Macneillie’s,” said the manager, “and at present is
only ‘walking gentleman,’ but he has the makings of a good actor in
him.”

“Introduce him to me,” said Miss Greville.

So Ralph, to his no small delight, was presented to the great lady, who
gave him a cordial hand-shake.

“They tell me you are Hugh Macneillie’s pupil,” she said.

Ralph flushed a little.

“He has taught me more than any one else,” he replied, “and it was
through him that I got this engagement. In August I am to join his
company.”

“Ah!” she said, and Ralph fancied there was a sort of envy in her tone.
“You are very fortunate to have such a chance. He is one of a thousand.
Where did you come across him?”

“At Callander, soon after Whitsuntide. He has built a house there for
his mother.”

“She is still living? I am glad of that. She never liked me, having a
rooted aversion to the stage and all connected with it, still she was
kind to me in her way, though disapproving all the time.”

“She still disapproves of the stage,” said Ralph. “But she is kindness
itself; if you could but have seen the plight I was in when Macneillie
found me, and took me home with him!”

At that moment they were interrupted, but when the rehearsal was over,
Miss Creville again spoke to him.

“We must finish our talk,” she said. “I like to hear all about my
old friends. To-morrow I am driving with my little invalid nephew to
Roslin--come and join us, we shall have plenty of room for you.”

Ralph was delighted with the invitation; it was quite impossible to
remain a stern judge of Miss Greville now that he had seen her and
spoken with her. He had wondered how it could be that Macneillie, after
her faithlessness, still for her sake remained single. But he wondered
no longer, for it seemed to him, that quite apart from any beauty of
feature or form, she was the most inexplicably fascinating woman he had
ever met. Her every movement seemed to possess a subtle charm; there
was a refinement and delicacy about her manner, a delicious originality
about her way of talking, that made all others in comparison with her
seem tame and commonplace. There was, moreover, something that specially
appealed to Ralph, in the sadness of her face when in re pose, and its
brilliant beauty when animated.

There was no rehearsal the next day, and Ralph, punctual to the minute,
presented himself at the Windsor Hotel, at the time appointed for the
drive. He was shown into a private sitting-room where a little lame boy
of about nine years old sat by the open window.

“Aunt Christine will be here directly,” he said, greeting the visitor
with great friendliness. “She was reading to me and forgot the time. Did
you ever hear her read?”

“No,” said Ralph, “what book was it?”

“Oh, only about Roslin, but it doesn’t matter what she reads, she makes
everything beautiful--it’s the way she says the words. Mother used to
read to me in Ceylon, but I never eared for it--it sounded so droney.”

“Do you come-from Ceylon?”

“Yes, I came last year,” said the small invalid. “I live now with Aunt
Christine, she’s mother’s sister, and I like her next best to mother in
all the world. But Sir Roderick’s a beast. You mustn’t say I said so,
but I hate him because he always says horrid, cutting things to Auntie.
He’s to meet us here, when Auntie’s engagement is over, and we are to
go to the Highlands to stay at a big country house belonging to his
cousin.”

It was impossible to check the confidences of this small ehild, who,
with his light brown hair, eager blue eyes and sunburnt face, was by no
means the typical invalid of romance, but just a restless, high-spirited
boy, brimming over with life and merriment. Perhaps it was as well that
at that moment his aunt came into the room.

“So sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Denmead,” she said, greeting him in
her charming way. “I was always a sadly unpunctual mortal, but Charlie
has no doubt been entertaining you. Is the carriage at the door? Then we
will ring for one of the waiters, Charlie, to take you down.”

“He carries so badly,” said the small invalid, querulously. “I wish
Dugald were here.”

“Well, he will come with Sir Roderick on Saturday,” said the aunt. “What
does the waiter do?”

“I don’t know, but he hurts,” said Charlie, wriggling in his big chair.

“Will you let me carry you?” said Ralph.

“Yes,” said the child, with the air of a monarch bestowing a favour.
“Your hands are so nice and long, not podgy little things like the
waiter’s.”

The journey to the Stanhope having been safely accomplished, and the
ehild comfortably installed in the back seat, Christine gathered up the
reins, and with Ralph in the front seat beside her, drove off in the
direction of Roslin.

“There is nothing I enjoy so much as driving,” she said. “It is the one
real pleasure of my life.”

“Greater than such a triumph as you had last night,” said Ralph.

She glanced at him with a sort of surprise.

“Did you really think I cared for that?” she said.

“How young you are--how worn and _blasée_ you make me feel. I cared
nothing at all for that ovation--was thankful when the din ceased and I
could go home and be quiet. When one is miserable, there is at any rate
some comfort in being miserable alone--you can throw aside your smiling
mask, and so get something approaching to ease. It is off now, you see,
and I am treating you as if you were a trustworthy, old friend, but then
you are trustworthy, I could tell that the moment I saw you. Now tell me
candidly, did not Mrs. Macneillie tell you she detested me?”

“No, but I heard something of your first acquaintance with them long
ago,” said Ralph; and then he coloured and hesitated, feeling that he
had perhaps said too much.

And oddly enough Christine felt that he understood all, and knew that
he would soon find out how, having sacrificed everything to ambition, it
now profited her nothing.

“Auntie,” cried a small voice from the back seat.

She glanced round with love and tenderness in the face that a moment
before had been so sad.

“What is it, darling?”

“Why those two girls were so awfully delighted to see you. I saw one
catch hold of the other’s arm and say, ‘There she is!’ just as if you’d
been the Queen herself.”

She laughed, but the child’s pride in her, and perhaps the remembrance
that the public really loved her, touched her heart for a moment, and
brought back a look of youth and gladness to her wistful eyes. She
turned again to Ralph.

“Now take up our talk where it was interrupted yesterday. You were
telling me what a plight you were in when Hugh Macneillie found you. How
had you got into such difficulties? Couldn’t you get an engagement? Tell
me your story, for we two must be friends.”

She was so _simpatica_ that it was impossible to resist her, and
Ralph told her his story; all about the old days at Whinhaven, and his
father’s death; all about his adoption by Sir Matthew Mactavish and his
final dismissal; all about his search for work, his first engagement,
and his experiences at Washington’s Theatre. Christine would have blamed
him more for his folly. In relinquishing his position there had she not,
with her womanly insight, guessed all that he left untold of his feeling
for Evereld, and understood why just at Christmas time he was in such
desperate haste to get on in his profession.

With the keen interest of one who had lived the same wandering life, she
heard of the adventures of Skoots’ Company, and listened pityingly
to the account of what Ralph called his “sixpenny tramp” through the
Highlands. But when he told of the friendly shepherd who had met him in
the wilds of Gaiek, she made a sudden exclamation.

“Did you say the name was Linklater? Why then I think I can help you to
find the lost son--my husband’s man is named Dugald Linklater. He has
been with us for a year, and would scarcely have endured it so long, I
think, had he not been very fond of Charlie, and anxious too to get a
good character. He had been valet to Lord Ederline, but had left him
under a cloud, and had been out of a situation for a long while.
My husband had had a succession of men, and really took this one in
despair.”

“Then there can be no doubt about it,” said Ralph, his face lighting up.
“For I know the son was Lord Ederline’s servant. This will be good news
for the shepherd and his wife. How odd that one should come across him
in this way. The world is but a small place after all. What is he like?”

“A dark-haired Kelt, very well-mannered, and a decidedly clever fellow.
I know something of his past life, for he is going to marry my maid as
soon as they have each of them saved a little money. Dugald is steady
enough now, but he was nearly ruined by betting. We have very little
notion, I fancy, of the sort of temptation our servants are often
exposed to.”

“Will he be coming to Edinburgh? Can I see him?”

“Certainly. I expect my husband on Saturday evening. Come and call on
Sunday afternoon, and I will make some excuse to send Dugald round to
your rooms afterwards. Then you can tell him all about his home people.
But now tell me about the rest of your journey.”

Ralph told the whole tale, and there were tears in his companion’s eyes
as he described the dire struggle of the last day of his wanderings, and
his final collapse in the Pass of Leny.

“And it was there Hugh Macneillie found you?” she said tremulously.

“Yes, he is fond of going up and down that path by the river, he says
it is good practice to rehearse a part in that roar of many waters.
I dreamt I was back again in the theatre with Evereld, then I heard
footsteps, and looked up to see his face. You can’t think what a
contrast it was to the faces I had seen just before in the road, with
their cruel contemptuous stare; it was like looking up into the face of
the Christ.”

By the time they had returned from Roslin, Christine had heard all that
there was to be heard, with the exception of course of the Richmond Park
incident, and she was able fully to realise the sort of life which her
old lover was living. She did not presume to pity Hugh Macneillie. She
knew indeed that, compared with her lot, his was one to be envied; but
she felt intuitively that he would never recover from the wound she had
dealt him, and knew that she had deliberately robbed him of all that a
man most values. Her heart was very sore that night, and Ralph, now that
he knew more of her, understood with how weary an effort she laughed and
talked in the green room. He longed to be able to serve her, but there
was of course little he could do, beyond showing Charlie the sort of
kindness which a small boy best appreciates.

It was with some trepidation that, on the Sunday afternoon at the close
of her engagement, he called to take leave of her. Other visitors
were in the room. She just introduced him to Sir Roderick--a tall,
grey-haired, and decidedly good-looking man, and then left him to make
his way as usual to Charlie’s couch.

The child greeted him with delight and eagerly showed him a Kodak which
Christine had just given him, and with which he was longing to take
snap-shots at the people in Prince’s Street. “But I mustn’t do it, Sir
Roderick says, because of the fourth commandment and the Scotch being
so particular. Now do you really think that the fourth commandment was
meant to forbid Kodaks on Sunday?”

“Well no,” said Ralph smiling. “I don’t think it has much to do with
photography or with our Sunday.”

“And you see,” continued the child eagerly, “even if we are not to
do any manner of work--and of course, every one really does a good
deal--you can’t possibly call it work to take a snap-shot. Why it says,
you know, in the advertisement, that it’s no labour at all. ‘_You_ press
the button, _we_ do all the rest,’ and one wouldn’t ask them to do the
developing to-day. It’s really not so bad as Sir Roderick’s ringing the
bell as he’s doing now, for when he rings twice like that, Dugald has to
come hurrying upstairs like lightning, and I know he has had hardly any
time for his dinner.”

At that moment the servant entered in response to his master’s
peremptory summons. Ralph watched him keenly, and had no manner of
doubt that this man was the shepherd’s son, for the likeness to Angus
Linklater was marked. An expressive little bit of pantomime followed;
he could not hear the actual words spoken by Sir Roderick, but the
insufferable tone and manner of the master and the expression of
long-enduring but sorely tried patience on the face of the man, were
quite sufficient to reveal much of their characters. Soon after this the
visitors rose to go, and Sir Roderick having taken leave of them in a
pleasant and courteous fashion, turned round on his wife the moment the
door was closed, and apparently forgetting that they were not alone,
hurled at her a torrent of abuse and scathing sarcasm, which made Ralph
long to kick him down-stairs. It seemed to be about some salmon flies
which had been left behind in London, Dugald having failed to find
them in their right place, and imagining that they had been sent by his
master with the first instalment of luggage brought to Edinburgh by the
rest of the family some weeks ago.

In Lady Fenchurch’s manner of receiving her husband’s anger there was
the calmness of long use, but her colour rose a little because of the
injustice of the attack, and from a sort of shame that Ralph Denmead
should witness the scene.

“I am sorry the mistake was made, but you forget we are not alone,” she
said, seizing on a moment when for want of breath he ceased to swear.

He glanced towards the window with annoyance, and with a malice which
his hearers perfectly understood, suddenly changed his line.

“Well, if it is not your fault then it must be Dugald’s fault. The
d------d scoundrel shall leave the very day. I can get another man. I’m
sick of the sight of him. He shall see that I’m not to be imposed upon
by an idle fellow who doesn’t know his duties. He shall go, and with the
worst character I ever gave to a servant. He came to me with a bad one,
and I’ll add a telling bit to it.”

“I only wonder he has endured the situation so long.” said Christine,
stung by the unfairness of this retaliation. “But you punish yourself
more than you punish him; think what trouble you had before he came. The
best servants must now and then make mistakes.”

“The best mistresses are supposed to look to the ways of their
household,” he said maliciously, “and to have some regard for their
husbands’ comfort. D------ you, say no more. I tell you the man shall
go, and if he chooses to bring an action against me for giving him a
worse character than he brought with him, I’ll show up his whole past
life.”

With that he sauntered out of the room and Ralph, with some presence of
mind, picked up the Kodak and began to talk to Charlie about the best
position for taking a photograph of the Scott memorial just opposite.
In a few minutes Christine slowly crossed the room and sat down in a low
chair beside Charlie’s couch. Her white taper fingers played with the
child’s light hair, but she was quite silent, sitting there listlessly,
with the exhausted look which people wear when they have been battling
with a strong wind.

“And she might have been Macneillie’s wife!” thought Ralph. “How can she
endure this wretched existence!”

He was made so miserable by the sight of that worst tragedy of life--a
mistaken marriage--and by the thought of the grievous pain and sorrow
it had entailed, that he was quite unable to perceive how immensely both
Christine and Macneillie had been developed by the consequences of that
very mistake.

The woman who at seven-and-twenty had sacrificed the entire happiness
of another to her own ambition and the worldly arguments of her
parents, who had allowed the love in her heart to grow weak for lack
of nourishment, who had been capable of utterly deceiving herself and
stifling her conscience, had at four-and-thirty grown clear-eyed and
humble through much sorrow. And as for Macneillie, his years had been
spent to such good purpose that no one with deep insight could have
wished that he had married Christine Greville as she had been seven
years ago. There had, perhaps, been truth in her assertion in St.
James’s Park--she might have dragged him down to a lower level.
Undoubtedly, apart, they had each of them climbed a step higher, and she
was more worthy of him now than in the old days.

“Auntie,” said the child, breaking the silence at last, “you won’t
really let Dugald go, will you?”

She sighed.

“Not if I can help it, dear, but of course he is Sir Roderick’s servant.
Say no more about it, though. I know you are fond of him and would be
sorry to lose him, but we can’t always have what we like.”

“I should have thought you might,” said the child. “You who earn such
lots of money. _Can’t_ you have all you like?”

She laughed, but there were tears in her eyes.

“I can have you, dear, and you are my chief pleasure now,” she said
caressingly. Then, shaking oft’ her cares for awhile, she began to talk
to Ralph, who at the end of the call felt more ready than ever to be her
devoted servant for the rest of his life.

“How Evereld will like to hear all about her,” he reflected as he went
down the stairs, “there will be no end to tell her next time we meet.”

He was unpleasantly roused from these reflections by encountering on the
staircase Sir Roderick Fenchurch, who paused to shake hands with him in
the most courteous and pleasant way imaginable, as though he had utterly
forgotten that Ralph had been a witness of the stormy scene in the
private sitting-room. As a matter of fact, it was so entirely his custom
to abuse and swear at his wife before the child, before the servants,
and before any one staying in the house, that he never for a moment
imagined that this young actor would have liked to horse-whip him for
daring so to treat a woman.

All the world seemed out of joint to Ralph as he walked away from
the hotel through the beautiful city whose noble buildings and grand
situation made such an incongruously fair setting to the sad picture he
had just looked on. He chafed bitterly against the thought of such a man
as Sir Roderick ruining the happiness of his hero Macneillie, and went
back to his rooms with a heart full of indignation to write the letter
he felt bound to send to Callander after meeting Christine Greville.
Having written sundry details as to the play they had been giving
during the week, he turned to the subject which he knew would interest
Macneillie.

“Miss Greville has been staying at the Windsor Hotel with her small
nephew, a boy of nine, to whom she is devoted. I have been there several
times, as the child took a fancy to me. He is lame, but likely they say
to recover, and it is wonderful to see her care of him. Two or three
times we went out driving together. She spoke much of you and of the old
days. She looks as young as ever on the stage, but off it her face is
careworn and awfully sad. To-day, when I went to take leave of her,
Sir Roderick Fenchurch was there. He was decent enough till the other
visitors were gone, but then fell into a rage with her about some salmon
flies that had been forgotten; he has a tongue that cuts like a sharp
razor; there’s not a pin to choose between him and the ordinary,
wife-beating ‘pleb,’--in fact, I prefer the latter, for at any rate
he can be properly punished, while this polished scoundrel with his
sarcasms and his cruelties of the tongue can’t be touched. She was very
quiet and dignified all through this scene, but when at last he went out
she looked dead tired; this sort of thing at home, and the hard work
of professional life, must be more than any one could stand for long,
I should think. An odd thing has happened. I have found the son of
Linklater, the shepherd who housed me so kindly in the Gaick Forest.
He is now Sir Roderick Fenchurch’s man, but will not be with him much
longer as the brute has given him warning--chiefly to annoy his wife I
believe. Dugald Linklater has just been in to see me, and I told him I
had been to his home, and that they were always looking for him to
come back. He promises to write to his father at once. So there is
one pleasant thing in this day, which Sir Roderick Fenchurch has
overclouded. What can be the purpose in creation of such brutes? They
are enough to have staggered even your prophet Erskine of Linlathen.”



CHAPTER XIX


“_Nothing mars or misleads the influence that issues from a pure and
humble and unselfish character. A man’s gifts may lack opportunity, his
efforts may be misunderstood and resisted; but the spiritual power of a
consecrated will needs no opportunity and can enter where the doors are
shut._”--Dean Paget.

|Macneillie read and re-read this letter with the awful craving of a man
whose love has for years been starved of all knowledge of the beloved,
except the mere knowledge that she was still in the world. He had, of
course, seen her name daily in the papers, and had known what plays she
was acting in, but of her real life he had known nothing. He had tried
to think that her marriage though necessarily falling below his ideal
of married life might at any rate be as happy as the average, might at
least be tranquil and not without a certain comfortable respectability.
But the brief account given in Ralph’s letter, and the many details
which he could so easily read between the lines--filled him with misery.
The post had brought him as usual a mass of correspondence; with a sigh
of impatience he ran through it, then pushing it aside caught up his hat
and hurriedly left the house. He was in no humour to climb the hill-side
to the wishing-well; instead, he passed through the village, over
Callander Bridge, and taking a little footpath across the meadows,
sought out a favourite nook of his beside the river Teith, which wound
its peaceful course through the hayfields. A tiny wood had sprung up
near this walk at one part, and Macneillie had a special affection for
a certain beech-tree which stood just at a bend in the river, and under
its shade many of his pleasantest holiday hours were spent, lie
threw himself down now on the sloping hank beneath it. Everything
was curiously still and peaceful; Ben Ledi rose majestically in the
distance, framed by soft foliage in the foreground, and the river was
emphatically one of those which “glideth at his own sweet will,” a great
contrast to the Leny, which dashed and foamed through its rocky pass.
It was just this calm peacefulness he longed for in his inward struggle.
With all the vividness of one blessed or cursed with a powerful
imagination, he realised Christine as she now was. He knew instinctively
that her heart had awakened from its sleep, that, with the dead failure
of the _mariage de convenance_, her love which had only lain dormant
had returned--but had returned of course to torture her. Hitherto he
had been able to think of Sir Roderick Fenchurch with a sort of
impartiality. He knew so very little about him; and it was Macneillie’s
nature to think well of people until they disillusioned him; he had even
felt a sort of compassion for the man, because he knew that he could
never really possess Christine’s heart as he, for a time at any rate,
had possessed it. But Ralph’s picture of what the husband really was
behind his society mask had driven out all gentler thoughts, had filled
the Scotsman’s heart with loathing, had over-clouded his whole world.

Macneillie was, however, before all things, an honest man. He had not
accepted conventionally the first religious truths put before him, he
had thought much, he had waited patiently, had learnt by degrees, and
the hard training of his life had borne its fruit--it was impossible
now, that he should remain for long in darkness. It flashed upon him
that his trouble came from having stepped out of the right order; for a
time he had lost that absolute trust in God’s education of every human
being, which had for many years been his stronghold. The words of
Ralph’s letter came back to him--“brutes like Sir Roderick are enough to
have staggered even your prophet Erskine of Linlathen.”

The name of Thomas Erskine in itself awakened within him a whole train
of memories, for he was one of the many thousands who have been rescued
by the writings of that barrister, laird and saint from falling a prey
to the spirit of unbelief which is the reaction alike from Calvinism and
ceremonialism.

Lying under the shade of the beech-tree, the fresh air from the hills
playing softly about his uncovered head, he tried to picture to himself
what Erskine would have thought of this mistaken marriage, with it’s
unhappy results, and there came back to his mind a passage in “The
Spiritual Order,” in which the writer spoke of the strange difficulty of
retaining faith in God’s loving purpose when confronted with the evils
of the lanes and closes of great towns which seem to be mere hot-beds of
vice and profligacy. How look on those and still believe that education
was God’s whole purpose in creation? “It would be impossible,” said
Erskine, “did we not also realise that _there is no haste with God_.”

Clearly then it was the imperfection of his own nature, the
weakness--not the strength--of his love for Christine, which made him so
desperately impatient at the thought of her suffering; for her sake
he must learn to be “strong and patient,” learn to love with a diviner
love, to wait with a more perfect trust. The letter had come to him
like a call to arms, he was perfectly conscious that it marked a fresh
turning-point in his life; he had learnt more of Christine and her
difficulties than he had known for years, and the only way in which he
could interpret the meaning of it all was that he should pray for her in
her grievous need more unceasingly than he had yet done.

And so the time passed by, and at the close of the six weeks’ engagement
Ralph returned to Callander for the few days that remained before
Macneillie’s company was to open at Southboume with “The Winter’s Tale.”

It felt more like a home-coming than he could have imagined possible.
His friend was delighted to have him back again; old Mrs. Macneillie
was scarcely less so, and the servants gave him a cordial welcome, for
though his illness had given a good deal of trouble in the house, he had
the gift of winning hearts, and the forlorn plight in which he had first
arrived had awakened all the best sympathies of the hospitable Scottish
household. He fancied that Macneillie’s deep-set grey eyes were somewhat
graver in expression than before, but his manner, with its touch of
quaint, dry humour, was exactly the same as usual, and it was not until
the Tuesday morning when they set off early to walk together to the
Trossachs, that any allusion was made to the contents of the letter.
Then, at last, as they walked along the shores of Loch Vennachar,
Macneillie put a direct question about Christine.

“I am glad you got to know Lady Fenchurch,” he said. “Where did she go
after leaving Edinburgh?”

“She went up to the Highlands a fortnight ago to a place called Mearn
Castle, which belongs to a Mrs. Strathavon-Haigh, a widowed cousin of
Sir Roderick’s--a very fast widow, if what I heard in Edinburgh is
true. Lady Fenchurch did not want to go there, but said her husband
particularly wished her to accept the invitation. So she had given up
her original plan of taking Charlie to the sea, and hoped the Highland
air would do him as much good.”

“I suppose she was right to try to please her husband,” said Macneillie,
“but Mearn Castle is one of the most abominable country houses going.”

“She seemed to know very little about it,” replied Ralph, “only disliked
this gay widow, and wanted to go to some quiet place where rest would
have been more possible. But she evidently tries to do what can be done
for her brute of a husband. Oh! if you could have seen her patience, her
dignity, while that scoundrel was abusing her! I wish I could horse-whip
him!”

“No need,” said Macneillie, in a low voice, “for every brutal word he
will one day have to give account.” Something in his manner, with its
deep conviction that every wrong should in the future be righteously
avenged, silenced Ralph. He felt ashamed of his vehement impatience, and
was not sorry that, as they approached Loch Achray, Macneillie led away
from the subject by asking after the shepherd’s son.

They had passed the Hotel, and were walking through the Trossachs, when
they overtook a gentleman’s servant laden with a soda-water syphon and
a great basket of fruit which he was evidently carrying down to Loch
Katrine.

Glancing at the man, Ralph gave an exclamation of astonishment.

“Why, Linklater! is it you? I was speaking to Mr. Macneillie about you
only just now.”

The man’s face lighted up as he returned Ralph’s cordial greeting, and
he looked searchingly at Macneillie, having very often heard that the
actor was one of Lady Fenchurch’s oldest friends.

“I little thought to see you here, sir,” he said, turning to Ralph. “We
came this morning from Stronachlachar, for there was a good wind for
sailing, and Master Charlie was wanting to set foot on Ellen’s Isle.
He’s there now, with her ladyship, and I came on to the Hotel to get
these things for lunch.”

“They have left Mearn Castle then?” said Ralph in surprise.

“Well, sir,” said Linklater, with a little hesitation in his manner, “if
you’ve not already heard, maybe I had better tell you the whole truth,
for all the world must know it as soon as her ladyship sues for a
divorce.”

Macneillie made an inarticulate exclamation. Like one in a dream he
listened to the man’s brief account. It appeared that Sir Roderiek
had seduced the young wife of one of the game-keepers on the Castle
estate--that the enraged husband discovering him had given him such a
castigation that it had been impossible to hush up the affair, and that
Lady Fenehurch, on learning the truth, had left Mearn Castle.

There was a pause when the man had ended. Ralph waited for his companion
to ask some question, to make some comment, but Macneillie walked on in
absolute silence, evidently too deeply engrossed in his own reflections
to be even conscious that he was not alone.

This, then, was the meaning of his inward perception of Christine’s
grievous need! In this fortnight, during which his whole soul had been
absorbed in prayer for her, she had lived through the most awful crisis
of her life, and now she was near to him in her forlorn, unprotected,
worse than widowed condition. He must at any rate, inquire if she would
see him, ask if he could in any way help her, and here in this quiet
spot there was fortunately no danger that idle talkers would comment on
their meeting. He pencilled a few words in German on one of his cards
and turned to Linklater.

“Give this to your mistress,” he said, the title somehow sticking in his
throat. “I will take a boat and row out to the island in a few minutes,
and you can bring back the answer.”

By this time they had walked through the glen and had reached the
picturesque landing-place. Linklater hailed the Stronachlachar boatman,
and set off for the island, and the others followed more leisurely,
Ralph taking both oars and Macneillie sitting in the stern, though
the far-away look in his eyes scarcely qualified him for the duties of
steersman.

The story which Linklater had told them had been so entirely unexpected,
and was in itself so revolting, that neither of them felt inclined to
talk. To Macneillie, moreover, it was as though he had suddenly heard
of the death of the man who had saddened his life; to all intents and
purposes he considered Sir Roderick as dead to Christine, for he came
of a race which for more than three hundred years has always regarded
adultery as the dissolution of a marriage. To him there had never been
the least question as to the distinct teaching of Christ on this point,
he believed that His words clearly sanctioned divorce for infidelity to
the marriage bond and gave freedom to the innocent one. No _man_ could
rightly put asunder those who were married; sin only or death could part
them. But proved infidelity was as truly the divider as love was the
bond of union; the legal ceremonies, whether of marriage or of divorce,
were but the appointed and expedient symbols of spiritual facts--the
outward signs of the birth and death of married life.

The seven years of his solitude had taught Macneillie a stern
self-control, and whatever he felt as they rowed across the lake was not
allowed to appear at all in his face. Ralph glanced at him from time to
time and marvelled, perhaps only now realising of what splendid stuff
his hero was made, and how nobly he held in check that difficult
temperament with which actors, artists and musicians are usually
endowed.

“Which side is the best landing-place?” he asked as they drew near to
the lovely wooded island.

“To the right in that bit of a creek,” said Macneillie, beginning to pay
heed to the steering. “There is the boat, I see, but the men are both
out of it.”

As he spoke they glided into the little, rocky cleft with its
overhanging trees, its moss-grown boulders, its patches of crimson
heather and purple ling. Then came a few minutes of utter silence, as
they waited for Linklater’s return; Ralph felt anxious and restless,
each minute seemed to him an hour, and he feared that perhaps after all
Christine Greville would refuse to see any one. As for Macneillie he
just waited like one who is intently listening, but Ralph was not
sure that the listening was for Christine’s voice or for the servant’s
approaching footsteps, he had a suspicion that it was for something much
more inward.

At length, to his great relief, there came a rustling among the boughs
and a trampling of feet, and in a minute Linklater was striding down
over the rocks towards the boat, bearing a note in his hand. Macneillie
thanked him as he took the missive, and unfolding it less deftly than
might have been expected of a seasoned actor, read the following words:

“You are the only man I could bear to speak to yet; please come.”

He promptly stepped on shore, but Ralph lingered.

“I will stay in the boat,” he suggested, “and have a pipe.”

“Master Charlie is very anxious you should come and help him with his
Kodak, sir,” said Linklater, respectfully. “He’s just up here at the
top, and her ladyship is at the further side of the island, sketching.”

“Very well, then, I’ll come,” said Ralph, and he followed his friend up
the steep ascent.

In a little clearing at the top they found the small boy, who gave a
war-whoop of delight as Ralph emerged from the brushwood.

“If I hadn’t had such an awful longing for gooseberries, Dugald would
never have met you!” he said gleefully. “Auntie is over there making a
sketch, she’s hidden right away by the trees, but don’t go to her just
yet, do stay and help us lay the things out for lunch, Dugald is going
to make a fire and boil some water, he thinks Auntie will like some tea,
she’s been having such dreadful headaches the last few days.” Macneillie
heard no more, he left Ralph and the child, and Dugald Linklater, and
made his way straight through the tangle of shrubs, trees, and bushes,
in the direction that Charlie had indicated. There was a gleam of white
between the green leaves--it was the sun lighting up the sketching-block
on lier easel; in another moment he had parted the thickly-growing
branches and had seen her once more.

She was sitting on a fallen tree--not attempting to sketch, but with her
elbows propped on her knees and her face hidden by one of those shapely
white hands he had so often kissed; the sun made a dazzling glory of
her fair hair; her light grey dress and grey straw hat seemed exactly
to harmonise with the green trees and the patches of heather. She had
always had that instinct of fitness which makes some women know
exactly what to wear, and when to wear it.

Macneillie stood for a minute watching intently the down-bent head, his
heart throbbing so fast that he felt half-choked. At last, putting
force upon himself, he moved forward. His step recalled her from her sad
reverie, and starting to her feet with the nervous alarm of one who has
lately undergone some great shock, she looked round as though in terror
of pursuit. That startled movement, and the momentary expression he had
seen in her pale face, strengthened Macneillie as nothing else could
have done; he forgot all about himself, realised only that she wanted
his protection.

“You need not be afraid,” he said, taking her hand in his, “of what use
are old friends if not to help you in time of need?”

She struggled hard to reply, but her eyes swam with tears, her lips
refused to frame a word.

“Let us sit down here and talk things over quietly,” said Macneillie;
“as I wrote to you just now, Dugald Linklater told us what had passed at
Mearn Castle.”

“He told you what he knew,” said Christine in a broken voice. “He
could not tell you of my interview with Sir Roderick.” She paused for a
minute, then the pent-up torrent of words broke forth. “I have heard
of women, yes, and of men, too, refusing to be separated from a guilty
partner; but there must at least be a genuine repentance to make such a
plan even moral. There was none with Sir Roderick. He was vexed at
the discovery, but he made light of the sin itself. In my presence he
laughed over the affair. The house seemed like hell. I could not have
stayed in it another hour!”

The look of shrinking horror in her face tortured Macneillie, who could
so well understand how her whole being recoiled from the foul atmosphere
that had surrounded her. It was because he understood how she felt
herself degraded by all she had lived through that he intuitively
stretched out his hand for hers, and held it in a strong, firm clasp.

“Do not dwell on all this,” he said, “but tell me how I can help you.”

His quiet, tender voice, the reverence of his manner quickly soothed
her. She looked up into his face, and by that mere look seemed to draw
in endless stores of strength and comfort.

“Do you know,” she exclaimed with seeming irrelevance, “what Ralph
Denmead said about the day you found him in the Pass of Leny, when he
was lying there ill and half-starved, and looked up to see you bending
over him? He said it was like looking up into the face of the Christ!”

“Poor boy!” said Macneillie. “He was in an awful plight, no one with a
grain of kindliness in his nature could have passed him by. He has made
me his debtor for life now, though; it is through him that I have met
you to-day.”

“We little thought,” said Christine, “that those two children in St.
James’s Park, playing with their boat, would have anything to do with
our future. How is it, though, that you are grateful to him for bringing
about this meeting? It is I who am grateful to him. But you who have so
much to forgive--you who have avoided me all these years----?”

“I dared not seek you out,” said Macneillie, “our paths parted
naturally, and it was safer so. What could I have done for you then? But
now all is different. Are none of your people coming to be with you?”

“There is no one to come. As you heard, I daresay, my father died four
years ago.”

“Yes, I saw the notice in the papers,” said Macneillie.

“He lived just long enough,” she resumed, “to see how miserably his
scheme had failed. I had married to please him and to help the family.
Well, my sister’s husband, with no help at all from me or my position,
got an excellent appointment in Ceylon, so there again the scheme proved
useless. Three years ago my mother went out to live with her there, she
could do nothing to make me less miserable, and it only pained her to
see my unhappiness. She realises things less at a distance, and now she
is too much of an invalid to bear the return voyage. A year ago they
sent me back Charlie, Clara’s little boy, and he has been a great
comfort. Except for him I am quite alone.”

“I want you to understand,” said Macneillie, “that it is still my
highest happiness to serve you. It is quite possible that in the
difficult position you are in you may need the help of a friend.”

“Do I deserve your friendship?” she said questioningly; “you stood
aloof all these years--you would not be my friend then, though I asked
you.”

“If I had been a worse man I should have accepted the place you offered
in your company,” said Macneillie; “or perhaps if I had been a better
man, I could entirely have effaced myself and dared to take such a
perilous post. But as things were, it seemed best to go right away. Did
you not understand?”

“Yes, yes,” she said in a choked voice. “I understood--and honoured you.
Is it only seven years since you and I acted together? It seems to me
a life-time. All that has gone between has been a sort of dreadful
nightmare. And the worst of it was the feeling that I had deserved the
misery, had deliberately chosen the low level and fought against you
when you tried to drag me up. Oh, it is so long since I had a real
friend to talk to--may I tell you all?”

“Of course,” he said, gently. “Why not?”

“After a year of it I had grown almost desperate,” she said, clenching
her hands tightly, like one in pain, “and the season’s work had tired
me out; it seemed no use to try any longer even to live an honest life.
There was only one thing that still held me back. I knew if I sank lower
still it would grieve you more than all, and the thought of the pain I
had already given you was always with me. Then one Sunday afternoon I
happened to be alone. Sir Roderick had gone to stay with some friends
for the Ascot week, and there came to me a little girl bringing a note
from Lucy Seymour--you remember how soon after you and I were engaged we
had been able to help her when she was in great trouble. Well, she wrote
that her husband had died abroad and that she had just returned with her
child, was herself dying and wanted to see me. I went to her at once
and found her in great poverty, and in terror of being turned out of her
lodgings before the end. Her life, she said, had been a very happy one,
thanks to you and me. Oh, if you could have heard her gratitude for
the past. Every word she said seemed to draw me back from the horrible
indifference that had paralysed me--she somehow stirred up all my best
memories. She had heard that you were in America, or she would have
appealed first to you, for the help had been chiefly your doing.”

“Did she die?” asked Macneillie.

“Yes, about ten days after that Sunday. I had promised to send her
little girl to school, and to befriend her, if, later on, she went into
the profession, and after that Lucy seemed actually to long for death,
young as she was. I saw her every day, and the last night they sent word
to the theatre that there was a sudden change for the worse. Directly my
part was over, I went to her; she died very happily and peacefully, just
as day was breaking. I had never seen any one die before, and on the
stage death is always made somehow to seem like an end, a grand sort of
finale. But Lucy’s death was not like an end at all, it was as quiet
and serene as if she had been merely turning a page in a book. I can’t
describe to you how it altered all my ideas. Afterwards there was her
little girl to care for, and that helped me too, and though I knew
everything must still be hard, I tried after that--tried my very best
to please Sir Roderick, and as far as I could to make our home life more
endurable. We had each of us been much to blame in marrying without any
real love, and I knew that I must ‘dree my weird,’ as you used to say.
Well, it is over now--over, and I can hardly yet realise things. Last
night I wrote to my solicitor.”

“I hope he is a good one,” said Macneillie.

“_Yes_, Mr. Marriott, of Basinghall Street; but I am half afraid whether
he himself is back yet from his voyage.”

“Ralph Denmead may know, he is an old friend of his. I will inquire. But
in any case many months are sure to pass before all the legal forms are
gone through, and in the meantime you will have to live as quietly and
guardedly as possible. Have you realised that?”

“Yes,” she said, with a little shiver. “A fortnight of country-house
life, in such a place as Mearn Castle, makes one realise evil more
keenly than years on the stage.”

She remembered miserably the people she had met there--men and women so
utterly unprincipled that she loathed and despised them. She remembered
the callous indifference with which her husband had observed all the
annoyances to which she was subjected. She remembered the age-long
hours, unoccupied by professional work--barren of all that could be
called employment.

And then, turning from the past as from some hideous dream, she thought
how restful it was to be here in this little island, with the man
whose heart had never faltered from its allegiance, the lover whose
self-sacrificing constancy was as untiring as the love of God. Never
from his lips would she have heard such words as had filled her with a
sense of degradation at Meam Castle. It was the depth of his love,
the fineness of his reverence, which kept him now from expressing the
passion which she knew filled his heart. He would wait till the law had
declared her freedom--would wait and think only of how she could best be
shielded from the strife of tongues.

“If you are really at a loss for some quiet place, and for friends
who can rightly protect you, why should you not go for a time to the
Herefords’ house near Firdale?” said Macneillie.

“I know them very slightly,” she objected. “Besides, is not that meant
for people who have no money?”

“Monkton Yerney is for all, I think, who are in need--it’s a Cave of
Adullam--and though you don’t know Mr. and Mrs. Hereford well, you know
Miss Claremont and she is the practical head of things.”

“I will at any rate write to her, she is a wonderful woman for
understanding,” said Christine. “I am glad you reminded me of her.”

Macneillie stood up, for he knew that it would be unwise to stay longer,
and that he must somehow tear himself away.

“Write and let me know whether you go there,” he said; “and don’t forget
that if I can do anything for you in any way, I have at least the right
of an old friend. I see the steamer over yonder, and before long a host
of people will be at the landing-stage and some of them may be rowing
out to visit Ellen’s Isle. Even here, in this paradise, Satan walks you
see in the shape of the gossiping British tourist; and your face and
mine are public property. I might do harm by staying here.”

“Not even here,” she sighed, “in this lonely place? And it’s so long
since I saw you!”

He took her hand in his, and held it for a minute tenderly; looking into
his face, the beauty of its expression of strong patience startled her.

“No, not even here,” he said with a quiet smile. “Your reputation is too
precious to me. But remember that in any difficulty or danger I have the
first right to help you.”

His courage nerved her to face the parting and even to assume an air of
cheerfulness.

“I must come back to Charlie,” she said. “He is sure to be hungry, and
there will be plenty of time for you to have lunch, too, before any
tourists molest us.”

So together they walked to the little encampment, where they found the
photographers fraternising over the Kodak, while Dugald had the tea
just ready. And since laughter and tears are not far apart, and the very
people who have lived through a tragedy are happily the ones most
easily moved to see all that is humorous in daily life, there followed
a cheerful meal which might have surprised and even shocked a mere
superficial observer of life, but contained elements of comfort in it
for all who understood the griefs and trials of human-kind.

Crowning it all was the unalloyed happiness of the child, whose beaming
face and ringing laughter soothed Christine’s sore heart as nothing else
could have done.

“_Auf wiederschen!_” said Macneillie, when the last moment had come,
and Christine said nothing, but all her soul seemed in her eyes as she
lifted them to his.



CHAPTER XX


               “Paint those eyes, so blue, so kind,

               Eager tell-tales of her mind;

               Paint with their impetuous stress

               Of inquiring tenderness;

               Those frank eyes, where deep doth lie

               An angelic gravity.”

                        Matthew Arnold.

The last day of Evereld’s school life was drawing to a close, “packing
day” as they called it, and when it had been a mere question of the
beginning of the holidays it had always been a rather festive occasion.
But on this last evening, standing at the threshold of a new untried
life, there was a good deal of sadness about it, and her usually bright
face was a little clouded as she paced up and down a shady garden walk
with her special friend Bride O’Ryan. The merry voices of the younger
children, as they played hide and seek, and now and then a distant sound
of applause from those who were watching the tennis players, made her
feel melancholy, for to-morrow she would no longer have her nook in this
happy, busy hive of industry, would no longer have a share in the genial
life, but would be in a very different home, a home which was not her
own, which had never seemed in the least homelike, and to which she did
not at all want to return. A happy remembrance caused her cheerfulness
to return.

“Oh, Bride!” she exclaimed, “perhaps, after all, Sir Matthew will let
me spend the next fortnight with you as we begged. He won’t let me go
to Ireland, he was quite set against that, but he may say yes to your
sister’s second letter.”

“To be sure,” said Bride, with her most good-humoured smile. “Why should
he be saying no to such a sensible plan? He can’t wish to have you in
town for the first part of August. Doreen has plenty of room for you in
this house she has taken on the Parade, and we will bathe every day, and
have no end of fun.”

“Here comes Aimee with a letter. Bride, I believe it will be from Sir
Matthew; things come just when one is talking about them.”

A pretty dark-haired girl now approached them.

“Fraulein asked me to give you this note,” she said, “I believe it is
from Cousin Doreen.”

“Yes, that’s Doreen’s writing,” said Bride. “Read it quickly, do.”

And Evereld read as follows:

“My Dear Evereld,

“We shall be delighted if you will spend the next fortnight with us here
at Southbourne. Sir Matthew is quite willing that you should do so,
though he cannot spare you to us after the 14th August, as he wishes you
to go with him to Switzerland. I would have liked you to see our Irish
mountains first; however, they can hold their own very well against any
Alp ever created, and you must come and stay with us next year instead.
Tell Bride to bring you as early to-morrow morning as you like.

“Yours affectionately,

“Doreen Hereford.”

This note gave general satisfaction, and the three friends yielded to
the entreaties of some of the younger children and entered with spirit
into the game of hide and seek, Evereld feeling all the delight of a
reprieve as she realised that for a whole fortnight she should be able
to stay at Southbourne and to postpone the parting with Bride.

The next morning when, somewhat saddened by all the partings they
had been through, the two girls were driving down to the Parade, they
suddenly caught sight of a huge poster announcing the advent on the
following Monday of Mr. Hugh Macneillie’s Company, and the performance
of “The Winter’s Tale” “The Rivals” and “The Lady of Lyons.” Evereld
knew nothing of Ralph’s movements; nothing had been heard from him since
the Easter holidays, when he had still been travelling in Scotland. She
looked, however, with no small interest at this poster, having always
remembered their childish worship of Macneillie.

“I have never seen ‘The Winter’s Tale,’” said Bride. “We must certainly
go. Doreen is always delighted if we want to see one of Shakspere’s
plays.”

By this time they had arrived at their destination and Evereld who
already knew her friend’s family very intimately found herself in
the midst of a lively babel of voices, warmly greeted by pretty Mrs.
Hereford, hugged by her three children, and speedily made to feel quite
at home.

“How is Dermot?” asked Bride..

“Much better,” replied her sister, “you will find him with Mollie in the
drawing-room. Let me see, Evereld has not yet met him. We must present
the family patriot to you. Poor boy he has always been unlucky, and
since his release a year ago from Clonmel gaol he has been desperately
ill.”

Evereld felt a little in awe of the released victim of the Coercion Act,
but he proved to be the gentlest-mannered of mortals, and her womanly
heart went out at once to the hollow-cheeked, large-eyed invalid whose
humourous smile only seemed to add to the pathos of his face.

She was sitting the next day beside his Bath-chair on the Parade while
Mrs. Hereford read to her children when, as she was watching the sedate
couples who passed by in their Sunday best, she suddenly perceived at a
little distance a figure that seemed strangely familiar. Surely no one
but Ralph had precisely that quick, light step? His face was turned
away from her, he was intent on the sea, watching the waves like one
who loved them and had no attention to bestow on anything else. He was
almost passing them with only the breadth of the Parade between when
a puff of wind suddenly whirled away a paper which Dermot had been
reading, and hastily glancing round he picked it up and crossed over
to restore it to its owner. “Ralph!” exclaimed Evereld springing to her
feet.

“You are here still!” he cried, his whole face lighting up, “I thought
your holidays would certainly have begun. What good fortune to find you
so unexpectedly.”

“I have left school and am staying with Mrs. Hereford for a fortnight. I
must introduce you to her.”

Mrs. Hereford knew all about Ralph Denmead, and had always felt that he
had been harshly treated by Sir Matthew Mactavish. She looked at him now
searchingly and she liked him. He had one of those sensitive mouths that
droop a little at the corners in depression or fatigue, but smile as
other mouths cannot smile. The classical nose and well-moulded chin
added character to what was otherwise just a pleasant, boyish face,
bearing upon it the stamp--“good cricketer.” And the thick brown hair
not quite so closely cropped as the hideous prevailing fashion demanded,
and the absence of beard or moustache bespoke him an actor. What she
liked best about him, however, were his clear honest brown eyes, which
had the power of lighting up with a most refreshing mirthfulness. There
was something touching in the unfeigned delight of the friends in this
wholly unexpected meeting, and Mrs. Hereford was determined that they
should have the chance of an uninterrupted talk.

“There is still an hour before tea-time,” she said, glancing at her
watch. “Take Mr. Denmead to see the view at the end of the Parade,
Evereld, and then let us all come home together.”

The two fell in with this plan very readily. The only difference between
them and the couples Evereld had lately been watching was that they
walked much faster and talked a great deal more. For there was much
to tell and to hear, and Evereld wanted to learn every detail of the
unlucky Scotch tour, and was delighted above measure to think that their
hero Macneillie should have come to the rescue so opportunely.

“We saw that his Company was here to-morrow for a week,” she said,
blithely. “How little I dreamed that you were with him, Ralph. Mrs.
Hereford is going to take us to see ‘The Winter’s Tale.’ I do hope you
have a nice part.”

“Yes, I am Florizel. It’s a very nice part indeed,” said Ralph. “And
there is such a jolly country dance. You’ll like that. You can’t think
what a difference it is to be in a Company like this after travelling
with those awful Skoots.”

“Which was the worst of the two, the husband or the wife?”

“Oh the husband was a swindler, but Mrs. Skoot passes description. How
she did hate me, too! If I had had the money to do it I might easily
have brought an action against her for abusive language. Towards the end
of the time she was never quite sober and once at a railway station
she was so hopelessly drunk that she tumbled headlong down a flight of
steps, alighting exactly on the top of my bath, which she nearly knocked
into a cocked hat! We know now that all the weeks they were not paying
us a penny, so that many of us were half starved, she had money of
her own hoarded away, and no doubt they are living on it comfortably
enough.”

“What became of that poor little Ivy Grant?”

“She stayed for a week with my old landlady and then managed to get into
another travelling company, where she seems to be getting on well. The
Professor died just after her return. He was no protection to her, poor
old man, in fact it was quite the other way. She had to support him,
he was invalided and a confirmed opium-eater. Still it seems lonely for
Ivy. She is a very plucky little girl though, and will, I fancy, get on
well in the profession. Now tell me about yourself. How did you get to
know Mrs. Hereford? and who is she?”

“She is the married sister of my great friend at school, Bride O’Ryan;
you will see Bride when we go back to tea, and I know you’ll like her.
Every one likes her, she is such fun and she is always so good-tempered.
Mrs. Hereford lives partly in Ireland, but most of the year in Grosvenor
Square because her husband is in Parliament. And Bride will live with
her now that she has left school. They were all left orphans, and Mrs.
Hereford, who was a good deal older than the others, brought them up. I
never knew anyone so good and delightful as she is.”

“I can’t think where I heard the name of Hereford just lately,” said
Ralph musingly.

“Perhaps it was from Mr. Macneillie, I think Mrs. Hereford has met him
once or twice.”

“That was it,” said Ralph, “Macneillie was telling me how Mr. Hereford
gave up his property, Monkton Verney, and turned it into a sort of Cave
of Adullam.”

He did not mention to Evereld that Christine Greville was now staying at
this very place. Sooner or later she was sure to hear the whole story,
but he shrank from telling her what had passed at Mearn Castle, and in
no other way could he explain the step Lady Fenchurch had taken. “What
is Mr. Hereford like?” he inquired.

“I like him very much,” said Evereld; “he is down here until to-morrow,
so you will see him for yourself. Bride says that till he was married
he never seemed to settle down to anything, that he was the sort of
man everyone expected to do great things, and he never did them. But
afterwards it was quite different; he began to work very hard, and now
she says out in county Wicklow the peasants love him, and he makes such
a good landlord. Bride says he’s almost as Irish as they are.”

“And you are here with them for a fortnight? Where after that?”

“With the Mactavishs in Switzerland. We shall be a party of six
altogether. I am to go to keep Lady Mactavish company, for Minnie will
be a good deal taken up you see with Major Gillot; they are engaged,
the wedding is to be this autumn. Then there will be Sir Matthew and Mr.
Bruce Wylie.”

“The inevitable Wylie!” said Ralph impatiently. “I hate that man.”

“And I like him very much,” said Evereld perversely. “You always had a
most unfair prejudice against him. He will certainly be the life of the
party. I was delighted to hear that he was going.”

Ralph’s face grew grave, there was an expression in it which startled
Evereld as he turned towards her.

“Tell me in earnest,” he said anxiously. “Do you really like this man?”

Her truthful eyes met his fully.

“Only as I like an elderly man who used to give us chocolates and treats
when we were children,” she said quietly.

Ralph in his relief laughed aloud.

“He wouldn’t be flattered if he knew that you called him elderly. He
thinks himself just in his prime. How long shall you be abroad?”

“Six weeks I think,” said Evereld.

There was a silence. They had walked to the extreme end of the Parade
and had wandered down to the sea itself. “Let us sit here by this boat,”
 she suggested. “It is so hot walking.”

Ralph silently assented; she glanced at him in some perplexity. Why had
he so suddenly become quiet and troubled.

“Something has vexed you,” she said gently, yet with a smile. “A penny
for your thoughts.”

“I am thinking,” said Ralph, “how hard it is that every holiday-maker,
every idle lounger in Switzerland will have the chance of being with
you while I am altogether cut off from your set, and can only think how
other men will be making love to you.”

“They won’t,” she said in low tones. “A girl can always stop that if she
chooses. I have heard Mrs. Hereford say so.”

“If you were going to be with her it would be more bearable. But you
will be with Sir Matthew, whose one idea is how to make other people and
other people’s money serve his purposes. Don’t stop me Evereld--I can’t
help it--I distrust him and with very good cause. He and his hateful
speculations were the death of my father. I have proof of that, actual
proof.”

“Then I am surprised at nothing,” said Evereld, understanding now all
the ill-concealed dislike and antagonism between Sir Matthew and Ralph
which had often puzzled her in past times.

“He ruined my childhood,” said Ralph hotly, “and must I now stand calmly
by while he ruins the rest of my life? Evereld!”--there was a passionate
appeal in his voice which stirred the very depths of her heart, “I have
no right yet to ask you to be my wife--my career is only beginning--but
my darling, I love you--I love you!”

He saw her flush and tremble, but she was quite silent. Her words about
a girl always being able to stop that sort of thing if she chose came
back to his mind.

“Are you angry with me?” he said pleadingly. “I meant to have waited for
years before speaking, but I was carried away.”

She lifted her blue eyes to Ills, they were bright and dewy, and in her
face there seemed to be the glow of sunrise.

“I am glad you didn’t wait, Ralph,” she said softly.

Whereupon Ralph had the audacity to kiss her in the full light of day
as they sat under the shelter of the boat; and no one was any the wiser
save an old fisherman who was blest with exceptionally long eyesight;
he, with a smile, fell to thinking of his own young days, and softly
sang as he filled his Sunday pipe the refrain of a sailor’s song:

                   “Polly, my Polly,

                   She is so jolly,

                   The bonniest lass in the world!”

The two were silently but rapturously happy, and it was some little time
before any thought of other people came to trouble Ralph. As for Evereld
her heart seemed to beat to the rhythm of his words, “I love you!” and
she was not at all disposed to consider the question which soon formed
itself in his mind.

“I wonder whether I was wrong to speak,” he said. “You must remember
darling that you are free, altogether free. After all, you have seen
nothing of the world. You are not to let the thought of my love bind
you.”

“Perhaps I ought not to make a promise while I am Sir Matthew’s ward,”
 said Evereld. “That is the only thing which would make me wish to wait;
and now that we understand each other the waiting ought not to be too
hard.”

“Suppose you tell Mrs. Hereford just the whole truth,” said Ralph, “and
see what she advises. I shall feel happier about it if you have someone
to turn to, and if she is what she seems to be one could trust her with
anything. I wish I could talk to her some day.”

“Well that can easily be managed,” said Evereld. “I will tell her
to-night. I am sure you are right about that. Though Sir Matthew is
untrustworthy we can trust her, and as I am under her care here it seems
right somehow that she should know.”

“She will certainly think me the most presumptuous fellow she ever met,”
 said Ralph. “Looking at it from an outsider’s point of view it is as bad
as it can be. A fellow who is not quite one and twenty, and only earning
three pounds a week! Mrs. Hereford will call me ‘The first of the
Fortune Hunters,’ and will warn you against me.”

“We shall see,” said Evereld laughing. “I shall be very much
disappointed in her if she doesn’t understand you better.”

“Are you sure that you understand me?” he said wistfully.

“Yes,” she said, her sweet eyes smiling into his. “I have summered and
wintered you a great many times, as Bridget would say, and I very well
know Ralph that you would much prefer it if my father had left me three
hundred instead of three thousand a year. I think it is a little foolish
of you, for as long as we share it what does it matter which side it
comes from?”

A church clock striking four warned them that they must hasten back, and
when they rejoined the others they were chatting together so naturally
that no one dreamt what an important scene in their drama had been
played at the other end of the beach.

Ralph found himself speedily made to feel at home in the delightful
atmosphere of the Irish household, with its mirth and good humour, its
cheerful babel of voices. It delighted him to think that Evereld who had
known nothing of real family life should have found such friends, and he
went back to his rooms later on in the highest spirits.

The Herefords had guessed nothing of his story and the O’Ryans had been
too much taken up with their own merry discussions to be very observant,
but Macneillie saw at a glance the change that had come over his pupil.

“Well?” he said in his genial voice. “What good fortune has befallen
you?”

“I have found Evereld,” said Ralph blithely. “She is staying on the
Parade with the Max Herefords. Here’s a note for you, by the bye. They
want us to breakfast with them to-morrow at half past nine, it was the
only free time, for they lunch at one, as he has to go up to town, and I
knew rehearsal wouldn’t be over by then.”

“No,” said Macneillie lighting a cigarette, “in your present mood you’re
about as likely to give your mind to Shakspere as that lover and his
lass,” glancing at a very demonstrative couple on the other side of the
road.

“We shall have a long and wearing rehearsal to-morrow.”

“I don’t understand you, Governor,” said Ralph, using the old stage
word for the Manager as he generally did now to Macneillie, and somehow
conveying by it just the reverence and affection which he felt for the
Scotsman.

“I have an unfair advantage over you,” said Macneillie smiling. “I have
heard a great deal about Miss Evereld Ewart and know that she is likely
to distract you from your labours.”

“You have heard of her? From whom?”

“From you yourself, to be sure, in the feverish nights you had at
Callander. I have long been wishing for the opportunity of quoting Mrs.
Siddons to you, ‘Study, study, study, and don’t marry until you are
thirty.’

“Well we can’t even be engaged yet,” said Ralph; “but we understand each
other and that is something. Tomorrow you must see her.”

“I will devote myself to her entirely,” said Macneillie with a mirthful
twinkle in his grey eyes. “And you in the meantime can be profitably
improving your Irish accent with Mrs. Hereford with a view to Sir Lucius
O’Trigger. Your brogue doesn’t quite satisfy me yet.”



CHAPTER XXI


               “So, from her silf-like spirit, gentleness

                   Dropt ever like a sunlit fall of rain,

               And his beneath drank in the bright caress

                   As thirstily as would a parched plain,

               That long hath watched the showers of sloping grey

                   For ever, ever, falling far away.”--Lowell.

After Ralph had left, a more sombre hue stole over Evereld’s glowing
sky. She began to think a little of the future, of the countless
partings in store for them, and the more she thought the more silent and
grave she became.

“You look tired, my dear,” said Mrs. Hereford as they walked back from
church. “Come in with me and rest. The others have set their hearts on a
stroll by the sea, but you had a long walk this afternoon.”

“Yes,” said Evereld, sitting down beside her hostess near the open
window and looking out into the calm summer evening. “I wanted to tell
you about our walk. And if ever you have time Ralph would so much like
to talk to you too.”

The words were said with an effort and Mrs. Hereford glanced at the
sweet girlish face with its downcast eyes and understood in a moment
what was coming.

“You two are very old friends,” she said. “Bride told me that you had
been brought up together and that a very nice German lady had done a
great deal for you.”

“Yes,” said Evereld, falling naturally into all the old memories. “I
don’t know what we should have done without her. You see the Mactavishs
never really cared for us. But she cared, and dear old Bridget and
Geraghty the butler; and Ralph was just like my brother until the day
Sir Matthew turned him out of the house. He failed you know in the exam,
for the Indian Civil, and they had a quarrel and Ralph had to go. It
was only in that dreadful time after he had gone that I understood how I
cared for him.”

“And had you not met him at all since then?” asked Mrs. Hereford.

“Yes, we met once by accident in the Christmas holidays and then I
thought, I fancied, that he cared a little. But he said nothing till
to-day, and now we understand each other, only Ralph will not let me
bind myself in any way; he had not meant to speak yet at all, he said,
but oh, I am so glad he didn’t wait.”

Mrs. Hereford took the girl’s hand in hers and stroked it silently.
Her thoughts had flown back to a day in her own life when just such an
understanding had been arrived at, she had been about the same age as
Evereld, and looking back now she felt sad as she realised how
much inevitable pain and suspense lay before this girl, what dire
possibilities of misunderstanding, what weary hours of separation.

“That is just what I should have said,” she answered after that brief
pause. “But now, understanding all it involves, I confess I don’t want
Mollie and Bride to be in a hurry to follow your example. I want them to
have five or six years of free happy girlhood before all the deeper joys
and cares begin. Of course we can’t choose, and for you and Mr. Denmead,
who have no real home, no near relations, very likely it is the best and
happiest way. I am glad you told me about it, and you must promise
if ever you need anyone to help you, to come to me. I suppose you can
hardly make a confidant of Lady Mactavish?”

“No,” said Evereld, half laughing, half crying. “They are all so horrid
about Ralph. When I am one and twenty and we can really be engaged of
course they must all know, but to tell them this could do no good and
might do great harm.”

“Sir Matthew did not insist then on your altogether breaking with your
friend when he was sent away?”

“No,” said Evereld, “I don’t think anyone troubled to think about it
until last Christmas. Then when I met him and told Sir Matthew about it,
he did say something of the sort, but I told him I couldn’t leave off
being Ralph’s friend, and he was very kind and did not forbid my writing
to him in the holidays. If Ralph succeeds on the stage I believe Sir
Matthew will be rather proud of him after all. He does so like people
who succeed. I suppose we may still write to each other now and then.”

“Oh, I think as long as there is nothing underhand about it you may
continue to write,” said Mrs. Hereford. “You will write as friends, not
as lovers; you must deny yourselves that luxury until you come of age.
I am not preaching what I haven’t practised, dear, for we had four years
of that sort of thing before I was actually engaged. There are great
drawbacks but I think some advantages.”

“Surely many advantages,” said Evereld. “And I am much more alone in the
world than you were. You had brothers and sisters.”

“Yes, and a profession which was very absorbing,” said Mrs. Hereford,
suppressing a sigh. “Oh, I do think it is a very great gain for you,
only I want you to realise that it is the sort of life that needs no end
of patience and courage and strength. There will be days when all will
not be so bright as you fancy. But I won’t croak any more. You are
likely to be much better at waiting than I was, for impulsiveness is the
bane of all Irish folk.”

“And you will talk to Ralph?” pleaded Evereld, knowing how much he would
value the sympathy and counsel of such a woman, and secretly longing
that Mrs. Hereford should know him and appreciate him better.

“Yes, to be sure,” said her hostess, with the smile that had won so many
hearts. “We will collogue together after breakfast.”

She was true to her promise and while Macneillie was amusing everyone
with stories of various _contretemps_ of stage life, she contrived to
carry off Ralph to see the invalided patriot; after which they had
a cosy little talk in the drawing-room with no one but Baby Donal, a
sturdy little man of three, to keep them company.

“Evereld has told me about yesterday afternoon,” said Mrs. Hereford, who
was quite well aware that she must plunge boldly into the very heart of
the matter and not wait for him to beat about the bush.

“I should never have spoken so soon if it had not been for the thought
of her Swiss tour with that knave and his solicitor,” said Ralph hotly.
“Forgive me for the expression, but it is not too strong for him.”

Mrs. Hereford laughed a little.

“You needn’t measure your words so carefully; a Kelt is accustomed to
much more fiery language than that. And you really think Sir Matthew
Mactavish a knave? I confess he is a man I intuitively dislike, but I
thought he was a great philanthropist and very much respected.”

“So he is,” said Ralph, his face hardening, “but some day the world
will find him out. Some day when he has ruined and murdered others as he
ruined and murdered my father. What a mistake it is only to hang people
who are taken red-handed! They should rather hang the speculators whose
victims may be reckoned by hundreds. There are far more cruel ways of
murdering people than by poison, or knives, or guns.”

She had watched him closely as he spoke and saw that his wrath and
indignation were genuine and deep. A great pity filled her heart, and
she understood how intolerable it must seem to Ralph that the girl
he loved should still be in the power of this despicable sham
philanthropist.

“I think you were quite right to speak to Evereld,” she said warmly.
“And now that you have spoken, the worst of your anxiety ought to be
over. The knowledge that you belong to each other will be strength to
both of you.”

All the bitterness died out of his face at her words, leaving it once
more frank and boyish, and ingenuous as it was meant to be. The rasping
sense of injustice had done some damage to his character, but the
goodness of Macneillie and the gift of Evereld’s love had already done
much to obliterate the traces of the evil influence. His heart went out
now to the brave noble-minded woman who so readily gave him her thought
and sympathy.

“Evereld told me you would understand,” he said gratefully, “I don’t
think I could have kept silent, but of course evil-minded people are
sure to say that it is only her fortune I want.”

“Evil be to him that evil thinks,” said Mrs. Hereford. “No one who
had talked with you for half an hour even could believe you a fortune
hunter. And when you have lived as many years as I have done in public
life, you will learn to trouble yourself very little indeed as to what
people say. We shall never be true to ourselves, or of much use to any
good cause, till the fear of public opinion has died in us.”

“Does living in public life teach one that? I should have thought it
would have taught one to howl with the wolves, to be always on the
look-out for ways of pleasing the public and stroking people the right
way, to dread nothing so much as alienating or offending your audience.”

“Many people would agree with that view, but I believe it is false for
all that. Why meddle with what does not concern you? Your work is to
live your own life, to be just and independent, to be true to your own
conscience, and to be a hard-working actor. You have nothing to do with
the result on other people, you can never tell what it may be; and even
if you pare down your actions till you fancy they will please everyone
you will end by forfeiting the esteem of all. It’s like the old fable of
the man who first rode his ass to market and finally carried it.”

“Certainly Macneillie’s life is ruled in the way you approve,” said
Ralph thoughtfully. “There never was a manager who so sturdily refused
to bow down to the public. He will not humour the depraved taste for
morbid and dubious plays which has taken possession of the country
of late, but insists on giving only what is really good. The result,
however, is that while a manager who runs one of these risky modern
plays makes a fortune, Macneillie merely earns a competence.”

“That may be,” said Mrs. Hereford, “but the result also is that the one
Manager is a curse to his country and the other a Godsend. Your habit of
mind isn’t so commercial that you measure success by the solid gold it
brings in.”

“I hope not,” said Ralph laughing. “But to one who knows how hard and
wearing and anxious the life of such a man is bound to be, want of great
visible success seems rather rough. However, to return to the point we
started from, it is a great comfort to know that you don’t think I was
wrong to speak to Evereld yesterday. And a greater comfort still to know
that she has you for a friend; one never feels safe somehow with a man
like Sir Matthew Mactavish, but if she may turn to you in any difficulty
I shall not worry half so much.”

“I will promise you to be to her just what I would try to be to one
of my own sisters,” said Mrs. Hereford. “And you, too, must promise to
treat us all as friends. Come in whenever you like, this week; you must
make the most of your chance of seeing Evereld.”

Macneillie in the meantime had been learning to know Ralph’s future
wife. He had been a little surprised at first to find that she was a
decidedly reserved girl, not strikingly pretty, rather short, and wholly
unlike the being he would have expected Ralph to fall in love with. This
was, however, merely his first impression, he had not been two minutes
in the room with her before he observed how well her head was set on
her shoulders; how in spite of her want of height there was that
indescribable touch of dignity in her carriage which he had vainly tried
to impart to many a novice on the stage. Then she spoke to him during a
pause in the general talk, most of her talking he discovered was done
to fill up gaps, and when she spoke a sort of transformation scene took
place. Her face suddenly became lovely, the china-blue eyes seemed to
radiate light and sweetness, the colour deepened in the softly-rounded
cheeks and the most charming dimple made itself seen.

“We are all so much looking forward to ‘The Winter’s Tale’ to night,”
 she said.

“You have not seen Ralph act before?” asked Mae-neillie, knowing quite
well what the answer would be but wishing for another variety of the
transformation scene.

The blue eyes seemed to deepen in colour and an exquisite tenderness
softened the whole face.

“Never on the stage,” she said. “Of course I have seen him just as an
amateur. Do you think he is getting on well?”

Now this last question was one to enthrall the heart of any Manager.
Actually this girl did not leap to the conclusion that her lover was by
nature a full-fledged actor, but asked if he was getting on.

“She is the most sensible little woman I ever came across,” thought
Macneillie to himself. “In such a case even Mrs. Siddons might have
qualified her advice as to marriage.”

By and bye Evereld found herself keeping guard over Baby Donal in the
drawing-room and talking to Ralph, while Macneillie and Max Hereford
adjourned to the smoking-room. The two lovers were serenely happy and
saw the future opening before them in all the gorgeous hues of dawn.
But Macneillie received a stab from his unconscious companion which
was destined to rankle in his heart. They had been speaking of Monkton
Verney and not unnaturally Max Hereford, knowing that Christine Greville
was a friend but knowing nothing of the true state of affairs, referred
to her case.

“I only hope she will be able to get her divorce,” he said casually,
“but of course there is a doubt.”

“A doubt?” said Macneillie frowning. “Why Sir Roderick never attempted
to deny his guilt.”

“Oh, yes, there is no doubt as to his guilt, and had she been married in
Scotland all would have been well, for Scotland has one and the same law
for men and women. Unluckily she was married in England.”

“I don’t understand you. I know little of the law,” said Macneillie,
“but certainly in my country there would be no difficulty when it was a
clear case of the breach of the seventh commandment.”

“There would be no difficulty in England for a man,” said Max Hereford,
“but a woman cannot get a divorce here unless she can prove cruelty
as well as adultery on the part of her husband. It is only one of the
instances of our scandalous habit of setting up different standards of
morality for men and women.”

“How much longer are the English going to put up with such a grave
injustice?” said Macneillie.

“Not long, I fancy, when once they realise it. But at present half of
them are ignorant of the true state of things, while the evil-minded
are of course unwilling to rob themselves of what they regard as a
prerogative. The law as it stands is not only unjust to women but to all
moral men. How easily one can picture a case where, because divorce was
not granted, it was impossible for the innocent woman to marry a man who
loved her.”

Macneillie assented quietly. No one could have guessed how terribly this
suggestion moved him, how clearly he saw in his own mind the picture
of an innocent woman and an upright law-abiding man with their lives
wrecked by this double-standard of morality.

“I think,” he said presently, “that at any rate in Miss Greville’s case
there will be little difficulty in proving Sir Roderick’s cruelty.”

“I hope it may be so,” said Max Hereford, “but I understand from
her solicitor that different views prevail as to what does exactly
constitute legal cruelty. The case is not likely to come on yet for many
months and the suspense must be terribly trying for her, far worse of
course than for anyone in private life.”

“Her decision to stay at Monkton Yerney till the case is over seems to
me wise,” said Macneillie. “Your Cave of Adullam is a great Godsend. I
wonder what made you think of such a plan.”

“Oh, the ‘cave’ was my wife’s doing,” said Max Hereford. “Miss Claremont
is delighted to have her old friend Miss Greville there, and since Barry
Sterne has undertaken the entire management of her theatre there is no
need for her to be troubled in any way about outside things. Why Flo,
Kittie,” he exclaimed breaking off as two pretty little girls darted
into the room, their sunburnt faces aglow with eagerness.

“Daddy, there’s a man with the beautifullest voice you ever heard and we
want sixpence for him,” they cried in a breath, “do come and hear him.”

And by sheer force of determination the two small elves dragged their
father from the depths of his easy chair.

“The tyranny of daughters is a thing you have yet to learn, Mr.
Macneillie,” he said with a smile, as with one elf on his shoulder and
the other impetuously pulling at his hand he sauntered out to the front
door.

Macneillie flung the end of his cigarette into the grate and began to
pace the room restlessly. The words so unconsciously spoken seemed
to put the finishing touch to his pain, the fatherly pride of his
companion’s face haunted him and filled him with envy, and over and
over in his mind he revolved the torturing doubt which had first been
suggested to him that morning. Would the law free Christine?

Meanwhile through the open door there was wafted to him only too
distinctly the familiar song of the street tenor:

               “Love once again: Meet me once again:

               Old love is waking, shall it wake in vain?”

Such a life as Macneillie’s may have two very different effects on the
man called upon to endure it. Either it will harden and embitter him,
and he will gradually become a mere cynical observer of others; or it
will deepen and widen his whole character, and he will become more and
more tender towards the lives of other people. Lynx-eyed to detect and
prompt to check as far as possible all that he deemed undesirable or in
the least risky among the members of his company, he was nevertheless
always kind-hearted with regard to any genuine attachment. He knew
Ralph now very intimately and was quite well aware that his feeling
for Evereld was no mere passing fancy. In his own grievous anxiety and
suspense there was comfort in throwing himself into the affairs of his
protégé, and a growing desire to see this love story happily worked
out took possession of him. He had, moreover, taken a great fancy to
Evereld, and began now to consider things from her point of view, trying
to picture to himself just how she would probably feel with regard to
Ralph’s profession. She had never seen him on the stage, had never
in fact seen him act at all since the time she had been of an age to
understand what love meant. He wondered how the play that night would
strike her. Would Florizel’s lovemaking possibly jar a little upon her
as she sat there watching it from her place in the stalls? Or would that
gracious womanly wisdom which he had noticed in her save her from all
petty jealousies, all thoughts unworthy of a great art? He thought it
would. Still a girl of nineteen in love with a man like Ralph Denmead
might perchance be excused if she were not entirely able to forget
herself and her own story in the contemplation of Shakspere’s play.

“I know what I will do,” he thought to himself. “No one who understands
the training, the learning, the drilling, the matter of fact element of
sheer hard work that makes up the life of an actor is likely to think
stage lovemaking a dangerous pastime. I will persuade Mrs. Hereford to
bring her this morning to rehearsal.”



CHAPTER XXII

_“If art be devoted to the increase of men’s happiness, to the
redemption of the oppressed, or enlargement of our sympathies with each
other, or to such presentment of new and old truth about ourselves and
our relation to the world as may ennoble and fortify us in our sojourn
here, or immediately, as with Dante, to the glory of God, it will be
also great art.”--“Appreciations.”_ Walter Pater.

|Mrs. Hereford who had readily divined Macneillie’s kindly intention
in suggesting that they should see at any rate part of the rehearsal,
wondered to herself whether his plan had been wise when about noon
she found herself with Evereld and Bride in the dim dreariness of the
theatre, which was quite empty save for a couple of charwomen who were
scrubbing the floor of the pit. A civil attendant took them to the
second row of the stalls where they had of course an excellent view
of that inexpressibly dingy and forlorn looking place--a stage without
scenery.

Macneillie wearing a Glengarry cap was sitting on a chair with his back
to them directing the dialogue and criticising in his quiet voice the
shortcomings of Paulina and Emilia in the prison scene. At the back of
the stage, some pacing to and fro, some sitting on the floor, were the
rest of the company chatting comfortably together in low tones.

“Do you think they are all Quakers?” observed Bride naughtily, “how
queer it does look to see men indoors with their hats on, every variety
too, bowlers, deerstalkers, sailors, and caps.”

“Perhaps it’s draughty on the stage,” said Evereld. “I believe that tall
dark girl must be Miss Myra Kay. She was only married last month. See
Ralph is talking to her, that pretty girl in the blue and white blouse.
She is Hermione I think.”

“Don’t distract me,” said Bride. “Paulina is handling the stage baby
very well, but it’s too small a doll, why Flo who was the tiniest of
babies was more respectable than that. Ah, Antigonous lifts it from the
floor. My good man you’ll break the child’s neck if you don’t support
its head better. Talk about kites and ravens being instructed to nurse
it, why he wants instruction himself. It’s as bad as seeing a young
curate at a christening.”

Evereld was obliged to laugh a little, and her eyes were still bright
and mirthful when suddenly she perceived Ralph emerging through a side
door and approaching them.

“I thought you might like a book to follow with,” he said. “Are you
getting thoroughly disillusioncd? And shall you never be able to enjoy
seeing a play again, now that you know how it’s done?”

“Indeed I shall enjoy it much more,” she said. “Oh there is still a good
deal I see, before you come in. Who is your Perdita?”

“The fair-haired girl in blue serge, Miss Eva Carton. She is the
daughter of that Major Carton who was killed in the Soudan.”

“I remember you had him in your gallery of heroes. Is she a nice girl?”

“Very, I think, but I have not seen much of her yet. They were left
badly off and she has taken to the stage to help her mother. She has
only just joined this company, so we are in the same box.”

After this Evereld watched with keen interest the progress of the play.
It seemed to her that Macneillie was almost an ideal instructor. His
patience was marvellous and his criticism though sometimes keen was
always kindly. When the sheep-shearing scene began and Florizel and
Perdita with no helpful accessories had to go through their love-making,
while the working of a sewing-machine and the hammering of carpenters
and the scrubbing of the charwomen could be plainly heard, Evereld
realised more than she had ever done before the prosaic nature of some
aspects of an actor’s life. Macneillie was as fidgetty as any dancing
master about the precise way in which his arm should encircle her waist.
Degville himself could not have laid more stress on the importance of
every attitude, and when it came to the part where Florizel claimed
Perdita as his bride in the presence of the disguised Polixenes he was
promptly pulled up in the utterance of the words: “I take thy hand, this
hand, as soft as dove’s down and as white as it.”

“Don’t take her hand as if you were taking a jam tart at a
confectioner’s,” exclaimed Macneillie.

And over and over again that particular bit had to be rehearsed until it
was precisely to the Manager’s mind. Finally a diversion was made by the
arrival, long after the time when they should have put in an appearance,
of a few members of the orchestra. In a leisurely way, as though they
were conferring a great favour on the actors, they began to tune up, the
pretty dance of shepherds and shepherdesses was rehearsed, and Bride and
Evereld found themselves longing to join in it.

“I really wonder,” said Bride as they walked home, “that you dare to
take me to such a beguiling place, Doreen. Don’t you expect me to be
stage-struck?”

“There might be some danger if you only saw the performances,” said Mrs.
Hereford laughing, “but I doubt if you would stand many rehearsals. You
would certainly be fined every day for unpunctuality.”

“It must be a weary grind,” said Bride yawning. “One would have to love
one’s art very absorbingly to be able to endure such endless repetition.
I suppose that is the difference between an artist and an ordinary
mortal. An artist never grudges trouble, the dullest little touches here
and there all have an interest for him.”

“Certainly, if he is worth his salt,” said Mrs. Hereford.

“That’s what Flo will have to learn if she is to develop as I hope into
a singer.”

“Well,” said Bride good-humouredly, “I have only just enough energy for
ordinary life, so I will stick to being an ordinary mortal. And you keep
me company, Evereld. We will make the appreciative audiences for the
others. What is the fun of acting or singing if there is no one to
applaud.”

In fact she applauded much more heartily than Evereld that evening.
Evereld’s appreciation was pretty plainly visible in her glowing face
and bright eyes, but she left the hand-clapping to her companion, and
sat in a sort of happy dream watching the play contentedly with the
blissful consciousness that every minute the time drew nearer when Ralph
would make his appearance.

After the heavier portions of “The Winter’s Tale,” the pastoral scenes
always come as a relief, and Ralph could hardly have had a more taking
part. Evereld who at rehearsal had never been able to watch him except
as her friend and lover was now entirely absorbed by the play. He was
Florizel to her and Florizel only, he looked the part to perfection, and
there was a sincerity about his acting which carried all before it, and
gave great promise for his future. Macneillie standing at the wings felt
more than content with his pupil.

“If the boy can do as well as this at one and twenty, he ought to have
a great career before him,” he thought to himself. “And perhaps like
Phelps he will be one of those who will owe everything to an early and a
happy marriage. That little girl is one of a thousand. It is to be hoped
that Sir Matthew Mactavish will not step in to spoil the game.”

The rest of the week passed by only too swiftly. Almost every evening
they went to the theatre, and in the afternoon Ralph would often join
them at tennis. One day there was a cricket match between the members
of the company and a local eleven, on another day a picnic to a ruined
castle in the neighbourhood, and at length the doleful day arrived when
the parting must come.

After all it proved to be the elders who were grave and anxious at the
thought of the unknown future which Ralph and Evereld went forth to meet
so confidently. Healthy youth is seldom troubled with forebodings, and
the lovers though saddened for the time by the coming separation could
not but reflect how much more propitious things were than at their last
leave-taking.

“How I envied little Ivy Grant as she walked along Queen Anne’s Gate
with you that Christmas day,” said Evereld with a smile. “Where shall
you be this Christmas, Ralph?”

“We shall be in Yorkshire,” he replied, “still giving the set of plays
you have seen here. What a good thing it is for me that you can take
such an interest in the work. It must be hard on an actor to do without
the sympathy of those nearest to him. Sometimes one does wish that old
Mrs. Macneillie had not such a feeling against the stage. His life is
hard and lonely enough without having that added to it. Still I think
they understand each other, and it is good to see her pride in him.”

“Does she never see him act?” asked Evereld.

“Never. She won’t set foot in a theatre; she is not even one of those
people who only object to the name of the thing, and will see a play at
the Crystal Palace or in a Hall. She’s too sensible to take that view.”

“Why what is the special merit of a ‘Hall?’” asked Evereld laughing.

“Goodness only knows. I often wish those worthy but illogical folk
could feel the discomforts and the woeful plight the company often find
themselves in behind the scenes, with perhaps a couple of dressing-rooms
for the whole lot of them, and no possible place in which to put their
clothes. They would soon realise the advantages of proper theatres.”

“Have you seen your good notice in the Southbourne Weekly Hews?” said
Evereld, glancing at the paper with loving pride.

“Yes. It’s rather decent, isn’t it? I always cut out and keep press
notices for Mr. Macneillie. Sharing his lodgings there are a good many
small things of that sort one can do for him.”

“Who does the catering?”

“Oh, he does all that. He is a first-rate hand at marketing, having had
so much practice.”

“I shall have to come to him for lessons, some day,” said Evereld,
blushing vividly as she realised what the words involved.

Whereupon Ralph forgot all about fortunes and guardians and time and
patience, and taking her in his arms kissed her passionately.

That was their real parting, or rather the silent pledge that nothing
could really part them. Ralph lingered for some little time afterwards
in the next room talking with the others, and as usual there was
the cheerful Irish babel of many voices, for no one thought in that
household of talking one at a time. Then having received a kindly
invitation from Mrs. Hereford to come and see them either in London or
at Hollybrack, he took his departure, and with the memory of Evereld’s
love to cheer him on his way, rejoined Macneillie’s company at the
station.

“That is a case I suppose,” said Max Hereford finding himself just then
alone with his wife.

“I thought you would guess it,” she said smiling.

“You were always a matchmaker at heart, Doreen,” he said teasingly.
“But how about this guardian in the background? He will be playing the
Assyrian and coming down on you like the wolf on the fold.”

“I can’t help it if he does,” said Mrs. Hereford, laughter lurking
in her eyes. “Really and truly I have not been match-making. It’s
ridiculous for Sir Matthew Mactavish to allow his ward to be brought up
for six years with such a boy as that, and then to take me to task for
allowing the two old friends to meet in a rational way, and after all
if he is annoyed I believe I should rather like it, for you know Max I
always did detest that man.”

“Yes, dear, we all know that you are the best hater in the world, and I
know that you are the best lover,” he said stooping to kiss her.

“I don’t see how I could have done otherwise,” she said musingly.
“Evidently Mr. Macneillie sees exactly how things are. And what can you
do for a couple of homeless waifs like that but give them your help and
sympathy? A girl with no mother is in such a wretched plight as soon as
her love troubles begin. Don’t I know exactly how my own mistakes and
miseries came from that very cause? Tell me what you really think of
Ralph Denmead?”

“I like him,” said Max Hereford. “He seems an honest, straight-forward,
clean-minded fellow, he has plenty of humour, too, in which perhaps
Evereld is a trifle lacking, and just because he has a touch of the
Welsh fire in him and is at times unreasonable and unpractical, as all
Kelts are----”

“Now, now,” exclaimed Mrs. Hereford with her irresistible laugh. “No
dark hints about Kelts, we all know what that leads to.”

“I was going to remark, if you won’t quite throttle me,” he continued
suavely, “that marriages between Kelts and Saxons, though barbarously
prohibited by the oppressive laws of the English conquerors when they
annexed Ireland, always turn out eminently successful. That in fact the
union of hearts is the thing to be aimed at.”

“They are not actually betrothed yet, and won’t be until she is of age,
and until he has made his way a little. Then of course there will be a
battle royal with the Mactavish, but he will have no authority over
her, and you and I, Max, will stand by her. She shall be married from
Hollybrack quietly, and they will be able to live very comfortably for,
according to Bride, she will be rich.”

“I only hope her guardian is really trustworthy,” said Max Hereford.
“I don’t altogether like what I heard of him the other day from
old Marriott. But, of course, Marriott is one of those steady going
old-fashioned solicitors who are excessively cautious, and it would
be almost impossible for him to approve of a Company Promoter like Sir
Matthew. He may be all right enough.”

“We shall see,” said Mrs. Hereford with an expressive little gesture of
the hands, “For my part I wouldn’t trust him for a moment, but you
will say that is my Irish imagination, and of course I have no great
knowledge of the man.”

Bride O’Ryan, who had been more or less taken up with her own people
during the past week, had guessed nothing at all as to what was going
on. The two friends had both hitherto been somewhat young for their age,
and they had never been the sort of girls given to premature talk as
to lovers and love-making. Their heroes were either the patriots of the
past or the great leaders of the present, and their school life had been
too full of work and well-organised amusement to leave much time
for desultory dreaming. Bride had of course heard of the life at the
Mactavishs, but it had never entered her head that Ralph Denmead could
ever be anything but Evereld’s adopted brother.

It was not until he had actually gone that the truth began to dawn upon
her. She saw that Evereld was making an effort at cheerfulness, that her
face when in repose had a quite new expression of wistfulness, and that
all at once she had grown dreamy and absent.

That night, when the mystic hour of “hair brushing” came round, she
could hold her tongue no longer.

“I wish,” she said impetuously, “you wouldn’t shut me out of it all. I
know quite well you are unhappy, though you will play the ostrich and
bury your head in the sand in that English way, supposing that no one
will notice you.”

Evereld laughed at the old mixture of the similes.

“I never heard of an English ostrich,” she said merrily. “If there ever
was one it must long ago have become extinct like the Dodo.”

“Ah, you laugh now,” said Bride, “but you have looked wretched all the
afternoon, and I saw you crying in church.”

Evereld blushed guiltily.

“It was very stupid of me, but I couldn’t help remembering how different
all had been last Sunday evening.”

“When Mr. Denmead was here,” said Bride boldly.

Evereld nodded.

Bride looked straight into her soft blue eyes.

“Well I’m sure I don’t wonder he lost his heart to you, but all the same
I wish he hadn’t.”

“We are not engaged, you know,” said Evereld.

“Oh, it’s just as bad as if you were,” said Bride despondently.

“As bad? What an odd way you have of congratulating me.”

“I don’t congratulate you. I’m very sorry,” said Bride vigorously
brushing her dark hair. “Why should he come disturbing us just when our
life is beginning and we were going to have such a good time. You’ll
never be at all the same to me again. It will be as the poem says:

               ‘One and one, with a shadowy third.’”

“Nonsense,” said Evereld. “It has made me care for you fifty times more
than I did, Bride, and I need you now more than ever. Besides, can’t
you see how different things are for me. You have your home with your
sisters, and the children; and you have brothers often staying with you,
and you are all sure of each other and everything is so happy that I’m
sure I don’t know how you could leave it all just yet. But I have no
real home, and the only one of the Maetavishs I do really like is to be
married in November. Can’t you understand how beautiful it is to really
belong to someone at last?”

“Yes,” said Bride. “It was selfish of me to think first of my own part
of it. And after all perhaps you are right, you may need me still.
Specially when the Maetavishs are horrid. They won’t like your
engagement a bit.”

“No,” replied Evereld quietly. “That is very certain. There are storms
ahead. But I shall know where to turn to. You will always be my friend,
and Mrs. Hereford says I am to come to her in any trouble.”

“Of course, Doreen mothers everybody, she always did, Michael says, even
when she was quite a little girl herself.”

“And no one will ever be such a friend to me as you, Bride. You and
Aimée Magnay and I will always keep up with each other, whatever
happens.”

“Talking of Aimée reminds me that I heard from her this morning,” said
Bride. “She says that in September they are all going to Auvergne; her
father has some commission for a picture. They will stay at Mabillon all
the autumn and perhaps even for Christmas. Cousin Espérance thinks I had
better come too for the sake of perfecting my French, but I’m not sure
that I could leave Dermot.”

“Take him with you,” suggested Evereld. “The sunshine and the warmth
down there would exactly suit him.”

“Why, I never thought of that. It would be a splendid idea, and the
Magnays are so kind-hearted. I know they have lots of room, too, in that
rambling old chateau. Don’t you remember the little picture of it that
Aimée had in our bedroom at school? Come, after all things are not so
dark. You will always be my friend in spite of Mr. Denmead, and perhaps
later on when you are engaged there will be a regular row and you will
have to come to us.”

“You look as if you quite longed for the row,” said Evereld smiling
wistfully. “I wish I had a little of the love of fighting which you
Irish people seem to have such stores of. How would you face an angry
guardian under the circumstances, I wonder.”

“I should listen patiently to all his objections. Then I should say,
‘Now hear my side of the case,’ and if he wasn’t convinced by my burning
eloquence why I should inevitably lose my temper and we should part on
the worst of terms. Oh, I should love to have a quarrel with Sir Matthew
Mactavish. It’s a pity we can’t change places just for that time.”

“Well, don’t let us talk about it till it comes,” said Evereld with a
little shiver. “When I am quite my own mistress perhaps the mere fact
of being independent will make me dislike the thought of the discussion
less. After all, nothing will really matter when we are engaged; one
will be too busy thinking of the life that will so soon begin.”

They were interrupted by a knock at the door.

“I want that naughty little sister of mine,” said Mrs. Hereford, looking
in with a smiling face. “Mollie declares there is no getting her invalid
to sleep while you two chatterboxes are overhead.”

“Evil take the Coercion Act that made him an invalid,” said Bride,
gathering up her belongings and bidding her friend good-night.

Evereld, glancing at Mrs. Hereford, saw for the first time in her
face an expression which startled her. A look of long endured pain, of
heart-breaking disappointment and the wearily deferred hope which makes
the heart sick, such a look as a martyr might have borne, dying in the
darkest hour which heralded the sunrise of his cause.

And then even as she gazed the look passed and there was once more in
the face nothing but cheerful, tender motherliness.

“Good night, dear little woman,” said Mrs. Hereford. “Don’t lie awake
thinking too long. It is a shocking bad habit.”

“Oh,” cried Evereld, clinging with girlish devotion to her hostess. “I
do so hope my love for Ralph will not make me grow narrow. I want to
care for other people and for outside things just as you do.”

“You must manage much better than I did, dear,” said Mrs. Hereford,
“perhaps after my own mistakes I may be able to help you.”



CHAPTER XXIII


               “He spoke of beauty: that the dull

                   Saw no divinity in grass,

               Life in dead stones, or spirit in air;

                   Then looking as ‘twere in a glass

               He smooth’d his chin and sleek’d his hair

                   And said the earth was beautiful.”

                        Tennyson.

|The last week at Southbourne proved a very happy one and Evereld went
back to London feeling as though a veil had been lifted from before her
eyes. It was not only that love had revealed his face to her; but for
the first time since her childish days in India she had known what life
could mean in a thoroughly happy family.

The Maetavishs had never encouraged her in making friends. For reasons
of his own Sir Matthew had never allowed her to become really intimate
with any one in town, though she had had the usual round of children’s
parties and had occasionally been allowed to give a children’s dance in
the house in Queen Anne’s Gate. At school, however, close friendships
had naturally been made, and the permission to stay with Bride O’Ryan at
South-bourne had been extorted from Sir Matthew rather reluctantly,
and chiefly because it happened to be a little inconvenient to Lady
Mactavish to have the charge of Evereld until they left for Switzerland.

It so happened that the whole course of the girl’s life was affected by
the mere fact that Lady Mactavish and her elder daughter had accepted an
invitation to stay with friends in the country, and that Minnie had
been busy with her trousseau, and, having a particular friend of her own
staying with her, quite declined to be troubled with the society of a
little girl fresh from school.

Sir Matthew not caring to vex his daughter when he was so soon to lose
her, answered Mrs. Hereford’s second request graciously, little guessing
that in so doing he was signing the death-warrant of his selfish hopes
and schemes.

He beamed approvingly on Evereld when she appeared in the drawing-room
on the evening of her return.

“Come, that is a refreshing sight for a jaded city man,” he said,
stroking her rosy cheek caressingly. “Never mind, Evereld, we are all
going holiday-making now, and will forget all cares and troubles. Have
you seen our route, my dear?”

“No,” said Evereld, “I’m longing to see it.”

She could not help reflecting that the months since the Easter holidays
had wrought a very decided change in Sir Matthew, he looked worn and
harassed, and as though he were longing for rest. He seemed, too,
more fussy and dictatorial than ever, and Evereld’s heart sank at the
prospect of travelling with him, for she knew that travelling is
the great test of character. After the merry talk and the bantering
discussions and the hot but always good-tempered arguments to which she
had grown accustomed during the last fortnight, the talk which prevailed
on various vexed questions, seemed highly distasteful.

“I really think,” pleaded Lady Mactavish, in her grumbling voice, “that
considering how very soon Minnie’s marriage will be following our return
it would be most advisable to take at least one maid with us. There are
so many little things Greenway could be getting forward with if she were
at hand.”

“Yes, Papa,” urged the bride-elect. “It will be a most awful nuisance if
we have no maid with us.”

“If you think you will always have a maid, my dear, to dance attendance
on you when you are married, you will find you are mistaken. The wife
of an officer in a marching regiment has to learn to be independent, I
assure you. And as to taking a maid to Switzerland I shall not hear of
such a thing. You would find her a trouble in the hotels, useless on the
steamers, and upset by the long journeys. Why Evereld will be wanting to
take her old nurse next!”

Evereld laughed, but in her heart she would fain have had Bridget with
her, for she loved her a great deal better than any other member of the
household.

The question was thoroughly threshed out, and many disagreeable things
were said on both sides; then Sir Matthew laid down the law as to the
size and amount of the luggage.

“No great trunks, mind you,” he said in the voice that meant obedience
at all costs: “a small portmanteau is all that can possibly be allowed.
You don’t go to Switzerland to air your fine clothes but to enjoy
yourself, and there is no enjoyment possible if you are burdened with
luggage.”

A long wrangle followed upon this, and at the close of it, dinner being
over, Lady Maetavish rose with an air of relief and went away to discuss
the matter anew with her daughters, and to murmur over Sir Matthew’s
extraordinary fussiness.

“The heat must be affecting his brain,” she said. “I never knew him so
vexatious. What does he know about the clothes we shall require? And
depend upon it he will be the first to complain if you look shabby.
Evereld my dear, Sir Matthew is calling you I think. Run down and see.”

Evereld returned to the dining-room where Sir Matthew was sitting over
his wine.

“In case I don’t see you to-morrow, my dear,” he said, “I will give
you this cheque now. Get it cashed in five pound notes, they will pass
anywhere.”

“Is this for my journey?” asked Evereld, who had never received a cheque
for a hundred pounds in her life.

“No, no, I will manage all your money for you until you come of age.
This is only for your dress and pocket money. I shall give you another
cheque to the same amount in six months’ time. It will be well for
you to learn the value of things and to get into the way of keeping
accounts. By the bye, though I say so much about its not mattering what
you wear in Switzerland you must be sure to take good strong boots. You
know Mr. Bruce Wylie is coming with us?”

“Yes,” said Evereld, “I’m very glad.”

“Well, good-night, my dear. God bless you,” said Sir Matthew. “Tell them
I shall not be in till late.”

Evereld having delivered her message, went slowly upstairs to the
school-room, the most homelike place in the whole house. Here she found
Bridget sitting by the open window with her knitting.

“My new life has begun, Bridget,” she said, taking her usual place on
her old nurse’s lap. “Look, here is money, a heap of it. I am to go
out and buy thick-soled boots to-morrow with it, and an account
book. Bridget, did you ever keep accounts? And do you ever think it’s
allowable to cook them?”

“I can’t say, dearie, I never kept any at all, excepting it was the
savings bank hook which the post office clerks keep for one.”

“Sir Matthew says I must learn how to manage money and to understand the
value of things,” said Evereld. “So we will go out to-morrow morning,
Bridget, together, and I shall choose you a black silk dress by way of
learning.”

“Why then, dearie, it’s for your own dress and not for mine that you
must be spending this upon,” protested Bridget.

“It’s to do what I like with, Nursie, and I like to get you the very
nicest gown we can find,” said Evereld.

“Well, well, dearie, you were always one to think of other folk first,
and if you will be getting me a dress, let it he a black poplin for the
sake of the old country.”

So Bridget and her young mistress set forth the next morning and chose
the best Irish poplin, warranted to wear for a life-time, and Evereld
changed her cheque into twenty crisp five pound notes, eighteen of which
Bridget securely sewed up for her that evening in an inner pocket.

“There’s many things you may be wanting to buy if you come back through
Paris,” she said, “let alone its being a bad plan to leave the money
behind you here.”

Evereld sighed a little; it somehow hurt her to remember that she had
all this money for her personal wants and fancies, while Ralph thought
himself extremely lucky to be earning three pounds a week. She had,
however, a shrewd suspicion that he perhaps found more satisfaction out
of the money he had honestly worked for, and she eagerly looked forward
to the time when they could share her fortune and make it of real use.

The next morning the whole house was in a bustle, and the atmosphere
seemed less oppressive than on the previous night. Sir Matthew, though
looking ill and harassed, brightened up when Evereld appeared ready
dressed for the journey in a trim little navy blue coat and skirt, a
light blue shirt and a dainty white sailor hat. She looked so fresh and
innocent and happy that for the time he quite forgot his schemes in the
pleasure of just looking at her.

It was not until they were on the platform at Victoria, and he saw Bruce
Wylie approaching, that he remembered how necessary it was that by the
time Evereld returned to London she should be safely betrothed to her
solicitor. The thought made him glance critically at his friend. As it
happened Bruce Wylie never showed to more advantage than at such a time
as the present. His well cut grey travelling suit and knickerbockers
made him appear much younger than he really was, his fair hair and trim
beard, his merry grey eyes, his easy, pleasant manner were all in his
favour.

“It will be right enough,” reflected Sir Matthew,

“The girl will be properly in love with him long before the end of the
tour.”

He had no notion how differently people regard the same person when
one looks from the standpoint of five-and-fifty and the other from the
standpoint of nineteen.

Evereld saw merely the lawyer who had brought her chocolates when she
was a little girl, she knew that he was at least nine-and-forty, and
that from her point of view was elderly; the thirty years between them
made a huge chasm which it would never have occurred to her to bridge
over in any way but that of friendship. Even the friendship could not
be the same sort of thing as that close friendship, that perfect
understanding which comes between two people of the same generation.
It would have had in it something of the position of master and pupil,
which might have been delightful enough with some men, but she had never
felt any desire to learn from Bruce Wylie. She liked him merely because
he passed the time, because he had a fund of good stories and an easy
natural way of telling them.

So when Sir Matthew complacently noticed the way in which her face
lighted up as she greeted Bruce Wylie, he was wholly unable to guess
that the reception meant about as much as a child’s joyful greeting
of the appearance of the clown in a pantomime. “Now we shall have some
fun,” reflected Evereld, gladly finding the new comer beside her in the
railway carriage.

“I need have no scruples,” reflected Sir Matthew. “She evidently likes
him and encourages him.”

Bruce Wylie was not so sure in his own heart how matters stood, for
Evereld was almost too frank and open with him, it was perfectly
impossible to flirt with her, she liked him in the most unabashed
manner, just as she had done when she was a child of eleven. Her
enjoyment of his talk was what it had been then, and he was quite
without the power of kindling in her heart any deeper feeling.

Being a shrewd man he laid his plans warily, and worked patiently,
never venturing to make actual love to her. At all costs he must avoid
startling her, or making her draw back from that frank friendliness
which was likely to prove so useful. But every day he was her special
companion, and she could not help feeling grateful to him for the care
he took of her, the pains he took to please her, and the real enjoyment
which he managed to impart to what would otherwise have been rather a
trying tour.

“Why do you hesitate longer,” urged Sir Matthew, during their stay at
Zermatt, “September is nearly half gone, we have but another fortnight
abroad. Why not propose to the girl here?”

“Not yet, not yet,” said Bruce Wylie, “I tell you, Mactavish, she has
not a thought of anything of the kind. She treats me as if I were her
grandfather.”

“It seems to me that she is devoted to you,” said Sir Matthew. “She has
not a word to say to any of the young men in the hotel though they are
ready enough to admire her. She deliberately avoids them, I have noticed
her, and is hand and glove with you. What more would you have?”

“Oh, I will arrange it all before the end of the tour,” said Bruce
Wylie, “by hook or crook it must be done. Let me see; to-morrow we go to
Glion for a fortnight. It is there that we must contrive the finale.”

“If it were not such a serious matter,” said Sir Matthew with a grim
smile, “One could have a hearty laugh over the irony of fate. Here we
are with an unconscious little slip of a girl and she holds everything
in her hands. For if the difficulty as to her fortune becomes known,
then a dozen other things will collapse shortly after. God bless my
soul--it’s awful to think of!”

“So much the more reason to play this part of the game warily,” said
Bruce Wylie. “It is like the story of the child’s hand thrust into the
leaking dam and saving the country from the deluge that would otherwise
have come about. I must capture Evereld’s hand and hold it fast to save
the general ruin; whether she likes it or not it will have to be done.”

“And the girl cares for you, there will be no harm in it,” said Sir
Matthew suavely. “I tell you what, Wylie, at Glion we must gradually
let people see that you are in love with her. That will be easy enough
without alarming her. We will set some of the women folk clacking.
And if Evereld’s pride is once touched, if she feels that she has been
gossiped about, that people see that she has encouraged you, and that
she is a little compromised, why then we shall win easily enough. She
will very readily be persuaded into an engagement, and we will take good
care to have her married before the year is out.”

“Very well,” said Bruce Wylie. “At Glion we will advance to the next
stage. It will be a more amusing one than the present, and will need
skilful management. I must think things over. By the bye, she never
mentions Ralph Denmead, her old playfellow. Have you lost sight of him?”

“She told me last Christmas that he was going most likely on some tour
in Scotland. Here she comes, we will just ask her, but you need fear
nothing in that quarter. It was just a natural childish friendship
between the two. They know each other’s faults too well to fall in
love.”

“I see that young Oxonian is persecuting her,” observed Bruce Wylie,
watching a sunburnt undergraduate who had taken to following Evereld
about on all occasions. She did not seem to be at all responsive, and
her face lighted up most satisfactorily when she perceived Sir Matthew,
while her companion was visibly chagrined.

“Watching the afterglow?” said Sir Matthew, as they approached.

“It’s hardly worth watching to-night,” said the Oxonian sulkily, as he
noticed the alacrity with which Evereld moved towards Bruce Wylie. What
the girl could see in this conceited fellow he could not imagine.

“We were just speaking of Ralph Denmead, Evereld,” said Sir Matthew.
“Have you heard of him lately?”

“Yes, I hear from him now and then, and I saw him not so very long ago,”
 said Evereld. “He was with Macneillie’s Company when they were at
Southbourne.” By a strong effort of self-control she kept both voice and
manner perfectly calm and natural.

“You saw him act?”

“Yes, he seems getting on very well. The Herefords knew something of Mr.
Macneillie and they breakfasted with us sometimes. He has been very kind
to Ralph.”

“Well I’m glad the boy has fallen on his feet,” said Sir Matthew. “I
suppose there was a touch of genius about him, but he was not the
least fit for the Indian Civil Service. Are you staying at Zermatt much
longer?” he added, turning to young Dick Lewisham who was still one of
the group.

“I am leaving to-morrow,” he replied, “and shall get on as far as
Villeneuve, I think.”

“Ah yes, a charming hotel there,” said Sir Matthew, “and the lake in
September is delightful.”

Having comfortably disposed of Mr. Lewisham in this fashion he was
far from pleased when on the morning after their arrival at Glion he
encountered him in the garden of the Rigi Vaudois.

“It was so abominably hot down below,” said Dick Lewisham cheerfully, “I
was obliged to come on here.”

“I should advise you to go on still higher to Mont Caux,” said Sir
Matthew. “It is a magnificent hotel up there.”

“Thanks, but this is more handy, and I like the look of the place.”

“You’ll find it over-crowded,” said Sir Matthew, “we should not have got
rooms unless we had ordered them beforehand.”

“You are a large party,” said the Oxonian, making his way round to the
main entrance.

“How that old buffer does detest me,” he reflected. “I begin to think he
is bent on marrying his pretty ward to that beast Wylie, and is afraid
I shall spoil sport. A likely thing when she will give me nothing but
snubs the moment-I show a spark of sentiment. Is it possible though that
such a girl can care for a regular man of the world thirty years older
than herself? I’ll never believe it. There’s a mystery somewhere. I
shall stay here and watch how things go.”

Evereld greeted him pleasantly, but not at all warmly when she
encountered him after table d’ hôte. She could have liked him extremely
if his attentions had been a little less overwhelming, or if she could
have told him of Ralph. As it was, he frightened her, and she was
too much of a novice to know the best way to steer her course. She
invariably fled for refuge to her old friend, Bruce Wylie, little
dreaming that by so doing she might confirm the gentle hints which
Sir Matthew and Lady Mactavish began to drop cautiously among their
acquaintance in the hotel.

People enjoy few things more during their idle holiday hours in a health
resort than watching any little drama that may happen to be taking place
before them.

Evereld with her sweet innocent face turning to the old friend of
her childhood and apparently encouraging him in every way while she
sedulously snubbed the young Oxonian, was a spectacle that greatly
pleased and edified the English visitors at the Rigi Vaudois. It began
to be rumoured that Mr. Lewisham was only running after her money, that
Bruce Wylie saw it all plainly enough, but that he was practically sure
that little Miss Ewart was attached to him. That in fact an engagement
might be declared at any moment.

Something of this sort reached the ears of Dick Lewisham, and so angered
him that he determined to find out the truth for himself.

It happened that there was a dance in the hotel that evening, He knew
that Evereld would not refuse to dance with him, and having secured her
as his partner for the first _pas de quatre_, he afterwards persuaded
her to come out on to the terrace.

The garden was deserted, and Dick Lewisham plunged straight into the
subject which was filling his mind. He was a very honest, outspoken
sort of fellow, and he began to fancy that Evereld would not so openly
encourage Bruce Wylie had she known that people were beginning to
comment on it.

“Miss Ewart,” he said abruptly. “These little English colonics are
always hot-beds of gossip. And in this case the gossip I have just heard
tends to explain your marked coldness to me. I think there is no need
for me to tell you of my love--of----”

“Oh, stop, stop,” said Evereld, “I can’t let you say that. I tried so
hard to show you that I couldn’t care.”

Her distress struck him speechless for a moment; instinctively they
walked on to a more sheltered corner of the garden.

“It is true then--you already care for--this other.”

“Yes,” she faltered. “But no one knows, here, oh, how can you have
guessed?”

“Why it is the talk of the hotel,” said Dick Lewisham. “Every one secs
that he cares for you and that you encourage him.”

Her eyes dilated. For a moment she stared at him blankly, “What can you
mean?” she cried. “He is in England, and no one here knows--no one must
know.”

“Everyone is saying that you and Mr. Wylie care for each other; if that
is true I will trouble you no more.”

“They are saying that!” she exclaimed. “How perfectly ridiculous of
them!” and in the sudden revulsion of feeling she burst out laughing,
“Why I have known him since I was a little girl, and even then he seemed
to me quite elderly. My chief reason for liking him as a friend is that
he was always kind to Ralph as well as to me when we were children.”

Then in a flash it all came back to Dick Lewisham; once more he stood
in the grounds of the hotel at Zermatt watching the afterglow, and
listening to what was more or less meaningless talk to him about a young
actor named Ralph Denmead. It was somehow less hard to him to retire
before an unknown rival; it was Bruce Wylie he so cordially detested.
Moreover in having thus surprised Evereld Ewart’s secret, his position
had been changed whether he would or no, from that of lover to friend
and protector. He knew what no one else in the place knew, and this
gave him, in spite of his rejection, a sort of soothing sensation. His
admiration for Evereld had been very genuine, but it had been the sort
of love which strikes no very deep roots in the heart. He was now only
chivalrously anxious to help her in any way he could.

“I will go away from the place at once if you would rather,” he said,
after a somewhat prolonged pause. “But you may trust me always to
respect what you have told me.”

“Then don’t go,” she said, giving him her hand. “I always knew I could
like you as a friend if only you had understood how things were. I think
I won’t dance again to-night. We are to have a long excursion to-morrow.
I will say good-night to you and run in.”

“And if at any time I can serve you, be sure you remember me,” said Dick
Lewisham looking into the truthful blue eyes lifted to his.

“I will indeed,” she said. “We only wait to be actually engaged till I
am twenty-one. I wish the time would go faster.”

Dick Lewisham escorted her back to the hotel, and then lighting a
cigarette returned once more to pace up and down the garden path they
had just quitted. The night was sultry, every now and then he could see
summer lightning playing about the peaks of the Savoy mountains on the
other side of the lake. Still musing over his talk with Evereld he threw
himself down on a sheltered garden seat which stood on a little lawn
screened on all sides by bushes. From time to time he heard steps on the
path just beyond, and caught curious scraps of conversation over which
he smiled in a cynical fashion.

Now it was a woman’s voice.

“Well, what you can see to admire in her I can’t imagine, and her dress!
why those sleeves might have come out of the ark. Oh you didn’t notice
them. How curious men are.”

Next came a pair of lovers.

“Dearest!” said one voice.

“My own!” replied the other.

And Dick Lewisham cruelly coughed. After which dead silence reigned.

By and bye a mellow, manly voice startled him into keen attention; it
was Bruce Wylie.

“I’ll propose to her to-morrow whatever happens. You can give the others
just a hint and they will keep out of the way. We must have matters
settled before leaving Switzerland. If she refuses me----”

“Why then,” said Sir Matthew Mactavish, “I shall step in with the
authority of a guardian. We will have no nonsense about the matter. But
she will not refuse you. She has too much good sense.”

The voices died away in the distance. Dick Lewisham laughed long and
silently.

“So that is your game, my fine friend! It is you who are after little
Miss Ewart’s money though you have had the slander set afloat that I was
a fortune-hunter. Ho! ho!” he rubbed his hands with satisfaction, “how I
should like to see your face when that little blue-eyed girl rejects
you. I’ll at any rate stay on here to see you when you return.”

He was loitering about at the cable railway station the next morning
when Evereld and Janet Mactavish walked from the hotel to take their
places in the down-going carriage.

“And where are you off to this morning?” he inquired.

“We are going to see the Gorge de Trient,” said Evereld, “at least some
of us are. You are going to sketch near that waterfall, are you not,
Janet.”

“Yes,” said Janet, “but Major Gillot and Minnie and Mr. Wylie will be
with you. Four makes a much better number and I want a quiet day.”

Dick Lewisham laughed in his sleeve, he felt sure that Janet had been
taken into the plot. Then with some compunction he glanced at Evereld’s
unsuspicious face; her manner to him was perfect, he felt glad to think
that she trusted him, and wondered much in what fashion she would get
through the excursion. It was hardly likely he feared to be a day of
pleasure to her.

They were now joined by Minnie and her _fiancé_, and at the last moment
Bruce Wylie walked coolly across the little platform and down the steps,
taking his place just before the carriage slid down its steep incline.

“Oh be quick! take care!” said Evereld with a look of alarm; and Dick
Lewisham turned away, musing over the words and the expression of the
girl’s face.

“Evidently she likes him very much as an old friend,” he reflected. “I
wonder how she will get on.”



CHAPTER XXIV


               “To hug the wealth ye cannot use,

                   And lack the riches all may gain,

               O blind and wanting wit to choose,

                   Who house the chaff and burn the grain!

               And still doth life with starry towers

                   Lure to the bright divine ascent!

               Be yours the things ye would: be ours

                   The things that are more excellent.”

                        William Watson.

|Come over to this side of the carriage,” said Bruce Wylie as they took
their places in the train at Territet, “you will get the best of the
views this side.”

Evereld had become quite used to his kindly little arrangements for her
comfort, she felt sure in her own mind that any good-natured man would
have done as much for a girl on her first Swiss tour, and she smiled to
herself at that ridiculous report which Mr. Lewisham had quoted to her.
After all, though, was it not very likely that she herself had misjudged
other people in exactly the same way? She was always making little
romances in her mind about the people they met in the hotels, and they
generally proved to be wrong when closer acquaintance revealed the
truth.

She felt perfectly happy that September morning as they journeyed along
the lovely lake, past the red roofed Castle of Chillon, past the white
peaks of the Dent du Midi to St. Maurice, and then on once more through
the somewhat trying heat of the Rhone Valley to Vernayaz.

“I shall be quite independent of you,” said Janet, “and shall spend my
day sketching. We will all meet here again in time for the train.”

“Oh we must come and see you settled,” said Bruce Wylie, “besides
Evereld ought to see the waterfall nearer than from the train. We have
our whole day before us, there is no hurry.”

In the end these three walked off together in the direction of the
Pissevache, while the two lovers went in the opposite direction,
promising to order luncheon at the hotel.

Evereld seemed more talkative than usual, but when, having duly
inspected the waterfall, he tried hard to draw her into the region of
sentiment, she seemed more provokingly matter of fact than ever.

“It’s very sad to think we have only one more excursion before we
go home,” he remarked, “how detestable England will seem after this
holiday.”

“Do you think so,” said Evereld, “why I am longing to get back to
England. Lovely as this place is, it seems so dreadfully far away.”

“Far away from what?” said Bruce Wylie.

“Well, from one’s friends and belongings,” said Evereld.

Bruce Wylie could only pretend to be deeply offended.

“You say that to me,” he said tragically, “one of your oldest friends!”

She laughed merrily.

“It was certainly a case of what _Punch_ would call ‘Things one would
rather have expressed differently.’ But though the tour has been a great
treat I believe I should always begin to be homesick for England at the
end of six weeks.”

“Oh if it is only an abstraction like England I will not be jealous, it
isn’t worth while,” said her companion with a laugh.

And Evereld blushed a little, knowing that it was not England in the
abstract, but nearness to Ralph that she longed for.

Bruce Wylie saw the blush and was pleased. He entirely misunderstood it,
and might have proposed to her at that very minute, had not some very
dirty little children besieged them just then with the usual request for
money.

The straggling street of Vernayaz was not the place for a private
conversation, he would wait till later in the day.

After a merry lunch at the hotel with Minnie and Major Gillot they all
went together to see the Gorge de Trient, and here he contrived to fall
behind on the pretext of pointing out some particularly striking effect
to Evereld as they threaded their way through the awful ravine with its
foaming white torrent and its towering heights above.

But his effort was useless, for something in the majesty of this great
rock, cleft so strangely, had filled Evereld with awe; she was thinking
her own thoughts and was quite unresponsive to all his attempts to draw
her into conversation.

“It feels like a church,” she said once as they paused for a few
minutes, and Bruce Wylie anxious not to jar upon her in any way,
relapsed into silence.

Emerging at length from the cool shade of the Gorge de Trient, they
returned to the hotel, Major Gillot ordered coffee, and Bruce Wylie took
the opportunity to draw him aside and suggest a change of programme.

“Sir Matthew gave me leave to take Evereld on to Finshauts if she liked
the idea,” he said. “Let us all meet at the station. But don’t wait
for us if we chance to be late. Lady Mactavish might be anxious. I will
bring her on by the next train in any case.”

“All right,” said the Major, paying no very great heed to the words, and
well pleased to be left with Minnie for the rest of the time.

“Evereld,” said Bruce Wylie, rejoining the ladies, “I don’t know what
you will say to the notion, but it seems to me very hot down in this
place, and we have still some hours before us. I find there is a most
beautiful drive to a place called Finshauts up in the mountains, with a
very fine view of Mont Blanc. Shall you and I make a pilgrimage up
there and leave Miss Mactavish and Major Gillot to enjoy this garden in
peace?”

“I think it would be lovely,” said Evereld, her eyes lighting up. “I
have been longing to get to the top ever since we came here.”

Bruce Wylie was pleased that she should fall in with the idea, and went
off at once to order a carriage, but perhaps her delighted acquiescence
troubled him a little, for he made several attempts to justify his
scheme to his own conscience.

“If she accepts me I shall take care to be in good time for the train,
and all will be well,” he argued. “And she will accept me in all
probability after a little persuasion. If not, there is nothing for it
but Sir Matthew’s plan of scaring her with the fear of what people will
say. No real harm will be done, none whatever. We shall merely play a
little upon her credulity and ignorance and her proper pride, and all
the rest of it. The game is worth the candle, for without her, sooner or
later we shall be ruined.”

He was more considerate and gentle in manner than ever when at
length they set off together on their drive to Finshauts; her perfect
confidence in him gave him an uncomfortable sensation, he kept on
deferring the speech which must be made, and allowed her to enjoy to the
full the beauty of the winding road with its shady groves of walnut and
chestnut trees, and its wonderful glimpses of the Rhone Valley. They
paused after a time to see the Falls of Emaney, and when they once more
got into the carriage, Bruce Wylie made up his mind that before the next
stage was reached his work must somehow be done. He looked down into her
glowing happy face.

“You are enjoying it?” he said kindly.

“Oh more than I can tell you,” she said. “It is quite the best drive we
have had. What a pity Janet isn’t here.”

“For once you must let me be selfish,” said Bruce Wylie laughing. “I am
heartily glad she is not here. ‘Two is company, three is trumpery,’ as
the proverb says.”

“I never agree with that proverb,” said Evereld. “We had a
three-cornered friendship at school and it was delightful.”

“For school friends it may be well enough. But I am something more than
your friend, Evereld, I am your lover.”

The assertion struck her dumb for a minute.

“Surely you had realised that?” said Bruce Wylie. “You must, I think,
have known it all these weeks that we have been together.”

“Oh, no, no,” she cried in distress. “I never dreamt of such a thing.
Please never say that again.”

“But I must say it again. I want to make you understand me. For years I
have hoped that you would some day be my wife. And when you understand
me better I think you will say ‘yes,’ Evereld.”

“No,” she said desperately, “I can never say it. I could never care for
you in that way. Please let us just be friends as we used to be.”

“But things are altered now, you are no longer a child, but a woman.
Believe me, dear, I would make you very happy. You perhaps think that
the difference in our age is a drawback. But some of the happiest
marriages I have known have been marriages of that sort. One can’t make
a hard and fast rule as to age.”

“It is not that,” said Evereld. “That might not matter a bit. But I
could never love you.”

“I will take my chance of that. The love would grow.”

“No, it never could.... Please believe me and say no more. I can’t think
what makes you wish it when you must have met so many much more fit.”

“But I have been waiting and hoping for you. And you must at any rate
promise me to think it over for a few days before quite deciding. I have
taken you by surprise. Think it over quietly, and we will talk about it
some other day.”

“If I thought for years it would make no difference,” said Evereld.

“You fancy so, because like all young girls you have made a sort of
ideal in your own mind, and no living man can come up to that ideal.”

She shook her head.

“No, not an ideal,” she said softly, and into her eyes there stole the
soft love light which revealed all too clearly her thoughts.

“She cares for some one else,” reflected Bruce Wylie, “I suppose it’s
that confounded young Denmead. Well, silence is golden. She must be left
till to-morrow to reflect.”

“Dear child,” he said in his mellow voice. “Don’t look so grave. I will
say no more just at present. I only ask you to give what I have said
your careful thought. Here we are at Triquent.”

Evereld drew out her watch, but in the worry of the previous evening,
after her talk with Mr. Lewisham, she had forgotten to wind it up--the
hands pointed to four o’clock.

“My watch has stopped,” she said, “but surely it is time we turned back!
Finshauts seems much further than I expected.”

“Oh, we shall soon be there now,” said Bruce Wylie, glancing at the
time. “It takes us some while to climb up, but we shall rattle down
again at a great pace.”

It seemed a pity to have come so far and not after all to see the view
of Mont Blanc, and though Evereld longed to be back with the others, and
dreaded the _tête-à-tête_ with her companion after what had passed, she
scarcely liked to say any more about returning.

She was grateful to him, moreover, because on the last stage of the
journey he got out and walked beside the driver, leaving her to her
great relief unmolested.

“He is a wonderfully kind man,” she reflected. “I hope I wasn’t too
emphatic, but one had to make him quite understand. Even now we shall
have to talk it over again. Oh dear! Oh dear! how I wish Ralph and I
were really engaged, then one wouldn’t be so tongue-tied. I shall only
be twenty in the spring, and there will still be a year to wait.”

The road passed now through a wood, and something in its green depths
of shade made her think of a wood near Southbourne where they had once
spent a happy midterm holiday with the Herefords, during her school
days.

“How I wish I were at school again now,” she thought sadly. “It was
all so happy and easy there, with none of these worries and
misunderstandings. And yet I don’t either, for if I were still at school
Ralph would not have spoken to me that Sunday, that wonderful Sunday.”

She fell into a happy dream, and was startled when Bruce Wylie suddenly
appeared at the carriage door and resumed his place beside her.

“She was thinking of that boy,” he reflected with annoyance. “This
business will make our task even more disagreeable.”

“You look tired,” he said, “when we reach the Hotel Bel Oiseau I will
order some tea to be got ready while we go on to the best point of
view.”

“But are you sure we shall have time. We must not miss that train,” said
Evereld.

“Oh, plenty of time. It’s all down hill going back, and besides the
horse must rest, and the driver will certainly expect to drink our
health in the _vin du pays_.”

His manner set her mind at rest, and indeed for a time she forgot all
else in the wonderful panorama that opened out before them as Mont Blanc
and the Chamounix Valley came into view. It was a scene to remember for
a lifetime, and Evereld, with her young heart and her clear conscience,
was able to revel in its beauty, and to cast off altogether all petty
cares and vexations.

These, however, returned when they went back to the Hotel Bel Oiseau; a
mistake had been made--or so Bruce Wylie told her--as to the tea, and it
took a long time in coming. Then there was yet another delay because the
coachman had mysteriously disappeared, and when at last the horse was
put in and they turned back to Vernayez, Evereld was certain that they
had allowed very scanty time for the descent.

“It’s as much as we shall do to catch this train,” remarked her
companion, as they at length gained the valley.

“There is a train now just passing,” exclaimed Evereld.

“Not ours, I daresay,” said Bruce Wylie, “no,” looking at his watch
reassuringly, “it’s not due for another ten minutes. We shall do it all
right, don’t be anxious.”

“There, we are punctual to the minute,” he remarked, as they drew up at
the station, “and no train is here. Ha! what’s that you say?” he added,
as an old porter came leisurely up to them. “The train gone? Why, it’s
only now due.”

The porter explained, with many gesticulations, that the Monsieur’s
watch was ten minutes slow.

“How annoying,” said Bruce Wylie, “when is the next train for St.
Maurice and Territet?”

“There are no more this evening, monsieur,” said the porter. “Monsieur
will find many good hotels in Vernayez.”

Bruce Wylie made a well feigned ejaculation of annoyance.

“The others will have seen that we were not there,” said Evereld,
springing out of the carriage, “I will run and look for Janet;” but she
returned forlornly in a minute, for Janet was not there.

“I think she might have waited,” said the girl, indignantly.

“Oh, they would naturally conclude we should come on by a later train as
we didn’t turn up till this one started,” said Bruce Wylie, “in fact I
told the Major we should do that if by any ill fortune we were too late.
Who could have guessed that there were no trains later than this?”

“You looked out the trains yourself yesterday,” said Evereld, “I should
have thought you would have noticed.”

She felt intensely irritated, it was one of those times when a
traveller’s temper is put to the test.

Bruce Wylie did not mend matters by his rather stumbling apology. She
could not have explained her feeling, but somehow at that moment she
felt that she could no longer put confidence in him.

“Well, I wouldn’t have had such a thing happen for the world,” he said.
“It is all my fault, and I’m extremely sorry. The only thing to be done
is to go back to the Hotel Gorge du Trient. We shall be in time for
dinner, I daresay. To the Hotel, driver!”

“Wait,” said Evereld quietly. “I must first send a telegram to Lady
Mactavish explaining things.”

“Quite right, of course. I ought to have thought of it. What a sensible
little woman you are, Evereld.”

She neither smiled nor responded in any way. A few hours before the
episode would have troubled her very little, but to be stranded in this
place with the man she had just refused was a situation she disliked
very much. Behind it all, too, there lurked a vague feeling that she had
been entrapped into the drive, that perhaps even Janet had guessed what
Mr. Wylie meant to say during the course of this ill-fated expedition.

To do him justice, Bruce Wylie took good care to set her perfectly at
her ease directly they arrived at the hotel, himself saw the manageress
and explained things to her, handing over Evereld to her kindly care,
and promising to meet her in the salon.

The Swiss manageress gave her a pleasant room, and lent her all that
she needed, and when she went down to the salon a delightful surprise
awaited her.

“Why, Evereld!” said a familiar voice, and a tall pretty looking girl
stepped forward with a warm greeting.

It was May Coniston, an old schoolfellow who had left Southbourne at
Easter, and had come out to Switzerland for rest after the toils of
her first London season. She introduced Evereld to her mother, and they
listened to her description of the contretemps that had befallen her,
and Evereld introduced Mr. Wylie to them.

“It is most fortunate you just happened to come across us,” said May
Coniston cheerfully. “I can lend you everything, and mother will be only
too delighted to take care of you. There is nothing she enjoys so much
as looking after girls.”

So in the end Evereld had an extremely pleasant evening, lost her heart
to kindly Mrs. Coniston, sat up hair-brushing with her friend till after
midnight, and was delighted to have May for a companion in her large,
lonely bedroom where, as Mrs. Coniston remarked, they could fancy
themselves back at school once more.

Early the next morning, having parted with the Conistons, who were
going to Champéry, Bruce Wylie and Evereld returned to Glion, arriving
just in time for lunch. They encountered Janet and Minnie in the
entrance hall, and Evereld went straight to the _salle à manger_ with
them, laughing over the events of the previous day, and remonstrating
with them for having deserted her.

“We all got into the train when it came up,” explained Janet calmly,
“hoping to the last that you would come before it started; it must have
been some minutes in the station. Mamma was vexed with us for coming on,
but of course we all knew you were safe; your telegram got here before
we did.”

“Where is Lady Mactavish?” asked Evereld.

“She has gone down to Montreux to lunch with Lady Mount Pleasant, who by
the bye has invited us all to go to-morrow to her picnic at a place near
the Rochers de Nave.”

Just at that moment Sir Matthew and Mr. Bruce Wylie joined them. There
was something unusual in her guardian’s manner, and Evereld wondered
what had brought the cloud to his brow. It did not disappear at all when
he greeted her, and had it not been for a talkative German doctor,
who conversed learnedly with Janet, their party would have been an
uncomfortably silent one throughout the meal.

“I want a few words with you, my dear,” said Sir Matthew, when at last
lunch was over. “Come with me to our own sitting-room. We shall not be
interrupted there.”

Evereld’s heart sank.

“Mr. Wylie has told of his proposal to me,” she reflected. “And Sir
Matthew is vexed with me for refusing his friend.”

“Sit down,” said Sir Matthew, motioning her to a sofa beside the window,
and wheeling up a ponderous armchair for himself. “I have, of course,
heard from Mr. Wylie of your very surprising behaviour yesterday. Are you
aware that you have refused one of the best and cleverest of men, a man
too who has been encouraged by you for the last month.”

“Oh, no,” cried Evereld. “Indeed I never dreamt of encouraging him. How
could I be supposed to think of a man thirty years older than I am as a
lover?”

“I don’t know what you thought about it, my dear, but you did distinctly
encourage him. And everyone here, and at Zermatt, too, I believe,
considered it a case.”

“I am very sorry if they thought so, but it was a ridiculous mistake.
I should never dream of marrying Mr. Wylie. He is just a friend and
nothing more.”

“I have no patience with this foolish talk about friends,” said Sir
Matthew. “You ought to know enough of the world to realise that it never
puts faith in friendships between men and women.”

“Can I not be friends with an elderly man like that? a man of
nearly fifty, who has known me since I was a child?” said Evereld
questioningly.

“No, you cannot,” said Sir Matthew decidedly. “You have encouraged him
all these weeks, and you must marry him.”

The tone of decision would, he thought, at once silence this gentle
little girl with her innocent blue eyes. He received an uncomfortable
shock when she quietly replied: “Of course, if it is really so I can
avoid Mr. Wylie in future. But marry him I will not.”

“What possible objection can you have to him?” said her guardian
irritably. “I can tell you, he is a man that most girls would be proud
to accept.”

“But I do not love him,” said Evereld.

“Oh, you have been reading novels and have set up some absurd ideal hero
unlike any man who ever existed. Bruce Wylie is one of a thousand,
he will make you perfectly happy, and will save you from the infinite
misery of being run after for the sake of your fortune by unworthy men
embarrassed by debts.”

Evereld laughed a little. “I will promise never to marry an unworthy man
embarrassed by debts. But nothing will make me marry Mr. Wylie.”

“Then it only remains for me,” said Sir Matthew, “to tell you how things
really are. You must marry him, my dear. The whole place is talking
about you. Your reputation is at stake. Everyone knows that you were
stranded alone with him last night at Vernayez, and there is only one
way to prevent a scandal arising. You must be engaged to him at once,
and you shall be married when we go back to London. If you like it might
be on the same day that Minnie is married.”

Evereld’s eyes dilated.

“I don’t understand you,” she said. “Can you really mean that because
Mr. Wylie very carelessly allowed us to miss the train, and didn’t
know--or--or pretended not to know that it was the last train--that I
should marry him because of that?”

“Dear child, you are very young and innocent, and the world is a
hard censorious place. The busy tongues of these holiday idlers will
certainly make free with your name. And I can’t permit that. The best
way to avoid scandal, the only way, is to hasten on your marriage.”

“Very well,” said Evereld. “But it is not Mr. Wylie that I shall marry.”

“Do you dare to tell me that you are engaged to any one else?” said Sir
Matthew.

“No, I am certainly not engaged,” said Evereld. “But as soon a I come of
age I shall be engaged.”

“To whom.” said Sir Matthew.

“To Ralph,” she said, a vivid blush dyeing her cheeks.

With an inarticulate exclamation of wrath, Sir Matthew began to pace to
and fro.

“This comes of adopting beggars,” he said between his teeth. At that,
Evereld started to her feet, and would have left the room had he not
intercepted her.

“How long has this been going on?” he said, angrily.

“I never knew I cared for him like that until he had gone away more than
a year ago, when you brought down the news about his examination.”

“Just like the ungrateful fellow,” said Sir Matthew. “As soon as he saw
that there was nothing more to be got out of me, he thought to feather
his nest with your fortune.”

Evereld struggled hard not to lose control over her temper, but every
pulse in her throbbed indignantly at the words.

“I think,” she said in a low voice, “that money is the last thing any
Denmead ever troubled himself to think of.”

The words were so true that for a moment they checked Sir Matthew; he
reflected wrathfully that his own action in turning Ralph out of his
house somewhat harshly had brought about this result he so little
desired. Up to that time the friendship between the two had been of a
most brotherly and sisterly character. He was startled from this train
of thought by a sudden and wholly unexpected question from Evereld.

“My father used to say every penny he had was invested in railways--is
my money still as he left it?” she inquired.

“W--w--w--we have made a few changes; you will learn all details when
you come of age,” said Sir Matthew.

Evereld had quick perceptions. She had never heard her guardian stammer
before. She looked him through and through with her clear eyes, and
knew that something was amiss. He coloured under her scrutiny, and
complaining of the heat of the room, pushed the window wider open.

“Ralph has good points,” he said, returning to the former topic. “But
depend upon it, my dear, this is an idle fancy of yours; he will fall in
love with some actress and forget all about you. It is only natural that
it should be so.”

Evereld shook her head.

“No,” she said. “He will wait for me, and when he has got on a little in
his profession, we shall be engaged. We might have been engaged now only
he was too honourable.”

“You talk just as one might expect an innocent girl fresh from school to
talk, my dear,” said Sir Matthew. “But it will not do. Such a marriage
would be preposterous, your father would never have allowed it, and I
once more repeat that acting in your interests I shall insist on your
accepting Mr. Wylie’s offer. You think me unkind; believe me,” he took
her hand and patted it caressingly, “I am not unkind, I am only making
you do what is the best possible thing under the circumstances. You must
trust me. There are elements in the case you cannot understand. There
is no safe path for a woman but the part of obedience to authority. You
must be guided by me, my dear, you must recollect that in all the years
you have lived under my roof I have always shown you kindness and love,
and you must try to believe that I show that kindness now, though I
thwart your wishes and wed you to a man who does not exactly fit in with
your girlish and romantic ideal. We will say no more now, you are tired
and agitated. But within the next two days I shall expect to receive
from Mr. Wylie the news that his offer has been accepted. Think it
quietly over. I am convinced that some day you will thank me for what I
have done; ay! and other people will have good cause to thank me, too.”

He stooped and kissed her on the forehead and politely opened the door
for her in token that the interview was at an end.

Without a word Evereld left the room and went slowly upstairs.



CHAPTER XXV


               “The tissue of the Life to be

               We weave with colours all our own,

               And in the field of destiny

               We reap as we have sown.”

                        Whittier.

|The broad staircase was covered with cocoa-nut matting, she toiled
up the slippery steps feeling dazed and giddy, groping her way more by
instinct than by sight to her own door. Her room was at the side of the
hotel, and its French window, opening on to a little balcony, looked out
over the woods of Veytaux and the distant turrets of Chillon to the
Dent du Midi. She threw herself down now into the depths of an armchair,
letting the soft air play on her hot cheeks, and staring out in a
bewildered way at the lovely view which contrasted so strangely with her
misery.

Her whole world seemed to be shaken to its foundation. Her instinct
warned her that the guardian, whose plausible talk and apparent
kindliness had long deceived her, was in no sense a man to be trusted.
And seizing the clue, which his own accusations of others had furnished
her with, she began to wonder if in some unaccountable way Bruce Wylie
himself was one of those fortune-hunters, who finding themselves in
difficulties sought to repair their losses with some heiress’ money. Her
clear insight had at once detected the false ring in his apologies
about the lost train on the previous day. He had somehow forfeited
her confidence, and the more she thought over her interview with Sir
Matthew, and the extraordinary determination he had evidently made to
marry her to his friend, the more she distrusted and dreaded them both.
It might possibly be that they had mismanaged her affairs, and were
perhaps speculating with her money. She had heard of many cases where
luckless women had been ruined by a fraudulent trustee.

Fortunately, though young and innocent, Evereld had been wisely
educated, and even in all the agitation of the moment she was able
clearly to see how foolish was the notion that in order to quiet unkind
tongues, or to satisfy the outraged feelings of Mrs. Grundy, she should
consent publicly to perjure herself, by vowing to love as a wife a man
she did not desire to marry.

Sir Matthew and Bruce Wylie had fancied that a pure-minded, proud girl
would easily be frightened into a marriage which in many respects was
outwardly desirable. Women were seldom logical, and a little novice like
Evereld could, they felt sure, be cajoled or scared or flattered into
obedience to their wishes. Sir Matthew had reserved his direct command
and the allusion to his authority as a guardian as his trump card.
He thought because she had made no reply to this speech that he had
convinced her. But Evereld knew that obedience to the truth must always
stand before obedience to any authority, and she was emphatically not
one of those plastic, weak-minded girls who furnish victims for the
modern marriage market, and allow themselves to be sacrificed to the
ambition of their parents.

There was, however, a sort of blind terror in her mind. She had read
that pathetic novel “Jasmine Leigh,” the plot of which turned on the
forcible abduction of an heiress; and now, perhaps, not unnaturally
the story returned to haunt her. Words which Ralph had spoken as to Sir
Matthew’s unscrupulous character, his utter disregard for the victims
whose ruin followed the triumphal procession of his own fame and
fortune, haunted her, too. She had thought him hard and uncharitable
when he had spoken of his godfather, but his words had impressed her
nevertheless, and she felt that they were probably not far from the
truth. Like some trapped animal, she tried desperately to think what
possible course she could take. If only that motherly Mrs. Coniston had
been in the hotel she would have told her all and asked her advice, but
she could hardly put the case in a letter, or travel to Champéry to see
her. And there was no one else to whom she could turn, unless it was Mr.
Lewisham, and she doubted if that would be a wise thing to do. Only a
woman could thoroughly understand and help her.

And then the old grief of eight years ago, to which she had grown more
or less accustomed, came back to her with an intensity of bitterness,
a new realisation of irreparable loss. “Oh Mother!” she sobbed. “Oh
Mother! Mother!”

A step on the balcony made her hastily try to check her tears. Minnie’s
room was next to hers, and the window also opened on to the little side
balcony.

“Why Evereld,” said a cheerful voice. “You dear little goose! Don’t cry.
I know all about it. Papa has told me. Don’t you be frightened. It won’t
be half so bad as you expect. You’ll soon grow very fond of Mr. Wylie.
And you shall have such a pretty wedding dress and as many of your
school friends as you like for bridesmaids. You have no idea what fun
you will have choosing your _trousseau_. We will stop in Paris on our
way home, and I can put you up to all sorts of things.”

“Don’t talk like that,” said Evereld, her tears raining down, as the
utter mockery of it all forced itself upon her.

“Do you think,” continued Minnie, “that you are the first girl who has
been obliged to give up an early love? Why it’s my firm conviction that
no one ever does marry a first love. If Papa had allowed it I should
have married a lanky curate, and we should still be waiting for the
inevitable country living which might or might not turn up. He put a
stop to it all. And I cried my eyes out just as you are doing. But I
am very much obliged to him now and mean to be very happy with Major
Gillot. Now stop crying, and I will make some tea in my etna, and later
on you shall come out with us and do ‘gooseberry.’”

“I’m afraid of meeting Mr. Wylie,” objected Evereld. “Indeed I think you
had better not meet him with your eyes as red as that,” said Minnie with
a laugh. “There’s no need for you to see him till dinner-time, for he
has gone down to Montreux to talk over the arrangements for tomorrow
with Mamma and Lady Mount Pleasant.”

There was something comforting in Minnie’s kindly manner, though Evereld
vehemently dissented in her own mind from all her arguments. She obeyed
her, however, and stopped crying, and even found temporary comfort in
the afternoon tea which has a way of tasting so supremely good when
made by oneself abroad. Later on they walked down the Gorge de Chaudron,
where already the trees were arraying themselves in the lovely tints
of early autumn. The two lovers walked a little ahead. Evereld followed
slowly and thoughtfully, regaining her habitual strength and quietness
of mind as she walked, by slow degrees. There was something in her face
which puzzled Bruce Wylie when he met her again that evening at dinner.
She looked older, even he could have fancied thinner, since the morning.
He left her unmolested till the meal was over, but joined her directly
afterwards in the entrance hall, where in the evening people were wont
to lounge and chat unceremoniously. He was discussing thought-reading
with a young American girl and skilfully inveigled Evereld into
the conversation. In old times she had always felt an interest in
experiments of this sort; to-night she felt that not for the world would
she permit Bruce Wylie to touch her.

“Let us show Miss Upton the experiment we tried at Zermatt,” said Bruce
Wylie. “It was a brilliant success there.”

“I would rather not to-night,” said Evereld colouring. “I am tired.”

“Oh, try just once,” he said persuasively.

But she shook her head.

“I must appeal to your guardian,” he said, laughing. “Sir Matthew, we
want you to persuade your ward to do the pin-finding trick.”

Rightly or wrongly, Evereld was convinced that if she now yielded
her mind up to him he might abuse his power over her and weaken her
resistance to his other wishes. She stood at bay conscious that many
eyes were turned upon her, determined not to yield, yet puzzled as to
how she was to proceed.

“Why Evereld, dear,” said Sir Matthew in his hearty penetrating voice,
“of course you will oblige us all. You are a capital hand at this sort
of thing.”

She turned to the pretty American girl, feeling that her only chance was
to appeal to her. She seemed a clever, observant girl, surely she could
be made to understand without words.

“I am so sorry,” she said, “to be obliged to say ‘no’ to-night. But I
am tired and am going up to bed. Won’t you try the thought-reading?”
 Her clear blue eyes looked straight into the bright eyes of little Miss
Upton, saying as plainly as eyes could express the thought, “Help me out
of this dilemma.” And the American responded instantly to the appeal.

“I guess I’ll try whether I can’t do it myself, Mr. Wylie,” she said,
looking up at him archly and holding out a dainty handkerchief.
“Blindfold me instead of Miss Ewart, and see if I’m not just as sharp at
finding the pin.”

She made such fun of the whole process that even Bruce Wylie himself
failed to notice that Evereld calmly walked up the broad staircase in
sight of them all, and she was safely locked into her room before any
one had bestowed a thought upon her absence.

“I shall always love American girls!” she said to herself. “How quick
she was to understand, I only wish I could thank her, but that’s
impossible. Somehow I must get away from this place. I daren’t stay
longer. If only I knew how best to escape and where to go to! There is
Mrs. Hereford. She would take care of me. But Ireland is so far away,
and I fear they would overtake me before I could get to her. Shall I
go to London and make Bridget take me away to some quiet little country
place where no one could hear of us? Or there is Southbourne, but term
will not begin till next week, and the whole house would be deserted, it
would be no use going there.” None of these plans seemed very promising.
To whom could she turn?

Restlessly pacing up and down her room, she prayed for guidance, and
almost immediately a well-known name floated into her mind. “Why!” she
exclaimed, “I wonder I never thought of that before.”

She stepped out on to the balcony, entered Minnie’s room, took from
the table a continental Bradshaw, and returning once more, sat down
resolutely to puzzle out a route as well as she could. It was no easy
matter for one unversed in the mysteries of railway guides; she found
herself terribly baffled by two places with almost exactly similar
names, and she floundered long in that wilderness of day trains and
night trains, and dark and light figures, which prove traps for the
inexperienced. If so much had not depended upon it she could have
laughed over her perplexities, but as it was she came perilously near to
crying over the Bradshaw, and nothing but dread of Bruce Wylie and the
thought of Ralph enabled her to plod on until at last she had puzzled
out her way of escape. The trains were not so favourable to her plans
as she had hoped. It was impossible to leave till the middle of the next
morning, and the journey would involve four or five changes of trains,
and a night at a hotel. It seemed impossible to go straight through to
her destination.

“If I go to a hotel,” she reflected, “I must have some sort of luggage
or they will suspect me. I will take my little handbag from here and
some cloak straps in my pocket; then at Geneva I will buy some wraps and
make up a respectable-looking bundle.”

By this time her hopes had revived and her courage had returned. She
put back the Bradshaw in Minnie’s room, closed her shutters, bolted her
window and began to make her preparations in a thoughtful, womanly way.

Fortunately she had had no expenses in Switzerland, and still carried
about her the eighteen five pound notes which Bridget had counselled her
not to leave behind. In her purse she had also an English sovereign and
a little Swiss silver money. “I need not change a note till I get
to Geneva, that is a comfort,” she reflected, and having carefully
destroyed all her letters and packed a few necessaries into her bag, she
crept to bed and did her best to sleep, but not very successfully.

The next morning she could most truthfully plead a headache as an excuse
for not attending Lady Mount Pleasant’s picnic, indeed she remained in
bed; and looked so white and tired when Janet and Minnie came to see her
that they reported her as quite unfit for the expedition, and only in a
state to be left quiet and alone.

“Well,” said Sir Matthew, with a look of annoyance, “it can’t be
helped. She will be right enough to-morrow when her decision is made and
everything has settled down quietly.”

Bruce Wylie, who had fully intended to settle matters during the course
of that day, was forced to acquiesce, and since Lady Mount Pleasant and
her contingent had arrived from Montreux, and the carriages were at the
door, there was no time for further discussion.

Evereld stole to her window as soon as she heard the sound of wheels and
just caught a sideway glimpse of the picnic party driving off. Then in
breathless haste she dressed, put a letter which she had written to
Sir Matthew on the previous night in a place where it would quickly be
found, bolted her door on the inner side, stepped out of the window and
closed both it and the jalousies behind her and went through Minnie’s
room to the corridor beyond. A chambermaid was sweeping the matting, she
smiled in a friendly fashion and asked if mademoiselle was better.

“I still have a headache,” said Evereld, “and am going out of doors. If
you see Miss Mactavish to-night when she returns, please say I do not
wish to be disturbed.”

She ran quickly down the stairs, encountering nobody; in the bureau she
caught sight of the manager’s head, but he had his back turned to the
door and did not see her, he was giving out a library book to an old
lady who was accounted the greatest gossip in Glion. Mercifully she,
too, was absorbed and did not look up.

Evereld walked quietly through the garden; over her dark blue serge
dress she wore a little blue capuchin cape with red-lined hood, her
sailor hat, and long gauze travelling veil were of the quietest. She was
beginning to hope that she should encounter none of the people staying
in the hotel when, within a stone’s throw of the cable railway station,
she came across Dick Lewisham and little Miss Upton.

“Are you better?” said the American kindly. “Your friends told us you
were quite knocked up and could not go to the picnic.”

“My head aches still,” said Evereld, “but--but please don’t tell them
that you saw me going out.”

It is almost impossible for a naturally open and truthful person to
carry out a secret scheme without some confidante. Evereld liked and
trusted both these acquaintances, and she yielded to that craving for
sympathy, that longing for straightforward speech which was perhaps more
natural than strictly prudent.

“I could not go to the picnic because I must avoid Mr. Wylie,” she said
in a low voice. “My guardian is trying to force me to marry him, and I
mean to escape to other friends who will take care of me.”

“Did I not tell you how it would be?” said Dick Lewisham.

“Yes,” she faltered, “you were quite right; and now there is nothing for
me to do but to get away at once.”

“Remember,” he said, “that you promised to ask my help if you were in
any difficulty.”

“Yes,” said Evereld. “Perhaps now you would just take my ticket to
Territet.”

“Let us all come down to Territet together,” said Miss Upton, “it will
be less noticeable than your going quite alone.”

Before many minutes were passed the three were gliding down the steep
incline, and Evereld grew light hearted to think that the difficult
first step had proved so successful.

“Are you sure,” said Dick Lewisham, “that you can get to your friends
without difficulty?”

“Quite sure, thank you,” she said bravely.

“We will not ask you a single question beyond that,” he continued, “for
the less we know the better. If they put us through any very severe
catechism, the utmost we will admit is that you were in the hotel garden
before lunch this morning.”

“It’s quite a romance,” said little Miss Upton, rubbing her hands with
satisfaction, “and as I shall want to have the third volume, please send
it over to me at Boston as soon as it’s complete. There’s my card.”

“I will be sure to write,” said Evereld, “and thank you so very much for
helping me, both last night and this morning, too. I shall never forget
you.”

They walked a little way beyond the station in the direction of Montreux
until they reached a confectioner’s.

“I am going in here to get some food for my journey,” said Evereld, “I
will wish you good bye;” she gave her hand to each of them, shyly
thanked Dick Lewisham for his help, and entered the shop.

“End of the second volume,” said Miss Upton with a comical expression on
her bright face. “Nothing remains for us, Mr. Lewisham, but to kill time
by a row on the lake. Take me to see Chillon; nothing but an old and
venerable castle will fill up this awful blank, or rouse my interest.”

“Oh, we shall have some good fun to-night or to-morrow morning,” said
Dick Lewisham, “Messrs. Wylie and Mactavish wall furnish us with some
capital sport. I only hope no harm will happen to that brave little
girl.”



CHAPTER XXVI


               “Cut, by all thy nature’s weakness,

                   Hidden faults and follies known,

               Be thou, in rebuking evil,

                   Conscious of thine own.

               “So, when thoughts of evil-doers

                   Waken scorn, or hatred move,

               Shall a mournful fellow-feeling

                   Temper all with love.”

                        Whittier.

|Lady Mount Pleasant’s picnic proved a successful affair, and Sir
Matthew prevailed on her to dine with them at the Rigi Vaudois on her
way home. Minnie, running upstairs to change her dress after the gong
had sounded, had scant time to think of Evereld, she rang for hot water
and flew about her room making the hastiest of toilettes, it was only as
the chambermaid was just closing the door that she called after her.

“Marie! Wait a moment. Have you seen Miss Ewart? Is she better?”

“I have seen her, Mademoiselle, and she still has _migraine_,” said the
chambermaid.

“Well see that she has all she needs,” said Minnie hurriedly pinning a
cluster of roses in her dress.

“Yes, Mademoiselle. But she left word expressly that she did not want to
be disturbed.”

“Ah, then I will not go in,” said Minnie, flying along the corridor, and
running downstairs.

“But I will just ask if the _pauvre petite_ would like a _tisane?_”
 reflected the chambermaid knocking at Ever-eld’s door. “No response
‘Tis strange, I will knock again. Mademoiselle! It is I, Marie. Well,
‘tis useless to wait. Without doubt she sleeps. These English are
always heavy sleepers, and after all, sleep is the best cure for _la
migraine_.”

But next morning when to repeated knocks there was still no answer,
Marie began to feel anxious. She consulted Miss Mactavish.

“Miss Ewart often goes out early in the morning. I expect she has locked
her door and taken her key to the _bureau_ was Minnie’s matter-of-fact
solution of the problem.

“No, Mademoiselle, the key is not in the bureau. It is on the inside of
the door. I fear Mademoiselle must be very ill.”

“Well, we can soon find out,” said Minnie, opening her window and
stepping on to the balcony.

To unbolt the _jalousies_ and open Evereld’s French window was the work
of a minute, but Minnie gave a gasp of surprise when she found the room
quite empty. Remembering however the curious eyes of the chambermaid she
controlled herself.

“Perhaps she is with Lady Mactavish, I will see,” she exclaimed, and
hastily ran down to the next floor in search of her father. She found
him in their private sitting-room, writing letters, and quickly told her
discovery.

“Can the child have been so foolish as to run away,” he exclaimed in
dismay. “Well she can’t have gone far, that is one comfort; we shall
soon track her. I will come up with you and see if we can find any clue.
Run on first and tell the maid it is all right and get her out of the
way.”

He followed more leisurely, and passing through his daughter’s room went
by the balcony to Evereld’s deserted chamber.

“The bed has been slept in,” he remarked in a tone of satisfaction, “she
has not gone far.”

It did not occur to him that it had never been made on the previous day,
that was just one of those small points of detail which would escape an
ordinary man. Minnie instantly thought of it, but she held her tongue,
and began hurriedly to see what clothes Evereld had taken with her.

“Her little travelling bag has gone,” she said, “and her hat and cloak.
See, too, here is a letter just inside her portmanteau directed to you,
Papa.”

Sir Matthew who began to look seriously disturbed tore open the letter
and hastily read the following lines:--

“My Dear Sir Matthew:

“Nothing will induce me to marry Mr. Wylie, and as you insist on my
accepting his proposal within the next two days, and refuse to pay any
heed to what I say as to my future marriage with Ralph, you force me
to act for myself. Please do not be anxious about my safety--I am going
straight to friends who will take every care of me, and it will be
useless to try to make me live again under your roof.

“If you make any attempt to force me back I shall put myself under the
protection of the Lord Chancellor, and ask for a thorough investigation
of my affairs. My love to Lady Mactavish and Minnie. I am sorry to vex
you all, but you have left me no alternative.

“Yours affly,

“Evereld Ewart.”

He handed the letter to his daughter, and paced the room, dumb for the
time with anger and surprise.

“Where can she have gone?” said Minnie. “And how on earth can we hush it
up here?”

“Easily enough,” said her father with contempt in his tone, “say that
she has joined some friends in Montreux, and we can all leave to-morrow.
Indeed I shall go straight home to-day and track her out. Little
minx! Who would have thought her capable of such resistance! A little
blue-eyed slip of a girl, who had hardly a word to say for herself!”

He turned away in search of Bruce Wylie, and was glad to see that his
friend was shocked and perplexed by the news. To do the lawyer justice
he was really anxious about Evereld’s safety.

“Upon my soul, Mactavish, it’s an ugly business,” he said uneasily,
“a young girl fresh from school, innocent and ignorant and quite
unprotected, crossing Europe alone! I hope to goodness she has gone to
those friends of hers at Champéry. I will set off this morning and see.
She would naturally think of them.”

“It’s possible,” said Sir Matthew, with a look of relief. “You go there,
and I will go straight to London making close inquiry all along the
route. Perhaps we may be able to learn something from the people in the
hotel without rousing their curiosity too much. We must avoid getting
the girl talked about. That would be fatal.”

“It’s a hateful business,” said Bruce Wylie frowning, “I wish I had
never meddled with it.”

“There was more in the child than we dreamt of,” said Sir Matthew, “She
was quiet and gentle and affectionate and I never thought it possible
she would show so stubborn a front. Look at the letter. Why old Ewart
himself might have penned it. As ill luck would have it, she heard the
day before yesterday that changes have been made as to the investment of
her money, and I fear she suspects that all is not right. How on earth
she came to know anything about the Lord Chancellor and her power of
appeal to him I can’t conceive.”

“Probably through ‘Iolanthe’ and the ‘such a susceptible Chancellor,’”
 said Bruce Wylie with a mirthless laugh, “or through some of her beloved
Charles Dickens’ novels. The fact is, Mactavish, we educate our girls
now-a-days, but expect them to remain fools. Unless we can track
Evereld, and force her to obey you, she has the game in her own hands.
Great Heaven! just think of it! That little girl can absolutely ruin our
career, can give the pinprick which will burst the whole bubble.”

It was exasperating to the last degree, and to men who had always taken
the lowest view of womanhood, it was wholly perplexing. They went down
to the _salle à manger_ trying to look unconcerned, but Miss Upton’s
keen eyes read their perturbation.

She enjoyed it hugely.

“I guess you had a good time yesterday up at the Rochers de Naye?” she
said blithely.

“Very, thank you,” said Sir Matthew, “though we were all disappointed
that my ward was not with us. Have you seen anything of her?”

The American girl met his keen gaze without flinching in the least.

“She was in the garden for a little while yesterday.”

“Ah, indeed,” Sir Matthew was all on the alert. “Did you have any talk
with her?”

“Well--I inquired after her headache,” said Miss Upton casually. “How is
she this morning?” and with perfect _sang froid _she began to eat an
egg American fashion, a proceeding which she well knew would make Sir
Matthew shudder.

“Thank you, she is better,” he said, taking refuge in his cup of coffee.

“I’m so glad,” said Miss Upton sweetly. “We must have some more
thought-reading this evening, Mr. Wylie. Perhaps Miss Ewart will be able
to show me the experiment you were speaking of the other night. You are
always successful with her, are you not?”

Dick Lewisham at an adjoining table bent low over his newspaper to hide
his amusement.

“Unfortunately,” said the solicitor, “we are obliged to leave to-day, or
it would have given me the greatest pleasure.”

“What a mistake to leave just when we are all such a nice, congenial
party,” said the American. “Is Miss Ewart really fit to go? She looked
so white and ill when I saw her yesterday.”

“She has been travelling about in Switzerland some time,” said Sir
Matthew, “and will, I think, be glad to settle down at home.”

“I can understand that,” said Miss Upton. “I don’t think the hotel life
was quite congenial to her. Now, we Americans are brought up to live
in public from our childhood, it’s second nature to us, and we are
accustomed to so much more liberty than you allow your girls. I suppose
though your English girls are much more tractable and obedient than we
are.”

Sir Matthew winced.

“Comparisons are odious,” said Bruce Wylie, with ready politeness, and
after a very scanty breakfast the two men retired discomforted, while
Dick Lewisham and the bright-eyed American enjoyed a quiet laugh at
their expense.

To get any clue as to Evereld’s movements seemed impossible, and Sir
Matthew did not care to put the matter into the hands of the police, or
to employ a private detective. In his own mind he felt convinced that
Evereld had gone to England, and he travelled home with the utmost
speed, having first telegraphed to his confidential clerk to meet him at
Victoria by the boat train on the following afternoon.

“All well I hope, sir,” said Smither, the clerk, as Sir Matthew gave him
a pleasant greeting.

“Quite, thank you; did you get that address?”

“Yes, sir,” and the clerk handed him a paper. “Da Costa the agent gave
it me.”

On the paper were inscribed the words, “Macneillie’s Company, September
20-27, Theatre Royal. Rilchester.” Sir Matthew promptly detached a key
from his ring and handed it to Smither.

“Just see my portmanteau through the Custom House,” he said, “I must
catch the next train at King’s Cross, and will only take my bag with
me.”

He drove off, but took the precaution of calling at the house in Queen
Anne’s Gate that he might see whether any clue as to Evereld’s movements
was to be had from Geraghty or Bridget. Their entire ignorance was
however so transparent, and Bridget’s inquiries after her young mistress
were so natural that he went off to King’s Cross more certain than ever
that Evereld had avoided London and had gone straight to her lover. He
dined in the train, arrived at Rilchester soon after ten o’clock that
evening, took up his quarters at the Station Hotel, and sent a messenger
to the stage door of the theatre to inquire as to Ralph Denmead’s
address, being careful to avoid giving his name. When however he had
obtained what he wanted and after some trouble had discovered the quiet
street to which he had been directed, it was only to find that Ralph was
still at the theatre.

“He’ll not be back for at least another half hour,” said the landlady.
“Can I give him any message?”

“I had better come in and wait,” said Sir Matthew.

The landlady hesitated a moment, but being impressed as most people were
by Sir Matthew’s manner and bearing, she admitted him and showed him
into a fairly comfortable room where the supper-table was laid for two
people.

“I have caught them,” said Sir Matthew to himself with an inward chuckle
of satisfaction. “The little fool with her grand talk of the Lord
Chancellor’s protection! She has ruined her case now. We shall have a
scene, that can’t be helped. All’s well that ends well.”

Picking up a newspaper he installed himself comfortably in an armchair,
and awaited Ralph’s return. Presently steps were heard outside, the
street door was opened, and two people entered the passage, he put down
his paper and listened. The voice speaking was certainly Ralph’s.

“It’s the worst house we have had this week, there weren’t a dozen
people in the Stalls. Ah! I see there’s a note for you here.”

There followed sounds as of the opening of an envelope and then the door
handle turned, and Sir Matthew looked up expectantly. Instead however
of his runaway ward, there entered a middle-aged man intently reading an
open letter; for a moment Sir Matthew failed to recognise the tired and
rather despondent face, then it flashed upon him that this must be Hugh
Macneillie. He moved somewhat uneasily, and the actor recalled to the
present, lifted his eyes from the letter and looked at him in mute
astonishment.

“I called to see Mr. Denmead,” said Sir Matthew, and at that moment
Ralph blithe and cheerful as ever came into the room giving an
astonished exclamation as he caught sight of his godfather. He greeted
him however with all proper formality and introduced Macneillie.
There was a momentary pause after that; the situation was somewhat
embarrassing.

“I hope Evereld is well?” he said, chiefly for the sake of breaking the
silence.

“I have come here to make inquiries about Evereld,” said Sir Matthew
grimly. “Have the goodness to tell me at once where she is.”

“Is she not in Switzerland with Lady Mactavish?” said Ralph,
astonishment and anxiety plainly to be seen in his face.

“My good fellow, I know you are an actor, but spare me this private
exhibition,” said Sir Matthew waving his hand in the old manner. “You
know that she has sought refuge with you, and the sooner you give her up
to her lawful guardian the better it will be for you both.”

“I think you must have gone out of your mind,” said Ralph, fuming. “How
should I know anything of Ever-eld’s movements? She is unfortunately
under your protection till she is of age. Do you mean that you have lost
her?”

“Yes, that is exactly what I do mean,” said Sir Matthew wrathfully. “She
merely left a letter behind her saying that she had gone to friends who
would take care of her, and she had had the audacity on the previous
day to tell me with her own lips that she would never marry any one but
you.”

“She is gone?” said Ralph in horror. “But where?”

“That is precisely what I want to learn from you?” said Sir Matthew with
a cold sarcastic smile.

“You brute!” said Ralph beside himself with passion. “How can you
torture me like this? Tell me when she left you, and why? You must have
treated her shamefully, or she would never have taken such a step.”

“You don’t impose upon me in the least by all this tragedy acting,”
 said Sir Matthew. “I am satisfied that you know quite well where she is.
Probably she is in this house.”

Ralph seemed on the point of springing at his torturer’s throat, when
Macneillie laid a strong hand on his shoulder and drew him back.

“My dear boy, leave this to me” he said. “Surely Sir Matthew, you cannot
seriously believe that we know anything of Miss Ewart’s movements? From
the little I know of her I should imagine she was far too right-minded
and sensible to dream of attempting to seek refuge with her lover. I saw
her once or twice in August when she was staying with Mrs. Hereford at
Southbourne, and was struck by her quiet common-sense.”

Sir Matthew was obliged to alter his tone, for he saw at once that there
was force in what Macneillie said.

“She told me she had met you at Southbourne. I suppose it was there,
Ralph, that you had the presumption to ask her to marry you?”

Ralph had by this time recovered his self-control, he replied with a
sort of quiet dignity which Sir Matthew resented much more than the
outburst of anger.

“It was there that I told her I hoped some day to work my way up in the
profession. It was there I learnt that our love was mutual. Surely she
will have gone to Mrs. Hereford for protection. That would be her most
natural impulse.”

“Well, I had not thought of that. Are the Herefords in London?-”
 said Sir Matthew, feeling that there was a good deal of sense in the
suggestion.

“No, they will not be back till Parliament meets, but I know their
address in County Wicklow, and will telegraph to them to-morrow.”

Sir Matthew frowned: it galled him terribly to feel that he was
helpless.

“After all,” he exclaimed. “She may have had the sense to go to her old
Governess in Germany. She would be far more likely to confide in her
than in Mrs. Hereford. I will telegraph to Dresden and inquire.”

“And when you have learnt where she is what do you propose to do?” said
Ralph.

“Fetch her home, of course, and make her realise what people think of
such escapades.”

Ralph seemed about to reply but he checked himself.

“Did you imagine I was going to let her set me at defiance?” said Sir
Matthew. “Do you think a girl of nineteen will get the better of me?”

“Yes,” said Ralph, quietly. “I think she will.”

Sir Matthew laughed maliciously and rose to go.

“You’re a true Denmead,” he said. “Always sanguine, always foolish
and unpractical. Well, good-night, Mr. Macneillie. I am sorry to have
inflicted this visit on you. Good-night Ralph. Let me know at the
Station Hotel as soon as you get a reply from the Herefords.” Ralph
showed him to the door in silence, and returning to the sitting-room,
flung himself down in a chair by the supper-table, and buried his face
in his hands.

“What can I do!” he groaned. “Surely there must be something I could do
for her.”

“Eat boy, eat,” said Macneillie in his genial voice. “You can’t think to
any purpose when you are dog-tired and as hungry as a hunter. All very
well for Sir Mathew to come in here and rant at half past eleven when he
had dined luxuriously at eight, but for strolling players, who feed at
four and work like galley slaves all the evening, it’s not so easy.”

While he talked, he had been carving cold beef, and Ralph who at the
best of times was a small supper eater, and had never felt less inclined
for a meal, found himself forced to begin whether he would or not.

“Here’s a salad that I mixed this afternoon after Sydney Smith’s own
receipt,” said Macneillie. “It would be sudden death to most men of
this generation close upon midnight but it’s the reward of hard work
to acquire the digestion of the ostrich and to sleep the sleep of the
righteous.”

He talked on much in the way he had talked long ago in the Pass of Leny
when he had helped Ralph along the road to Kilmahog; it was the sort
of conversation which did not demand much response, but never failed to
hold the hearer’s attention, because it was racy and humourous. But by
and bye when they had lighted their pipes, he reverted to Sir Matthew’s
visit.

“Curious man, that ex-guardian of yours,” he said musingly. “I am not
surprised that you two never hit it off. I wonder what it was that drove
little Miss Ewart to take such a decided step.”

“I am certain it was some question of marriage,” said Ralph. “Probably
he wanted that brute Wylie to have the control of her fortune. I have
always detested that man. Governor! What am I to do? Will you spare me
for a week and let me see if I can help her?”

“No, my dear boy, I will not do anything of the sort,” said Macneillie
resolutely, yet with a most kindly look in his eyes. “I know it’s a hard
thing for you to stay here and go on with your work as if nothing had
happened, and while all the time you are sick with anxiety, but it’s
what we all of us have to put up with now and again. Besides, you could
do no good and you might do great harm. Those who know Miss Ewart best
are the ones who ought to have most confidence in her womanly wisdom.
Depend upon it she is perfectly safe. Such a quiet, well-bred girl as
that might go alone unharmed from one end of Europe to the other.”

Ralph pushed back his chair and paced the room restlessly. “The suspense
is the intolerable part of it,” he said, with a break in his voice.

“I have good reason to know how hard suspense is to bear,” said
Macneillie. “And yet it’s not the worst, for there’s always a large
mixture of hope in it. Come let us write out your telegram to the
Herefords, it will need careful wording.”

The next day was Sunday, but the telegraph office was open for two hours
in the morning, and upon the stroke of eight Ralph stood at the door
with his message to Ireland. He returned again between half past nine
and ten and waited drearily in the office for the reply. But the deep
bell of the cathedral boomed out the hour and still no answer came.

“Open again between five and six, sir,” said the official, showing
him to the door. And Ralph, miserably depressed, made his way to the
cathedral. Here for a time he found comfort; but during the psalms the
verger ushered a late-comer into the stall exactly facing him. He saw at
a glance that it was Sir Matthew, and after that there was no more peace
for him, but a dire struggle with his angry heart.

After service was over, Sir Matthew joined him in the Close, greeting
him just as if nothing had happened.

“Did you telegraph to the Herefords?” he asked.

“Yes, but as yet there is no reply,” said Ralph.

“And I have not heard back from Dresden. We shall both hear this
afternoon. Come and dine with me at eight o’clock and you shall hear the
result.”

“Thank you,” said Ralph. “But we leave for Nottingham by the eight ten.”

“Come to lunch now then.”

But to sit down and eat with the man who had wrought such havoc in his
life and had driven Evereld to take such a desperate step was more than
Ralph could endure. He excused himself, promising, however, to come
round at six o’clock to the hotel and report any news he might receive
from Ireland. His face when he arrived was not reassuring; he looked
pale and miserable.

“What news?” said Sir Matthew eagerly.

“None,” said Ralph, handing the telegram to his godfather. The words
struck a chill to Sir Matthew’s heart.

“Know nothing about her at all. Imagined she was in Switzerland still
with her guardian.”

“I have had a similar one from Dresden,” he replied. “She is not there
and wrote last nearly a month ago.”

“Is there any clue whatever in the letter she left behind for you?”
 suggested Ralph, with a strong desire to see it. Sir Matthew took from
his breast-pocket a methodically arranged packet, and drew out Evereld’s
note.

“I can find no clue in it,” he said, “perhaps you may be able to do so.”

Ralph eagerly read the letter. There was not the slightest hint as to
the direction Evereld had taken, but something in the quiet assurance,
the guarded, dignified tone of the short note brought him comfort. It
revealed a side of his old play-fellow’s character which had hitherto
lain dormant.

“Well,” said Sir Matthew sharply. “You look relieved. What do you make
of it? Where do you think she has gone?”

“I have no idea,” said Ralph. “The letter tells nothing. Still she
wouldn’t have written so calmly and confidently if her plans had not
been well thought out. Ev-ereld is not impulsive. Perhaps she had met
friends while you were travelling and has gone to them.”

“No, I had a telegram in London from Bruce Wylie who went over to
Champèry on purpose to interview a school friend she had met. She
had heard nothing whatever about her. I shall have to set a private
detective to work.”

Ralph flushed.

“You would surely not do that?” he said quickly.

“Why not? I must find her. And I intend to bring her back to my house.”

“Well,” said Ralph, “the one thing that remains absolutely certain is
that when Evereld says a thing she means it with her whole heart. She
will certainly appeal to the Lord Chancellor, and I don’t think he will
compel her to return to your house when he has heard the whole truth.”

“Do you dare to assert that I have not been in every respect a faithful
and kind guardian to her? I who was her father’s oldest friend?”

“I assert nothing,” said Ralph bitterly, as he moved to the door. “But I
can’t forget what your friendship for my father led to.”

Sir Matthew made no reply, but turned abruptly to the window, the
colour mounting to his temples. The closing of the door and the sound of
Ralph’s retreating footsteps came as a relief.

“If I had but guessed what a serpent’s tooth that boy would prove to
me I would have shipped him straight off to the Colonies instead of
educating him,” he thought to himself. “I was weak--pitiably weak! It
was the look of Denmead’s face as he lay there dead that unmanned me.
There was the ghastly quiet of the country, too, and the child with his
old-world politeness, and that old lawyer with his suspicions. If I had
only been sensible enough to stamp out all sentiment and do the
practical thing at once my plans would not be thwarted now by a chit of
a girl who has lost her heart to a penniless actor.”

His face grew dark with anxiety and trouble as he reflected on the
desperate position of his own affairs should Evereld succeed in baffling
him.



CHAPTER XXVII


                   “When a friend asks, there is no to-morrow.”

                        George Herbert.

|When Evereld parted with the kindly American girl and Dick Lewisham a
sense of great loneliness for a time overwhelmed her. She looked in a
dazed way at the various delicacies displayed in the prettily arranged
shop, wondering whether she would ever feel hungry again. Having at last
selected some dainty little meat patties, and two crescent-shaped rolls,
she walked on to the next halting-place of the electric tram, and, after
a very brief waiting, found herself, to her great relief, comfortably
installed in a corner seat _en route_ for Vevey. She had judged it more
prudent to take the tram, knowing that she would more easily be traced
had she gone direct from Territet station to Geneva by the railroad or
by steamer. When once they were safely out of Montreux, and the risk of
meeting any of the visitors in the Rigi Vaudois was practically over,
she breathed more freely, even finding time to enjoy the lovely glimpses
of the lake and the mountains as they sped through Clarens and the
pretty surroundings of Vevey.

Arrived at length in that quaint old town, she was set down at the
railway station, where she prudently took her ticket only as far as
Lausanne, travelling second class because she knew that she was less
liable to find herself alone, and had heard the continental saying that
only fools and Englishmen travel first class. It was during the twenty
minutes’ waiting time at Lausanne that her perplexities began.

A kindly looking English lady, seeing that she seemed to be alone, sat
down beside her and began to talk about the weather and the scenery.
Finally she hazarded a direct question.

“Have you a long journey before you?”

“Not very long,” said Evereld, colouring, as she glanced inquiringly
into her companion’s face, as though to make sure what sort of person
she was. In one sense the look reassured her, for the most suspicious
mortal could not have credited this mild-faced lady with evil design,
but, on the other hand, she was evidently one of those inquisitive
mortals who delight in asking questions, in season and out of season.

“I am going myself to Geneva, if that is your direction we might perhaps
travel together,” said the lady pleasantly.

“Thank you,” said Evereld, reflecting that after all she could baffle
the questions by reading when once they had started.

“It is not so easy for a girl to travel alone abroad as it is in
England,” said her companion, looking curiously at Evereld’s girlish
face. “I almost wonder your parents allow it.”

“I have no parents,” said Evereld.

“Indeed, and have you been staying with friends?”

“Yes,” said Evereld. “And I am on my way now to some other friends.”
 Murmuring an excuse she sprang up and went to the window to see whether
the train was nearly ready.

“This is dreadful,” she reflected. “If we talk much longer she will drag
the whole story out of me. I will buy some papers and try to make her
read.”

“You are sure your luggage is all right?” exclaimed the good lady the
moment she returned.

“Quite sure, thank you,” said Evereld, clasping her hand bag closer and
trembling lest she should be asked some quite unanswerable question.

At length an official began vigorously to ring the great bell in the
doorway and to shout the intelligence that passengers for Geneva and
various other places must take their seats.

“Can I help you?” said Evereld, politely offering to take a basket from
the large heap of possessions with which her neighbour was surrounded.
She was startled to feel something jump inside it in an uncanny way.

“Thank you if you would. To tell the truth it is my little dog in there,
but he is such a good traveller, I don’t think you will mind him.”

“Shall I say that I detest dogs and so escape to another carriage?”
 reflected Evereld smiling to herself. But on the whole in spite of the
tiresome questions she rather liked this good English lady and found
a certain comfort in her presence when once they were installed in the
train. Her spirits rose as they travelled further and further from the
Mactavishs, she even grew hungry, made short work of the provisions
she had bought, parried her friend’s questions skilfully by counter
questions about the pet dog and finally took refuge in “Pride and
Prejudice” and in the delicious humour of Jane Austen’s characters
forgot all her dangers and difficulties till the train steamed into
Geneva station.

“I suppose your friends will meet you?” asked the talkative lady as she
fastened the dog up in his basket.

“No,” said Evereld, “but I shall manage very well now, thank you,” and
with rather hurried farewells she sprang from the carriage not offering
to carry the basket any further but promising to send a porter.
Fortunately her companion was in such a bustle with the effort of
collecting her various belongings that she did not notice the English
girl’s somewhat abrupt departure, and Evereld with a joyful sense of
escape made her way to the outside of the station and getting into one
of the little public carriages drove off to make her purchases in the
town.

Having bought an ulster and a warm shawl which made a very respectable
show when put into her cloak straps she went back to the station, dined
in a leisurely way and passed the rest of her two hours’ waiting time as
patiently as she could. By six o’clock she was safely in the train once
more, with the happy knowledge that she had no more changes that night,
and would arrive at Lyons in rather more than four hours. Her heart
danced for joy as she reflected that by the next afternoon she might
have safely reached Bride O’Ryan and Aimée Magnay, her greatest friends,
in Mrs. Magnay’s old home in Auvergne. That was the safe refuge towards
which she was steering her course, that was the thought which had darted
into her mind on the previous evening when she had decided that flight
was the only thing under the circumstances.

Later on however when darkness had stolen like a pall over the
landscape, when weary with want of sleep and worn out with excitement
and anxiety, the glad sense of escape died away, she grew unutterably
sad-hearted and forlorn.

At the other end of the carriage two men wrangled together over the
vexed question of having the window open or shut. A fat French lady went
to sleep and snored monotonously, just opposite her a young couple
on their honeymoon laughed and chatted in low tones with much outward
demonstration, while beyond a young mother sat with her baby in her
arms, an air of placid content on her face.

Never before had Evereld felt such a unit, never before had she realised
how really alone she was in the world. She shuddered to think what would
have become of her if Ralph had never crossed her path. And then as the
engine throbbed on through the darkness all those terrors of imagining
from which her healthy uneventful life had so far been exempt, laid
strong hold upon her, and made the night hideous.

She saw Ralph lying ill and forlorn in a fever hospital. She saw him
lying with pale lips and hands folded in the awful calm of death. She
saw herself alone and brokenhearted, struggling to make something of her
maimed life and failing in the attempt. She saw Sir Matthew tracking her
out and carrying her back to the house in Queen Anne’s Gate. Worst of
all she saw herself standing in church and passively allowing herself to
be married to Bruce Wylie.

She had just reached this climax in her miserable thoughts when as the
train stopped at the wayside station the door of the carriage was opened
and in came a very aged priest whose rusty black raiment had an old and
somewhat countrified look. His thin, worn face might have been stern in
youth, but the passing years had mellowed it, and like Southey’s holly
tree what had once been sharp and aggressive had grown tender as it more
nearly approached heaven. His keen eyes seemed to take in the occupants
of the carriage in one glance and he at once divined that the sad
little English girl in the corner was for some reason feeling altogether
desolate. He took the vacant place beside her and began to unwrap a
package which he carried. It proved to be a cage containing a bullfinch,
and Evereld watched with interest the scared fluttering of the bird and
the gentle reassuring face of the old man as he tried to pacify it.

“It is its first journey,” he said glancing at her. “The unaccustomed
has terrors for us all. It will soon understand that it is quite safe.
Eh, Fifi? Should I let any harm happen to thee, thou foolish one?”

“Can it sing any tune?” said Evereld. “We had one in London that sang a
bit of the National Anthem.”

“And Fifi is just as patriotic,” said the old priest laughing, “he will
pipe two lines of _Partant pour la Syrie_, I am taking him to cheer up
one of my parishioners who is lying ill at Lyons. He will think Fifi
from the Presbytère almost as good as one of his own friends from the
village. And when the lad is better why he will bring back this winged
missionary to me. My old housekeeper would not hear of parting with Fifi
altogether, he is the life of the house she says.”

The bird growing now more accustomed to its strange surroundings piped
cheerfully the familiar air of the refrain

                   “Amour a la plus belle

                   Honneur au plus vaillant.”

“Ah! he sings better than ours ever did,” said Ever-eld thinking of the
bird Ralph had brought from Whin-haven.

“And he is more tractable than a choir boy,” said the old priest
laughing. “Does he sing too loud and tire one’s head--it is but to cover
his cage and he is as quiet as any mouse.”

After that they drifted into talk about life in rural France, and by the
time they reached Lyons Evereld felt that the old man had become quite a
friend.

The other passengers scrambled out of the carriage each intent on his
own affairs, but the priest helped her courteously with her roll of
cloaks.

“Would you mind telling me what is the best and most quiet hotel to go
to?” she asked. “I cannot get on any further till nine o’clock to-morrow
morning. I am on my way to stay with friends near Clermont Ferrand.”

“You are over young my child,” he said, “to travel unprotected. But
I know it is not in England as with us, the young _demoiselles_ have
greater liberty. The best plan will be for you to go to an Hotel close
by. As it happens I know the manager and his wife and if you will permit
me I will walk with you to the door, and ask them to take good care of
you. I think you are like Fifi, not over well-accustomed to travelling.”

“Thank you very much,” said Evereld gratefully. “Now I shall feel safe
indeed.”

The old priest piloted her across the crowded platform and having given
her luggage to the hotel porter himself took her to the Manager’s little
office where Madame, a comely and pleasant looking woman, sat at her
desk busily casting up accounts. Her face lighted up at sight of the old
man.

“A thousand welcomes Father Nicolas, it is long since you paid us a
visit.”

“You are well,” said the old priest, “I need not ask that, for it is
easily to be seen, and busy as usual. Is your husband in?”

“He will be desolated, but he has gone to his Club.”

“Ah, well, I will call and see him to-morrow. In the meantime will you
kindly do your utmost to make this young English lady feel at home and
comfortable. She is unable to travel further till the 8.59 to-morrow
morning. I leave you in good hands,” he said, taking kindly leave of
Evereld, “Madame has a great reputation for taking good care of her
guests.”

“It will be my greatest pleasure,” said the manager’s wife.
“Mademoiselle looks tired and will doubtless like to go to her room.”

Evereld assented and toiled upstairs after the brisk capable looking
manageress who chatted pleasantly as they went.

“He has the best of hearts, old Father Nicolas,” she said. “I have known
him since I was a child. There is not a living thing I verily believe
that he does not love. It was a sight to see him standing on a winter’s
morning in the garden of the Presbytère and feeding the birds before he
went to Mass.”

“Where does he live?” asked Evereld.

“At Arvron, a little village where there are many poor. His people adore
him. This will be your room, mademoiselle, and shall I send you up a
little hot soup to take the last thing, or will you rather come down to
the _salle à manger?_”

“I should like it here please,” said Evereld. “And you won’t let me
over-sleep myself and miss the train to-morrow. I am so tired, I think I
should sleep the clock round if no one called me.”

“I will call you myself,” said the manageress. “It is a busy life here
and I am always an early riser. _Bon soir, mademoiselle_. I hope you
will be quite rested by the morning.”

“How much easier it has all been than I expected,” thought Evereld,
as she made her preparations for the night. “To think that this time
yesterday I was at Glion and in such a panic lest anything should
prevent my getting away! I wonder whether I had better telegraph to Mrs.
Magnay, and tell her I am on my way to ask her protection? I don’t think
I will. It might lead to my being traced later on, and besides I have no
idea whether there is a telegraph office within reasonable reach of the
Chateau. How I wonder what it will be like.”

Her reflections were interrupted by the arrival of a pretty young
chambermaid who brought her a basin of the most delicious soup; and long
before midnight she was sound asleep and dreaming of Bride and Aimée.

She woke up in excellent spirits, chatted with Madame as she breakfasted
on the coffee and rolls, which the pretty chambermaid brought to her
bedroom, and set off on the next stage of her journey full of hope for
the future and relief that all had passed off so well. At that very
minute Sir Matthew Mactavish was ruefully regarding her empty room at
Glion and wondering how he could possibly trace her out. But Evereld was
too busy to trouble herself much over the thought of his well-deserved
discomfiture. Every one seemed intent on being kind to her here. The
Manageress was almost motherly In her solicitude, the chambermaid waited
on her as though service were a pleasure, and the hotel porter neglected
the other passengers in the omnibus until he had seen her safely
established in the _salle d’attente_ with her possessions. Here to her
surprise she found old Father Nicolas reading his breviary.

“It was too early yet to see the sick lad I told you of,” he explained,
“so I thought I would start you on your way, if you will permit me the
pleasure.”

“I shall never forget all your kindness,” she said gratefully. “I was
feeling so dreadfully alone till you got into the train last night.”

“Well it is no bad thing to learn what loneliness means,” said the old
man thoughtfully. “Nothing so well teaches you to go through life on
the look out for the lonely, that you may serve them. Ha! They come to
announce your train. I will inquire if you have a change of carriages at
Montbrison.” He hurried away, returning in a minute or two to help her
with her packages.

“Yes, I am sorry to say they will turn you out at Montbrison, but you
will have only ten minutes waiting and no difficulty at all in that
quiet place. I see M. Dubochet and his two daughters--very pleasant
people--will you go in the same carriage?”

And so with a few pleasant words of introduction to Mademoiselle
Dubochet, Father Nicolas bade Evereld God-speed, and as the train moved
off she looked out wistfully after her kindly old friend, wondering
whether she should ever again come across him.

The clock was striking five when after an uneventful journey Evereld
found herself outside the station at Clermont-Ferrand, giving orders
to a somewhat rough-looking Auvergnat to drive her to the Château de
Mabillon. The man seemed inclined to hold out for a certain sum for
the journey and as Evereld had no notion of the distance, she
was determined to make no rash promises. It would never do to be
extravagant now, for there was no saying how long her last allowance
would have to supply her wants.

“M. Magnay will settle with you when we reach the château,” she
said with a little touch of dignity in her manner. The man instantly
subsided, feeling that he had no stranger to deal with, but a friend of
the family. And Claude Magnay’s name was quite sufficient to assure him
that he would receive his rightful fare, but not the extortionate sum he
had demanded of the new comer.

The little incident had however depressed Evereld. She had spoken
confidently to the man but now a qualm of doubt came over her. She was
about to cast herself on the mercy of Aimée’s parents, and after all she
knew little about them: on their occasional visits to Southbourne, she
had gone with Aimée and Bride to spend Saturday afternoon with them, and
she had been three or four times to their London house, but she realised
now that she was going to ask a very great favour of them, and that
possibly they might not care to shelter her from her lawful guardian.

These thoughts lasted all the time they were driving through the narrow
and dingy streets of Clermont Ferrand, and she fancied that the lava
built houses seemed to frown upon her and to assure her that she was
an unwelcome visitor. Before long however they had left the town behind
them and were driving through the most beautiful country, and in
that sunny smiling landscape it was impossible to give way to anxious
thoughts. The glowing colours of the autumn leaves, the picturesque
vineyards, the river with its gleaming water reflecting the blue sky,
and the strange irregular mountains which rose on every hand filled her
with delight.

The sun had set when at length they reached a narrower and more secluded
valley; Evereld fancied they must be getting near to Mabillon and
inquired of her driver.

“It is two kilometres to the chateau,” said the Auvergnat. Then after a
few minutes he again turned round from the box seat. “Madame Magnay and
her daughter are down at the mill yonder,” he said.

“Oh, stop then, and let me speak to them,” said Ever-eld eagerly; and
springing from the carriage she hastened towards Aimée who quickly
perceived her and ran forward with a cry of joyful astonishment.

“This is a delightful surprise. Are you travelling back through France?
Mother, you remember Evereld?”

Mrs. Magnay gave her a charming greeting, containing all the warmth and
animation which English greetings so often lack.

“I remember Evereld very well, and am more delighted than I can say to
welcome her to my dear old home.”

“You are very good,” said Evereld shyly, “I have come to you because
I was in great trouble, and I thought--I felt sure--you would help
and advise me. It is impossible for me to stay longer with Sir Matthew
Mactavish.”

Her eyes were full of tears, and Mrs. Magnay taking her hand began to
lead her towards the carriage.

“You are quite tired out, poor child,” she said caressingly. “We are
very sorry for your trouble, but very glad that it brought you to
Mabillon. This evening you shall tell us all about it. Do you see that
pretty girl waving her hand to us from the cottage door? That is my dear
old Javotte’s granddaughter. Aimée has told you how she starved herself
in the siege of Paris that we might have food enough. Dear old woman!55

“And here is one of the best views of Mont D’Or,” said Aimée, “only the
light is fading so fast you can’t properly see it.”

Chatting thus, they soon reached the old château, a great part of which
had now been carefully restored, and Mrs. Magnay seeing how pale and
worn her guest looked, determined to take her straight upstairs.

“Run Aimée,” she said, “and tell your father to settle with the driver,
and then bring a cup of tea for Evereld. I shall take her to Bride’s
room, she will be more snug in there I think.”

So Evereld was taken straight to her friend, and then while Mrs. Magnay
herself kindled the wood fire, and daintily piled up fir-cones to catch
the blaze, Bride made her rest in the snuggest of easy chairs, and she
had very soon told them the whole story.

“I know nothing of English law,” said Mrs. Magnay. “Are you sure you can
put yourself under the protection of the Lord Chancellor?”

“I think so,” said Evereld. “Don’t you remember, Bride, how we used
to tease you about your answer in that examination we had, when you
wrote--‘The Lord Chancellor must be a very busy man for Blackstone says
he is the natural guardian of all orphans, idiots and lunatics.’”

“To be sure I do,” said Bride laughing. “Well if Blackstone says so, you
must surely be right.”

“I will go and talk over matters with my husband, and see what he
advises, and in the meantime, Bride, I strongly advise you to put
Evereld to bed. She looks to me quite tired out. Rest and forget your
troubles, dear. No one can molest you at Mabillon, and you say that Sir
Matthew can have no clue to your whereabouts.”

“No, he will naturally think I have gone to Mrs. Hereford, or to my old
governess at Dresden,” said Evereld. “To-morrow I must write to Mrs.
Hereford and ask her to let Ralph know that I am safe. I am so afraid he
may hear that I have disappeared and be anxious about me.”

“Write to him,” said Bride, “and let Doreen forward your letter.”

In the meantime Mrs. Magnay told the whole story to her husband, and
it was decided that he should put the case straight into the hands of
a London solicitor. Evereld, being consulted as to the one she would
prefer, unhesitatingly named Ralph’s old friend Mr. Marriott of
Basinghall Street, and as Claude Magnay knew that she could not have
mentioned a more trustworthy and efficient man he wrote to him and made
her on the following morning also write with a full description of all
that had passed, of her suspicions with regard to her fortune and of her
wish for a thorough investigation of her affairs.



CHAPTER XXVIII


               “No action whether foul or fair,

               Is ever done, but it leaves somewhere

               A record, written by lingers ghostly,

               As a blessing or a curse, and mostly

               In the greater weakness or greater strength

               Of the acts that follow it, till at length

               The wrongs of ages are redressed,

               And the justice of God made manifest.”

                        The Golden Legend.

|Ralph’s anxieties came to an end while the Company were fulfilling
their engagement at Nottingham. For one never to be forgotten day there
arrived a letter from Mrs. Hereford, enclosing a long letter on foreign
paper from Evereld. The sheet bore no address and she did not mention
the name of the friends who were taking care of her, but she told him
all about their kindness, and that Bride O’Ryan was with her, that she
was quite safe from molestation and in the depths of the country far
away among mountains and woods, where neither Sir Matthew nor Bruce
Wylie could trouble her peace.

Later on came news from Mrs. Hereford that Evereld’s affairs had
been put into the hands of Mr. Marriott, and that Mr. Hereford was in
consultation with the old lawyer and would do everything he possibly
could: offering, if it were thought well, to become Evereld’s guardian
and trustee should the Lord Chancellor decide to deprive Sir Matthew of
the Trusteeship. After that for some time came no news at all.

At last, growing anxious, Ralph made a hurried expedition to town
late one Saturday night, and sought out his old friend Mr. Marriott on
Sunday.

He could not however get anything very definite out of him. Mr. Marriott
was always reserved and cautious, but he set him quite at rest as far as
Evereld was concerned.

“She is perfectly safe and Sir Matthew can’t touch her, for she is now a
ward of Court,” he said reassuringly. “I am not yet at liberty to speak
to you as to details. I think however your old prejudice against Sir
Matthew Mactavish was not without foundation. Unless I am much mistaken,
he will soon be unmasked. Now to turn to quite another matter;--I
understand from my client Lady Fenchurch, that you were present at
Edinburgh last summer and met Sir Roderick. Tell me as carefully as you
can all that passed while you were present.”

Ralph related all that he could remember.

“We have exactly the same sort of evidence from many other witnesses of
similar scenes,” said the lawyer. “It will not be worth while calling
you to appear at the trial. If you had witnessed any sort of violence,
physical violence, we should subpoena you at once.”

“When does the case come on?” said Ralph. “Possibly next week, but there
is always great uncertainty as to the exact date.”

Ralph’s thoughts naturally turned to Macneillie and he remembered his
words about suspense being tolerable because it was always so largely
mixed with hope.

The lawyer, however, who knew nothing of his reasons for taking interest
in the Fenchurch case, fancied the shadow on his face was caused by
anxiety for Evereld Ewart, and began to talk in a kindly way of her
future.

“Of course,” he said, “I can understand that under the circumstances it
is hard for you not to be allowed even to know where Miss Ewart is. But
it is safer that you should only communicate with her through Mr. and
Mrs. Hereford. Who can tell that Sir Matthew may not pounce down on you
again as he did at Rilchester. You know that she is safe and well and
for the present that must suffice you. I have good reason to believe
that the world will soon see Sir Matthew Mactavish in his true colours,
and what will happen then no one can foretell. There are storms ahead,
but I think they are storms which will at any rate clear your way.”

After this enigmatical speech Ralph went back to his work, somewhat
perplexed, yet on the whole relieved and hopeful. There followed ten
uneventful days and then one morning at Brighton, when he came down to
breakfast and opened the paper, the first thing that caught his eye was
a brief paragraph just before the leading article.

“In the Divorce Division yesterday the President and a Common Jury had
before them the case of Fenchurch v. Fenchurch and Mackay. The adultery
was not denied but the evidence failed to show legal cruelty on the part
of the defendant. His Lordship was therefore unable to grant a decree
nisi, but ordered a judicial separation with costs, and directed the
amount to be paid into Court in a fortnight. Lady Fenchurch is well
known to the public under her stage name of Miss Christine Greville.”

“She is not yet free from that brute then,” thought Ralph, a sick
feeling of disappointment stealing over him as he realised how this news
would darken his friend’s sky, how it would for ever cheat him of his
heart’s desire. Hastily turning the paper to read the longer report, he
found a whole column with the sensational heading, “Theatrical Divorce
Suit,” and feeling how it would all grate upon Macneillie, longed to
keep the newspaper from him. “He shall at any rate have his breakfast
in peace,” he reflected, and crushing the paper in his hands he flung it
into the fire.

The blaze had only just died down when Macneillie entered. He seemed
in unusually good spirits; they had had good houses for three nights,
moreover the weather was bright and clear, and the autumn sunshine of
the south coast seemed doubly delightful after a gloomy tour in the
midlands. Ralph thought he had never seen him look so young and buoyant
and hopeful as just at that moment.

“Nothing like Brighton air for making a man hungry,” said Macneillie
devouring a plateful of porridge and helping himself to eggs and bacon.
“Have they brought round the letters from the theatre?”

Ralph handed him a budget, hoping that it would occupy him and make him
forget the paper! But there were no letters of importance and Macneillie
suddenly remembering that there might by chance be news of the Fenchureh
case, which he was aware would probably come on during November, looked
eagerly round the table.

“No newspaper?” he said. “How’s that? The Smith boy must have played us
false.”

“I will run out and get one,” said Ralph. “Will you have any of the
local ones, too?”

“Yes, let us see what they have to say about ‘The Winter’s Tale,’” said
Macneillie.

Ralph disappeared and Macneillie having finished his breakfast rang for
the maid to clear.

“Have you taken our newspaper to any of the other lodgers by mistake?”
 he asked, beginning to feel impatient for it.

“No, sir,” said the maid. “It’s in here, at least--” looking round in
surprise, “I know it was in here. Mr. Denmead must have taken it away. I
saw him open it when I brought in the coffee.”

Then in a flash it dawned upon Macneillie that Ralph had made away with
the paper because it contained bad news.

“The boy couldn’t stand seeing me come upon it suddenly,” he thought to
himself. “He wanted me to breakfast first. No one but Ralph would have
thought of that! It is the worst news. I must be ready to bear it.”

He stood by the window looking out at the great expanse of sea with its
blue surface crisply ruffled by the fresh wind. Away to the left the
graceful outline of the chain pier seemed to speak of old fashioned
Brighton, and it took him back to a time at least seventeen years ago
in the very earliest days of his betrothal to Christine. How vividly the
very tiniest details of the past came back to him. It had been in the
days of aestheticism and high art colouring, a style which had suited
Christine to perfection. He could remember, too, how at one of the
little old-fashioned stalls he had bought her a dirk-shaped Scotch shawl
brooch with a cairngorm stone in it; they had been far too poor in those
days to dream of diamonds.

“She was only a child of seventeen,” he thought to himself, “younger
than Evereld Ewart; and I was not perhaps so very much older than that
young fellow over the way. Yes, I was though--it is Ralph! How slowly he
is walking. I believe the boy cares for me, he hates to be the bearer of
ill news.”

Ralph’s usually cheerful face was curiously over-cast; he put down the
papers, muttered something about “going to Brill’s for a swim,” and made
for the door.

“Rehearsal at eleven, don’t forget,” said Macneillie, taking up the
London paper with a steady hand.

He was glad to be alone, and in the midst of his grievous pain he felt
grateful to Ralph for that little touch of considerateness which had
spared him to some extent,--that strategem which had deferred his evil
day. For as he had said his suspense had been largely mixed with hope,
he had tried to face the other alternative but his very sense of justice
had inclined him to be hopeful. It surely could not be that after these
long years of suffering there should be no release? Max Hereford’s
words had chilled him for the time, but spite of them the hope had
predominated. Now hope lay dead,--remorselessly slain by this unequal
English law, which as a Scotsman seemed to him so extraordinary so
intolerably unfair.

When a law is manifestly unjust,--when it flatly contradicts the
foundation truth of Christianity that in Christ all are equal, that
there is neither bond nor free, male nor female--there comes to every
one of strong passions the temptation to break the law. It is such a
hard thing to wait patiently for the slow tedious process of reform,
that the headstrong and the impetuous and the self-indulgent, and all
who have not learnt a stern self-control, will often take the law into
their own hands and defy the world. Macneillie reaped now the benefit of
long years of self-repression and suffering. He saw very clearly that it
is only justifiable to break the law of the land when it interferes with
a higher duty; that to break even a bad law because it interfered with
one’s cherished desire could never be right; that to admit such a course
to be right must sap the very foundations of society.

He saw it all plainly enough, yet, being human, could not at once shake
himself free from the haunting consciousness that it lay in his power
to choose present happiness, that in such a case the world would quickly
condone the offence, and--greatest temptation of all--that he might
shield Christine from the difficulties and dangers that were but too
likely to assail one in her position.

Fortunately he had but little spare time on his hands, it was already a
quarter to eleven and the mere habit of rigorous punctuality came to his
help.

He walked down the parade, and the fresh air and the salt sea breeze
invigorated him, his mind went back, sadly enough, yet with greater
safety, from the future to the past, he seemed to be young once more
and crossing this very Steyne with a tall golden-haired girl, who still
retained something of the simplicity and innocence which she had brought
with her from her quiet school in the country. She was beside him as he
passed through Castle Square, beside him as he walked up North Street,
beside him as he went along the Colonnade and entered the stage door of
the very same theatre where they had acted together all those years ago.

There was a rehearsal of “Romeo and Juliet” chiefly for the sake of
Ralph, who was the understudy for Romeo and was obliged to play the part
that evening owing to the illness of the Juvenile Lead--John Carrington.

Though of course perfect in his words, he needed a good deal of
instruction, and Macneillie who always found him a pupil after his own
heart, receptive, quick, eager to learn, and with that touch of genius
which is as rare as it is delightful, forgot for a time all his troubles
in the pleasure of teaching. And if, after the night’s performance was
over and his satisfaction with his pupil’s success had had time to pass
into the background, the old temptation came back once more, it came
back with lessened power and found a stronger man to grapple with it.

No word passed between master and pupil as to the bad news the morning
had brought, except that as Ralph, somewhat sooner than usual, bade the
Manager goodnight, Macneillie with his most kindly look said to him:--

“Your Romeo is the best thing you have done yet. The saying goes, you
know, that no man has the power to act Romeo till he looks too old for
the part; you have done something towards falsifying that axiom, and
have cheered a dark day for me.”

“I owe everything to you, Governor,” said Ralph gripping his hand;
and as he turned away he felt that he would have given up all and been
content to play walking gentleman for the rest of his days if only
Macneillie could be spared this grievous trial that had come upon him.
He prayed for a reform of the law as he had never prayed in his life.

Left alone, Macneillie paced silently up and down the room, deep in
thought. At length in the small hours of the night, he took pen and
paper and wrote the following letter:--

“My dear Christine:

“It is impossible after our talk last summer in Scotland, to let such a
time as this pass by in silence. You well know that I love you, nor
will I pretend ignorance of your love for me. Let us be honest and face
facts;--truth makes even what we are called on to bear more endurable.
It is because I love and honour you that I write to bid you farewell.
Let us at least be law-abiding citizens, even though the law be a
one-sided, unjust law.

“I believe from my heart, that Christ, though disallowing divorce, with
its natural sequence another marriage, for all the trivial reasons which
the Jews were in the habit of putting forward, distinctly permitted
them where a marriage had been broken by the faithlessness of a guilty
partner. And assuredly He never set up one standard of morality for men
and another for women; His words must apply equally to both.

“Doubtless some day the gross injustice of the existing English law will
be removed, and as in Scotland there will be one and the same law for
men and women in this matter. For that day I wait and hope. For many
reasons I do not ask now to see you. Is it not better that we should not
meet? I am convinced that it is safer and wiser that we should--both for
our own sakes and for the sake of the profession--keep apart. Many may
think this mere old-fashioned prejudice, but I believe I should serve
you better at a distance than by dangling about you and so giving a
handle to those scandal-mongers who love nothing so dearly as to make
free with the name of some well-known actress.

“I dare not write more, save just to beg and pray that if there
should ever be a time when you are in any danger or difficulty, and
others--better fitted to serve because more indifferent--are not at
hand, you will then turn to me for help.

“God bless you. Good bye.

“Yours ever,

“Hugh Macneillie.”

The letter reached Christine at Monkton Verney and the sight of it made
the colour rush to her pale face. What she hoped, what she feared she
scarcely knew herself, her heart was all in tumult. She read it in
feverish haste, then again slowly and carefully, and yet a third time
through fast gathering tears. How strangely it contrasted with the
so-called love letters she had received from some men! And yet how
infinitely more it moved her by its calmness and self-restraint!

“I was unworthy of you in the past,” she thought. “But God helping me I
will try to be more worthy now.”

And without further delay,--dreading perhaps to put off the difficult
task--she wrote him a letter which had in it the fervour of a new and
strong resolve, and the beauty of a perfectly sincere response of soul
to soul.

After that she plunged straight into business, and about noon sought
out Miss Claremont and, walking with her in the quiet grounds near the
ruined priory, told her of the plans she had made for the future.

“I have as you know made over the management of the theatre to Barry
Sterne. He and his wife have been very good to me for many years, and it
is better now that I should not again be burdened with all the cares of
a Manageress. He proposes that I should take the part of the heroine in
the new play that he is bringing out in January and I have just written
to him accepting the proposal.”

“Are you fit yet for work?” asked Miss Claremont looking a little
doubtfully into her companion’s face; it was curiously beautiful this
morning, but not with the beauty of physical strength. Indeed Christine
had never looked capable of bearing any very great strain and the last
few days had taxed her powers to the utmost.

“I must get to work,” she said quietly. “There is no safety in idleness.
How odd it seems that a physical break-down comes generally through
overwork, and a moral break-down through too little work.”

“When must you leave us?” asked Miss Claremont.

“I think I had better go next week, and if you will keep Charlie a few
days longer I can settle into that flat in Victoria Street which I have
the refusal of. I shall manage very well there with my maid, and with
Dugald to wait on Charlie; it will be necessary to live a quiet life for
many reasons.”

Miss Claremont assented, nor was it possible to raise any objection
to her companion’s plans. But she could not help secretly wondering
whether, with all her good intentions, Christine was strong enough
either in health or in character to live a life so beset with
difficulties.



CHAPTER XXIX


“_It seems indeed one of the deepest of moral laws, that under the
stress of trial men will strongly tend at least to be whatever in
quieter hours they have made themselves._”--“The Spirit of Discipline.”

Dean Paget.

|December was now half over and Macneillie’s company had got as far as
Southampton in their progress along the south coast. It was no slight
pleasure to Ralph to find himself back in his old neighbourhood, and to
act in the very theatre where long ago his father had taken him to see
Washington in “The Bells.” He had heard nothing more from Mr. Marriott,
and Evereld’s letters contained no reference to business matters, but
were taken up with descriptions of life in the French country house, and
of the happy time she was having with Bride O’Ryan.

It happened one day that as there was no rehearsal Ralph was able to
walk over to Whinhaven. There were however very few of his old friends
left in the neighbourhood.

Sir John and Lady Tresidder were in India, pretty Mabel Tresidder had
married an officer and he had no idea of her present whereabouts, while
even in the village there were many changes. Langston his coast-guard
friend had got promotion and others had left the place or had died. He
felt like a returned ghost as he wandered about the well-known lanes,
and glanced at the familiar garden and at the unchanged outlines of the
Rectory. A little child was playing with a pet rabbit on the lawn
just as he had played in old times. He stood for a minute at the gate
watching it with a strange feeling at his heart which was not all pain,
but rather a sort of tender regret and a glad sense of gratitude for
a happy childhood of which no one could ever rob him. For the rest his
return was like all such returns. He found the church unaltered, the
houses bereft of some of their old inhabitants and the church-yard more
full.

Ralph however was not a man who liked to linger among graves, he stood
only for a minute by the tomb of his father and mother, and passed on
to that little nook in the park which they had always called the “goodly
heritage.” It was as beautiful as ever, even in leafless December. The
robins were singing blithely, the little brook rippled at the foot of
the steep descent, and an adventurous squirrel had stolen out of his
sleeping place to investigate his secret stores and to take a brief
scamper among the branches. Some day, Ralph thought to himself, he would
bring Evereld to see it all, and with that his thoughts travelled
away into a happy future, and as he walked back to the nearest station
regrets for the past were merged in the realisation that the best part
of his life was still before him, and that many of his dark days had
been lived through.

He was only just in time to catch the train and was hurriedly searching
for a place when he was startled to hear himself called by his Christian
name, and glancing round he saw someone beckoning to him from a carriage
at a little distance. The door was opened for him, he stepped in, and to
his amazement recognised in the dim light the well-known features of
his Godfather. There was no other occupant of the carriage and Ralph
remembering how they had parted at Rilchester would fain have beat a
retreat.

“You are going to Southampton?” asked Sir Matthew. “I heard Macneillie’s
company was there and I came partly for the sake of seeing you.”

“Do you bring news of Evereld?” asked Ralph eagerly.

“No,” said Sir Matthew, “she has succeeded in baffling me, you were right
there. It is to her wilfulness that all my misfortunes are due.”

Ralph bit his lip to keep back the retort that occurred to him. For
a minute the two looked at each other searchingly. Sir Matthew felt a
sinking of the heart as he noticed the angry light in his companion’s
eyes. Ralph on the other hand was perplexed by the pallor and dejection
of hiss Godfather’s face. The Company promoter seemed quite another man,
he looked old and broken, all his suavity of manner, his business-like,
capable air had vanished.

“I am ruined,” he said; “worse than ruined--I am disgraced. At any
moment I may be arrested unless I can succeed in leaving the country
unnoticed.”

Ralph listened to this startling announcement with an impassive face. He
hardened his heart against the man who had dealt harshly with him.

“I suppose it means,” he said, “that another of your Companies has
failed and that this time you have suffered yourself, besides ruining
hundreds as you ruined my father.”

“God knows how I regretted his losses,” said Sir Matthew and for the
time there was a ring of genuine feeling in his voice. “It was for that
reason I adopted you, that I educated you, that I took you straight to
my own home. Have you forgotten that?”

“Sir, you never gave me a chance of forgetting it,” said Ralph bitterly,
all his worst self called out by contact with this man whom he detested.
“Had I listened to your temptation I should now have been pledged to
become a money-grubbing priest, a trader in holy things, a disgrace to
the church.”

He pulled himself up, recollecting that he was not much to boast of
as it was--but a faulty, irritable mortal, full now of resentment, and
hatred and contemptuous anger.

“Perhaps you were right,” said Sir Matthew with a sigh. “I admit that I
was harsh with you that day, and you have a right to hit me now that I
am down.”

Ralph instantly responded to this appeal as the astute Sir Matthew had
calculated.

“Don’t let us speak of the past,” he said in an altered tone, “I owe you
my education and I try to be grateful for that. Why did you wish to see
me? What do you want with me?”

“We are almost at Southampton,” said Sir Matthew glancing at the lights
of the town. “Let me come to your rooms with you and I will there
explain matters. Is this St. Denys? They stop for tickets here I
suppose; have the goodness to give mine to the collector.”

He moved to the further end of the carriage and began to unstrap some
rugs from which he took a highland maud. He was still stooping over the
straps when the tickets wore collected. Then as soon as they moved on
once more he began to swathe himself elaborately in his tartan.

“Can I see you alone?” he inquired.

“Yes,” said Ralph, “I am usually with Mr. Maeneillie, but he has friends
in Southampton and is staying with them, so I happen to be quite alone.”

“All the better” said Sir Matthew a touch of his old manner returning to
him. “We will take a cab. I have only this gladstone with me.”

And accepting Ralph’s offer to carry his bag, he drew the tartan
carefully over the lower part of his face and crossed the platform
swiftly to the cabstand.

Ralph felt like one in a dream as they drove through the town to his
lodgings, and several times he recalled the day when as a child he had
last left Whinhaven, and Sir Matthew and he had sat thus side by side
driving through the crowded London streets to Queen Anne’s Gate.

The tables were turned indeed! It occurred to him even more strikingly
as he took Sir Matthew into his snug little sitting-room in Portland
Street and saw him warming his hands at the fire. Recollecting that
his Godfather was a great tea-drinker, he rang at once and ordered the
landlady to make some ready.

“That will be coals of fire on his head,” he thought to himself with
a smile as he recalled the afternoon when he had sat hungrily in Lady
Mactavish’s great drawingroom privileged only to hand cups to other
people.

Sir Matthew was curiously silent, and as he sat by the fire seemed
to care for nothing but the warmth and the food. By and bye, however,
glancing at his watch he seemed to remember that his time was limited.

“You are acting this evening?” he inquired.

“Yes,” said Ralph, “in the ‘Rivals.’ I must be at the theatre in three
quarters of an hour. Can you tell me now what you want with me?”

“I want your help,” said Sir Matthew. “At any moment I may be traced.
Though I hope I have eluded pursuit and set them on a wrong track one
can never tell in these days of telegrams and espionage. I don’t ask
much of you. All I want is this; go down to the agents’ and take a place
on board the Havre boat for to-night; let me shelter here until the
passengers are allowed to go on to the steamer and, since you are a
practised hand in making up, help me to disguise myself. I ask nothing
but this.”

The audacity of the request roused all Ralph’s angry resentment again.
He clenched his hands fiercely and began to pace up and down the room.

“You ask me to help you to escape,” he said indignantly, “when I am
certain that you richly deserve to be brought to justice!”

“I ask you,” replied Sir Matthew, “to help your Godfather in his great
need. To show a kindness to your father’s old friend.”

“You had no kindness for him,” said Ralph. “How can you--how _dare_ you
come to me. You who have desolated homes and broken hearts! Why there
are few things I should like better than to see you arrested and
properly punished.”

Sir Matthew’s face grew whiter.

“Would you betray me?” he said, “after I have trusted you?”

“No,” said Ralph indignantly, “certainly not. But I will not stir a
finger to help you. How can you expect me to forget the way in which you
have wronged Ever-eld?”

Sir Matthew’s keen eyes scrutinised him closely for a minute; he was
puzzled to know how much Ralph had learnt of the truth.

“Wronged her?” he said questioningly, “what do you mean?”

“I mean that you traded on her innocence and ignorance of the world;
that you tried by the most foul means to force her and frighten her into
marrying Bruce Wylie. That you drove her to escape from you, and that
but for the care and kindness of others she might have got into great
difficulties.”

A look of relief crossed Sir Matthew’s face. Ralph certainly did not
know that he had speculated with Ever-eld’s fortune and lost almost the
whole of it.

“You misjudge me,” he said assuming a tone of some dignity. “I cannot
explain matters to you, but I had the best intentions in desiring to
see Evereld safely married to Bruce Wylie. For the rest, it is highly
probable that you will have your wish. You may even see me arrested
to-night in Southampton. However I shall take good care not to remain
long in custody. It will be merely the change of foregoing the journey
to Havre and instead taking a much less costly ticket for a journey to
the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns.”

He stood up and began slowly to button his overcoat. The easy tone in
which he had made the quotation, and the look of quiet determination
on his set face made a very painful impression on Ralph. His anger died
away. Horror and perplexity suddenly overwhelmed him.

“What am I to do?” he thought desperately. “What would my father have
done? If it were possible to imagine a man like Macneillie coming with
such a request why I would shelter him and help him. Must I do as much
for a man I loathe. It would be more just to let him be arrested? Why
should I aid a guilty man to escape? It’s conniving at his wickedness.
But then again it’s true that I ate his bread for years. If he should
indeed take his own life I shall certainly wish I had helped him. Good
Heavens! how is a fellow to see the right and wrong of such a case?” He
looked round; Sir Matthew had folded his plaid about him and now moved
towards the door.

“Good-bye Ralph,” he said, “many thanks for your hospitality.” But Ralph
though he mechanically took the proffered hand spoke no farewell,
merely held the hand in his grasp while over his curiously mobile face a
hundred lights and shades succeeded one another.

“Wait,” he said at length, “I cannot let you go like that, Sir Matthew.”
 His perplexity and distress were so genuine that for the first time in
all their intercourse the Company Promoter felt a sort of liking for
this boy whom he had wronged and patronised, snubbed and educated,
scolded and secretly hated. He saw that Ralph had all his father’s
gentleness and generosity, but a good deal more strength and warmth of
temperament than the Rector had ever possessed.

In dire suspense he waited to know his fate. There was a silence of
some minutes; then Ralph, who had moved across to the fireplace and had
wrestled out his problem with arms propped on the mantelpiece and face
hidden, lifted up his head and once more met the gaze of his father’s
old friend. Sir Matthew was astonished to see that he looked pale and
haggard with the struggle he had passed through.

“I will try to help you,” he said simply.

“Then,” said Sir Matthew with warmth, “I am justified in having come to
you. You are--as I thought--your father’s son. You are a true Denmead.”

Ralph for the life of him could not help laughing at the words. “You
told me that in a different tone at Eilchester,” he remarked. “The
Denmeads, I think you were good enough to say, were always unpractical
fools, aiming at impossible ideals. I was angry then, but after all
perhaps you are right. I believe I am a fool to help you, but just
because you have so wronged us in the past I am afraid to refuse lest
there should be anything of private spite or revenge in the refusal.
What class do you wish to travel? I will go at once for your ticket.”

“Take a second return to Havre, it may be a precaution,” said Sir
Matthew. “The steamer does not leave I think till 11.45. I did not come
down by the boat train for that might very probably have been watched.
How about disguise?”

“I will go to the theatre on my way back to you,” said Ralph, “and bring
a grey beard which I think is all that will be needed.”

He hurried off, for there was not very much time to spare. Now that his
decision was made he was comparatively at rest, and as he sped along
the dark streets his thoughts went back to Whinhaven and all the quiet
familiar scenes he had just visited. It was strange that Sir Matthew
should have encountered him just as he returned from his old home, and
perhaps, if the truth were known, the Company Promoter might never have
gained his help had it not been for the softening influence of that
visit to the old Rectory and the “goodly heritage.”

Having secured the ticket, he made his way to the theatre, where, early
though it was, Macneillie had already arrived and was discussing
some knotty question with the assistant stage manager and the master
carpenter. Ralph slipped by them and ran up to his dressing-room,
unearthed the beard he wanted from his dress-basket, tucked his make-up
box under his arm and hastened away.

“Where are you off to?” said Macneillie.

“Back again in ten minutes, Governor,” he replied.

It was no use now to reflect how little he liked doing the work he had
undertaken, and indeed when he was again in his own room a sort of pity
for his godfather stirred once more in his heart. Sir Matthew was so
broken down, so aged by all that he had gone through! The nervous haste
with which he took the ticket, the hurried questions he put, were so
unlike the hard business man of old times, that it was impossible not to
feel some compassion for one who was the mere wreck of his former self.

Utterly exhausted by the high pressure at which he had lately been
living, the sham philanthropist sat by the fire and allowed himself to
be done for like a child, watching with a strange sort of admiration
Ralph’s intent face as with deft touches to the eyebrows and
accentuating of certain wrinkles, he entirely transformed him. When the
process of fixing on the beard with spirit-gum was over and he looked at
himself in the glass Sir Matthew hardly recognised his own features, and
saw before him a man at least twenty years his senior.

“Stoop a little more,” said Ralph. “That is better. Now I don’t think
even Lady Mactavish would know you.”

Sir Matthew sighed heavily.

“It’s mostly for her sake that I care to escape to-night,” he said with
a touch of real feeling in his manner. “She will always be grateful to
you, Ralph, for helping me.”

“I will order them to bring you some dinner at eight,” said Ralph, “and
if you like I can drive down to the docks with you at eleven or a little
after.”

Sir Matthew caught at this suggestion, and Ralph having finished his
work at the theatre, refused two or three invitations to supper and
hurried back to wind up the most curious service he had yet been called
upon to render to any man.

“Don’t think too harshly of me,” said Sir Matthew as they drove down
to the starting-place of the Havre steamer. “Remember that I always
expected the speculation to succeed, that I still think I could have
recovered myself if only things had not all conspired against me at the
same time. You Denmeads can’t understand the temptations that assail an
average man in the city. You were born without the love of money in you,
and whatever happens you are always strictly honourable. Some men are
made so. Had I not felt implicit trust in you how should I dare have put
myself now in your power? You own that you would like to sec me arrested
and punished, but I know that you won’t betray me for all that.”

“I don’t wish to see you punished now,” said Ralph, “and of course I
can’t betray you. But perhaps the best way after all would be for you to
give yourself up to justice.”

Sir Matthew broke into a laugh.

“You might be your father sitting there and talking! It’s exactly what
he would have said. My dear fellow your ideals are above me, and they
are about as little likely to be adopted by ordinary men of the world as
the ideals in Plato’s republic. I shall certainly not give myself up.
I shall instead try my very best, for the sake of others, to recoup my
losses and to start afresh.”

A curiously sanguine look crept over his worn face, and Ralph felt
certain that like a gambler he would return as soon as possible to his
great game of speculation, very likely persuading himself, with the ease
of one who has posed hypocritically for many years, that he did it all
from the purest philanthropic motives.

“You had better not come on board with me,” he said as they drew near to
the docks. “And on the whole perhaps I had better not take this tartan
with me, it is too marked. I will bequeath it to you. Good-bye Ralph.
Many thanks to you for what you have done for me.”

With the first hearty grip of the hand he had ever given his godson
he bade him farewell and passing up the gangway on board the steamer
disappeared from view. The cold wintry wind came sweeping over the
water; Ralph shivered and was glad enough to wrap the highland maud
about him as he paced up and down watching to see the actual start of
the Havre boat.

There was a bustle of arrival as the passengers were transferred from
the boat train; he stood in the shadow watching them, and apparently
another man, unobtrusively dressed, was engaged in the same occupation.
Ralph felt sure that the fellow was a detective; he folded the plaid
more closely about his mouth and pulled his hat over his eyes; the man
furtively glanced at him and drew a few steps nearer, whereupon the
spirit of mischief and love of acting overcame all other recollections,
and Ralph as though most desirous of eluding pursuit, slipped quietly
away into the darkness and vanished in the crowd. The detective, with
all his suspicions aroused, gave chase, but presently coming to a place
where two streets branched off, was baffled for a moment.

In a deep porch of one of the houses close by, a young man stood
bareheaded, sheltering a flickering fusee with his hat while he tried to
light his pipe.

“Seen a man wrapped in a plaid go by this way?” asked the detective
panting.

“He has not gone past here,” said Ralph coolly.

The man took the other street and just at that moment the sounding of
a steam whistle and the chiming of a clock in a neighbouring house told
Ralph that it was a quarter to twelve and that the boat for Havre was
safely underweigh.

He quietly picked up the highland maud from the well shaded corner
of the porch where it had been snugly tucked behind a pillar, and
then walked back to Portland Street musing over Sir Matthew’s fate and
wondering what news the morning would bring.



CHAPTER XXX


               “O, gear will buy me rigs o’ land,

               And gear will buy me sheep and kye;

               But the tender heart o’ leesome luve,

               The gowd and siller canna buy.

               We may be poor--Robie and I;

               Light is the burden luve lays on,

               Content and luve bring peace and joy,

               What mair hae queens upon a throne?”--Burns.

|Ralph slept late the next day and only escaped a fine at Rehearsal by
the merciful rule which permitted ten minutes’ grace.

“You have done it by the skin of your teeth,” said Macneillie with a
laugh, “but of course you found the newspaper absorbing.”

“I have not even seen it. What is the news?”

“There’s a warrant out for the arrest of Sir Matthew Maetavish on a
charge of swindling, and Mr. Bruce Wylie they say is already in Holloway
gaol having been arrested last night.”

“Good heavens!” said Ralph, “Bruce Wylie in prison!”

“What matters more,” said Macneillie, “is that some South African
company of which they were the leading directors has failed. And this
following closely on the failure of that other Company with which they
were connected will probably cause more failures to follow. Thousands
will be ruined. Mr. Marriott was right enough when he darkly hinted to
you that startling revelations were in store. Well we must get to work.
What a mercy it is that Miss Ewart is safely out of her guardian’s
power.”

A sudden panic seized Ralph. What if Sir Matthew were to come across
Evereld in France? He had no idea whereabouts she was but for the first
time he wondered whether any possible scheme for getting her again into
his power could have occurred to the Company Promoter.

On the previous night such a thought had never entered his head, he
had adopted the more reasonable conclusion that Sir Matthew chose Havre
merely as a possible starting place for America or some distant
port where he could safely shelter. It needed all his patience and
selfcontrol to wait through the tedious rehearsal, and the instant he
was free he ran to the telegraph office and begged Mr. Marriott to send
him tidings as soon as possible with regard to Evereld.

The answer set him at rest before the evening’s performance. Evereld was
safe and well and Mr. Marriott begged that Ralph would if possible
spend the following Sunday at his house since there were many things to
discuss.

It was now only Wednesday so he had still some time to wait, but the
worst of his suspense was over and it was with a very buoyant heart that
early on Sunday morning he presented himself at the old lawyer’s house.
After a pleasant breakfast with the kindly ladies who had always taken
an interest in his career, he was carried off to the study by Mr.
Marriott for a business talk.

“I asked you to come up to town,” said the lawyer, “because you have a
right to know the whole truth of things. Sir Matthew Mactavish was not
only a scheming speculator, he was a fraudulent trustee. Miss Ewart’s
affairs were entirely in his hands, and Bruce Wylie her solicitor aided
and abetted the speculations which have dissipated her fortune.”

“The brutes!” said Ralph. “Still I can forgive them that. It’s their
abominable scheme for trapping her into a marriage that I can’t
forgive.”

“Perhaps you hardly realise things yet,” said the lawyer, “I mean
exactly what I say. Instead of being an heiress she has now nothing
whatever left but a couple of hundred a year which, being her mother’s
property, and in the funds, could not be tampered with.”

“If she is much troubled about it I am sorry,” said Ralph. “But
personally I don’t care a straw. No one will be able to say now that
I was running after her fortune. How soon do you think we might be
married? There is nothing to wait for now.”

“Well, you will have to get the leave of the Lord Chancellor, but I
don’t suppose he will disapprove,” said the lawyer with a smile, “if you
are in a position to support a wife that is. I can’t see any objection
to your marrying before long if Miss Ewart desires it. Go and talk it
over with Mr. Hereford, she is under his guardianship and he is in town
till to-morrow evening.”

“What good luck,” said Ralph. “I will go round at once and try to catch
him before he goes out.”

“Very well. We shall meet again later on then,” said the old lawyer
kindly. “We can put you up for the night and then you can let me know
what arrangement you and Mr. Hereford have arrived at. I will walk
round with you to Grosvenor Square; these bright frosty mornings are
tempting.”

Ralph received a friendly greeting from Max Hereford who was amused by
his extreme haste and anxiety to win the Lord Chancellor’s consent to
his marriage with Ever-eld.

“You see, we have been practically engaged for several months,” he
argued, “and I shall never have a moment’s peace about her while she is
drifting about the world. Who can tell whether we have heard the last
of Sir Matthew Mactavish even now! It’s unbearable to think that I don’t
even know where she is.”

“Well I can set you at rest on that point,” said Max Hereford laughing.
“She is on her way to Ireland, and my wife will take the greatest care
of her.”

“She has left France?”

“Yes, I went myself to bring her home and my sister-in-law came with
her. Dermot will spend the winter in the south and I am taking the two
girls across to Dublin to-morrow night. They are here now.”

Ralph’s face was a sight to see.

“You must talk to her and find out what her wishes are,” said his host
pleasantly. “I am the last man to advise a prolonged engagement. And
since Marriott has told you that Miss Ewart is no longer an heiress but
has been robbed by those precious scoundrels of almost the whole of her
fortune, I think it only remains for you two to decide upon your
own course of action, subject of course to the approval of the Lord
Chancellor. She shall always find a home with us, as she very well
knows, if you think it advisable to wait.”

“I don’t think it advisable,” said Ralph eagerly. “But of course I must
ask whether she is really willing to put up with the discomforts of a
wandering life.”

“I will go and find her,” said Max Hereford, “and you can have an
interview in peace.”

Evereld and Bride were in the great drawing-room, both looking rather
pale and tired after their long journey.

“Time to go to church?” asked Bride with a portentous yawn.

“No my dear, you would only go to sleep,” he said teasingly, “as your
brother-in-law and Evereld’s guardian I strictly prohibit church-going
this morning. Rest and be thankful, and don’t forget that you will be
travelling all to-morrow night. Evereld, if you have energy enough for
the interview, Mr. Marriott has sent someone round on business. Should
you mind just going down to the library? He wants to put a few questions
to you.” Evereld started up, looking rather nervous.

“How odd of him to come about business on a Sunday morning,” she said.
“I hope he is not an alarming sort of person. Will you not come down
with me?”

“Well I think on the whole you had better be alone,” said Max Hereford
with profound gravity. “I always think it is a mistake to have a third
person at an interview. I should only make you more nervous.”

She said no more, but set off bravely for what to her was no slight
ordeal, her first business interview.

The touch of dignity, which even as a child she had possessed, was more
noticeable now in the poise of her head and in her whole manner; but
the face was not in the least altered: it was the same sweet gentle face
which had for so long reigned in Ralph’s heart.

He sprang up to greet her, and Evereld with a joyous laugh ran towards
him.

“Oh, Ralph! is it you?” she eried, radiant with happiness. “What a
tease Mr. Hereford is! He told me it was someone from Mr. Marriott on
business!”

Ralph laughed as he released her from his embrace. “We have not begun
in a very business like way!” he said, “but it is quite true that I
have come from Mr. Marriott’s house. He has been telling me of this
fraudulent trustee who has treated you so shamefully. Are you very angry
with those two rogues? How does it feel to be robbed of a fortune?”

“It feels anything but pleasant,” said Evereld warmly. “But what I find
it hardest to forgive is the hypocrisy. Of course it is sad to think
that the money which my father and grandfather earned by such hard work
has all been wasted, specially as I thought it would have been useful to
you some day. Do you realise, dear, that I shall be quite poor?”

“I don’t care a fig about that,” said Ralph. “But when I remember that
those vile knaves nearly succeeded in trapping you into a marriage which
must have been lifelong misery to you, then--well, I feel like killing.”

“But they never did nearly succeed, Ralph,” she said slipping her hand
into his. “I would have died sooner than marry Bruce Wylie. Oh, how
good it is to be here with you, and quite safe! That time at Glion was
dreadful.”

“Do you know that you at nineteen have baffled two of the cleverest
rogues of the present time?” said Ralph. “It is delicious to think of
that. How did you think of such a plan and carry it out so pluckily?”

“I don’t know how,” said Evereld. “But I knew that somehow I must get
away out of their power. Then, when, I was so very unhappy this thought
suddenly came to me of Bride O’Ryan and Aimée Magnay in Auvergne, and
after that it was all quite simple--except, indeed, the Continental
Bradshaw which nearly drove me distracted!”

“You told me in your letter about that jolly old priest who took care of
you. We must go and see him some day. I should like to thank him.”

“Yes, I should so like you to see him, and you must go to Mabillon. It
is such a dear old place. I have grown to love it almost as if it were
my own home.”

“Don’t you think we ought now to come to the business part of the
interview?” said Ralph with a mirthful glance. “Do you think, darling,
that you are really willing to become the wife of an actor who has still
to fight his way up the ladder? Remember that as yet you are quite free,
that there is no engagement even between us.”

“The engagement really began for me that Sunday at Southbourne,” said
Evereld shyly.

“And for me, too,” said Ralph. “But think once more, darling, and try
to realise what it will mean. Ours will have to be, at any rate for some
time, a wandering life. For Macneillie has been so very good to me that
I must stay with him and try to repay him a little for all his training.
Even if a London engagement were to be offered me, and that is not
likely, I should feel bound to stay with him as long as he cares to have
me.”

“Oh, yes of course,” said Evereld. “Why, we owe everything to him! I
wonder if he would like------” she broke off rather abruptly.

“What were you going to propose?” said Ralph trying to read her face.
There was a wistful look in it now which he did not understand.

“Only I have felt so dreadfully sorry for him since the Fenchureh Case.
Of course I heard people talking about it, and I can’t help fancying
that he must still care for Miss Greville.”

“Yes,” said Ralph. “It is very rough on him.”

“I shouldn’t like to take you away from him, Ralph,” she continued,
“specially just now, for I could sec quite well at Southbourne that you
are almost like a son to him; you don’t know what things he said about
you when you were talking to Mrs. Hereford that morning. He would miss
you dreadfully. Do you think we could still be in the same house with
him when we are married? Or should I bother him?”

“I don’t think you would be likely to do that,” said Ralph smiling.
“When I tell him about our marriage I will see how the land lies.
I wonder, darling, whether you will be able to put up with all the
discomforts of life in a travelling company?”

“Why it will be the greatest fun!” cried Evereld.

“Well, I have found it a very jolly life, but, you know, wayfaring
men naturally have to put up with some discomforts. You will find the
endless packing and unpacking, and the settling into fresh lodgings once
a week an awful bore.”

“But I shall have you, dear,” she said happily. “And nothing else will
matter much.”

“Then it only remains for us to win the Lord Chancellor’s consent and to
tell Macneillie, and find out when he can spare me for a few days. You
won’t make me wait long will you?”

“I think Parliament meets on the 5th,” said Evereld, “and we are to come
back from Ireland in the first week of February. I know the Hereford’s
will let me be married from this house, and we will have a quiet
wedding. You see we are both of us alone in the world; except the
Harriotts and Mr. Macneillie there is really no one to ask, for of
course the Mactavishs will keep away from town for some time to come.”

“I wonder what will become of poor Lady Mactavish,” said Ralph. “I fancy
she has something of her own, so as far as money goes she will be all
right. But how she will feel the disgrace!”

“I’m not at all sure,” said Evereld, “that now real trouble has
overtaken her she won’t give up grumbling. If not I am sorry for Janet
for she will have to bear the brunt of it. Oh, Ralph! what a strange
world it is! Only last spring the Mactavishs seemed at the very height
of their prosperity, and were so enchanted about Minnie’s engagement,
and now here is Sir Matthew ruined and disgraced, and Bruce Wylie in
prison.”

“Well,” said Ralph, “it’s a much better fate than the one they tried to
force upon you. It’s not of them I think, but of the thousands they have
cruelly injured: if you had seen your father die of a broken heart as I
saw mine, you would think prison and exile a very light punishment for
those cursed speculators.”

“Yes,” assented Evereld, “it was more of the suddenness of the change I
was thinking. Last spring, too, you were tramping through Scotland, ill
and half starved, and now----”

“Now I am the happiest man in the world,” said Ralph his face aglow with
ardent love.

And after that they forgot all the troubles of the past and sat weaving
delicious plans for the future, and enjoying to the full the happy
present.

The next day Ralph rejoined the company in the Isle of Wight and in the
evening, when supper was over, he with some trepidation told his story
to the Manager.

Macncillie had of late been very silent and depressed and Ralph hated
having to speak of his own happiness to one Who was in the depths of
dejection. However with an effort he broke the ice.

“I saw Miss Ewart’s new guardian Mr. Hereford in town,” he began, “and
it seems that almost the whole of her fortune has been lost by that
swindling trustee of hers. She has nothing left but a couple of hundred
a year which luckily was tied up and out of Sir Matthew’s reach.”

“The scoundrel!” exclaimed Macncillie, “so he had the audacity to put
her fortune into his rotten companies I suppose?”

“Yes. However it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good. The fortune is
gone but so is Sir Matthew, and the new guardian permits our engagement
and sees no reason why it should be a long one, he is distantly related
to the Lord Chancellor and thinks he will consent to our being married
shortly.”

“And what does Miss Ewart say? have you heard from her?”

“I have seen her, she was passing through London on her way to Ireland.
Well, she talked very sensibly about the money, had hoped it might be
useful to us, but chiefly looked on it in my fashion as a hindrance to
our immediate marriage now safely removed.”

Macneillie’s grave face was suddenly convulsed with merriment. He
laughed aloud at this view of the case.

“Was there ever such a couple of babies!” he said. “Pray how do you mean
to live?”

“On my salary to be sure,” said Ralph, “and on the two hundred which
Evereld has left.”

“You are over young yet to get much of a salary in London, and, even if
we succeeded in getting you an engagement there, who can tell how long
you would be secure of keeping it? Then living and rent is much higher
in London, and Miss Ewart has never been used to anything except the
very best.”

“But why do you speak of London?” said Ralph. “Do you mean to give me
the sack, Governor, if I marry?”

Macneillie turned and looked at him in some surprise.

“I naturally concluded that having gained some experience with me you
meant to go off at the earliest opportunity. That is the way of the
world. You don’t mean that you intend to bring your wife to travel with
us?”

“Why not? It is often done. Harden’s wife used to go about with him,
they say.”

“Oh, of course it is often done, but after the sort of life Miss Ewart
has been accustomed to----”

Ralph broke in eagerly.

“We talked it over very carefully, I told her exactly what it would be
like, and she is only longing for the fun of it all. Indeed she made a
very audacious proposal.”

“What was that?” said Macneillie pleased and interested in spite of
himself.

“Her old hero worship of you is as keen as ever, she thinks nothing
would be more delightful than to house-keep for you, and pour out the
tea--women always think they do those things best--It’s quite a mistake!
Then, too, she has a notion that you might miss me if we went off into
rooms by ourselves. I told her that was nonsense.”

“No,” said Macneillie, “it’s true enough, my boy. I should miss you very
much. But all the same I hardly know whether it is fair to you both to
spoil the early days of your married life. I am growing a very ‘dour’
sort of man and that’s a fact.”

“You have been a second father to me,” said Ralph, “and Evereld knows
that: so if, as she says, we shall not bother you----”

Macneillie laughed. “If she can put up with a ‘dour’ man as third
fiddle, and promise to speak the truth when his playing jars too much
with your harmony I should like nothing better than to have you both
with me. To tell the truth Ralph I dread being alone just now. By the
bye, have you heard Jack Carrington say anything about his part in the
new play? Brinton had a notion he didn’t take to it.”

“Yes, I heard him say it didn’t suit him,” said Ralph. “I don’t see why.
It seems to me rather a decent part.”

“I’m not at all sure that he will renew his engagement,” said
Macneillie. “And if he leaves, why there is no reason at all why you
should not become Juvenile Lead, and I could raise your salary to five
pounds a week. However that is between ourselves. As for Carrington he
has been with me three years and is likely enough to get a good berth
somewhere before long. When do you two hope to be married?”

“Early in the spring if possible,” said Ralph.

“Well, I would never counsel a long engagement,” said Macneillie with
a sigh. “You are not obeying the advice of Mrs. Siddons but, after all,
there are exceptions to every rule, and Miss Ewart is one of a thousand.
By the bye, I never told you--little Miss Ivy Grant wrote to ask if
I could give her an engagement and I have offered her the part of the
French girl. She seems to me to have exactly the face for it.”

“Oh, it will suit her down to the ground!” said Ralph looking pleased.
“I am glad poor Ivy has left the Delaines, she was too good for them.
Evereld will be glad that she is to be one of the Company.”



CHAPTER XXXI


               “So let my singing say to you,

                   ‘Our hearts are pilgrims going home;

                   Love’s kingdom shall most surely come

               To all who seek Love’s will to do.’”

                        “Daydreams.”--A. Gurney.

|In the course of the next four months Ralph’s powers of letter-writing
improved amazingly, and thanks to those love letters and to the bright
merry life in the Hereford household Evereld’s engagement proved a happy
one although she and her lover could only spend two Sundays together
during the whole time. They knew each other so well already however
that there was no risk of any misunderstanding between them, and the
waiting-time was too short to be very irksome.

As for Bride O’Ryan she proved herself a friend worth having, threw
herself into all Evereld’s interests with delightful eagerness, and
teased her just enough to add a little salt to the entertainment.

The Lord Chancellor kept them for some time in suspense, and furnished
Bride with endless food for merriment. “He is a very formidable
guardian,” she protested, “and when once you get into his clutches it’s
very hard indeed to get out again. I wonder you dared to appeal to him.”

“It was the only thing to be done,” said Evereld, “but I do wish he
would be quick and give his consent.”

“I have always heard,” said Bride provokingly, “that when once things
get into chancery they stay there for years and years. Remember how it
was in _Bleak House_.”

“Well at any rate Mrs. Hereford says the Lord Chancellor is most
kindhearted,” said Evereld. “And I know he is fond of reading novels,
so he ought to take an interest in the romances of real life. And
particularly he ought to like Ralph, for they say he himself had
dreadful struggles at the beginning of his career when he was a young
barrister on circuit.”

However at length the consent was given and it was arranged that, as
Macneillie’s company were not giving any performances in Holy Week,
Ralph and Evereld should be married on Palm Sunday.

Evereld like a wise little woman was determined not to waste her
substance in the purchase of a trousseau which would be an endless
trouble in their wandering life.

“I have plenty of clothes already,” she protested. “All I shall need is
a nice warm cloak in which I can walk to the theatre in the evening--a
respectable dark sort of garment--and of course my wedding dress; I
won’t be a frumpy bride in a travelling costume.”

“No, have a gown like the bride in Blair Leighton’s picture ‘Called to
arms,’” said Ralph who had come up from Bristol to spend a Sunday at the
Hereford’s directly they had returned to London. “It’s a thousand times
prettier than any of the ugly modern fashions.”

Evereld did not know the picture but she promised to do her best to copy
it, and with the help of a clever American maid of Mrs. Hereford’s, and
Bridget’s ready assistance, and the advice of all the female members of
the household, her skilful fingers succeeded in turning out a very good
reproduction of “the artist’s design at about a fifth of the cost of an
ordinary wedding dress.

“Even had I not lost my money,” she said to Bride, “I don’t think I
could have borne to spend much just on clothes when so many people are
ruined and half starving from the failure of all these companies.”

That was the greatest shadow that was cast over the happiness of the two
lovers. The appalling accounts of the trouble caused by Sir Matthew’s
wrong doing, the knowledge that many of the victims had literally died
from the shock, that many more had lost their reason, that thousands
were reduced to dire poverty and distress could not but affect them.

Evereld was touched too by a very kindly but sad letter from Lady
Mactavish. It contained one sentence which puzzled her not a little.

“What does Lady Maetavish mean by speaking of the help you gave Sir
Matthew?” she enquired, a week before their wedding day, as she and
Ralph sat together in the library where in December they had had that
first “business interview.”

“What does she say about it?” asked Ralph.

“Here is her letter, it is a message to you;--‘Tell Ralph that I shall
never cease to be grateful to him for the help he gave my husband. It
saved his life.”

“Well,” said Ralph, “I suppose I am free to speak of it since she
mentioned it to you. He came to me at Southampton, indeed I met him on
my way back from Whinhaven,” and going through the whole story he made
her understand exactly what had taken place. “To this day I don’t know
whether I did right. But if the same thing were to happen again I should
still probably help him. It was the dread of letting one’s private
hatred and resentment bias one against helping a desperate man. As a
matter of fact he has by no means escaped punishment by escaping from
England. I don’t believe there is a corner of the earth where he will
long remain unmolested. He will lead a miserable, hunted life far worse
than the life Bruce Wylie leads in gaol, and with nothing really to look
forward to. But I think he was in earnest when he said that night he
would put an end to himself if they arrested him. And I have never
regretted the little I did to shield him from discovery.”

“You wouldn’t have been yourself if you had acted differently,” said
Evereld. “But it must have been hard work to decide.”

“I hope I may never again have such a decision to make,” said Ralph.
“And all the time there was the maddening remembrance of what he had
made you suffer. What a strange, complex character he had: there was
a sort of greatness about him all the time. I suppose that was how he
deceived people in such an extraordinary way,--he managed to deceive
himself. Even now a sort of panic seizes me lest he should somehow
interfere between us. I shall never feel at rest about you till we are
safely married.”

“Next Sunday,” she whispered. “Where shall you be all this week?”

“At Manchester,” he replied “and as ill luck will have it there is a
matinée of the new play and an evening performance of ‘Much Ado’ next
Saturday. However there will be plenty of time to sleep in the train,
and I will meet you somewhere for the early service.”

“Let it be at the Abbey then, that seems specially to belong to us.
Bride and I often go there and we can meet you just by the Baptistry at
the west end.”

“What time is the wedding to be? I have not even learnt that yet,” he
said laughing.

“Mrs. Hereford arranged that it should be at two, that will leave us
plenty of time to catch our train, and I have not told anyone where we
mean to go. That is our secret.”

“Yes, we will keep that dark,” said Ralph. “Otherwise it may be creeping
into the papers. Did you see there was a paragraph about Sir Matthew
Mactavish’s late ward in yesterday’s ‘Veracity’?”

“Yes. We couldn’t help laughing over it, but I hope Janet and Minnie
won’t see it. Oh, Ralph! what a nightmare the past is to look back on!
and how happy and safe I am with you!”.

Now that all was arranged, she seemed perfectly at rest, able even
to enjoy all the manifold little plans and the cheerful bustle
that heralded the wedding-day. But Ralph down at Manchester spent a
feverishly anxious week, and found it difficult indeed to concentrate
his mind on his work. Most managers would have lost all patience
with him, but Macneillie with the genial breadth of mind and the rare
patience that characterised him took it all very quietly, and perhaps in
his secret soul rather enjoyed the sight of such unusual and unsullied
enthusiasm.

By the time Saturday arrived, Ralph had become very “ill to live with.”
 He wandered about the house imagining that he was busy packing but
contriving to forget half his possessions. He could hardly stir
without singing or whistling, and he would have neglected to put in an
appearance at “Treasury” if Macneillie himself had not reminded him.

“You are like your namesake Sir Ralph the Rover,” said the manager, who
had been answering his correspondence as well as he could to a running
accompaniment of Ralph’s voice.

               “He felt the cheering’ power of spring,

                   It made him whistle, it made him sing--“

“We won’t finish the quotation. But my dear fellow you will be quite
played out to-morrow if you go on at this rate.”

“How about the train?” said Ralph. “That’s the thing that bothers me.
Shall we ever get through to-night in time to catch the mail?”

“For pity’s sake don’t begin to fuss about that already!” said
Macneillie with a comical expression about the corners of his mouth.
“It’s a mercy that marrying and giving in marriage are not every-day
occurrences or a manager’s life would not be worth living.”

“I’ll promise never to do it again, Governor,” said Ralph with mock
penitence.

“Well well,” said Macneillie with a patient shrug of the shoulders,
“it all comes in the day’s work. You will understand now how to render
Claudio’s words ‘Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites.’”

Ralph thought it extremely obnoxious of the Manchester folk to have
petitioned for a performance of “Much ado about Nothing” on this
particular day, and though he acted Claudio very well it was always
to him an uncongenial character. Macneillie’s Benedick was however
considered one of his best parts and though perhaps he enjoyed playing
it as little just then as Ralph enjoyed going through the wedding scene
on the eve of his own marriage, he was the last man to let his private
feelings interfere with his work either as actor or as manager.

The play was carefully rendered, and after a most uncomfortable rush and
scramble, Ralph, thanks chiefly to the help of his many friends in the
company, found himself at the station just as the Scotch mail steamed
up to the platform. Whether Macneillie would arrive in time seemed
doubtful, however as the guard’s whistle sounded he emerged from the
booking office, and with his usual imperturbably grave face sprang in
while the train moved off.

Ivy Grant and Myra Brinton had packed up a most tempting little supper
for the two and had taken care to see that it was not forgotten in the
hurry of the last moment; and Macneillie, who always retained the power
of enjoying a holiday under any circumstances, proved a very genial
companion until the advent of another passenger at Crewe, when they
relapsed into silence and settled down to sleep.

The night was stormy; torrents of rain washed the windows, and the wind
howled and moaned as the train sped on through the darkness. Ralph tried
in vain to follow the example of his two companions who, quite oblivious
of their surroundings slept composedly through all the din. He was far
too much excited to lose consciousness even for a minute. The carriage
lamp was shaded and, in the dim light, visions of Evereld kept rising
before him.

She was a little girl once more, in a black frock, and with soft, bright
hair falling about her shoulders.

“Are you not hungry?” she said to him confidentially as they stood
together, strangers and yet somehow already friends, in a drearily grand
London drawing-room.

Again she was sitting beside him on the stairs, a fairylike little
figure in white, eating ice pudding supplied to them by the goodnatured
Geraghty. “I somehow think your father and mine will be talking together
to-night?” she said, her sweet blue eyes looking as though they could
see right into that spirit world of which she spoke.

On thundered the train, and yet another vision rose before Ralph. He was
in Westminster Abbey and there before him he suddenly saw a face which
took his heart by storm--the face of his old playfellow grown into
gentle gracious womanhood. Then the same face, but with wistful love-lit
eyes was lifted up to his outside the house in Queen Anne’s Gate
kindling hope in his heart and filling him with a glow of happiness
which had carried him through the pain of the parting. These same
love-lit eyes and a yet more wonderful response of soul to soul rose in
vision before him as he recalled a certain summer afternoon by the sea
shore. What did it matter to him that the cold spring wind raged round
the carriage piercing every crevice, or that the hail-stones rattled
angrily against the glass! He was far away from it all, seeing blue
waves and the mellow brown side of a boat and Evereld’s blushing face.
The memory of that August day lasted him all the rest of the way to
London; then in the chilly dawn they made their way to the nearest
hotel, where the order of things was reversed for Ralph at last fell
sound asleep on a sofa in the reading room and it was Macneillie who was
wakeful and saw visions of the past--visions that he dared not dwell
upon because with them there came the maddening recollection that he was
close to Christine, that it would be the easiest thing in the world, yet
the most fatal, to go that afternoon and call upon her. What was she
doing? How did she struggle on in the difficult life on which she had
embarked? All the craving to know, all the longing to serve her must be
crushed down in his heart. Alone she must dree her weird. Alone he must
bear the anguish of her pain and his own bitter loss.

Almost involuntarily, those hard views of God from which years ago
he had been rescued by Thomas Erskine’s book “The Spiritual Order,”
 returned now to him, flooding his mind with rebellious thoughts.

Why did all this misery come to him? Why were the mistakes and sins of
others visited upon him? Why were the ways of God so unequal? Other men
prospered. Other men had the desire of their hearts granted. Why was he
for ever to be thwarted? For years he knew that he had made strenuous
efforts to live uprightly, yet there seemed nothing before him but
sorrow; while over yonder there was a mere boy of one and twenty about
to gain after the briefest of struggles the woman he loved.

The Tempter had however defeated his own object by introducing the
thought of Ralph Denmead. Macneillie’s heart was too large for jealousy
to harbour in it. Jealousy can only rest long and comfortably in narrow,
and cramped hearts where self love and petty absorption in trifles has
contracted the space.

As he glanced across the room he saw that the sunlight was streaming
full upon the sleeper, he got up and lowered the blind pausing for a
minute by the sofa to look at his companion. Ralph was sound asleep, and
his untroubled, boyish face was worth looking at if only for its peace.
To Macneillie it suggested many thoughts.

He remembered his first impression of Ralph, lying in the last stage of
misery on the banks of the Leny, and he delighted to think that partly
by his add the lad had battled through his difficulties and had got his
foot firmly planted on the ladder of success.

There is nothing so strange in life as the manner in which a kindly deed
re-acts in a thousand subtle ways on the doer. And now, as had been the
ease before, Mac-neillie was lured back to life by the one he had helped
long ago. The hard thoughts passed, he stood there in the bright spring
morning strong once more in the belief that the eternal patience of the
All-Father schools each son in the best possible way.

Sitting down to the writing-table he filled up a couple of hours with
answering the letters of the previous day, then when the time came,
set off with Ralph to the Abbey and finding the way to the Baptistry
unbarred waited there beside the busts of Maurice and Kingsley, lifted
a degree nearer to that Light and Love of which their epitaphs spoke by
the struggle he had just passed through.

They were joined here by Mrs. Hereford, Bride, and Evereld, and
Macneillie thought he had never seen anything more winning than
Evereld’s eager welcome of her lover. He felt very much in harmony with
their happiness as they all went together into the choir, and indeed
throughout the day the depression which had overwhelmed him since he had
received the bad news at Brighton was banished by the unalloyed bliss of
the two who were just stepping into their goodly heritage of mutual love
and companionship.

It was a thoroughly unconventional wedding with merely the merry Irish
family in the house, with Bride and the two little Hereford girls for
bridesmaids, and Macneillie and an old school fellow who had returned
from Canada just in time to be Ralph’s best man, as the only outsiders.

Of course, when at two o’clock they drove to the church, it was crowded
with spectators, for the marriage of the heiress who had been defrauded
of her fortune by Sir Matthew Mactavish had found its inevitable
way into the hands of the paragraph-mongers. But then, as Macneillie
remarked, a marriage ought to take place before a congregation, and it
would have been a thousand pities if this particular marriage had been
smuggled through in secret at some chilly hour of the morning in an
empty church.

“As it was,” he added, “some idle London folk had the chance of singing
‘All people that on earth do dwell’ to the old hundredth, and that’s a
chance that doesn’t often come to us in these degenerate days of flabby
modern hymns. All the women, moreover, will go away persuaded in their
own minds that the conventional wedding dress of modern days is ugly and
that the old-world dress of Mrs. Ralph Denmead is far more artistic.”

There was one thing, however, which baffled the Press. It described
the service with gusto, and gave the most elaborate details as to the
dresses, but it could not discover where the Bride and Bride-groom
intended to spend the honeymoon. It was reduced at length to the
desperate expedient of a good round lie, and said that they left _en
route_ for the continent.

Ralph and Evereld, who had kept this detail entirely to themselves,
laughed contentedly as they read this fable in their snug little
sitting-room at Stratford-on-Avon.

“We knew a trick worth two of that,” said Ralph. “Fancy rushing off
to the Continent for a week! It never seemed to occur to anyone that
Stratford was the ideal place for an actor’s honeymoon. We are not going
to leave our Mecca entirely to the Yankees.”

Evereld hoped she thought enough of Shakspere as they wandered about
the quaint old place and enjoyed the bright spring weather in the lovely
country around.

“It was a delightful thought of yours to come here,” she said, “one
likes to have a beautiful background for the happiest time of one’s
life. But after all, darling, it’s very much in the background, we
should really be as happy in the black country.”

“Of course,” said Ralph laughing. “And there’ll be plenty of the black
country to come by and bye. You have no idea what dreary towns we have
sometimes to go to. Are you not afraid when you look forward to that
sort of thing?”

“Not a bit,” she said with a radiant face. “Don’t I know now what the
song means when it speaks of ‘The desert being a paradise’? That used to
seem such nonsense in the old days! But with you Ralph------”

She was interrupted. They had been walking beside the pollarded willows
by the river, Evereld’s hands were full of the early spring flowers,
cowslips and primroses and delicate white anemones which they had
gathered in the country. She looked up, for a daintily dressed little
lady suddenly stood before her, having deserted a camp-stool and easel
though she still retained palette and brushes in one hand.

“Miss Ewart!” she exclaimed with a faint touch of American intonation
which instantly recalled Evereld to Glion. “I am so delighted to meet
you again, and in this spot of all others, this sacred shrine which you
lucky English people possess, though we would give millions of dollars
if we could but transplant it right over the ocean!”

“How glad I am to see you!” said Evereld warmly. “I shall never forget
your kindness last September. May I introduce my husband to you? Mr.
Denmead, Miss Upton.”

“Ah,” said Miss Upton shaking hands with him, “I congratulate Mr.
Denmead very warmly. And to think that the third volume which you were
to have sent me in America should greet me here by the banks of the
Avon! It is delightful!”

“You have not gone back as soon as you expected,” said Evereld.

“Well, no. You see the storm at Glion somehow cleared the atmosphere
and many things were altered by it sooner or later,” said Miss Upton her
bright eyes twinkling with fun. “In fact, thanks to you, another romance
began there, and next year when Mr. Lewisham has taken his degree at
Oxford, why he’ll be coming over the ocean to New York, and we have an
idea of following the good example which you and Mr. Denmead have set
us.

“How glad I am!” said Evereld. “That is charming. Some day we all
four ought to meet at Glion, for it is hard that I should have any
disagreeable associations left with that lovely little place. You ought
to see it Ralph.”

“Why not plan a meeting here on one of Shakspere’s birthday’s? We may
possibly be here for some of the performances in the Memorial theatre.”

“Yes, that’s a better idea still,” agreed both Evereld and the American
girl.

And after walking back to the town together they parted on the best of
terms.

That evening a note and a little packet were brought to Evereld. They
were from Miss Upton.

“Just one line in great haste,” the letter ran, “we are off to Woodstock
to-night, being as they call us true Yankee rushers. You told me you
were not going to set up house yet awhile, but wherever you are I know
you will drink afternoon tea as you did in Switzerland. Stir your tea
with these Stratford Memorial spoons and drink to our next merry meeting
in the birthplace of the Swan of Avon. With all good wishes

“Yours cordially,

“Minnie K. Upton.

“I hope my romance will have as satisfactory an end to its third Volume
as yours.”

“What a jolly sort of girl she seems,” said Ralph as Evereld read him
the note, “but that postscript is all wrong, darling. We are not at the
end of things, we are only just at the beginning.”



CHAPTER XXXII


               “Heart, are you great enough

                   For a love that never tires?

               O heart, are you great enough for love?

                   I have heard of thorns and briers.”

                        Tennyson.

|On Easter Monday, Ralph and Evereld joined the company at Liverpool. It
was not without misgivings that the little bride found herself suddenly
launched into a life of which she knew so little, and as they drove
through the busy streets from the station she had time to conjure up
many fears. They were all however fears lest she should fall short in
some way, prove an indifferent housekeeper, be unable to make friends
with Ralph’s friends, or find herself in other people’s way. But all
anxiety was lost sight of when they reached the little house in Seymour
Street and found Macneillie with his genial voice and fatherly
manner waiting to receive them. He was a man who, from his kindly
considerateness and from a certain easy friendliness of tone, quickly
made new comers feel at home with him.

Perhaps he intuitively guessed that Evereld’s position would not be
without its difficulties, and he did his very utmost to smooth the way
for her. He at once allowed her to feel that she could be of use.

“I am glad you caught the early train from Stratford,” he said as they
sat down to a two o’clock dinner. “No, you must take the head of the
table for the future. I shall claim the privilege of an old man and sit
at the side. As for Ralph he is a very decent carver and we will leave
the work to him. The Brintons were in here just before you came, talking
over the reception which we give this afternoon.”

“A reception?” said Evereld shyly.

“Yes, in the Foyer. You have just come in the nick of time. I was
wanting help. Let me see, you were introduced to the Brintons I think at
Southbourne.”

“Yes, and to Mr. Carrington, and Miss Eva Carton.”

“They have both left us. Well, you will soon get to know us all.”

Evereld hoped she might do so, but she was utterly bewildered by the end
of the reception, where she had been introduced to most of the company
and to a number of residents and people of the neighbourhood. As to
recognising Ralph’s fellow artists when she saw them again in the
evening in stage attire, it was impossible. However they good-naturedly
told her they were quite used to being cut, and she found Ivy Grant a
very pleasant companion and had a good deal of talk with her between
whiles.

Ivy had greatly improved since the days of the Scotch tour; trouble had
developed her in an extraordinary way; she had grown more gentle and
refined, and she still retained her old winsomeness and was a general
favourite. Thanks to Ralph’s straightforwardness that morning at Forres,
she had quickly awakened from her first dream of love, and was none
the worse for it. In fact, it had perhaps done her good, she would not
lightly lose her heart again, and her standard was certain to remain
high. Moreover she knew that Ralph would always be her friend, and she
felt curiously drawn to Evereld, who was quite ready to respond to her
advances.

There was something very fascinating to Evereld in the novelty and
variety of this new life; before many days had passed she began to feel
quite as if she belonged to the company. She sympathised keenly with
the desire to have good houses, listened with interest to all the
discussions and arrangements, and soon found herself on friendly terms
with almost every one.

“There is one man, though, that I can’t make out at all,” she remarked
one evening. “He always seems to disappear in such an odd way. I mean
Mr. Rawnleigh.” Macneillie and Ralph both laughed.

“You would be very clever indeed if you contrived to know anything
about him,” said the Manager. “He chooses to keep himself wrapped in a
mystery. There’s not a creature among us who can tell you anything about
him. He’s the cleverest low comedian I have ever had; but his habits are
peculiar. To my certain knowledge his whole personal wardrobe goes about
the world tied up in a spotted handkerchief. He has no make-up box but
just carries a stick of red rouge and powdered chalk screwed up in paper
like tobacco in his pocket. He puts it on with his finger and rubs it in
with a bit of brown paper. Nobody knows in any town where he lodges, but
he is always punctual at rehearsal, and if in an emergency he happens to
be needed, you can generally find him smoking peacefully in the nearest
public-house. He has never been heard to speak an unnecessary word, and
in ordinary life looks so like a death’s head that he goes by the name
of ‘Old Mortality.”

Evereld laughed at this curious description.

“He is the sort of man Charles Lamb might have written an essay about,”
 she said. “Now let me see if I have grasped the rest of them. The
retired Naval Captain, Mr. Tempest, is the heavy man, isn’t he? Then
there are those two young Oxonians--they are Juveniles. And Ralph’s
friend, Mr. Mowbray, the briefless barrister, what is he?”

“He’s the Responsible man,” said Macneillie.

“Mr. Brinton, I know, is the old man. And Mr. Thornton, what do you call
him?”

“Oh, he is the Utility man. Come you would stand a pretty good
examination.”

Those spring days were very happy both to Ralph and

Evereld, while Macneillie who had been anxious as to the little bride’s
comfort and well-being, began to feel entirely at rest on that score.

It cheered him not a little to have her bright face and thoughtful
housewifely ways making a home out of each temporary resting place.
Her great charm was her ready sympathy and a certain restfulness
and quietness of temperament very soothing to highly-strung artistic
natures. When the two men returned from the theatre, it was delightful
to find her comfortably ensconced with her needlework, ready to take
keen interest in hearing about everything, and always giving a pleasant
welcome to any visitor they might bring back with them. There was
nothing fussy about Evereld: she was the ideal wife for a man of Ralph’s
eager Keltic temperament.

During July the company dispersed and Ralph and Evereld went to stay
with the Magnays in London. It was not until the re-assembling in August
that the discomforts of the new life began to become a little more
apparent. Perhaps it was the intense heat of the weather, perhaps the
contrast between the lodgings in a particularly dirty manufacturing town
and the Magnays’ ideal home with all its art treasures, and its dainty
half foreign arrangement. Certainly Evereld’s heart sank a little when
she began to unpack.

Their bedroom faced the west and the burning sunshine seemed to steep
the little room in drowsy almost tropical heat. She felt sick and
miserable. Opening the dressing-table drawer she found that her
predecessor had left behind some most uninviting hair-curlers, and some
greasepaint. Of course to throw these away and re-line the drawer was
easy enough; but by the time she had done it and had arranged all their
worldly goods and chattels she felt tired out and was glad to lie down,
though she did not dare to scrutinise the blankets and could only try to
find consolation in the remembrance that the sheets at least were
quite immaculate, and the pillow her own. She was roused from a doze by
Ralph’s entrance.

“Come and get a little air, darling,” he suggested. “This room is like
an oven. Oh! we have got such a fellow in Thornton’s place! the most
conceited puppy I ever set eyes on. What induced Macneillie to give him
a trial I can’t think, lie is quite a novice and though rolling in gold,
he has never thought of offering a premium. I never saw a fellow with so
much side on. He ought to be kicked!”

“Who is he?” said Evereld laughing, as she put on her hat and prepared
to go out.

“He’s the younger son of an earl, I believe, and rejoices in the name of
Bertie Vane-Ffoulkes. He patronises the manager as if he were doing him
a great favour by joining his company, and he is already plaguing poor
Ivy with attentions that she would far rather be without.”

They went to the public garden hoping to find a seat in the shade where
they could watch the tennis, and here they came across Ivy and Miss
Helen Orme, who usually shared lodgings. In attendance on them walked a
rather handsome young man with a pink and white complexion and an air of
complacent self-esteem. Ivy catching sight of them hastened forward with
joyful alacrity though her _cavalière servente_ was in the middle of one
of his most telling anecdotes.

“How delightful to meet you again!” she exclaimed taking both Evereld’s
hands in hers. “I have been longing to see you. Now, if that obnoxious
Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes will but take himself off there are so many things I
want to say to you.”

The Honorable Bertie, however, never thought himself in the way, he
begged Ralph to introduce him to Mrs. Denmead and kindly patronised them
all for the next hour, chatting in what he flattered himself was a
very pleasant and genial manner about himself, the new costumes he had
specially ordered from Abiram’s for his first appearance on the stage,
the great success of the private theatricals at his father’s place in
Southshire when he had acted with dear Lady Dunlop Tyars, and various
anecdotes of high life which he felt sure would interest “these
theatrical people.”

At last to their relief he sauntered hack to his hotel.

“I wonder whether he really acts well?” said Evereld musingly. “He seems
to have a very high opinion of his own powers. I thought all the men’s
costumes were provided by the management.”

“So they are,” said Ralph with a smile, “But nothing worn by just a
common actor would do for him, I suppose. He must have the very best of
everything specially made for him by Abiram, and strike envy into the
hearts of all the rest of us.”

“We were so comfortable and friendly before he came,” said Ivy. “And
now I am sure everything will be different. He’s an odious, conceited,
empty-headed amateur, not in the least fit to be an actor. I wish
he would go back to his private theatricals in the country with his
Duchesses, and leave us in peace.”

“Poor fellow! perhaps he really means to work hard and improve,” said
Evereld.

“You are always charitable,” said Ivy. “As for me I believe we shall
never have a moment’s peace till Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes has gone.”

Her prophesy was curiously fulfilled, for it was wonderful how much
trouble and annoyance the wealthy amateur contrived to cause.

Macneillie bore with him with considerable patience, being determined
that in spite of his many peccadillos he should have a fair chance. He
taught him as much as it is possible to teach a very conceited mortal,
gave him many hints by which it is to be feared he profited little, and
quietly ignored his rudeness, sometimes enjoying a good laugh over it
afterwards when he described to Ever-eld what had taken place.

Evereld was one of those people who are always receiving confidences.
It was partly her very quietness which made people open their hearts
to her. They knew she would never talk and betray them, and there was
something in her face which inspired those who knew her to come and pour
out all their troubles, certain of meeting sympathy and that sort of
womanly wisdom which is better than any amount of mere cleverness.

Even Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes himself was driven at last by the growing
consciousness of his unpopularity to tell her of his difficulties.

“I don’t know how it is, Mrs. Denmead,” he said one day, when they
chanced to be alone for a few minutes, “I am not gaining ground here.
These stage people are very hard to get on with.”

“But they are your fellow artists,” said Evereld lifting her clear eyes
to his, “why do you call them ‘these stage people’ as though they were a
different sort of race?”

“Well you know,” said the Honorable Bertie, “of course you know it’s not
quite--not exactly--the same thing. Your husband is of a good family, I
am quite aware of that, but many of the others, why, you know, they are
just nobodies.”

Evereld’s mouth twitched as she thought how Macneillie would have taken
off this characteristic little speech.

“But art knows nothing of rank,” she said gently. “Who cares about the
parentage of Raphael, or Dante, or David Garrick, or Paganini?”

The earl’s son looked somewhat blank.

“That’s all very well theoretically,” he said. “But in practice it’s
abominable. I believe there’s a conspiracy against me. They are jealous
of me and don’t mean to let me have a fair chance.”

“Oh, Mr. Macneillie is so just and fair to all, that could never be,”
 said Evereld warmly.

“The manager is the worst of them,” said the Honorable Bertie, deep
gloom settling on his brow. “I hate his way at rehearsal of making a
fool of one before all the rest of the company.”

“But you can’t have a rehearsal all to yourself,” said Evereld laughing.
“You should hear what they say of other managers at rehearsal, who swear
and rave and storm at the actors.”

“I shouldn’t mind that half as much,” said Mr. Vane-Efoulkes. “It’s just
that cool persistent patience, and that insufferable air of dignity he
puts on that I can’t stand. What right has Macneillie to authority and
dignity and all that sort of thing? Why I believe he’s only the son of a
highland crofter.”

“I don’t think you’ll find your ancestors any good in art life,” said
Evereld. “It is what you can do as an actor that matters, and as long as
you feel yourself a different sort of flesh and blood how can you expect
them to like you?”

The Honorable Bertie was not used to such straight talking but, to do
him justice, he took it in very good part, and always spoke of Mrs.
Ralph Denmead with respect, though he still cordially hated her husband.
Ralph unfortunately occupied the exact position which he desired, he
always coveted the Juvenile Lead, and Macneillie cruelly refused to
give him anything but the smallest and most insignificant parts until he
improved.

“How can I make anything out of such a character as this?” he grumbled,
“Why I have only a dozen sentences in the whole play.”

“You can make it precisely what the author intended it to be,” said the
Manager. “It is the greatest mistake in the world to judge a part by its
length. You might make much of that character if only you would take the
trouble. But it’s always the way, no heart is put into the work unless
the part is a showy one; you go through it each night like a stick.”

There was yet another reason why Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes disliked Ralph. In
the dulness and disappointment of his theatrical tour he solaced himself
by falling in love with Ivy Grant: and Ivy would have nothing to say
to him, refused his presents, and took refuge as much as possible with
Ralph and Evereld, who quite understanding the state of the case did all
they could for her.

The more she avoided him, however, the more irrepressible he became,
until at last she quite dreaded meeting him, and had it not been for the
friendship of the Denmeads and Helen Orme she would have fared ill.

It was naturally impossible for the Honorable Bertie to confide to
Evereld how cordially he detested her husband; he turned instead to Myra
Brinton, who being at that time in a somewhat uncomfortable frame of
mind was far from proving a wise counsellor. Though in the main a really
good woman, Myra had a somewhat curious code of honour, and she was not
without a considerable share of that worst of failings, jealousy. If any
one had told her in Scotland that she should ever live to become jealous
of little Ivy Grant, she would not have believed it possible. But
latterly Ivy had several times crossed her path. She was making rapid
strides in the profession, and was invariably popular with her audience.
This however was less trying to Myra than the perception that a real
friendship was springing up between Ivy and young Mrs. Denmead, who,
it might have been expected would have more naturally turned to her.
She did not realise that to the young bride there seemed a vast chasm of
years between them, that a woman of seven and twenty seemed far removed
from her ways of looking at everything, and that Evereld dreaded her
criticism and turned to Ivy as the more companionable of the two.

Deep down in her heart, moreover, poor Myra could not help contrasting
her own lot with that of Ralph Den-mead’s wife. The little bride was
so unfeignedly happy and had such good cause for perfect trust and
confidence in her husband that Myra sometimes felt bitterly towards her.
Not that Tom Brinton was a bad fellow, there was much about him that
was likeable; but the lover of her dreams had ceased to exist, she had
settled down into married life that was perhaps as happy as the average
but that nevertheless left much to be desired. Her husband would never
have dreamt of ill-treating her, indeed in his way he was fond of her
still. But it has been well said that unless we are deliberately kind to
everyone, we shall often be unconsciously cruel, and it was for lack
of this kindly tenderness that Myra’s life was becoming more and more
difficult. She used to watch Ralph’s unfailing care and thoughtful
considerateness for Evereld with an envy that ate into her very
heart. She was jealous moreover with a jealousy that only a woman can
understand of the hope of motherhood which began to dawn for Evereld.
It seemed to her that everything a woman covets was given to this
young wife, who had known so little of the hardness of life, the fierce
struggle for success, which had made her own lot so different. And as
time went on a sort of morbid sentimentality crept into her admiration
for Ralph, and she found herself beginning to hate the sight of Evereld
in a way which would have horrified her had she made time to think out
the whole state of things. It was at this time that Mr. Vane-Efoulkes
turned to her for advice. He could not by any possibility have chosen a
worse confidante.

“Why is little Miss Grant always running after the Denmeads?” he
complained. “I can never get two words with her. If it’s not the wife
she is with, then it’s the husband. I can’t think what she sees in that
boy, but whenever he’s in the theatre she’s always talking to him.”

“Yes, she is very unguarded,” said Myra with a sigh. “Of course he has
known her since she was a child, and he was very good in helping her
on when we were in Theophilus Skoot’s company. But she ought to be more
careful, for there is no doubt that she was very much in love with him
in the old days. You would be doing a good deed if you separated them a
little.” She had not in the least intended to say anything of this sort,
the words seemed put into her mouth, and somehow when once they were
said she vehemently assured herself that she fully believed them. Not
only so but she determined to act up to her belief.

“I never saw any one so fascinating,” said the Honorable Bertie, who was
very badly hit indeed. “She’s a regular little witch. I assure you, Mrs.
Brinton, I would marry her to-morrow if I were only lucky enough to have
the chance. But she hasn’t a word to throw at me, and if she is not with
the Denmeads, why she will stick like a leech to Miss Orme, and how is a
man to make love to a girl when that’s the way she treats him? I wonder
whether she still cares for that fellow Denmead? If so, couldn’t you
give his wife a hint, then perhaps she would not have so much to do with
her and I might possibly stand a chance of getting a hearing.”

“Well,” said Myra, rather startled by this suggestion. “I could do that
if you like, but of course, it would lead to a quarrel between them.”

“Oh, never mind what it leads to,” said Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes. “It will at
least give me a fair chance with her. Isn’t it hard, Mrs. Brinton, that
when a fellow doesn’t care a straw the girls are all dying for love of
him, and when at last he does care why the fates ordain that he shall
fall in love with a girl who--well--who doesn’t care a straw for him.”

Myra could have found it in her heart to laugh at this lame ending, and
at the sudden reversal of fortune which had so greatly depressed the
earl’s son, but after all there was something genuine about the poor
fellow that touched her: for the time Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes really was very
much in love with Ivy. It was the sort of passion that might possibly
exist for about six months, it might even prove to be a “hardy annual,”
 but it was certainly not a passion of the perennial sort.

She promised that she would do her best for him.

“If he is an empty-headed fellow,” she reflected, “he is at least rich
and well-connected. It would be a remarkably good marriage for Ivy
Grant, and I will do what I can to further it.”



CHAPTER XXXIII


               “When ye sit by the fire yourselves to warm,

               Take care that your tongues do your neighbours no

                   harm.”

                        Old Chimny-piece Motto.

|Christmas had passed and they were engaged for a fortnight at
Mardentown, one of the large manufacturing places. It was on a frosty
clear morning early in the new year that Myra set out from her rather
comfortless lodgings to call on Evereld. There was no rehearsal that
day and she happened to know that both Macneillie and Ralph were out, so
that the coast would be clear for her operations.

“I shall be doing a kindness to her as well as to Ivy and Mr.
Vane-Ffoulkes,” she reflected. “She is so very innocent, it is high time
she understood a little more of the ways of the world.”

Evereld was sitting by the fire in a cheerful-looking room into which
the wintry sun shone brightly; flowers were on the table, Christmas
cards daintily arranged were on the mantelpiece; there was a homelike
air about the place which Myra at once noted, and she looked with a
pang at the little garment at which the young wife was working when she
entered.

“My husband told me Mr. Macneillie was at the theatre so I came in to
have a chat with you,” she said kissing her affectionately. “You are
looking pale this morning, dear, this wandering life is getting too hard
for you.”

“Oh, I am very well,” said Evereld brightly, “and as to the travelling I
shall not have much more of that for at the beginning of February I have
promised to go and stay with Mrs. Hereford in London. They all say it is
right, so I mustn’t grumble, but I do so hate leaving Ralph.”

“He can come to you for the Sundays,” said Myra. “Where has he gone to
this morning?”

“He and Mr. Mowbray have hired bicycles and have gone over to Brookfield
Castle. They will have a beautiful ride for it is so still and the roads
will be nice and dry. Ivy wanted to go too, but she couldn’t manage to
get a bicycle, they were all engaged.”

“Well it sounds unkind,” said Myra. “But I am not sorry that she was
forced to stay behind. Ivy is getting too careless of appearances.”

“Do you really disapprove of bicycling for women?” asked Evereld.
“One has hardly had time to get used to it, but it seems such capital
exercise, and no one could look more graceful in cycling than Ivy does.”

“Oh, I don’t mean that, dear,” said Myra colouring a little. “I really
hardly know how to explain things to you, for you seem so young and
confiding, and so ready to trust everyone. But you see Ivy rather runs
after your husband. Of course she always was a born flirt, I don’t think
she can help it. But people are beginning to notice it and to talk, they
are indeed.”

“I wonder any one can be so foolish as to think such things,” said
Evereld with a little air of matronly dignity which became her very
well. “Every one belonging to the company must surely understand that
Ivy is so much with us because she is being actually persecuted by that
provoking Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes.”

“Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes is not so bad as people make out, he may be vain and
conceited I quite admit, but he really is in love with Ivy and she is
very foolish to run away from him on every possible occasion. It would
be a capital marriage for her. Why, if the present heir were to die, Mr.
Vane-Ffoulkes comes into the title, Ivy forgets that.”

“She positively dislikes him,” said Evereld. “You surely wouldn’t wish
her to marry such a man as that just for his position?”

“No, but I think she might be a little more civil to him and at least
give him a hearing. And quite apart from that I really think, dear, you
are ill-advised in having her so much here.”

Evereld’s clear blue eyes looked questioningly and in a puzzled fashion
at her visitor.

“But we like her and she likes us. Why shouldn’t she come?”

“Because it would be much wiser for her not to come,” said Myra. “I know
her past, and you do not. If you are wise you will not have Ivy for your
intimate friend.”

A troubled look began to steal over Evereld’s face, she was not well,
and was very ill-fitted just then to take a calm dispassionate view of
anything. Myra’s words and hints agitated her all the more because she
only half understood them. Vaguely she felt that a shadow was creeping
over her cloudless sky. She shivered a little and drew closer to the
fire.

“Please tell me just what you mean,” she said rather piteously. “I know
of nothing against Ivy, and she has been Ralph’s friend for a long time,
so naturally I like her.”

“Naturally!” exclaimed Myra, whose jealous nature found it hard to
credit such a statement. “That only shows how innocent you are, how
little you understand the world. Why to my certain knowledge that girl
is in love with your husband.”

Evereld’s eyes dilated, she stared at the speaker for a moment in mute
consternation. Then suddenly she began to laugh but not quite naturally,
her tears were at no great distance.

“How ridiculous!” she said. “I wonder you can say such a thing to
me. Ivy! who has been quite foolishly fond of me! Oh, indeed you are
mistaken!”

“The mistake is yours!” said Myra, “Ivy is a very coaxing little thing
and would of course find it most convenient to have your friendship.
She is clever and managing, and always contrives to get her own way, and
then of course she is a born actress. I have no doubt she was delighted
to vow an eternal friendship with you. It’s just what would suit her
best.”

Evereld’s heart sank, she seemed to be suddenly plunged into an entirely
new region, where doubt and suspicion and jealousy and evil intention
made the whole atmosphere dark and oppressive. Not since her
difficulties at Glion had she felt so miserable and so utterly
perplexed.

“You see, dear,” said Myra, “I knew them both in the days of the Scotch
tour, and from the first understood how things were. I daresay your
husband hasn’t told you about it, men forget these things, but there is
no doubt whatever that Ivy was in love with him. I saw it then clearly
enough, and I see it now. Be persuaded by me, and for your own sake and
for her good don’t have her much with you. I am older than you, and
I know the harm that a fascinating little witch like Ivy can work. Of
course I say all this to you in confidence, but I thought it was only
kind to give you a hint. You have not been to the theatre just lately.”

“No, I am rather tired of this play,” said Evereld. “I am glad we are to
have a Shaksperian week at Bath.”

“Yes, ‘legitimate’ is rather refreshing, isn’t it?” said Myra. “But the
dresses are a bother. I have to devise something new for Portia in the
casket scene, for the old one was ruined the last time I wore it. There
were six of us dressing in one room, and there was hardly space to turn
round; the train is all over grease-paint. The men are lucky in having
their costumes provided by the management. Well, good bye, dear, take
care of yourself. And be sure to let me know if there is anything I can
do for you.”

Evereld thanked her rather faintly and was not sorry to find herself
alone once more. She felt giddy as she tried to recall exactly what Myra
had said and hinted. Could it possibly be true? And if so what was
she to do? That there was a vein of silliness in Ivy she had long ago
discovered; now and then she said things which jarred a little on her,
but the more she had seen of her the more she had learnt to like her,
and her perfectly open and rational friendship for Ralph had always
seemed to her most natural. Was it true that all the time Ivy had been
acting? Myra’s arguments returned to her with a force which she vainly
tried to struggle against. Had she been able to go out in the sunshine
for a brisk walk probably she would have taken a more quiet view of the
state of affairs, but she was not well enough for that, and the more she
brooded over it all the more miserable she became.

Just when her visions were at the darkest the bell rang and the little
servant ushered in Ivy herself.

“What luck to find you alone,” said the girl brightly, “I was afraid Mr.
Macneillie would perhaps be in. I’m in the worst of tempers, for on this
perfect day there wasn’t a lady’s bicycle to be had, and there are those
two lucky men enjoying themselves while I am left in this smoky town.”

“I was sorry to hear you had been disappointed,” said Evereld, going on
with her work. But somehow as she said the words she knew that she was
not so sorry as she had at first been. Things had changed since Myra’s
visit. She even fancied a difference in Ivy. Was there something more
than cleverness in that winsome face? Was there a certain craftiness in
those ever-changing eyes? She began to think there was, and being a bad
hand at concealing her thoughts, her manner became constrained and she
was extremely unresponsive to the flood of bright talk which Ivy poured
out.

“Something is worrying you,” said the girl at last growing conscious
of the curious difference in her friend’s manner. “‘Don’t worry! Try
Sunlight!’ as the soap advertisement tells you. Come out with me for
a turn before dinner. Walking is the sovereign remedy for all ills. We
used to try it in Scotland when we were half starving.”

Evereld hated herself for it, but she was so overwrought and miserable
that even the use of that word “we” grated upon her. She declined the
invitation, and her manner grew more and more cold and repellent.

Ivy was puzzled and hurt.

“Have you been alone all the morning?” she said, wondering if perhaps
that accounted for her friend’s manner.

“No, I have had a call from Mrs. Brinton,” said Evereld colouring a
little.

“Of all perplexing people she is the most perplexing,” said Ivy. “One
day I like her, the next she is perfectly detestable. What did she talk
about?”

Evereld faltered a little.

“Oh, of various things,” she said blushing. “She is getting ready a new
dress for the Casket scene.”

“By the bye,” said Ivy springing up, “that reminds me that I must ask
her for the pattern of a sleeve I want for Jessica. I know she has it.”

And with friendly farewells which Evereld could not find it in her heart
to respond to at all cordially she took her departure.

No sooner was she out of the house than Evereld’s conscience began to
prick her. She had felt very unkindly towards Ivy, and the wistful look
of surprise and bewilderment which she had seen on the girl’s face as
she uttered her cold farewells kept returning to her. What if Ivy went
now to see Myra and learnt that they had been talking her over? What if
after all this story of Myra’s was quite mistaken, or possibly one of
those half truths that are almost worse anti more damaging than utter
falsehoods?

Shame and regret and self-reproach began to struggle with the wretched
suspicions that had been sown in her heart by Myra’s words, and her long
repressed tears broke forth at last,--she sobbed as if her heart would
break.

“How miserably I have failed,” she thought to herself. “How ready I was
to think evil, and to jump to the very worst conclusions. It would be
likely enough that she should have cared for Ralph who was so kind to
her when she was a child--I should only love her all the more if she
had loved him. Why must I fancy at the first hint that there is sin in
her friendship for him now? I won’t believe it--I won’t--I won’t.”

She took up her work again and tried to sew, but her tears blinded her,
for she remembered how much harm might already have been done by her
angry resentment and her ready suspicions. Ever since the hope of
motherhood had come to her she had tried her very utmost to rule her
thoughts, to dwell only on what was beautiful and of good report, to
read only what was healthy and ennobling, to see beautiful scenery
whenever there was an opportunity, and in every way to try harder than
usual to live up to her ideal; she knew that in this way the character
of the next generation might be sensibly affected.

Well, she had failed just when failure was most bitter to her, and
being now thoroughly upset she had to struggle with all sorts of nervous
terrors and anxieties and forebodings, in which her only resource was to
repeat to herself the words of the Ewart motto “Avaunt Fear!” which had
stood her in good stead during her flight from Sir Matthew.

It was the sound of the servant’s step on the stairs and the ominous
rattle of the dinner things which finally checked her tears; she was not
going to be caught crying, and hastily beat a retreat into her bedroom.

“If they see me like this they will imagine Ralph is unkind to me!” she
thought, shocked at her own reflection in the looking-glass. “Oh dear,
how I wish he were at home! And yet I don’t, for if he were here just
now I know I couldn’t resist telling him everything, and that would
worry him; and he shall not be worried just now when he is so specially
busy studying ‘Hamlet.’”

Macneillie returning from the theatre soon after, could not but observe
at their _tête à tête_ dinner that his companion had been crying, but
like the sensible man he was he affected utter blindness and did the
lion’s share of the talking.

“Can you spare me a little time this afternoon,” he said as he rose from
the table. “I want to drive over to a village about three miles from
here, the day is so bright I don’t think you would take cold.”

Evereld gladly assented, and Macneillie, who as an old traveller was an
adept at making people comfortable with rugs and cushions, tucked her
comfortably into the best open carriage he had been able to secure and
was glad to see that the fresh air soon brought back the colour to her
face and the light to her eyes.

“You and I have both had a dull morning. I have been bored to death with
people incessantly wanting to speak to me, and you I suppose have been
bored by being too much alone.”

“No,” she said, “I have not been much alone; Mrs. Brinton came to me
first, and after she had gone Ivy came. They both of them vexed me
somehow, but I think it was my own fault.”

Macneillie meditated for a few minutes. He had not studied character
all these years for nothing, and Evereld’s transparent honesty and
straightforwardness made her easy reading. Myra he had known for a long
time both before her engagement and since her marriage; she was a much
more complex character, but he understood her thoroughly and had noted,
though she little guessed it, that she was jealous both of Evereld’s
happiness and of Ivy’s success in her profession: moreover he was not
without a shrewd suspicion that she was just a little bit in love with
Ralph herself.

“Life is never altogether easy when a great number of people are going
about the world together,” he said. “There are sure to be little rubs.
If you have ever seen anything of military life you will understand
that. The officers’ wives and families are pretty sure to have their
quarrels and little differences now and then, but in the main there is a
certain loyalty that binds them together. It is just the same with us.
I have known people not on speaking terms for weeks, but they generally
have a good-natured reconciliation before the end of the tour.”

“Yes,” said Evereld, “I can quite fancy that. And I know if I hadn’t
been horrid and suspicious things would have been different this
morning. Please don’t say anything about it to Ralph, I don’t want him
to know that I had been crying.”

Macneillie could not resist teasing her a little.

“What! I thought you were a model husband and wife, and had no secrets
from each other! And here you are pledging me to silence!”

She laughed at his comical expression, and felt much better for
laughing.

“We do tell each other everything as a rule, but this could only vex him
and make things uncomfortable all round, and just now he is studying so
very hard for his first attempt at Hamlet. I really believe he is more
Hamlet than himself; he seems to think of him all day long and even in
his sleep he has taken to muttering bits of his part. It’s quite uncanny
to hear him in the dead of night!”

She was quite her cheerful self again and nothing more was said as to
what had passed that morning. Macneillie however turned things over
in his mind and that evening at the theatre he reaped the harvest of a
quiet eye, and began to understand the precise state of affairs.



CHAPTER XXXIV


               “O for a heart from self set free

                   And doubt and fret and care,

               Light as a bird, instinct with glee,

                   That fans the breezy air.

               “O for a mind whose virtue moulds

                   All sensuous fair display,

               And, like a strong commander, holds

                   A world of thoughts in sway!”

                        Professor Blackie

|What has happened to Evereld?” said Ivy that morning, as Myra
graciously cut out for her a second pattern of the sleeve which she
wanted. “I have been to see her and it was like hurling words at a stone
wall. I couldn’t have imagined that she would ever be like that.”

“Oh, you have just been in there,” said Myra reflectively. “I am sorry
you went to-day.”

“What has come over her?” said Ivy. “She seemed almost to dislike me.”

“I think she was a little upset by something she had heard,” said Myra,
handing the pattern to her visitor.

“What can she have heard that should make her different to me?” said Ivy
hotly.

“Well, my dear,” said Myra with a swift glance at her, “you know people
are beginning to say that you run after Mr. Denmead, and I daresay
she knows that you cared for him when we were in Scotland. Though very
innocent she can hardly help putting two and two together, and it is but
natural that she should resent your making friends with her for the
sake of being able to go about constantly with her husband. You made a
mistake in professing such a very violent friendship for her.”

“It is all a horrible lie,” cried Ivy, crimson with anger and distress.
“No wonder she hates me if she believes me to be such a hypocrite as
that! I was her friend--but I never will be again, no, nor Ralph’s
either. Oh! they will discuss it all and talk me over! and I believe
it’s your doing. You told her this lie. How I hate you! how I hate you!”

Like a little fury she flung into the fire the pattern which Myra had
just cut out for her, and was gone before her companion could get in a
single word.

Down the street she sped, looking prettier than ever because her
eyes were still bright with indignation and her cheeks aglow at the
recollection of what had passed. As ill luck would have it, just as she
reached the quiet road in which she was lodging with Helen Orme, she
came suddenly face to face with Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes.

“I had been to inquire if you were in, and to try and persuade you to
come and skate this afternoon,” he said eagerly. “The ice in the park
will bear they say. Do come.”

“But I never skated in my life,” said Ivy.

“I’ll teach you, I am sure you would learn in a very little while, and
it is just the sort of thing you would do to perfection.”

As he spoke a sudden thought darted into Ivy’s mind. Here was a man who
for some time had seriously annoyed her by persistent attentions which
she did not want. She would now change her tactics, would carry on a
desperate flirtation with him, and show these detestable gossips that
they were quite in the wrong. As for the Denmeads she would avoid them
as much as possible, and to Myra she would not vouchsafe a single word,
no--not though they shared dressing-rooms!

All this passed through her mind while Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes was assuring
her that she would skate like one to the manner born.

“I don’t think I can go,” she said hesitatingly. “For one thing I have
no skates, and then----”

“I will manage the skates if only you will just come and try,” he said
persuasively, and after a little more discussion Ivy consented, and the
Honorable Bertie in the seventh heaven of happiness hurried away into
the High Street, there to procure the most dainty little pair of skates
that the place could supply, while Ivy, forgetting her anger in the
satisfaction of her new scheme, ran in to make a hasty meal, and to put
on the prettiest walking-dress and hat she possessed.

Late in the afternoon, Ralph and George Mowbray bicycling back from
Brookfield Castle dismounted for a few minutes to watch the skaters in
the park, and to speculate as to the chances of the ice for the next
day.

“Hullo!” exclaimed Ralph, suddenly perceiving a graceful little figure
skimming past under the guidance of a tall fair-haired man, “Why there’s
Ivy Grant pioneered by the Honorable Bertie! Wonders will never cease.”

“So she has caved in at last,” said George Mowbray with a laugh, “having
snubbed him all these months I thought she would have contrived to send
him about his business. How cock-a-hoop he does look!”

It was quite patent to every one after this that Ivy’s objections to
Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes were a thing of the past. She accepted every votive
offering he brought her, skated with him at every available opportunity,
and listened in the most flattering way to his extremely vapid talk.
For each inch she granted him he was ready enough to seize an ell, and
Macneillie who had no confidence at all in the character of his wealthy
amateur, soon saw that things must be promptly checked.

“My dear,” he said one day to Evereld when their stay at Marden-town was
drawing to a close. “I wish you would somehow contrive to give Ivy Grant
a hint; she is going on very foolishly with Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes, and it is
quite impossible that she can really have any regard for him.”

“I can’t manage to get hold of her,” said Evereld sighing. “She won’t
come here and see me, but always makes some excuse.”

“Well, I shall get rid of Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes then,” said Macneillie. “He
has been an insufferable nuisance ever since he came. Would you believe
it--he actually had the presumption to grumble because Ralph was to
play Hamlet! I believe he seriously thinks he would do it much better
himself! The conceit of that fellow beats everything I ever knew.
You should have seen his face when he found that he was cast for
Rosencrantz! It was a picture!”

“I never can understand why you yourself don’t play Hamlet,” said
Evereld. “You would do it splendidly.”

“Ralph understands,” said Macneillie a shade crossing his face. “He will
tell you why it is.”

There was silence for some minutes. Then, as though shaking himself free
from thoughts he did not wish to dwell upon, Macneillie began to pace
the room and to consider how best to rid the company of the undesirable
presence of the Honorable Bertie.

“I have it!” he exclaimed,--suddenly bursting into a fit of laughter.
“Great Scott! That will be the very thing!” he rubbed his hands with
keen satisfaction, chuckling to himself in high glee over the thought
of the fun he anticipated. “Come to the theatre to-night, my dear, and I
will treat you to a new transformation scene which, if I’m not mistaken,
will bring down the house. But mind, not a word of it to any one
beforehand.”

It was not only his fellow actors who objected to the Honorable Bertie,
he was detested by the stage carpenters and scene shifters, not so much
because of his conceit as because he had an objectionable habit of being
always in the way. For the past week they had been giving a play in
which he took the part of a dragoon guard and though the insignificance
of the character chafed him sorely, he found some consolation in the
knowledge that in uniform he presented a really splendid appearance.

Now it chanced that there was a property chair used in this play of
remarkably comfortable proportions, and the Honorable Bertie being long
and lazy invariably lounged at his ease in this chair between the acts,
for he had no change of dress and no opportunity of amusing himself with
Ivy just in the intervals because she happened to have rather elaborate
changes.

Macneillie, who was his own Stage Manager, had for some time observed
the cool disregard shown by the amateur of the peremptory call of
“Clear!” on the part of his Assistant stage manager. Deaf to the order
Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes invariably took his ease in the big chair, lazily
watching the busy workers with an air of irritating superiority.

“I think I shall cure him of this little habit,” reflected Macneillie
with a smile, and seizing a moment when his victim was the only person
visible on the stage he suddenly rang up the curtain.

A roar of laughter rose from the audience, for there in full view sat
the Honorable Bertie with his legs dangling in unconventional comfort
over the arm of the chair.

He sprang to his feet in horror, dashed to the practicable door at the
back of the stage deeming it his nearest escape, forgot that he still
wore his guard’s helmet, crashed it violently against the lintel, and
by the time he had staggered back, and with lowered crest disappeared
behind the scenes, left the house in convulsions of merriment.

The curtain descended again, and the Honorable Bertie choking with rage
contemplated his battered helmet with a fiery face, and vowed vengeance
on Macneillie, but had not the sense to join in the laughter which even
Ivy could not suppress, do what she would. The sight of her mirth put
the last touch to his wrath, and at the close of the performance he had
an angry interview with the manager who, as he furiously declared, had
made him ridiculous before the whole house.

“The curtain was rung up too early,” admitted Mac-neillie. “But the
order had been given to clear the stage; you persistently disregard that
order every night and must take the consequences.”

“I will not stay another day in your d----d company,” said the Honorable
Bertie, fuming.

Macneillie bowed in acquiescence; gravely assured the Earl’s son that a
cheque for the amount of his weekly salary should be sent the next day
to his hotel, and bade him good evening. Perhaps Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes did
not quite like to be so promptly taken at his own word, perhaps the
quiet dignity of Macneillie’s manner was too much for him; the threats
and denunciations he longed to pour forth somehow stuck in his throat,
and with a muttered oath he took his departure, leaving Macneillie well
satisfied with the result of his stratagem.

Three days after, the company moved on to Gloucester, Ivy however had
made the Business Manager put her in a different railway carriage from
the Denmeads with whom she usually travelled, and Evereld could only
contrive to exchange a few words with her at the station.

The following week when they went to Bath matters seemed rather more
favourable. Ralph who had a great liking for the old theatre there with
its many memories, declared that it was the most interesting theatre in
England, and Evereld, partly for the sake of seeing it, partly with the
hope of patching up the quarrel, went with him on the Monday morning to
rehearsal.

The play was “The Merchant of Venice” and fortune favoured her, for Ivy
had not a great deal to do, and quickly yielded to the gentle kindly
manner of Ralph’s wife. Together they laughed over Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes’
discomfiture, and agreed that it was a great relief to be well quit of
him; then, as the rehearsal bid fair to be a lengthy one, Ivy ran out
to buy Bath buns at Fort’s and handed them impartially to all present
including Myra, and Evereld began to think that things would soon come
straight once more.

“Do come in to tea with me to-day,” she begged. “I shall be alone for
hours for they mean to go through some of Hamlet this afternoon for
Ralph’s sake, and I shall be going to London next week you know for some
time.”

It was difficult to resist the friendly look in her eyes, and Ivy
consented to come, arriving soon after four at the rooms in Kingsmead
Terrace in a somewhat silent mood. However tea and a good laugh over the
vagaries of Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes soon thawed her.

“I only wish I had never flirted with him,” she said regretfully. “All
the time I hated and despised him.”

“What made you do it then?” said Evereld.

Ivy crimsoned.

“It was Myra’s fault. I believe she was in league with him. When I
found that she had told you such a lie about me, I thought I would show
everyone how false it was.”

“But I knew it to be false almost directly,” said Evereld. “It was only
for an hour or so, before there had been time to think things over that
I believed it, dear. Indeed if I had been well and strong I don’t think
I should have believed it for a moment.”

To her surprise Ivy suddenly broke down and began to sob.

“Oh,” she said, “I am so dreadfully alone in the world! I don’t think I
can do without you two.”

“Why should you do without us?” said Evereld. “I hope you are not going
to punish me any more for having been cold and repellent the other day?
Ralph and I shall always want you to be our friend.”

“But how can I be your friend when all these days you have been
discussing me?”

“We haven’t discussed you. Ralph has never heard one word of what Myra
said. The only thing he did say was that he thought you did not realise
the sort of man Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes really was, or you would be more
careful. Of course he can’t help knowing, too, that you have quarrelled
with Myra, because you don’t speak to her.”

“I am going to tell you just the whole truth,” said Ivy, drying her eyes
and looking straight up at Evereld with an air of resolute courage that
made her winsome little face actually beautiful. “I did love Ralph once.
At first he was just a sort of hero to me, but in Scotland when we were
all so miserable and he was always trying to help me, then I began to
love him; and when the Skoots disappeared and left us stranded at Forres
I couldn’t bear to be parted from him and let him see that I cared. I
knew he understood; for he showed me that it would not do for us to stay
together when the company dispersed, and he told me how he cared for
you, not of course saying your name, but I knew he meant you. At first
it made me angry and miserable, but I liked him so for being true, and
for speaking straightforwardly as very few men do to women; and always
he made me feel that he respected me and liked and trusted me. When
later on the Brintons told me he was engaged to you I was able to be
glad of it--I was indeed; and when Myra told me the other day that
you believed such a lie about me, and I guessed at once it was all her
doing--why it seemed as if she had trodden under foot the very best part
of me, and afterwards I didn’t much care what I did. I think I could
almost have married Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes.”

“That would have been an awful fate,” said Evereld with a shudder, as
she realised how much harm her ready suspicions had done. “Ivy dear, you
must promise me never to let anyone come between us again. Ralph and I
are always your friends--do believe that once for all, or I shall never
feel at rest about you.”

They kissed each other warmly and the misunderstanding was quite at an
end, leaving them much closer friends than they had been before. To set
things straight with Myra Brinton would probably not prove so easy, but
Ev-ereld was very anxious to effect a reconciliation before she went to
London.

Partly with a view to this, and partly because she had not yet seen the
“Merchant of Venice” she got Ralph to take her that night behind the
scenes.

Unlike so many of the modern theatres the old theatre at Bath in which
Mrs. Siddons had often acted in former days could boast a comfortable
green room, and here, she and Ralph and Helen Orme did their best to
draw Ivy and Myra Brinton into more pleasant relations.

Ivy might have been persuaded to relent, but Myra withdrew into a shell
of cold reserve which made Ralph think of the days when he had first
known her at Dumfries. She looked on with chilling surprise and
disapproval while Evereld chatted in a friendly fashion with Ivy, and
quite refused to join in the general conversation. While all the rest
were pinning each other’s draperies she stood by the fireplace busily
occupied with her powder-puff, apparently quite self-engrossed, but in
reality noting with jealous pangs the easy good fellowship of her fellow
artists and the expression of Ralph’s face as he talked with Evereld
and Ivy. She made up her mind to hold entirely aloof and show how she
despised them all, and it proved quite impossible to make any way with
her.

Evereld made one last effort in the interval after the third act when
Myra, looking extremely handsome in her lawyer’s cap and gown came into
the green room ready for the Trial scene, and Ivy, in good spirits after
receiving much applause for her sprightly rendering of Jessica’s part,
was quite disposed to break the silence which had now lasted so long
between them. But as it takes two to make a quarrel it also takes two to
make an atonement, and Mrs. Brinton calmly turned her back upon the girl
and sailed across the room to the inevitable powder-box.

“I don’t care,” said Ivy under her breath as she shrugged her shoulders
and left the room. “If it pleases her to go about with a black dog on
her back, let her! Now you are going to stand at the wings, Evereld,
and enjoy the Trial scene; you will have a capital view of it just from
here. As for me, I shall run up and change for my moonlight scene. _Au
revoir!_”

She felt in a mischievous mood, resenting Myra’s absurd behaviour, and
yet too much pleased by her good reception and by the satisfaction of
being on comfortable terms with Ralph and Evereld again to be exactly
angry.

“I will dress quickly and run down before Myra comes up for her next
change,” she reflected. “It is just hateful sharing a dressing-room with
anyone when you are not on speaking terms. I wish Mr. Macneillie would
have let her have the ‘Star’ room, but he always will keep the one
nearest the stage for himself whether it is good or bad. Bother! there’s
not room to swing a cat in this place! I wish they would give us more
decent rooms.” Jessica’s dress required a great deal of pinning and
draping. It was by no means easy to dispose of the long trailing fold
of light Liberty silk, aud Ivy was in an impatient mood. Suddenly as
she tossed the end of a bit of light gauze drapery over her shoulder
it caught by some mischance in the gas jet from which she had, against
rules, removed the guard while curling her fringe. In an instant it was
flaring all about her, and wild with fright she found it impossible to
free herself from its serpent like coils.

Presence of mind had never been one of her characteristics and now
the awful sense of her danger and her horrible loneliness drove her to
distraction. She cried for help, but it seemed to her that she might burn
to death before anyone heard her in that remote place.

Meanwhile Evereld standing at the wings was watching with keen interest
Macneillie’s masterly representation of Shylock, and thinking how
handsome Ralph looked as Bassanio, when she was startled by a distant
cry.

“You take my house when you do take the prop that doth sustain my
house,” pleaded Shylock, and at that instant another much more distinct
sound--unquestionably a scream--from behind, made Evereld’s heart stand
still. Surely it was Ivy’s voice!

Without a moments hesitation she opened the door leading to the ladies’
dressing rooms, hurried up the stairs and had just gained the passage
above, when to her horror she saw Ivy rushing forward her pale green
dress all ablaze.

Snatching off the warm cloak she had been wearing as she stood at the
wings Evereld flung it about the terrified girl, and exerting all her
strength almost hurled Ivy to the ground, dismayed to see how the flames
were rising towards her face.

“Don’t try to get up,” she cried, as Ivy mad with fear and pain would
have leapt to her feet again. “Roll over and we shall crush out the
fire.”

It could have been only two minutes yet it seemed to them hours before
others hearing the screams came to the rescue, and by that time Evereld
had succeeded in stifling the flames. Macneillie learning directly he
came off the stage that something was amiss hurried up to them and was
dismayed to find what had happened.

“Go at once and get hold of Dr. Grey,” he said turning to the business
manager who had been the first to come up. “He is in the front row of
the dress circle. Brinton,” he added turning to the Duke of Venice,
who was the next to appear, “you will help me to lift her into her
dressing-room.”

“It is so small and crowded,” said Evereld. “Would not the green room be
better? she must be carried down the stairs sooner or later.”

“Yes, quite true. Give me your cloak, Brinton, we will throw it over
her, and do you go first, Evereld, and see that no one is in the way. We
shall get her safely to the green room before the end of the act.”

Ivy’s moans as they carried her were drowned in the applause which
followed the end of the Trial Scene. And Evereld, not pausing to realise
that she was trembling from head to foot, went on before to make ready
a place where they could lay her down, and thanks to the promptitude of
the business manager the doctor was on the spot almost as soon as they
were.

Ralph, strolling up the stage a few minutes later, having heard nothing
that had passed, was rudely recalled to the present as he approached the
little group of people round the green room door. “The doctor has just
gone in,” he heard some one say, and the words threw him into a sudden
panic of terror.

“Let me get by,” he said. “What’s the matter?”

“You can’t go in,” said several voices! “Ivy Grant has been awfully
burnt, they say Mrs. Denmead managed to get the fire out.”

“Where is my wife?” said Ralph distractedly.

“She is in the green room helping. It’s no good my dear boy. I tell you
no one can go in.”

Ralph, sick with anxiety for Evereld, and only longing to get her out
of the room, seemed on the point of taking the speaker by the collar and
thrusting him aside, when to his relief the door opened and Macneillie
came out. They all made way for him and heard him giving orders for a
messenger to be sent at once for the ambulance, then before a single
question could be put to him by Ralph, the Assistant stage manager came
up to discuss the arrangements that were to be made for the last act.
Fortunately Ivy’s understudy happened to be present so that no very
great delay was to be feared, and when this matter had been disposed of,
Helen Orme who had good naturedly hurried away to dress in order that
she might be free to offer her help, came hastening back and begged
leave to go in and do what she could for Ivy.

“Send Evereld to me,” was Ralph’s parting injunction, and Helen Orme,
feeling very sorry for him, went in and finding that the preliminary
dressing of Ivy’s burns was over, admitted him on her own authority.

It was a kindly meant act but under the circumstances a little risky,
for at the first sight of him Evereld’s composure began to give way. The
doctor noticed it at once.

“Now, Mrs. Denmead,” he said cheerfully. “Let this lady take your place
for a minute, and you go and sit down. I shall be ready to dress that
hand of yours directly.”

“Oh!” moaned Ivy who had spoken very little since they had carried her
down. “Is Evereld hurt?”

“Just a little,” said the doctor. “But she won’t grudge that, for she
has saved your life.”

“Do you think you could just manage to get me home,” whispered Evereld,
suddenly realising that her strength would hold out no longer and that
she could only agitate and harm Ivy by staying.

“Yes, darling,” said Ralph, “of course I can.”

But the cheery doctor had overheard and was beside them in a minute.

“Where are you staying?” he said crossing the room to them. “In
Kingsmead Terrace? I will drive you there at once in my carriage. Wait
for a minute and I will bring it round to the stage door. My little
patient here will do well enough now, and before long they will carry
her to the hospital in the ambulance. Just one word with you, Mr.
Denmead.”

Ralph followed him out of the room.

“Now kindly pilot me through these passages,” said the doctor, having
put a brief question or two as to Evereld. “Your part is not quite
finished is it? Another scene yet if I remember right. You must leave me
to see your wife safely home, and don’t be over anxious. Of course, it’s
an unfortunate thing that she has had this fearful shock, but there is
no reason why she should not get on well enough. Have you a decent sort
of landlady with a head on her shoulders?”

“She is a capable sort of woman,” said Ralph, “but----”

“All right. That will do very well for the present. Here’s my
carriage----”

He gave directions to the coachman, and in a few minutes time Ralph had
put his wife into the brougham and with a heavy heart had turned hack
into the theatre to get through the rest of his work as best he could.



CHAPTER XXXV


               “God! do not let my loved one die,

               But rather wait until the time

               That I am grown in purity

               Enough to enter thy pure clime.”

                        Lowell.

|When Ivy from time to time opened her eyes in that dreadful interval of
waiting for the ambulance which seemed to her almost age-long, she saw
a curious succession of faces. First there had been the cheerful doctor,
and Evereld with her brave blue eyes and firm little mouth. Then those
two faces had mysteriously disappeared, and the wrinkled and careworn
features of the wardrobe woman had greeted her instead, and Helen Orme
dressed as Nerissa bent over her and asked her if she suffered much.

After that Myra Brinton had stooped and kissed her, to her great
astonishment, and all the foolish little quarrels of the past died out
under the influence of that great uniter of human beings--pain. Ralph
came too with kindly inquiries, and she roused herself to ask again
after Evereld.

“You are sure the doctor told the truth?” she asked doubtfully. “Was she
really not badly burnt?”

“No, not badly,” said Ralph. “Only one hand blistered and her wrist
scorched.”

The summons came just at that minute for Myra and Helen Orme, and he
seized the opportunity to escape, fearful lest she should ask further
questions. He stood at the wings with his friend George Mowbray who was
playing Antonio, watching in a dreamy way the ill-arranged dress which
had been hastily contrived for Ivy’s understudy.

He would have missed the cue for his entrance had not George Mowbray
pushed him forward, and it seemed to him that it was not his own voice
but the voice of somebody else that uttered Bassanio’s speeches,
while all the time he himself was away with Evereld, though his body
mechanically went through the business of his part. Mac-neillie watched
him with some anxiety, but before the play ended, the arrival of the
ambulance and the necessity of seeing Ivy safely transferred to it drove
all else from the manager’s mind. He refused to allow anyone but himself
to take her to the hospital, feeling that she was under his charge, and
troubled to remember that the poor child had not a relation in the world
who could now befriend her.

“Do your best to get well quickly, my dear,” he said in his kindly
voice when he took leave of her. “And don’t fret as to the future. You
shall come back to the company whenever you like.”

Returning to the theatre he found the scene struck and all the house in
darkness save for the light by the stage door.

“Is Mr. Denmead still in his dressing-room?” he inquired.

“No sir,” said the door-keeper. “He has been gone some time and Mr. and
Mrs. Brinton with him.”

Macneillie ran upstairs to speak a word to Ivy’s understudy as to
the dresses needed later in the week, then he walked slowly back to
Kingsmead Terrace, but although he rang repeatedly no one came to answer
the door.

He was just meditating a burglarious entrance by the kitchen window when
at last he heard footsteps approaching and the latch was raised.

Myra Brinton softly opened to him; her face was pale and anxious.

“Oh, is it you!” she exclaimed. “I hoped it was the nurse. Tom has gone
to try and get hold of one. Evereld’s child is born and the doctor seems
terribly anxious about her.”

Macneillie was a true Scotsman and seldom said much when he was moved.
He stalked on into the sitting room and began to pace to and fro in
silence.

Evereld had grown almost like a daughter to him and the thought of her
peril and of Ralph’s frightful anxiety brought a choking sensation to
his throat.

“What of the child?” he asked presently.

“It is a boy,” said Myra. “Of course extremely small; they gave him
to me in the next room and I have done what I could for him, the
maidservant is seeing to him now, and the others are in with Evereld.
Hark! there is someone coming downstairs.”

Macneillie went out into the passage and encountered Ralph who looked as
if years had passed over his head since they last met.

“They want another doctor,” he said snatching his hat from the stand.

“Give me the name and address and I will go,” said Macneillie.

“You have not had your supper,” objected Ralph. “And, as it is, we are
turning the whole house upside down for you.”

“What matter!” said Macneillie. “Go back to Evereld, my boy, I will see
to this for you.”

Ralph protested no further, indeed his one desire was to return to his
wife, but catching sight of Myra, he paused to inquire after the child.

“Evereld keeps asking if it is all right,” he said. “And the doctor, who
would say anything to quiet her, assures her it is all it ought to be.
Do you think there is really a hope that it will live?”

“I know so little about such things,” said Myra, with a sick remembrance
of the jealous feelings that had stirred within her on first learning of
Evereld’s hopes. “He is the tiniest little fellow I ever saw, but there
seems nothing amiss with him. Hark! there is a ring at the door bell.
It must be the nurse at last. We will see what she says to him.”

Ralph, who had vaguely expected a sort of Mrs. Gamp, was relieved to see
a comely middle-aged woman with a refined and sensible face, and that
wonderful air of composure and capable quietness which makes a trained
nurse so unlike an amateur.

She praised all that Myra had done and declared that with care the
child would do well enough, and Ralph, looking for the first time at the
little doll-like face of his son felt a sudden sense of hope and joy and
relief which carried him through the dark hours of that night of anxiety
and suspense.

For all night long Evereld lay between life and death. The younger
doctor who had been called in despaired of saving her, and Ralph knew
it, though no one actually put the thought into words. He knew it by the
man’s face, and by the sound of effort in the voice of his first friend,
cheery Doctor Grey. Evereld was dying from exhaustion, and from the
terrible shock she had undergone.

Still like a true Denmead he clung to hope, and held his fear at arm’s
length; every word of encouragement that fell from Dr. Grey’s lips
helping him to keep up.

Her age was in her favour, her patience, her great firmness and courage
all would stand her in good stead; so said the old doctor; and Ralph
hoped against hope until at last about sunrise a change set in. Even
the younger doctor grew sanguine. Evereld’s hold upon life was evidently
growing firmer. She looked up at Ralph and smiled.

“What day is it?” she asked, for pain knows no time limits and she had
no notion whether hours or days had gone by.

“It is Tuesday morning,” he said stooping down to kiss her, a rapturous
sense of relief filling his heart.

She seemed to meditate for a few minutes, and obediently took the gruel
the nurse brought her.

“Why!” she exclaimed presently. “It is your first night in Hamlet, and
you will be tired out. Go and rest, darling.”

“The best rest is to see you growing better,” he said tenderly.

After another interval she asked about the child.

“Do you want to see him?” asked the young doctor, hailing as a good sign
her return of interest.

“Not now, later on” she said quietly. “I will try to sleep first. I’m
sure I could sleep if you would go and rest, Ralph.”

“Quite right, you are a wise little woman, Mrs. Den-mead,” said Dr.
Grey.

Ralph allowed himself to be taken off by the younger doctor, seeing that
they thought it best he should go. They paused on the way down to visit
the next room, where the good-natured landlady sat in a rocking-chair by
the fire nursing the latest descendant of Sir Ralph Denmead the Crusader
who, instead of being born in a stately castle, had first seen the light
in Kingsmead Terrace at a lodging house specially reserved for what the
landlady termed “Theat’icals.”

Ralph could only thank her for all her help, but he was blessed with the
power of expression and the good soul felt fully rewarded for what she
had gone through.

“Don’t you mention it, sir, it’s nothing but a pleasure,” she said.
“Mrs. Brinton she was here till one o’clock, and a very pleasant spoken
lady she is and handy with the child. And, says I to her, the finest
grown man I ever see in my life, six foot two in his stocking feet, was
not a morsel bigger than this baby to start with. A fine set up man
he was as you could wish till he lost his leg along of frost bites and
under-feeding in the Crimea.”

Ralph looked at the funny little bundle swathed in flannel and almost
laughed at the thought of his possible development into a military hero
of six foot two, losing a leg for his country’s glory! But the mention
of military life made him think of Bridget, and he determined to
telegraph to her at once.

Down in the sitting-room they found Macneillie solacing himself with
Shakspere and a pipe, and delighted to hear the more favourable report.

“You have been up all night, Governor,” said Ralph regretfully, when the
doctor had gone.

“Well, yes, I was afraid you might need me,” said Macneillie. “I had
hardly dared to hope for this good news. Come, sit down and eat, boy,
you are nearly played out. I brewed some coffee for you, but I don’t
know whether it is fit to drink now.”

Ralph obeyed, eating like a hungry school boy, and his face gradually
assumed a less ghastly hue.

“What time is rehearsal?” he asked glancing at his watch. “Hullo! I
forgot to wind it, and it has run down.”

“It’s now eight,” said Macneillie. “Rehearsal is at eleven, but you
won’t be needed. I am going to play Hamlet.”

“No, Governor,” said Ralph emphatically. “I shall be all right after
a little sleep, and it was almost the first thing Evereld thought of.
Isn’t she a model actor’s wife?”

He knew well that to play Hamlet was almost more than Macneillie could
endure, for long ago the Manager had told him that he had acted it every
night before Christine Greville’s wedding, and that it had become so
bound up with all the mental misery he had gone through at that time
that he had never dared to attempt it again.

“Ah, she remembered it,” said Macneillie with a smile. “That was very
like Evereld. I would put off the performance if possible, but it
is promised for three nights and it will be very difficult to manage
anything else, specially as Ivy Grant is _hors de combat_, too, and her
understudy such a novice. No, we will give the play; I have spent most
of the night in company with the Danish prince and this evening he and I
will patch up our ancient quarrel.”

But Ralph was not to be borne down by these arguments, and at last
Macneillie agreed to a compromise. The play had already been rehearsed
for some time. Ralph should be excused from attendance that morning, and
if all were well should play the part as arranged.

“Now no more of this argle-hargle as we say in Scotland. To bed with
you, or we shall have you breaking down this evening,” said Macneillie.
“What? a letter you must write?”

“Only to Mrs. Hereford, who you know had promised to house Evereld
during her illness.”

“I will see to it,” said Macneillie. “And you want this telegram to go
to that nice old Irish body, the soldier’s widow? Well, leave them to
me, and get along with you, do. Follow the excellent example of that son
of yours, and spend your time in sleeping.”

Ralph took the advice very literally and for the next eight hours slept
profoundly. He was roused at last to a consciousness that someone was
standing beside his bed, and looking up sleepily was vaguely astonished
to see Bridget’s well-known face. Was he a boy again in Sir Matthew’s
house? And was Bridget as usual coming in to rouse him that he might
not incur his guardian’s wrath by being late for breakfast? His heavy
eyelids drooped again, when he was suddenly startled back to full
recollection by the sound of a wailing baby in the room below.

“Why, that must be the boy,” he reflected. “And I am a family man,--and
Sir Matthew has gone to Jericho! What news, Bridget?” he exclaimed
anxiously. “How is my wife?”

“She is doing nicely, sir, God bless her sweet soul! Your dinner is
ready, Mr. Ralph, and after that, why you can be coming in to see
mistress. She has had two good sleeps, thank God.”

Bridget was in her element with the sole care of the little doll-like
baby.

“It’s exactly like you, sir, bless it,” she remarked when Ralph paused
on his way to the theatre to take another look at his small son.

“Well, really, Bridget! You can’t expect me to take that for a
compliment,” he said laughing. “He has no eyes to speak of--just a
couple of slits--and as for his face, it seems to be all nose, with just
a little margin of pink puckers.”

“Ah, it’s always the outsiders that can see the likeness,” said Bridget.

“Look here upon this picture, and on this,” quoted Ralph merrily. “You
will send me off to play Hamlet in a very humble and chastened mood,
Bridget. I never thought I was quite so ugly.”

As a matter of fact the great strain he had passed through, and the
present relief, quite blunted the feeling of intense nervousness which
usually overwhelmed him when for the first time he played an important
character. All his fellow actors too were in sympathy with him, and it
did his heart good to hear what they said as to Evereld’s prompt courage
and her plucky rescue of Ivy Grant. The news from the hospital was also
cheering. Ivy was going on as well as could be expected, and although
her bums were severe, she was likely to be able to resume her work in
two or three months’ time, and thanks to Evereld she was not at all
disfigured.

Ralph’s long and patient study of his part bore excellent fruit. He
gave a really striking representation of Hamlet’s lovable and strangely
complex character; and Macneillie watched his pupil with satisfaction,
feeling to-night more than he had ever done before that Ralph had in him
the makings of a really great actor.

“If only that brave little wife of his is spared,” he thought to
himself, “his future is assured. But he is the sort of man who might be
altogether paralysed by a great sorrow. I should fancy it was the early
loss of his wife which turned the Vicar of Whinhaven into a recluse, and
according to Ralph it was certainly a great trouble and disappointment
which finally killed the poor man. What develops one kind of nature
ruins another.”

In the course of the next few days there was a great deal of anxiety
both on account of Evereld and of the child. In the midst of it there
suddenly appeared upon the scenes the one person who was most capable of
cheering and helping them all.

Mrs. Hereford, with her sweet bright face, the youthfulness and vivacity
of which contrasted so curiously with her prematurely grey hair, took
them all by surprise and was quietly announced one afternoon at the
house in Kingsmead Terrace.

“How good of you to come!” cried Ralph, feeling as if the mere sight of
her had lifted a load from his mind.

“And how is Evereld?” she asked. “They told me at the door she was
better, but I wasn’t sure how much the little servant knew.”

“She is better to-day,” said Ralph with a sigh. “But all last night we
were terribly anxious again, I think it was worrying over the child’s
illness.”

“He is very delicate I am afraid,” said Mrs. Hereford.

“Yes, but they are hopeful about him now. Yesterday they thought him
dying, and I had to rush out for a clergyman to get him christened.”

“And to go off to your work in the evening I suppose not knowing how
things would be when you came back.”

“Yes,” said Ralph. “That was the worst part of all. It was my third
appearance as Hamlet, and I all but broke down.”

“I well remember what an agony it used to be to sing in public when
Dermot or Molly were dangerously ill,” said Mrs. Hereford. “And talking
of Dermot reminds me of what I came to propose this afternoon. He is
much stronger but the doctor doesn’t care for him to be in London just
yet. I think of taking a house here till the Easter recess, and when
Evereld can be moved we think it would be a capital plan if she came to
us here instead of in town. I am not going to be defrauded of my visitor
by this provoking catastrophe. I have been looking this afternoon at a
furnished house which is to let in Lansdowne Crescent, and if all goes
well I don’t see why in a fortnight or three weeks’ time Evereld and
her baby should not come to us there. I suppose you will have to move on
elsewhere with the company?”

“Yes,” said Ralph, “I must leave next Monday, but luckily we shall only
be at Bristol so I can run over pretty often.”

“And we shall always be delighted to have you for your Sundays later
on,” said Mrs. Hereford, “don’t you think it would be better for Evereld
to come to us? She will be rather lonely here.”

“Oh, it would be the best thing in the world for her to be with
you,” said Ralph. “But it will be disarranging all your plans I am
afraid,--and putting you to so much trouble.”

“Not at all,” said Mrs. Hereford. “Evereld and I shall both be widowed
during the week, that is the only drawback; but husbands must work. And
in any case I should have had to take Dermot somewhere, for he is the
last boy to take care of himself and will do the most mad things if he
hasn’t a sister to look after him. I tell him it is becoming such a tax
that I shall really have to take to matchmaking and select him a nice
capable wife who would see that he wore his great-coat in an east wind,
and didn’t always sit in a direct draught. Ah, here is Mr. Macneillie,
we must tell him of our plans.”

Macneillie rang for tea, and then they discussed the future arrangements
of which he cordially approved.

“And how about the poor little thing who was burnt? Is she getting on
well?” asked Mrs. Hereford.

“I have just been to see her,” said Macneillie. “Miss Orme and I took
her some flowers. She is suffering a great deal still poor child, but
they say she is wonderfully patient.”

“I don’t seem to remember her. Was she with you at Southbourne?”

“No, she has only been with us a year,” said Macneil-lie. “And was
getting on remarkably well. I hope she will be fit to act by Easter. She
had a very narrow escape, and owed her life to Mrs. Denmead’s presence
of mind and courage! They will be greater friends than ever after this.”

“I should like to go and see her,” said Mrs. Hereford. “Or is she hardly
up to visitors yet?”

“Oh, she would like to see you,” said Ralph, “for she has heard so much
about you.”

“I am not going to ask to see Evereld to-day, for I am quite sure she
ought to be kept absolutely quiet,” said Mrs. Hereford. “You must tell
her how much I look forward to having her later on. Suppose we walk
round to the hospital now. There will just be time before my return
train.”

Her cheery sensible talk did more for Ralph than anything else could
have done; he poured out all his anxieties to her, and found in her
motherly wisdom and her hopeful words exactly what he needed to tide him
over the difficulties which overwhelmed him.

“What is it about her?” he thought to himself, as he paced up and down
outside the hospital while she paid her visit to Ivy. “She seems to me
just like a gleam of sunshine on a dark day, or a fresh breeze in the
summer. I have met plenty of Irish women who were friendly and pleasant
and delightful to talk to, but it isn’t a mere matter of charm with
her,--she seems to have a heart wide enough to take in every one that is
in trouble.”

Doreen Hereford did not find it difficult to make room in her heart for
one so helpless and forlorn as Ivy. The merest glance at the wistful
face in the hospital ward was sufficient. And Ivy responded to her
at once and felt all the comfort of her presence. For Doreen never
patronised people, she mothered them; and between these two forms of
helpfulness there lies a world of difference.

“Tell me a little more about that poor child,” she said to Ralph as they
walked to the station. “You have known her for a long time, have you
not.”

“Yes, her grandfather used to give me elocution lessons, she has been
on the stage since she was ten and has had rather a hard apprenticeship.
Evereld has taken a great fancy to her and she needs friends, poor girl,
for she is quite alone in the world. The old Professor died just after
our Scotch company broke up.”

“I have been wondering what she will do when she leaves the hospital,”
 said Mrs. Hereford. “Would Evereld like it if I asked her to stay with
us too? Or wouldn’t that work well?”

“I am sure she would like it,” said Ralph. “But will you have room for
them all?”

“Oh yes,” she said laughing. “It’s a big house, and besides we Irish
people know how to stow away large numbers. I want somehow to see more
of little Miss Grant, there is something very winning about her. Talk it
over by and bye with Evereld and see what she thinks.”



CHAPTER XXXVI


“_The comfort which poor human beings want in such a world as this is
not the comfort of ease, but the comfort of strength_.”

C. Kingsley.

|Evereld thought the whole plan a most delightful one, and if anything
could have consoled her for the parting with Ralph on Monday it would
have been the prospect of spending the time of her convalescence with
Bride O’Ryan and Mrs. Hereford, and of knowing that Ivy was not to be
left out in the cold but was to enjoy just the same hospitality and
care.

On the Sunday she was allowed to see Myra Brinton for the first time.
Perhaps the events of the week had done more for Myra than for
anyone else; she had been so horrified to discover what mischief her
sentimental fancy for Ralph, her jealousy of Evereld and her quarrel
with Ivy had wrought, that she had taken herself thoroughly in hand, and
had learnt a lesson she would never forget. As for the baby, it played
no small part in her education, and Bridget was always delighted that
she should come in and make much of it.

“I don’t know how to thank you enough,” said Evereld looking up at her
gratefully. “They have all told me how good and helpful you were last
Monday, when no one had time to think much of Baby Dick.”

“Is he to be called Dick?” said Myra willing to turn the conversation
from herself.

“Yes, after my brother who died. Have you seen Ivy yet?”

“Oh, several times,” said Myra. “I wanted just to tell you that
everything is quite right between us again. I was very wrong, Evereld,
to tell you what I did at Mardentown. It was all a mistake and I little
thought what it would lead to. If poor Ivy had not been in a hurry to be
out of my way before I came back to the dressing-room, I do believe the
accident would never have happened, My horrible gossip might have been
the death of both of you. I can never forget that.”

“Don’t let us ever talk of it again,” said Evereld. “We shall all
three be closer friends for the rest of our lives just because this has
happened. That’s the only thing that matters now. And Myra, I wanted to
ask you to be Dick’s Godmother. You had all the trouble of him at first,
and so he seems rightly to belong to you. Mr. Macneillie has promised to
be one of the Godfathers.”

This was the finishing touch to the reconciliation and a very happy
thought on the part of the little mother. Nothing could have pleased
Myra more, and she left Bath a much happier and a much better woman.

Evereld made herself as happy as she could with her baby and with old
Bridget as companions, but her convalescence was tedious, and she was
unspeakably glad when at length the day arrived for her removal to the
Hereford’s house in Lansdowne Crescent.

The beautiful view of the Somersetshire hills and of the grey city in
the valley below, which she gained from her window, the cheerful sense
of family life going on all about her, the companionship of Bride
O’Ryan, and the comfort of having Mrs. Hereford always at hand to advise
her about Dick and to share all her anxieties, seemed exactly what she
needed.

Her voice recovered its tone, her cheeks regained their fresh bright
colour, and she became once more just a girl again, ready to enjoy life
in her own quiet fashion.

“I could almost fancy we were back at school,” said Bride cheerfully.

“When, as at present I’m in the shade with the light behind me,” quoted
Evereld merrily. “My hands are about the worst part of me now, they are
so horribly white, otherwise you must own that I am quite presentable.
How strange it seems though to think of the life at Southbourne. It
was so happy while it lasted, but the thought of going back to it is
dreadful.”

“Instead you spend half the day in playing with Dick,” said Bride
teasingly. “The amount of time you waste on that child is appalling.”

“I’m not going to be one of those horrid modern mothers who never have
time to see their own babies,” said Evereld. “It would have been wrong
to have had him at all if I didn’t mean to be his best friend from the
very beginning right through his life.”

“Do you mean him to be an actor?” asked Bride, looking at the funny
little face nestled close to Evereld and wondering what it would develop
into.

“I should like it if he has all that is needed to make one,” said
Evereld, “but who can prophesy whether he has any special gift, or
whether he has patience for all the drudgery it involves?”

“Tell me what you really think of the life, now that you have had some
experience of it,” said Bride. “Quite candidly, don’t you find it very
monotonous?”

“No, I have found it very interesting,” said Evereld. “I can fancy
though that it must be trying to do nothing but one play for many
hundreds of nights. In a company like ours you see we get plenty of
variety.”

“And you don’t mind the moving about week by week?”

“Oh, sometimes it is tiresome, but there are many advantages. Mr.
Macneillie knows a host of interesting people, all over the country, and
they are generally very hospitable to us; besides I like getting to know
fresh places, and as a rule the journeys are not very long or tiring.
Sometimes I used to get a little bored by the incessant talk about
things connected with the stage. But that would be just the same in any
other profession. Don’t you remember how at the chateau we used to get
so weary of the talk between Mr. Magnay and his two artist friends? They
say it is exactly the same among authors, when two or three of them are
together they can’t help talking shop. And as to clergymen, why they are
proverbial! I suppose Kingsley was the only one who ever did entirely
banish ‘clerical shop’ from his home talk.”

“Well, I think you are very wonderful people to be able to travel about
for so long without losing your tempers or quarrelling like the Kilkenny
cats,” said Bride. “There’s nothing on earth so trying to the temper
as going about with people. I suppose that’s why they always make an
unfortunate married couple travel on the continent. They learn in that
way what sort of life is in store for them.”

Evereld laughed. “You know we do now and then quarrel a little, but as
a rule we are all very friendly. There is only one thing I cannot stand,
and I hope we shall never have such an infliction again.”

“What is that?” said Bride smiling at her friend’s vehemence.

“A wealthy amateur who thinks he can act but can’t,” said Evereld. “Oh,
if you knew what we have endured all the autumn from an empty-headed
fellow, who thought himself a genius!”

“What did he do?” said Bride.

“What did he not do! He was insufferably rude to Mr. Macneillie, he
hated Ralph because he wanted the Juvenile Lead himself, he treated all
the other men as though they were beneath contempt, he persecuted all
the ladies of the company with tiresome attentions, and he was always
dragging into the conversation the names of titled people of his
acquaintance, or dropping coroneted envelopes in a casual way. Somehow
he contrived to set us all at sixes and sevens, and there was joy
throughout the company when at last something offended him and he
suddenly brought his engagement to an end.”

Bride laughed heartily as she heard of the stratagem by which the
Manager had contrived to bring about this much desired event.

“Who would ever think that Mr. Macneillie had so much fun in him as you
describe,” she said. “His face is grave almost to sternness.”

“Yes, but when it does light up he hardly looks like the same man,” said
Evereld. “I don’t think he would ever have stood the wear and tear of
his life if it hadn’t been for his strong vein of humour.”

And with that she fell to musing on the strange fact which most people
discover sooner or later, that it is not the prosperous and happy
people who as a rule are blessed with this divine gift of a sense of the
humourous, but the people whose lives are clouded with care and anxiety,
or those who have to go about the world with an aching heart, or to bear
the consequences of another’s sin. To such as these often enough, by
some mysterious law of compensation, there comes a power, not only
of feeling the pathos of life more acutely, but of perceiving in
everything--even in matters connected with their own sorrows--the subtle
touches of humour which keep life healthy and pure.

She noticed it very much in Dermot O’Ryan, who young as he was had
passed through a hard apprenticeship of ill health, misfortune,
political imprisonment, and misunderstanding that to one of his
temperament was excessively hard to bear.

He was the only one of the O’Ryans who had any literary tastes, and now
being cut off by his recent illness from active political life he was
busy with a Memoir of his father, a well-known man in the Fenian rising
of ‘65, who had died from the effects of his subsequent imprisonment.

Dermot was a thorough Kelt, and Evereld thought his sweet-tempered,
philosophic patience, made him a most delightful companion. They had
liked each other at Southbourne, and had become firm friends during
Ever-eld’s stay at Auvergne, so that they quickly fell into very
easy terms of intimacy. They were sitting together in the large sunny
drawing-room and Bride was reading a page of the Memoir upon which
Dermot wanted a special criticism, when Mrs. Hereford returned from the
hospital bringing Ivy with her. Dermot looked up rather curiously to see
the girl of whom he had heard so much, but instead of a beautiful and
striking face which he could either have admired or criticised, he saw
a little childish creature, with startled blue-grey eyes and a wistful
face which was not exactly pretty but was somehow more fascinating than
if it had possessed more regular features.

At sight of Evereld, Ivy forgot everything and ran across the room to
greet her; she was so small and graceful and light that it seemed almost
as if, like the birds, she had special air cells in her bones, for her
movements had in them something altogether unusual so that merely to
watch her limbs was keen delight.

She had, too, an eager quick way of talking, and by the time she had
been introduced to Dermot he felt that the scrap of a hand put into his
had carried away his heart.

“I have heard of you from Mrs. Denmead,” she said. “You were one of the
imprisoned patriots.”

“Oh, most of us have a turn at that sort of thing,” he said smiling.
“It’s part of an Irishman’s training.” Bride made some remark about the
manuscript, and the talk became general, Ivy entering this new world
with a sense of keen interest, and quite in the humour to study Irish
history with Dermot as schoolmaster.

During her illness she had had more leisure to think than had ever
before been the case. For five weeks there had been nothing to do, but
to keep quiet and to recover as steadily as might be. At first she had
suffered too much to make any use of the time, but later on, when she
was convalescent, there were long hours when she learnt more of the real
truth of things than she had hitherto grasped. The mere physical pain
seemed afterwards to fit her to understand what had hitherto been
a riddle to her, and the strong feeling for Evereld which grew and
deepened in her heart did wonders for her. All her nature seemed to have
become more tender and sweet; and whereas in time past she would have
flirted violently with Dermot and played with him as a cat plays with
a mouse, she seemed now to have laid aside all her silly little
affectations and coquetries, and to be capable of realising that love is
not a game, or a pastime, or a selfish having, but rather the entrance
to all that is most sacred, the mutual sacrifice of self, the nearest
approach of humanity to the life divine.

Dermot made no secret of his admiration for the little actress, it was
quite patent to all observers, but his devotion was so unlike anything
she had hitherto come across in life that Ivy herself was never startled
by it. She quietly drifted into love with him, waking into an altogether
new world as she did so, a world far removed from the reach of men like
Mr. Vane-Ffoulkes with their compliments, and their presents, and
their so-called love, which she knew all the time to be nothing but
thinly-veiled selfishness.

At last one day, when Ivy was out driving with Mrs. Hereford, Dermot
seized the opportunity of a confidential talk with Evereld as she sat at
work by the fire.

“I want you to give me your advice,” he began, throwing down his pen and
drawing a little nearer to her. “Do you think there is any hope at all
for me with Miss Grant? I am sure you know without any telling that I
fell in love with her the moment she came here. Do you think there is
any hope for me?”

“That depends,” said Evereld thoughtfully.

“Depends on what?” he asked eagerly.

“Well, you see Ivy really cares for her profession and is just beginning
to succeed in it. I don’t think she would consent to retire.”

“I could never allow my wife to remain on the stage,” said Dermot his
face clouding.

“Then I don’t think you have any business to go to the theatre,”
 said Evereld. “Every woman you see on the stage is somebody’s wife or
somebody’s daughter.”

“If one realised that, the disgusting things which amuse some audiences
would fail for want of support,” said Dermot musingly. “Not that I
imagine for a moment that Miss Grant would ever accept an engagement of
which she really disapproved. Doreen would agree with her as to sticking
to her profession, and perhaps she is right.”

“Having got on so well while she is young,” said Evereld, “for she won’t
be eighteen till May, there seems every prospect of her soon getting
to a really good position. And there is a sort of fascination about
her--she is always popular.”

“You mean that I shall have a host of rivals.”

“Possibly, but you are early in the field and indeed I think you stand a
very good chance.”

“Do you think it would be wrong if I spoke to her now? Would it spoil
the rest of this time for her?”

“Well that would depend on the answer she gave you,” said Evereld
laughing. “But indeed I think Ivy is just the sort of girl who would be
happier if engaged while she is quite young. You see she is much in the
position I was in--quite alone in the world with no relations and but
few friends.”

So Dermot, who detested waiting and was never at a loss for words,
seized an early opportunity of urging his suit, and Max Hereford, coming
down from town on the following Saturday, was greeted by his wife with
the news that the two were just engaged.

“I told you what the result would be when you hospitably invited that
little actress,” he said laughing. “There never was such a matchmaker as
you are, mavourneen. I knew something had happened the moment I caught
sight of your face.”

“They are so happy,” she said smiling, “and Ivy is so gentle and sweet;
Dermot will be exactly the right sort of husband for her I do believe.
And she will make him just the capable, brisk, bright little wife that
such a dreamy philosopher needs.”

“But I do hope they are not going to marry upon Der-mot’s penwork,” said
Max Hereford. “He is making a good income now, but of course one can’t
tell when he may be laid up, for I fear he will never be strong.”

“Oh, they are quite content to wait for five or six years,” said Mrs.
Hereford. “And I am thankful to say Dermot’s Eastern ideas as to wives
are being overcome by Ivy’s practical good sense. She won’t hear of
giving up her work, and in a talk I had with her the other day she spoke
so sensibly of professional life, which she knows pretty thoroughly,
that I am sure she is right about it. She has the makings of a very
fine character in her, and I shall not be surprised if Dermot’s marriage
proves as great a success as Michael’s has done.”

“We shall now not be happy until Mollie and Bride are arranged for,”
 said Max Hereford teasingly, “and then there are our own children coming
on, so you have your work cut out for you, dear. By and bye there will
be match-making for the nieces and nephews, and after that no doubt a
few grandchildren coming on. So you will be able to keep your hand in.”

“And isn’t it the least I can be doing then, since my own married life
has been so happy?” she said laughing. Ivy, who had not yet seen Mr.
Hereford, stood rather in awe of him and looked up apprehensively when
her future brother-in-law came into the drawing-room where she was
helping Dermot with some proofs. However his greeting was so kindly and
his congratulations to Dermot sounded so genuine that her fears were
soon set at rest; she felt that the family had fully adopted her and
that she was no longer one of the waifs of the world.



CHAPTER XXXVII


“_The grace of God, the light and life that flow from His indwelling,
can lift the very weariest and hardest-driven soul into a dignity of
endurance, a radiance of faith, a simplicity of love, far above all that
this world can give or take away_.” Dean Paget.

|But perhaps no one so thoroughly rejoiced in the news of the engagement
as Myra Brinton. It was Ivy herself who first told her, when she and
Evereld with Bridget and Dick in attendance rejoined the company at
Worcester. Ralph had of course heard all about it the first Sunday
he had visited them at Bath, but he had kept his own counsel, for Ivy
preferred telling her own news herself both to Macneillie and to her
friends in the company.

Nothing could so completely have restored peace and harmony between Myra
and Ivy, all the past mistakes and disagreements faded into oblivion,
and the two became once more excellent friends.

As for little Dick he soon became the darling of the whole company.
Thanks to Bridget’s good management he throve wonderfully, spent most
of his time in sleeping, seldom cried, and behaved with discretion
on journeys, to the immense satisfaction of his mother, who proudly
reflected that not even the most crabbed old bachelor in the company
could ever complain that Dick was in the way.

Like a true Denmead he was thoroughly well-bred and had a way of
accommodating himself to all surroundings; but Evereld saw he would run
an excellent chance of being spoilt as soon as he grew a little older,
for everyone made much of him and he received votive offerings in such
profusion that it became difficult to pack them. Even the low comedy man
broke his rule of silence so far as to inquire occasionally after his
health, and at Christinas presented him with a magnificent red and blue
clown who shook his head to solemn music.

As to Macneillie, though he had always professed total indifference
to children, he was completely subjugated by the wiles of his Godson.
Either from insight into character, or from some consideration of the
strong hands and arms which held him so delightfully, Dick preferred the
manager to anyone else in the world; his father’s long slender hands and
taper fingers were not to be compared for a moment with the comfort of
the highlander’s firm and comfortable grasp. And Macneillie found it
impossible to resist the subtle flattery of this small worshipper who
was always ready to laugh and shout with glee at the mere sight of
him. In his darkest hours the little elf would often cajole him into
a temporary forgetfulness, seeming indeed to take a special delight in
beguiling him into a romp, whenever his clouded brow betokened that
his own great trouble and the bitter thought of Christine’s lonely and
difficult life were weighing him down.

On the whole the years which followed the birth of Ralph’s child were
as happy as any Macneillie had known since Christine’s marriage, and as
tranquil as his life was ever likely to be. Ralph and Evereld were like
a son and daughter to him, and both were able to do much to help him in
the busy and harassing days which fall to the lot of most managers.

Still there was no denying that his private troubles had more or less
shattered his health; he worked on bravely, as had always been his
custom, but now and then an intolerable sense of weariness crept over
him and he would wonder how much longer he could keep going.

At last, soon after Dick had celebrated his second birthday, the manager
suddenly broke down.

There was nothing which could definitely account for his failure; he had
indeed been very busy with preparations for the Shaksperian Performances
at Stratford-on-Avon, which were that year to be given by his company
during the birthday week. But hard work seldom does people any harm. It
was rather that he had for years been bearing a load which overtaxed his
strength and at last, from sheer exhaustion, nature gave way.

His old enemy, utter sleeplessness, returned to torment him, and there
was nothing for it but to obey the doctor’s orders and go to Scotland
for rest and change.

“You are looking sorely fagged, Hugh,” was his mother’s comment when
on the evening of his arrival at Callander they sat together by the
fireside. It was some months since she had seen him and she was quick to
note that he was hollow-cheeked and that his face, as she expressed it,
“looked all eyes.”

“Scottish air will soon cure me,” he said with forced cheerfulness. “I
shall sleep to-night.”

“Ah lad,” she said with a sigh, “and what reason is there that you
should not be always breathing your native air? If you had but chosen
the calling I would have had you choose, how different all might have
been.”

“Yes, we might now have been sitting in the most comfortable Manse,”
 said Macneillie, a gleam of humour lighting up his grave face. “Instead
of a lean and hard-worked actor, roaming from place to place, I might
have been a portly minister revered by half the neighbourhood.”

“I believe you are tired of your wandering life after all,” she said,
scrutinizing his careworn face with her keen eyes.

“Deadly tired,” he admitted with a sigh. “But what has that to do with
it? Are not half the manses in the land filled with weary men who would
give anything for a change in the dull routine of the work they are
called to do? It is the same with all of us, Mother. However much we
love our profession there must be hard times now and again, and somehow
we have got to live through them like men.”

She did not reply, but silently knitted away at one of his socks,
thinking to herself how different his life would have been had she had
the ordering of it. He should have come to great honour, should have
been a noted preacher filling a high position in Edinburgh, he should
have married well, and about her in her old age troops of grandchildren
should have played. As it was, his life had she felt been wrecked by the
luckless taste for dramatic art which had puzzled her so much from his
childhood upwards. She laid all his misfortunes to that strange
and unaccountable passion for acting which she was wholly unable
to comprehend. It was this which had brought him into contact with
Christine Greville, this which had debarred him from marriage, this
which had for years prevented him from settling down, and forced him to
lead the life of a wanderer.

“Hugh,” she said, “is it even now too late? Could you not give up acting
and do something more worthy of your powers?”

He started as though someone had struck him a blow.

“Give up my profession?” he said in amazement. “Why no, mother, I could
never do that. I am tired out and in a grumbling mood but you must not
take me too literally. My vocation has saved me again and again from
making utter shipwreck. Depend upon it no other work is as you would say
‘more worthy’ of me.”

She urged it no more; but the old sore feeling that his mother could not
understand his point of view, that she still in her heart desired him
to take up work for which he was wholly unfitted, came back to mar the
entire peace of Macneillie’s holiday.

On the Saturday before Holy Week he could no longer resist the restless
craving for change which took possession of him as his strength
gradually returned. And taking leave of his mother he left Callander and
travelled down to Stratford, intending there to await the arrival of his
company later on.

It was a mild bright afternoon in mid April when he reached the quiet
little town. It seemed to sleep tranquilly in the golden sunshine,
scarcely a breath of air stirred the trees, the beautiful spire of the
stately old church rose into the bluest of skies, and the green fields
flecked with daisies seemed to be just the right setting for a picture
so fair and peaceful. The pastoral character of the scenery somehow
suited Macneillie’s mood better even than the rugged mountains of his
own land. Surely in this quiet loveliness, rich in associations with
the great Master he could gain the rest and the ease he so grievously
needed!

He would spend his days on the river, would not allow any business
anxieties or arrangements for the following week to invade his repose;
Shakspere and Shakspere’s country should hearten him for the future--the
quiet of Holy Week should lift him up out of the depression which sought
to drag him back into its dreary torture chambers.

So he thought to himself on the evening of his arrival; forgetting that
“through the shadow of an agony cometh redemption”;--never dreaming
that in this most tranquil place he was to be confronted with the worst
ordeal of his whole life.



CHAPTER XXXVIII


               “World’s use is cold--world’s love is vain,--

               World’s cruelty is bitter bane;

               But pain is not the fruit of pain.”

                        E. B. Browning.

|If life during the past three years had been difficult for Macneillie
it had been tenfold more difficult for Christine Greville. As everyone
had foreseen, her position called for a strength of character which she
did not possess, for a power of endurance which she was only learning
by slow degrees, and for that sound judgment and prompt womanly wisdom
which had never been her strong point.

She had indeed resigned the cares and anxieties of Management, but this
also meant that she was obliged to put up with whatever arrangements
commended themselves to Barry Sterne at the theatre; and though he and
his wife had always been good friends to her she was often unable to
approve of his way of looking at things.

They had nearly come to a serious disagreement when he engaged Dudley
the comedian assuring her that the man had quite lived down his past.
And though time had more or less reconciled her to this belief, she was
never quite without the instinct which had made Myra Kay shrink from the
man in Scotland. She grew to feel a little more confidence in him when
one day he happened to mention Ralph Denmead in her presence. It was not
so much what he said, but rather his tone and expression when referring
to Ralph.

“So young Denmead is to play Orlando at Stratford next month, I see,” he
observed one morning before rehearsal. “That boy will do well if I’m not
mistaken. There was a touch of genius about him even when I knew him as
a half-starved novice in Scotland.”

“Did you know him then?” said Christine for the first time volunteering
an unnecessary remark to Dudley. “He used to tell me when I was acting
with him in Edinburgh what straits he had been reduced to during the
spring.”

“Yes, we had a rough time, but he was always a plucky, goodnatured
fellow ready to take the fortune of war. I’m glad he has fallen on ‘his
feet. Macneillie has been the making of him.”

“They say Macneillie’s health has broken down,” said another actor
strolling up. “He has gone to Scotland to recruit.”

“He has been roaming about the world too long,” remarked a third. “I
wonder he doesn’t give up his travelling company and settle in town. It
would be better for him in every way.”

“Well he’s doing very good work,” said Dudley. “As a matter of fact
his company and Lorimer’s are the only training schools we have for the
stage. How can the rising generation learn otherwise in these days of
long runs?”

The arrival of Barry Sterne checked the conversation at this moment and
Christine turned away sick at heart, to get through her work as well as
she could to the tune of those haunting words--“His health has broken
down!”

Was it true? Or had some lying paragraph in a newspaper set afloat a
false report?

Her whole nature seemed to rise up in rebellion against the miserable
ignorance of his movements to which she was doomed. It tortured her to
think that dozens of people who were wholly indifferent to him knew all,
while she was racked with anxiety and fear on his behalf.

She went home feeling wretched beyond expression; even Charlie’s eager
greeting could not bring a smile to her face or ease her pain.

“Auntie,” he exclaimed, “there’s a lady in the drawing-room waiting
to see you. She has been here a long time, and she would wait for you.
Susan says she looks as if she were in great trouble.”

“What name did she give?” asked Christine, her mind still full of Hugh
Macneillie’s illness, and a terror seizing her that some bearer of ill
news had come.

Dugald Linklater handed her a card which bore a name quite unknown to
her,--Mrs. Bouvery. She rose with a sigh of weariness.

“Don’t wait for me, Charlie,” she said, “I am not hungry and will
interview this lady first.”

Everything in Christine’s drawing-room was in the perfection of taste,
there were no bright colours; no incongruous mixtures, the prevailing
tint was a quiet low-toned blue: birds sang in the window, and
everywhere her love of growing plants manifested itself. Nothing could
have been more restful and harmonious than the effect of the whole, and
probably no one could have seemed more tranquil and self-possessed than
the graceful fair-haired woman who came forward to greet her visitor,
though all the time beneath the surface her restless heart was full of
passionate pain.

“I am sorry to have kept you waiting so long,” she said, her clear
musical voice making each syllable a separate delight to the ear. As
she spoke she looked wonderingly into the hard grief-worn face of the
elderly lady who had risen as she entered and had coldly acknowledged
her greeting.

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“Can I do anything for you?” said Christine, wondering whether her
visitor had called for a subscription, or whether she was perhaps the
mother of some stage-struck girl come for advice?

“Yes,” said Mrs. Bouvery, “you can listen to what I have to tell you.
You have broken my daughter’s heart madam, you have ruined her life.”

Nervous terror began to fill Christine’s mind. Surely this lady must be
mad. She instinctively measured the distance from the place where she
was sitting to the door.

“I do not understand you,” she faltered. “There must be some mistake. I
do not even know your name.”

“Your name unfortunately is only too familiar to us, however,” said her
visitor remorselessly. “My daughter was engaged to be married to Captain
Karey and until he had the misfortune to see you on the stage she was
perfectly happy. From that day however, all her misery dated. He was
infatuated about you and you lured him on to his death.

“Madam,” said Christine pale with indignation, “you do me a very great
wrong. I never encouraged Captain Karey. On the contrary his persistent
attentions annoyed me very much.”

“Oh, so you say! so they all say!” said Mrs. Bouvery choking back a sob.
“But I don’t believe a word of it. You actresses are all alike; as long
as your vanity is satisfied you don’t care what wretchedness you cause
to others.”

“Is it possible you really believe that I encouraged a mere boy who
must have been at least fifteen years my junior?” said Christine
incredulously. “The moment I saw there was the least risk of anything
serious, I would have nothing more to do with him. Every one of the
presents he tried to give me were returned immediately. What more could
I do?”

“You could retire from a profession which is unfit for any woman, you
could refuse any longer to make your beauty a snare and a peril to men.”

“I think,” said Christine quietly, but with a ring of indignation in her
voice, “you forget that some of the very best of women have been on the
stage. Is art to be crippled, and are we all to retire to nunneries,
because some men are weak fools and some men vicious knaves?”

“I do not care to argue with you,” said her visitor coldly, “The fact
remains that you have spoilt my daughter’s whole life.”

“Indeed I am very sorry for her,” said Christine with a sigh. “I can’t
blame myself for what has happened, but I can feel very much grieved
about it.”

“Whether you blame yourself or not,” said Mrs. Bou-very, “Captain
Karey’s death will be laid to your account at the last day.”

“His death?” cried Christine with dilated eyes. “What do you mean? I had
heard nothing.”

“Oh you had not seen it in the papers? Yes, he died three days ago from
an over-dose of chloral--it was brought in as ‘death by misadventure.’
I do not envy you your feelings at this moment. It was a sad day for him
when he first saw you, for him and for my poor daughter.”

Christine did not speak a word. She was horror-struck by the news so
abruptly told her; it was no time to assert her own blamelessness, nay
she could pardon the poor grief-stricken woman for reproaching her so
bitterly, for insulting her by such cruel, false imputations. The ad-mir
whose love letters had so greatly annoyed her, whose infatuation had
for some time past been difficult to baffle, had been driven out of his
senses by his unhappy and overmastering passion, and had died leaving
the girl who had loved him to her desolate sorrow.

Had Mrs. Bouvery been less hard and bitter, Christine could have opened
her heart to her, and made her understand how distorted a view of the
case she had taken; as it was they parted almost in silence and she
could only resolve to find out a little more about the daughter and if
possible to write to her later on.

But for many days after that the story haunted her and made her
miserable. Afterwards too, in her depression, the thought of Mrs.
Bouvery’s cruel words returned to her.

“Had I not been a solitary woman she would never have dared to attack
me like that,” she reflected with tears in her eyes. “A woman without a
protector is at the mercy of anyone who chooses to torment her. Were
I not worse than widowed, Lord Rosscourt and men of his type would be
unable to persecute me with attentions that are insults. They would not
dare to send me letters which one can hardly glance at without feeling
defiled.”

It happened that among her best and most trusted friends was a certain
literary man named Conway Sartoris. She had known him and the sensible
middle-aged sister who kept house for him for the last ten years, and
they had been the first to discern how very miserable was her married
life. During the difficult years that followed her separation their
entirely unaltered friendship had been a great comfort to her. Conway
Sartoris was not only a brilliant writer and an advanced thinker, but a
most delightful companion, full of dry humour, and shrewd common sense;
while his sister had a genuine affection for Christine and always gave
her a warm welcome at their pretty old-fashioned house in Westminster.
She was dining with them on the following Sunday and found it a great
relief to tell them of the tragedy with which so unwittingly she had
become connected, and of Mrs. Bou-very’s interview.

Alas! in seeking comfort she only met with fresh trouble. For the next
evening on her return from the theatre she found a long letter from
Conway Sartoris in which he frankly admitted that his friendship had
some time ago deepened into love, that he was sure her life would always
be difficult and perilous without a protector, and that he would do his
utmost to make her happy. In blank dismay Christine read his proposal
that they should enter into a union which would virtually be a marriage;
he quoted instances in which such unions had been after a time condoned
by society and had proved eminently happy, and he argued very plausibly
that the best way to bring about a speedy reform of the present unjust
law under which she suffered was to add another instance to the cases in
which it had been deliberately and conscientiously broken.

His pleading, as far as he himself was concerned, proved of course quite
useless. Christine could only write in reply that her friendship and
respect for him must always remain unaltered, but that her heart was
still with the lover of her youth--the man who through her own weakness
and ambition had been so cruelly sacrificed years ago.

To this she received a very straightforward and kindly answer, and
Conway Sartoris entreated her not to allow what had passed in any way
to affect their friendship. But this was more easily said than done. His
avowal had put an end to the perfect ease and rest of their intercourse
and she felt more than ever alone in the world.

Another result of this episode was that his arguments were constantly
recurring to her mind. Surely there was great force in the suggestion
he had brought forward in his masterly clear-headed way? Were there not
bound, to be exceptions to every rule? Was not Hugh Macneillie’s notion
of obedience even to an unjust law, because it was the law of the land,
an overstrained nicety? It might be a counsel of perfection, but surely
it could not be the actual duty of each citizen? Hugh had such an
element of austerity about his life; kind and genial and tolerant as
he was with regard to others his own notions of right and wrong were
so rigid. He was certainly old-fashioned, not up to date, not able to
accommodate himself to _fin de siècle_ conditions.

“I will not let him wreck his life!” she thought, pacing with agitated
steps up and down her room. “My heart is breaking for want of him, and
he is ill and alone. What do I care for the tongues of narrow-minded,
conventional people who know nothing of our real story? ‘Let them rave!’
He is mine and I am his. All the unfair unequal laws in the world can’t
alter that.”

Just then she happened to notice a letter upon the mantel-piece which by
some oversight she had left unopened.

“What is this?” she exclaimed glancing through it. “An invitation from
Mrs. Hereford to lunch on Sunday, to meet Ralph Denmead and his wife?
Yes, I will go, from them I may at any rate learn how Hugh is.”

Her stay at Monkton Yerney had led to her becoming a friend of the
Herefords; she had an unbounded respect for them both, and at their
house in Grosvenor Square she invariably enjoyed herself. Charlie too,
liked nothing better than to go there with her, and there was something
in the atmosphere of the household which was curiously refreshing and
invigorating. They were busy people but they never bored others with
their work, and always seemed to have time for merriment, and for keen
appreciation of the interests of their friends.

On this Sunday however she was more taken up with the Denmeads than with
her host and hostess. There was something in the mere happiness of the
young husband and wife that appealed to her, and she had a long talk
with them and heard all that she craved to know. Macneillie, they judged
by his letters, was still far from well, and even the visit to his own
country had failed to do him much good. He was to go on the following
day to Stratford and for the sake of quiet would stay just outside the
town at a curious old-fashioned house called The Swan’s Nest. He would
remain there probably until the Birthday week when they were to rejoin
him for the performances at the Memorial Theatre.

Then Evereld had much to say about the Manager’s kindness to them,
of Dick’s devotion to him, and all the many little details which her
womanly instinct taught her would be to Christine what bread is to
the starving. It was all told naturally and simply and as a matter of
course, there was never any uncomfortable consciousness that they knew
all about her past and could guess how bitter was her present. It was
only when thinking it over afterwards that Christine felt sure that the
Denmeads knew the whole truth, and she loved them for their tact and
consideration.

But all through the night that followed she was haunted by the thought
of Hugh Macneillie ill and alone, unable even to find comfort in his
mother’s society,--beyond the cure even of his native land.

It is during wakeful nights that burdens usually grow unbearable. And
Christine had now reached the point when every consideration but the one
prevailing idea is crowded out of the mind.

“I cannot let him suffer any more,” she thought. “At all costs this
intolerable state of things must and shall be ended. I am free all this
week, free till Easter Monday. To-morrow I will go down to Leamington
with Charlie and the servants, and the next day I will see him.”



CHAPTER XXXIX


               “Greatly to do is great, but greater still

                   Greatly to suffer.”

                        J. Noel Paton.

|The following Tuesday proved to be as fine a day as Christine could
have wished. Charlie was delighted to fall in with her suggestion of
driving from Leamington to Warwick, and she left him with Linklater and
his beloved camera to spend a long afternoon in seeing the castle, the
church and the many picturesque places to be found in the old town.

“I have to pay a call in the neighbourhood,” she explained, “and will
meet you here at six o’clock. See that he has plenty to eat, Linklater,
for we made a very early lunch.”

When they were safely within the castle gates she ordered a Victoria at
the hotel and drove in to Stratford. Up to that very moment she had felt
eager and alert, ready to dare anything in her desperation. But now when
there was no longer anything to do, she lay back in the carriage feeling
utterly spent, unable to find the least comfort in the soft spring
air, or in the beautiful expanse of country, or in the hedge-rows just
bursting into leaf, or in the joyous song of the birds. It was not until
they were close to Shakspere’s town that her spirit returned to her once
more, and as they passed the Roman Catholic Church she sat up and called
to her driver.

“I will get out here,” she said adjusting her white gossamer travelling
veil. “You can drive on and put up at the Shakspere Hotel until I come
there.”

The man obeyed and she walked on until upon the left she saw Clopton’s
Bridge, at the further side of which she knew the Swan’s Nest was
situated. As usual she was dressed with scrupulous quietness, there was
nothing in her black serge coat and skirt and sailor hat to distinguish
her from hundreds of other women, and no passer-by would have recognised
her through her veil.

Nevertheless her heart failed her somewhat when the little old-fashioned
inn with its red brick walls and tiled roof came into sight. She fully
realised that she was taking a desperate step.

But then did not desperate diseases require desperate remedies? And had
not Hugh Macneillie in the letter he wrote her three and a half years
ago entreated her to let him serve her if ever she found herself in a
difficulty?

No one else could help her now. He only could shield her and make her
life worth living. And was not he ill and in need of her? Was she not
fully justified in seeking him? She had paused involuntarily on the
bridge lost in thought and now just for a moment the exceeding beauty of
the view drew her attention away from her perplexities.

The silvery Avon, crossed a little further down by an old bridge of
red brick, the irregular buildings of the little town, the finely
proportioned Memorial theatre standing in its gardens upon the river’s
brink; facing it a lovely pastoral bit of green meadows, and budding
trees, and in the distance the old church spire with rooks circling
about it.

In the opposite direction lay peaceful fields, and all along the bank
pollard willows overhung the stream which curved round in a way that
delighted her eye. Just at the bend of the river, moored to a willow
tree, a small golden-brown boat was to be seen. It was empty but on the
bank above it lay the figure of a man with his head propped on his arm
and a book in his hand. She could not distinguish his features at that
distance but from something in his attitude she at once knew that it was
Hugh Macneimie.

Moreover she could see a corner of the plaid which he had invariably
taken about with him, the dark blue and green of the Macneil tartan with
its thin alternate cross lines of white and yellow. It was the very same
one that in old days had often been spread over her knees on some cold
wintry railway journey.

Somehow the sight of this restored her failing heart; she swiftly made
her way down to the river-side and youth and hope seemed to come back
to her as her feet touched the springy turf and passed lightly over the
white and gold of the daisies.

Macneillie, just glancing up from his book, saw a lady approaching clad
in the costume which is almost a uniform; he devoutly hoped, after the
fashion of celebrities on a holiday, that she would not recognise him.

Christine could so well read his thoughts and understand his slightest
gesture that she could hardly help laughing. She put up her veil and
walked straight towards him, her brown eyes full of that soft love-light
which for years he had not seen in them. As she paused close to him he
involuntarily looked up once more, and with a cry sprang to his feet.

“Christine!” he exclaimed taking both her hands in his. “Is it indeed
you!”

Just for one exquisite moment he forgot everything, was only conscious
that she was beside him, and that they loved each other, with a
love which surpassed even the first bliss of the early days of their
betrothal. The next moment, with a horrible revulsion, he remembered the
barrier that lay between them. Neither of them spoke; in the stillness
they were each conscious of the clear birdlike whistle of an errand
boy crossing the bridge. He had caught up one of the prettiest airs in
“Haddon Hall”--“To thine own heart be true”!

“Hugh,” she said softly, “you told me if ever a time came when there was
no one else who could help me more fitly that I was to come to you. I am
driven almost desperate and I have come to claim your promise. Where can
we talk quietly?”

“If you will not find it too cold I could row you up the river towards
Charlcote,” he said. “Later in the week Stratford will be full of
excursionists, but there is no one on the river this afternoon, we shall
be quite unmolested.”

She thought this an excellent plan and let him help her into the boat
and spread the plaid over her knees.

“It was by this dear old tartan that I recognised you, at least chiefly
by that,” she said.

“Like its owner it has seen its best days,” said Maeneillie with a
smile. “But I have the same feeling for it that the fellow in Gounod’s
song had for his old coat,

                   ‘Mon viel ami

                   Ne nous séparons pas.’”

And he sighed a little as he remembered how in the days of their
betrothal he had often taken her under his “plaidie.”

A strange, dreamy, unreal feeling crept over Christine as she leant back
in the stern, while Macneillie with his strong arms rowed her up the
winding river. She almost wished his strokes had not been so long and
steady, for it seemed to her as if this heaven of peace and repose would
end too swiftly. At last he paused.

“We couldn’t well find a more lovely place than this,” he said glancing
over his shoulder and dexterously guiding the boat in between the grassy
bank and the branches of an overhanging willow tree.

“I never saw such a wonderful colour as these new spring shoots of the
willow,” said Christine, as he drew in his oars and sat down beside her
in the stern.

Not a breath of wind stirred the leaves, the flies came out and made
a cheerful droning sound as though summer had already come, a lark was
singing far up in the blue vault above, and everywhere the quiet of
perfect peace seemed to brood.

Macneillie felt that longer silence was perilous, he had learned to
allow himself scant leisure when temptation was rife.

“Tell me now what your trouble is,” he said quietly.

“Oh!” she cried vehemently, “it seems like sacrilege even to speak of it
in such a place as this where all is so peaceful.”

Macneillie, who was very far from being at peace, smiled a little
involuntarily.

“The place is well enough,” he said glancing round. “But now that we are
actually among the ‘pendent boughs’ it reminds me rather too much of

               ‘There is a willow grows aslant a brook.’

It might be the identical spot where Ophelia was drowned.”

“I wonder if it is,” she said diverted for a minute from her own
anxieties. “Poor Ophelia! Somehow I have never cared for acting that
part of late years. You spoiled me for all other Hamlets. I have often
wondered since, Hugh, how you contrived to get through that last season
in London.”

“Well it was a rough time,” said Macneillie, “for, like the Danish
Prince,

               “In my heart there was a kind of fighting

               That would not let me sleep.’

By the end of the season I was as nearly mad as Hamlet feigned to be.
But no more of that. It is of the present we must talk not of the past.
How can I help you? Has anyone been molesting you?”

“Yes,” she faltered. “I will tell you all, and then you will
understand.”

So in her musical voice, and with that extraordinary charm of manner
which made her irresistible, she told him simply and truthfully all the
difficulties she had had to contend with. Lastly she told him of Conway
Sartoris and of the arguments he had used in his letter.

“They seem to me quite unanswerable,” she said, “and he is a man
everyone respects, he is far more intellectual than we are, and he
doesn’t merely theorise, he knows the difficulties of real life. The
more I think of it, the more it seems to me that you and I are wrecking
our lives and suffering so cruelly all for a mistaken idea,--a sort of
fetish-worship for the law of the land.”

Macneillie had grown very pale, his hands trembled, but from long force
of habit his voice was well under control.

“Sin is lawlessness,” he quoted in a low tone.

“Yes, yes,” she said quickly. “But this law that parts us, that makes
our lives a hell--you say it is an unjust law and ought to be reformed.
You said that in your letter.”

“I long for its reform with all my heart,” he replied. “And the greatest
of living statesmen and the most devoted of English Churchmen did his
utmost in 1857 to prevent this wicked double standard of morality from
ever finding a place in the Divorce Law. He said he would deliberately
prefer an increase in the number of cases of divorce to the acceptance
of this shameful inequality between men and women.”

“And are we patiently and tamely to go on enduring it?” she cried. “Why,
surely, all reforms have been won by those who were not afraid to break
the bad laws that had no business to exist. Think of your Covenanters
who gloriously broke the law and saved their country from tyranny!
Almost all heroes and martyrs have broken the law when it deserved to be
broken.”

“Yes, that is true,” he said. “But they only broke it out of obedience
to a higher law, they did not break it for their own gain. My dearest,”
 he took her hand and held it closely in his, “though this law cries
aloud for reform, let us be law-abiding citizens, and wait.”

Her eyes filled with tears, her voice quivered pitifully when after
awhile she spoke.

“You talk of waiting, but when one sees how truth and justice are set at
naught in parliament,--how with people agonising and dying, and with
so much that is wrong to be righted our representatives will haggle
miserably for months and years over useless questions, how from sheer
spite they will waste the time of the nation, how from party jealousy
they will thwart measures,--the thought of waiting grows intolerable.”

“But reform is bound to come,” said Macneillie, “most of the fair minded
people who have studied the matter and who know anything of practical
life desire it, we have against us only the narrow minded and the men of
vicious life.”

“You say _only!_” exclaimed Christine with a laugh that was a sob. “But
it is just the narrow good and the vicious bad who work all the misery
of the world. Oh, Hugh! I am not strong and brave like you, I am weak
and tired and worn out. I cannot live longer without you. I have tried
to bear it but I have come to the end of my strength.”

She covered her face with her hands, he could see great tears slowly
falling between her slender white fingers, and the sight wrung his
heart. Yet he did not respond to her appeal. It was not because he
failed to understand that bitter cry of exhaustion, it was because
he understood it so well, had been indeed for the last few weeks so
drearily conscious of just that same feeling that he could endure no
longer, that his strength was gone. It was well that Christine could not
see his face, for the agonising struggle which was going on within him
was only too clearly visible. In the intense stillness of the calm sunny
afternoon it seemed to him that all nature was at rest save themselves,
and as in moments of great physical pain some very slight detail-will
attract the sufferer’s attention, so now, while he passed through
the most cruel ordeal of his life, Macneillie was watching half
unconsciously the pretty movements of a little water-rat which had run
up the stem of a bush growing close to the river, and was evidently
enjoying itself to the best of its ability. The birds, too, were singing
as though in a perfect ecstasy of joy.

Their song contrasted mockingly with the torturing thoughts which filled
his mind, and yet nevertheless it was through the joyousness of these
lesser creatures that his help was to come. For it carried him back to
the thought of a great Teacher who, when speaking to “an innumerable
multitude of people,” average men and women, tempest-tossed as he was
now, had told them that not one single bird was forgotten by God, and
had said, “Fear not, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”

With that highest courage which in times of dire dismay can rise from
what seems like certain defeat, and kindle hope and strength in the
hearts of others, and win in a desperate fight, Macneillie gripped the
words to his heart and was strong once more, with that trust in God
which is man’s righteousness.

“I know exactly what you mean,” he said, as Christine at length looked
up and dried her tears. “Many a time I have felt at the end of my
strength. It’s just a device of the devil’s own making. Depend upon it,
God won’t take away His gift just when it is most needed. Is it likely
He would do that?”

“It seems to me that the devil rules,” said Christine. “I can believe in
little but evil in the wretched life I have had to live. Here, with you,
it is different, I seem another being altogether. You can make me good.”

There was truth in what she said. He had always had over her the best
possible influence. Without each other they were incomplete.

“And yet,” he said, “it is just because I so love and honour you that
the arguments of Conway Sartoris which you mentioned just now, clever
and plausible though they are, seem contemptible. Shall I let the one I
love best in all the world bear shame and reproach? Shall you and I who
have tried all these years to be a credit to the profession give such
a handle to its enemies? Shall we dare to bring down upon innocent
children the curse of illegitimacy? And all because we were too weakly
impatient to wait--or too cowardly to suffer? Forgive me, my dear one,
I put these things in a blunt way, but are they not things we must think
out clearly if we would come safely through this ordeal?”

She looked up in his face, it was singularly beautiful just at the
minute, in spite of the havoc which time and suffering had wrought in
it. She fancied that he would wear that look of manly courage, of noble
strength in his resurrection body. The thought seemed to give her new
life. Quietly, indeed with a calmness which surprised herself, she
slipped her hand into his; it was done spontaneously as a child slips
its hand into that of a trusted companion.

“You are right, Hugh, quite right,” she said. “We will wait. You must
forgive me for having come here to-day.”

“You were only keeping your promise,” he said, “and perhaps to talk
things out was best for both of us.”

He was silent for a few minutes, wondering what could be done to render
her life a little more bearable. What was it that had been his own
greatest relief during the last few years? Well, undoubtedly, it had
been the companionship of Ralph and his wife and little Dick. They were
a very fascinating trio and carried about with them an atmosphere of
youth and brightness which was pleasant enough to middle-aged folk
sorely burdened with care and trouble. A sudden idea flashed into his
mind. Many people are ready to assert that they would lay down their
lives for those they love. Macneillie seldom protested in words but had
a way of quietly giving up his most treasured possessions, so quietly,
indeed, that most people hardly noticed that he did it at all.

“And now,” he said, “I am going to ask you to do something for me. Do
you recollect a young fellow who was acting with you at Edinburgh four
summers ago--Ralph Denmead by name?”

“Why yes, to be sure. I met him only last Sunday at the Herefords. What
a nice fellow he seems, and I lost my heart to his dear little wife.”

“I am glad you saw them both, they are a delightful couple. Well now,
could you possibly get him a London engagement? Would Barry Sterne have
any opening for him? It seems to me that there is a very good chance
just now for a young romantic actor. We have no really satisfactory
Romeo or Orlando.”

“But surely you are in no hurry to part with him? I hear he is very
popular everywhere.”

“For myself I am in no hurry,” said Macneillie. “But I should be glad
for him to get a London engagement, he deserves it, and then this
wandering life is a little hard on his wife and child. They had better
settle down, and if they were somewhere in your neighbourhood you would
perhaps befriend them. Evereld is a dear little woman, you would like
her, and she has the greatest admiration for you.”

Christine’s face brightened up, it pleased her greatly that he should
have asked her to do something for him; she resolved to leave no stone
unturned and to do her utmost for his friends.

“I should like to have them near me; you can’t think how lonely it
is often,” she said. “If it were not for my work and for Charlie’s
companionship I don’t think I could have endured it all this time. The
best plan would be for Barry Sterne to see him act. I wonder whether
there would be a chance of getting him to ran down for one of the
performances in the Memorial Week?”

“That is a good idea,” said Macneillie. “By the bye, Sterne will
scarcely remember it, but the boy did go to him some years ago when he
first made up his mind to be an actor. I have often heard him describe
the interview. He got cold comfort from Sterne and a most discouraging
letter from me. But nothing daunts your real genius. He plodded on, and
starved and struggled till things took a turn. And some day if I am not
much mistaken he will be one of our leading actors.”

“His own opinion is that he owes everything to you,” said Christine with
a smile. “I heard a great deal about you on Sunday from both of them.
I shall be so glad if I can really do anything for people you care for,
Hugh. The Denmeads will be quite a new object in life for me.”

Those words and the look which went with them were Macneillie’s comfort
when, shortly after, he parted with Christine. But to stay longer at
Stratford with nothing to do had become impossible for him. The river
was a haunted place, he dared not go on it again, everything which on
his arrival had seemed so peaceful bore upon it now the ineffaceable
stamp of the bitter struggle he had passed through.

To go back to his work was directly against the doctor’s orders, but go
somewhere he must. He packed his portmanteau, and tried to think of any
place in the world he wished to see, but could not care even to
return to his own country. All things were “weary, stale, flat and
unprofitable.”

“Fate shall decide,” he said to himself with the ghost of a smile
playing about his lips. And dragging out an ancient atlas from the pile
of books on the sitting-room table, he opened at the map of Europe and
solemnly spun a threepenny bit. After threatening to come to an end in
the middle of the German Ocean it finally settled down in Holland.

“Via Harwich and the Hook,” said Macneillie pocketing the arbiter of his
fate. “So be it. I will run across and see if the bulbs are coming into
bloom.”



CHAPTER XL


               “Be noble! and the nobleness that lies

               In other men, sleeping-, but never dead

               Will rise in majesty to meet thine own;

               Then wilt thou see it gleam in many eyes,

               Then will pure light around thy path be shed,

               And thou wilt never more be sad and lone.”--Lowell.

|The entire change of scene, the vigour of his own mind, and the sturdy
resolution with which he laid aside care and anxiety soon restored
Macneillie to a great extent. He recovered his power of sleeping, and
returned to Stratford to find Ralph and Evereld already settled there
and awaiting him with a warmth of welcome which did his heart good. To
hear him telling comical stories of his adventures among the Dutch as
they lingered over the supper table that first evening, no one would
have believed that he had passed through any ordeal whatever, and he
seemed quite ready for all the hard work that lay before him.

Indeed Ivy Grant thought him unnecessarily vigorous.

“It’s all very well for Mr. Macneillie who has been enjoying a holiday
all these weeks, but it’s rather hard on us,” she protested, “to be kept
rehearsing every day till four o’clock, just when we wanted a little
free time, too.”

For Ivy was rejoicing in the presence of Dermot and Bride O’Ryan, who
had come down for the Shaksperian performances, Bride for pleasure,
and Dermot chiefly to see Ivy and to write a series of articles for his
paper.

Evereld was delighted to have her friend with her and thoroughly enjoyed
her first experience of the Memorial week. Stratford had naturally very
happy associations for her, and though the weather was not quite so
perfect as it had been during their brief honeymoon, it did not affect
the audiences which were always large and enthusiastic.

One evening towards the end of the week Bride and Evereld were as usual
setting off together for the theatre. There had been rain during the
day but the evening was bright and clear so that there was nothing to
prevent them from going by the river.

“There is something so delicious in just stepping into the ‘Miranda’
and being rowed to the very door,” said Evereld as she took her place
in that same boat in which only a little while before Macneillie
and Christine had had their last interview. “It must be like this at
Venice.”

“Minus the Shaksperian associations and plus the smells,” said Bride
with a smile. “Here come these vicious swans that look so picturesque
and are really so bad tempered. One of them nearly made an end of Dick
the other day, according to Bridget.”

They glided on peacefully, watching the mellow sunset sky and the church
spire and the stately trees surrounding it until the landlord rowed them
up to the steps in the garden surrounding the theatre, and here as they
climbed the grassy bank they were surprised to come across Macneillie
walking to and fro with someone they did not recognise. Evereld wondered
much how it came that he was deep in conversation, for it was nearly
time for the performance to begin. He seemed somewhat relieved when he
caught sight of her and introduced Mr. Barry Sterne, then telling her to
see that the attendants gave him a good place, and arranging to meet
him later on, he hurried to the Stage door, leaving Evereld and Bride to
enjoy the talk of the new comer.

“This looks something like Shakspere worship,” he remarked glancing
round the perfectly built theatre which was already well filled. “I wish
I had here with me the curious old fossil I met to-day in the train.
There were a couple of Americans plying him with questions about
Stratford; they set upon him the moment we left Euston, and ‘Wanted to
know’ everything. The old gentleman couldn’t get in a word edgeways for
some time, what with the tunnels and the sharp fire of questions. At
last he remarked stiffly, ‘I have never read any of Shakspere’s plays
myself, but I have always understood that he was a most immoral writer.’
You should have seen the faces of the two Yankees! It was as good as
a play. And the old fellow was quite unaware that he had said anything
extraordinary and blandly went on reading a religious newspaper!”

The play was “As You Like It,” and for the first time Ivy was to play
the part of Celia and Ralph was to make his first appearance as Orlando.
Evereld wondered much what Barry Sterne thought of the performance. He
was rather silent at the close of the second act and she was half
afraid that he had not approved of it until she found that he had been
listening to the criticisms of the people immediately behind them.

“It is to me about the most amusing thing in the world to hear the
comments of the public,” he said to Evereld. “Your amateur is always
such a merciless critic. The less he knows the more scathing will be
his fault finding. Now Macneillie’s melancholy Jaques is about as fine a
piece of acting as one could wish to see, I don’t know anyone who makes
so much of the character. But those wise-acres behind are carping away
because they think it shows what cultured mortals they are.”

“It is much the same at the Academy,” said Evereld. “The less people
know about painting the more severe are their comments.”

“If Lear wrote a modern version of his nonsense alphabet it ought to
be ‘C was the carping cantankerous critic who cavilled and canted
of Culture,’” said Barry Sterne with a laugh. “Your husband makes an
excellent Orlando. I hear, too, that his Romeo is very good. I suppose
you have often seen him in that part?”

“Oh, yes, very often. The last time,” she smiled at the remembrance,
“was in the autumn up in the north of England; I shall never forget it.
Exactly opposite the theatre on a bit of waste ground, a wild beast show
was being held, and it had the most noisy band imaginable. All through
the Balcony scene it was thundering out ‘The man that broke the bank
at Monte Carlo.’ And the next night Hamlet had to soliloquise to the
strains of ‘Daisy Bell.’ It was the funniest thing I ever heard!”

Barry Sterne capped this story with a reminiscence of the days when he
had been in a travelling company, and by the end of the evening Evereld
was ready to consider him the best raconteur she had ever met.

He went round afterwards to Macneillie’s dressing-room and Evereld was
escorted home by Dermot and Bride, who would not however accept her
invitation to supper as they were already engaged to meet Ivy at the
Brintons’. The night had turned chilly. Evereld was glad to find a fire
awaiting them, and she curled herself up comfortably in an armchair
waiting for the return of the men-folk and finishing Black’s charming
story “Judith Shakspere.”

“How long they are to-night!” she exclaimed, when the last page was
turned and Judith whose grave she had seen in the chancel of Stratford
church only that morning, had been left happily with her lover Tom
Quiney. “I shall starve if they don’t come soon. What a fire this is for
toast! I will make some to pass the time.”

After a while steps were heard on the stairs and in came Macncillie and
Ralph with apologies for having kept her so long. Macneillie, who was a
man with a strong shrinking from any sort of change in his surroundings,
felt a pang as he reflected that soon there would be no bright-faced
little housekeeper waiting to welcome him, and making a home out of each
place they stayed at in their wandering life. He stood warming himself
by the fire noticing dreamily the mute caress which passed between
husband and wife, the funny way in which Evereld divided her attention
between the perfect toasting of a particular slice of bread, and the
discussion of the way in which Orlando had carried Adam in the forest
banquet scene, and then her half anxious glance in his direction which
seemed to say, “I know you are tired and out of spirits but you shall
not be bothered with questions, you shall be fed.”

She made them laugh at supper over Barry Sterne’s travelling companion
who had been sure that Shakspere was a most immoral writer, but she
could see that something was troubling Ralph, for instead of being the
life of the party he was silent and abstracted.

Macneillie soon solved the mystery, and turning to her with one of his
humourous smiles, said, “I am sure you would think to look at him that
he had dismally failed or had been half slaughtered by the critics. I
assure you, my dear, it’s nothing of the sort. He has just had the offer
of a very good London engagement.”

“What, from Mr. Sterne?” asked Evereld in amazement.

“Yes, they brought out a new piece you know on Easter Monday and it
seems that Jack Carrington is again going to prove Ralph’s good genius
by failing altogether to get hold of the part he has to play. The fact
is, Carrington is excellent as far as he goes, but his range is limited,
he feels that he will never succeed in this play and Sterne sees it too.
They are parting quite amicably, and he wants Ralph to take his place.”

“I can’t leave you, Governor,” said Ralph with a vibration in his voice
which made the tears start to Evereld’s eyes.

“Oh no,” she said eagerly. “Don’t let us go--why we belong to you now.”

“My dear child,” said Macneillie, “don’t you go and encourage him in
refusing an offer which he ought to jump at. We have been arguing the
matter ever since we parted with Barry Sterne at the station and nothing
can I get out of Ralph but protests which quite take me back to Mrs.
Micawber. The fact is you two read Dickens to such an extent that you
are quite saturated with him. This is an excellent offer and ought to be
accepted.”

“But I never will, no I never will desert Mr. Macneillie!” quoted
Evereld merrily. “Why are you so anxious to get rid of us? You always
pretend that you miss us when we are away.”

“So I do, my dear, there’s no pretence about it,” said Macneillie, “but
joking apart, it really would be madness to refuse such a chance as this
just because we are the best of friends and are very happy together.
Moreover there are two special reasons why I want you to accept it. The
first I will tell you now, and the second shall be for Ralph presently.
I don’t deny that I shall miss you horribly, but I shall be happier in
the long run to think that you have a home of your own, and I should
always reproach myself if Ralph neglected a chance which will probably
lead on to fortune. You and I must consider what is best for his career.
If he were my own son I should insist on his going, as it is I can only
strongly advise it.”

They talked for some little time over the proposed change, and then
Evereld went to her room leaving the men to argue the matter out at
still greater length over their pipes. In her own mind she began to have
some vague suspicion of the reason why he was so anxious for them to
accept the offer, and later on Ralph confirmed her in this idea. She was
still brushing out her sunny brown hair when he came in.

“Well darling, I believe we shall have to go,” he said. “Hateful as it
will be to leave Macneillie, it is of course a step upward, and he seems
really anxious that we should not lose such a chance. Moreover it is not
alone of us that he is thinking. It is of Miss Greville.”

“I felt somehow that it was, and yet what difference can it make to
her?” said Evereld wonderingly. “I admire her more than I can tell you,
but of what possible use can we be to her?”

“Well it’s hard to say, but she seems to have told Mac-neillie that
she had taken a great fancy to you the other day when we met her at the
Herefords, and then I think he said something about the possibility of
some opening in London for me, and naturally she would like to help his
friends. Then too from what he told me she must be awfully lonely, and
though she tries to lead as retired a life as possible yet difficulties
are always cropping up.”

“Where does she live?”.

“She has had a flat in Victoria Street, but is leaving, Barry Sterne
told us. I think he said she had got another flat at Chelsea.”

“Could we afford to live in such a neighbourhood as Chelsea?”

“Yes, I think we might if we can find anything suitable, my salary will
be better than it is now, and we could furnish by degrees.”

“Oh, Ralph! what fun!” cried Evereld her eyes lighting up at the
prospect of furnishing, for she was a true woman.

“We would do it very, very economically. We would begin like Traddles
and Sophy ‘on a Britannia metal footing;’ there would always be the
Memorial spoons for visitors, you know.”

And thus Macneillie’s plot prospered exceedingly, and though the wrench
of parting was hard, Ralph and Evereld soon settled down very happily
in their new quarters, a snug little flat at the very top of the same
building at Chelsea in which Christine Greville occupied the first
floor, and she could see as much or as little of them as she liked. She
liked to see a great deal of them as it happened, and Evereld and Dick
were always ready to come in and companionise Charlie, while Ralph
proved himself a most trusty knight-errant, and the happiness of the
young husband and wife cheered Christine as it had cheered Macneillie.
Those whose lives have been clouded by some grievous trouble are
supposed theoretically to hate the sight of happiness; but that is
merely a popular fallacy. With the great majority it is an intense
relief to come across happiness, the mere sight of it does good, and the
happy confer on the sorrowful a real boon by their mere existence.



CHAPTER XLI


               “As Thou hast found me ready to Thy call,

               Which stationed me to watch the outer wall,

               And, quitting joys and hopes that once were mine,

               To pace with patient steps this narrow line

               Oh! may it be that, coming soon or late,

               Thou still shalt find Thy soldier at the gate,

               Who then may follow Thee till sight needs not to prove,

               And faith will be dissolved in knowledge of Thy love.”

                        G. J. Romanes.

|It was in July, while Macneillie was spending his summer holiday at
Callander, that his mother’s sudden death made him more than ever alone
in the world. They had passed together a particularly happy fortnight,
and though he could see that she was gradually getting more infirm she
had never known a day’s illness, and her loss came as a terrible shock
to him.

Ralph and Evereld were able to come down to the funeral, for the London
season was just over and he was glad to have them with him for ten days
before he started once more on tour. He was thinking of selling the
house and furniture, but Ralph who knew what pains he had spent in
building it, and how sad the dispersal of all his old home belongings
must be, persuaded him to leave things much as they were and content
himself with letting it as a furnished house for the summer months.

For a time the presence of the Denmeads cheered him a good deal. He
enjoyed hearing every detail of their life in London, and he insisted
on taking them to the Pass of Leny that he might show Evereld the exact
spot where he had first come across her husband. Each morning, too, they
used to tramp up the road leading to the well and Ralph would read
aloud from “Marius the Epicurean,” while Evereld made a sketch which
Macneillie had long desired:--the rough moorland road in the foreground
leading to the crest of the hill; on either side a stretch of purple
heather; the hint of a valley down below where Callander lay hidden and,
in the distance, a range of blue Scottish mountains which he said would
make him breathe “caller” air only to look at.

“I shall take it with me wherever I go,” he said. “There is no reason
why wayfaring men shouldn’t have a few possessions of their own. Besides
I have foresworn the travelling clock. It is no good to me since you
have gone, for I can never remember to wind it, so there is one thing
less to pack.”

“It was here in this identical place that you coached me that summer
after I was ill,” said Ralph. “I connect it with Florizel, and Claudio,
and Fabian, and with that Scotch play Miss Greville was acting in at
Edinburgh.”

“Yes, and taking him altogether he was a very amenable pupil,” said
Macneillie smiling at Evereld. “I wish I could say as much for his
successor.”

But unfortunately a second Ralph Denmead proved hard to find. And
Macneillie had a very discouraging time of it all through August and
September. The weather was unusually hot and even in the watering-places
that they visited the audiences were seldom good. Then came a spell of
very wet weather, but the houses were still poor, and it seemed that no
one cared for Shak-spere, that old English Comedy ceased to attract and
that the restless spirits of modern people required something much more
highly seasoned.

Nourished on skimmed newspaper, hashed review articles, minced magazines
in the form of summaries, and short stories of dubious morality, was
it likely that their brains could be in a condition to receive good
wholesome literary food?

Macneillie had long been aware that a wave of evil tendency was passing
over literature and the drama, he had struggled on, never allowing it
to influence his choice of plays, sure that in time the “evil on itself
would back recoil,” and faithful to his own conviction of what was a
manager’s duty. But he began now to think that, before the force of this
wave of uncleanness had spent itself, it would altogether submerge his
fortune and leave him a ruined man.

One of the things that tried him most severely was the timidity of
those who should have been his best supporters. The clergy with a few
noteworthy exceptions fulminated against the evil plays but failed
to support the good. He knew that hundreds of them would troop to
Washington’s theatre when they went to London, but they were generally
conspicuous by their absence from the theatres in their own towns
where their presence might really have done much good. Personally they
respected him and spoke of him in warm terms, but very few of them
at all understood how hard a fight this man was making in a time of
exceptional difficulty, or how bitter it was to him when those, from
whom he reasonably expected much, held aloof.

It was quite the end of September when the Macneillie Company found
themselves once more at Liverpool. They were giving the plays they
had performed at Stratford during the Memorial week, and this made
Macneillie feel the loss of Ralph more acutely than ever. To turn
straight from a pupil who had been extraordinarily receptive, always
good-humoured, always ready to study, and grudging no pains in the
effort to please his instructor and conquer his own faults, to a man of
exactly the opposite type, was hard indeed. It was all the more annoying
to Macneillie because Ralph’s successor had excellent abilities but
was cursed with the conviction that he already knew everything a little
better than the Manager; he had moreover been born with one of those
touchy and wayward natures that are so hard to deal with. He lived in
a perpetual state of taking offence, and though Macneillie apparently
ignored this and went quietly on his way, it nevertheless chafed him a
good deal.

Then, too, all the many vicissitudes of a travelling company--the
illness of one, the quarrels of another--seemed to worry him more now
that he was alone and had no one to discuss things with. The very rooms
he occupied in Seymour Street were full of memories to him; he had
stayed there more than once with Ralph and Evereld, it had been there
that they had first come to him after their marriage, and the place
looked horribly blank without them.

By the Thursday morning of their stay he was in the lowest spirits. For
three nights they had played to wretchedly bad houses owing to counter
attractions elsewhere; his old trouble of sleeplessness was returning
and he felt ill and horribly depressed as he walked down through the wet
dingy streets to the Shakspere Theatre. There was a rehearsal of Romeo
and Juliet, and the insolent manner and insufferable conceit of the
Juvenile Lead proved just the last straw. After going through some great
agony in life, and going through it well and bravely we are sadly apt to
break down under some quite trifling strain. A petty thing will irritate
us absurdly in the reaction after great distress, and Macneillie lost
his temper now and scolded the offending actor right royally. When an
habitually quiet, self-restrained man does lose his temper he usually
does it with great thoroughness. Romeo was impressed as he might have
been by a sudden thunder storm on a winter’s day, but those who really
knew the Manager were troubled at such an unwonted scene, and Ivy
glanced at him with the conviction that his health was again breaking
down.

It was an uncomfortable rehearsal and Macneillie went back to Seymour
Street doubly depressed. His thoughts turned to that April afternoon at
Stratford on the river. He had been strong then, but

               “It is very good for strength

               To know that someone needs you to be strong.”

Christine’s presence, though in one sense it had been his most severe
trial, had been in another an incentive to endure. To-day, in his
lonely room with food before him which he could not touch, with a
brain exhausted by want of rest, and harassed by a hundred cares and
annoyances, he came perilously near to yielding. For that was the worst
of it. The struggle was not one to be gone through once and for all,
it was constantly recurring. And always he had the consciousness that
Christine’s reverence for law was weaker than his own, that she would
quickly yield to his lightest word. It was moreover so fatally easy to
go to her, so hard to be loyal to that shamefully unfair law of the land
which should be reformed.

To check his thoughts he took up one of the London papers. The first
thing that met his eye was the announcement that Sir Matthew Mactavish
had died in the distant place of refuge which he had succeeded in
gaining. And almost immediately afterwards he noticed a paragraph in
which was a brief account of the marriage of the Honourable Herbert
Vane-Ffoulkes to Lady Dun-lop-Tyars, widow of the late Sir John
Dunlop-Tyars, Bart.

He smiled a little over the memories evoked by those names, but the dark
cloud soon stole over him once more.

“Villains can die,” he thought to himself, “and empty-headed fools can
marry, but I must still drag on this death in life!”

Then fiends’ voices began to urge him to give up: mocking fiends who
jeered at his obsolete notions of right and wrong: practical fiends
who would have had him cease a vain endeavor to keep up an impossible
standard of morality, and from thenceforth pander to the depraved taste
of the public; shrewd fiends who argued plausibly enough that his health
was breaking down and that it was high time to yield.

Macneillie with an effort roused himself and for a while baffled them by
taking a brisk walk; it was cold and wet and dreary but the exercise
was a relief and by the time he had reached the Seaforth Sands he
had regained his composure. The struggle was for the time over, but
existence looked to him as wretched, as cheerless, as that wild desolate
country at the entrance to the Mersey. The rain too began to come
down remorselessly, and he made his way to the station of the electric
railway and returned by the docks to the city. As he was walking along
Church Street he chanced to come across Ralph’s friend George Mowbray.

“I am just going to the Art Gallery,” he observed. “Bicycling is
hopeless to-day, the tires do nothing but slip.”

“I’ll come with you,” said Macneillie, not because he cared in the least
to see the pictures, but from sheer dread of having spare time on his
hands.

He had never before contrived to see the Walker Art Gallery and as
he wandered drearily round the place, seeing yet hardly heeding the
treasures it contains, his attention was at length arrested by Poynter’s
well-known picture “Faithful unto Death.” He was of course familiar
with the story of the sentinel of Pompeii whose skeleton was discovered,
hundreds of years later, standing on guard at his gate. But he never
realised till he saw that picture how awful must have been the man’s
temptation to escape and save himself as all the rest were doing. Behind
him were only two or three flying figures, most of the citizens must
already have fled; but before him, and drawing very near, was the awful
lurid glow which meant certain death. The sentinel stood facing it, he
was perfectly upright, perfectly calm, only in the strong tension of the
muscles of the hand one could see how instinctively he gripped the sword
which could now avail him nothing. In his dilated eyes there was no
abject terror but a great awe, an intensely human look of dread of
the swiftly approaching fiery foe. It would have been an easy thing to
desert his post and disobey orders. Had it ever come into his mind as
he gazed across the campagna to Vesuvius that self preservation was
permissible under such circumstances? That a soldier need not always
obey his captain’s orders? Perhaps it had, but nevertheless he had stood
firm and had died in what no doubt seemed a useless fashion, out of
reverence to mere law, never dreaming that his example would give
courage and strength to millions of people in the ages to come.

Macneillie turned away thoughtfully, his mind at work on that old, old
problem of evil and suffering, of the possible gain to others through
the inexplicable pain of the world.

The thought of it haunted him as he wrote business letters in his lonely
room, as he went about his work that night at the theatre, as he looked
with a sense of dull disappointment and depression at the rows of empty
stalls, and reflected how much hard toil and careful preparation had
been thrown away on an enterprise by which he was daily losing money.
Someone brought an evening paper into the green room, he glanced
hurriedly at an account of the new play shortly to be produced by Barry
Sterne; he read a few lines as to the part Christine was to take, and
was pleased by a brief allusion to the success Ralph had had in the
summer. But as he went back to his rooms a weary distaste for his work
in the provinces came over him, he longed as he had never longed before
to be back in London, to be working once more with his old comrades.

The dismal rain still fell in a drizzle, the flaring lights in the
public house at the corner of Wild Street were reflected garishly in the
wet pavement. A little further on as he crossed London Road he came upon
a small crowd grouped about a tram car, and paused listlessly to see
what was wrong. The horses were vainly struggling to make good their
footing on the slippery road; they stumbled and plunged and strained,
but the uphill way was too much for them, the car slipped back and for a
minute the passengers seemed in some peril.

Macneillie drew nearer and spoke to the conductor who was at the horses’
heads doing his utmost to urge them on.

“Is the load too heavy for them?” said Macneillie.

“Bless you, no sir,” said the man, “they’ve done it scores of times, but
it’s a strain on ‘em when the road’s slippery, and this ‘ere roan ‘e’es
afraid of coming down. It’s just panic sir, nothing more,’e can do it
fast enough.”

Macneillie stroked the neck of the frightened horse, he had a fellow
feeling for it.

“We can’t have the line blocked or the passengers upset,” said the
driver, with an oath which appeared to refresh him greatly. “Come on
mate, he must do it. Take the whip and keep alongside of him thrashing
him as we go.”

At last with much ado the car was in motion once more, and the poor
roan, kicking and plunging, was dragged and flogged up the hill.

“Oh, how could you let them be so cruel, Mr. Macneillie!” said Ivy who,
on her way back to her rooms with Helen Orme, had witnessed the same
scene.

“Well my dear, I liked it as little as you did,” said the Manager. “But
what was to be done? The load was not too great, it was merely that the
horse was frightened, and there was no persuading it that it would not
come to grief. Like the rest of us it would insist on thinking of the
hill in front of it, instead of concentrating its mind on the next
step. You see while you anathematised the driver I, like the melancholy
Jaques, did ‘moralize this spectacle.’”

They laughed and bade him good night, but Ivy looked rather anxiously
after him as, having seen them to their door, he recrossed Seymour
Street to his lodgings a little further up.

“Nell,” she said to her companion, “how very ill Mr. Macneillie looks
to-night. I think he will break down altogether.”

“Oh, I hope not,” said Helen Orme. “I think he is only depressed. He has
lost his mother lately you see, and besides I’m sure there is plenty to
account for depression with such houses as we have had lately.”

Meanwhile Macneillie had reached his desolate rooms. He had been
thinking of the Stratford performances, of Ralph’s brilliant success, of
the crowded theatre;--it seemed to him that he ought now to have found a
sweet-faced little housekeeper sitting by the fire and making toast, that
there ought to have been a welcoming glance from Evereld’s truthful
blue eyes. Instead there was an empty room and a fireless grate and
a solitary meal awaiting him. He sat down and ate dutifully but quite
without appetite. He forced himself to remember how much better it was
that Ralph and Evereld should be near Christine; but the more he thought
the more that horrible craving to be there too assailed him.

And presently, for the first time in his life, a feeling of deadly
faintness came over him; he staggered into his bedroom. The gas was
turned low, the window which was at the baek of the house had been left
wide open, he breathed more freely and leant for some minutes against
the shutter, vaguely conscious of the night sky and of the dark outline
of the neighbouring buildings. In his eyes there was the same look
of awe--of a great human dread--which makes the eyes of the Pompeian
sentinel so pathetic. He had endured long and patiently, had thought
little of the effect on himself, but now the dread of an utter failure
of health seized him, and he knew that it was no idle fancy but a very
real peril which must be bravely faced.

And yet better, a thousand times better, the wreck of body and mind than
the failure to be a law-abiding citizen. Better this cruel absence from
the woman he loved than faithlessness to what he knew to be right.

“There is not a pin to choose between me and that tram-car horse!”
 he reflected, pulling down the blind and turning up the gas with a
humourous smile flickering even then about his pale lips. “The way is
slippery and there’s a hill to be climbed,--it is collar work, but a
step at a time may do it safely after all. Anyhow I will put ‘a stiff
back to a stubborn brae.’”

He paused for a minute to look at Evereld’s water colour sketch of the
moorland road, and to breathe “caller” air as he glanced at the heather
and at the blue mountains beyond the hidden valley.

He would go on patiently as a wayfaring man should do; and perchance in
time--oh, how he longed and prayed for that time!--the unjust law would
be reformed, and he and Christine might find rest and a home in that
hidden valley of the future. In any case no one could rob them of their
inheritance beyond.

Not, however, until he turned the picture over and read the quotation
from “Marius the Epicurean” which he had written at Callander on the
back of it, did his usual look of quiet strength return to him.

The words were these:--“Must not the whole world around have faded away
from him altogether, had he been left for one moment really alone in it?
In his deepest apparent solitude there had been rich entertainment. It
was as if there were not one only, but two wayfarers, side by side.”

THE END





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