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Title: Just A Girl
Author: Garvice, Charles
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Just A Girl" ***

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  TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE

  Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

  The original text deliberately leaves a space after a dash (a spaced
  mdash) in some dialog, and capitalizes the following word, when it
  describes a disjointed thought. For example ‘isn’t it-- Is this all’,
  in contrast to ‘Is--is the place’. This spaced mdash is retained in
  the etext.

  Some minor changes to the text are noted at the end of the book.



  JUST A GIRL

  By CHARLES GARVICE

  [Illustration: (decorative emblem)]

  GROSSET & DUNLAP
  PUBLISHERS . . . NEW YORK

  Copyright 1895, by George Munro’s Sons.



JUST A GIRL.



CHAPTER I.


There was really a lovely row on at Dan MacGrath’s Eldorado Saloon
in Three Star Camp.

The saloon, a long and narrow room, built of rough, feather-edged
boards and decorated with scraps of turkey-red cotton and cheap
calico lining, with occasional portraits of local celebrities
rudely drawn in charcoal, was well filled with the crew of miners
and camp followers which made up the population of Three Star
Camp--Three Star, it is needless to explain, after the well-known
legend on the brandy bottles.

At one end of the saloon was a drinking-bar, at the other a
card-table; in the center a billiard-table, spotted with candle
grease and stained with the rims and bottoms of wet glasses. Men
were lounging at the bar or playing a noisy game at pool, or
gathered round the faro-table, over which presided Mr. Varley
Howard, the professional gambler of Three Star and other camps.

Whether the really lovely row commenced at the bar, began at the
billiard-table or originated at the faro, it would be difficult to
say; rows sprung up very quickly at Three Star Camp at all times,
but especially at this season, when the weather was disgustingly
hot and everybody feverish and overstrained.

Rows not only began with great facility, but spread with marvelous
ease and rapidity. You had only to refuse a drink; to take up
somebody’s glass; to push against a man accidentally; to observe
that it was cooler than yesterday, when the man you addressed
happened to be particularly hot; or to wear a tall hat--an article
of attire held in special detestation by the whole of Three Star,
and only permitted to Mr. Varley Howard as a special recognition
of his peculiar qualities as a gambler, a man of fashion, and the
promptest and deadliest shot in the district--to raise a shindy
directly. On this night the row was generally welcomed, for
everybody felt _blasé_ and bored and thirsting for any excitement
to relieve the dull monotony of an existence in which bad luck and
the perpetual heat fought for predominance.

So it was with cheerful alacrity that the men gathered round the
two who were credited with starting the shindy, and pulled out
revolvers and bowie-knives for the free fight which everybody knew
would set in with the usual severity.

Varley Howard was the only man who did not rise. He leaned back
in his chair and passed his white hand over his pale, unwrinkled
brow and smoothed his black, gray-streaked hair with a gesture
and manner of languid indifference. His revolver lay on the table
beside a new pack of cards and ready to his hand if he should need
it; but it would not amuse him to kill any one, and it was not very
likely that any one of the desperadoes, however excited, would
desire to kill him. As he leaned back and turned the diamond ring
on his finger, he hummed an air from “Olivette” and looked on at
the rowdy scene through half-closed eyes.

Shots were fired, knives gleamed in the light of the hanging
paraffine-lamp, two or three men were carried out, several others
leaned against the wall stanching more or less serious wounds;
Dan MacGrath himself stood behind the bar, revolver in one hand,
a bottle of his famous--some called it “infamous”--whisky in the
other. Every now and then, as a stray bullet came his way, he
ducked his head, but always clung to the revolver and the bottle,
as if they were the emblems of defense and conciliation: if the
fight continued he might want the one, if it continued, or ended,
his customers would certainly want the other.

When the row was at its height, a man came in at the door--an
oldish man, with a grizzled beard and a face scarred and seamed by
weather and a long series of conflicts with man and beast. He held
a bundle in his arms, and as he entered he put it under his coat
and turned sideways, as if to protect it from the various missiles
which were hurtling through the tobacco-laden air.

“Stop it, boys!” he shouted in a leather-lunged voice. “Stop it, or
some of you will be plugging Her Majesty’s mail.”

He was the Three Star postman.

At the sound of his voice the row ceased as if by magic. Men stuck
their revolvers and knives in their belts and turned toward him, as
if there had never been any fight going on at all.

He strode up to the faro-table, and still with his bundle under
his arm, took a leather wallet from a side-pocket and flung it on
the table.

The men flocked around with cries of “Got anything for me, Bill?”
“Hand out that check I’ve been waiting for!” “Got a message for
me, Willyum?” and so on; most of them in accents of simulated
indifference or burlesque anxiety.

He dealt out the letters with a remark more or less facetious
accompanying each; then, when the distribution was complete, placed
the bundle gingerly on the table in front of Varley Howard.

“What have you got there, William?” asked that gentleman in the
soft and low and musical voice which was one of his most dangerous
fascinations.

The other men looked up from their letters and stared at the
bundle, a soft something wrapped in an old mail-bag.

“Who have you been robbing now, Bill?” inquired one.

“It’s a new dress he lifted from the store at Dog’s Ear Camp for
his missis,” suggested a humorist.

Bill twisted his huge mouth into a smile.

“Guess again,” he said, “though you wouldn’t hit it if you tried
all night. Hands off!” he added, as one of them made for the
bundle. “What do _you_ say, Varley?”

Varley Howard shrugged his shoulders and took up a pack of cards.

“Take the child home to its mother,” he said.

Bill smacked the table noiselessly, and eyed Varley Howard with
admiration.

“Right the first time, Mr. Howard!” he said. “There’s no getting a
rise out of you.”

He opened the old mail-sack as he spoke, and disclosed to the gaze
of the astonished crowd a little child. It was asleep, and as
peacefully and soundly as if it were in a satin-lined cradle.

“Why, it _is_ a kid!” exclaimed one, as the men pressed round
closer and stared at the sleeping child.

Questions were hurled at Bill’s head from every direction.

“Where did you get it?” “Is it a boy or a girl?” “How old is it?”
“Can it walk?” “Can it talk?” “What’s the color of its eyes?” “Just
take it out of that darned old bag and let’s have a look at it!”

But though the questions were numerous and graphic, the tones
in which they were uttered were subdued and hushed; for a child
of tender years was a novelty at Three Star Camp, and produced
a curious effect upon the rough men. Some of them had not seen
a child for years; some of them had left just such a baby in
England; some of them had stood beside a grave about the size of
this bundle. Their faces softened and grew serious as they looked
down at it.

Bill the postman glanced round with an air of triumph and
satisfaction.

“If any of yer had got a spark of human kindness inside yer hides,
you’d offer a man a drink,” he remarked in a voice of suggestive
huskiness.

A dozen men started for the bar, and one secured some whisky and
thrust it into Bill’s hand.

“Drink it and start on your tale, you blank old fraud!” he said.
“Where did you get the kid?”

Bill drank his whisky with aggravating slowness, and, stooping
down, wiped his mouth on a corner of the mail-sack with still more
exasperating elaboration.

“It’s this way,” he said at last. “I was about three mile from
Dog’s Ear when I see something lying in the road. I was near lying
in the road myself, for that darned mare of mine shied as if she
had seen the ghost of a hay-stack. I got down, and ther’ was a
woman lying full length, with her face turned up as if she was
asleep. She was as dead as a herring. Underneath her shawl, and
lyin’ as snug as could be, was this here young ’un.”

He paused and looked round to enjoy the effect of his story.

“How the woman come there, and what she’s died of, I’m blamed if I
know; but there she was, and there she is now. I wrapped the kid
in this yere old sack and brought it on. It’s true there ain’t no
direction on it, and I suppose it’s my duty to return it to the
Dead-Letter office, till it’s claimed by the rightful owner.”

He smiled at the feeble joke, and one or two of the men laughed,
but in a subdued way. Even their rough natures were touched by the
presence of the motherless child lying so placidly, so unconscious
of its loss, on the stained and battered gambling-table.

One of the men cursed the Dead-Letter office.

“It’s yours, Bill,” he said; “leastways, till somebody up and
claims it.”

“What’s the good of it to me?” demanded Bill. “I ain’t got no
missis to look after it, and I’d look pretty carrying a live infant
in front of me on the mare! I’d best take her back to Dog’s Ear,
for I reckon that’s where her mother’d come from.”

“Oh, it’s a ‘her’?” said one.

“It are,” said Bill, sententiously.

“You’ve no evidence to prove that the woman came from Dog’s Ear,”
remarked, with a judicial air, the lawyer of the camp. “Did you
find any papers on her?”

“I didn’t find anything but this,” replied Bill, nodding at the
child. “I didn’t look. I was late a’ready. There may be papers, or
there mayn’t be.”

There was a pause, then Varley Howard said in his slow, languid
voice:

“Let three or four of the men go and bring the woman here.”

His leadership was never disputed, and four men started to obey
him, carrying for a bier the top of a table from which they had
knocked off the rickety legs.

“Meanwhile,” said Dan MacGrath, “what’s to be done with the kid?”

The question, though addressed generally, was answered by Varley
Howard.

“Send for one of the women,” he said.

The female sex were in a minority at Three Star; there were only
three women in the camp. After a conference, conducted in eager
but hushed tones, an old woman, who went by the name of Mother
Melinda--though why “Mother” and why “Melinda” no one knew--was
chosen and sent for.

She arrived, and at once took possession of the child, and by her
gentle handling of it, and the tender smile with which she viewed
it as she pressed it against her battered old heart, proved her
right to the maternal title. When she had disappeared with the
orphan, the saloon resumed its business; but the men drank and
played in a half-hearted way and with an air of expectancy, and
when the four men returned, the crowd collected round them with
eager curiosity. They had taken the woman to Mother Melinda’s hut,
and the spokesman of the four announced that not only were there
no papers upon the body, but nothing of any kind--no mark upon the
linen either of the mother or the child--by which to identify them.

“What’s to be done?” asked Bill, as the person chiefly responsible
for the embarrassing situation.

“Bury the woman and keep the child here,” said a man. “We’ve as
much right to her as that blamed Dog’s Ear. What do they want with
an orphan? They can’t keep themselves, the blanked one-hoss place!”

“That’s all very well,” said Bill, shaking his head gravely; “but
who’s to take the responsibility? She can’t belong to all of yer!”

“I’ll take her!” said one.

“Let me have her!” cried another.

A babel of voices arose. At first shamefacedly, and then openly,
not to say defiantly, a score of men offered to adopt the nameless
child.

Varley Howard alone remained silent. He leaned back in his chair,
shuffling the cards with his white, womanish hand. At last, when
the hubbub had somewhat subsided, he said in his most languid and
indifferent manner:

“You can’t all have her. Some of you wouldn’t know what to do with
her if you got her. Let six of you come round the table here; the
man who gets the highest cards in the pack takes her.”

He looked round the group and selected six men by name.

No one had a better proposal to make; the thing looked fair and
square. They were accustomed to follow his lead.

The six men advanced to the table. The others gathered round and
gazed excitedly over their shoulders.

Varley Howard commenced to deal with his famous grace and facility.
He dealt to himself at last.

“Oh, you stand in, Varley?” said MacGrath.

“I do,” said Varley Howard in his slow way. “Does any one object?”

No one objected, and he proceeded with the dealing until the pack
was exhausted.

“Turn up your cards and count,” he said, and his quick eye checked
each man’s hand.

Then he turned up his own cards and remarked, quietly:

“I have won by an ace. The child’s mine.”

No one questioned his decision; no one murmured. He collected the
cards as listlessly as usual.

“Does any one play any more to-night?” he asked.

But no one wanted any more faro. Playing for a live child had
exhausted even their capacity for excitement.

Varley Howard put on the tall silk hat which distinguished him, and
sauntered out of the saloon. He paused outside to light a cigar
and look up at the starlit sky, then he sauntered down to Mother
Melinda’s hut.

Stretched upon the rude bed was the dead woman, covered decently
and reverently by a blanket. Mother Melinda had undressed the
child, and it was lying asleep in an empty biscuit box. Varley
Howard uncovered its face and looked at it thoughtfully. It was a
pretty child, with thick, reddish-brown hair, and the lashes that
lay upon its cheek were dark and long.

“How old do you think it is?” he asked.

“About three, I reckon,” said Mother Melinda. “It’s a pretty little
thing, ain’t it, Mr. Howard? I wonder who its mother was? Judging
by the looks of her, I should say she was no common kind of woman;
she looks delicate and fine like. I wonder who the child belongs
to.”

“She belongs to me,” said Varley Howard.

“To you!” exclaimed Mother Melinda.

“Yes,” he said, impassively. “I have just won her.”

“What are you going to do with her?” she asked, after a pause of
astonishment.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “Leave her in your charge for the
present.”

He took some gold from his pocket and dropped it on the pile of
baby’s clothes lying on the woman’s lap.

“You take care of her for me, will you? Some one may turn up and
claim her. Until they do, she belongs to me.”

He went and looked at the child again and then went out.

They buried the nameless woman two days later. It was an imposing
ceremony. The doctor read the service with so excellent an
imitation of the clerical drawl that he was called the Parson ever
afterward.

Every soul in the camp followed the corpse, and every man put on
a clean shirt and brushed his hair as a mark of respect to the
deceased. Mother Melinda walked next to the coffin with the child
in her arms, and it sat up and crowed with delight at the long
procession; and its laughter and childish unconsciousness were more
pathetic than any tears could have been.

Mr. Varley Howard, in his tall hat and black suit of such
unexceptionable fit as to fill Three Star Camp with honest pride,
walked beside Mother Melinda, and occasionally took the child’s
hand and touched its soft little cheek.

The funeral over, the men returned to the Eldorado saloon to
assuage their thirst with Dan MacGrath’s infamous brand and to
discuss the function. The child, dressed in a white frock, with a
huge black sash constructed out of the remnants of an old black
silk which had been purchased from Dog’s Ear at a fabulous cost,
was brought in and exhibited very much as an extraordinary large
nugget would have been.

Varley Howard took it from Mother Melinda. It went to him
quite readily, as if it acknowledged his right of possession;
and, crowing and chortling, played fearlessly with his diamond
scarf-pin. The men gathered round, and looked on admiringly.

“Seems to know you already, Varley,” said one. “Plays his new
character first-rate, doesn’t he?”

Varley Howard’s pallid face did not move a muscle, not even when
the child caught hold of the carefully trained mustache, which, in
conjunction with the dark eyes and soft, languid voice and graceful
figure of the gambler, had worked so much havoc in the female
hearts of many a rough camp and civilized town.

“By the way,” said the lawyer, “the child hasn’t got a name that we
know of. What are you going to call her, Varley?”

Before he could speak, a torrent of suggestions was showered upon
him.

“Call her Polly!” shouted one.

“Polly be blowed!” said another. “That ain’t half good enough; call
her Mary Anne!”

A string of names was shouted. Varley looked from one to the other;
the child laughed at the noise.

“Give her a name yourself, Varley,” said Dan MacGrath, “and don’t
let it be a slouch of a one. Three Star can afford to run to three
syllables, at any rate. None of your Pollies or Sallies; it ain’t
good enough! You can’t tell who she may be. P’r’aps she’s the
daughter of an earl, like you read of in them blamed story-books.”

“Call her Esmeralda,” said the doctor. “I seem to remember some
swell with that name.”

The suggestion proved acceptable.

“It’s a good name,” said one. “A bit long, perhaps; but you can
call her Esmie or Ralda, if you’re in a hurry.”

“Esmeralda Howard,” said another. “Of course, she takes Varley’s
name.”

“‘Esmeralda Howard’ be it,” said Varley, as impassively as ever.
“Fill up all round, boys.”

The men stood round, and lifted their glasses, and shouted:

“Esmeralda! Esmeralda! And luck to her!”

And Esmeralda the child was christened by general consent.



CHAPTER II.


Three Star Camp was not exactly the place in which a tender parent
or a careful guardian would have chosen to bring up a child, though
it was no better and no worse than any other Australian gold camp.
The men were rough and rowdy, but there were very few really bad
ones among them, and there were a great many whose roughness hid
very excellent qualities. In no place on earth do you meet with
such a variety of the human species as in a camp such as Three Star.

The fatal fascination which gold has for all sorts and conditions
of men, draws, as by a lodestar, the wild and rackety younger son,
the insolvent tradesman, the out-at-elbows baronet, the ruined
gamester, the unsuccessful farmer, and the loafer of all and no
profession.

At Three Star they worked hard, drank hard, gamed hard, and fought
hard. Sometimes they were flush, and proceeded to paint their own,
and neighboring camps, a brilliant red; at others, luck was bad
and times were hard; but, whether the luck was good or bad, they
were always cheerful, always ready for a drink or a fight, and ever
prompt to help a friend or shoot a foe.

In a word, they were like a lot of healthy, reckless, and utterly
irresponsible school-boys, holding life as a jest and as something
never exceedingly precious.

Amidst this crew of good-natured desperadoes Esmeralda grew up. If
she had been a princess instead of a waif and stray of a diggers’
camp, she could not have been more tenderly cared for than she
was by Mother Melinda, who lavished upon the child the maternal
affection which had been pent up for years; and, as for the
diggers, they simply worshiped the child, their pride and delight
in her knowing no bounds. It was true that Varley Howard had won
her, and was by right of acquisition her adoptive father: but the
whole camp also adopted her, and evinced their pride in her by
votive offerings of the most extravagant kind.

One of them, a Welshman called Taffy, the roughest dare-devil of
the lot, found gold a few days after Esmeralda’s arrival, and he at
once sent to Ballarat for the most expensive cradle that could be
bought.

“What we want,” he said to the man who was sent after it, “is
the first-rate article. None of your blank wicker things, but a
splendacious set-out that swings under a kind of tent, you know.
And it’s got to have plenty of satin and lace about it, mind you;
_real_ satin and _real_ lace. Never you mind the blank expense. The
Orphan of Three Star is going to have the spankest cradle the earth
can produce, or Three Star will know the reason why.”

The man returned with a cradle of so elaborate and costly a kind,
that even Three Star was satisfied. It was brought into the
Eldorado saloon, and Esmeralda placed in the nest of costly satin
and lace, and the men, gathering round, raised a triumphant cheer,
which they repeated as they carried the cradle and the child back
to Mother Melinda’s hut.

In the same fashion, Varley Howard sent for rich and costly
infantile clothing; nothing was too good for her; and if the
diggers could have constructed a set of robes from beaten gold,
they would have been only too delighted to have done so.

They bragged about her at neighboring camps; and if any outsider
ventured to receive with incredulity the assertion of a Three Star
man that “our Esmeralda” was the finest and prettiest child in the
whole world, the incredulous one was promptly knocked down or shot.

When Esmeralda went through the troublous period of teething
the whole camp was subdued by anxiety; and when, later on, she
was attacked by measles, the diggers went about with gloomy and
desponding countenances, and the doctor at once rose to the
position of the most important man in the camp. They hovered about
the hut in twos and threes, walking on tiptoe, and making their
inquiries in hushed voices; no one was allowed to fire a revolver
or sing or shout within hearing of the child during her illness,
and when she recovered, the joy and relief of the camp were
demonstrated by a gala night at the Eldorado, of which men speak
with solemn enthusiasm to this day.

The morning she was well enough to leave the hut they carried her
into the sunlight as tenderly as if she were a delicate flower,
and poured the strangest offerings in her tiny lap--picture books,
dolls, mechanical monkeys, gold chains, rings ten sizes too large
for her, and even seven-bladed knives and razors.

The child received this adoration with a frank fearlessness which
filled her worshipers with delight. She was a light-hearted child,
with a smile and a laugh for one and all; and nothing seemed to
frighten her or to astonish her.

In this superb air, amidst these surroundings, she grew with
astonishing rapidity and strength. She was not only a strong child,
but a pretty one, and she promised to become exceedingly beautiful.
Her hair was of that dark red which is described as auburn, but
with touches of a lighter gold which shone in the sunlight as
brightly as the dust which the diggers often poured into her hands.
Her eyes were of a very dark brown, and wonderfully expressive;
they were generally brimming over with merriment, but at times
they grew dreamy and thoughtful, and then they seemed almost as
black as the long lashes which shaded them; her mouth was rather
large, but as expressive as her eyes--so expressive, that one of
the men declared that he could always tell what Ralda was going to
say before she uttered a word. She would have had the exquisite
complexion which goes with hair of her color, but the sun had
browned her cheek, and sown a plentiful crop of freckles upon her
dainty nose and level brow.

When she grew old enough to ride, Varley Howard broke in a wild
pony for her; the best saddle and habit that Melbourne could
produce were procured, and in company with Varley or one or two of
the diggers she rode about the beautiful country which surrounded
the camp.

She took to it very readily, and acquired a seat and a confidence
which entitled her to the reputation of the most fearless woman
rider in the district. She could not only ride well, but walk long
distances, swim across the Wally River--no small feat for a young
girl--climb trees, and shoot with a precision scarcely surpassed by
Varley himself.

No wonder that Three Star was proud of the girl, and worshiped her
as a tribe of aborigines worship their queen! She went about the
camp with perfect freedom, and when she was present, the roughest
and rowdiest lowered their voices and selected their language. One
day the ruined baronet raised his hat when he met her, and the rest
of the diggers, quick to take a hint, afterward followed suit. As
she grew out of the “all legs and wings” period of existence into
young womanhood, they added “Miss” to “Ralda,” and some of the
better bred of them went so far as to call her “Miss Howard;” but
this was considered rather too high-toned for use among themselves,
though any stranger would have been a bold man, and would very
probably have paid for his temerity with his life, who should have
failed to give her the full prefix and name.

Varley Howard watched the growth and development of his ward with
great interest and pride. Her physical training afforded him
profound satisfaction, but her mental education caused him some
little anxiety. Among the motley crew at Three Star was an old
school-master. He was a shaky and broken-down individual, whose
chief occupation at the camp was the writing of letters for the
other men, the keeping of Dan MacGrath’s accounts, and the reading
aloud to any digger who might be sick and need amusing. Varley
engaged this man to teach Esmeralda, and it must be admitted that
The Penman, as he was called by the camp, had an exceedingly rough
time of it.

Esmeralda had a hatred of reading and writing and arithmetic. It
was torture to her to sit still for longer than five minutes; and
at first she blandly but firmly refused to take advantage of The
Penman’s instruction, and the poor old man, who was as fond of her
as the rest of the camp, was almost in tears of despair.

He appealed to Varley.

“She’s the sweetest girl, Mr. Howard,” he said, with a stiff little
bow which remained to him from his old scholastic days--“the
sweetest and most amiable girl you could possibly find, and she
has a remarkable capacity for acquiring knowledge; indeed, she has
an extraordinary quick and retentive mind. It would be easy enough
to teach her anything, Mr. Howard, if one could only induce her
to apply herself for even a short time each day. But it is almost
impossible to do so! She will jump up after we have been at work
five minutes, and run out of the room and leave me with the book
before me. Sometimes she will keep away altogether, and hide in the
woods, or ride off on that pony of hers. Yesterday she--she hit me
over the head with the grammar, and declared that if she couldn’t
talk without that rubbish she wouldn’t speak again. I don’t tell
you this in a spirit of complaint, Mr. Howard, but--er--simply that
you may understand why Miss Esmeralda makes such slow progress, and
that you may not be dissatisfied with me.”

“That’s all right,” said Varley Howard. “I’ll speak to her.”

The Penman took alarm immediately.

“I do hope you won’t be--be angry with her, Mr. Howard,” he said.
“It’s--er--mere thoughtlessness on her part. She is most amiable
and affectionate, and--er--if I thought you were going to be harsh
with her I should regret having spoken. As it is, I suppose, if the
boys knew I had made even a shadow of complaint, I should be shot
on sight.”

Varley Howard reassured him, and went in search of Esmeralda. He
found her lying at full length under the trees by the stream.
Her pony was nibbling the grass a few feet from her; her hat was
hanging over her eyes, her arms folded behind her head. She looked
the picture of girlish grace and loveliness.

Varley thought she was asleep, but her quick ears had caught his
footsteps, and she sprung to her feet with a glad cry, and threw
her arms round his neck, nearly knocking his cigarette out of his
mouth and quite knocking off his sombrero. As the camp worshiped
her, she worshiped Varley Howard; to her he was everything that
was good and handsome and noble.

She drew him down to a seat beside her, picked up his sombrero and
put it on, of course uncomfortably and all on one side.

“What a time you have been away, Varley, dear”--Varley had been
making a tour of the other camps in the pursuit of his vocation--“I
hope you’ve come to stay a long while.”

“Just a week or two, Esmeralda,” he said. “How are you getting on?”

“Oh, very well,” she said. “I’ve taught the pony to jump the dike
at the end of the camp, and I can swim across the Wally and back
again; and yesterday I won four shots out of six with Taffy at a
sovereign apiece.”

“That’s very good,” he said. “The boys are kind to you and you are
happy.”

“Kind to me! Of course they are!” She opened her eyes with
astonishment. “And I’m happy, or I should be if you wouldn’t go and
leave me so much. Why do you go?”

“Business,” he said. “Business must be attended to, my dear
Esmeralda. You see, if I stayed here long I should win all the
boys’ money, and so I have to shift the scene occasionally.”

She did not look horrified. She was so accustomed to Varley
Howard’s profession, that it seemed as proper and legitimate in her
eyes as that of a lawyer or a doctor.

“And how are you getting on with your studies?” he asked.

She laughed, and stuck a flower in his button-hole, and leaned
back, with her head on one side, to view the effect.

“How handsome you are, Varley!”

“Thanks. But about the studies, Esmeralda?”

She laughed again.

“Oh, they’re a bore, and The Penman is a dear old nuisance.”

“So I may take it that you are not getting on at all?” said Varley.

“That’s about it,” she admitted, cheerfully. “The fact is, I hate
books, and sums drive me wild. What’s the use of them, Varley,
dear? Why need I learn them? They make me cross, and give me a
headache, and then I shy things at The Penman, and he looks cut
up and deeply injured, and calls me ‘Miss Howard.’ I think you’d
better chuck it, Varley; I do, indeed.”

“‘Chuck it,’” said Varley Howard, “though derived from the Greek,
is very rarely used, even in the best society, where they are not
over particular. I’m afraid you’ll have to stick to it, Esmeralda.
You see, there is a prejudice--an unreasonable prejudice,
perhaps--in favor of education. In fact, no young lady can be
considered the complete article, unless she knows how to read and
write, and add up, say, three figures.”

“Oh!” said Esmeralda. “Should you call me a young lady now, Varley?”

“Well, you are not a young gentleman.”

“I wish I was,” she said, with a sigh.

“I’m sorry to bother you about this,” went on Varley in his languid
and impressive way; “but you see I’ve got to do my duty by you. I’m
your guardian--but only your guardian--and some of these days some
of your people may turn up and claim you. They would probably want
to know what the devil I meant by it, if you did not know how to
read and write.”

“They’ll never turn up,” said Esmeralda. “You’ve never found out
anything about me, have you, Varley?”

“No,” he said, quietly; “and yet I’ve made diligent inquiry. But
all the same, the time may come when you will be owned and walked
off. You see, you may be a princess in disguise--though I don’t
think it very probable--and a princess who couldn’t read or write
would be somewhat of an appalling novelty.”

Esmeralda laughed, and threw her hair from her forehead with a
slight graceful jerk which was unconsciously maddening.

“I did mean to send you to a boarding-school at Melbourne,” he
continued in his slow, low voice; “but I’ve had a run of bad luck
lately--”

“I’m sorry for that,” said Esmeralda. “Not that it matters--I
shouldn’t have gone.”

“Indeed!” he said, rolling another cigarette. “So you will have to
do with The Penman; and I shall take it as a favor if you cease to
worry what remains of his hair off head, and learn as much as you
can without any great inconvenience.”

“Oh! if you make a favor of it, Varley, all right--although I don’t
see the use of it.”

“Well, you see,” he said, slowly, “you are growing up; you will
marry some day--”

She received the information with an expansion of her glorious eyes.

“Shall I? I know who I shall marry!”

“I’m glad to know that,” said Varley; “it simplifies matters.”

“Yes--yes, I shall marry you, Varley, dear,” she remarked, coolly,
as she wound a wreath of wild flowers round her hat.

“I think not,” said Varley.

“Why not?” she demanded. “I am very fond of you, and you are really
the handsomest man I ever saw--and the very nicest.”

He did not smile at her innocence.

“For two reasons,” he said; “first, because I am old enough to be
your real father; and secondly, because I should wish my ward to
marry some one better than a professional gambler.”

“If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me,” she said.
“And I shall never love any one half as well as I love you.”

She took off his hat, and put her flower-bedecked one in its place;
and, strange to say, Varley’s remarkable good looks came through
even this severe test triumphantly.

She put her arms round his neck and kissed him, the sweet,
unconscious kiss of perfect innocence. Varley did not return the
caress, and, making a proper exchange of hats, put her on the pony,
and walked home beside her.

Although she had taken his admonition so easily, it produced a
marked change in her. From that day The Penman had no cause for
complaint. She learned with patience now, sitting for hours over
her books, her ink-stained fingers thrust in her hair, her mobile
lips repeating long rules of grammar and intricate passages of
English and other history. But no one knew what she suffered!

One day--she was a little over seventeen--she was riding through
the wood that rose from the edge of the stream half-way up the
hill, her hat tilted over her eyes, her soft, full voice singing
melodiously, when her horse, a beautiful young chestnut, purchased
by the camp for her special use, started and shied, and then
neighed.

An answering neigh came from behind the trees in front of her, and
another horse trotted toward them. It was saddled, but riderless,
and Esmeralda pulled up, and looked for the owner.

He was nowhere to be seen. She thought for a moment; then she got
down and examined the ground, for, among other accomplishments, she
had acquired the art of tracking, and very few of the men possessed
keener eyes or sharper ears than hers.

She soon found the horse’s tracks, and, with her bridle over her
arm, followed them to a little clearing at the edge of the stream.
And there sat a young man in an attitude of dejection, with his
head resting on one hand, the other hanging limply beside him.

At the sound of her approach he tried to start to his feet, but
sunk down again, and, clutching the revolver he had drawn from his
belt, stared at her questioningly.

Esmeralda’s quick eyes noted that he was young, that his eyes
were blue, his hair yellow and curly; a slight golden mustache
fringed his upper lip. He was dressed in a rough suit, with
high riding-boots, and a red shirt. But, even to Esmeralda’s
unsophisticated eyes, he looked somewhat different to the ordinary
digger.

She stood and looked at him with the gravity of maiden innocence
and fearlessness; and he, having at last got over his amazement at
this sudden apparition of feminine grace and loveliness, as sudden
as it was extraordinary in this wild place, dropped his revolver
and raised his hat.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, and a faint color came into his face;
“but could you tell me where I am?”

“Don’t you know?” said Esmeralda, rather unreasonably.

“I don’t,” he said; “I’ve lost my way.”

“This is the Wally Valley,” she said.

“Thank you. I’ve just come from Dog’s Ear Camp, and I want to find
one called--called-- I can’t remember the name; but it’s something
to do with brandy.”

“Do you mean Three Star?” asked Esmeralda.

“Yes; that’s it,” he said.

Esmeralda explained where the camp lay, and added that she lived
there.

“I’m glad of that,” he said.

“Why?” she demanded, with wide-open eyes.

The young man colored--he blushed like a girl--and, looking
confused, mumbled something in evasion of this embarrassing, direct
question; then he rose, but with a difficulty which Esmeralda
remarked.

“What is the matter with you?” she asked.

“I think I’ve got a bullet in my leg,” he said. “The fact is,” he
continued, modestly, “I got into a little row at Dog’s Ear Camp,
and just as I was riding off a fellow fired and hit me in the leg.
I scarcely noticed it at the time; but just now I felt faint, and
tumbled off my horse.”

“Let me look,” she said.

But he drew back shyly.

“Oh, it’s nothing!” he said; “and I’m all right now--or should be,
if I could get my horse and mount it.”

“You sit down,” she said; “I’ll get your horse--just hold mine.”

She went off into the wood, and presently returned with his horse.
He thanked her warmly and gratefully.

“Now,” he said, staring ruefully at the saddle, “the job will be to
get up.”

She led the horse close to a fallen tree, and held out her hand to
him.

“Put your hand on my shoulder,” she said, “and step on my knee.”

He blushed again at the mere idea of such a sacrilege.

“I couldn’t do it!” he said. “I’d rather stop here till I died!”

She looked at him with undisguised surprise.

“Then you’ll have to stop here till you die,” she said; “for I
can’t pick you up and put you into the saddle as if you were a
baby. Lean on my shoulder, anyhow.”

He seemed reluctant to do even this; but at last he put his hand on
her firm, strong shoulder, and with a great effort scrambled into
the saddle.

He had no sooner got his feet into the stirrups, and started to
express his gratitude, when he saw her fling herself in front of
him. The next instant the report of a revolver rang through the
soft stillness, and her hat was cut from her head by the bullet
that whizzed past him.

Before he had time to get out his revolver, she had snatched hers
from her pocket and fired. He heard a cry, and saw a man rise from
behind the bushes, sway to and fro, and then fall on his face.

Esmeralda sprung into her saddle.

“Come along!” she cried. “Ride all you know; there are more of
them!”

He rode by her side; and she, guiding him, wound her way through
the wood and on to the plain beyond. Here the bullets which had
followed them ceased; and Esmeralda, slackening her speed, remarked:

“We’re safe now; they won’t come near our camp.”

She spoke quite cheerfully: her face had never lost its color for a
moment; her lips were smiling.

The young man looked at her in speechless astonishment for awhile;
then he burst out with:

“You saved my life--and at the risk of your own!”

She seemed amused by his agitation and his solemn earnestness.

“I reckon I spoiled his aim,” she said, lightly. “But none of those
Dog’s Ear men can shoot worth speaking of; he mightn’t have hit
you, after all.”

“It’s wonderful!” he exclaimed.

“What’s wonderful?” she asked.

“Your--your courage, your coolness! You throw yourself between
me and a bullet as if it were a mere nothing. I’ve never
seen--read--anything like it!”

“No?” she said, much interested by this new specimen of humanity.
“Where do you come from?”

“From England,” he said. “I’ve only just come out here.”

“I thought so,” she said, thoughtfully. “What is your name?”

“Norman Druce,” he said.

She repeated it.

“How do you spell it?”

He took a card from a pocket-book and handed it to her. She had
never seen a card before, and she turned it over in her gauntleted
hand and looked at it curiously, and read:

“Lord Norman Druce, The Manor, Oakfield.”

“What is yours?” he asked.

“Esmeralda,” she said.

And “Esmeralda,” he repeated softly, and under his breath, as if it
were a chord of music.



CHAPTER III.


Esmeralda and Lord Norman Druce rode toward Three Star Camp. They
went in slowly, because his leg was painful and he could scarcely
move it; and as they went the young fellow seemed scarcely able
to take his eyes from her face. It startled him, this presence
of a young girl beautifully clad in a riding-habit of the latest
fashion, on a horse of high breeding, with a saddle of the latest
make, out here in the wilds of Australia!

And then she was so beautiful! He had never seen a lovelier face.

The excitement of the shot and flight had brought a faint color
into her usually ivory-pale complexion. Her eyes shone like stars,
the red-gold hair ran in little waves under her hat; the hat with
the hole in it, made by the bullet which had been intended for him.

When Norman looked from that face to the hole, something went
thrilling warmly through all his veins.

Who was she? The daughter of some rich sheep farmer or successful
gold digger? He longed to ask her for all particulars of her birth,
parentage--of everything, in fact; but youth is shy, especially in
the presence of female loveliness, and Lord Norman was tongue-tied.

Esmeralda was unconscious of his gaze. She was too strong and
healthy and unsophisticated for vanity; but she, on her part, felt
curious about him, and she glanced at him now and again with frank
and fearless interest.

They were riding through a lovely valley upon which the sun shone
as it can only shine in Australia; the river ran between its grassy
banks, breaking now and again into little cascades as it tumbled
over impeding rocks; the mountains, clothed here and there with
the brilliant green of trees in all their summer bravery, rose
majestically from the plain and towered high against the blue and
cloudless sky.

Lord Norman looked around him and drew a long breath; the beauty of
the scene, the extraordinary loveliness of the girl by his side,
cast a spell over him.

“What a beautiful place!” he said. “And you live near here?”

“Yes,” she said; “the camp is just round the bend there.”

“Have you lived here long?” he summoned the courage to ask.

Her voice seemed to harmonize with the music of the water, and he
found himself mentally repeating her words as one tries to repeat a
line of a song which has caught one’s fancy.

“All my life,” she said. “I’ve never been away from it.”

He looked at her wonderingly.

“What is the matter?” she asked.

“Nothing--nothing,” he stammered, coloring; “only it seemed
strange--I mean, to have lived in one place out--out in the wilds
here, all one’s life.”

She thought this over.

“Where do you live?” she asked.

“Oh, in England,” he said. “In the country sometimes, in London at
others.”

“London is the capital of England,” she remarked, “Paris is the
capital of France, Berlin is the capital of Germany.” She fired off
this sample of her knowledge of geography with grave pride.

He looked at her and smiled.

“I know,” he said. “I’ve been to all of them.”

“That must be very jolly,” she said. “And where do you live in
England? At that place on that little bit of cardboard you showed
me? What was it--Oakfield?”

“Yes,” he said; “that’s my mother’s place.”

“Your mother’s? Haven’t you got a father?”

“My father is dead,” he replied. “Does your father live here?”

“No,” she said, gravely. “I don’t know where he lives; I don’t know
whether he’s alive at all. My guardian lives here sometimes. His
name is Varley Howard. You may have heard of him,” with a touch of
pride. “I am called after him--Esmeralda Howard.”

“Is he one of the Howards of Suffolk?” asked Norman, with interest.

“The Howards of which?” she asked. “I never heard of the place.
I’ll ask him.”

There was a pause, then she said:

“What was that other name on the card?”

“Norman?” he said.

“No; Lord.”

“That’s not a name,” he explained; “that’s a title. I’m called lord
because my father was in the peerage; but you know all that.”

“No, I don’t,” she said. “We haven’t got any lords in the camp.
We’ve got a man who’s a--baronet--yes, that’s it; but we don’t call
him lord; the boys call him Smifkens. I don’t think that’s his real
name; but scarcely anybody goes by his right name in the camp,
especially if it’s a grand one. They don’t like grand names. I dare
say they’ll call you something different.”

He laughed.

“I don’t mind,” he said.

“I’ve read about lords somewhere,” she remarked. “But I always
thought they wore long robes trimmed with fur, and had a kind of
crown on their heads.”

She glanced at his well-worn riding-suit and red flannel shirt.

He laughed again.

“Some of ’em wear a robe sometimes,” he said; “but only on state
occasions, and when they’ve got a seat in the House of Lords. I
haven’t.”

“I don’t know in the least what you mean,” she said. “It sounds
very funny.”

“It is very funny,” he assented, with a smile.

“And all lords are very rich, aren’t they? They’re obliged to be, I
suppose?”

He looked at her as if he thought she might be chaffing him; but
her beautiful face was quite innocent of badinage.

“Not at all,” he replied. “Some of them are very rich; a great many
haven’t any coin at all. I count among the last.”

She looked at him thoughtfully.

“Is that why you’ve come out here?”

“Yes,” he said. “I got sick of being in England with nothing to do,
and I thought I’d take a run over here and see if I couldn’t find
some kind of employment. There’s a general idea that this is a sort
of Tom Tiddler’s ground, where you can pick up gold and silver. Of
course it’s a mistake, I suppose?”

“I should think so!” said Esmeralda, who, though she knew nothing
of the peerage, was well up in gold digging. “You don’t pick it
up, or, at least, very seldom. You have to work precious hard for
it; and even then don’t always get it. It’s just whether you have
luck or not. Some men come across a nugget perhaps the first or
second day they work their claims; others only get pay dirt--what
they could earn as laborers, you know--and a good many never find
anything at all. But whether you get it or you don’t, it’s always
hard work.”

“Yes, I know,” he said; “but I’m not afraid of hard work. I should
like to get a claim at your camp”--he glanced at her shyly--“or
perhaps I could find something to do.”

She looked at him critically.

“I don’t know about the claim,” she said. “You might. You must ask
Taffy. He knows all about that.”

“Who is Taffy?” he asked.

“Oh, he’s a Welshman,” she exclaimed. “Sometimes they call him the
Wild Welshman; but he’s always very good to me.”

“I should think so,” he said under his breath, as if it would be
impossible for any one to be anything else but good to her.

“But what can you do?” she asked. “I thought lords never did
anything but order other people about and lead armies into battle.”

He laughed.

“Oh, I can do a lot of things,” he said. “I’m strong in the
arms, and I can dig and wash for gold-dust, or look after horses,
or--or--or anything.”

She was silent for a minute or two, then she said:

“How did you get into a row at Dog’s Ear?”

He colored.

“Oh, it was nothing much,” he said. “A brute of a fellow was
ill-treating a dog. He seemed to think that because it belonged to
him, he had a right to knock it about. I didn’t agree with him, and
we came to words, and then to blows. His pals took his part, and
seeing I was not going to have a fair fight, I made a bolt for it.
He won’t be able to knock that dog about for a week or two,” he
added, simply.

“And you stood up against the whole camp for a dog?” she said, with
a note of admiration in her voice. “Yes,” she added, eying him
thoughtfully; “I should think you would. And then they hit you in
the leg, and followed you up and fired at you from behind a bush.
That’s like Dog’s Ear. But just wait until I tell the boys. They’ll
teach ’em to shoot at a friend of mine.”

He blushed like a girl.

“Oh, am I a friend of yours? Thank you.”

She looked at him with surprise.

“Anybody’s a friend of mine who’ll stand up for a helpless dog,”
she said.

“Oh--ah--yes,” he said, rather crestfallen.

They turned the bend of the valley and came in sight of the camp.
The men were hard at work in their claims or washing for gold
in the river; the sound of the pick and the shovel, the hum of
the men’s voices and an occasional shout or burst of song broke
the silence. At sight of Esmeralda and her companion some of
the men sent up a wild Coo-ee, which she answered in a clear
ringing cry which pierced the thin air and seemed to float to the
mountain-tops. As the two rode into the camp, the men stopped
working and lounged up to her, staring at the stranger who
accompanied her.

“Halloo, Ralda!” said Taffy. “Who have you got there; looks like a
new chum?” He put the question without the slightest regard to the
presence of the subject of his inquiry.

Esmeralda explained how she came to find Lord Norman, and related
the incident of the shooting.

“Miss Howard saved my life,” said Lord Norman, as she slurred over
that part of the affair. “Look at the bullet-hole in her hat.”

The faces of the men darkened, and they growled and muttered under
their breath.

“Things is coming to a pretty pass,” said Taffy, “when Dog’s Ear
takes to drawing irons on our Esmeralda. ’Pears to me that that
there Dog’s Ear wants a lesson, and Three Star has got to give
it to ’em. It’s what you might call a moral dooty, and this yere
camp ain’t going to neglect its dooty. You leave Dog’s Ear to us,
Ralda--eh, boys?”

The crowd assented with an ominous growl, and Taffy turned his
attention to Norman.

“What’s yer name, stranger?” he asked.

“Norman Druce.”

“He’s a lord,” said Esmeralda.

“Oh! he is, is he?” said Taffy, eying the embarrassed youth with a
sort of good-natured sarcasm. “Well, I don’t know that there’s much
call for lords at Three Star; but as Miss Howard”--he pronounced
the name with a significant emphasis, as if he meant to impress
Norman with her status and importance--“has made a kind of chum of
you, you’re welcome--eh, boys?”

The men nodded; but he continued, gravely, but with a twinkle in
his eye:

“I don’t know as I altogether care for your name; there’s too much
of the highfalutin’ about it. What do you say to”--he looked the
young fellow up and down, and stared half reflectively at his fair
face and yellow hair, and with a chuckle of triumph, said--“Pink
Rosebud?”

“I told you so,” said Esmeralda in a low voice.

Norman laughed good-temperedly.

“That will suit me, if it will suit you,” he said, without the
slightest resentment.

His manner of accepting the nickname pleased the men.

“Get off, and we’ll give you some grub,” said Taffy.

Norman essayed to obey, but could not do so.

“He’s hurt his leg,” said Esmeralda, slipping from her horse and
going round to him.

Taffy lifted Norman out of the saddle as if he were an infant.

“Mind how you carry him, Taffy!” shouted one of the men, with a
laugh. “A rosebud’s a delicate thing, you know.”

Taffy assisted Norman into Taffy’s own tent, and the doctor was
sent for. Esmeralda threw herself down outside the tent while the
examination was taking place.

The doctor seemed to be inside a long while; but presently he came
out, and, in answer to Esmeralda’s questioning eyes, said, with a
nod:

“It’s all right, Ralda. The bullet was in his calf. Here it is.” He
held it out between his finger and thumb.

Esmeralda was too used to bullets and their effects to shudder or
faint; but her face grew a little pale as she held out her hand,
and said, very quietly:

“Give it to me.”

He dropped it into her hand with a laugh, and she looked down at it
and turned it over with her slim brown finger; then she slipped it
into the inner breast-pocket of her habit.

“He’s a plucky young devil, for all he looks like a girl,” he said,
filling a blackened clay pipe three inches long. “He never so much
as winced, though I must have hurt him pretty badly. He’ll have to
keep in bed for a time, and when he does get about he’ll hobble
a bit for a day or two. You’d better send Mother Melinda to look
after him; it’s a kind of job that’ll suit her down to the ground.”

Esmeralda nodded.

“What are you going to do with that bullet?” he asked. “Wear it for
a charm?”

“You mind your own business,” said Esmeralda; and she got up and
walked toward her own hut with her nose in the air.

That night a party from Three Star Camp paid a visit to Dog’s
Ear--a visit which will be remembered while Dog’s Ear continues
to exist. Some of the Three Star Camp men came back with various
injuries which kept the doctor employed for some time; how Dog’s
Ear came out of the business is not accurately known, for the Three
Star Camp men were not given to bragging; but, judging by the air
of satisfaction which pervaded the whole camp for quite a week
afterward, it may be assumed that Dog’s Ear was pretty severely
punished. At any rate, no member of that camp ventured to come
within shooting distance of Three Star for a considerable period.

By night-fall Norman grew feverish. Mother Melinda, who was an
admirable nurse, was, if not alarmed, a little anxious as she stood
by the hard mattress, supported by half a dozen boxes instead of
a bedstead, and listened to the young fellow’s incoherent and
rambling monologue; and she was a little startled when, long past
midnight, the flap of the tent was lifted and Esmeralda entered.

She glided in and stood looking down at the flushed face and
staring blue eyes.

“Is he very ill, Melinda?” she asked in a whisper.

Mother Melinda nodded.

“I’m feared he be,” she said. “He’s in a kind o’ fever through
havin’ that bullet in him so long.” After a pause she remarked:
“He’s main pretty to look at, ain’t he, Ralda? Like a girl a’most,
with them eyes and that hair.”

Esmeralda nodded.

“I want another towel to soak in water for his head,” said Mother
Melinda, presently. “Run down to the hut, Ralda, dear, and get it,
will you?”

“You go,” said Esmeralda. “I’ll wait here.”

Mother Melinda threw a shawl over her head and hurried off, and
Esmeralda damped the towel afresh and bathed the burning forehead.
Norman was talking all the while an unbroken string of words, and
Esmeralda listened.

At times he was back again in England and among his own people. He
spoke of his mother, of the Manor, of his club in London.

Esmeralda caught many names of persons and places; but one--the
name of a person--he repeated so often that it impressed her.

It was “Trafford.”

“Trafford,” muttered Lord Norman, “I give you my word this is the
last time. It’s a lot of money. Are you sure you can spare it?
Trafford, I saw Ada to-day. She said”--he wandered off the line
again--“The horse ought to have won. It was only four to three
against it. Mother, I’d much better go. Trafford thinks so, too.
I’m only going to the dogs here in town. I’ll go somewhere and
make a fortune. Trafford--Ada! We all went to supper at the Cri--
Trafford--Trafford!”

He was silent for a little while; then he was evidently over in
Australia; and he rambled on about nuggets, gold-dust, and placers.
Suddenly Esmeralda was startled by hearing her own name.

“Esmeralda! Esmeralda! Such a beautiful girl! You never saw such
hair, Trafford. Bronze, with dashes of gold in it, and all in a
wave on her forehead. And when she smiles, it’s like sunlight! And
she saved my life, Trafford! The cowardly brute fired from behind
a bush, and would have hit me, as sure as fate! She flung herself
in front of me. I swear to you it’s true, Trafford! And the bullet
went through her hat! You laugh! I tell you there’s a hole in her
hat still; and it might have hit her!” He shuddered, and clinched
his hands furiously, “I’ll ask her for that hat some day--I’ll ask
her for that hat some day if I can pluck up courage. But all the
cheek oozes out of me when I’m near her; and when she turns those
eyes of hers upon me, I haven’t got a word to say for myself. Saved
my life! Bullet through her hat! Such hair! Such beautiful eyes--”

Esmeralda rose from her knees, and drew away from the bed, her face
almost as hot as Norman’s; but, as if he were conscious that she
was leaving him, he stretched out his shaking hand, and called to
her, with a little piteous note of entreaty in his voice:

“Ralda! Ralda!”

She went back to his side, and kneeling down again, laid her cool
hand upon his hot brow. The contact of her soft palm seemed to
soothe and satisfy him.

He murmured her name again and again, and his lips formed it even
when he ceased to speak.

When Mother Melinda hurried in, she found him still and quiet, with
his eyes closed, and a faint smile upon his boyish face. Esmeralda
drew her hand away quickly.

“Why, lawks alive!” said Mother Melinda, bending over him. “If he
ain’t asleep!”

Esmeralda rose, with downcast eyes, and went to the door of the
tent without a word. With the flap of the tent in her hand she
looked back at the face upon the pillow--a strange look, half
puzzled, half frightened; then, still without a word, she went out.



CHAPTER IV.


Esmeralda did not again go to see Lord Norman. She did not even
ask after him; and she listened to Mother Melinda’s daily report
in silence, and without any comment; not even when Mother Melinda
remarked, one day:

“That there Rosebud is a-getting mighty fractious. Yesterday he
jawed me something fearful because I wouldn’t let him get up and
go out to the camp. I reckon he’s getting better. Men’s always
like that when they’re on the mend. The Rosebud shied a tumbler at
Taffy yesterday when he said he’d better lie there another day.
He’s always asking after you, Ralda. Seems mighty curious about you
altogether.”

Esmeralda made no response, but left the hut.

Lord Norman got about again presently, and was received by the men
with a kind of rough welcome. There was something about him that
took their fancy, and he speedily became a favorite. He wandered
about among the claims, and along the river, with the aid of a
stick, and the men kept a sort of protecting eye upon him, inviting
him to share their meals, and offering him unlimited whisky and
tobacco. Taffy took quite a paternal interest in him, and as Norman
sat upon the edge of the claim, watching the bearded giant at work,
Taffy poured out the vast stores of his experience for Norman’s
benefit and amusement, and inducted him into the mysteries of
mining. While he was wandering about, Norman was continually on the
look-out for Esmeralda, but he saw nothing of her. He asked where
she was, and was told that she was in the camp, or somewhere about;
and he wondered whether she was avoiding him. The idea made him
unhappy and uncomfortable, and he asked himself, all day long, what
he had done to offend her.

One evening he went into the Eldorado. The saloon was full; but the
men were listless and bored, for the night was hot. Billiards had
lost their charm, and there was no card-playing, for Varley Howard
was away. There was an old piano in a corner of the room, and
Norman, after wandering about, and declining innumerable offers of
whisky, limped up to the ancient instrument, and began to strum on
its yellow and worn keys.

The men stopped talking, and turned to look at him.

“Blest if the Rosebud ain’t a musician!” said Taffy. “Keep it up,
my gentle flower! Can you sing?”

Lord Norman blushed, as was his wont, and began to pipe a
drawing-room ballad. He had a particularly clear and sweet tenor,
and the men listened in profound silence and with unlimited
delight. When he had finished they shouted “Bravo!” and Taffy smote
him on the back, so as almost to send him through the piano.

“Bravo, little ’un!” he said. “We ought to ’a called you the
Nightingale! Pipe us something else.”

Lord Norman sung them a roystering sea song with a spirited chorus,
which the men caught up, and shouted with keen enjoyment. He was
kept at the piano singing and playing until he was nearly hoarse;
and when he gave in, Taffy seized him and perched him upon the top
of the instrument, and called for three cheers, which were given
with such heartiness that Dan MacGrath glanced at the tin roof
apprehensively.

Laughing and blushing, Norman got off the piano, and made his way
out into the open air. As he passed through the door-way he brushed
against something, and saw that it was Esmeralda. She wore a short
skirt, and had thrown a red shawl over her head.

“Ralda--I mean, Miss Howard!” he stammered, with a note of glad
surprise in his voice.

She shrunk back a little, and looked round as if about to fly;
then, as though she were ashamed of the impulse, she faced him, and
regarded him steadily. The moon shone down full upon her face, and
its beauty kept him silent for a moment. In her rough dress and
gypsy-like shawl she looked a totally different person to the young
lady he remembered in the Redfern habit and Heath hat.

“I’m so glad to see you,” he said at last. “Have you been quite
well?”

“I’m always well,” she said.

“I asked because I haven’t seen you about,” he said.

She looked down and made no response.

“Have you been outside, listening, long?” he asked.

“A little while,” she replied--she had been there for over an hour.
“Was that you singing?” she inquired, casually.

He laughed.

“Yes, I was howling to the boys.”

“You sing very well,” she said.

He muttered the conventional acceptation of her approval, then
looked at her wistfully.

“What a lovely night,” he said. “One never gets such a night as
this anywhere else than in Australia. The river would look jolly in
the moonlight. We could see it if we went down a little way. You
wouldn’t care to come, I suppose?”

She glanced from side to side, and then up at the moon, as if
undecided. He watched her maidenly calm face with unconcealed
eagerness.

“It’s not far,” he pleaded.

She said nothing, but moved forward, and with a leap of the heart
he walked by her side. They went down to the edge of the river in
silence. Esmeralda seated herself upon a bowlder bleached white by
the sun, and he dropped unobtrusively at her feet.

“Are you better?” she asked, breaking the silence.

“Oh! I’m all right, barring a little stiffness,” he replied; “and
that will go off in a day or two. Everybody has been awfully good
to me; and as for Mother Melinda--I hope she doesn’t mind being
called Mother Melinda?”

“She hasn’t got any other name that I ever heard of,” said
Esmeralda.

“Well, she’s been like a mother to me, at any rate. I couldn’t have
been better nursed if I’d been at home at the Manor; and I must
have given her a fearful amount of trouble. I was off my head for
some time. And--and, Miss Howard, speaking of that, I--I wanted to
ask you something.”

“What is it?” said Esmeralda.

He looked up at her slyly, as she sat in an exquisitely graceful
attitude, her brown hands folded loosely in her lap, her head
slightly thrown back as she looked up at the moonlit sky.

“Mother Melinda told me that the night I was raving like a lunatic
you came into the tent, and stayed for a little while. I--I hope I
didn’t say anything to offend you!”

“What makes you think that?” she said.

“Because--because--I’ve had an idea that you--you tried to avoid
me. I thought I might have said something about--about yourself
that made you angry. You know, people talk most awful rot when
they’re off their heads, as I was.”

“It wasn’t awful rot--all of it,” said Esmeralda, looking down at
the pattern she was tracing in the sand with her foot. “You didn’t
offend me.”

“I’m glad of that,” he said, drawing a long breath. “You can’t tell
what a load you’ve taken off my mind. I’ve been wishing that they’d
gagged me when I began to ramp.”

“You talked a lot about your people--I suppose, especially about
some one called Trafford. Who is he?”

He sat up, with sudden interest.

“Oh! did I talk about Trafford?” he said. “Dear old Trafford! He is
my cousin.”

“What’s his other name?” she asked.

He laughed.

“Oh! he has half a dozen; but we always call him Trafford, because
he’s the Marquis of Trafford.”

She turned her large, luminous eye upon him thoughtfully.

“The marquis? I don’t understand.”

Lord Norman dropped backward, with his arms behind his head, so
that he could look up at her face with perfect ease.

“He’s the Marquis of Trafford,” he explained, “because he is the
eldest son of the Duke of Belfayre.”

“The Duke of Belfayre?” she repeated; “that’s an awful swell, isn’t
it--something near a prince or a king?”

“Well, not exactly,” said Norman; “but he _is_ a swell. There are
not many dukes, you see, and the dukedom is a particularly old
one--I mean, that the title goes a long way back--and the duke
himself is an old man.”

“And your cousin will be the duke when his cousin dies?” she said,
as if she were trying to understand.

“Yes,” said Norman; “but we all hope that will be a long while; for
the duke is the dearest old chap, and Trafford is as fond of him as
he can be.”

“And you are fond of Trafford?” she asked.

“I should think so--rather! Why, there’s nobody in the world like
Trafford!”

“Why?” she asked, not unreasonably.

“Well, he’s a splendid fellow! I wish you could see him, and then
you’d understand, without my saying another word.”

“Why is he so splendid?” she asked. “What does he do?”

Norman sat up in his eagerness to explain.

“Oh, he does everything, and does it better than any one else can.
He’s a first-rate shot--you should see him stalking a deer! There’s
no tiring him. And then, he rides--it’s a treat to see him going
across country as straight as a line, and taking everything as it
comes, just like a bird. And then, he’s the best-looking fellow in
London.”

“What is he like?” she asked, with a woman’s curiosity on this most
important point.

“Oh,” said Norman, vaguely, “he’s tall--not too tall--and what you
women call graceful; all muscle, and not an ounce of fat. He can
knock a man down with a straight one from the shoulder.”

“There’s heaps of men who can do that,” she said, half jealously.

“And he’s got one of those dark, good-looking faces--something like
an Italian or a Spaniard; and yet it’s quite English, too--and dark
eyes, and--oh, I can’t describe him! You want to see him. All the
women rave about him.”

“And so he’s pretty conceited,” she said, with a little curl of
her lip. “We had a man here like that once. They called him the
‘Barber’s Block.’ They said he curled his hair. He went off with
Dan MacGrath’s niece, and Dan shot him in the arm and brought her
back.”

Lord Norman laughed.

“Trafford’s not at all like that,” he said; “and there is not a
bit of conceit or vanity about him. I don’t think he knows he’s
good-looking, or that most of the women are madly in love with
him. He’s not that sort of fellow. He’s grave and quiet. Poor old
Trafford!”

“Why do you say ‘poor old Trafford’?” she asked.

“Well, you see,” said Lord Norman, “he’s got a good deal to think
of and worry him. Although the duke is such a swell, he’s poor.”

“I thought a duke could never be poor,” she said.

“That’s what you thought about lords until you made my
acquaintance,” he laughed, ruefully. “It’s this way. The duke’s
father and grandfather were wild, and went the pace. They had to
borrow money, and they went to the Jews. Now, going to the Jews
is as bad as going to the dogs. They lend you money at sixty per
cent., and they take everything you’ve got as security.”

“I know,” said Esmeralda, with a nod. “There was a man here who
lent money like that. The boys tarred and feathered him.”

Lord Norman laughed approvingly.

“I wish they’d do that in England,” he said, with a sigh. “Though,
I suppose, it wouldn’t be quite fair; for, if you borrow money,
you must pay for it. Well, the duke is up to his neck in debt.
Everything is mortgaged that can be; and though there are thousands
of acres of land, and half a dozen big houses as well as Belfayre,
they’re all mortgaged, and really belonging to some one else if
they liked to swoop down upon them.”

“What does he want with half a dozen houses?” asked Esmeralda. “He
can’t live in them, though he is a duke.”

“Not all at once,” said Lord Norman, smiling. “In fact, he never
leaves Belfayre; and Trafford, when he isn’t there, has rooms in
the Albany and dines at his club--off the joint.”

Esmeralda looked at him with a puzzled frown. She was trying hard
to understand.

“Why don’t they shut up the houses,” she asked, “and go and live
somewhere where it wouldn’t cost much money.”

“That sounds easy enough,” said Lord Norman, “and any ordinary
person could do it; but a duke can’t. He’s got to live up to his
position. It’s a kind of duty. And so all the houses go on full
swing, and a kind of royal state is kept up. The duke is treated
like a prince. There’s an army of servants at Belfayre, and the
stables are full of horses and carriages, and the whole place is
like a palace. It’s a show-place.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, people go and see it because there’s a lot of pictures
there, and old plate and china, and curiosities that one duke after
another has collected. There are some pictures that are worth
thousands, and people come from the other end of the world to stare
at them.”

“Why don’t they sell them?” asked Esmeralda.

“They can’t,” said Lord Norman. “They’ve borrowed money on them,
and if they hadn’t they couldn’t sell them. It would be a kind of
sacrilege.”

“I don’t understand it all,” said Esmeralda. “I shouldn’t like to
live in a place that I might be turned out of any moment.”

“That’s why I said ‘poor Trafford,’” said Lord Norman. “He feels
just as you do. He said one day, when I was at Belfayre, that he
wished he was a farm laborer; and that he was a perfect slave.”

She was silent for a minute or two, and Lord Norman, gazing at her
with all his heart in his eyes, had forgotten the house of Belfayre
and its difficulties, and everything but the fact of her presence,
and her delicate profile standing out like a cameo, when she said,
suddenly:

“Who is ‘Ada’?”

He started slightly.

“Did I speak about her when I was raving?” he said. “That must be
Ada Lancing--Lady Ada Lancing.”

“All the people you know are lords and ladies,” she said.

He laughed apologetically.

“Oh, not all.”

“And who is she? Is she a great friend of yours?” she asked. “You
spoke of her almost as much as you did of this Lord Trafford.”

“Oh, yes, she’s a friend of mine,” said Lord Norman. “She has a
great many friends. She is one of the London belles.”

Esmeralda understood this, at any rate.

“Is she so very pretty?” she asked, with keen interest.

“Oh, yes, very,” he said. “Her portraits are in all the shop
windows.”

“Why do they put them there?” she asked, with wide-open eyes. “What
is she like?”

Lord Norman tilted his hat over his eyes and considered.

“What is she like? Oh, she’s fair, with a lot of yellow hair like
spun silk; and she’s tall. It’s difficult to describe her. Trafford
once said that she was a daughter of the gods. I don’t know what he
meant, excepting that she was very graceful, and stately, and all
that.”

“A daughter of the gods,” she repeated. It is needless to say that
she had never heard of Tennyson; but the well-known and oft-quoted
line conveyed something of its meaning to her. “And can she ride
and shoot and swim? Could she climb that tree there?”

She did not ask because she herself could do these things, but
because she wanted to know more about this grand young lady who was
“a daughter of the gods,” whose hair was like spun silk, and whose
portrait was in the shop windows.

“Yes; she can ride after a fashion, on a very tame gee-gee, and she
goes round the park like they do in a circus. As to shooting,” he
smiled. “I should like to see Lady Ada fire a gun; ‘let it off,’
she’d call it; and she couldn’t climb anything, except the stairs,
to save her life.”

Esmeralda looked surprised and thoughtful.

“I don’t think much of her,” she remarked, not contemptuously, but
as if she were stating an unprejudiced opinion. “And it’s only
because she’s pretty that she’s a belle? Do _you_ think her so very
beautiful?”

“I _did_,” he said; “I thought her the loveliest girl in the world;
but I don’t now.”

“Why?” she asked, looking at him with surprise.

“Because--because--Esmeralda”--his voice was almost a whisper, and
even her innocence, enlightened by her remembrance of his delirious
calling upon her name, could not but discern the meaning in his
eyes and his voice--“Esmeralda,” he whispered again, “don’t be
angry with me. I love you!”

She did not start to her feet, the ivory whiteness of her face
remained unchanged; she turned her eyes upon him with an expression
in them of half-troubled wonder.

“I love you, Esmeralda!” he said. He was on one knee by her side
and had got possession of her hand. “Won’t you speak to me? Are you
angry? Speak to me, Esmeralda. Tell me that I may go on loving you.”

She drew her hand from his and rose, and stood looking straight
before her at the river, almost as if she were in a dream, as if
the strangeness of his words had cast a spell over her.

He tried to take her hand again, but she drew back beyond his reach.

“No,” she said in so low a voice that he could just hear it; then
she turned away from him. He rose from his knees to follow her, to
urge his suit; but, looking over her shoulder, she shook her head
as if to bid him stay where he was, and then, not swiftly, but
slowly, as if she were a spirit of the moonlight, she glided away
from him.



CHAPTER V.


Esmeralda walked slowly home in the moonlight.

She was startled and bewildered. It was the first time she had
ever been made love to, for though no doubt every young man in the
camp worshiped her, and would have gladly made her his wife, not
one of them had ever dared to tell her so, or to even hint by word
or sign at the state of his feelings, for the simple reason that
she was regarded by the whole camp as a kind of queen. Besides,
it was well known that her guardian, Varley Howard, would not
permit of any love-making, and that the man who should venture to
propose marriage to Esmeralda would far more probably be the chief
personage in a funeral than in a wedding.

So that Esmeralda had grown up as innocent of love and
love-making--indeed, far more innocent--as nineteen out of twenty
English girls.

Lord Norman’s avowal had come upon her so suddenly as to confuse
her, and also to frighten her. She scarcely understood what he
meant, certainly did not realize the full significance of his
passionate protestations; and yet something of the meaning of the
great mystery must have penetrated to her, for her heart beat
rather faster than usual, and a faint color glowed in her cheeks.

What should she do? she asked herself. She liked Lord Norman; the
mere fact of saving his life had given him an interest in her eyes.
And then he was so handsome, and so gentle, and different to the
rough men of the camp.

She fell asleep asking herself the question, and she woke the next
morning with the question still unanswered. It was rather later
than her usual hour when she emerged from the hut and stood, with
her hand shading her eyes, looking down at the camp, which was
already in the full swing of its daily work. She usually ran round
before breakfast to see her horse, and to take it a slice of bread
and a piece of sugar; but this morning she stood still at the door
of the hut and looked dreamily about her, the horse forgotten for
the first time.

“Ain’t you coming in to breakfast, Ralda?” said Mother Melinda’s
voice, spoken through the fizzing of bacon in the frying-pan. “I
thought you’s goin’ to sleep all day.”

Esmeralda went in, but her appetite, generally of the most
satisfactory kind, appeared to have deserted her.

“Sakes alive!” exclaimed Mother Melinda, as Esmeralda leaned back
in her chair and gazed absently at the plate which she usually
cleared so promptly. “Air you ill, Ralda? I never see you turn away
from your food afore. What’s the matter with you?”

“I don’t know,” said Esmeralda, with the faintest of smiles. “I’m
not hungry, and it’s too hot to eat.”

She got up, and stretching her arms above her head as if she were
trying to cast off some burden of thought, went out into the open
air again.

Lord Norman loved her! It seemed so strange! Why, he had only
seen her a few days ago! What should she say to him? She had said
“No” last night, and had forbidden him to follow her. Would he
think it very unkind of her? Would he go away? She asked herself
if she should be sorry if he did go--if she should never see him
again--and she was too innocent to know that if she had loved Lord
Norman as he loved her she would not have had to ask herself the
question.

Instead of going down to the camp, as was her custom each morning,
she wandered along the trail that led up to the mountain. She
followed the trail for a mile or two, and then seating herself
upon a bowlder, leaned her chin upon her hand, and gazed down upon
the camp below. Suddenly she started to her feet; her sharp eye
had seen a horseman riding along the valley toward the camp, and
she recognized her guardian, Varley Howard. She hastened down the
trail, and reached the hut almost at the same moment as he did.

“Well, Ralda!” he said in his slow, low-pitched voice. “No need to
ask how you are--though, by the way,” he added, as the flush which
his advent had caused left her cheek, “you’re looking a little off
color!”

She said nothing, but drew her arm through his and led him into the
hut.

“I’m glad you’ve come back, Varley,” she said, putting her arms
over his shoulders, and leaning over him. “I wish you wouldn’t go
away so much.”

His quick ears caught the serious note in her voice, and he looked
up quickly at her with his dark, mournful eyes.

“Anything the matter, Ralda?” he asked.

She took her arms from about his neck, and seated herself on the
table, with her face turned from him.

“No,” she said; “what should be the matter?”

“All right,” he said. “Any news? What’s been going on at the camp?
By the way, I see that you’ve got a stranger; I met a young fellow
limping along the road--a good-looking young fellow. Who is he?”

Esmeralda poured out some whisky and water and set it before him
before replying, and so gained time to control her voice, and
answer with an assumption of indifference which the most innocent
of Eve’s daughters find so easy.

“Oh, he’s a young fellow that came on here from Dog’s Ear; his
name’s Norman Druce; he’s a lord!”

“Oh!” said Varley Howard. He spoke with an absence of mind and
interest that would have disappeared if he had seen her face,
which, for a moment, had grown crimson. She still kept behind him,
and occupied herself in washing up the plates and dishes at a side
table, but she glanced at him now and again as if she were tempted
to take him into her confidence, and once she opened her lips as if
about to speak, but before she could begin, the noise of shouting
rose from the camp below, and Varley Howard got up and went to the
door.

“It’s Bill the postman,” he said.

She followed him and leaned her elbow on his shoulder.

“There’s somebody with him,” she said, shading her eyes, and
looking at two horsemen, who had pulled up in the center of the
camp, and were surrounded by the crowd of miners. She and Varley
watched Bill distribute the letters from his leather wallet, then
she said:

“He’s bringing the stranger up here.”

“So he is,” said Varley Howard. “I wonder who he is? Looks like a
town man, and rides like a tailor.”

“Perhaps he’s the bank agent,” said Esmeralda.

“No,” said Varley, slowly. “I left him at Good Luck.” He did not
smile, though he would have been justified in doing so, for the
bank agent had played heavily, and Varley Howard had cleared him
out.

“Perhaps he’s the Government surveyor,” said Esmeralda.

“Too old,” said Varley. “They always die long before that.”

Having exhausted conjecture, they watched the two horsemen as they
picked their way up the trail from the hut, and presently Bill
caught sight of Howard, and sent up a Coo-ee, which Esmeralda, as
in duty bound, answered.

“Well, Varley, my boy,” said Bill, as he pulled up, “how are you?
Miss Esmeralda, I hope I see you well? Varley, ’ere’s a gentleman
as is anxious to see you. He’s been a-hunting for you from Ballarat
to Dog’s Ear. ’Low me to introduce you. Mr. Pinchook, one of
England’s limbs of the law--Mr. Varley Howard, the pride and
ornament of Three Star.”

Varley Howard raised his sombrero. Mr. Pinchook lifted his
London-made bowler; then he got off his horse stiffly, and, with a
sigh of relief, wiped his face with a silk handkerchief.

“I have been looking for you for some time, Mr. Howard,” he said.
“And I can not tell you how glad I am to find you.” He drew a
breath of relief as if the prolonged search had been anything but
a pleasant one. “I wish to see you on a matter of business, Mr.
Howard.”

Varley Howard inclined his head. Bill the postman rubbed his hand
with an air of satisfaction.

“’Aving brought you two gentlemen together, I’ll go back to the
boys,” he said. “Well, Miss Esmeralda, if I take anything at all,
it’ll be just two fingers.”

Esmeralda got him the drink, which he disposed of at a draught.
He nodded round in a comprehensive adieu and trotted off. Varley
Howard invited Mr. Pinchook into the hut, and that gentleman, after
removing his gloves, and pulling down his waistcoat, which had got
considerably rucked up during his ride, took a card from a case and
handed it to Varley.

It bore the legend “Pinchook, Pinchook & Becham, Solicitors, 119
Grey’s Inn.”

“I am Mr. Samson Pinchook,” he said, “and I have come out on behalf
of the firm and our late client, Mr. Gordon Chetwynde--_the_ Gordon
Chetwynde--of course you’ve heard of him.” Mr. Pinchook coughed
with a little air of importance, and settled his somewhat soiled
and tumbled collar.

“No, I never heard of him,” said Varley Howard in his listless way.
“Who was he, anyhow?”

“Dear me!” said Mr. Pinchook. “I should have thought all the world
had heard of my famous client.”

“But this is out of the world,” said Varley Howard. “Why was he
famous? What did he do?”

“Our late client, Mr. Gordon Chetwynde, amassed over two millions
of money.” Mr. Pinchook made this announcement slowly and with due
solemnity.

Varley Howard raised his eyebrows slightly, and proceeded to roll a
cigarette with extreme care.

“I should have liked to have met him,” he said, dryly. He added,
mentally: “And to have played cards with him.”

“He was a very wonderful man,” said Mr. Pinchook. “And an ornament
to any society--”

“People with a couple of millions generally are--gilt ornaments,”
remarked Varley Howard.

“An estimable man,” continued Mr. Pinchook, “though, somewhat
er--er--hard in his dealings.”

“People with two millions always are,” remarked Varley Howard.

“Our late client, Mr. Gordon Chetwynde”--he pronounced the name as
if it produced a pleasant flavor in his mouth--“became a widower
soon after his marriage, and was left with an only daughter--an
extremely touching position, Mr. Howard.”

“For a two-millionaire--yes,” assented Varley Howard. “If he had
been a curate he would have had half a dozen daughters and three or
four sons thrown in.”

“Er--er--just so. My client, Mr. Gordon Chetwynde, was extremely
devoted to his daughter, and er--not unreasonably desired to see
her suitably married. Unfortunately, although she had several
brilliant offers, she fell in love with a quite ineligible young
man with no--er--settled occupation or prospects, and with not the
best of characters.”

“Daughters of millionaires are generally given to that sort of
thing, aren’t they?” said Varley Howard.

“Our client did all he could to separate the young people, but,
I regret to say, that his well-meant efforts only resulted in a
clandestine marriage.”

“They always do,” said Varley Howard. “What’s the use of being a
daughter of a millionaire if you can’t marry whom you please?”

Mr. Pinchook looked rather shocked by this sentiment, and, with
another dry cough, continued:

“Our client was so justly incensed by the undutiful conduct
of his daughter that he refused to see her, and--er--in fact,
disowned her. She and her husband--who, by the way, was a distant
connection, and bore the same name, Chetwynde--disappeared. Our
client for some time did not permit her name to be mentioned in his
presence, but during the illness which resulted in his death he
relented.”

“It’s a way fathers have,” said Varley Howard.

“Er--yes,” said Mr. Pinchook, who had never, in the whole course
of his professional experience, met any one quite so cool and
listless and altogether immovable as this Mr. Varley Howard, the
professional gambler. “He completely forgave his daughter, and
instructed us to make inquiries respecting her. We learned that
the husband was dead, that a child was born, and that--er--Mrs.
Chetwynde had left England with it soon after. The child was a
girl.”

Varley Howard leaned back in his chair, and smoked on with
impassive countenance.

“On hearing that there was a child, our client, Mr. Gordon
Chetwynde, executed a will, leaving the whole of his immense and
colossal fortune to her.”

“Ye--es,” drawled Varley Howard. “They always do relent when it’s
too late.”

Mr. Pinchook made another attempt to straighten his collar,
coughed, and went on again.

“Our firm, as executors and trustees under the will, at once
proceeded to search for the missing heiress. Availing ourselves
of the best professional assistance, we succeeded in tracing Mrs.
Chetwynde to Australia.”

Varley Howard crossed his legs, and deliberately knocked the ash
off his cigarette.

“Quite recently we discovered that Mrs. Chetwynde, with her child,
had arrived at a camp called--er--Dog’s Ear--yes, that is the
extraordinary name. In fact, she wrote a letter, dated from that
place. I myself at once came out, and--er--learned that she had
left the camp one day to walk to another, called Three Star. I
identified her by a photograph which I possessed.”

He took a photograph from his pocket, and handed it to Varley
Howard. Varley Howard looked at it listlessly, then laid it on the
table.

“At Dog’s Ear Camp yesterday,” continued Mr. Pinchook, “I met a
person called ‘Bill the postman.’ I--er--do not know his other
name--”

“He doesn’t know it himself,” said Varley Howard in the most
indolent of voices.

“He gave me an account of his finding a woman lying dead on the
road between here and Dog’s Ear, and--er--informed me that he had
brought the child he had found lying on her bosom to this place,
and that he had intrusted her to your care.”

“Quite right,” said Varley Howard. “I cut for her at cards, and won
her.”

“Er--er--so he informed me,” said Mr. Pinchook. “Now, Mr. Howard, I
shall be extremely obliged if you will render me every assistance
you can in this matter, and--er--tell me where I can find the
daughter and heiress of our client, Mr. Gordon Chetwynde.”

Varley Howard passed his white hand over his little less
white brow, and looked at the dry man of law with an impassive
expression. “Over two millions, I think you said?” he remarked.

“Over two millions,” assented Mr. Pinchook, with unction.

Varley Howard got up.

“I’ll call her,” he said.

He went to the door of the hut. Esmeralda was seated on a log of
wood mending a stocking. He laid his hand upon her shoulder, and
looked at her with a strange smile.

“Come inside with me, Ralda,” he said. She rose at once, and he
took her hand and led her into the hut.

“Allow me to introduce you, Mr. Pinchook,” he said in his slow and
languid way, “to Miss Chetwynde.”



CHAPTER VI.


Mr. Pinchook gave a little start of surprise, then got up and bowed.

Esmeralda’s beauty took him by surprise. He had expected to
see--well, if he had been asked what he had expected to see, he
would have found it difficult to answer: something rough and
uncouth, and, of course, quite uncultivated. Now Esmeralda, though
she wore a short skirt with a blue blouse, and was without a hat,
did not look uncouth, however uncultivated she may have been.

With her stocking in her hand, she stood upright as a dart, and
looked at the dry little lawyer in her direct fashion.

“Who is this, Varley?” she asked, with her usual fearlessness.

“This gentleman is Mr. Pinchook,” said Varley; “he is a lawyer, and
he has come from London on business connected with you; in fact, he
has come to look for you.”

“To look for me?” she said, her eyes opening on Mr. Pinchook,
so that the old gentleman felt almost uncomfortable under their
uncompromising gaze.

“Yes,” said Varley, languidly. “What I have warned you of so often
has happened at last. I knew it would. Mr. Pinchook has come to
claim you.”

“Won’t you take a chair, Miss Chetwynde?” said Mr. Pinchook; and he
offered her his, transferring himself to a box.

Esmeralda took no notice of the chair, but still kept her eyes upon
him. Varley Howard leaned against the side of the hut, and blew
the smoke from his lips into the delicate rings which had been
Esmeralda’s delight in her childhood, and were her delight still.

“Mr. Pinchook has come to tell us all about you,” he said. “To put
it shortly, Ralda, he is your grandfather’s lawyer.”

“My grandfather’s?” repeated Esmeralda.

Varley Howard nodded.

“His name was Chetwynde, so was your father’s. Both your
grandfather and your father are dead, and your mother, as you know,
is dead too.” He glanced at the photograph.

Esmeralda took it up, looked at it intently, then laid it down
again.

“Then I belong to you altogether, Varley?” she said.

“Not exactly,” he said, impassively. “I expect you have other
relations.”

Mr. Pinchook nodded.

“Her nearest is Lady Wyndover, Mr. Gordon Chetwynde’s niece. She
will be Miss Chetwynde’s guardian.”

Esmeralda looked at Varley Howard, who avoided her eyes, and
continued:

“Mr. Pinchook has brought us good news, Ralda. Your grandfather was
a rich man--very rich; he has left you all his money. So that _you_
are now rich--very rich.”

“Over two millions,” murmured Mr. Pinchook, with bland
satisfaction. The amount, it is scarcely necessary to say, was not
realized by Esmeralda. She drew a long breath, and looked at Varley
Howard with a smile.

“I am glad we are rich, Varley,” she said.

Varley Howard looked down at the floor.

“Mr. Pinchook has come to take you to England, to--”

--“To Lady Wyndover,” murmured Mr. Pinchook.

Esmeralda looked at him, and then at Varley Howard.

“That will be jolly,” she said. “You’d like to go to England,
wouldn’t you, Varley?”

“Mr. Pinchook doesn’t propose to take me,” said Varley.

“You mean that he wants to take me alone? Then I sha’n’t go!”
She sat herself down on the chair, and leaned back with her
hands folded over the stocking in her lap, with a fixed air of
determination.

Mr. Pinchook coughed, and looked rather disconcerted.

“My dear young lady--” he began.

“You might talk until you were black in the face,” said Esmeralda,
calmly, “but I shouldn’t go without Varley. You can keep the money.”

Mr. Pinchook was about to recommence his remonstrance, but Varley
Howard signed to him to be silent.

“There’s a lovely view from just outside the hut, Mr. Pinchook,” he
said. That gentleman took the hint, and retired, and Varley Howard
seated himself on the box and leaned forward.

“Look here, Ralda,” he said; “just listen to me.”

“Well, what is it?” said Esmeralda. “If you think I’m going to take
this money or go to England with this old mummy without you, you’re
mistaken.”

“See here,” he said. “It’s my deal; you hold on till all the cards
are out. I’ve looked forward to this day; somehow I always felt
it would come, though I didn’t think you’d turn out such a golden
heiress. The old game’s played out, Ralda, and we must take a fresh
pack, and begin a new deal. It was all very well for me to be your
guardian while you were just Esmeralda of Three Star, but the
situation’s altered. You are now Miss Chetwynde, and the owner of
a pile of dollars mountains high. You’ve got to take those dollars
and live up to them; in short, you’ve got to be a swell. You’ll go
to England to this Lady--whatever her name is--and learn how to
play your part.”

“Not if I don’t like,” said Esmeralda. “And I don’t like--without
you.”

Varley Howard rolled another cigarette, and though his face was as
impassive as ever, his delicate fingers quivered slightly.

“That’s nonsense, Ralda,” he said. “I don’t want to give myself
away, but, though I may shine somewhat in Three Star and similar
places, I should be out of my element among your swell friends in
England.”

“I don’t want any friends that are too swell for you: you’re swell
enough for me. Besides, I don’t seem to fancy it. I’m quite happy.
Send that old man about his business, and let’s go on as we were.”

“You can’t do that, Ralda,” he said. “Just think a moment. Suppose
I did as you want me to do, what do you think your friends would
say?”

“I don’t know, and don’t care,” she remarked.

“But I do. They’d say that I’d persuaded you to stay here, or
that if I hadn’t persuaded you, that I let you--an innocent girl,
ignorant of the world--have your own way, and so ruined your life.
That would be rather rough on me, Ralda.”

She saw his meaning, and her brows began to knit, and her mobile
lips to tremble.

“You’re sending me away, Varley!” she said, piteously.

“Put it that way, if you like,” he said. “Anyway, you’ve got to go.
You’ll be all right, once you’ve started.”

She lifted her great eyes to him reproachfully.

“No, I don’t mean that you’ll forget me or Three Star; but it will
be a great change; you’ll have plenty of friends, and heaps of
money, and will be as happy as a sand-boy.”

She went to him and put her arm round his neck, and he could feel
that she was struggling with her tears.

“I should be wretched--wretched! I won’t go!”

“I don’t think you’ll be wretched,” he said, and he took the hand
that hung over his shoulder and stroked it. “But I’ll strike a
bargain with you. If you’re not happy, if anything goes wrong, you
shall come back to Three Star if you care to.”

“I shall soon be back, then,” she said. “It’s scarcely worth while
my taking that long journey; it’s a waste of time and money.”

He smiled grimly.

“You can afford to waste a little money,” he said.

“And do you mean to say that you won’t come to see me?” she
demanded.

He shook his head.

“You’ll understand why not before you’ve been in England a month--a
week, perhaps. And, look here, Ralda, if I were you I shouldn’t let
on much about me or the camp--”

She drew herself up.

“Do you think I’m ashamed of you?” she said, fiercely.

He was going to say “No, but you will be,” but he checked himself.

“It’s a bargain, then?” he said. “If you’re unhappy, you come back?”

“Yes,” she said, “if I’ve got to go. But you’ll soon have me back,
and then you’ll be sorry enough you sent me away.”

“All right; I’ll risk it.” He rose and called Mr. Pinchook into
the hut, but that gentleman came in rather flurried; he had just
witnessed a fight between Taffy and the baronet down in the camp
below, and was much shocked and agitated.

“Miss Chetwynde is ready to start when you are,” said Varley in his
quiet way.

“I’m delighted to hear it!” said Mr. Pinchook, mopping his
forehead. “And I--er--really think the sooner we start the better.
This--er--rough place is not a fit place for Miss Chetwynde.”

Esmeralda looked at him indignantly, and opened her lips; but
Varley cut in before she could utter an indignant protest.

“You could go this evening,” he said. “Miss Howard--I beg pardon, I
mean Miss Chetwynde--is a capital horsewoman, and can ride to Good
Luck, where you’ll catch the coach. I will, with your permission,
accompany you thus far.”

Mr. Pinchook assented eagerly. He longed to get back to London.

“Very good,” said Varley. “While you’re taking refreshment I’ll
step down to the camp and break the news to the boys. It will want
some breaking,” he added, dryly, as he sauntered out.

The fight was still in progress when Varley got down to the camp.
But it stopped suddenly when the news of Esmeralda’s approaching
departure spread among the crowd. It was received at first with
a stony silence of amazement, then a yell of indignation and
execration directed at Mr. Pinchook’s unoffending head rose in the
air.

“What! take our Ralda!” shouted Taffy. “Why, blame his old skin,
let’s chuck him in the river, boys!”

A yell welcomed this suggestion, and the crowd set off _en masse_
up the hill toward the hut. Varley Howard knew that he was
powerless to stem the torrent, and that it was better to let it
have its way up to a certain point, so he went a little ahead of
the rest; but, having reached the hut, stood in the open door-way,
shielding the startled and terrified Mr. Pinchook, who gazed at the
crowd affrightedly over Varley’s shoulder. Then Varley said:

“Look here, boys; I let you come up here that you may see Ralda
herself and learn from her own lips that she is going of her own
free will. She’s come into a slice of luck.” He did not mention
the amount for the simple reason that he felt it would destroy all
credence in the minds of his audience, and make them suspect that
he was tricking them. “Her people have turned up, and--she’s got to
go. I guess Three Star isn’t going to stand in the way of her good
fortune.”

“Ralda, Ralda!” shouted the crowd, excitedly, and refusing to be
pacified. “Let’s see her, and hear what she’s got to say herself.”

Esmeralda pushed Mr. Pinchook aside, and stepped forward at
Varley’s left hand. She was very pale, and her lovely eyes looked
through a mist of tears.

A shout went up at her appearance, and Taffy, with the marks of his
recent encounter fresh upon him, demanded, with outstretched hands:

“Is this true, Ralda, or is Varley only spoofing us?”

Her lips quivered, and it seemed for a moment as if she could not
speak. Then she said, with a catch in her voice:

“It’s true, boys. They’ve found me, and I’ve got to go. I don’t
want to go--to leave you all”--a big tear rolled down her cheek and
fell on the stocking she still held in her hand--“but I’ve got to
go. But I’m coming back--I’m coming back soon. Don’t make it hard
for me!” she pleaded, as the crowd murmured audibly. “Tell them,
Varley!” She went into the hut with her arm across her eyes like a
heart-broken child.

“Ralda’s hit the nail on the head, boys,” said Varley. “It’s as
hard for her as it is for us.”

Taffy stood, opening and shutting his huge mouth for a moment or
two, then he dashed his hair--or something else--out of his eyes,
and turned savagely upon the rest.

“She’s right,” he said. “If she’s got to go, she’s got to go.
Three Star ain’t going to stand in her way. We’ll give her a
good send-off, boys. Come down to Dan’s and let’s get out the
programme.” And almost in silence the crowd went down the hill
again.

“God bless my soul!” said Mr. Pinchook. “What a dreadful set of
men!”

Varley only smiled.

Esmeralda’s tears flowed freely as she packed the small bundle
which she was to carry on the saddle in front of her, and Mother
Melinda, too utterly overcome to be of any assistance even in these
limited preparations, sobbed unrestrainedly. In the midst of her
grief Esmeralda remembered that Lord Norman had not been amongst
the protesting crowd. She wondered why he had been absent.

As the sun was setting behind the hills the horses were brought
round. Esmeralda and Mother Melinda mingled their tears as they
clung to each other; and, after many false starts, the three set
off. As they went down the trail to the camp, Esmeralda riding
between Varley and Mr. Pinchook, a crowd collected in their way.
Every man had left his work to assist in the send-off. Some
were mounted, but the majority were on foot. Taffy, on a great
black horse, was at their head. By his side was a man with a
concertina--the only musical instrument in the camp excepting the
piano in the Eldorado.

As Esmeralda rode down, the mob sent up a ringing cheer, and parted
to let the three ride through, then it closed up behind them and
followed in marching order, the concertina wailing out “Auld Lang
Syne.”

The procession wound its way through the valley, up over the hill,
and on to the main road. Every now and then the crowd sent up a
cheer into the clear air. The concertina wailed on as if the man
who played it were possessed of arms of steel. Sometimes the men
sung, at others they talked together of how Esmeralda had been
brought to the camp, of her childish sayings, of how she rode
and shot; and strong men tried to conceal their emotion under
hysterical laughter and blood-curdling oaths.

When they came to the cross-roads they halted; the concertina
moaned out jerkily, “God Save the Queen”--it meant Esmeralda.

Esmeralda, knowing that the parting had come, turned her horse and
faced the boys. She tried to speak cheerfully, but the tears stood
in her swollen eyes; she dropped her reins, and could only gasp out:

“Good-bye, good-bye!”

“Good-bye, Ralda, good-bye!” shouted the men in voices hoarse with
grief and excitement.

Almost as if drawn toward them, Esmeralda touched her horse, and it
bounded forward, but Varley Howard seized the bridle and swung the
animal round. As he did so, Taffy pressed forward and thrust a note
into her hand. “I forgot it, almost!” he said.

The three travelers set off at a gallop, and the royal procession
was soon left behind; but for some time the wailing of the
concertina followed them, and sung like a human voice in
Esmeralda’s ears.

And thus Esmeralda left Three Star Camp.

When they got to Good Luck there was just time before the coach
started for her to change her habit for the blue serge gown which
she carried in her bundle. The note was still clutched in her hand.
It was from Lord Norman; she gazed at it with dull surprise. There
were only a few lines:

  “I can not stay here now that there is no hope for me. It was too
  much to hope that you would love me; but I must go on loving you
  till I die.

  NORMAN.”

The coach drew up before the saloon, and the parting with Varley
Howard took place. Its manner was characteristic of both. Outwardly
he was calm and impassive as usual, and neither Mr. Pinchook nor
the on-lookers guessed how the gamester was racked.

Esmeralda, utterly regardless of the spectators, who, with a
delicacy worthy of Pall Mall, turned aside, took him in her large
embrace, and, with her head thrown back, gazed at his pale face
through a fog of tears. She was speechless, and his voice sounded
lower even than usual as he tried to comfort her.

“Good-bye, Ralda!” he said. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t cry, or I--I
shall cry myself, and what will the boys say?”

“Remember,” she panted, “I am coming back! I’m coming back!”

The coachman, who had carefully kept his face turned away, and had
been busy with his gloves, which seemed peculiarly difficult to
get on, gave a warning cough. Esmeralda, blinded by her tears, was
lifted on to the seat of honor beside the driver, and the horses,
which had been fretting and fuming for the last ten minutes, dashed
on their way, and Esmeralda was borne out of Varley Howard’s sight.

A few weeks later a cab drove up to Lady Wyndover’s house in
Grosvenor Square. Mr. Pinchook and Esmeralda alighted, that
estimable gentleman looking considerably done up with his long
journey, and inquired of a giant in plush for Lady Wyndover, and
were conducted up the broad stairs to her ladyship’s _boudoir_. The
footman opened the door, and a lady rose languidly from a satin
couch. She was a slight, fair-haired woman of more than middle
age, but in the light which came through the rose-colored curtains
Esmeralda at first took her for a girl. For Lady Wyndover’s hair
was of flaxen hue, and dressed in girlish style; her complexion, as
great a marvel from an artistic point of view as her wonderfully
corseted figure, was a delicate mixture of milk and roses. She
wore a satin tea-gown of the faintest blue, from beneath the skirt
of which peeped the tiniest of white kid, high-heeled shoes. Her
hands were thick with rings, which made the slim fingers seem
preposterously small.

As a work of art, Lady Wyndover was simply perfect from the crown
of her dyed hair to the tip of her dainty shoe; and Esmeralda
regarded her with wide-open eyes, in which astonishment was the
predominant expression.

“Oh, Mr. Pinchook!” said her ladyship in her thin, low voice. “So
you have come at last!”

“Yes, Lady Wyndover,” said Mr. Pinchook, with a suspicion of a sigh
of relief. “We have arrived at last!”

“And this,” said Lady Wyndover, “is Esmeralda?”

She looked at “this” as if Esmeralda were some curiosity which Mr.
Pinchook had been commissioned to procure from some savage land;
then she held out her hand and bestowed a kiss--a careful kiss,
because carmine comes off the lips--on Esmeralda’s forehead.

“How do you do, my dear?” she inquired, and she looked at the fresh
loveliness of the young face with a growing surprise and astonished
admiration.

She had expected to see--well, what Mr. Pinchook had expected to
see--a rough, uncouth, _gauche_ girl, eloquent of the backwoods
and savagery. But this slim, graceful girl, with her red-gold
hair and star-like eyes smashed Lady Wyndover’s fancy picture
into smithereens. She stood and gazed at her, and Esmeralda gazed
back with a grave and steady regard which disconcerted even Lady
Wyndover.

“You didn’t tell me--” she exclaimed to Mr. Pinchook, thrown off
her guard for the moment. Then she recovered herself. “My dear
girl,” she murmured, “I can not tell you how glad I am to see you!
You are so like your poor mother!” She touched her eye--or seemed
to do so--with a lace handkerchief. “You must be quite tired out!
That awful journey!”

“I’m not tired at all,” said Esmeralda, her voice, though by no
means loud, ringing like a bell after Lady Wyndover’s thin tones.

Lady Wyndover looked at her with a persuasive smile.

“Oh, but you must be, my dear, though you don’t know it. Go into
that room and take your things off. And by the time you come back
we’ll have some tea.”

When the door closed upon Esmeralda, Lady Wyndover turned upon Mr.
Pinchook.

“Why didn’t you tell me she was so--so beautiful?” she exclaimed,
with her flashing hands outstretched.

“I’m under the impression that I informed your ladyship that Miss
Chetwynde was good-looking.”

“Good-looking!” exclaimed Lady Wyndover, with a little laugh. “Why,
my dear Mr. Pinchook, she is simply superb! I am surprised and
delighted.” She laughed languidly. “Why, you must be quite sorry to
lose so charming a traveling companion?”

Mr. Pinchook smiled and coughed behind his gloved hand with an air
of long-suffering patience.

“Do you mean to say that she is not charming? She looks delightful.
Think of that face and two millions of money! What a prize she will
be! I wonder who the lucky man will be?”

Mr. Pinchook took up his hat.

“A great responsibility has been laid upon you, Lady Wyndover,” he
said. “I now have the pleasure to place your ward in your hands. As
you say, she--er--is extremely beautiful, and is possessed of an
immense fortune. This you know already; but I shall be extremely
surprised if you do not shortly discover that she is possessed of
something else.”

“What else?” demanded Lady Wyndover, smiling, and with her
delicately penciled brows arched interrogatively.

“Of a temper, Lady Wyndover,” said Mr. Pinchook, with the same
long-suffering smile. “I do not know whether most young girls are
as trying as Miss Chetwynde; if so, I thank Heaven that I am still
a bachelor.”

“Good gracious! What has she done?”

“What has she done!” repeated Mr. Pinchook. “The question would
be easier to answer if it were ‘What has she not done?’ Nothing
very dreadful, from your point of view, I dare say, Lady Wyndover,
but enough to drive a man of my age--er--and quiet habits into a
lunatic asylum. When I tell you that she had got all the men in the
ship--including the captain--to fall in love with her, and that I
lived in hourly dread of bloodshed; that she insists upon having
her own way on every occasion, and that she has been spoiled by a
whole camp full of the most fearful rowdies I have ever dreamed of,
you will form some idea of what I have suffered during the last few
weeks, and understand why I resign my charge with a profound sense
of relief.”

“Good gracious!” Lady Wyndover exclaimed again. “You frighten me!
Do you mean to say that the girl is perfectly odious?”

Mr. Pinchook smiled grimly.

“I’ll come to-morrow and go through some necessary matters with
you, Lady Wyndover. Please say ‘Good-bye’ to Miss Chetwynde for
me.” He paused at the door, and, with a groan, added: “Odious isn’t
the word! She’s worse than odious; she’s a witch, and every man who
comes within reach of her becomes a perfect fool! But you’ll find
out all this for yourself before many hours have passed! Odious!
Good lord, I should have had a much easier time if she had been!”



CHAPTER VII.


Esmeralda, as she took off her jacket and hat, looked round Lady
Wyndover’s dressing-room with amazed curiosity. She had never
before been in or imagined such a room. Like Lady Wyndover, it
was a marvel of artistic taste. The decorations and the soft
silk hangings were of the approved crushed strawberry hue, the
furniture of the daintiest kind, and in tone like that of a
sparrow’s egg, the chairs were of divan-like comfort, the carpet
a thick Turkish pile. A satin tea-gown of the palest hue hung
over one of the chairs; the dressing-tables were covered with
scent-bottles, ivory and silver-backed brushes, silver pots,
containing some pink and red stuff, whose use Esmeralda was
ignorant of; and jewelry of an exquisite kind lay about amongst
silver pots and bottles, and even on the chairs.

The room overlooked the square, and Esmeralda gazed down at the
carriages, with their high-stepping horses and liveried servants,
with interest.

She was at last in the heart of that London of which she had heard.
She seemed to be in a dream.

She opened the door and went into the next room. Lady Wyndover was
seated in a low chair beside the fire, with a dainty tea-service,
of silver and Sèvres, before her, and she greeted Esmeralda with a
smile, and motioned her to draw up a chair on the other side of the
fire.

“You must be dying for your tea, my dear,” she said, taking in all
the points of Esmeralda’s plain traveling-dress, and yet without
even seeming to glance at her.

“What a great deal we must have to tell each other,” she continued,
sweetly. “I really don’t know where to begin! By the way, Mr.
Pinchook was obliged to hurry away, and asked me to say good-bye to
you for him. He is a very nice old gentleman, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” said Esmeralda, with a faint smile. “He has been very kind
to me, and I expect I have given him a great deal of trouble.”

“Oh, that I am sure you haven’t, my dear,” said Lady Wyndover. “He
must have been only too delighted to chaperon a charming young
girl.”

“He didn’t seem very delighted sometimes,” said Esmeralda in her
downright fashion.

Lady Wyndover gracefully glided away from the subject.

“And did you have a pleasant journey?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, very,” said Esmeralda. “It was great fun on board the
ship.”

“It must have been,” said Lady Wyndover, suavely, and with a little
twitch of the corners of her carmine lips, as she remembered Mr.
Pinchook’s moaning. “And what do you think of London?--but how
ridiculous of me! You’ve not seen it yet!”

“No; only just as we drove through from the docks,” said
Esmeralda. “It seems very big, and looks very dirty, until we came
here. Are the trees always black, like those outside? And is it
always as smoky as this, or has there been a big fire somewhere
near?”

Lady Wyndover leaned back and laughed.

“How fresh you are!” she said. “You will be delightful--too
delightful--I can see!”

“Why?” asked Esmeralda.

Lady Wyndover laughed again, but did not explain.

“I am sure we shall get on very well together,” she said. “They say
I am one of the best-tempered women in London, and I really am not
bad, and I am certain that you are perfectly sweet.”

“I don’t know,” said Esmeralda, looking rather doubtful.

“Won’t you have some bread and butter?” asked Lady Wyndover: “or
perhaps you’d like some cake.”

“I’ll have some cake,” said Esmeralda, and she cut herself a huge
slice--so huge that Lady Wyndover had hard work to repress a
shudder.

“I never thought to ask if you were hungry, dear,” she said. “We
dine at eight. Will you have something more--more substantial?”

“No, thanks; this will do,” said Esmeralda, looking at the
remainder of the cake. “I’m nearly always hungry. They used to
laugh at me on board the ship, and the captain said that he was
afraid he should have to put in somewhere and lay in a fresh stock
of provisions.”

There was a touch of envy in Lady Wyndover’s eyes as she watched
her.

“I hope you won’t lose your appetite in London. It’s a very trying
place. And now tell me all about yourself. Of course, I know how
you have been living in that place with the curious name, and
how Mr. Pinchook found you. Tell me about your guardian and your
friends; in fact, anything you can think of.”

Esmeralda munched her cake with her white, even teeth, and looked
thoughtfully at the fire. Although she had left Three Star only so
short a time ago, she had begun to understand why Varley Howard
had advised her not to be too communicative about him and her past
life; and, although she was ashamed neither of him nor it, she
shrunk from speaking of him to this dainty lady, who would, no
doubt, regard him unfavorably.

“There’s nothing to tell,” she said. “Three Star was just a diggers’
camp, and Varley--I mean, Mr. Howard”--for she remembered that Mr.
Pinchook had told her to speak of Varley as “Mr. Howard”--“took
care of me. He was very good to me; as good to me as any father
could be.” Her long lashes quivered. “And so were all the boys--I
mean, the men in the camp. We call them boys. Some of them are
quite old, you know.”

“I see,” said Lady Wyndover. “And had you no lady friend?”

“There was Mother Melinda there,” said Esmeralda, “and black-eyed
Polly, and one or two others.”

Lady Wyndover again tried not to shudder.

“How strange it must seem to you!” she said.

“What?” asked Esmeralda.

“This sudden change in your circumstances, my dear; from a diggers’
camp to London; from poverty--I beg your pardon, dear. I suppose
you were poor?”

“I suppose so,” said Esmeralda, naïvely. “Sometimes there was
plenty of money, and sometimes there wasn’t; it just depended upon
Varley’s luck.”

“Oh!” said Lady Wyndover, who, not having been informed of Mr.
Howard’s profession, did not understand in the least.

“Yes,” said Esmeralda, “when he was in luck we had plenty of
things--fruit and wine from Melbourne, and new clothes; when he
wasn’t in luck--well, we didn’t.”

“And now you are very rich,” said Lady Wyndover, “and can have wine
and fruit and new clothes as often as you like. I suppose you don’t
really understand how rich you are?” she said, looking at Esmeralda
curiously.

Esmeralda shook her head indifferently, and cut herself another
huge slice of cake.

Lady Wyndover leaned back, and laughed softly, with a kind of comic
despair.

“Oh, you are ridiculously, wickedly rich,” she said. “I don’t know
how to make you understand. Well, see here, dear, there’s scarcely
anything that you couldn’t afford to buy.”

“Yes; so Mr. Pinchook told me,” said Esmeralda, coolly; so coolly,
that Lady Wyndover stared at her speechlessly for a moment.

“Don’t you feel dying to spend some of this money?” she said.

Esmeralda laughed.

“I don’t know. I have spent some. I bought some clothes at
Melbourne. I had to, because I only brought one change with me, in
front of the saddle.”

Lady Wyndover stared at her.

“Let us go and see them,” she said. “In front of the saddle? Do you
mean to say that you carried all your clothes in a bundle? Oh! I
shall _never_ understand it! Let us go and see what you’ve bought.”

She led the way to the apartment set apart for Esmeralda, and
Esmeralda, following her, entered a room almost as dainty as that
which she’d left. In a dressing-room adjoining they found a maid
gazing in a kind of despairing astonishment at a huge wooden box
clamped with iron.

“This is your maid, dear,” said Lady Wyndover. “I didn’t know
whether you would bring one, so I engaged her. Barker, this is Miss
Chetwynde.”

Esmeralda, with a smile, held out her hand. The carefully trained
Barker crimsoned to the roots of her neatly arranged hair, and
looked appealingly at Lady Wyndover, who shrugged her shoulders
helplessly.

Barker pretended not to see the outstretched hand, and knelt at the
box, as if looking for some means of opening it.

“Here’s the key,” said Esmeralda, who couldn’t understand why the
girl refused to shake hands.

Barker opened the box, and proceeded to disentomb its contents.

Lady Wyndover glanced at them, found it impossible this time to
repress a shudder, and faintly dismissed Barker, who fled down to
the servants’ hall to recount her strange experiences with the new
young lady.

Lady Wyndover touched with the tips of her fingers the dresses
which Esmeralda had purchased.

“Very nice--very nice, indeed, dear,” she said, heroically.
“But--but not quite suitable for London, or for a girl of your
position.”

“No?” said Esmeralda, quite calmly. “I thought they were rather
pretty. But you know, of course.”

“Yes, I think I know,” said Lady Wyndover. “And I think we’d better
go down to Madame Cerise at once. We might go this afternoon; that
is, if you are not tired. Perhaps you’d like to go and lie down for
a little while.”

Esmeralda looked at her with open-eyed surprise.

“Tired? Why should I be tired? I haven’t done anything except ride
in a cab, and I never lie down till I go to bed. Is it far, this
place? How many miles?”

“Miles!” said Lady Wyndover, faintly. “It’s quite close, my dear
child.”

“All right,” said Esmeralda, “I’m quite ready. But what shall we do
with these things?”

“We--we might give them to Barker,” said Lady Wyndover, who knew
full well that that remarkably well-dressed young woman would
rather die than wear them.

“All right,” said Esmeralda, cheerfully. “She seems a very nice
girl, though she’s rather proud, isn’t she? She wouldn’t shake
hands with me just now.”

Lady Wyndover almost groaned.

“It’s not usual--in England--to shake hands with one’s servants,
dear,” she said. “But you’ll learn all that in time, and--other
things. Go and put your things on, and we’ll go down to Madame
Cerise’s.”

Esmeralda ran down-stairs, and Lady Wyndover, as she listened to
her, sunk into a chair--collapsed perhaps would be the better
word--for a few minutes, until she recovered from the series of
shocks which Esmeralda had, all unconsciously, administered.

Esmeralda slipped on her hat and jacket, and then went into the
_boudoir_ and waited, for, what seemed to her, hours. At last Lady
Wyndover appeared, in the latest of Redfern’s outdoor costumes,
and Esmeralda, as she looked at her, began to understand why the
dresses she had bought in Melbourne were unsatisfactory.

They went down-stairs, where a perfectly appointed brougham awaited
them. A footman stood at the bottom of the stairs, a porter held
the door open, another footman stood by the open door of the
brougham, and touched his hat as the ladies appeared.

“I thought you said it wasn’t far?” said Esmeralda, as they went
off.

“Nor is it,” said Lady Wyndover. “It is only in the next
street--Mount Street.”

“Oh!” said Esmeralda, with puzzled surprise; “then why did we want
this carriage and these two men?”

“I don’t know,” said Lady Wyndover, helplessly. “Would you rather
have walked? I never walk anywhere, if I can help it.”

“Are you lame? Is there anything the matter with you?” asked
Esmeralda.

“No,” said Lady Wyndover, faintly.

The brougham pulled up at what looked like a private house, and
they entered, and were shown into a room on the ground floor. It
would have looked like an ordinary sitting-room, but for two or
three dresses and costumes which lay about on the chairs and sofas.

Madame Cerise entered. It is scarcely necessary to say that she was
an English woman--or, rather, an Irish woman. She was short and
fat, with a round, good-natured face, and she and Lady Wyndover
greeted each other almost as if they were friends.

She looked at Esmeralda with intent interest and admiration, and
when Lady Wyndover mentioned Esmeralda’s name, Madame Cerise’s
interest grew quite vivid, for the story of Esmeralda’s fortune had
already got into the society papers.

Lady Wyndover conferred with Madame Cerise for some time, in
whispers, during which madame glanced at Esmeralda, and nodded
intelligently.

“She is superb! She is magnificent!” she exclaimed in hushed
staccato. “She will do your ladyship credit. Ah! what a sensation
she will create! You leave it to me!”

She called an assistant, and they measured Esmeralda, and produced
a variety of materials, the richness of which filled Esmeralda with
amazement.

“I shall never wear all these dresses,” she said.

Lady Wyndover and Madame Cerise smiled indulgently.

“Madame Cerise knows,” said Lady Wyndover. “We can trust ourselves
to her.”

“You can trust yourself to me,” said Madame Cerise, with a mixture
of French accent and Irish brogue. “I will see that Miss Chetwynde
is properly dressed. She is magnificent, superb!” she again
whispered to Lady Wyndover, as the two ladies took their departure.

“There is time for a turn in the park,” said Lady Wyndover; “that
is, dear, if you are sure you’re not tired.”

Esmeralda only laughed. She thought of the long tramps, the longer
rides, over the hills above Three Star, and the idea of being tired
amused her.

Although the season was only just beginning, Lady Wyndover, as she
leaned forward in her brougham, was recognized by numbers of her
acquaintances; and as she bowed and smiled, Esmeralda said:

“You seem to know a great many people.”

“My dear, I know everybody,” said Lady Wyndover, plaintively. “And
so will you.”

“Shall I?” said Esmeralda.

“Yes; you don’t understand. You are now my ward. You are the rich
Miss Chetwynde, and quite a personage. You are the great catch of
this coming season.”

“Catch?” said Esmeralda. “I don’t understand.”

“You will soon, very soon,” said Lady Wyndover.

Esmeralda admired the park, and the promenaders, whom, in frock
coats and tall hats, and well-confectioned dresses, they passed
by. They made the circuit of the park, called at a fashionable
milliner’s, of whom Lady Wyndover ordered a number of hats and
bonnets, which astounded Esmeralda, and then drove home.

“We shall dine alone to-night,” said Lady Wyndover. “So you need
not dress.”

Now, Esmeralda was not altogether an idiot, as she chose from
her despised wardrobe--which was to go to Barker, all excepting
the habit, which, because of its associations, she intended to
retain--what she considered her prettiest dress, and was proceeding
to put it on, when Barker entered.

Esmeralda greeted her with a smile, but with some surprise, and
when Barker took the dress out of her hand, and began to assist her
to get into it, Esmeralda said:

“Don’t you trouble. I will put it on all right.”

“Oh! but, miss, I’ve got to help you,” said Barker.

“Help me?” said Esmeralda. “Why? I don’t want any help.”

Barker looked at her confusedly.

“Ladies always want to be helped by their maid, miss,” she said. “I
don’t suppose you could hook it properly.”

“Oh, yes, I can,” said Esmeralda. “I always put on my own dresses
at Three Star.”

“And do your hair, too, miss?” asked Barker, with wild astonishment.

“Of course,” said Esmeralda.

“You’d better let me help you, miss,” remarked Barker.

“Oh, very well,” said Esmeralda, contentedly.

Barker brushed her hair, and coiled it into the fashionable coil,
eying it with covert admiration.

“What lovely hair you’ve got, miss!” she said.

“Is it?” said Esmeralda, indifferently.

“Oh, yes,” said Barker; “and all your own, too.”

“Why, whose else should it be?” inquired Esmeralda, innocently.

Barker almost let her silver brush fall, and coughed.

“And it’s quite the right shade, too, miss; such a beautiful color.”

“Right shade?” said Esmeralda, puzzled.

“Yes, miss,” said Barker, passing the strands of golden copper over
her hands. “It is all the fashion now; but you seldom see it with
so much gold in it; none of the dyes can put the light on it you’ve
got; and if you buy the hair, even if it’s real hair, of the very
best quality, it hasn’t the sheen on it like this.” And she stroked
the thick tresses lovingly and enviously.

“I don’t think much of it,” said Esmeralda, indifferently. “Lady
Wyndover’s is ever so much prettier.”

Barker coughed again.

“Yes, miss,” she said, dryly. “It’s a matter of taste.” She sighed
as she looked at the dress, and Esmeralda took the opportunity to
remark:

“I am having some new things made by a lady named Cerise--Lady
Wyndover called her ‘madame,’ though I don’t know why--and I
sha’n’t want these. You can have them, if you like. _I_ think
they’re pretty enough, but Lady Wyndover doesn’t.”

Barker accepted the complete wardrobe with, at any rate, a show
of gratitude, consoling herself with the reflection that the new
Cerise dresses would also come to her in due course, and then put
the finishing touches to Esmeralda’s toilet.

“The dresses are certainly not _quite_ good enough for a lady like
you, miss,” she said. “But, there, it wouldn’t matter what you
wore!” she added.

“You mean that I’m so--so unfashionable and countrified?” said
Esmeralda, innocently.

Barker looked at her. To that knowing young person such innocence
and absence of self-consciousness seemed almost uncanny and quite
incredible.

“Didn’t they have any looking-glasses where she came from, I
wonder!” she said to herself.

Esmeralda went down-stairs, and a footman opened the door of the
drawing-room for her. Lady Wyndover had not come down yet, and
Esmeralda had time to look round the magnificent room. She had
thought it impossible that anything could be more beautiful than
the _boudoir_, but that dainty apartment paled into insignificance
before the stately _salon_, with its molded ceiling, brocaded
hangings, and Chippendale furniture.

She was still standing in the center of the room, looking round
her, when Lady Wyndover entered. She was in evening dress, though
not in full war-paint, and Esmeralda gazed with grave wonder at the
black lace frock, from which her ladyship’s neck and arms issued
like white marble. Lady Wyndover looked her ward up and down.

“You look very nice, dear,” she said; “though, of course, the dress
is not _quite_ right. But never mind; Cerise will send the things
home very soon--I made a point of it--and then--well, then,” with a
smile, “you will see.”

The solemn butler announced dinner, and Lady Wyndover, linking her
arm in Esmeralda’s, led her into the dining-room.



CHAPTER VIII.


Esmeralda was getting almost tired of being surprised, and she
looked at the appointments of the room, the table, with its snowy
damask and glass and silver, amidst which the hot-house flowers
seemed to be growing; at the two footmen, who moved to and fro
noiselessly, and had handed the dishes as if they were automatons,
with a kind of dull wonder.

“I thought it would be nice to be alone to-night,” said Lady
Wyndover. “I hope you won’t find it dull, dear.”

Esmeralda laughed, as she thought of the solitude of Australia, and
the hours she had spent in the hut with only Mother Melinda, asleep
in a corner, for company.

Lady Wyndover ate a dinner that would have scarcely satisfied a
healthy sparrow; but Esmeralda, upon whose appetite the cake had
produced no effect, partook of everything that was offered to
her, and Lady Wyndover leaned back and watched her, with a smile
of wonder and envy. What the butler and footmen thought can be
imagined; their faces, of course, showed nothing.

When the meal, which appeared to Esmeralda to be interminable,
at last came to a close, Lady Wyndover took her back to the
drawing-room.

“Choose the most comfortable chair, dear,” she said, as she
reclined on a lounge. “I forgot to ask if you played or sung.”

“The piano, do you mean?” said Esmeralda. “No, I can’t. There was a
piano in the Eldorado, and one or two of the men used to play; but
there was no one to teach me.”

“The Eldorado? That was the school, I suppose. What a funny name
for it!”

“The school?” said Esmeralda. “No, there isn’t any school. It was
Dan MacGrath’s drinking saloon.”

Lady Wyndover half closed her eyes. It was really too dreadful.

“I used to sing sometimes,” Esmeralda continued. “I thought
I could sing until”--she had nearly said, “until I heard The
Rosebud,” but she checked herself. Somehow, she felt reluctant to
mention him to Lady Wyndover.

“Perhaps you’d better take lessons,” said her ladyship, looking at
her thoughtfully. “You are not too old. One quite forgets that you
are so young; you are so tall and--and grown-uppish.”

“I don’t think any one could teach me,” said Esmeralda, calmly. “I
shouldn’t have the patience. The Penman used to say that the only
way to keep me sitting quiet would be to tie me down, hands and
feet; and that wouldn’t do for learning the piano, would it?” and
she laughed.

Lady Wyndover didn’t ask who and what “The Penman” was; she was
almost exhausted by the series of shocks she had endured already.

“I saw that there was a habit among your things, and you said you
rode from somewhere, with your luggage on your back, or was it on
the saddle? You can ride, at any rate!”

“Yes, I can ride and shoot and swim--and that’s about all,” said
Esmeralda. “Can you play the piano? I should like to hear you,
if you’re not tired,” she added, glancing at her ladyship’s
half-closed eyes and indolent attitude.

Lady Wyndover went to the piano, and played softly, and Esmeralda
listened with her great eyes fixed dreamily on the player. Lady
Wyndover, happening to look at her, was struck by their beauty, and
the grace of the lithe form, which seemed to be listening, too,
in its every limb, and she stopped suddenly, and went over to the
chair beside her, and, taking Esmeralda’s hand, said, in almost
awe-struck tones:

“My dear, do you know that you have a very great future before you?”

Esmeralda was still listening to the music, though it had ceased,
and she started slightly as she looked round.

“Yes,” said Lady Wyndover, “you have the world before you. It will
be at your feet--all society at your feet--before many weeks, days,
have passed.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Esmeralda, with her brows drawn
together.

Lady Wyndover patted her hand, and hesitated a moment, then she
laughed softly.

“I might as well tell you now as leave you to find it out
for yourself,” she said. “You must learn it, sooner or
later--sooner!--and it isn’t fair to let you go into the midst of
the battle unarmed. My dear child, you are not only one of the
richest women in England, perhaps in the world, but--but”--she bit
her lip softly; it was harder than she thought, this enlightening
of the uncultivated girl--“but--well, you are not bad-looking; in
fact, you are--” She paused, silenced by the grave, innocent eyes.
“Well, you will have all the men making themselves idiots about
you, and wanting to marry you.”

The color rose slowly to Esmeralda’s face.

“You are going to be the sensation of the season,” continued Lady
Wyndover, “and,” with a little rueful laugh, “I have got a nice
time before me, I can see! You will be a good girl, and do as I
tell you, won’t you, dear? And you will tell me everything, will
you not? You see, you are so--so young, and so--so fresh; and some
of the men, who ought not to do so, will make love to you--the men
you ought not to marry always do--and we shall have to be very
careful! For, now I have seen you, I have set my heart upon your
doing really great things, and--and-- Do you understand me, dear?”

“I don’t know,” said Esmeralda, with a puzzled air. “Why should the
men want to marry me? And what does it matter? I’m not obliged to
marry any of them.”

Lady Wyndover laughed as if she were pleased.

“That is delightful! You couldn’t have said anything better!” she
exclaimed in her low, thin voice. “That is exactly it! My dear
child, you can marry whomsoever you please. Don’t forget that!
Remember it always--always! With your face and fortune you can take
the very best of them! Oh! I wonder how long Cerise will be?”

Esmeralda, as she lay drowsily falling asleep that night, felt as
if she had exchanged places with some one else, and as if the girl
of Three Star Camp had been, not herself, but some one of whom she
had only heard or read; and the strange feeling grew more vivid as
the days passed and the new life unfolded itself.

Lady Wyndover was far too clever a woman of the world to let her
ward, the great Chetwynde heiress, be seen until she was properly
clothed, and she kept herself and Esmeralda carefully secluded
while Madame Cerise was at work. She would not even let Esmeralda
ride in the park, though she begged to be allowed to do so,
and Lady Wyndover was bound to admit that the habit could defy
criticism.

“No, dear,” she said to the puzzled Esmeralda, “you must keep
out of sight until Cerise is ready. If you were to be seen in
the Row, people would insist upon knowing you--and the season is
just commencing, and there are plenty of people up already--and
I don’t want you to appear until you can do so to the fullest
advantage. You must be content, for a few days, with a ride in the
brougham--you couldn’t keep the window-shades up, I suppose?--and
with my society alone. Oh! yes, you can walk before breakfast, in
the park; no one is up until after twelve; but you must take Thomas
or Barker.”

“Why?” demanded Esmeralda, amazedly.

“To take care of you, my dear.”

Esmeralda laughed.

“Barker might take me to take care of her,” she said; “and I don’t
think Thomas, for all he’s tall as a lamp-post, would be much use
in a row. He looks as if he’d break off if he bent too suddenly.
Besides, there never is any row, is there? It always looks so quiet
when we drive through. And those policemen--what are they for? No.
I won’t have Barker or Thomas, and I’ll go alone--if you won’t come
with me.”

Lady Wyndover almost shrieked.

“_I_ go out before breakfast, walking in the park! My _dear_ child!
It would kill me, I really believe.”

“Don’t you believe it,” said Esmeralda. “Just try it, and risk it,
some morning.” And she went out of the room with her clear, ringing
laugh.

This was about a week after her arrival, and she sallied out next
morning--much to the amazement of the house-maid, who was cleaning
the steps--and made her way into the park.

It was a lovely spring day, and as she looked at the trees and
listened to the birds, she thought, very naturally, of Three Star
and the folk she had left behind her. She had already written to
Varley Howard, and was wondering how soon she could get an answer.
She wanted to know how they all were, and if they missed her. Twice
in the curiously spelled letter she had reminded her old guardian
of his promise to take her back if she should be unhappy.

She was not altogether unhappy yet; but she was feeling just a
little dull, notwithstanding the novelty of her surroundings. She
was getting used to the luxury and splendor of Lady Wyndover’s
house, and just a tiny bit tired of driving to shops and buying
endless things--dresses, hats, jackets, ornaments--which sometimes
seemed to her downright ugly, but which Lady Wyndover assured her
were the right things. Once or twice they had gone to a jeweler’s
in Bond Street, and bought some jewels, which Esmeralda had
admired, but anything but enthusiastically, and, of course, with
no appreciation of their value. As she walked along the side of
the Row, with her light, graceful gait, utterly unconscious of the
admiring gaze of the few persons whom she passed, she was picturing
to herself the camp, with its crowd of rough miners, and hearing
the click of the pick and the rattle of the “cradle.”

There were one or two early riders on the tan-laid course, and
after awhile, she stopped, and with her hand resting lightly on
the iron rail, watched them as they rode by. Presently she saw,
approaching the spot where she stood, a lady and gentleman, and
something about them attracted her attention. The gentleman was
tall and slim, and singularly handsome, but not with the beauty
of the barber’s wax figure, though his features were almost as
regular. He was dark, with grave and rather sad eyes; and he rode a
hard-looking chestnut.

Esmeralda just glanced at him, and then, woman-like, transferred
all her attention to the lady; and as she looked, a little thrill
of admiration ran through her; that tribute to another woman’s
beauty which a beautiful, generous woman is always ready to pay.

The lady was fair--but genuinely, not artistically fair, like Lady
Wyndover--and she was so graceful and supple that she seemed part
and parcel of the horse on which she rode. And there was a kind of
proud, imperial air about her which struck Esmeralda, though she
did not fully grasp it.

Esmeralda looked at her and the horse--a clean-cut
thorough-bred--admiringly, and at the latter a little enviously.
How soon would Lady Wyndover let her ride? What a time that Madame
Cerise was over those stupid dresses! And what did it matter
whether people saw her or not!

The pair rode slowly up to her, the gentleman bending slightly
toward the lady, and talking in a low tone, she listening with
eyes slightly downcast, and with a faint smile curving her proud
lips. It was evident, even to Esmeralda, that they were absorbed in
each other, and regardless of everything going on around them; and
she was not surprised when both horses, ridden with a loose rein,
started and reared at a dog which ran suddenly across the ride.

The gentleman had his horse in hand, and checked it in a
moment, but the lady was not so prompt, and the high-spirited
thorough-bred, taking advantage of its mistress’s confusion, sprung
aside and reared again.

“Take care!” said the gentleman, quietly enough, but gravely. “You
are very near the rail.”

She was so near that the horse’s hoofs seemed to be just above
Esmeralda’s head, and she drew back a step, still watching intently.

She knew what the horse wanted--a sharp little cut between the
ears, and a downward tug of the snaffle--and she waited for these
to be administered. But the lady, though she looked so exquisite in
her well-fitting habit, did not seem to know what was required, and
the horse, master of the situation, took advantage, and rose again.

The gentleman was fully occupied with his own animal, the groom was
a long way behind, and Esmeralda, who knew a horse and its tricks
as thoroughly as it is possible to know them, saw that, unless
the lady received some assistance, she would be thrown, and, not
improbably, right across the rails.

She hesitated a moment, then she slipped under the rail, and taking
a firm grip of the bridle, just above the bit, forced the animal on
to its feet.

“Take him by the snaffle, not the curb,” she said in her low, clear
voice.

The lady had her reins bunched up after the manner of ladies, but
eventually got hold of the snaffle ones. Esmeralda held on with
what looked like perfect ease, though the horse tried to rear all
it knew, until the rider had regained control; then she let go
the bridle, and was about to pass under the rail again, when the
gentleman rode up to her, and taking off his hat, said:

“Thank you! Thank you very much!”

His dark face was slightly flushed, and his eyes, as they rested on
Esmeralda’s, seemed to glow as she had never seen any other man’s.

“That’s all right,” she said in her calm way.

“It was not only kind--it was exceedingly brave of you,” he went on
in a low voice. “He might have come down upon you!”

Esmeralda looked at the horse, not contemptuously but
contemplatively.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I should have been too quick for him. I should
have stepped aside.”

He seemed struck by her coolness, and the absence of any
embarrassment on her part, and, with his hat still in his hand,
leaned forward in his saddle and looked at her fixedly, after the
manner of men when they feel that they ought to say something and
do not know what.

The lady had not yet spoken, but had sat erect in her saddle,
looking steadily, with a kind of subdued hauteur on her beautiful
face. At this juncture, as Esmeralda and the gentleman gazed at
each other, the lady spoke.

“It was extremely kind and brave of you,” she said, “and I am quite
sure I should have been off if you had not come to my assistance.
Thank you--very much.”

The words were right enough--well chosen and gracefully spoken--and
yet there was something in the tone in which they were said that
jarred upon Esmeralda, and caused her to raise her head almost
defiantly and resentfully.

The tone was cold, almost icily so, the manner that of an empress
graciously thanking an inferior.

“That horse is too much for you,” she said, with the faint drawl
which had always brought her subjects at Three Star to their knees.
“I should advise you to sell him.”

The lady smiled. One knows the smile so well; half amused, half
contemptuous, and cutting as a whip.

“Thank you for your advice--as well as your assistance,” she said,
with a faint lisp. “Shall we go on?”

The gentleman started slightly; then he leaned forward, and
murmured to Esmeralda, “Thank you, once more,” and the two rode
away.

And Esmeralda stood looking after them, little guessing that she
had met the man and the woman who were to work the happiness and
the misery of her life!



CHAPTER IX.


Esmeralda at lunch recounted her adventure to Lady Wyndover,
telling it in the most casual way, and she was much surprised and
puzzled when her ladyship almost dropped her knife and fork, and
sunk back in her chair with an exclamation of annoyance.

“My dear girl, what made you do such an--an extraordinary and
absurd thing? That comes of letting you go out alone! Oh, dear! oh,
dear!”

“What is the matter?” inquired Esmeralda, innocently; “nobody was
hurt.”

“No, no, but that was not what I was thinking about. Of course I am
very glad and thankful you were _not_ hurt; I’m sure you might have
been killed! But it’s--it’s the oddness of the thing! The idea of
your interfering, and running such a risk! Why didn’t you leave it
to--to the policeman, or wait until the groom came up?”

“There was no policeman there, and the groom was a long way
behind,” said Esmeralda. She looked thoughtful. “You said
‘interfering,’ didn’t you? Yes, I suppose that was what the lady
thought; though if I hadn’t interfered she’d have got a nasty fall.
She looked at me as if I were--well--a servant.” She laughed.
“She’s prouder even than Barker.”

“I wonder who they were?” said Lady Wyndover, plaintively. “What
were they like?”

“The girl was very fair--like a china ornament--with blue eyes, and
a smile that freezes you--”

“My dear Esmeralda!”

“She thanked me as if she would rather have come off across the
rail than I should have touched her horse.”

“Who could it be? Fair? And the gentleman?”

Esmeralda looked before her, musingly.

“He was tall and dark, with a slight mustache, and very dark
eyes--a very handsome man. He was civil enough, and thanked me all
he knew. I think he was a bit ashamed of her.”

“I don’t recognize them from your description, and I hope they are
no one we know; and I do trust that if they are, they won’t know
you again.”

Esmeralda laughed and stared.

“Well, I don’t know that I did anything to be ashamed of,” she
said. “At home we should be quite obliged to any one for saving us
from a spill. I suppose it’s different here. Well, I’ll learn in
time to stand by and see people break their necks, without moving
an eyelid.”

“At home! At home! My dear child, don’t speak of that dreadful
place as if it were your home! _This_ is your home, and-- But
there--never mind. I wonder who they were?”

“I don’t know--and I don’t care!” said Esmeralda, with fine
indifference. “May I have some more pudding?”

The butler, who looked as if he were deaf through all this, served
her; but she was fated not to eat it, for Barker came in with “The
boxes have come from Cerise’s, my lady,” and Lady Wyndover, with a
little cry of satisfaction, immediately rose.

“Unpack them at once, Barker!” she said. “Come upstairs, Esmeralda;
come this moment.”

Esmeralda glanced regretfully at the pudding, but obeyed, and
followed her ladyship upstairs. Three large boxes were in the
dressing-room, and Barker and her ladyship’s own maid were hastily
unpacking them. In a few minutes the whole place was littered with
costumes, and Lady Wyndover was flitting from one to the other in a
state of excitement.

“I don’t know which to try on first,” she said. “Try this evening
one. Isn’t it lovely? It is sure to fit! Cerise never makes a
mistake--never!”

Esmeralda surrendered herself to the two maids, who with
experienced deftness put the frock on her, then stood back to
view the effect, and exchanged meaning glances. Lady Wyndover
stood almost breathless for a moment, then she gave a long sigh of
satisfaction, and sunk into a chair.

“Will it do?” asked Esmeralda, calmly looking down at the dress.

“Look in the glass,” said Lady Wyndover. “Stand there--so; now you
can see yourself. Well?”

Esmeralda gazed at her reflection in the pier-glass with a feeling
of wonder and pleasure. Lady Wyndover had pitched upon the
prettiest dress--a soft silk of indescribable hue, but one which
set off Esmeralda’s coloring to perfection. She scarcely knew
herself, but stood looking in the glass as if she doubted the truth
of the reflection. Then, suddenly, the color rose to her face, and
deepening, dyed her neck; and she felt herself blushing all over.

“Isn’t--isn’t it-- Is this all there is of it?” she asked in a low
voice.

“All there is of it? Why, what more do you want, child?” demanded
Lady Wyndover.

The maids smiled and looked down.

“I thought there might be something to cover my neck and shoulders
and arms,” said Esmeralda. “There’s only this strap, and the thing
feels as if it were slipping off,” and she blushed again.

“Oh, no, it is quite right,” said Lady Wyndover, easily. “How
beautiful you--it is!” she added, almost to herself. “And it will
look better still at night.”

“You are sure it won’t come off?” inquired Esmeralda, not yet quite
easy in her mind.

“Of course it will not, my dear; it is simply perfect. Take it off,
and put on the others--I am dying to see them! Oh, what a treasure
Cerise is!”

Esmeralda stood like a lay figure while the rest of the dresses
were tried on, and Lady Wyndover, with a deep sigh, declared
herself satisfied.

“I’m glad you like them,” said Esmeralda; “but I shall never be
able to wear them all!”

Lady Wyndover laughed.

“My dear girl,” she said, “you will be worrying Cerise’s life out
of her for more before many weeks have passed. Why, those two
ball-dresses you will not be able to wear more than twice.”

“Ball-dresses?” said Esmeralda; “but I can’t dance!”

“Really? But I suppose not. Well, you must have some lessons at
once. Thank goodness, you will soon learn--one can see that.” She
looked at the graceful figure thoughtfully. “Not that it really
matters whether you dance or not. In fact, there is something
original in your being unable to do so; it is all in character.
And now let us go into my room and talk over the campaign. Let
me see,” she said, sinking back on her favorite couch, and
regarding Esmeralda between half-closed lids, “there is a ‘small
and early’ at Lady Blankyre’s to-morrow night. That will be just
the thing, I think--not too large, and yet all the best--the
very best--people. And Lady Blankyre is a very dear friend of
mine, and will understand. If it should prove a success--but of
course it will”--she nodded encouragingly--“we can launch out. So
much depends upon the start! If we get a really good start, the
newspaper men will take up the running for us, and the rest is
easy.”

“The newspaper men?” said Esmeralda. “I don’t understand. What have
they got to do with you or me?”

Lady Wyndover laughed.

“Reach me that ‘Society Chatter’--yes, the paper on the chair.”

She opened it, and handed it back, pointing to a paragraph, and
Esmeralda read:

  “Miss Chetwynde, the granddaughter and heiress of the famous
  millionaire, Mr. Gordon Chetwynde, whose discovery in the wilds
  of Australia by Mr. Pinchook, the well-known solicitor, was
  attended by so much romance, is staying with her guardian, Lady
  Wyndover. Miss Chetwynde is at present ‘resting’ after her long
  journey, but it is hoped that she will before long be introduced
  into society, which will be delighted to welcome a young lady who
  is not only possessed of something over two millions, but, if
  rumor be true, is also endowed by the gods with the supreme gifts
  of youth and beauty.”

“There, you see!” said Lady Wyndover, as Esmeralda looked up from
the paper with astonishment. “You see what a great deal is expected
of us.”

“Why does this man write all this about me?” inquired Esmeralda.
“It’s--it’s as if I were a--a circus!”

“So you are, my dear,” said Lady Wyndover, with her languid smile.
“Better than a circus--far better!”

“If--if this man had put this into one of the Ballarat papers,
Varley or one of the boys would have shot him,” remarked Esmeralda,
with a flash of her eyes.

“Then I’m glad ‘Varley’ and none of ‘the boys’ are here!” said Lady
Wyndover. “My dear, we _all_ get into the paper nowadays, and most
of us are bitterly disappointed if we get left out. People like to
read about us--I mean by ‘_us_’ the upper class, and we like to
read about each other--it’s the fashion. You’ll soon get used to
seeing your name in print, I assure you. And now let me tell you
what you are to do to-morrow--what you are not to do. Thank Heaven,
you are naturally such good form that you only want a few hints
about quite little things. About shaking hands, now, dear. You hold
out your hand in the old-fashioned way; no one does that now. It’s
in this way, see?”

“As if I’d broken my wrist,” said Esmeralda. “All right.”

In her soft, languid way Lady Wyndover explained several other
little society mannerisms, and Esmeralda listened with her grave
eyes fixed on her monitor’s carefully got-up face.

“It all seems a great bother, and not to matter much,” she said, at
the close of the lesson. “I hope I sha’n’t forget it all.”

Lady Wyndover laughed.

“I don’t fancy you will,” she said, shrewdly. “And, after
all”--with a sigh--“it won’t matter what _you_ do!”

The following evening Esmeralda stood in the center of the
dressing-room, with the two maids and Lady Wyndover in a circle
round her. She was fully dressed, and upon her white arms and neck
glittered and sparkled the set of diamonds and pearls which they
had bought in Bond Street.

She looked very lovely, and, strange to say, not at all anxious,
though she still felt as if she would have preferred the dress to
have contained a little more material in the bodice.

“You are not at all shaky,” said Lady Wyndover; “what a strange
girl you are! I remember quivering like a leaf at my first party,
and having to take a dose of sal volatile before starting.”

“Ought I to be nervous?” Esmeralda said. “I’ll try to be, if you
think I ought. Haven’t I got too many jewels about me? I’ve got
almost as many as you have, and I seem to myself to be all ablaze.”

Lady Wyndover shook her head confidently.

“Not at all too much, my dear child,” she replied. “Wait until you
see Lady Blankyre’s and the Countess of Desford’s. No, that simple
necklace of pearls and diamonds is just the thing. Later on--well,
later on--you shall see what diamonds mean! Now are you sure, quite
sure, you will not have a little sal volatile?”

“If it’s medicine, I’m sure I won’t,” said Esmeralda, emphatically.
“I’ve never had any since I got the measles; and this business
can’t be as bad as that!”

They were driven to Lady Blankyre’s well-known house in Park Lane
at what seemed to Esmeralda a remarkably late hour for an “early”
party; and, remembering the “small,” she was astonished to find the
hall and staircase crowded with guests, and discovered that Lady
Wyndover had to almost push her way through the throng.

Lady Blankyre, a magnificent woman, in white velvet, stood just
inside the room, and at a whisper from Lady Wyndover extended her
hand and smiled a welcome.

“How do you do, Miss Chetwynde?” she said. “It is very good of Lady
Wyndover to bring you to me before any one else!”

Then, in an undertone, she said to Lady Wyndover:

“My dear, she is superb! Bring her to me again presently, when the
crush is over. George”--she turned to her husband, the Earl of
Blankyre, who was standing beside her, holding her bouquet of white
camellias--“this is Lady Wyndover’s ward, Miss Chetwynde. Will you
take her through into the next room?”

Lord Blankyre offered his arm, and looked at her curiously through
his eyeglass. He had heard the story of her discovery, with all its
exaggerations, and had expected to see a rough, gawky girl half
dead with shyness. But Esmeralda, though she was somewhat confused
by the crowd of superbly dressed women and distinguished men, and
the hum of voices mingling with the music of the Hungarian band,
did not look overcome by shyness or nervousness. The lovely face
was just a little graver than most girls, and the wonderful eyes
rather solemn; but the shapely hand that rested on his arm did not
shake, and the lips were firm and steady.

And yet, what an ordeal lay before her! Lady Blankyre had managed
to tell some of her friends that the great heiress was expected,
and these had disseminated the information, so that as Esmeralda
passed through the room with Lord Blankyre, all those who had heard
her name looked at her; at first curiously, and then with greater
amazement than they would have felt if she had appeared, say, in
the costume of an Australian aboriginal. This lovely creature,
with the red-gold hair and large, luminous eyes, this graceful
girl in the exquisitely quiet dress, the great heiress whom some
lucky lawyer had found in the dust and grime of a gold field! What
the newspaper reporters are so fond of calling “a sensation” ran
through the crowd, and presently Lord Blankyre was stopped, and
plied with eager requests for an introduction, and Esmeralda found
herself surrounded by a crowd of men and women, who were as curious
and excited about her as if they had been a mob of “the lower
class.”

She heard titled names murmured to her, and saw men bowing and
women smiling pleasantly, and it was little wonder that the color
began to rise in her ivory face, and her heart to beat rather
tumultuously. Lord Blankyre with ready tact drew her away.

“We must not tire you at the very commencement of the evening, Miss
Chetwynde,” he said, laughing. “This is your first party, is it
not? If we weary you too much, you will be tempted to make it your
last.”

“Yes,” said Esmeralda, “this is my first party. It is very
beautiful--the lights and the music. They are going to dance now?”
she added, looking round with intense interest.

“Yes, and you, too, I hope,” he said. “See, here are half a dozen
good men and true, to engage you for a partner.”

“I can’t dance,” she said in her calm, serene way; “I wish I could;
it looks so--nice. No, I can’t dance, but I am going to learn.”

They looked rather surprised and very much disappointed, and one
or two of the best dancing men remained beside her; a significant
indication of the effect she had already produced.

Lord Blankyre was engaged for this waltz, and looked round in
search of Lady Wyndover.

“Are you looking for Lady Wyndover, Blankyre?” said a gentleman who
stood near them. “I will take Miss Chetwynde to her, if you will
intrust her to me.”

The speaker was a short and very thin man, with features almost as
clean and delicately cut as a woman’s. He was small altogether,
with tiny feet and hands. His hair was gray, though he did not look
an old man; and his sharp, close-shaven face, with its penetrating
eyes and thin lips, gave him an alert and bird-like expression.

“Thanks, I will do so reluctantly!” said Lord Blankyre. “Miss
Chetwynde, let me introduce Lord Selvaine to you.”

Esmeralda was about to hold out her hand, but remembered Lady
Wyndover’s instructions, and bowed. Lord Selvaine’s quick eyes saw
the checked movement and noted it.

“I am delighted that you don’t dance, Miss Chetwynde,” he said, and
his voice had a penetrating tone which matched his eyes, “because
I don’t dance myself, and we can sit out, and watch other people
getting hot. Selfish, you think? We men are all selfish, you know.”

He led her to a small recess in which there was a seat.

“And so this is your first ball? I wish it were mine! I would give
something to know what you think of it.”

“I think it is beautiful,” said Esmeralda again. “It is like a
picture, and all the colors and lights are like--” She stopped,
with a laugh. “Oh! I can’t tell you what I mean, but I dare say you
understand.”

He leaned back, and crossed one leg, his womanish hands clasped
over it, and looked at her with the shadow of a smile in his
piercing eyes. He seemed in no hurry to take her to Lady Wyndover.

“Yes, I think I understand,” he said. “It is all so new to you! I
hope that the women will seem as beautiful, the men as nice, the
colors as fresh, the music as delightful to you for a very, very
long time!”

“You think they will not?” said Esmeralda.

He smiled.

“No; but I think they will last longer for you than they do for
most of us. But you must remember that I am an old man moralizing
to a young girl.”

“Are you old?” said Esmeralda, with her appalling candor. “I
shouldn’t have thought you were.”

Lord Selvaine laughed--it might almost be said that he chuckled.

“Why not?” he said, evidently amused.

Esmeralda surveyed him with her clear, grave eyes.

“Well, though your hair is gray, and there are so many little lines
in your face, your eyes don’t look old, and you don’t look like an
old man.”

He gave her a courtly little bow.

“However old my head may be, my heart is still young enough to feel
grateful, Miss Chetwynde. And how can I show my gratitude? Can I
tell you who some of the people are? They are strangers to you, I
imagine?”

“Quite,” said Esmeralda. “You know them all, I suppose?”

“All,” he said, with the faintest shrug of his shoulders, as if he
had added that he was also weary of them all; or as if they were
puppets which had ceased to amuse him. “Ask me to tell you the
names of any of them, and anything about them.”

Esmeralda glanced round.

“The lady who stood at the door in white velvet?”

“Lady Blankyre,” he said; “one of the leaders of society--that is,
one of the principal ladies of rank and fashion. Whatever Lady
Blankyre says is right, is right, to all the world--especially her
husband--the gentleman of whom I robbed you. She is just now saying
that Miss Chetwynde is ‘right.’”

He glanced at Esmeralda, but she did not blush or look overwhelmed.

“Why shouldn’t I be right?” she said, her brows meeting in the
little frown which came when she was puzzled.

He laughed softly.

“Do you know you have the gift of repartee to an extraordinary
extent, Miss Chetwynde?” he said. “Nothing in the way of
a retort--to what I frankly and penitently admit was an
impertinence--could have been better.”

Esmeralda looked at him with grave regard.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “Who is that old gentleman with the
white hair and large nose?”

“Mr. Elmbourne--the first man in England--in the world. He is the
Prime Minister--the Queen’s chief adviser. He is a great friend
of Lady Blankyre’s, and he has left the House of Commons for five
minutes’ talk with her.”

“He looks like everybody else--only he laughs more,” remarked
Esmeralda.

“Yes; and in a quarter of an hour he will be in his place in the
House, and storming like a fury.”

“And who is that next to him, the thin young man with the long
hair?” asked Esmeralda.

“That is the new poet. He was born last week, will live, say, for
six months, and then die.”

Esmeralda opened her eyes.

“That is, he will go out of fashion, and all those young ladies who
are clustering round him, and smiling at him so sweetly and sadly,
will forget him.”

“I see,” said Esmeralda. “Poor young man! Tell me who that is who
has just come in, and--look! all the gentlemen are bowing and the
ladies courtesying. Why on earth do they do that? I mean the little
fat man, with the broad blue ribbon across his waistcoat.”

Lord Selvaine smiled.

“That is his Serene Highness, the Prince of Seidlitzberg, and we
all bow and courtesy because he is the brother of a king.”

“He looks like--like one of the men who serve in the shops,” said
Esmeralda, calmly.

“He does,” blandly assented Lord Selvaine. He made her acquainted
with the names and positions of several others of the brilliant
crowd, describing their characters and peculiarities with a happy
word or a significant shrug or movement of his small hands; and
presently Lady Wyndover came up with another lady.

“Oh, here you are, Esmeralda! I have been looking for you
everywhere. How do you do, Lord Selvaine?”

“I am the guilty one, dear Lady Wyndover,” he murmured in his low,
clear voice. “I obtained possession of your treasure on false
pretenses, and have been doing my best to make her forget that I
promised to take her to you. I restore her now, with tears, but
with the hope that you will not take her from me altogether.”

Lady Wyndover smiled on him.

“You don’t deserve that I should,” she said. “Oh! I have left my
fan on Lady Blankyre’s chair--” She broke off.

He took the hint at once, and went after it, and Lady Wyndover sat
down beside Esmeralda.

“Are you only lucky, or are you really very clever, my dear?” she
whispered, with a smile. “But I suppose that you don’t know that
you have succeeded in interesting the most--most exclusive and
‘difficult’ man in the room! Why, he must have been sitting with
you for half an hour!”

“Why shouldn’t he?” inquired Esmeralda. “He doesn’t dance, and
he seems to like talking. He has been telling me who some of the
people are. Who is he?”

“He is--Lord Selvaine!” said Lady Wyndover. “The best known man in
London. It would take me ages to explain to you what he is! But you
can understand this, that there isn’t a girl here who wouldn’t give
her ears to have him sit and talk to her for half an hour as he has
been talking to you.”

“But why?” said Esmeralda. “Is he a very great lord, very rich?
What?”

Lady Wyndover looked round helplessly. It was, as she had said, so
difficult to explain. “Well, he’s the brother of a duke,” she said;
“but it isn’t that. He’s--he’s the fashion, and always will be.
He’s terribly clever, and knows everything. Even Mr. Elmbourne asks
his advice; and his own family--well, he ‘runs it.’ You know what I
mean, dear.”

“Yes,” said Esmeralda. “I think I do. But if he is all this, why
does he waste his time in talking to a girl like me?”

Lady Wyndover laughed softly.

“Because he has taken a fancy to you, my dear,” she said. “I’m sure
I don’t know why. Oh! it isn’t because you’re pretty; the prettiest
woman in the world wouldn’t move him. And it can’t be your money,”
she was going to say, but paused, for Lord Selvaine returned with
the fan. At the same moment, Lady Wyndover’s partner came up to
claim her.

“Leave Miss Chetwynde with me for a little longer, Lady Wyndover,”
said Lord Selvaine. “I will take her through the rooms, if she will
allow me.”

He steered her through the crowd, their progress being watched and
commented on, and, now and again, stopped to make an introduction
to her; and Esmeralda, not at all daunted by his greatness,
continued asking questions, which he answered without a sign of
weariness.

They paused for a moment in the opening to a conservatory, and
Esmeralda seated herself on a lounge within view of the entrance
to the ball-room, and watched the late arrivals with undiminished
interest. She was beating time to the music with the tip of her
white satin shoe, and Lord Selvaine was leaning against the
door-way, and looking down at her with a curious smile, when
suddenly he saw her start slightly and her foot stop its rhythmical
motion. He looked in the direction of the entrance, and then at
her, and waited.

“Who is that who has just come in?” she asked, but with a certain
hesitation, which he noticed.

“Which? The lady, do you mean?” he asked.

“No, no!” she said, with a touch of impatience. “The man; the tall
young man with the dark face; there he is, just shaking hands with
Lady Blankyre.”

“Oh! he?” said Lord Selvaine. “That is a nephew of mine. A very
good fellow indeed.”

“A nephew of yours?” said Esmeralda, with surprise. It was the
gentleman who had been riding with the lady whose horse she had
pulled down.

“Let me introduce him to you,” said Lord Selvaine. “I hope--I
think--you will like him. Most people do. I’ll get hold of him in a
minute. Don’t you think he is rather good-looking? Please say yes,
even if you don’t think so, for I am rather fond and proud of him.”

He did not wait for her answer, but went into the midst of the
crowd, and presently returned, accompanied by his nephew.
Esmeralda’s heart beat rather fast, and the color rose to her
face. Would he recollect her? She hoped--though she did not know
why--that he would not. Perhaps Lady Wyndover was right, and she
ought not to have “interfered;” perhaps he had laughed at her, when
he had ridden away out of sight with the fair girl who had treated
her so contemptuously.

“Miss Chetwynde,” said Lord Selvaine, “let me introduce my nephew,
Lord Trafford.”



CHAPTER X.


Esmeralda started, and her hand closed tightly over her fan. This
gentleman, who had thanked her so fervently in the park, this
nephew of Lord Selvaine’s, was the “Trafford” of whom Norman
Druce had talked in his delirium, whose praises he had sung so
enthusiastically! Would he recognize her? She raised her eyes to
his almost apprehensively; but he, as he bowed, looked at her with
grave, absent-minded eyes, and it seemed to Esmeralda as if he
scarcely saw her.

“Miss Chetwynde is Lady Wyndover’s ward,” said Lord Selvaine.
“She has only just arrived in England, and this is her first
acquaintance with Vanity Fair. I ought to add that she is wise
enough not to dance, and so is reveling in the easy joys of the
mere spectator.”

With a little smile and bow he moved away, and left them alone.
Lord Trafford leaned against the wall, and gazed gravely at the
crowd, almost as if he had forgotten Esmeralda. She did not know
that he was trying to remember where he had seen her before.

She looked at him from under her long lashes with a curious and
intense interest. This, then, was the Lord Trafford, the eldest
son of the great Duke of Belfayre, who would some day himself be
the great Duke of Belfayre. Yes, he was very handsome. Lord Norman
had not exaggerated. And she understood, as she scanned him, with
a woman’s comprehensive glance, what Norman had meant when he had
said that his cousin was far and away above all other men. She
felt, though she could not have explained why, that he was the most
distinguished-looking man in the room, though there was no broad
blue ribbon across his breast, and only a dark-looking stone--she
did not know that it was a black pearl--in his shirt-front for
jewelry. Suddenly he looked down at her; so suddenly--and yet not
abruptly--that she lowered her eyes quickly.

“You are sitting in a draught, Miss Chetwynde,” he said. “Come
into this seat,” and he indicated one a little further into the
conservatory.

Esmeralda obeyed.

“Was there a draught?” she said. “It didn’t matter. Lady Wyndover
minds them, but it makes no difference to me; I never catch cold. I
suppose it is because I am used to draughts.”

As she spoke, he looked at her intently, and seemed to listen
eagerly, and with a slight frown, as if he were puzzled.

“You have only just come to England?” he said.

“Only a little while ago--about a week,” said Esmeralda.

“And you have been away, on the Continent?” he asked.

“No; I came straight from Australia,” she said. “I have never been
anywhere else.”

His brows contracted, and he looked still more puzzled. A faint
smile curved Esmeralda’s lips. She knew that he was trying to
remember where he had seen her.

“Australia--I have never been there,” he said, musingly. “And do
you like England--what you have seen of it, Miss Chetwynde?”

“For some things, yes; for others, no,” said Esmeralda. “But that
is, perhaps, because I’m strange, and things are so different.”

“So different?” he echoed, invitingly. Something of the charm
of her freshness attracted him, as it attracted all who came in
contact with her. He looked at her more attentively, and began to
realize how beautiful she was, and how girlish and unsophisticated.
He did not read the society papers, and had heard nothing, knew
nothing about her, beyond the knowledge which Lord Selvaine’s
introductory words conveyed.

“Yes,” said Esmeralda. “People talk and behave differently to
what I’ve been used to, and it is strange, at first; but I dare
say I shall get used to it. Don’t you want to dance?” she broke
off. “Everybody must want to dance who can; don’t let me keep you
standing here.”

He did not smile at her candor as another man might have done.

“I don’t dance very often,” he said. “And I am glad to stand here,
if you will allow me. Like you, I enjoy being a spectator.”

“Oh, but I don’t enjoy it,” said Esmeralda. “I’d dance if I could.
I’m going to learn. I’ve got a lot to learn.”

He looked at her thoughtfully, gravely, but said nothing. It was
said that Lord Trafford had, like Hawthorne, “flashes of eloquent
silence.” This was one of them. A waltz was just over, and several
couples passed them into the conservatory, into which there were
two or three entrances. The buzz of chatter and laughter surrounded
them; now and again some one could be heard distinctly. A voice,
coming from a cluster of palms, just then reached them. It was a
woman’s voice, and she was saying:

“Have you seen her, my dear? She is one of the most beautiful girls
I ever saw. She is perfectly lovely! With the most wonderful hair
and eyes.”

“A kind of ‘Belle Sauvage,’ I suppose?”

“No, indeed! She looks just like any one else,” rejoined the first
lady. “She is perfectly dressed--of course Lady Wyndover would
see to that--and she seems quite--quite quiet and well behaved. I
haven’t spoken to her yet.”

“Ah,” said the second voice, “I expect if you had your enthusiasm
would have evaporated. You would find that she dropped her h’s, or
talked through her nose.”

The other lady laughed.

“I dare say; she comes from the wilds of Australia. But it does not
matter; she will become the rage, however she talks, or whatever
she does, mark my words. Over two millions of money! Think of
it! Oh, we shall have her photographs in all the shop-windows
presently! Lord Selvaine has approved of her, he has been sitting
beside her, and promenading with her half the evening. Yes,
before long we shall all be wearing the ‘Chetwynde’ hat, or the
‘Chetwynde’ cape. Two millions! Think of it, dear!”

Lord Trafford, who had heard every word, colored, and looked down
at Esmeralda.

“Shall we go into the ball-room?” he said, quietly.

“No!” said Esmeralda. There was a dash of color in her cheek,
and her glorious eyes flashed under their lashes. “Yes, they are
talking about me. It is not very kind, is it? I can’t help being
born in Australia; and”--with a sudden thrill in her voice--“I
wouldn’t if I could! And I can’t help having all this money! Oh, I
hate England, and--and all the English people!”

She rose with a sudden gesture which, it must be confessed,
had something savage in it. The words, the tone, the gesture,
inexplicably recalled her to Trafford’s memory. He took her hand
and drew it upon his arm.

“I know now!” he said in the tone of triumph and satisfaction we
use when we have succeeded in remembering. “It was you who caught
Lady Ada’s horse in the park yesterday.”

Esmeralda’s face grew hot, and she looked straight before her.

“You have been a long while remembering,” she said.

“Forgive me!” he pleaded. “Please, _please_ forgive me! The
difference in dress, the-- How brave it was of you!”

“Oh!” she said, quietly, but with an upraising of her brows. “I
thought it was very foolish! I’ve been told that it was--was
unlady-like to interfere. Another time I shall stand quite still,
and let happen what will.”

He looked at her.

“No, you will not!” he said. “You could not, Miss Chetwynde. I
am glad I have met you to-night; I want to tell you how much I
admired--appreciated--your courage, your presence of mind! Another
woman, girl, would have screamed or run away.”

“I never scream; and I don’t run away,” said Esmeralda, as if she
were stating a mere matter of fact.

“I can believe it!” he said. “I can believe anything of you that is
brave and noble. And I beg you, on your part, to believe that we,
in England, are not all like these silly, brainless chatterers.” He
waved his hand toward the palms.

Esmeralda’s heart beat tumultuously. His voice, his manner--now so
full of life and spirit--affected her strangely. She could not look
at him, but gazed straight before her; and as she looked--through a
mist, as it were--she saw a tall, graceful girl, with flaxen hair
and blue eyes, coming toward them, on the arm of Lord Blankyre. It
was the lady whom she had saved in the park.

Lord Trafford did not see her; he was intent upon Esmeralda’s face.

“Oh, here you are, Trafford,” said Lord Blankyre; “I am sorry to
have found you, for Lady Ada promised me this dance, if I failed to
do so.”

Esmeralda looked fixedly at the fair girl she had saved from a
broken limb or worse--looked with a kind of wonder, for Lady Ada
Lancing, in ball-room costume, was a vision lovely enough to evoke
wonder from any heart, male or female. She wore a dress of palest
blue, covered with a cream lace of finest spider-web, and, with her
delicate complexion, looked like a _chef d’œuvre_ in biscuit china.

Lord Trafford bowed to Esmeralda.

“I hope we shall meet again, Miss Chetwynde,” he said, and went off
with Lady Ada on his arm.

Esmeralda nodded--the free-and-easy Three Star nod--and sunk into
her chair. She was instantly surrounded by men who had been waiting
for their opportunity, and when Lady Wyndover found her she was
hemmed in by a circle of courtiers competing for her smiles.

The ball was almost over, and Lord Trafford had conducted Lady Ada
to the brougham which she shared with her watch-dog and cousin,
Lady Grange, and was hesitating between his club and bed, when Lord
Selvaine came up and touched him on the shoulder.

“Going home, Trafford? Take me with you, and give me a soda and
whisky, will you?”

“Certainly,” he said in his grave fashion.

They got into a hansom, and were driven to Lord Trafford’s chambers
in the Albany. Lord Trafford turned up the incandescent light, and
motioned his uncle into the most comfortable chair, and produced
the spirit-stand and syphon. His man had gone to his virtuous couch
hours ago; for Lord Trafford was eccentric enough to study his
servant’s comfort.

Lord Selvaine leaned back and sipped his whisky and soda, and
smoked delicately.

“Nice evening, Traff?” he said.

Lord Trafford leaned against the mantel-piece and looked absently
at the smoke from his cigarette.

“Yes; oh, yes! Lady Blankyre’s parties are always successful. Does
that cigarette suit you, or will you have a Turkish?”

“Quite satisfactory, thanks,” said Lord Selvaine. “Delightful
evening! But I was particularly lucky, for I spent a great
portion of it with Miss Chetwynde.” He knocked the ashes from his
cigarette, and nestled still closer in the luxurious chair. “What
a wonderful girl! Really, my dear boy, I have never seen a more
beautiful woman! Those eyes of hers are--are a revelation! And her
hair! Titian and Murillo, to say nothing of Burne-Jones!”

“She is very beautiful,” said Lord Trafford, absently.

“She is lovely!” exclaimed Lord Selvaine, softly. “And she is as
charming as she is beautiful. Such innocence and--and freshness! I
declare to you that if I were a marrying man, and, say, a trifle of
twenty years younger, I should be in love with her. By Jove! I _am_
in love with her as it is!”

Trafford smiled.

“Where is there a woman who can compare with her?” demanded Lord
Selvaine in the same soft voice, and looking, not at his nephew,
but at the smoke which rose from his own cigarette. “I grant you
that she is--well, rather green, but it is the green of the lily,
the freshness of the mountain ash, which will wear off, alas!
before the season has passed.”

“Miss Chetwynde is very innocent--yes,” assented Lord Trafford.

“And she is worth--what is it?--a couple of millions?” murmured
Lord Selvaine.

“So I understand,” said Trafford.

Lord Selvaine smoked leisurely, and eyed, through his half-closed
eyes, his nephew.

“Have you been down to Belfayre lately, Traff?” he asked.

Trafford shook his head.

“Not lately.”

“Better come down with me to-morrow,” said Lord Selvaine. “There is
a kind of conference on. Things are very bad, you know.”

“I know,” assented Trafford, with a sigh.

“Yes; and the worst of it is that the duke doesn’t realize how
bad they are. He has been going into this scheme for making a
fashionable watering-place of Belfayre Bay, and talks and acts as
if we had half a million at our backs.”

“I know,” said Lord Trafford again, sadly.

“Yes,” continued Lord Selvaine, smoothly. “I dare say there is
something in it, but it would take a million, or thereabouts, to
put it right. The question is--where is that million to come from?”

“I do not know,” said Trafford.

Lord Selvaine leaned forward, still smoking.

“What will you give me, Traff, if I tell you?” he asked, with a
smile.

Trafford looked at him gravely.

“What do you mean?” he said, wearily. “Where is a million of money
to come from?”

Lord Selvaine fell back, and regarded his nephew with half-closed
lids.

“Let us be plain with each other, Traff,” he said. “It is what
no other members of the family are. The House of Belfayre is on
the brink of ruin. Your father is in his dotage, and does not
recognize the fact; in fact, has forgotten it. But you and I know
it. Now, the question is, whether we shall bow to Fate, and consent
to sink into the mud, or make an effort to extricate ourselves.
Personally, the question does not affect me. I am a bachelor, and
have enough for my few and simple wants. But with you, dear boy, it
is different. You are the next duke, the head of the family. With
you it is a duty and tradition to keep up the old name, the old
position.”

“I know,” said Trafford, with a sigh.

“You can’t stand aside, with a shrug of your shoulders, and see the
family title go down. Rank has its obligations and duties as well
as its privileges.”

Lord Trafford sighed again. All this was a truism which he had
learned in his cradle.

“There is only one way in which you can pick the House of Belfayre
from the dust,” continued Lord Selvaine; “only one way in which you
can save the good old name and the good old acres. You must marry.”

Trafford flung his cigarette in the fire, and made an impatient
movement. Lord Selvaine looked at him through half-closed lids.

“My dear boy, I know exactly what you feel. I have been through
the fire. But I have drawn back in time. I know, when I speak of
marrying, your thoughts, your heart at once fly to Ada Lancing.”

Trafford started, and frowned.

“Forgive me, my dear Traff! One must speak sometimes with the
muzzle off. I admire, I adore Ada Lancing; she has only one
defect. She is as beautiful as a dream, as imperial as an empress,
but, unfortunately, she has no money. And what we want is money.
_Money!_ Not a little, but a large sum. An enormous sum!” He sipped
his soda and whisky, and settled himself more comfortably in his
easy-chair. Trafford went to the window, and looked out at the
night. Every word this worldly wise uncle of his spoke jarred upon
him. And yet, how worldly wise, how unanswerable it was!

“With a large sum of money,” continued Lord Selvaine, “we could
recover ourselves. The mortgages could be paid off. Belfayre could
expand itself; in short, the family could hold up its head again,
and you, my dear Traff, instead of being the heir to one of the
oldest titles and an ocean of debts and incumbrances, would be a
real duke with a real dukedom.”

“What is it you are driving at?” asked Lord Trafford, impatiently.

“Only this,” said his uncle, blandly, “that to-night I have seen a
way to removing all our difficulties.”

Lord Trafford looked at the smooth face questioningly.

“Yes; an easy way, as I take it. You _must_, my dear Traff, marry
money. Well, money--and a most charming girl--are ready to your
hand. Two millions of money! Think of it!”

“Two millions!” echoed Trafford, grimly.

“Yes; that is what Miss Chetwynde is worth.”

“Miss Chetwynde!”

“Yes; the girl I introduced you to. You must admit that she is
beautiful enough--”

“Beautiful! But--but--”

“But what, my dear Traff? You don’t imagine that the millions are
to be obtained without certain disadvantages? Bah! Of course there
are disadvantages! But you must swallow them. They will be sugared
pills, anyhow! Think of two millions! It will redeem Belfayre; it
will restore the house to its old stability; it will be the making
of us! Yes, Traff, you will have to marry Miss Chetwynde!”



CHAPTER XI.


Lord Trafford went down with Lord Selvaine to Belfayre next day.
During the journey of a little over five hours Trafford was very
thoughtful--he was never at any time very talkative, though he
could on occasion be as bright and light-hearted as most young
men--and he sat in his corner of the carriage with a magazine in
his hand; but the page did not get turned very often.

Marry Miss Chetwynde! It was a momentous sentence. It meant so
much. Some men regard marriage lightly; they look upon it as
a necessity, a duty, more or less pleasant, which has to be
performed, and there’s an end of it. But Trafford, Marquis of
Trafford, was rather different to the ordinary run of men. With him
marriage was a sacred thing, and a marriage without love a hideous
business. If he could have married where he pleased, he would have
asked Ada Lancing to be his wife. They had known each other since
childhood; she had called him more than once, in girlish play, her
husband. He was a modest man, without an ounce of vanity, but he
suspected that she loved him. But he had known all along that a
marriage with Ada Lancing was impossible.

She was the daughter of a Scotch peer, as poor as he was proud--and
to those who can boast acquaintance with Scotch peers this will say
a great deal.

If Trafford had been a wealthy man, if he had possessed, or was
going to inherit, one fortieth of the wealth that used to flow into
the Belfayre coffers, he would have asked Ada Lancing to be his
wife long ago. Both she and he knew that it was impossible, and
both of them must have foreseen that sooner or later Trafford would
have to marry money.

But he had never had the inevitable fact brought home to him so
plainly until last night. Lord Selvaine had, so to speak, driven
the steel home.

Marry Miss Chetwynde!

Trafford recalled her as he gazed at the page that he certainly was
not reading. He could not deny that she was very beautiful; indeed,
he was ready to admit that she was the loveliest girl he had ever
seen; Lord Selvaine had said that she was charming; and Trafford
had not been insensible to the charm which lay in Esmeralda’s
perfect self-unconsciousness and freshness. An atmosphere of the
mountains, of the wide, free valleys from whence she had come,
seemed to surround her. Her very movements, the turn of her head,
the gestures of her shapely hand, were eloquent of the free,
untrammeled life which she had lived. The frank, candid eyes looked
up at him from the printed page, and seemed to look reproachfully,
as if she knew the nature of the sordid bargain he was advised to
offer her.

After all, it was very easy to say, “Marry Miss Chetwynde;” but was
it so easy to accomplish? Would she marry him? He was a man of the
world, and he knew that there were very few women who would refuse
an offer of his hand, though it contained a coronet with the jewels
missing; but perhaps this girl from the wilds was one of those few?

He threw the magazine away from him, and looked wearily out of the
window. Lord Selvaine glanced at him pensively. Lord Selvaine never
read during a journey, and was far too wise to bore himself and his
companion by straining his voice in an attempt to talk through the
rattle of the train. He smoked an occasional cigarette, and passed
a portion of the time in peaceful slumber. Looking at him one would
have imagined him to be the most innocent and unsophisticated,
middle-aged young gentleman in the world; but his acute brain
was hard at work, and it is scarcely too much to say that he was
following every train of thought as it passed through Trafford’s
mind.

He was the master-mind of the Belfayre family, and had always
guided its destinies since he was quite a young man; but it was
not a very easy task to guide Trafford, and Lord Selvaine did not
underestimate the task he had undertaken. He had been very careful
not to mention Miss Chetwynde’s name that morning, and he looked as
placid and serene as if he were quite unconscious of the problem
which his companion was turning over and over in his mind.

When they reached Belmont, which is about four miles from Belfayre,
they found a heavy barouche and pair, with its full complement of
liveried servants, awaiting them. They were received on the station
with a respectful attention, which was as marked and as freely
offered as if they had been royal personages; the station-master
fluttered forward, the porters hurried after the luggage, and
the footmen stood at the carriage door to assist the illustrious
travelers to alight.

Lord Selvaine received all this obsequious attention quite easily,
and as if it were his due; but Trafford, although he had been used
to it all his life, always found it rather irksome. He got out
of the carriage unaided, and nodded to the saluting porters, and
looked at the heavy chariot with an expression of distaste.

“I think I’ll walk, Selvaine,” he said.

“Do,” said Lord Selvaine, cheerfully. “It will give you an
appetite; I’ve a good mind to accompany you, but”--with his little
smile--“I’ve a better mind to ride.”

Trafford walked off with his easy stride, and Lord Selvaine, as
the carriage rolled by, waved his hand with a pleasant smile. The
road from the station to Belfayre is one of the most beautiful
in England. It runs through leafy lanes with banks upon which
the ferns grow as luxuriantly as if they were in Lady Blankyre’s
conservatory. After a mile or two it emerges from the lane and
crosses a heath almost Scotch in its extent and coloring.

Beyond the heath the road climbs a hill, upon the brow of which
stands the great house or palace of Belfayre, its white vastness
standing out so conspicuously that it dominates, but not vulgarly,
the whole scene.

On the left of Trafford lay the sea, shining as blue as a sapphire,
and rolling softly in upon the sands of Belfayre Bay. On the
right stretch, for mile upon mile, meadows and park, park and
meadows. The village lay behind Belfayre. Every inch of the land
for miles--the golden sands beneath him, the softly undulating
hills, the red cliffs, all belonged to the great duke--or the
money-lenders.

Every inch of the village, every house, cottage, inn--it might
almost be said every man, woman and child--belonged to Belfayre--or
the money-lenders.

Now and again a shepherd or a small farmer, or a woman with a
little child, or a boy with a sack, met him, and they, one and all,
knew him, and stood aside to let him pass, touching their hats or
courtesying with silent respect as if he were a prince; and now and
again Trafford stopped and said a few words in his pleasant, grave
voice, and the individuals thus favored went on their way glowing
with pride to tell, as quickly as they could, how they had just met
the marquis, and that he had spoken to them “quite friendly and
sociable-like.”

When he reached the first lodge, an exquisitely beautiful little
building, kept with such scrupulous neatness--the ivy closely
clipped, the lattice windows shining like diamonds, the stone
mullion white and spotless, the garden like a toy, with its spring
flowers--that it looked as if it had been built yesterday, instead
of a century ago, the lodge-keeper’s wife came out and opened the
gates, and courtesied with a subdued little smile, as if she were
glad to see him, but wouldn’t for the world be so disrespectful as
to show it.

Trafford paused a moment to ask after her husband and children,
then went on his way. He walked on a broad road of carefully laid
gravel, rolled and swept until its surface was almost as smooth
as marble. Noble elms, carefully tended, formed an avenue whose
branches made a green arch high above his head. Between the trees
he could still catch glimpses of the sapphire sea; the red deer
fled as he approached, a rabbit scuttled across his path. The
avenue wound round in serpentine lengths, making the ascent to the
house easy; and suddenly the great place came into view.

It looked like marble as it shone in the sunlight and the clear
air. Since a grateful nation had bestowed Belfayre upon the famous
man who first bore the title, successive owners had added to
and enriched it, until it had become a palace of which England,
the land of palaces, was proud, and to which foreigners and
Americans--who are not foreigners--made eager pilgrimage. The road
opened out into a vast semi-circle, from this rose a flight of
white marble steps, which led to the wide terrace, also of marble,
upon which stood marvels of statuary, collected at fabulous cost
from the ancient homes of art.

The palace rose from the terrace, and was not unlike a Greek temple
in its grand severity. The door-way, flanked by the long line of
tall windows, was almost as vast as that of a cathedral, and was
fronted by a porch of carved marble, and a peristyle of such beauty
that travelers always found it difficult to pass it even for the
treasures of art which were enshrined in the house beyond.

Trafford stood on the terrace, and looked round at the magnificent
scene gravely and sadly. It was all so splendid, so eloquent of
power, and wealth, and human greatness; and yet, what a mockery it
was! The power, the wealth, the greatness, where were they? If they
had not already passed, they were swiftly passing away.

He entered the vast hall. Coming from the bright sunlight outside,
its vastness, lighted only by a great stained window, seemed almost
grim. Tattered flags hung from the vaulted roof; figures, in the
actual armor worn by his ancestors in many a battle, stood round
the hall; against the paneled wall hung portraits of famous (and
infamous) Belfayres.

Statuary gleamed, ghost-like, at intervals, its whiteness relieved
by stately palms, ranged round the pedestals. Ancient weapons were
arranged in trophies, and reflected the light from the stained
window, and the fire of great logs, which, though the day was so
warm outside, burned in the open marble fire-place. The floor was
of polished wood, with here and there upon it an Oriental rug,
like a splash of color spilled from some gigantic palette. A gaunt
deer-hound rose from before the fire, and came majestically toward
Trafford, and thrust its long nose in his hand.

Two footmen, in the dark claret livery, stood, almost as statuesque
as the figures in armor, at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to
receive the marquis and his commands.

“Is the duke down?” he asked.

“Yes, my lord,” was the reply. “His grace is in the library with
Lord Selvaine.”

Trafford went upstairs, preceded by one of the footmen, who opened
the door leading from the corridor to the suite of rooms always
set apart and kept in perfect readiness for the marquis. They
were among the best and stateliest in the house, as befitted the
future duke and master; but, although they were magnificently and
perfectly appointed, it may be hazarded that Trafford was quite as
comfortable in his much smaller and more modest chambers in the
Albany. His valet, who had come down in the same train, and ridden
on the box-seat of the barouche, assisted his master to change his
clothes; then Trafford went down-stairs, and into the library.

It was the smallest of the reception-rooms, but as wonderful in its
way as the stateliest of the saloons and the huge dining-room. The
walls were lined with book-cases of rosewood, relieved by ormolu
and Wedgwood plaques; some of the volumes were priceless; and the
library, as a whole, was a famous one. A fire was burning, and
beside it, in an easy-chair, reclined the Duke of Belfayre. He was
tall and very thin, with snow-white hair and a perfectly colorless
face, lined by innumerable wrinkles. With his clean-cut features,
his long, white hands, his air of perfect repose and gracious
benignity, he looked every inch a duke.

He had been singularly handsome, as was Trafford, and there was a
strong resemblance between father and son. One noticed it in the
expression in the eyes, in the movement of the brows, but, more
markedly, in a certain turn of the head. His grace was listening,
with a genial courtliness, to Lord Selvaine, and as Trafford
entered, the wrinkled face beamed with a soft smile. Holding out
the white hand, he said, in a musical voice, which echoed that of
his son:

“Ah! Trafford, how do you do? It is very good of you to come
down--Selvaine, too!”--he gave a little bow to Lord Selvaine--“very
good of you both. You must have so much to do in London, and London
can ill spare you, Selvaine. You are looking well, Trafford.
Selvaine tells me that the season promises to be a very busy
one. You begin much earlier now than we used to, and I think you
continue it longer. You find the country looking well, Trafford?”

“Yes, sir,” said Trafford. “And you are quite well, I hope.”

“Quite--quite!” said the duke, cheerfully. “I am not quite so
strong as I used to be, but one must not be surprised at that. Come
and sit here.” He motioned to a seat beside him, and Trafford sat
down, and put his hand on the arm of the duke’s chair. The old man
laid his own hand upon his son’s strong one, and patted it. “I am
glad you and Selvaine have come down, Trafford; indeed, I was on
the point of asking Lilias to write, and ask you to do so; for I
wanted to talk to you on a matter of business.”

“Yes, sir,” said Trafford.

“Yes,” said the duke, with a kind of placid eagerness, which one
sees displayed by a child at the prospect of a new toy. “I have
been thinking a great deal lately of that scheme which the famous
architect--I am ashamed to say I forget his name; it began, if I
remember rightly, with a P--the scheme which he laid before us
respecting the Belfayre Bay.”

Trafford glanced at Lord Selvaine, but that gentleman did not
remove his eyes from the fire, but leaned back in his chair as
placidly impassive as if the matter to be discussed were either of
no importance or of little interest to him.

“If you remember,” continued the duke in his soft voice, and with
the same smile and manner, “that gentleman made an elaborate plan
for transforming the bay into a watering-place.”

“I remember, sir,” said Trafford in his deep voice.

“He had the whole thing perfectly elaborated, and drew plans which
showed quite plainly how admirably adapted the position was for the
change which he proposed. I was looking at the sketches the other
day; in fact, I have been studying them most closely, and it seems
to me that the whole thing could be accomplished quite easily. We
have only to build an esplanade along the front of the center of
the bay, to construct a pier at the western end, and to erect some
suitable houses in terraces upon the rising ground behind.”

Trafford again glanced at his uncle, and again Lord Selvaine
refused to respond, but continued to gaze blandly at the fire. The
duke leaned back, and resumed, moving his white hand to and fro.

“They would form a crescent, don’t you see. A large hotel, which
could be placed in the center; or it might be erected at the
eastern end. There, in a nutshell, you have the scheme; and it
certainly seems to me an admirable one in every way. Most admirable
and ingenious! It would considerably enhance the value of the
property; but I do not attach so much importance to that as to
the fact that it would provide labor for a very large number of
deserving people, and would add another place of recreation and
pleasure for the many worthy and excellent persons who delight to
spend their leisure by the sea.”

“And the cost, sir?” said Trafford, quietly.

“The cost?” said the duke, easily. “It was estimated, I believe, by
the talented gentleman who formulated the scheme. I have no doubt
the cost would be large, but”--with a smile--“I do not see why that
should be any obstacle. Similar developments have been made on
other estates, and I imagine that what Levonshire and Radogan have
done we can do.”

“Certainly--certainly!” said Lord Selvaine, blandly.

“I am so glad you agree with me, my dear Selvaine,” murmured
the duke. “Your judgment is always so excellent, I might say,
infallible.”

Lord Selvaine gave the minutest bow.

“The cost,” continued the duke, “was, if I remember rightly,
several hundred thousand pounds--let us say, somewhere about half a
million. That is of little consequence.”

“Quite so; very little,” said Lord Selvaine.

“It is the result we must consider. I wish you and Trafford, my
dear Selvaine, would consider the matter. Helby” (Mr. Helby was the
steward) “has the plans, and shall go over them with you. If you
think the proposition a good one, pray let it be proceeded with at
once. I should like to see it done.”

“We will,” said Lord Selvaine.

“Thank you very much,” murmured the duke, as if the trivial
project were now satisfactorily launched. “Did you notice the
tulips, my dear Trafford, as you came across the terrace. I think
they are more beautiful than usual. And I want you to go into the
third orchid house before dinner, if you have time. I got as far
yesterday, and it seemed to me--I may be wrong--that they were
rather crowded. If this is so, we must have new houses built. I
think they should be much larger than the old ones. Will you give
any instructions, if they be necessary?”

“Certainly--certainly!” said Lord Selvaine, answering for Trafford,
who looked sadly at the carpet.

The duke patted Trafford’s hand.

“It is a shame to trouble you with business, Trafford, directly you
arrive; but I sometimes think that Helby is scarcely--scarcely as
energetic as he used to be. I’ve an idea--it may be erroneous--that
the stables, for instance, are not as well kept up as they should
be. As you know, we have always made a point of--of filling the
stalls. You are fond of horses, I know, Trafford, and I should be
deeply grieved if you were to find it necessary to complain of a
scarcity, or the quality, of the horses. Will you please go over
the stables to-morrow, and look into the matter?”

“Yes, sir,” said Trafford, as cheerfully as he could.

The duke continued chatting about the estate, and town gossip,
always with the same placid serenity and simple, childish
satisfaction. In the midst of their talk the door opened, and a
young woman came in.



CHAPTER XII.


She was a pretty girl, with dark hair and complexion, but with
soft, blue-gray eyes. She was short, and very small, so that she
looked quite a school-girl, although she was in reality nineteen.
This was Lilias Selvaine. She was the niece of the duke, and,
young as she was, was the feminine head and mistress of the palace.
She had lived with the duke and the late duchess ever since she was
a child, and when the duchess died, Lilias, though only just out
of the school-room, had stepped into her place, and undertaken the
control of the vast establishment.

Of course, there was the steward, Helby; and a housekeeper, who
was a great deal more stately than the late duchess had been; and
a butler, to say nothing of a groom of the chambers, and other
high and lofty functionaries. But this girl, five feet nothing,
and with little soft, mousey ways, ruled like a queen over them
all. Her word, spoken in the softest of voices, was law from
one end of the vast place to the other; and never was law more
wisely administered. The duke was extremely fond of her, and
when he occasionally waxed obstinate, after the manner of old
men, Lilias was the only person who had any influence over him.
Between Trafford and herself there existed a very deep and strong
affection. They regarded each other as brother and sister; and it
was to Trafford, whom she admired and almost reverenced, that she
turned when in want of advice and assistance.

She paused on the threshold of the room, as if she feared she was
intruding; but at a sign from Trafford, as the three men rose--for
the duke would rather have died in his chair than remain seated
when a lady entered the room--she came forward, and offered her
cheek to Trafford and Lord Selvaine.

“I am so glad you have come!” she said. Then she went softly to the
duke, and laid her little hand upon his shoulder lovingly. “It is
time for you to have your hot milk, dear,” she said. “Will you have
it here, or will you come into the drawing-room?” Her quick eyes
noticed that he looked rather tired, as if he had been talking, and
she said, as she touched the bell: “You shall have it here; it will
be cozier.”

The footman brought in the tea, and, looking very petite and
girlish, she presided over it with simple dignity.

The duke could not dismiss the project of the watering-place from
his mind; and as they sat over their tea, he recurred to it, and,
with a childish enthusiasm, dilated upon its manifold advantages.

Lilias, with downcast eyes, endeavored in vain to woo him from the
subject. And Trafford and Lord Selvaine, seeing that while they
remained he would talk, rose and said they would take a stroll
before the dressing-bell. They went out through the window on to
the terrace, and Lord Selvaine rolled a cigarette, but for some
time said nothing; he wanted the duke’s audacious project to work
its due effect upon Trafford’s mind. At last, as they crossed the
lawn, he paused, and looked down at the bay beneath them.

“To construct Belfayre Bay, say three quarters of a million; new
orchid houses, five thousand pounds; a fresh lot of gee-gees for
the stables, so many more thousands; other projects necessitating
lavish expenditure, so many more thousands. And, mind you, my dear
Trafford, it would not be easy to divert him from his intention
without telling him the truth. Now, I have as much courage as the
common or garden coward, but I am forced to confess that I should
not like the task of informing the duke that he hasn’t, so to
speak, a penny in the world, and that Belfayre is on the verge of
ruin.”

“No, he must not know,” said Trafford in a low voice.

“Ah!” said Lord Selvaine, blandly, “but how long shall we be able
to conceal the truth from him? The Jews are a patient race, but
even they will not wait for their pound of flesh forever. I don’t
know exactly how we stand; but I have taken the liberty to ask
Helby to step up after dinner, and we will go through that most
objectionable performance known as a business talk.”

He turned and gazed at the house pensively, and Trafford looked at
it also.

“It would be rather hard,” said Lord Selvaine, in a low voice,
and as if communing with himself, “to see the place pass into the
hands of Messrs. Levy, Moses and Aaron; and there is nothing to
prevent it, for you know, my dear Trafford, we cut off the entail
years ago. Imagine a greasy Jew, with fat and dirty fingers covered
with rings, lording it with his bounder friends in the House of
Belfayre!”

Trafford’s brow contracted, and his teeth clinched tightly.

“Say no more!” he said.

Lord Selvaine shrugged his shoulders.

“A thousand pardons, my dear Trafford. Pray forgive me for playing
the part of that most detestable person, Cassandra. Let us go
down and look at the horses which are soon to have so many merry
companions.”

The dinner was served in the small dining-room; and the duke,
departing from his usual rule, dined with them. He was delighted
at having Trafford with him, and all through the dinner talked
blithely and happily. Lilias, at the head of the table, glanced
at the two men now and again with her grave, tender eyes. She,
too, knew the sad condition in which Belfayre stood, and she knew
how Trafford must be suffering, while the duke talked as if he
still had boundless wealth at his command, and need only express
a desire to obtain its gratification. Immediately the dinner was
over, the duke rose to go to his own apartment, and Trafford drew
his father’s arm within his, and assisted the old man up the wide
staircase.

“God bless you, my dear Trafford!” he said, as Trafford handed
him over to the ducal valet. “I am always so happy when you can
come down! I wish you could be with us oftener.” He laid his white
hand on Trafford’s shoulder, and looked into the grave, handsome
face affectionately. “Some day, Trafford, I hope you will not come
alone. I trust that I may be spared to welcome a daughter, to see
my son’s children--the future Duke of Belfayre--playing at my knee.
Good-night, my dear Trafford. God bless you!”

As Trafford went down-stairs there was a mist before his eyes, and
they must have been still moist when he entered the drawing-room,
for Lilias looked up at him anxiously, and drew her skirt aside
that he might share the lounge with her.

“What is to be done, Lilias?” he said in a low voice.

Her hand stole into his sympathizingly.

“Dear Trafford!” she murmured.

“He does not seem to understand in the very least,” said Trafford.

“No,” she said. “Last week he sent up to town for a suite of
pearls--it was my birthday; and I haven’t thanked you yet,
Trafford, for my beautiful bracelet. See, I have it on. Didn’t you
notice it? Let me give you a kiss for it! It was a magnificent
suite; they must have cost--oh! I can’t tell how much--and I had to
send them back, and make some excuse to the jewelers.”

“I am sorry you did that, Lilias,” he said, biting his lip. “Surely
we could have afforded a trifling gift to you who do so much for
us.”

“No, dear,” she said, gravely. “It is cowardly to shrink from the
truth--we can not afford it. Mr. Helby often makes some difficulty
about the money for even the household expenses. You do not think
me heartless for speaking like this, Trafford, dear? But I want you
to understand that uncle must not be encouraged in all these wild
schemes.”

“I know--I know!” he said.

She said no more, but went softly to the piano, and played the
Chopin which he loved, and which she knew would soothe him. She had
understood him ever since they had been children together, and her
comprehension of all his moods was quickened by her sisterly love.
While she was playing, a footman entered to say that Mr. Helby was
in the library. As Trafford left the room he bent over her, and
whispered:

“Thank you, Lilias!”

Mr. Helby was a middle-aged man, with a hard, honest face, and
iron-gray hair. His father and his grandfather before him had been
stewards of Belfayre, and he had inherited their integrity and
faithful devotion to the family which they had served. Trafford, as
he shook hands with him, saw that he had brought a bundle of papers
and books with him, and as he sunk into a chair, he said:

“You have no good news, I’m afraid, Mr. Helby?”

Mr. Helby looked from Lord Selvaine to Trafford, and shook his head
gravely.

“No, Lord Trafford,” he said, “I have not had any good news for
many years past. Sometimes I have thought that you half suspected
me of croaking without due cause--and, indeed, I have, from a
natural dislike to causing you pain, concealed the extremity of our
case; but Lord Selvaine tells me that you now wish to know exactly
how we stand, and I have drawn up an exact statement that you may
see for yourself how grave our position is.”

He spoke as if the peril were his own--and, indeed, it may be
safely asserted that not a member of the ducal house could have
felt its downfall more acutely than the faithful steward.

It is not necessary to go into the details of Mr. Helby’s carefully
drawn-up statement. Suffice it that he demonstrated with terrible
plainness the appalling fact that unless a large sum of money were
forthcoming, Belfayre must pass into the hands of the men who had
found the sinews of war for so many years past; in short, that the
cloud which had hung over the house for so long must fall and crush
it, unless it could be dispelled by a Danaë shower of gold. Whence
that shower of gold was to come Mr. Helby did not presume to say;
but Trafford knew as well as if the steward had put it into words
that Mr. Helby was thinking and hoping that he, Trafford, would
rescue the ancient house by a wealthy marriage.

He listened without a word, until the statement was finished. Then
he rose, a little pale, but otherwise apparently unmoved--for the
Belfayres did not wear their hearts upon their sleeves--and saying,
“Thank you very much, Mr. Helby; I know how much we are indebted
to you for your devotion, your close and anxious attention to our
affairs. I will consider what you’ve said,” he pressed Mr. Helby’s
hand and left the room.

Mr. Helby, much moved, and showing it, looked hard at the table for
a moment or two; then he glanced at Lord Selvaine, who was leaning
back in an arm-chair, with half-closed eyes, and his arms behind
his head.

“Dreadful! This is dreadful, my lord!” he said. “What is to be
done? There is only one thing: if the marquis would only do it.”

“You mean a good marriage?” said Lord Selvaine.

“Yes!” said Mr. Helby, eagerly; “and it would be so easy. His
lordship could marry wherever he pleased! Do you think,” anxiously,
“he could be persuaded to do it?”

“We shall see,” said Lord Selvaine. “I may say, my dear Mr. Helby,
that I am using my powers in that direction. We shall see.”

Trafford went back to the drawing-room, and went up to Lilias. She
scanned his pale face anxiously.

“Oh, Trafford!” she said.

“Yes, Lilias,” he said. “Mr. Helby has been speaking plainly,
and like most plain speeches, it has hurt. I must go up to town
to-morrow morning early.”

“What are you going to do, Trafford?” she asked in a low voice.

“I am going to try to do my duty,” he said. “Go to bed now, dear;
it is late.”

She obeyed instantly. He went with her to the foot of the stairs,
and when she had disappeared, he stood and looked round him. And
in his mind’s eye, he saw a greasy Jew lolling in the carved oak
chair, with the tattered flags above him, and the faces of the dead
and gone Belfayres looking down from the wall at the vulgar usurper.

He went back to town the next day, and took a hansom to the house
in Eaton Square, in which Lady Ada Lancing lived with her guardian,
Lady Grange. He asked for Lady Ada, and was shown into the small
drawing-room, and stood gnawing his under lip, and looking out of
the window, with eyes that saw nothing, waiting for her to appear.

She came in presently, looking, in her afternoon dress, exquisitely
beautiful and graceful. The delicate fairness of her face had
flushed slightly as she gave him her hand, but the flush died away
as she noticed his gravity.

“I have just come from Belfayre, Ada,” he said, going straight at
his hard task, just as he always rode straight at the stiffest
timber. “I have something to say to you.”

She took a seat, and motioned him to another, but he stood beside
her, with his hand grasping the back of her chair.

“Ada, I have bad news. I am hoping that it will seem as bad to you
as it is to me. I will not affect a false modesty. You know, Ada,
that I love you, and I have thought sometimes that you might care
for me. If I could have done so, I would have asked you to be my
wife long ago.”

Her hands lay in her lap. She did not clasp them, but he saw that
they trembled.

“But it was impossible. To-day it is more than ever impossible.
Last night I heard the full account of our misfortune. We are on
the brink of ruin. Indeed, it seems to me that we are already over
the brink. We are plunged to the neck in debt, and the men of whom
we have borrowed may at any moment come down upon us for their just
due. There is only one thing that can save us.”

She raised her head slightly, and looked straight before her. Her
face was like a piece of china, her blue eyes dim with pain.

“I know,” she said, almost inaudibly.

“Yes,” he said. “I must do what many a man before me has been
compelled to do--I must marry money.”

She looked straight before her, but made no movement.

“I have never spoken a word of love to you,” he said; “that would
have been dishonorable; but there are other ways of telling a woman
you love her besides open speech. You must have known that I cared
for you.”

Her lips formed the word, “Yes!”

“I might have gone and done this thing,” he went on, “without
saying a word to you; but that, too, would have seemed to me
dishonorable. So I come to you, Ada, and I tell you frankly how it
stands with me. I have come to say good-bye. We shall meet again,
often, I trust, for I could not bear to think that you were going
to pass out of my life altogether. We shall meet as friends--the
truest friends--but I shall never be able to speak a word of love
to you. I must not even convey it by a glance or a touch.”

Her head sunk, and his hand went out to its wealth of gold, but he
wisely drew it back.

“Do you think,” he said, “that I have acted wisely, or unwisely,
and perhaps cruelly, in coming to you and telling you this? If so,
I will ask you to forgive me, and not to think unkindly of me, now
that we are really parting forever.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” she said. He could only just hear
her voice. “I have known all along how it must be; that the day,
the hour, would come when you would have to leave me. It has not
kept me from--from loving you, Trafford, but it has helped me to
bear the parting as I bear it now.”

There was a pause, during which he fought hard for self-control;
then she said:

“Is--is there any one you have thought of--chosen?”

“You speak as if I had only to choose.”

“And have you not?” she said. “Tell me who it is, for I see there
is some one.”

He bit his lip.

“Miss Chetwynde!” he said, under his breath.

Her bosom heaved, and the blood rushed to her face. She rose, and
moved away from him. She could bear to talk of his marriage in the
abstract, but when it came to the actual woman, she felt the steel
driven home.

“That girl!” she said. “A girl from the wilds; a nobody; a vulgar
parvenue!” Her hands were clinched to her side; her breath came
fast; her blue eyes flashed like fire.

He stood looking at her under his knit brows in silence. What could
he say? She laughed hysterically.

“I beg your pardon!” she said, bitterly. “It is scarcely respectful
to speak of the future marchioness, the future Duchess of Belfayre,
in such terms. Besides, she has so much money--what is it?--two
millions? That atones for all. It would gild that beggar-woman in
the street there! And she is beautiful, too! Yes; you have chosen
well, but--oh, my God! it is hard to bear!” She sunk into a chair,
and covered her face with her hands.

He went and knelt beside her, and touched her arm entreatingly. She
sprung to her feet, and away from him.

“Don’t touch me!” she panted. “I could not bear that. I know it
can not be helped--that you must do this thing--and I will not say
a word: more, I will help you!” She drew herself up, and extended
her arms. “Yes, I will help you! You shall have this girl and her
two millions. You will save Belfayre; but, Trafford, you will be
miserable! I know it! You will tire of her before you have lived
with her a month. She will make you suffer agonies of wounded
pride; you will be ashamed of her; you are ashamed of her now! But
it must be! I know--I know! Don’t touch me; don’t come near me!
I would rather die than let you see me cry, and I should be weak
enough to cry if you said one word, laid so much as the tip of your
finger upon me! Go!”

He stood looking at her for a moment, his face as white as hers.
He even took a step toward her: but she put out her hand, with a
gesture almost imperial, and he took up his hat and went.



CHAPTER XIII.


Trafford went straight from Eaton Square to his club. He had had
the worst quarter of an hour in his life, and felt extremely
unhappy, and as if he were a brute and a monster of the cruelest
type. And yet he knew that he had done the right thing, and he
tried to console himself with the reflection that he had behaved
as became a gentleman and a man of honor; but Ada Lancing’s face,
lined with agony, and her voice broken and wailing, haunted him.

He went into the smoking-room of the Marlborough and lighted a
cigar--that solatium of the angry, the wounded, the wearied, and
the sore oppressed. He had not been there five minutes before a
young friend entered and hailed him with sprightly welcome. He
was a wild young Irish viscount, Lord Dunworthy, who was rapidly
running through a fortune which he had recently inherited, and
enjoying life as only a young Irishman can. He was the gossip of
the club, and Trafford usually liked to listen to his light-hearted
chatter; but he could have dispensed with it this afternoon.

“Halloo, Trafford!” said the young fellow. “I’m in luck! Who’d have
thought of seeing you here at this time of day! Have a whisky and
soda? I’m going to!”

Trafford declined the proffered drink, and Lord Dunworthy swiftly
consumed his, and sat himself down beside Trafford for a talk. He
retailed the gossip of the day, but suddenly broke off to exclaim:

“I say, Trafford, were you at the Blankyres’ the other night?”

Trafford nodded.

“I didn’t go; I wish I had, for I should have seen the heiress they
are all talking about. She was at the Fletchers’ last night, but
I got there too late, and she’d gone before I arrived. Is she as
beautiful as they say she is?”

“Do you mean Miss Chetwynde?” asked Trafford, gravely.

“Of course! Nobody’s talking of any one else. They tell me that she
created a tremendous sensation at the Blankyres’; and last night,
at the Fletchers’, there was such a mob round her that you couldn’t
get near her. And did you see ‘Society Chatter’ this morning?”

Trafford said that he never read the paper.

“Ah! not much in your line! Well, there’s nearly a page about her.
It gives a full account of how she was found out in Australia, and
an exhaustive description of her dresses. They say she’s worth two
millions, and that she’s one of the most charming girls that ever
came to London. She’s going to be the rage this season, you mark my
words. Is it true that she drops her h’s, and otherwise murders the
Queen’s English?”

“It is not true,” said Trafford, rather grimly, and angry with
himself for feeling angry.

“No? Not that it matters. I suppose it’s all right about the coin?”

“I don’t know; I believe so!” said Trafford. “I know nothing of
Miss Chetwynde; and I only talked with her for a few minutes. I
didn’t ask her if she possessed two millions.”

The young fellow looked at him with some little surprise; Trafford
was not usually short-tempered or irritable.

“All right, old chap; didn’t mean anything offensive; didn’t know
she was a friend of yours.”

“I can lay no claim to Miss Chetwynde’s friendship,” said Trafford,
trying to smile.

“That’s all right. I shall see her myself to-night; she is going to
the Villiers’, and you bet I sha’n’t be late this time. They say
that Lady Wyndover is in the seventh heaven of delight at having
such a ward, and that no one less than a prince of the blood will
be good enough for her. Shall you go to-night?”

“I don’t know,” said Trafford.

“Do!” said the young fellow. “There’ll be a fearful crush, for Miss
Chetwynde will be a great attraction; but I dare say we can fight
our way in.”

Trafford was soon left alone again, for the gay young Irishman
did not find him too cheerful a companion, and Trafford finished
his cigar in a mood even more irritable than that in which he had
commenced it.

It seemed to him as if this girl were going to dominate his life,
as if he were to be haunted by her name and her money wherever he
went and whomsoever he met. He dined at the club, and the two or
three men who sat at the same table with him talked of little else
but Miss Chetwynde. One of them, with the audacity of youth, called
her the Golden Savage; and Trafford sat almost silent, and chafing
inwardly, though outwardly as calm and serene as usual. He went
home to his chambers half resolved not to go to the Villiers’, but
by ten o’clock the faint resolution had melted, and he put on his
overcoat, and sauntered down to Lord Villiers’ official residence,
in Carlton Terrace, in a frame of mind more easily imagined than
described.

About the same time, Lady Wyndover and Esmeralda were starting for
the same destination. Her ladyship was, if not in a seventh heaven
of delight, in the fifth or sixth. Esmeralda’s success had been
greater, more emphatic than even Lady Wyndover had anticipated,
and she was basking in something of the glory which shone around
her ward. As the guardian of one of the most beautiful, and the
richest, and, what is more important still, the most successful of
the débutantes, Lady Wyndover had suddenly risen from a position
of comparative insignificance to one of great social value. There
would now be no difficulty in filling her dinner-parties; there
would be plenty of invitations to the best houses; plenty of
partners, plenty of adulation and eager civility.

She was all in a little flutter of excitement, and the blood
mantled in her powdered cheek, making the artistically applied
rouge almost unnecessary, as she watched Esmeralda going through
the last stages of her toilet under Barker’s experienced hands.

Every hour of the day her study of the girl grew more intense in
its interest. She had never seen any girl like her, and Esmeralda’s
manner and conduct completely upset all her preconceived theories.
She had expected the girl to be confused, bewildered, overwhelmed
by the novelty of her position. She had expected her to be
painfully shy at times, and over-bold at others; but Esmeralda,
though she had been suddenly plunged from the wilds of Australia
into the whirlpool of society, seemed neither bewildered nor
overwhelmed. She was not even shy; and, judging by her calmness,
was not even dazzled by the sudden brilliance into which she had
been thrust. And, strange to say, Lady Wyndover had actually
overheard a certain illustrious personage, whose name may not be
mentioned, describe Miss Chetwynde as “good form.”

Since the Blankyres’ party, Esmeralda had been receiving dancing
lessons from a famous professor; and the famous professor had
declared, with something like enthusiasm, that he had never had a
more apt pupil. Although the lessons had been so few, Esmeralda,
by dint of many hours’ practice, had acquired sufficient knowledge
of the Lancers and the simple waltz to be able to accept a partner
without any very serious misgivings.

She had also learned other things; but there was one thing that
Lady Wyndover could not teach her--she would not discriminate
between nobodies and somebodies; she was frank and pleasant with
one and all, and smiled upon the veriest detrimental--especially if
he were good-looking and agreeable--as freely as she did upon the
most noble of the innumerable persons who were introduced to her.
Esmeralda was, at any rate as yet, no respecter of persons. But
Lady Wyndover hoped that this would come in time.

Esmeralda, on this evening, wore the second of her ball-dresses,
and as Lady Wyndover declared, Madame Cerise’s taste had never
been employed to better advantage. The dress was still too low to
altogether please Esmeralda, but as she knew by her two nights’
experience that there were many still lower, she submitted. Their
arrival at Lady Villiers’ created quite a little sensation. The
well-dressed mob in a London ball-room does not shout or wave its
handkerchief, but it can stare and whisper together; and in this,
and in several other ways, it displayed its curiosity and interest.
Esmeralda was very soon surrounded, and her card would have been
filled up to the last item, but she reserved several spaces,
notwithstanding the ardent protests which assailed her.

It was a much more brilliant ball than Lady Blankyre’s, and was
semi-political in its character, for Lord Villiers was in the
Cabinet, and there were members of both Houses present, with
their belongings. As Esmeralda whirled round the room with a tall
guardsman, she was almost inclined to believe that the whole thing
was a dream; or that Three Star camp was a dream, and this the
reality into which she had awakened. She had just got through the
Lancers very creditably, and with that coolness which is born from
perfect self-consciousness, when Lord Trafford entered. She noticed
that he looked pale and tired, and as if he were anything but glad
to be there; and she wondered why he had come. He stood for some
time talking to Lord Villiers, and with his eyes bent on the floor,
but suddenly he raised them, and caught her direct, speculative
gaze. He bowed, and Esmeralda returned the greeting with her frank
smile.

Her face was a little flushed with the dance, her eyes were glowing
with a young girl’s delight in the rhythmical movement, the soft
music, the brilliant scene. He could not deny her beauty, but he
sighed as he thought of Ada Lancing, with her strained face and
pain-stricken eyes. He did not go up to Esmeralda at once, and it
was nearly an hour later when she found him by her side.

“You have been dancing, Miss Chetwynde, I see,” he said. “Have you
a dance to give me, or am I too late?”

He held out his hand for her card, and after a moment’s hesitation
she gave it to him.

“I am not engaged for all,” she said; “but I ought to tell you
that I don’t dance very well. I’ve been practicing for hours at a
time since I saw you last, but I’m very uncertain still; sometimes
I lose the step, if my partner goes too fast, and then there’s
trouble. I think you’d better ask some other lady to dance; you’ll
enjoy it more; besides,” she added, naïvely, “you look tired, and
as if you’d rather rest.” Her simplicity and appalling candor made
him smile.

“What are you laughing at?” she asked.

“You have courage of all kinds,” he said. “To look tired is one of
the unpardonable sins. Will you give me this next dance?”

“Yes; but don’t go too fast, please.”

He put his arm round her, and they started. Trafford danced
as he did most things, perfectly; and he had no difficulty in
accommodating his step to her, now and again, uncertain one.

“We are getting on very well,” he said.

“Yes, that’s because you are taking such care to keep my step,” she
said, shrewdly. “I can go a little faster, if you like.”

It seemed to him like dancing with a young school-girl, perfectly
frank, and almost boyish. Somehow, he found, rather to his
surprise, that he was enjoying it. When the music ceased she drew a
little breath of enjoyment.

“That was delicious,” she said. “I don’t wonder at people looking
so happy at balls! But isn’t it hot?”

“Let us find a cool place,” he said. “You are engaged for this next
dance, are you not?”

“Yes, I am; but if the gentleman comes, I’ll tell him that I’m too
hot.”

“And he’ll go and shoot himself,” said Trafford, with a laugh.

“Will he?” said Esmeralda. “Now, in Three Star he’d have shot you.”

“Three Star?” asked Trafford.

“The place where I lived,” said Esmeralda, hastily.

He saw that she did not desire to give any further explanation, and
he led her on to a balcony. On his way he found her wrap, and as
they stood looking into the green park that lay beneath them, he
put the wrap round her shoulders. Esmeralda leaned on the rails,
and looked down with half-parted lips and thoughtful eyes.

“This is nice,” she said. “The air is so cool, and the trees
look so green and fresh down there.” She leaned over the rail
still further, and looked down, and watched the passers-by on the
pavement below. Some of them paused a moment to listen to the
music, some smiled, and a few glanced at the brilliantly lighted
windows with a scowl.

“How they must wish that they were here,” she said, musingly.

Trafford had been looking at her, but as she spoke he came to her
side and leaned over with her.

“What a lot of poor people there are in London,” she said; “and how
they must hate us who have everything they haven’t got. It doesn’t
seem fair. Now, why should you and I be beautifully dressed, and
be dancing here while these poor people are trudging alone with,
perhaps, not enough clothes to wear or food to eat?”

“Were there no poor people at Three Star, the place you came from?”
he asked, amused by her socialism.

“Oh, yes,” she said; “but we were all together alike. It didn’t
matter whether you were rich or poor; besides, you might be poor
one day and rich the next; that was the fun of it. Now, these poor
people can never be rich; there’s no gold for them to find. Look at
that woman there--see, she’s just coming along--how thin and pale
she looks, and cold, too, though it’s a warm night; she is hungry,
I’m certain; I know the look! I should like to bring her in and
take her in to that great supper-room, and make her eat as much as
she could, and give her plenty of champagne!”

He watched her face curiously.

“I wonder whether she’d be angry if I gave her some money? Perhaps
she’s got some children at home as hungry as she is!”

“It’s not unlikely,” he said.

“You think so?” she said, quickly. “I must give her something!”
She felt round her dress hurriedly; then uttered an exclamation of
impatience and disappointment. “I forgot!” she said; “these stupid
dresses never have pockets. Give me some money; quick!”

Trafford felt in his pocket; but his man, in changing his master’s
clothes, had forgotten to transfer the money.

“I’m sorry!” he said; “I haven’t any.”

“Bother!” she exclaimed. “I can’t be happy any more to-night if I
don’t give her something.” She stamped her foot. “Can’t you get
some? Oh, she’ll be passed before you get back!” The woman was
almost beneath them. Esmeralda, with a little cry of relief,
unfastened one of her bracelets, and bending over the rail,
called softly to the woman. The woman looked up with a little
start, and her face flushed nervously as she saw the girl, in her
exquisite dress, looking down at her. Esmeralda nodded, and smiled
encouragingly, held out the bracelet as far as her extended arm
would allow, then, with a “This is for you!” dropped it at the
woman’s feet. The woman started back slightly, then stood stock
still, as if amazed.

“It’s for you--for _you_!” said Esmeralda. “Pick it up!”

For a moment or two the woman was unable to grasp the good fortune
that had befallen her--literally befallen her; then she picked up
the bracelet that had rolled into the gutter, stared at it, gazed
up at Esmeralda, and, as Esmeralda nodded smilingly, and called
down, “Yes, it’s for you; you are to keep it,” the woman’s face
broke up, as it were, and she burst into tears, caused as much by
the shock as appreciation and gratitude for the gift. Her lips
moved, and both Esmeralda and Trafford felt that she was saying,
“God bless you.” She stood for a moment or two, then hurried on,
but at the corner they saw her stop for a moment or two, and look
back at them, as if she had not as yet even realized what had
happened. Esmeralda turned to Trafford with a laugh, her eyes
sparkling, her face and manner very much indeed like a school-girl.

“I wonder what she will do with it?” she said; “I hope she’ll sell
it at once, and give those children a splendid supper; you said
there were children, you know.”

“Yes,” he said. “You have made two women happy to-night, Miss
Chetwynde.”

“Two?” she said, with surprise. “Oh, I see; you mean myself? Yes;
somehow I do feel happy. I should have been miserable thinking of
that woman’s pale face--and the children, too.”

“Wasn’t it rather a costly gift?” he said. “I noticed that the
bracelet was a handsome one.”

She looked at her arm.

“It was only a plain gold one,” she laughed. “It was your fault;
you ought to have had some money.”

“It was,” he admitted; “and I must atone for it. I must buy you
another.”

He spoke half in jest, half in earnest.

“No, don’t, please,” she said, quite simply; “I’ve too many
already. It takes Lady Wyndover and me half an hour to decide which
I’m to wear. As if it mattered!”

“You don’t care?” he asked.

“No,” she said; “I liked them when they first came home; but I
think they look prettier in the jeweler’s cases than anywhere else.”

“You would not find many persons to agree with you,” he said.

She took the compliment as coolly as if he had remarked that it was
a fine evening.

“Would you like to go back now?” he asked.

“In a minute,” she replied, calmly. “It is beautiful out here, and
it makes me think of the country, as you Londoners call places
outside.”

“You miss the country, as we Londoners call it?” he said.

“Yes, sometimes,” she replied, very softly--“when I’ve time to
think; but that isn’t often, it’s all such a whirl. It’s only when
I’m lying awake that I think of Australia, and sometimes wish
myself back. And then Barker comes in--that’s my maid--and tells me
I must dress; and that we’ve got to go here, there, and everywhere;
to buy this and that and everything; and all day there’s no time to
think.”

He leaned with his back against the rail, and looked at her
thoughtfully. Now, the lovely face was as pensive as that of a
child. The charm of her utter self-unconsciousness, and ignorance
of pose, and absence of straining after effect, was stealing over
him; and when she said, “Now we’ll go in,” he started slightly,
and, with something like reluctance, took her hand upon his arm
and led her back to the ball-room. As they entered they found
themselves face to face with Lady Ada. She was with her partner
in the last dance. The two couples stopped, and Trafford found
himself, perhaps for the first time in his life, bereft of the
power of speech. Lady Ada was very pale, and there were faint
shadows under the blue eyes. He saw her lips tighten and the lids
droop, as if she were wincing; then she recovered herself almost
instantly, and, with a smile, as she returned his bow, said:

“Will you introduce me to Miss Chetwynde, Lord Trafford?”

Her partner bowed himself off, and the three were left alone.

Trafford made the introduction.

“But you have met Miss Chetwynde before, Lady Ada,” he said; “she
is the lady who came to our rescue in the park the other day.”

A flush rose to Lady Ada’s face, then died away, leaving it paler
than before.

“It was stupid and ungrateful of me not to remember you the other
night,” she said. “Will you forgive me, Miss Chetwynde, and let me
thank you again? I know you saved me from what might have been a
very serious accident.”

There was no trace of her usual coldness and hauteur in her voice
and manner; and when these were absent, Lady Ada was a very
charming person indeed. By a look she indicated to Trafford that
she wished him to leave her and Esmeralda together.

He hesitated a moment; he remembered Lady Ada’s words, “I will help
you,” and he wondered what she was going to say to Esmeralda--what
she was going to do. The fact of these two women being together, as
if they were friends, was repugnant to him. However, he did what
every man must do under such circumstances--obey. With a grim look
on his face, he went.



CHAPTER XIV.


Lady Ada and Esmeralda seated themselves on a lounge within view of
the room, and Esmeralda looked openly at the exquisite woman beside
her. Not only openly, but with frank admiration. Lady Ada bore the
inspection with languid serenity. The girl was a savage, and her
gaucheries must be endured, if she, Lady Ada, were to fulfill her
promise, and “help” Trafford to obtain this two millions. She saw,
without looking, that Esmeralda was perfectly dressed, and that her
beauty was more marked in its freshness and unconventionality even
than it had been when Ada had last seen her. This made her task all
the harder, and her heart swelled with bitterness as she leaned
back in graceful ease, looking as if she were interested only in
the crowd about her. At last she spoke.

“I have been hearing a great deal about you, Miss Chetwynde,” she
said.

“Yes?” said Esmeralda; and her coolness and absence of vanity made,
strangely enough, Lady Ada’s dislike more vivid.

“I am afraid that you think our curiosity extremely rude and
vulgar. But you see we have, after all, so few new sensations in
London, that we welcome any one with so romantic a history as
yours.”

“Is it romantic?” said Esmeralda. “You mean, like a story? Well, I
should have thought there wasn’t anything very curious about it.
Yes, people do stare, and I’ve seen things people print about me
in the paper. It seems a lot of fuss about one girl, when there
are such heaps here. But if it amuses them, I don’t mind; I suppose
they’ll get tired of it before long, and find some one else to make
a fuss about.”

“It is not unlikely,” said Lady Ada. “And I suppose you are
enjoying your new life very much? I thought you were looking very
happy just now when I saw you with Lord Trafford.”

It was a piece of insolent impertinence; but Esmeralda did not
detect it, disguised as it was by a smile.

“Oh, yes, I am happy!” she said. “As you say, it’s all new to me,
and everybody is very kind. Everybody asks me if I am happy.”

“Does Lord Trafford?” asked Ada, as if she could not help herself.

“I don’t remember,” said Esmeralda, innocently; “but he’s very
kind; I like him.”

Lady Ada’s fan moved more quickly.

“I am not surprised at that,” she said, beginning on her hateful
task. “Lord Trafford is one of the nicest men in London, and is
kindness itself. I am a very old friend of his; we have known each
other a great many years, and are like”--she paused a moment, and
caught her breath--“like brother and sister. I admire him very
much.”

“Yes, he is very handsome,” said Esmeralda, as coolly as before.

Lady Ada’s lips twitched.

“And he is as good as he looks, as the books say. There is not a
man in the room who can do the things men do as well as he can.”

Esmeralda thought of The Rosebud’s eulogies, and said, absently:

“So I’ve heard.”

“Yes,” said Lady Ada, “he is a conspicuous figure in London
society--indeed, everywhere--one of our great men; and one day he
will be greater--he will be a duke.”

She spoke as if she were speaking to a child.

“Yes, I know,” said Esmeralda, indifferently. “Every one seems to
be a duke or an earl, or something with a handle to his name.”

“I suppose that you are surprised he isn’t married?” said Lady Ada,
loathing herself as she spoke.

“I never thought of it,” said Esmeralda; “I suppose he hasn’t found
any one he likes.”

It was an innocent thrust, but it went home.

“I suppose not,” said Ada. “Some day he will meet the lady who is
fated to be his wife. She will be a very lucky person, don’t you
think?”

“I don’t know,” said Esmeralda. “Yes, I suppose so.”

Lady Ada looked round the room, and smiled half bitterly.

“You are so delightfully innocent, Miss Chetwynde,” she said, “that
in talking to you one feels like a serpent in the garden of Eden,
and I feel almost ashamed to say what I was going to say.”

“What was that?” asked Esmeralda.

“That there is not a girl in this room who would not be half mad
with delight if Lord Trafford were to ask her to be his wife.”

“But they can’t all be in love with him!” said Esmeralda, after a
moment’s consideration of this startling assertion.

Lady Ada leaned back wearily. Her task was harder than she had
thought it would be--seemed well-nigh hopeless.

“Perhaps not,” she said; “but they are one and all in love with his
title--with his position. It is a great thing to be the Duchess of
Belfayre.”

“Is it?” said Esmeralda. “I dare say it is, if you say so. I don’t
know anything about it; but I dare say I shall learn in time.”

Lady Ada laughed with barely concealed impatience and scorn.

“I am so glad we have met, Miss Chetwynde,” she said; “for in
addition to the gratitude which I owe you, I feel that we shall be
great friends--that is, if you care for my friendship.”

“Oh, yes,” said Esmeralda, “it is very kind of you.”

“You must come and see me,” said Lady Ada. “Ask Lady Wyndover to
bring you as soon as she can; and you must tell me all--all your
difficulties. Things must seem so strange to you, just at first,
and perhaps I can help you.”

As she spoke, Trafford came up with Lady Wyndover on his arm.

“Will you hold my bouquet a moment, Lord Trafford?” said Lady Ada;
“I have torn my dress.”

As they drew a little apart, and she bent down to examine her
train, she said in a low voice:

“You see I am keeping my promise.”

“I see. I am sorry. Let it alone,” he said.

“She is a block of wood--a stone!” she murmured. “You will have
hard work to secure her. You will never do it, meeting her only in
places like this. Take them for a drive to-morrow. Get her alone
with you.”

He frowned darkly.

“Why do you trouble?” he said, almost harshly. “It is--”

“Despicable,” she filled in. “I know it. Do you think I don’t feel
it--that I don’t know that I am earning your contempt? That’s a
woman’s portion when she sacrifices herself for the man she-- You
would have thought more highly of me if I had made a scene--loaded
you with reproaches, and cut you for the rest of my life. Most
women would have acted thus; but it is my ill-fortune to care for
you, not wisely, but too well.”

“Let it alone,” he said again. “You mean well, and I am not
ungrateful; but you make my task harder instead of easier. You make
me feel ashamed. Will you dance with me?”

“If you like,” she said, resignedly.

They had often danced together, and they moved as one. Esmeralda
watched them with admiration that was not untinged by faint envy.
Every now and then Trafford felt Ada’s hand grip his spasmodically,
and presently she drooped upon him heavily.

“That will do,” she said, with a long sigh; “I am tired. Take me to
Lady Grange; I want to go home.”

Trafford saw them to their carriage, and then returned to the
ball-room; but he could not have got near Esmeralda again if he had
desired to do so, for when she was not dancing she was surrounded
by men who were more eager to pay their court to her than the
Marquis of Trafford was. She saw him from a distance before he
left, and wondered whether he would come to her again, and she was
conscious of a slight feeling of disappointment that he did not do
so. He was the handsomest--the most distinguished man in the room,
in a way. And Esmeralda was--just a girl.

Lady Wyndover, who had not been unobservant, and who was thrilling
with satisfaction at Trafford’s attention to her ward, talked of
him nearly all the way home; but Esmeralda was very silent, and
only answered in monosyllables; but she thought of him a great deal
that night.

The following afternoon she was sitting alone in the drawing-room,
Lady Wyndover having gone out, when Lord Trafford was announced.
He came in, looking rather grave and very aristocratic in his long
frock coat. Esmeralda greeted him with her usual frankness.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Lady Wyndover is out; she has gone to the
milliner’s. I am rather tired of buying hats and bonnets, and so
I stayed at home. Will you have some tea--I was just going to ring
for it--or don’t you take tea?”

Trafford said he would take some tea, and it was brought in. He
seated himself in a lounge chair, and watched her as she poured
out the tea. She was not in the least shy, not in the least
embarrassed, and she asked him if he took sugar, as if she had
known him all her life. He noticed that she looked particularly
young and girlish in her plain afternoon dress, and that her hands,
which he saw for the first time without their gloves, were, though
brown, small and shapely. He noticed, too, how long and dark her
lashes were, and that the beauty which he had remarked in the
ball-room did not wane in the daylight; indeed, she looked even
more charming. A book was lying on the couch beside her, and he
took it up. It was a book of adventure, plentifully illustrated.

“Are you fond of reading?” he asked.

She hesitated a moment.

“I don’t know; it all depends upon the book. I haven’t read much,
for there weren’t many books at Three Star, and I haven’t had time
since I have been in London; and most of the books I see here are
so silly. I like that one.”

She began to tell him what it was about, and for a moment lost
herself in her description. Once or twice she laughed, and Trafford
thought her laugh was a very pleasant and musical one.

“It’s full of adventure,” she said, “and all sorts of terrible
things happen to the man--enough to kill ten men out of a book--but
he gets through them all in a most wonderful manner. And he’s
always saving some girl, and shooting some man; but the man who
wrote it doesn’t seem to know the difference between a rifle and an
ordinary gun--he ought to have lived in Three Star--but it isn’t
bad.”

“You are fond of adventure?” he said. “You like riding and driving?”

“Oh, yes,” she said; “and so do you, don’t you?”

He looked rather surprised at her knowledge of his tastes.

“Who told you that?” he asked.

She was on the point of telling him about Lord Norman Bruce; but
something kept her silent, and for the first time since he had
known her she looked embarrassed; then her woman’s wit came to her
aid.

“Most men do, don’t they?” she said.

“Yes, I suppose so,” he assented, wondering at her momentary
hesitation and confusion. “I’m afraid you’ve not had much of
either since you’ve been in London. Do you think Lady Wyndover
would care for a drive into the country? If so, I will bring a mail
phaeton round some afternoon.”

“I should think she would like it, if it were warm, and she could
get some tea. I think Lady Wyndover would die if she didn’t get
some tea in the afternoon. I’ll tell her when she comes in.”

“And you, of course?” said Trafford.

She opened her eyes upon him, and they glowed with girlish pleasure.

“Me?” she said. “Oh! that’s very kind of you. I should like it
awfully. I only go for a drive in the carriage, and it’s hot and
stuffy, and makes me feel as if I couldn’t breathe.”

“You’ll be able to breathe in the phaeton,” he said, with a smile.
“Shall we say to-morrow, if we can induce Lady Wyndover to go?”

“Yes, to-morrow!” she said, eagerly. “And we shall go into the real
country, away from all these houses?”

“Into the real country,” he said. “And we need not go very far. But
I can’t promise you anything like Australia.”

“Ah, no!” she said, with a little pensive look in her eyes; “there
is nothing like that.”

“Tell me about it,” he said, invitingly; and he drew her out as an
experienced man of the world can so easily do when he is dealing
with an unsophisticated girl. But, though Esmeralda talked of
the gold digging, the wild camps, the broad valleys, the lofty
mountains, the intense heat--in short, the place that had been home
to her--she mentioned no names; only alluded to Varley Howard as
her guardian, and said absolutely nothing of Norman Druce.

Trafford leaned back and listened to her, and watched the play of
her expressive countenance with a strange mixture of sensations.
Her evident affection for her old home, her natural eloquence--for
there was eloquence in her description--charmed him, and only now
and again was he repelled by some word or phrase which, though they
were softened by the musical voice and innocence of the speaker,
reminded him that she was a waif from the wilds. His manner toward
her was gravely deferential and gentle, and that, on its side, had
a charm for Esmeralda. Without knowing it she began to understand
why Norman Druce had been so enthusiastic in his laudations of this
cousin of his.

Lady Wyndover, coming in suddenly, found the two looking over a
volume of prints, and laughing together quite unreservedly; and her
ladyship heartily wished that she had remained out another half
hour. Trafford grew grave again at her entrance, and repeated his
invitation for the drive in more formal terms.

Lady Wyndover accepted at once, though the mere prospect of driving
in an open carriage filled her with horror.

“We shall be delighted, dear Lord Trafford,” she said. “And I’m
sure you couldn’t have given this girl a greater treat. She is
always wailing and moaning for what she calls the open air.” She
laid her hand on Esmeralda’s head as she spoke, and Trafford
noticed the red-gold hair contrasted with Lady Wyndover’s white
paw. Perhaps her ladyship intended him to notice it.

“You and Lord Trafford appear to be excellent friends, my dear,”
she said, when he had gone.

“Oh, yes,” said Esmeralda, as she took up her book. “He is very
pleasant and agreeable.” And, though Lady Wyndover tried to coax
something more out of her, she failed.

Esmeralda seemed absorbed in her book, and to have quite forgotten
Lord Trafford as soon as he departed.

They met again that night at a reception, and Trafford spent some
time talking with her. It is scarcely necessary to say that they
were watched, and a whisper went round that the Marquis of Trafford
was for the first time “serious,” and that he had marked the Golden
Savage for his own.

The following afternoon, at the hour appointed, he drove the mail
phaeton up to the door, and Esmeralda, who had been quite ready
five minutes before the time, clapped her hands, and uttered an
exclamation of delight as she saw the pair of splendid horses.

“I don’t know whether you mind not having a groom,” said Trafford,
as she and Lady Wyndover came out; “but mine has hurt his leg, and
I hate having a strange man.”

Lady Wyndover said she didn’t mind in the least, and she insisted
on his putting her in the back seat. “I’d rather Esmeralda rode in
front,” she said. “If I can see the horses I am always under the
impression they are going to bolt; besides, if there’s any wind,
you’ll shelter me.”

Esmeralda climbed up to the front seat without any assistance from
Trafford, and they drove off. He glanced at her. She wore a neat
little felt hat and a sealskin jacket, and she looked, even to his
critical eyes, perfectly dressed and workman-like.

“I am going to take you to a place called Shirley,” he said. “It
is wonderfully wild, and there will be a splendid view, if it isn’t
misty.”

“All right,” said Esmeralda. “I shall like that. But I don’t care
where we go. Those are good horses!” They drove on, chatting
together, Trafford turning now and again to exchange a word with
Lady Wyndover, till they had got on the Surrey road; and up to
then, all went merry as a marriage-bell; but suddenly the sky grew
overcast, and the day grew colder, and Lady Wyndover drew her furs
about her, and shuddered.

Trafford, looking round suddenly, saw her misery, and said,
penitently:

“I’m afraid you are getting cold, Lady Wyndover!”

“Oh, no!” she said, with a smile that would have done credit to a
martyr. “Is--is the place we are going to much further?”

“Well, it is a little further,” he said. “Shall we turn back?”

Lady Wyndover would not hear of this, and Trafford, out of sheer
pity for her, drew up at the inn at West Wickham.

“We’ll get some tea here,” he said. They went into the inn, and
he ordered some tea. There was, fortunately, a fire in the room,
and Lady Wyndover thawed over her beloved beverage; but Esmeralda
looked from the window with an air of disappointment.

“I don’t think much of this for a view,” she said.

“Oh! Shirley is a little further on,” said Trafford. Lady Wyndover
looked up from the fire at which she was toasting her toes.

“Why shouldn’t you two go on there?” she said, presently.
“Esmeralda will never be satisfied unless she goes up to the top of
this dreadful mountain. I shall be quite happy here until you come
back, and nothing will induce me to go.”

Trafford looked doubtful, and hesitated, but he happened to glance
at Esmeralda’s face, and it decided him. He went out and ordered
the horses, and they started. As they climbed the hill, Esmeralda
drew a long breath.

“I believe this is the first time I’ve breathed since I’ve been in
London,” she said. “Oh! how beautiful it is! Look at those tall
firs. Why, one might be a hundred miles from London. What’s that
great, shining place on the hill behind us?”

“That’s the Crystal Palace,” he said. “Fancy your not knowing that!”

“I don’t know anything,” she said, with a laugh. They reached the
summit. “Those _are_ good horses of yours,” she said, again; “they
seem as fresh as when they started.”

“Would you like to drive?” he asked, catching a tone of eagerness
in her voice.

“May I?” she said.

He changed places with her, and she took the reins and the whip
in true coachman-like fashion; and she laughed, and her eyes
flashed, and her lips parted, as she drove the splendid bays along
the top of the hill; and Trafford looked at her, and the sense of
her beauty and her youth smote him for the first time in all its
fullness.

She seemed quite unconscious of his presence--certainly quite
unconscious of his gaze--as she sat, straight as an arrow, holding
the high-spirited horses in complete control. Presently it began to
rain. She did not notice it; but he leaned over to the back of the
phaeton, and fished up a capacious ulster of Irish frieze.

“Put this on,” he said.

“I don’t want it,” she said. “I’m all right!”

“What would Lady Wyndover say if I took you back soaking wet? Pull
up for a moment, and stand up.”

She stood up. He spoke a word to the horses, and brought them to a
standstill, and put the ulster round her; but, capacious as it was,
he found some difficulty in coaxing it over the sealskin jacket.
He was very close to her; his arm, so to speak, went round her. He
could feel her breath upon his cheek.

It has been said more than once that Esmeralda was one of the
loveliest daughters of Eve; Trafford was a son of Adam. The blood
surged tumultuously in his veins, his arms tightened round her, and
he whispered her name.

Esmeralda, all unconscious of the emotion that was making his heart
beat fiercely, was looking at the horses--they were under her care;
but the sudden pressure of his arm, the inaudible whisper, startled
her into consciousness to his close proximity. She turned her eyes
upon him, and met his gaze, and wonder, surprise, dawned slowly
into them.

“Miss Chetwynde--Esmeralda!” he said. “Forgive me!”

Esmeralda put him gently away from her, and taking up the reins,
seated herself, and waited; for, innocent as she was, she felt that
he was going to say something more.



CHAPTER XV.


Esmeralda waited. She was startled, but not frightened; she did
not forget that the horses were under her care, and she held
them firmly, and looked straight between their ears. The healthy
paleness of her face had flushed, but the color had gone again; the
long lashes veiled her eyes.

It was some time before Trafford spoke again; it seemed a long
time even to him. His own action and his own words had surprised
him almost as much as they had surprised Esmeralda; he was full of
remorse, for it seemed to him that he had taken advantage of her
youth and innocence and had acted and spoken as he would not have
done if she had been a girl of his own class and set. At last he
said in a grave voice:

“I have frightened you?”

“No, I am not frightened,” said Esmeralda, simply.

“I ought not to have done--said--what I did. I deserve that you
should be very angry with me. Are you?”

“I don’t know,” said Esmeralda; and she wondered whether she ought
to be.

“It was unpardonable,” he said. “And I do not deserve that you
should listen to what I have to say. But I hope you will.”

He paused. It was not easy to say what he wanted to say. He was
going to ask her to be his wife, and was going to do so without
saying that he loved her. For Trafford hated a lie--even to a woman.

“Miss Chetwynde,” he said,“we have known each other a very little
while; how many times is it that we have met?”

“Ten,” said Esmeralda, promptly but quietly.

“Only for a few weeks. Of me you can know scarcely anything, and
what I am going to ask you will seem to you presumptuous. I did not
mean to speak to you to-day--so soon, but I have done that which
makes it necessary that I should speak at once. Miss Chetwynde,
will you be my wife?”

Esmeralda did not drop the reins, did not remove her eyes from the
horses, but the blood rushed to her face, and her lips parted as if
he had deprived her of breath.

He saw that she was startled, and felt that he had been almost
brutal in his suddenness.

“Do not answer me yet,” he said, “for I feel that if you were to
do so, it would be ‘No;’ and I want you to say ‘Yes.’ Shall I take
the horses?”

Esmeralda shook her head.

“Although we have known each other for so short a time, I have
learned to value the prize I am striving for, and I know that if
you will say ‘Yes,’ you will make me very happy; and I will do my
best to make you happy. My whole life shall be devoted to you.”

He paused again. It was hard work, this proposing to a girl without
telling her that you loved her.

“It will be the study of my life to gratify your every wish. I
know that I am quite unworthy of you--that there are many men less
unworthy--but I will do my best to make you happy, if you will
trust yourself to me. I do not ask you if you care for me; that
could scarcely be, seeing how short a time you have known me, but
I will try to win your love, and I hope that I shall succeed. What
will you say?”

Esmeralda’s brows were drawn straight, and her lips closed. She
felt troubled and uncertain. She had only been made love to once
before--but how differently! Her heart was beating fast, for his
words, his voice, made sweet music in her ears.

“I don’t know,” she said, the troubled look more marked in her face.

“Think,” he said. “I can understand how much I have startled you,
and that you should not be ready to give me an answer. What can I
say to persuade you? I will say nothing more about myself; I will
only say that if you will consent to be my wife, you will not only
make me very happy, but all my people. They will be delighted to
welcome you as one of ourselves.”

“Your father?” she said in a low voice.

“My father,” he answered; “my uncle, Selvaine, whom you have seen,
and who likes and admires you very much. There is my cousin,
Lilias, who lives with my father at Belfayre. They will all be very
glad to welcome you. I think you would love my father and Lilias,
and I am sure that they would love you.”

“He is the Duke of Belfayre?” said Esmeralda.

“Yes,” said Trafford, looking at her questioningly.

“Why should he be glad if--if I were to be your wife? He is a great
nobleman, and I--I am a mere nobody. I have learned what that means
since I came to London. Why should he be glad if you married me?
He, and all of them, would feel that you ought to marry some great
lady equal to yourself.”

Trafford looked straight before him. He could not say to her that
her two millions made up for lack of rank and position.

“No,” he said, “they would not wish me to do anything of the kind.
They would think that I was extremely lucky in having won you.”

“You mean,” said Esmeralda, with perfect simplicity, “that you are
all so great and noble that it doesn’t matter how common the person
is you marry?”

It was so true that Trafford winced and colored.

“We are not so arrogant and foolish,” he said. “Believe what I
say--that they will be very glad.”

“They have not seen me,” said Esmeralda.

He smiled.

“If they had, it would have been unnecessary for me to assure you
of their delight and welcome.”

“Why?” said Esmeralda, innocently.

He looked at her, almost asking himself if such
self-unconsciousness could really exist.

“Is there no looking-glass at Lady Wyndover’s?” he asked. “Has no
one told you that you are very beautiful?”

Esmeralda did not blush, and her brows did not relax.

“But there are so many beautiful women,” she said. “I have seen
scores of them in the ball-rooms, great lady friends of yours.
There is Lady Ada Lancing, for instance.”

He winced again.

“But you are not only beautiful,” he said; “you are--charming.
Every one feels that. I felt it the first night we met. My people
would be quick to appreciate it also. My uncle, Selvaine, thinks
you--but I will not tell you what he says of you. He shall tell you
himself. Will you be my wife, Esmeralda?”

She looked from side to side, like a timid animal at bay.

“I do not know what to say!” she said in a very low voice.

“You mean that you do not care for me?” he asked, almost humbly.

She looked at the horses’ ears again, and her lips trembled.

“I am not so presumptuous--so idiotically conceited--as to dream
that you should,” he went on. “But you may care for me in time. All
I will ask you now is that you will try to do so; that you will let
me try to win you for my wife. Will you do that?”

There was a long pause. Though she scarcely realized that he had
not spoken one word of his own love for her, she felt, in the
innocence of her heart, that there was something wanting. He had
asked her to be his wife. He had told her that his great people
would welcome her and love her; but he had not knelt at her feet,
and told her that he loved her, and implored her to love him,
as Norman Druce had done. At that moment the scene by the river
in the moonlight at Three Star rose before her. She was silent
so long that Trafford grew almost anxious. Was she going to say
‘No’--this waif of the wilds? He stretched out his hand, and laid
it pleadingly on her arm.

The blood rose to her face again; his touch moved her more than all
his words had done.

“Well,” he asked, “will you try?”

“Yes,” she replied in a low voice.

He took her left hand from the reins and carried it to his lips. He
felt it tremble as he touched it.

“You have made me very happy,” he said; “I trust that you will soon
make me happier, by telling me that you will be my wife.”

They were silent for a minute or two. A strange feeling took
possession of her. She did not know that she was happier, that
her heart was beating with a subtle joy; but the sky seemed bluer
and brighter, the birds sung more blithely, the sunlight grew
more brilliant, and suffused her with a deeper warmth. His touch
seemed to linger on her arm, and her hand burned where his lips had
pressed it.

“Esmeralda!” he said, presently.

She started lightly, as if he had awakened her from a dream.

“I should like you to see my father and Lilias. Will you go down
and stay with them at Belfayre?”

She was silent a moment.

“Shall I?” she said.

“Yes; do,” he replied. “You will see then that what I have said is
quite true. I should like you to go. I think you would be happy
there. You are always longing for the country, you know.” He smiled.

“I will go if you wish it, and they would like me to?” she said.

“There is no question of that,” he said. “Will you go at once?”

“Yes, if you wish it,” she responded again.

There was another silence. If he had loved her it would have been
so easy to talk; but he did not know what to say, and he could not
make the silence eloquent with caresses.

“You must take your habit with you,” he said; “and I will choose a
horse for you, and I will send down this pair, so that you can ride
and drive as often as you please. We must try and make you happy.”

Esmeralda smiled.

“I am nearly always happy,” she said.

“Yes, I think you are,” he assented in a low voice; and her
innocence smote him with a feeling of guilt and shame--it was as if
he were deceiving a child.

They had turned down a hill, and were approaching West Wickham.
The horses were going at a rattling pace; but he noticed, with an
admiration that he could not withhold, that she kept them in hand
firmly and with perfect ease.

“You drive well,” he said. “You must be very strong.”

His praise brought the light to her eyes.

“I am strong,” she said. “But they are not hard to drive. I have
ridden and driven young colts that get up on their hind legs and
waltz all round the place; these are quite tame. But they are good
horses,” conscientiously. “I’ve never driven a pair so handsome as
this.”

“You shall drive as many as you like,” he said. “I’ll get you a
pair.”

“No, don’t,” she said; “or, if you do, you must let me pay for
them. I’m very rich, you know.” She laughed easily.

He bit his lip, and looked at her. Did she know how poor he was?
But a glance at her face showed him that she spoke quite innocently.

They pulled up at the door of the inn, and he got down. He stood,
with his arms out, to help her alight, and, as he took her hands,
he, half unconsciously, pressed them tightly. She blushed.

They found Lady Wyndover half asleep.

“What a time you’ve been,” she said, rubbing her eyes very
delicately. “I declare, I was nearly dozing! Have you enjoyed
yourself, Esmeralda?”

“Very much,” said Esmeralda, demurely. “It was a lovely view, and
Lord Trafford let me drive.”

Lady Wyndover looked at her curiously. The girl’s face vibrated
strangely; her eyes were bright; her usually ivory-white face had
taken to itself a rose-like flush.

They started.

“Good heavens. Are you going to let Esmeralda drive?” asked Lady
Wyndover.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Trafford. “She can manage them quite as
well as I can.” Lady Wyndover sighed, and wrapped herself in her
furs.

On the way to town Trafford and Esmeralda said little. Both seemed
lost in thought. Every now and then he glanced at her, and her
beauty, so to speak, won upon him. If it had not been for the
remembrance of Ada, with her strained face and anguished eyes,
Esmeralda’s loveliness would have filled him with delight; but he
could not forget the woman who loved him, even in the presence of
this lovely girl whom he had asked to be his wife.

They reached Grosvenor Square, and he took his leave. Once more
he pressed Esmeralda’s hand, and once again the color rose to her
face. She stood at the door, and watched him drive away, then she
followed Lady Wyndover to her _boudoir_.

“Oh! dear, how glad I am to be home!” said Lady Wyndover. “Put more
coals on, Barker, and bring me my fur wrap. How any one can find
any pleasure in driving in an open carriage amazes me! Come near
the fire and thaw, dear.”

“I am not cold,” said Esmeralda. The blood was dancing through
every vein. She stood in the center of the room, bold upright.

“Lady Wyndover, I want to tell you something. Lord Trafford has
asked me to marry him,” she said.

Lady Wyndover uttered a cry of delight, and sprung to her feet.

“Really! My dear child, I am delighted!”

Esmeralda knit her brows.

“Why?”

Lady Wyndover sunk into her chair and laughed again.

“Why? My dear Esmeralda, how can you ask? The Marquis of Trafford
has actually proposed to you! Oh! I am delighted!”

“Why?” asked Esmeralda again.

“Why? My dear child, how _can_ you ask? Lord Trafford is the best
_parti_ in London. He is not only the Marquis of Trafford, but he
will be the Duke of Belfayre. The dukedom is one of the oldest
in England. Belfayre is one of the most magnificent places in
Europe--in the world! My dear Esmeralda, you have done splendidly!
I am proud of you!”

Esmeralda knit her brows.

“When did he do it? When you were alone, I suppose? I half thought
he would, and that is why I didn’t go with you. Come and let me
kiss you, dear! To think that you will be Duchess of Belfayre! Oh!
I am so happy!”

“But it is not settled,” said Esmeralda. “It is all undecided. I
only said I--I would think it over.”

Lady Wyndover looked at her in amazement.

“My dear girl!” she said; “don’t you understand? If you marry Lord
Trafford, you will be the Marchioness of Trafford, and, presently,
the Duchess of Belfayre, for the present duke can not last much
longer!”

“I know,” said Esmeralda, pushing her hair from her brow. “But I do
not care about all that. I don’t want to be a duchess particularly.
I--I am quite happy as I am.”

Lady Wyndover stared at her.

“A duchess!” she exclaimed. “Don’t you understand? Oh! how glad I
am! Duchess of Belfayre! Are you sure it isn’t quite settled?”

“No; I said I’d see,” said Esmeralda.

Lady Wyndover emitted a kind of moan.

“How innocent you are!” she exclaimed. “You ought to have said
‘Yes’ at once! My dear child, Lord Trafford is the great catch. He
has been most ‘difficult,’ as the French say. It is a great triumph
for you to have caught him so soon.”

Esmeralda frowned again.

“He has asked me to go down to see his relations,” she said.

“Then it is settled!” exclaimed Lady Wyndover. “Oh! I’m so happy!
Fancy! Duchess of Belfayre! My dear child, you don’t realize what
it means! You’ll be one of the leaders of society! One of the most
powerful women in London--and London is everything! With your money
and his rank you can become a queen of society! Oh! I am so glad!”

Esmeralda looked at her dreamily.

“I may not marry him,” she said. “It is not settled. I am to go
down to Belfayre to--to see--”

Lady Wyndover clapped her hands softly.

“Ah! yes!” She understood. “I must go to Madame Cerise to-morrow.
You’ll want ever so many new dresses. Oh! my head’s in a whirl!
Think of it--Duchess of Belfayre!”



CHAPTER XVI.


Esmeralda went to her own room. She seemed in a dream. Every word
Trafford had spoken came back to her; the touch of his hand was
still with her. She felt happy, and yet--and yet there was still
something wanting. She looked in the glass curiously, critically.
Lord Trafford had said that she was beautiful. She compared herself
with some of the ladies whom she had seen, and, with her lack of
vanity, she thought that there were many more beautiful than she
was. That he had asked her to be his wife filled her with surprise:
she did not think of her two millions.

They went out that night to a dance, and Trafford was there, and
came up to her soon after she arrived. He did not refer to what
had passed between them, but he hovered about her, and danced with
her several times. She noticed that the men who usually thronged
about her drew back, and left her with Lord Trafford, as if he had
a claim upon her. He saw her to her carriage, and at parting he
raised her hand to his lips. The caress lingered with her until she
fell asleep.

Two days afterward she received a letter. It was from Lady Lilias,
asking her and Lady Wyndover to go and stay at Belfayre. It was a
short note, but a very friendly one, and Esmeralda took it to Lady
Wyndover.

“Shall we go?” she asked.

“Why, certainly!” exclaimed Lady Wyndover. “My dear child, you are
the luckiest girl I ever heard of. Write and tell Lady Lilias that
you will come on Thursday. That will give us four days, and Cerise
can do wonders in four days--if she likes.”

They started for Belfayre on Thursday, and when they reached
Waterloo, they found Lord Trafford waiting for them.

“I am glad you have come,” he said, as he held Esmeralda’s hand.
Then he went and looked after the heavy baggage, also paid the
excess, which was inevitable, and presently joined them in the
first-class carriage which he had engaged.

Esmeralda had not left London since her arrival there with Mr.
Pinchook, and the thought of leaving its smoky atmosphere filled
her with delight. As they left the grimy town she looked from her
window with eager pleasure, and when the green fields took the
place of the crowded streets, she drew a long breath, and exclaimed:

“The country at last!”

Trafford arranged the blind for her so that she could look out
without getting the glare of the sun in her eyes, and when,
presently, she took off her hat, still gazing out of the window, he
took it from her and carefully placed it upon the rack above. His
attention was peculiar in its character, and was more marked than
it would have been if he had loved her. It seemed to him that he
would owe her so much, if she consented to be his wife, seeing that
he could not give her what was her due--his heart. She appeared to
forget her companions, and was quite absorbed in the scenery which
they passed, every now and then uttering an exclamation of wonder
and delight, as some object strange to her colonial experience
caught her attention. Lady Wyndover and Trafford watched her as
people watch a wayward but very precious child; and with Lady
Wyndover’s affection was mingled no little respect for Esmeralda’s
coming rank, for, notwithstanding Esmeralda’s repeated assertion,
Lady Wyndover insisted upon regarding the engagement as an
accomplished fact.

A few days ago she would have told Esmeralda that ladies do not
remove their hats in the train, but she felt that the future
Duchess of Belfayre could commit any solecism with impunity.
Trafford took up a book and tried to read, but his eyes were drawn
from a rather dull page to the lovely face in front of him, and he
caught himself asking, of course, inaudibly, whether she would come
to care for him.

At the end of the journey, which had seemed terribly long to Lady
Wyndover, but very short to Esmeralda, they found the chariot and
the footman awaiting them, and the usual fuss ensued; if anything,
it was more marked than usual. Trafford did not walk this time, but
rode in the carriage with the ladies, and, as they passed along,
pointed out the various points of local interest, and was rewarded
by Esmeralda’s exclamation of delight at her first glimpse of the
sea.

“Oh, it is beautiful, beautiful!” she cried. “And it is all in such
order, like a big garden. And why do all the people touch their
hats, and bob down to the ground as we pass?”

Trafford smiled.

“It’s a habit they have,” he said. “They don’t mean to be servile;
in fact, they’re rather an independent crew, but they just do it
out of politeness, and because they have known us all their lives.”

“You mean that they have known you,” said Esmeralda. “They can’t
know me; and they can’t see you where you sit.”

“They will know you presently,” he said in a low voice.

Her long lashes swept her cheek, and she was silent for a moment
or two, but as they passed through the lodge gates, she exclaimed
again:

“What beautiful trees! And the road, it is like a garden path,
like those paths in Kensington Park.” When the palace came in view
she uttered no sound, but her eyes opened, and her lips parted
with wonder and amazement. Lady Wyndover, also, was startled and
surprised by the vastness and beauty of the place, though she, of
course, had heard and read of it.

“And you live here?” said Esmeralda. “Why, it is big enough for an
army. And those footmen might be soldiers,” she added, as they came
out of the hall, and stood ready to receive the visitors.

“There have been soldiers here more than once,” said Trafford. “We
held the place against Cromwell’s troops, and for a pretty long
spell, too. I will show you a bit of the old castle to-morrow.”

He helped them to alight, and he held Esmeralda’s hand as they
went up the marble steps, and across the terrace into the hall. As
they entered, Lady Lilias’s small figure was seen coming down the
stairs. She came forward, and welcomed them in her grave little
fashion; but Trafford saw a flash of surprise pass across her face
as she saw Esmeralda.

“I am very glad you have come,” she said to them both, but letting
her eyes rest on Esmeralda’s face. “Are you very tired? And will
you have some tea before you go upstairs?”

A gypsy-table was already laid in the hall.

“I am not at all tired,” said Esmeralda. “Why should I be?”

Lady Lilias gave a little inaudible sigh of satisfaction as she
heard the sweet, clear voice.

“It is such a long journey,” she said. “But you look very strong;
and I am very glad that you are not very tired.”

Lady Wyndover declared for tea at once, and Lady Lilias gave it
them. Esmeralda watched her curiously and with pleasure. She
had never seen any one so small, so dainty, and with such a
self-possessed and matronly air behind her youth. As they were
drinking their tea and chatting, Lord Selvaine came in. He greeted
Esmeralda as an old friend, and with a little _empressement_, which
indicated his consciousness of her new importance.

“The duke begged me to say how sorry he was that he could not be
down to receive you,” he said; “but he is feeling a little tired
this afternoon. He hopes to see you at dinner.”

“Would you like to go upstairs now?” said Lilias. “Your maids have
gone to your rooms.”

She herself, as a special mark of welcome, escorted them. Esmeralda
was amazed at the size of her rooms, and the magnificence of their
appointments; and Barker, when the door had closed, could not help
exclaiming:

“Oh, miss! What a wonderful place! I’ve never dreamed of anything
like it!”

When Lord Selvaine and Trafford were left alone, they stood for a
moment or two in silence. Trafford stood erect on the rug, with his
hand upon the hound’s head; Lord Selvaine toyed with his cup and
spoon.

“Well!” he said, at last. “You’ve done it, Traff?”

“Yes,” said Lord Trafford, very gravely. “I have proposed to Miss
Chetwynde.”

“And she has accepted you? Thank the Lord!”

“You are a little too previous,” said Trafford, rather grimly.
“She has not accepted me. She has asked for time to consider the
proposal.”

Lord Selvaine smiled.

“The same thing, my dear Traff--at least, I trust so. The woman who
hesitates is won.”

“Do not be too sure,” said Trafford. “It is as likely as not that
she will refuse me in the end.”

Lord Selvaine smiled again; and the smile seemed to irritate
Trafford.

“Do not be too confident,” he said. “Miss Chetwynde is-- I do not
think you understand her, Selvaine.”

“As long as you do, it does not matter,” said Lord Selvaine.

“Ah!” said Trafford. “I did not say that I myself understood her.
She is unlike any woman I have ever met; and she will follow the
dictates of her own heart.”

“Which you must lose no time in gaining,” said Lord Selvaine, not
quickly, but slowly and softly.

Lady Lilias came down the stairs, and went straight to Trafford.

“Oh, Trafford, how beautiful she is!” she said in a low voice.
“And what a sweet voice! And she is like a girl, too! I have never
seen such lovely eyes, and such beautiful colored hair; it is like
bronze and gold, or an autumn leaf! I am sure she is good and
sweet-tempered; and I am not surprised--”

She did not finish the sentence, but pressed his arm, and looked
into his face with a little blush.

Trafford had to explain again.

“As I wrote and told you, Lilias, nothing is settled,” he said,
gravely; and Lilias smiled, as Lord Selvaine had done.

When Esmeralda had finished dressing--it had been hard work for
Barker, for her mistress had broken away from her several times to
gaze from the window at the superb view, and had been more than
usually impatient--there came a gentle knock at the door, and in
answer to Esmeralda’s “Come in!” Lilias’s soft voice said: “May I?”

Esmeralda opened the door.

“Oh, yes; come in!” she said.

“I came to see if there was anything you wanted,” said Lilias,
regarding Esmeralda with a frank admiration: she looked still more
lovely in her evening dress.

Esmeralda looked round the room with a smile.

“Does it look as if there was anything I could possibly want that
isn’t here?” she asked. “There is everything. Is it time to go down
yet? I don’t feel as if I could ever leave these beautiful rooms
and that view.”

“I am very glad you are pleased,” said Lilias. “We want you to
be very happy while you are here, and I hope you will be, Miss
Chetwynde.”

“Then don’t call me ‘Miss Chetwynde,’” said Esmeralda.

Lady Lilias blushed with pleasure.

“I will call you Esmeralda, dear,” she said, yielding up her heart
at once; “and you will call me Lilias? I hope we shall be great
friends; indeed, I feel as if I had known you for a long time;
Trafford’s letter told me so much about you. But I did not expect
to see--”

Esmeralda smiled, and knit her brows.

“What did you think I was like?” she asked.

“I knew that you must be very nice,” said Lilias, “or Trafford
would not have-- But I did not know that you were so young and so
pretty.”

Esmeralda laughed slightly.

“I might say the same of you,” she said. “I thought that ‘Lady
Lilias’ was quite a woman. How do you manage this great place?”

“I have been used to it all my life,” said Lilias. She smiled and
blushed. “You will not find it so difficult when you have tried.”

Esmeralda looked at her in her direct way.

“I don’t know yet that I shall ever try,” she said, very quietly.

Lilias began to see now that Esmeralda was different to the girls
with whom Lady Lilias had associated. Not one of them would have
spoken so openly and frankly. She did not like Esmeralda the less.

“Oh, I hope so! I hope so!” she said; “for Trafford’s sake.”

“You are very fond of him?” said Esmeralda, after a pause. The two
girls were standing by the window, and the bright sunlight only
served to accentuate Esmeralda’s fresh loveliness.

“Oh, yes--yes,” said Lilias. “We have been together all our lives;
we are just brother and sister.”

It flashed upon Esmeralda that Lady Ada had said almost the same
thing.

“No one who knows Trafford could help loving him,” said Lilias,
her soft gray eyes glowing. “He is everything that is noble and
good. There is no one so unselfish. We all worship him. You think
me extravagant?” she added, with a blush. “But I am always so when
I think or speak of Trafford, for he has been my _beau ideal_
since I can remember. Even as a boy he was brave, and manly, and
self-sacrificing; he was always ready to give up anything, however
dearly he prized it. All our people regard him as a kind of hero
and king.” She laughed a little. “It is scarcely too much to say
that any one of them would die for him.”

Esmeralda looked at her thoughtfully.

“I’ve read of that sort of thing,” she said. “Yes, I can understand
it,” she added, almost to herself.

“But you must forgive me for singing his praises so wildly,” said
Lilias, with sweet humility. “And it must be unnecessary; for you
know him.”

“I’ve only seen Lord Trafford a few times,” said Esmeralda, almost
gravely.

“You’ll see more of him, now you’re here,” said Lady Lilias. “And I
am sure--” She checked herself. “What a pretty dress that is!” she
said, looking at Esmeralda, rather than the dress. “I suppose it is
the very latest fashion. You must have beautiful taste.”

Esmeralda glanced down indifferently at her superb costume.

“It’s Lady Wyndover,” she said. “She knows all about this kind of
thing, and spends nearly all her time studying it. I don’t know
anything. How should I? We didn’t wear evening dress at Three
Star, and didn’t see any fashions. Three Star is the place I came
from,” she went on quickly, and as if she were repeating a lesson:
she had said the same thing so often. “Don’t you know that I came
from the diggers’ camp, that I was quite poor until Mr. Pinchook
found me; that I don’t know anything, and scarcely have learned to
behave properly? Though I think I’m learning,” she added, simply.

The sensitive Lilias was almost shocked.

“Oh, don’t say that!” she said. “You should not say such things of
yourself; it is not just! You behave like--like any one else, and
no one would know--not that it matters whether they did or not.”

“Doesn’t it?” said Esmeralda. “I thought it did. Everybody in
London seems to be so proud of being a lord or a lady, and to look
down upon everybody who isn’t.”

“Then we are different to people in London,” said Lilias, smiling.
“But I think you are mistaken,” she added, quickly. “At any rate,
no one would think of looking down upon you. I have to look up a
long way,” she said, naïvely.

“Yes, you _are_ small,” said Esmeralda. “You are like a little
girl. I believe I could carry you in my arms like a child.”

With a little laugh and a merry flash of the beautiful eyes, she
took Lilias in her arms, and raised her aloft. Lilias, taken by
surprise, crimsoned, then laughed, too.

“Oh, you’re as strong as a giant!” she said.

Esmeralda held her for a moment or two with perfect ease; then,
as she put her down, she kissed her on the lips. Lilias uttered a
faint cry of delight, and returned the kiss.

“Ah! I do not wonder at Trafford,” she said, and ran out of the
room.

Soon after Esmeralda heard the great bell in the old tower clang
out the dinner-hour, and Lady Wyndover came to her. Her ladyship
was all in a little flutter of excitement and delight.

“Isn’t it a wonderful place, Esmeralda?” she exclaimed. “Are you
ready? Let me look at you. Why, your lace is all awry, and your
hair is tumbled--that stupid Barker!”

“It’s not Barker’s fault,” said Esmeralda. “It doesn’t matter; I
shall do. Lady Lilias and I have been romping.”

“Lady Lilias been--romping--with you?” exclaimed Lady Wyndover,
with wonder and something like awe.

“Why not?” said Esmeralda; “she’s only a girl!”

Lady Wyndover was incapable of speech. To her, Lady Lilias, one of
the great Belfayres, was an object of respect; and this wild girl
from the woods had already been romping with her!

They went down to the great drawing-room. Lilias, Trafford, and
Selvaine were already there. Trafford came forward, and said a few
words to Esmeralda.

“My father will be here presently,” he said. “He is looking forward
to seeing you.”

As he spoke, the door opened, and the duke entered, leaning on
the arm of his valet. Trafford went forward to take the man’s
place, and the duke peered round the room, and was led up to Lady
Wyndover, and bid her welcome.

“This is my father, Miss Chetwynde,” said Trafford, taking him up
to her.

The duke looked at her with curiosity veiled behind his kind and
courtly smile; then he extended his long, white hand, and held
hers, as he said in his low, slow voice, which had a ring of
Trafford’s in it:

“I’m very glad to see you, Miss Chetwynde. I hope you have forgiven
me for not being present to receive you, but I am an old man, and
am obliged to hoard my strength. Trafford has told me a great deal
about you, and I am very, very pleased to see you. It is very kind
of you to leave London and come to us, and I hope--I do hope--that
you will not find it dull. We will do our best to amuse you and
make you forget all that you lose by coming to us.”

Her beauty had by this time dawned upon him, and not only her
beauty, but her girlishness. His smile grew more paternal, and he
patted her hand, which he still held.

Esmeralda’s heart was touched by the warmth of his greeting. She
felt her eyes grow dim, and unconsciously her hand fluttered in the
old man’s as she caught Trafford’s eyes fixed upon her with a “Did
I not tell you so?” expression.

“Dinner is served, my lady,” said the stately butler.

Trafford took the duke to Lady Wyndover, and then offered his arm
to Esmeralda; Lord Selvaine and Lilias brought up the rear.

Though Esmeralda was by this time growing accustomed to luxury
and splendor, she was almost startled by the magnificence of the
dining-room. For this occasion the famous Belfayre gold plate had
been produced; and the table, furnished with the precious metal,
and decorated by Lilias’s own hands, was a noteworthy spectacle.

Esmeralda was placed on the duke’s right, and his grace exerted
himself to entertain the two ladies as he had not done for years;
but after awhile he devoted himself to Esmeralda. He could see
her loveliness more distinctly in the soft candle-light, and the
Belfayres were quick to appreciate feminine beauty. He noticed,
as Lilias had done, the sweetness and clearness of her voice, and
her unconventional frankness and candor charmed him. She was not
awed for a moment by her surroundings--as it must be confessed Lady
Wyndover was--and she talked freely. Trafford heard his father’s
rare laugh more than once, and once he saw his grace bend forward,
and lay his hand upon Esmeralda’s.

The dinner seemed to Esmeralda interminable, and, after a time,
she grew tired of saying, “No, thank you,” to the long array of
dishes and wines which the noiseless servants offered her. The duke
himself cut some grapes for her, and selected some of the largest
of the hot-house strawberries, and was so engaged with her that he
did not notice Lilias’s attempts to signal for the ladies to leave
the room. They could hear him talking to Esmeralda as if he had
known her for years.

“I must tell you all about our scheme for making a watering-place
of the bay, my dear,” he said. It had come to “my dear,” instead of
“Miss Chetwynde,” already. “I will come into the drawing-room for
a little while, and you must tell me about that queer place, Five
Stars--Three Stars. How amusing it must have been! You must have
enjoyed your visit there immensely.” He had quite failed to grasp
the fact that she had been brought up in a diggers’ camp.

Lady Lilias at last succeeded in rising, and his grace, as he rose,
watched Esmeralda with an interested and even an affectionate
smile, as she left the room. Then he sunk into his chair and nodded
smilingly at Trafford.

“My dear Trafford, she is charming!” he said--“perfectly charming!
I do not know that I have ever met any one so fresh and intensely
interesting. Chetwynde? There are the Chetwyndes of Warwickshire; I
knew some of them--but they were stupid people--quite stupid!”

“Miss Chetwynde is not a Warwickshire Chetwynde--fortunately,” said
Lord Selvaine, blandly.

Trafford looked at his plate.

“Ah! probably she belongs to the Suffolk branch?” said the duke.
“She really is witty!” He chuckled as if he were recalling
something Esmeralda had said. “And so exceedingly beautiful,
too--not that that matters!”

“All women should be beautiful,” said Lord Selvaine.

“All women _are_, my dear Selvaine,” said the duke, with delicious
courtliness. “But few are as beautiful as Miss Chetwynde. My dear
Trafford, I congratulate you with all my heart. You have shown
excellent taste--as you always do. My dear boy, you have made me
very happy. I could almost say that I am as happy as you must
be--though that is impossible.”

Trafford looked straight before him at the opposite wall. And at
that moment he did not look very happy, for there rose before him
the face of Ada Lancing, and he seemed to hear her voice, hoarse
with agony.

Lord Selvaine, as he watched him covertly, saw the handsome face
grow pale, and the hand that held the wine-glass close so tightly
that the slender stem snapped in two.



CHAPTER XVII.


To Esmeralda, Belfayre was a Palace of Delight. It was not so much
the magnificence, the luxury and regal splendor of the place, nor
its vastness which gave her so much pleasure, as the fact that
there she was indeed “in the country,” that she was within reach of
the sea--a never-ceasing wonder to her--and that she was surrounded
by animals--horses, dogs, cattle--with which she could make friends.

Trafford took her down to the stables on the morning after her
arrival, and Esmeralda went from stall to stall, loose box to loose
box, and was introduced to each horse in turn; and was so fearless
and full of admiration and delight that she won the heart of the
head groom, who waxed eloquent about her when she and Trafford had
gone off to see the House Farm.

“That’s the first lady as ever I saw that understood the points of
a horse,” he said to a circle of attentive listeners. “There’s a
good many of ’em as comes round and stands at a safe distance, and
says ‘Pretty dear!’ and ‘What a nice horse, Mr. Carter!’ but she’s
the first as really knows anything about ’em. The marquis ’ull have
a good wife, mark my words! And she can ride, too, I bet! I’ll
have that bay mare ready for her to-morrow, James--and when Miss
Chetwynde’s in the saddle, they’ll be as pretty a pair as there is
in the county.”

Esmeralda was as delighted with the farm as she had been with the
stables. The exquisite cleanliness and order in which the whole
place was kept amazed her.

“It’s like one of those toy farms one sees in the children’s
toy-shops,” he said. “How proud the farmer’s wife must be of it
all! Does it pay very well?”

Trafford smiled as he thought of the sum which the House Farm cost
to keep up.

“Not very well,” he said. “But we look upon it as a kind of model
and example to the farmers on the estate.”

“What would be the use of their following it, if they lost money by
it?” she said; and Trafford, amused by her shrewdness, laughed.

After they had inspected all the animals, and gone over the
spotless dairy, with its white tiles, and newest appliances in the
way of churns and milk coolers, they walked through the park, and
Trafford succeeded in finding some deer. Her frankly expressed
pleasure and delight in all she saw afforded him a singular
pleasure; it was as if he were playing cicerone to a child or a
school-girl. She was quite unembarrassed, and free from any shyness
at being alone with him, and did not seem to want or expect him to
make love to her in the very least, but talked to him as if he were
an old friend or a fellow school-girl.

Trafford felt the charm of this, and found himself enjoying his
walk as he had not enjoyed one for as far back as he could remember.

They talked of the palace and what she had seen, and avoided
anything personal until at last Trafford said:

“I was not wrong about the welcome you would receive from my father
and Lilias, Miss Chetwynde?” Then, before she could reply, he
added: “Will you let me call you Esmeralda?”

She looked at him frankly.

“Why, yes, if you like.”

“And you must call me Trafford,” he said.

She laughed.

“Very well. It is like the bargain Lilias and I made yesterday.
Yes, you were quite right. I don’t know why they were so kind
to me--a stranger. But they were kind, very. I think I was a
little frightened about meeting the duke. I don’t know what I
expected--something very grand and awful, but he was not at all
what I expected; and I think him the dearest old gentleman I have
ever seen. I don’t think I could ever be frightened of him.”

Trafford smiled.

“I am glad you like my father,” he said. “Of course you know he has
fallen in love with you? He talked of nothing else but you last
night, and sung your praises tremendously.”

“I’m glad he likes me,” she said, simply.

“And Lilias, too,” said Trafford. “You must tell me your secret of
winning all hearts, Esmeralda.”

She laughed.

“It must be their fault,” she said, naïvely.

They walked through the park to the cliffs, and Esmeralda stood
and gazed at the sea in a silence which Trafford did not break; he
watched her face, and thought its awed and rapt expression more
beautiful than the view which had called it forth.

On their way home they passed through the village, and Trafford
stopped at one or two of the cottages, and exchanged greetings
with some of the people. Esmeralda was struck by the mixture of
affection and respect with which the marquis was treated, and the
shy curiosity with which they received her. One woman offered her
a glass of new milk, and dusted a chair for her to sit on; and one
and all were anxious to make much of her and impress her favorably.

“Are all the villages and people in England like this?” she asked,
as they went on their way again.

“Yes, I think so, or nearly all,” said Trafford.

“You all seem as if you were one family, or as if it were a little
kingdom all to itself, and you were a king.”

“We are all one family, in a sense,” he explained. “You see, we
have known each other for generations. Some of the families have
been living here almost as long as we have, and few strangers come
here; if they do, they settle down and become like the rest after a
little time.”

“And you own all this?” she asked, pausing to look round. “All the
houses, all the farms, and the people?”

“My father does,” he said, with a smile. “But not the people,
Esmeralda.”

“It is almost as if you did,” she said, shrewdly. “They all look at
you and speak to you as if you were a kind of prince. It must be
rather nice to be like that.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to say: “You have only to say
the word, and you can share in this proprietorship,” but he held
himself in hand. He did not want a decided refusal; and something
told him he had not won her yet, and that the “No” would certainly
be forthcoming.

When they reached home they found the duke up and awaiting them;
for he rarely left his own apartments until late in the afternoon.

He greeted Esmeralda warmly, and even affectionately, and looked up
at her face, glowing with her long walk, with unstinted admiration.

“I hope Trafford has not tired you, my dear!” he said. “Come and
tell me what you have seen.” And he motioned her to a chair beside
him.

Esmeralda told of the stables, and the farms, and the sea; and his
grace nodded his head and smiled at her enthusiasm; but he was not
quite satisfied.

“Trafford did not show you the ruins of the old priory, or the
lake,” he said. “I can’t think how he forgot those! Will you
come for a drive this afternoon with me and see them? There is a
pony-phaeton low enough for me to climb into.”

Esmeralda said that she would be delighted, and the old man looked
round with a pleased smile.

“I feel extraordinarily well and strong to-day,” he said; and he
chatted to her all through lunch, taking the greatest interest in
the dishes that were brought to her, and nibbling his toast, and
sipping his beef tea contentedly, as he watched her dispose of a
hearty meal; for Esmeralda had not learned to be ashamed of her
appetite.

The pony-phaeton was brought round after lunch. There was only
room for two, and a small groom behind; and Esmeralda begged to be
allowed to drive.

“You will be quite safe, sir,” said Trafford, who, with the two
ladies and Lord Selvaine, saw them off.

“I will trust myself with Miss Chetwynde anywhere,” said his
grace, gallantly. Though it was a warm afternoon, he was wrapped
up in furs, as if it were winter, and he leaned back in the easy
carriage with an air of pride and enjoyment in his strength and his
companion which caused Lord Selvaine to smile.

“A case of ‘I came, I saw, I conquered!’” he said, blandly. “I
never saw a man so hopelessly in love! If the duke were, say, ten
years younger, I wouldn’t give much for your chances, my dear
Traff.”

Trafford smiled at the jest, and looked after the carriage
thoughtfully.

The duke was delighted with Esmeralda’s driving.

“You must have a pony-carriage and pair, my dear,” he said, as if
he were speaking of a box of hairpins. “I will tell Trafford to get
them at once. This is too old and shabby for you; it does very well
for me, but it is not smart enough for you.”

“Oh, no, no!” said Esmeralda. “It is quite good enough. Do not buy
a new one.”

“But why not?” he asked, with surprise. “Why should I not have that
pleasure? There is the priory.” He nodded to some stately ruins,
and Esmeralda drove up to them and looked at them with interest.

“Selvaine shall tell you its history,” said his grace. “He is the
historian of the family, you know, and is never so pleased as when
he is relating some story connected with it. Dear, dear, how out of
repair the fencing has got! I must tell Helby to replace it with
some of the new iron railing. Now we will drive to the lake. Turn
down this lane to the left. Are you sure you are warm enough, my
dear?”

“Oh, yes,” said Esmeralda. “Do you feel it cold?” She saw that his
fur collar had slipped down a little, and she pulled it up and
arranged it round him more closely.

The duke was much touched by her thoughtfulness.

“Thank you--thank you, my dear!” he said, gratefully.

They drove on and presently came to the lake. It was a large
piece of water surrounded by firs. A flock of ducks rose as they
approached, and a heron sailed away above their heads. The place
was weird-looking for all its prettiness, and Esmeralda gazed at it
in silence, and with a creepy feeling.

“It reminds me of Australia--I don’t know why,” she said. “How
silent and far away it seems.”

“Some persons think it rather dismal,” he said. “But that, I think,
is because of the story connected with it.”

Emeralda was always ready for a story, and turned to him eagerly.

“What is it? Something very dreadful?”

“Well, yes,” he said, hesitatingly. The courtly old man was almost
sorry to have referred to anything that was grewsome in her bright
young presence.

“Please tell me!” she said.

“Must I? I am not sure that I ought to do so. You will always
remember it when you come here. One of the Traffords committed
suicide here.”

“Oh!” said Esmeralda. “A man?”

“No, a woman,” said his grace. “It is a very sad story. She was the
wife of a Marquis of Trafford--my great-great-uncle. It was a very
unhappy marriage. The marquis was poor, and married her for her
money; it was what is called a ‘a marriage of convenience.’ They
are seldom anything but unhappy arrangements, and generally prove
terribly inconvenient. She was in love with her husband, but he
detested her. But though he, no doubt, treated her with coldness, I
am quite sure he was not guilty of actual cruelty; no Trafford has
had that crime laid to his charge.”

“You mean that he didn’t beat her?” said Esmeralda, much interested.

“Er--just so,” said the duke. “They lived together unhappily for
some years, until one night the unfortunate lady stole from the
house and threw herself into the lake here. They found her next
day, with a smile on her face--the first she had worn since her
marriage, they said.”

Esmeralda stared at the lake and shuddered. She could almost see
the white figure floating on the top of the silent water.

“Why did she not leave him--run away?” she said, almost to herself.

The duke shrugged his shoulders.

“A Marchioness of Trafford could scarcely do that,” he said,
simply. “It was almost better for her to have done what she did;
but let us go now, my dear; I am afraid I have saddened you with
my dismal story. Let us get into the sunshine again.” And he, too,
shuddered slightly.

Esmeralda glanced over her shoulder at the lake as they drove away,
and the thought of the woman who had preferred death to a loveless
life haunted her for more than a mile. Then they came in sight
of the sea, and the vision of the white figure fled before the
glorious view.

The duke leaned forward and waved his ebony stick round the bay.

“Beautiful, is it not? There are few finer bays in England. Look
straight below you, my dear. You see how the coast curves? That is
where the new watering-place, that I told you of last night, is to
be. There--just by that jutting rock--will be the pier, and the
esplanade will run round the curve, with the houses, in a terrace,
at the back. It will make a capital seaside town, will it not?”

“Yes,” said Esmeralda. “And are you going to build it?”

“Yes,” assented the duke, placidly, as if he had the money at his
bankers. “It will be rather a large undertaking, and it will cost
a great deal of money; but I hold that it is reprehensible to let
money lie idle while it could be used in providing employment for
hundreds of deserving persons. And it will improve the property
also. I shall not see it, but Trafford, I trust, will do so,
and”--he looked at her with a little smile--“you, too, my dear.”

Esmeralda colored. She felt rather surprised. The Belfayres could
not be poor, as Norman Druce had said, if they were going to spend
all this money.

As they drove home, this impression deepened, for the duke spoke
of other improvements, and always in the tone of a man who was
possessed of unlimited wealth; and he found fault with the
steward, Mr. Helby--and even Trafford himself--for neglecting
certain improvements.

“You must rouse them to a sense of their duty, my dear,” he said,
with a smile.

When they drove up to the palace, Trafford came out to help them to
alight, and the duke, as he leaned on his son’s arm, said:

“I have had a most delightful drive, Trafford. Miss Chetwynde is a
famous whip. I want you to send to London for a phaeton and pair
for her.”

“I have done so,” said Trafford, quietly.

“I am glad. I have been showing Miss Chetwynde the site for the
new town, and she quite agrees with me that it would be a great
improvement. Don’t you think we ought to commence it at once, my
dear?”

Trafford glanced at Esmeralda gravely; but, quite innocently, she
said:

“Oh, yes; I would begin at once.”

“You see!” exclaimed the duke, triumphantly; and he patted her
shoulder approvingly.

Lilias, fearing that Lady Wyndover and Esmeralda would find
Belfayre dull, had invited some people to dine that night, and
Esmeralda made her first acquaintance with a country dinner-party.

It was a stately, not to say solemn, affair. There were three or
four of the neighboring county families, a couple of officers
from Belmont, and the rector and his wife. The county families
had heard of and read about “Miss Chetwynde, the heiress,” and
were consumed with curiosity respecting her, and were amazed--and
doubtless rather disappointed--at not finding her to be a kind of
female cowboy. They were also much startled and impressed by her
beauty, and before the evening was over, Esmeralda had won the
golden opinion of the male portion of the party. The men grouped
themselves around her very much as they were in the habit of doing
in London, and Trafford looked on from a distance with his usual
gravity.

The duke was not present at dinner, but he came into the
drawing-room afterward for half an hour, and witnessed Esmeralda’s
little triumph, and nodded and smiled at her as she left her court
of admirers, and seating herself beside him, talked to him of their
drive in her frank, unaffected way.

“I congratulate you, Trafford,” said one of the guests, an old
peer, and close friend and neighbor of the family. “It is scarcely
necessary to wish, you happiness; you have secured that already.”

And Trafford smiled in the proper manner. He had received a letter
from Lady Ada that evening. It was only a line or two.

  “Write to me. Tell me whether you have asked her. I must know,
  though your answer will probably make me more wretched than I am
  already; and I am miserable enough, God knows!

  ADA.”



CHAPTER XVIII.


The next day Trafford proposed a ride, and the mare Mr. Carter
had chosen was brought round for Esmeralda. She was a splendid
creature, and Esmeralda uttered an exclamation of delight at
the sight of her. Trafford examined the saddle and bit--though
it was quite unnecessary--and put Esmeralda up. Notwithstanding
her height, she was as light as a feather, and laughed at his
assistance.

“I can swing into the saddle by myself,” she said, simply. “I had
to, for there was often no one to help me at Three Star, and when I
was out riding I had to get off and on by myself. Oh, how lovely to
be riding again!”

Trafford looked at her as he rode by her side. Her habit fitted
her like a skin, she seemed as lithe and graceful as a withy wand,
and sat her horse as if she and the animal were one. The mare
was high-spirited and fresh, and full of mischief, but Esmeralda
managed it with perfect ease and coolness, and Trafford, though he
was ready to help her in an instant, saw that she did not need any
assistance.

Esmeralda was so absorbed in the mare, that for awhile she seemed
to have forgotten her companion, and Trafford did not break in upon
her enjoyment with speech. Presently, as they rode across the park,
they came to a rough, wooden fence.

“The gate is lower down,” he said; but Esmeralda laughed, and with
a cool “Can she jump?” put the mare at the fence.

Trafford held his breath, for though the horse was a good one,
he did not know whether it would clear the posts or refuse, and,
perhaps, throw its rider; but the mare, urged by a touch of the
whip, rose freely, and went over like a bird.

Esmeralda pulled up on the other side and waited for him, her face
flushed, her eyes sparkling with enjoyment. He paused for a moment
to look at her, almost startled by her beauty, then he popped over
steadily to her side.

“That was well done!” he said. “You would hold your own in the
hunting-field, Esmeralda.”

“Do you hunt in England?” she said. “I haven’t seen any big
game--excepting those deer, and they’re half tame.”

Trafford described the hunting of the fox as pursued in England,
and Esmeralda listened with deep interest.

“I should like that!” she said. “Yes, I should like it very much!
We used to have hunting-parties from Three Star, but we had to
stalk the game and shoot it. It was hard work, and you had to be
a good shot with the rifle. Varley could bring them down at a
tremendous distance--further than I could, though he used to say
that I had the best eyes in the camp.”

She chattered about the camp and the old life as they rode along,
and Trafford listened almost in silence. Now and again she would
beg for a gallop, and would put the mare at racing speed over the
smooth turf of the downs, so that Trafford had hard work to keep
his heavier nag up with her. She seemed quite incapable of fatigue,
and the light shone still more brightly in her eyes at every mile.
At last, as they reached an outlying cottage, he insisted upon a
halt. She was about to spring from the saddle, but he held up his
hand with a smile.

“You must let me help you down,” he said.

She looked at him with surprise, but submitted, and he almost took
her in his arms. The faintest blush rose to her face, but it lasted
for only a moment.

The woman at the cottage received them in the manner at which
Esmeralda had not yet ceased to marvel, and got some bread and
butter and tea for them. Esmeralda, as she ate a hearty lunch,
talked with her in her usual frank, pleasant way, and as usual won
her heart, so that even the marquis himself seemed to be relegated
to a back seat. Esmeralda shook hands with her hostess on leaving,
and the woman was so touched by Esmeralda’s beauty and frankness
that the tears came into her eyes.

“God bless you, my lady!” she said; and as Trafford lagged behind
to give her some money, she added to him in a low voice: “She’s
as sweet a creature as ever breathed, my lord; and I wish your
lordship joy.”

The words rang in Trafford’s ears as they rode home; he knew that
the woman had spoken the truth.

If he had never known Ada!

Lord Selvaine was on the terrace as they rode up, and he came
forward to help Esmeralda down.

“In the saddle all day, and not tired? She looks as fresh as when
you started!” he said to Trafford as Esmeralda ran, singing, up the
steps. “She is a marvel, my dear Trafford--a marvel!”

They rode every day--sometimes for nearly a whole day--and whether
they were riding or walking, Trafford was generally alone with
her. Insensibly, though he never spoke a word of love to her, he
was “courting her.” In a thousand little ways he showed his care
of her. She was never permitted to mount the mare until he had
examined the harness; he always put her up; he restrained her
when the jump she wanted to take was too risky even for her. When
they went out for a walk, he was always waiting for her with an
umbrella or sunshade--both of which articles Esmeralda regarded
with something like contempt. He would not let her walk too far,
and while they rested at some farm or cottage, his manner toward
her impressed the people of the house with her importance.

One day they were caught in a heavy shower, and Esmeralda, who had
contrived to leave her umbrella at home, was in danger of being
wet through. She thought nothing of it; but Trafford was greatly
concerned.

“What does it matter?” she said, lightly. “I shall not hurt.”

“You will catch cold,” he said; “and that matters.” As he spoke he
took off his Norfolk jacket. “Let me put this on?” he said.

But Esmeralda stared and declined.

“Why, you would get wet through with only your shirt-sleeves!” she
said.

“Please,” he said, with a little air of command.

Esmeralda pouted; but she suffered him to put the jacket on her.

“It is ridiculous,” she said. But as she said it the color rose to
her face. The jacket was warm. It almost seemed as if it were a
part of himself. She glanced shyly at him as he stood beside her,
sheltering her as much as possible.

“One would think I was something precious,” she said, with a little
laugh.

He looked at her.

“You are,” he said; and though he spoke gravely, something in his
voice deepened the color in her face.

She was very silent as they walked home, where she was received
with a tremendous fuss by everybody and made to change her things
immediately.

In the house his attention to her was just as constant and
unobtrusive. He was always near her to answer her questions--and
they were innumerable--to fetch a book she had forgotten, to wrap
her shawl round her when they went on the terrace after dinner.
Every morning Barker brought her some choice flowers from the
greenhouse--“From the marquis, miss!” From even an ordinary man
such attentions would have had some effect upon any girl; but
coming from a man like Trafford--handsome as a Greek god, and
surrounded by the glamour of his lofty rank and position--a man who
was regarded by all the place as a kind of prince--little wonder
that they affected a warm, tender-hearted girl fresh from the wilds
of Australia!

Slowly, unconsciously, she began to feel a kind of pleasure in
having him near her, in listening to his musical voice, even in
looking at his grave, handsome face. She did not know that love was
growing, growing up within her heart. Did not know it even when he
ran up to town for a few days, and she missed him, and felt as if
something had gone out of her life.

She did not know, too, that they were all, excepting the duke,
watching her and the progress of the marquis’s “courting.”

If she had known, she would have taken fright, like the deer in
the park, which started at her approach. When Trafford came back
from his short visit to London, he looked round the hall, where
all but Esmeralda were gathered for afternoon tea, as if he missed
something.

“Where is Miss Chetwynde?” he asked, quietly.

She came down the stairs before they could answer. She had watched
his arrival from the window of her boudoir, and had remained for a
few minutes--why, she could not have told; and as she gave him her
hand, her lashes hid her eyes, and she felt that she was coloring.

“I am glad you have come back,” was all she said; and “Thank you, I
am glad to get back,” was all he said. And the two little phrases
were spoken in the quietest of conventional tones; but Esmeralda
felt a strange thrill at the sound of the voice she had missed for
two whole days.

On the following night there was a little dance. There were not
many people, because most of the families were up in town for the
season; but among them was a very beautiful girl, the daughter of
Lord Chesterleigh--the man who had spoken to Trafford after the
dinner the other night. She was a very fair specimen of a bright,
light-hearted English girl, and Esmeralda “took” to her at once.

Lady Mary was as much taken with Esmeralda, and laughed with
delight at Esmeralda’s strange speeches and peculiar accent, and
did not seem to at all resent the fact that she, Lady Mary, played
second fiddle so far as the men were concerned--for they formed a
circle round Esmeralda, as usual.

Esmeralda noticed that Lord Trafford and the girl seemed great
friends, and remarked upon it to Lady Wyndover, when they were
chatting in Esmeralda’s room, before going to bed.

“Ah, yes!” said Lady Wyndover; “they are old friends. She is very
pretty, isn’t she? They say that it was thought that Lord Trafford
and she would make a match of it.”

Esmeralda was standing before her glass, unfastening a bracelet.
She stopped for an instant, and looked straight before her,
absently. It was as if something had made her heart jump
unpleasantly.

“Do they?” she said, quietly.

Lady Wyndover laughed.

“Why, yes; any one can see that the girl is more than half in love
with him. And no wonder, my dear; there are no end of women in love
with him! Yes, she is very pretty--the kind of girl that takes
men’s fancy.” She yawned behind her hand. “It has been a delightful
evening, has it not, dear? But I’ll own to being a little tired. I
suppose you are not in the least?”

Esmeralda shook her head.

“Not in the least,” she said.

“I suppose we shall be leaving you soon,” said Lady Wyndover, as
she rose and drew her dressing-gown round her. “I mentioned it to
Lady Lilias yesterday, but she pressed us to stay. Good-night, my
dear. Sleep well--but that is quite an unnecessary injunction, I
know; you always sleep like a top or a dormouse.”

But Esmeralda did not sleep like a top that night. She lay awake
for a long time--thinking of Lady Mary and Lord Trafford. The girl
did not seem so nice to her after what Lady Wyndover had said. In
love with Lord Trafford; and ever so many women were in love with
him. She thought it over as she lay awake, with her eyes fixed on
the starlit sky--for she slept with the blind up and the window
open. Air and light were precious to this girl of the wilds. What
if she were to say “No” to him? He would perhaps marry this Lady
Mary--would certainly marry some woman. The thought brought a
strange little pain to her heart that puzzled and troubled her.

Love was growing fast!

When she came down the next morning she was conscious of a novel
shyness as she shook hands with the marquis, who as usual, was
waiting in the hall for her. He smiled at her in his grave way;
then suddenly his dark eyes shone, for he noticed that she wore an
orchid bloom which he had sent up to her room that morning.

After breakfast he proposed a ride, and they started. The mare was
a little lame from a badly nailed shoe, and Carter brought round a
young Irish horse.

“He’s young as yet miss; and you mustn’t ask too much of him, if
you please,” he said to Esmeralda.

She was absent-minded this morning, and paid little or no
attention; but Trafford heard, and kept his eye on the horse.

It behaved very well until Esmeralda--who was riding ahead--put it
at a gate. It refused, and Trafford called to her to let him open
the gate; but Esmeralda threw back some response over her shoulder,
and tried the jump again. The horse refused, as before, and so
clumsily that he slipped and fell.

Trafford was off, and kneeling beside Esmeralda in an instant. She
lay, with closed eyes and outstretched arms, motionless, and for a
moment he thought she was killed. He raised her head upon his knee,
and laid his hand upon her heart, and felt, with a throb of relief,
that it was still beating.

“Esmeralda!” he called to her--as we all do under similar
circumstances--and presently she opened her eyes. They were vacant,
and her face was as white as death.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, anxiously.

“N-o--no; I don’t think so. What happened? Ah! yes; he slipped.
It was my fault; you told me not to. One moment--everything is
spinning round.”

She struggled to her feet in a minute or so, and he kept his arm
around her supportingly.

The light came back to her eyes, and she laughed half
apologetically.

“Serves me right for not doing as I was told!”

“Are you hurt? Are you hurt?” he queried, still anxiously.

“Not at all,” she said. “I’m used to falling--that’s how we learn
at Three Star. I only feel--feel shaky.”

He could feel her trembling and quivering; and he drew her closer
to him. A man’s pity for a lovely girl helpless and in pain passes
description. At that moment he would have laid down his life for
her--would have said, done anything.

She did not seem to notice the closeness of his hold for a moment
or two; then she suddenly became conscious of it, and, with a flush
rising to her face, she tried to draw away.

“Stay,” he said; and his voice was very deep and full of music that
penetrated through her heart. “Don’t move. Rest awhile!”

She obeyed. She felt her heart beating under his hand--not feebly,
but with a strong, tumultuous pulse.

“I am all right now,” she said, with a shy laugh. “Let me get up
again. I am quite right, and not a bit hurt.”

“Stay,” he said again. “Esmeralda--”

She looked up at him; then her long lashes hid her eyes.

“Esmeralda--give me my answer! Will you be my wife? Ah! forgive me;
I ought not to ask you now--”

She did not draw away from him; but her head drooped.

There was a moment’s silence, then she said “Yes!”

The way in which the word was spoken almost awed him.

“You--you love me?” he said.

A moment after the question was put, he felt full of remorse.

She raised her eyes and looked at him, and a new light burned in
them--the soft fire of a young girl’s first passion.

“Yes--I love you!” she said, and she hid her eyes upon his breast.

He was carried out of himself, as most all men would have been, and
he bent over her and kissed her. At his kiss he felt her tremble
and quiver in his arms; then she raised her head, looked into his
dark eyes with something of the wonder and trouble of a child who
finds joy too much for it to understand, almost to bear, and put
her soft warm lips to his.

       *       *       *       *       *

When they entered the drawing-room, Trafford took her hand, and led
her up to Lilias.

“Lilias,” he said, “Esmeralda has promised to be my wife.”

Lilias uttered a faint cry, and put her arm round Esmeralda and
kissed her.

Lady Wyndover exclaimed with mingled joy and triumph; and Lord
Selvaine took Esmeralda’s hand and kissed it.

“You have made us all very happy, my dear!” he said, and there was
a ring of triumph in his voice also.

Then Trafford took Esmeralda to the duke. The old man’s reception
of the news brought the tears to her eyes.

“God bless you, my dear!” he said; and as obeying an impulse, she
knelt by his chair, and he laid his hand on her head. “God bless
you!” he repeated.

The news spread. The whole place was in a state of mild
excitement. Perhaps Lord Selvaine--who left for his beloved London
immediately--carried the news to town, for the next morning the
papers announced the engagement of the Marquis of Trafford to Miss
Chetwynde, daughter of Mr. Gordon Chetwynde.

Lady Wyndover was almost beside herself with delight; and something
in her overwhelming satisfaction jarred upon Esmeralda, who was
very quiet in her new-found happiness.

“You take it all as a matter of course, my dear Esmeralda! You--you
amaze me!” exclaimed her ladyship.

Esmeralda smiled absently.

“What ought I to do? Jump, or shout, or sing, or what?” she said.

Congratulations poured in. The palace was besieged by callers who
came to wish the marquis and his betrothed every happiness. Not
only congratulations but presents, some of them of startling value,
such as were worthy the acceptance of a millionairess.

And presently Mr. Pinchook arrived.

He was just the same as of old, and made his congratulations in
his dry, reedy voice, which recalled to Esmeralda the voyage to
England, and made her laugh at him in _her_ old way.

“I’ve come down on business, as of course you know, Miss
Chetwynde,” he said, as they sat together in the library, where he
had asked to see her on the evening of his arrival.

“Yes?” said Esmeralda, vaguely wondering why he wanted to bother
her, and how soon she could get back to the terrace, where
Trafford--_her_ Trafford--would be waiting for her.

“I want to talk to you about the marriage settlements,” said Mr.
Pinchook.

“Marriage!” echoed Esmeralda. “Why--why--we are not going to be
married yet, are we?”

“You should know better than I,” said Mr. Pinchook, dryly. “Lady
Wyndover speaks of an early marriage; and, if you will allow me to
say so, I think it can not be too early. Why should you wait?”

Esmeralda looked straight over his head.

“Well?”

“Well, I have seen the marquis’s lawyer,” continued Mr. Pinchook,
“and I learn from him that it is proposed that one half of your
fortune should be settled on you for your own use, and that the
remainder should pass to the Belfayre estates, to become, in short,
the property of the marquis.”

“Well?” said Esmeralda, indifferently.

Mr. Pinchook looked at her and coughed.

“Does this arrangement meet with your approval?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Esmeralda, as indifferently as before.
“What is the use of asking me? Why don’t you talk to Lady Wyndover
about it?”

“I have,” said Mr. Pinchook.

“Or--or to Lord Trafford?”

“I haven’t--because it would be irregular. I’ve seen his lawyer.”

“Very well, then,” said Esmeralda. “Do whatever you like--whatever
you all like. I don’t care in the least. I don’t understand it.”

“Let me explain again,” said Mr. Pinchook. And he explained.

Esmeralda rose and edged toward the door.

“Thank you,” she said. “Yes, oh, yes, it is all right. You don’t
mind my going now? Lord Trafford is waiting for me, and--”

She fled; and Mr. Pinchook rose and gathered his papers together.

“Yes, it’s all right,” he said, cynically. “She buys her coronet
with a million. Humph! I hope she has made a good bargain!”



CHAPTER XIX.


Esmeralda did not understand in the least. An ordinary girl,
brought up in London society, would have grasped the whole thing
and known that she was being married for her money. But Esmeralda
was not only innocent but, measuring the marquis by her own
standard, would have deemed him incapable of anything ignoble.

Where ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise. And she was
blissfully happy! She understood now why she had turned away from
Norman Druce that night by the stream: she had not loved him. She
loved Trafford, and she loved him with the fullness of a girl’s
pure love, as sweet as it is unfathomable.

For a day or two she seemed living in a dreamland, in which she
could think of nothing but her new and strange happiness. The folk
at Belfayre, much as they had already admired her, were struck
by the expression of her face, the strange, deep light in her
wonderful eyes, and Lilias looked and spoke to her almost shyly, as
if Esmeralda’s happiness were something sacred.

But presently Esmeralda remembered Three Star, and remembered it
with a feeling near akin to remorse.

“I must write to Varley--Varley Howard, my guardian,” she said to
Trafford, one morning. “I must tell him all--all that has happened.”

“Yes, certainly,” said Trafford, to whom the facts and companions
of her past always seemed misty and almost mythical. “Do you think
he would come and pay us a visit? Ask him. We should all be glad to
see him; glad to see any friend of yours, Esmeralda.”

“May I?” said Esmeralda, delightedly. Then her face fell. “But I’m
afraid he would not come. He--he said he would not.”

“I don’t see why he shouldn’t,” said Trafford, in faint surprise.
“It’s nothing of a journey nowadays.”

Esmeralda looked at him wistfully. She saw that he did not
understand, and she would have liked to have explained to him; but
for Varley’s sake she kept silent.

She wrote a long letter to him, telling him all about Belfayre, and
the duke, and Lady Lilias, and of her engagement to Trafford; and
she begged Varley to come over to England. She sent her love to all
old friends, mentioning them by name, and she signed herself his
dear Esmeralda. “You told me that if I was ever unhappy I was to
come back to you and Three Star,” she added, in a postscript; “but,
Varley, dear, I am the happiest girl alive, and I’m afraid I shall
never come back to Three Star again. So you must come to me. Do
come! You would like the duke and Trafford--oh! you would be sure
to like him, and he you. He is just what you like, so brave, and
kind, and good!”

With the letter she sent a great case of presents. Dresses and
shawls for Melinda, tobacco for Taffy and the rest of the men, and
a diamond ring--one of the best--for Varley himself.

Varley did not acquaint the men with her engagement to the Marquis
of Trafford, but he conveyed her love to them; and, when the case
arrived, there was much rejoicing in Three Star.

“Who said our Esmeralda was a-going to forget her old pals?”
demanded Taffy, fiercely. “Let him stand out, and I’ll knock his
head off!”

As no one had made the assertion, no one came forward to have his
head knocked off; but heads ached the next morning from the whisky
that was drunk over that case.

Varley’s reply came in due course. He wished his Esmeralda all
the happiness in the world--as did all the camp--but he would not
come to England. He, too, put a postscript to remind her that her
promise still held good, and that, if ever she was unhappy, she was
to go straight back to Three Star, where loving hearts awaited her.

The letter brought tears to Esmeralda’s eyes. But it did not reach
her until she was back in London, and plunged into a whirl of
pleasure and gayety.

As Esmeralda, the girl from the wilds, she had made a sensation;
as Miss Chetwynde, the _fiancée_ of the Marquis of Trafford, and
future Duchess of Belfayre, she was at once raised to a position of
vast importance. She was sought after, and courted, and flattered
to an extent that would have turned most girls’ heads. But
Esmeralda managed to retain her simplicity and modesty through it
all.

Men raved about her and envied Trafford, and the women copied her
dresses, and even her peculiar accent, and envied _her_. Even her
strange backwood phrases became the fashion, and when she made a
slip in grammar, her auditors did not sneer, but smiled, as if she
had said something clever.

As Lady Wyndover said, “You may say what you like, wear what you
like, do what you like, when you own two millions, and are going to
be the Duchess of Belfayre.”

Her ladyship was in her glory. Her hall table was strewn with
cards, and all the big and most exclusive houses open to her; for
was she not the guardian of Miss Chetwynde?

And Trafford? It is hard to describe his condition. He had done his
duty, and was going to save the noble house of which he would some
day be the head. He had won one of the loveliest girls in England;
but he told himself that he still loved Ada Lancing.

They met, for the first time, after the announcement of his
engagement to Esmeralda, at a dance at the Countess of Blankyre’s.

She came late, as usual, and Trafford made his way to her. He
noticed, with a pang of remorse, that she was thinner, and that her
face was more ethereal-looking even than it had been.

She greeted him with the quiet nonchalance which we favor nowadays,
the quietude and repose which must be observed though our hearts
are breaking: and not until they had taken two or three turns
round the room did she speak; then she said:

“So it is done, Trafford?”

“Yes; it is done,” he said, gravely. She drew a long breath, and he
felt her hand close tightly upon his.

“I was right!” she said. “I knew that if you got her down to
Belfayre you would succeed. Did you find it difficult?”

The question jarred upon him.

“Do not let us go into details,” he said.

She was silent for a moment, then she looked across the room at
Esmeralda, who was dancing with one of her many admirers.

“How happy she looks!” she said. “She is positively radiant!” Her
lips curled with something like a sneer. “A shop-girl could not
look more elated; it is as if she were saying aloud, ‘I am to be
the Duchess of Belfayre!’”

Trafford’s brows came down.

“You do her an injustice, Ada,” he said. “She sets no value on the
title or the position. No one could think less of it than she does.”

She laughed scornfully.

“How blind men are! Do you think that, with all her innocence, she
is ignorant of the worth of a dukedom? No girl out of her teens can
be. But I beg your pardon; I would not dispel the delusion.”

“What delusion?” he asked.

“That she is in love with you,” she said, with almost vulgar
frankness. “You think that she would have consented to marry you if
you had been a commoner, and just a mere nobody?”

He was silent, but he glanced at Esmeralda under his knit brows.

“Trust me that, with all her seeming simplicity, she knows the
worth of the bargain she has made. Do you think that you are the
first man who has made love to her?”

His face grew dark.

“You are unjust to her,” he said.

She laughed bitterly.

“And you take up her defense,” she said. “Has it come to that
already?”

“For God’s sake, be silent!” he said, almost fiercely. “What is
done is done. You know how necessary, how inevitable it was. You
yourself advised--yes, drove me to--the doing of it. Do not make
my duty harder and more difficult than it is.”

“Is it so hard, so difficult?” she murmured, with a thrill of
gratification. “Forgive me, Trafford! You can not know, understand,
what I feel, what I suffer! Yes, I advised you, I helped you.
But--but all the same, I--I am a woman, and, ah! do not forget
that--that I love you! Can I help envying her the wealth that gives
you to her? Don’t expect too much of me!”

“Forgive me, Ada,” he murmured, penitently; but, even as he spoke,
he looked across the room at Esmeralda, and her face, radiant with
happiness, smote him with remorse.

“When is the wedding to be?” asked Ada, as they promenaded.

“I don’t know. Soon,” he said.

She sighed heavily. “Yes, it must be soon,” she said. “I think I
shall be almost glad when it is over. I shall have done with life
then--done with it forever. Take me to her; I want to speak to her.
Oh, do not be afraid,” she said, with a curl of her lip, as he
seemed to hesitate. “I have nothing but pleasant things to speak to
your future bride, Lord Trafford.”

He led her to Esmeralda, who was surrounded by a circle of
admirers, and Lady Ada tactfully contrived to get Esmeralda to
herself.

“I have not wished you happiness, Miss Chetwynde,” she said, with a
smile that cost her much.

“Thank you,” said Esmeralda, with a flash of her eyes and a sudden
blush.

“And in wishing you happiness I am quite confident of the
fulfillment of my wish,” said Ada. “You see, I know Lord Trafford
so well. Any girl would be happy as his wife.”

“Yes, I think so,” said Esmeralda, slowly, and with her usual
startling candor. Lady Ada looked at her.

“You are very confident!” she said, with a smile.

Esmeralda waited a moment to grasp the significance of the sentence.

“You mean that I am sure of being happy,” she said. “Why shouldn’t
I be? Wouldn’t you be happy if you were going to marry the man
you--cared for?”

Lady Ada’s smile grew ghastly in its artificiality.

“And you care for him so much?” she said.

The color rose to Esmeralda’s face. “Don’t women generally care for
the men they are going to marry?” she asked, naïvely.

Lady Ada laughed.

“Not always. Sometimes a girl has to marry for--well, for all sorts
of reasons other than love for her future husband; and then--” She
paused, stopped by Esmeralda’s direct and questioning glance.

“But that is not the case with you,” she continued. “It will be
quite a love match, will it not?”

Esmeralda thought her question over before replying.

“Yes; I think so.”

“Therefore, you will be happy,” said Lady Ada. “When is the wedding
to be? I ask because I am going to ask a favor of you.”

“What is it?” said Esmeralda in her outspoken fashion.

“I want to be one of your bride-maids,” said Ada, smiling still,
but with close-set lips. “Of course, I don’t know whom you have
chosen, and, if you have already made your selection, you must not
mind saying ‘No’ to me; but, if you have not, please let me be one.”

“I don’t know when I am going to be married,” said Esmeralda in a
lower voice, and with her eyes bent on the ground. “And I have not
chosen any bride-maids. I don’t know any one. I shall be glad if
you will be one. But I don’t know anything about it.”

“Thanks,” said Lady Ada. “I don’t suppose the wedding is very far
off. Why should you wait? And I shall be pleased to be one of your
bride-maids. Lady Lilias will be one, of course?”

“I hope so,” said Esmeralda, her eyes brightening at the thought.

“Then that is settled,” said Ada. She drew a long breath at the
prospect of the ordeal before her. She scarcely knew why she had
proffered the request; but some women are given to self-torture,
and she was one of them; besides, in any case, she would have to be
present at the wedding, for her absence would provoke remark; and,
being present, she might as well take part in it. She arose, and
left Esmeralda, almost abruptly, soon afterward.

As she had said, there was no reason why the wedding should not
take place at an early date; indeed, there was every reason, on
Trafford’s side, for a speedy marriage; the million was sadly
wanted at Belfayre.

He waited for a week or two, and then, one morning, when they were
riding together in the park, he said to her:

“Esmeralda, will you be my wife very soon?”

She did not start, and scarcely blushed, but looked at him a little
timidly.

“Yes, if you wish it,” she said in a low voice.

The “if you wish it” smote him keenly.

“I do wish it,” he said. “We have not been engaged long, I know,
and, if you would rather wait, we will do so. It shall be exactly
as you wish. It ought to be so. But there is no reason why we
should wait until the autumn or the winter. My father is very
anxious that the wedding should take place--he is very fond of you,
as you know, and is looking forward to the day when he can really
call you his daughter.”

“And I am very fond of him,” said Esmeralda. “I would do anything
to please him.”

“But you must please yourself,” said Trafford. “We all think of you
and seek your happiness.”

“Very well,” said Esmeralda. “I will be married whenever you
please.”

“You are very good to me!” he said, and, under cover of stroking
her horse’s mane, he touched her hand.

Then she blushed, for his lightest caress had power to thrill her.

“Lady Ada has offered to be one of my bride-maids,” she said.

His hands tightened on his reins, and his brows darkened.

“Lady Ada?” he said. “Why did she do that?--I mean, it was very
kind of her.”

“Yes,” she said, innocently. “But why were you surprised?”

“I don’t know,” he said, evasively. “It was a stupid speech. Most
girls like to play the part; she will play it very well.”

When she got home, she told Lady Wyndover, and that lady was thrown
into a state of mild excitement.

“We could manage it in three weeks,” she said. “But not a day less.
I must see Cerise at once.”

Esmeralda laughed.

“I hope you are not going to order a great many more dresses,” she
said. “I’ve more now than I can wear, and Barker doesn’t know what
to do with them; she says every place is choked up.”

“There will be plenty of room for them at Belfayre,” said Lady
Wyndover, with a sigh of profound satisfaction. “Of course, you
will live there. The duke is an old man, and will be glad to have
you and Trafford with him. He is so fond of you, dear. Of course,
I don’t know what plans you’ve made about the honey-moon, but you
might spend it at that pretty little place of mine in Surrey. You
haven’t seen it yet. It really is a charming place; quite a box, of
course; but it will be quite large enough for you two. I think it’s
a mistake for a newly married couple to go to a big house, with
a mob of servants; they want to be alone, to moon about, and all
that. But, perhaps, you would like to go on the Continent.”

Esmeralda laughed again.

“I don’t think Trafford has made any plans; but you seem to have
thought it all out.”

“My dear, I thought it all out from the beginning,” said Lady
Wyndover, with a smile. “You don’t know how hard and cleverly I’ve
worked to bring about this match of yours.”

Esmeralda looked rather startled.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “Why should you?” and her brows
came straight.

Lady Wyndover was always a little frightened when Esmeralda wore
that expression.

“Never mind, dear,” she said. “You have been the sweetest and
dearest of girls, and I am very fond and very proud of you,” and
she kissed her affectionately.



CHAPTER XX.


The preparations commenced at once, and they were so vast as to
fill Esmeralda with amazement.

“Why, twenty girls might be going to be married, instead of one,”
she said.

“Yes,” said Lady Wyndover. “But this one is going to marry the
future Duke of Belfayre. My dear, this is going to be _the_ wedding
of the season!”

Madame Cerise was urged to the point of distraction. She was given
_carte blanche_ in the matter of the bridal robe, which Lady
Wyndover intended should surpass anything that had hitherto left
the distinguished artist’s hand; other dresses were also ordered
from Worth and costumes from Redfern. No expense was to be spared.
As Lady Wyndover said: “Why should it be?”

More presents came pouring in. The duke sent a loving message and
a set of pearls, with a reminder that the Belfayre diamonds would
be hers on the day of her wedding. Lilias sent a simple ring, which
had belonged to her mother, and Esmeralda valued it more highly
than anything else she had received.

Trafford sent nothing. He shrunk from buying an expensive present,
which must be paid for, ultimately, with her money.

The days passed rapidly. Lady Wyndover, and all about her, were
kept in a flutter of excitement. The society papers were full
of the coming wedding, spreading themselves over descriptions
of Belfayre and the other ducal places, and hinting at the
magnificence of the bride’s presents and trousseau.

Of all concerned, Esmeralda seemed the calmest. She was perfectly
happy, and would have been as happy if she had been going to marry
Trafford in book muslin and an artificial wreath. She did not see
very much of him during the three weeks, for, when a marquis is
about to be married, he has a great deal of business to go through.
There were lawyers to see, deeds to sign, arrangements to be made,
all of which took up his time. But when they were together, he was
as attentive and devoted as ever.

And, strange to say, he was not unhappy. He felt that he ought to
be so; that he ought to ache with remorse every time he thought of
Ada; but he did not do so. Indeed, he was conscious of a feeling of
satisfaction when he was with Esmeralda. She was so beautiful and
so sweet, and her love for him, which shone in her eyes whenever
he approached, and sung in her voice whenever she spoke to him,
touched him and affected him strangely.

On the night before the marriage, he went round to Grosvenor
Square, and, of course, found everything in a state of confusion.
Esmeralda was having a dress tried on--she declared that she had
spent the whole of the three weeks trying on dresses--but she came
to him presently, picking her way through the disorder of the
drawing-room.

“Isn’t it a terrible fuss!” she said, with a smile, as she put up
her lips for him to kiss.

“Dreadful!” he said, smiling, and looking round. “But it will soon
be over. To-morrow you will be out of all this hullabaloo.”

Esmeralda laughed.

“Lady Wyndover says that we shall feel as if we were out of the
world at Deepdale.” Deepdale was Lady Wyndover’s little place in
Surrey.

“It can not be too quiet,” he said. “More presents?” He glanced at
a table littered with costly offerings.

“Yes,” she said. “They come every hour, and from people I don’t
ever seem to have heard of. We shall want a room to hold them all.
Oh! but I want to show you something. Wait a moment.”

She ran from the room, and returned presently with a small wooden
box, and took from it a little heart made of Australian gold.

“Look!” she said, and her eyes were moist. “Varley Howard--my
guardian, you know--sent it. It came to-day; all the boys sent it.
It is made from gold found in the camp. See, there are three stars
engraved on it, with ‘Love to Esmeralda, from all the Camp.’” Her
eyes filled with tears, and she dashed them away with the back of
her hand. “I must wear that to-morrow,” she said. “I must wear it
always.”

Her emotion seemed touching and charming to him. Notwithstanding
all the adulation she had received, she was still a simple,
tender-hearted girl, this bride-elect of his. He could not help
thinking that Ada Lancing, however she might have valued the gift,
would never have dreamed of wearing it on her wedding-day.

“Yes, wear it always, Esmeralda,” he said. “You must prize it above
everything else you have received.”

“Not quite,” she said, and she glanced shyly at the engagement-ring
on her finger. “Lilias is here,” she said; “but of course she is
trying a dress on. She will be down presently.”

“Never mind Lilias,” he said. “We do not seem to have been alone
together, Esmeralda, for a long time.”

“It is ever so long,” she said.

He lingered some time, and, unconsciously, seemed loath to depart;
and, when he left her, it was with a whispered “Until to-morrow,”
which had a ring in it that was quite new to his voice. He walked
home thinking of the wedding. Now and again the remembrance of Ada
came to trouble him, but he thrust it away from him. He would think
of nothing and no one that night but Esmeralda, the girl he was
going to make his wife, the girl he was going to vow to love and
cherish, the girl who was going to give him so much--her own sweet
self, her wealth, and her love--in exchange for what?

As he opened the door of his sitting-room, some one rose from the
depths of an arm-chair. It was a young man. The lamp was shaded,
and Trafford did not recognize him for a moment.

“Halloo, Traff! Here you are at last!” said a boyish voice.

Trafford uttered an exclamation, and came forward with outstretched
hand.

“Why, Norman!” he cried. “Is it really you? My dear fellow, I _am_
glad to see you.”

The two men grasped and wrung hands, and Norman looked at his
cousin with all the old admiration and devotion; and Trafford’s
grave face lighted up with pleased surprise and affection.

“I’ve astonished you, I expect,” said Norman. “I am about the last
person you expected to see.”

“I am surprised,” said Trafford. “I had not the least idea you were
in England, but thought you were out in the wilds somewhere. Sit
down. Have you dined? Yes? Have something to drink.” His hand went
to the bell, but he checked himself, and got some wine and some
spirits from the cellarette, and filled a glass, as if he wanted to
show by the small act how pleased he was to see Norman. “Now, tell
me all about it,” he said. “When did you arrive?”

“Only a few hours ago,” said Norman. “You can see that, I should
think,” he added, laughingly, as he looked down at his rough and
well-worn traveling-suit. “I came back quite suddenly. I made up my
mind not to come, you know, until I’d made my fortune.” He laughed
shyly. “I’m afraid if I’d waited for that, I should have never seen
you or old England again.”

“I’m sorry, dear old chap; but never mind,” said Trafford. “Have a
cigar.”

Norman lighted up, and leaned back comfortably. “No, it isn’t easy
to make a fortune, Traff, even in the new world. It’s about as
difficult there as it is here, and everybody’s at it.”

“Never mind,” said Trafford again. “We shall all be very glad to
see you back. And you’re looking very well, Norman. Quite tanned
and hard set.”

“Oh! I’m all right,” said Norman; “roughing it suits me, and I’ve
had a very good time of it, take it all together.” His face clouded
for a moment, for he was thinking of Three Star and the girl he had
met there.

“And where have you been?” asked Trafford.

“Oh! all over the place,” said Norman. “Australia, New Zealand, and
so on.”

“And what have you been doing?”

“Oh! all sorts of things. A little of everything. I was head man
at a livery-stable for a time--the man under me was the son of an
Irish viscount. Sounds funny, doesn’t it?” He laughed. “Then I went
to the gold diggings.”

“The gold diggings?” said Trafford, naturally thinking of
Esmeralda. “Where?”

“Oh, round about Ballarat,” said Norman, knocking the ash off his
cigar, and continuing: “But I didn’t have any luck. It was never
my good fortune to find a nugget, though the fellows in the next
claim fished them out by the pailful. It’s all luck, and it was
dead against me.” He suppressed a sigh, for he thought again of
Three Star and Esmeralda.

“It will come, all in good time,” said Trafford. “You’ll make your
fortune yet. But we sha’n’t let you go back to look for it yet
awhile; you’ll have to stay quiet.”

“Well, I sha’n’t be sorry to,” said Norman. “Now, tell me the news.
You’re looking very fit.”

Trafford said he was “all right,” and Norman asked after the duke
and Lilias.

“And Ada Lancing,” he said; “how is she?”

Trafford’s face grew grave. “Very well,” he said.

“And as beautiful as ever, I suppose?” said Norman.

Trafford nodded. “Have some more whisky,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all the folk,” said Norman.

“Especially the girls,” said Trafford, with a smile. “They’ll be
delighted to welcome their prime favorite back. I hope you’ve come
back heart-whole, old man?”

Norman reddened under his tan, and Trafford, noticing his sudden
confusion, looked at him questioningly. “Got any confession to
make, my dear boy?” he said. “Do you feel inclined to sing, ‘The
Girl I Left Behind Me’?”

The red still remained in Norman’s face. “I haven’t left a girl
behind me in that sense,” he said. “I wish I had. I mean--I’m
afraid I can’t tell you all about it, Traff; but I’ve been hard
hit; so hard hit that the place feels sore.”

“I’m sorry,” said Trafford, quietly, and with ready sympathy. “What
went wrong?”

Norman pulled at his cigar. “It was some one I met abroad,” he
said. “She was the loveliest, sweetest-- But you don’t want me to
rave about her. I was madly in love. I’m madly in love still; but
it wasn’t any use. She said, ‘No,’ and--and I came away and left
her. I’ve been trying to forget her, but I haven’t succeeded very
well. I suppose I shall some day--when I’m ninety, or thereabouts.”

“Poor old chap!” said Trafford. “You’ll tell me all about it some
day.”

“Well, perhaps I may,” said Norman.

“And now what are your plans?” said Trafford.

“Well, I haven’t got any. I shall run down to see the mother
to-morrow; she doesn’t know I’ve come back.”

“I’m almost glad of that,” said Trafford; “because you can’t go
to-morrow. I want you, and can’t spare you, at any rate, until the
evening.”

“All right,” said Norman. “What do you want me for?”

“I want you to assist at my wedding,” said Trafford.

Norman stared, then laughed. “That’s a good joke!” he said.

“A wedding is seldom a joke, to the bridegroom, at any rate,” said
Trafford. “I’m quite in earnest. I wonder you haven’t heard of it!”

Norman stared still harder. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed. “Do you
really mean it? Going to be married! Well! Well, of all the-- Going
to be married! and to-morrow! No; how should I hear of it? They
don’t get the society papers where I’ve been. Who is she? Not Ada?”

Trafford’s brows knit, and he rose and took a turn up and down the
room.

“No, no,” he said. “It is a Miss Chetwynde.”

“Chetwynde?” said Norman. “I don’t remember the name. Do I know
her?”

“No,” said Trafford.

Norman leaned forward in his chair, with eager interest and
excitement.

“I’m awfully glad, old fellow! Tell me all about her. What is she
like? Is she young, pretty?”

“Yes; she is very young,” said Trafford, “and she is very
beautiful. But you will see her to-morrow, and judge for yourself.”

Norman reached for Trafford’s hand, and wrung it. “I congratulate
you, dear old Traff,” he said. “This is jolly news to get the
moment I come back! Where did you meet her?”

“She is a ward of Lady Wyndover’s,” said Trafford.

“Of Lady Wyndover’s?” said Norman. “I don’t remember any ward or
relation of hers of that name.”

“No; she has only recently come under her care.”

“Very young, and very beautiful,” said Norman; “and--and forgive
me, dear old chap--is she rich?”

“She is very rich,” said Trafford, almost grimly. “There is nothing
to forgive. You know how necessary the money is.”

“I know--I know,” said Norman, hastily and shyly. “And you’re going
to be married to-morrow? I long to see her.”

“You shall go round with me to Lady Wyndover’s in the morning,”
said Trafford. “I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned you to Miss
Chetwynde, but it hasn’t been for want of thinking of you.”

“That’s all right,” said Norman.

“If I had known you had been coming back to-night, I would have
asked you to be my best man,” said Trafford. “But I’ve got young
Ffoulkes.”

“That’s all right,” said Norman again.

“You’ll stay here to-night,” said Trafford.

But Norman said that he wanted to get his hair cut, and buy a few
things to smarten him up for so important an occasion, and he went
off to his hotel, but not until Trafford had asked him whether he
wanted any money. Norman said he had enough for the present, at any
rate, though he would have accepted a loan as frankly and readily
as it was offered if he had needed it.

Trafford slept little that night. Soon after breakfast Norman
turned up, beautifully attired in a regulation frock coat, and
a glistening top hat. He looked remarkably handsome, and full
of sympathy with Trafford’s coming joy. If it had been his own
marriage he could not have looked more happy and radiant.

“I don’t know whether it’s quite the right thing for us to go round
to Miss Chetwynde’s, is it, Traff?” he said. “Not having been
married many times, I am not up in the etiquette of the business,
but I’ve an idea that the bridegroom shouldn’t show up at the house
of his bride on the morning of the execution.”

Trafford smiled. “I don’t know anything about it for the same
reason,” he said; “but I should like to see her before we go to the
church. I’m anxious for her to know my best friend.”

“Thanks, old man,” said Norman, with the brusqueness with which
men hide their emotions. “And look here, I found a little trifle,
which I should like to give her, if she’ll accept it. It’s not much
of a thing, but--” He pulled out a small locket, the acquisition
of which had, as he would have put it, nearly brought him to a
condition of “stone broke.”

“You shall give it to her yourself,” said Trafford. “We will go
round there directly. Ffoulkes doesn’t turn up here for another
couple of hours. What a swell you look! Any one would take you for
the bridegroom. I sha’n’t put on my wedding garments till we come
back.”

They walked round to Grosvenor Square, talking together like old
friends and comrades. Norman had no end of adventures by flood and
field to relate, but he said nothing of Three Star or Esmeralda
Howard. For one thing, he did not want to thrust his disappointment
upon Trafford’s joy.

The footman looked rather doubtful when Trafford inquired if he
could see Miss Chetwynde.

“I’ll send up word to her, my lord,” he said, as he showed the two
gentlemen into the drawing-room.

“Perhaps we ought not to have come, after all,” said Norman. Then
they heard a light step on the stairs; but it was Ada Lancing, not
Esmeralda. She was very pale, and she looked startled.

“Is anything the matter?” she asked, breathlessly, and as if she
did not see Norman.

“No, no,” said Trafford, gravely. The sight of her was not very
welcome to him. “Here is Norman; don’t you see him? He only came
back last night, and I had a fancy to bring him round this morning.”

“Oh, yes--yes,” she said, recovering herself, and holding out her
hand. “I thought something had happened, by your coming.”

“What should happen?” he said, simply.

“Nothing--nothing!” she responded, with a quick little breath. “How
delightful of you to come back just at this moment, Norman. How
well you’re looking!” She turned to Trafford. “I will tell her you
are here,” she said in a low voice. “I don’t know whether she can
come down; she is dressing.”

She left them, and presently they heard another step descending the
stairs. The door opened, and Esmeralda entered. She had her bridal
dress on, but not the veil, and she had hastily caught up a white
wrap and thrown it around her. She had not been startled at hearing
that Trafford was there, and had come down with that soft light in
her eyes which always shone in them when she came to meet him; but
it fled as her eyes rested upon Norman, and in its place there rose
a swift look of surprise and terror. Her face went white as the
bridal dress, and with a cry she shrunk back.

Norman stood for a moment, as if turned to stone; then, with a cry
of “Esmeralda!” he half sprung forward. Esmeralda put out her hand,
as if to keep him back; and so they stood gazing at each other,
troubled amazement in his eyes, confusion in hers. In that instant
the folly of the silence respecting Norman Druce burst upon her
with overwhelming force. An ordinary girl, used to the ways of the
world, would not have been overwhelmed or very much confused, but,
to Esmeralda’s simple nature, her secrecy assumed the dimensions of
a crime.

Trafford looked from one to the other in amazement. “What is the
matter?” he demanded.

“Yes; what is the matter?” repeated Ada’s voice, just behind
Esmeralda. She had followed her down in time to witness the mutual
recognition and its startling effect.

Esmeralda seemed incapable of speech; but Norman, calling all his
strength and spirit to the effort, partially recovered himself,
and, with a ghastly smile, said:

“It’s all right. It’s my fault. I startled Miss Howard--”

“Miss Howard?” said Ada, looking swiftly from him to Esmeralda,
with cold, sharp eyes.

“Yes,” said Norman. “Miss--Miss Chetwynde, I mean, of course. She
was Miss Howard when I--I met her.”

“I don’t understand,” said Trafford. He looked at Esmeralda, and
waited. “Where did you meet?”

The color was coming back to Esmeralda’s face. She looked at
Trafford appealingly; but before she could speak, Norman again came
to her rescue.

“I met Miss Howard--I mean, Miss Chetwynde--at a place called
Three Star Camp. I didn’t know she had changed her name.” He
smiled, a little less ghastly. “I was as startled as if I had seen
a ghost--not expecting to see her, don’t you see--and I expect
Miss Chetwynde was just as startled.” He laughed awkwardly. “It’s
a nervous time, and I hope Miss Chetwynde will forgive me for
springing myself upon her like a Jack-in-the-box.”

He drew a long breath; he had done his best. Trafford accepted the
explanation quite unreservedly. It was little wonder that Esmeralda
should be nervous and easily upset that morning.

“You are not frightened now,” he said, with a smile, laying his
hand gently and caressingly on her arm. She turned to him timidly,
and yet eagerly.

“No, no,” she said. “I--I meant to tell you!”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Trafford, soothingly. “Norman is my
dearest, closest chum, and I brought him round--”

“Yes,” said Norman, hurriedly. “I ought not to have come. Please
forgive me, Miss Chetwynde.”

Ada Lancing had been watching with sharp curiosity and suspicion.
She broke in now with:

“Esmeralda, you must not stay. You really must not! There is so
much to do still.”

“Yes, yes; we will go,” said Trafford. He kissed Esmeralda’s hand.
She turned, as she left the room, and looked at both men. There
was the same appealing expression in her eyes as they rested upon
Trafford.

“This is a strange coincidence,” he said, as the two men left the
house.

“Yes; isn’t it?” assented Norman, with a laugh that sounded awful
in his own ears. The houses seemed whirling round him, the sky
pressing down upon his head. Trafford going to marry Esmeralda!
Trafford going to marry Esmeralda! The sentence kept repeating
itself in his brain in a maddening fashion.

“To think that you and she should be old friends!” said Trafford,
with a laugh. There was not an atom of suspicion in his mind. “You
called her Esmeralda, didn’t you?”

“Did I?” said poor Norman. “Yes; I think I did. It--it slipped out
in the moment of surprise.” Trafford must never know that Esmeralda
was the girl he had loved and could not forget. “You see, out in
the wilds there, people soon get to calling each other by their
Christian names. It’s--it’s not so formal, and all that, in a
diggers’ camp.”

“No; I suppose not!” said Trafford. “I am very glad that you are
friends already. By the way, old man, you forgot, in the excitement
of your surprise, to give Esmeralda that little present.”

“Yes; so I did,” said Norman, with a smile that seemed to cost him
a broken heart. “Stupid of me, wasn’t it? I’ll give it to her later
on!”



CHAPTER XXI.


Esmeralda and Lady Ada returned to the drawing-room, where Barker
and Lady Wyndover awaited them impatiently, and the awful mystery
of robing the bride proceeded.

Esmeralda was rather paler than usual, and her heart was still
beating painfully. Why had she not told Trafford of Norman Druce
and his love for her?

“What on earth did Trafford want with you?” asked Lady Wyndover.
“The idea of his coming round this morning! Men have not the least
notion of propriety!”

Ada Lancing, with a glance at Esmeralda, answered for her.

“Norman Druce has just come back, and Lord Trafford wanted to
introduce him to Esmeralda,” she said. “But she had met him before.”

Esmeralda flushed momentarily.

“Good gracious, is that all!” remarked Lady Wyndover. “He might
have waited until after the ceremony, I should think. But that is
just like Lord Trafford. He thinks there is no one like that boy,
and no doubt expects Esmeralda to be of the same opinion. Where
is the lace, Barker? Turn round this way a little, dear. Why, I
declare, your hand is shaking! I hope you are not upset. I wish he
had not come!”

“I am all right,” said Esmeralda; and though her voice was low, it
did not tremble.

Before the bride was fully attired in the white splendor which
would fill half a column of the next morning’s papers, the guests
were on their way to the church.

The duke and Lady Lilias and other members of the family had come
up to the ducal house in Park Lane, where also was staying the
bishop, who was to conduct the ceremony.

When the ducal party drove to the church, they found it almost
filled with the other guests and a large number of the uninvited
public, some of whom had been waiting for hours for the doors to be
opened. For this was, as Lady Wyndover had said, to be the wedding
of the season.

The duke, leaning on Lord Selvaine’s arm and his ebony stick,
looked extremely well and happy, and the people pointed him out to
each other and talked about him in awed and delighted whispers.
Lord Selvaine, with his white hair and serene smile, attracted
almost as much attention; but serene though it was, there was a
touch of triumph in it.

This day was to see the restoration of his house, the rising of the
Belfayre phœnix, and he was happy.

The organ played softly, the long procession of clergy and choir
filed into the chancel, a murmur arose, and the marquis, with Lord
Ffoulkes, his best man, came up the aisle.

“How handsome he is!” whispered the women, “and how noble looking!
Any one could tell he was a Belfayre by his likeness to his father;
he will make a splendid duke!”

He stood at the steps of the communion rail, grave and
self-possessed, waiting for his bride; and presently the music
quickened slightly, and she was seen coming up the aisle leaning
upon the arm of Lord Blankyre, who was to “give her way.”

The murmur rose again, and grew almost too loud for a sacred
edifice, as she came in sight; and the women whispered among
themselves in admiration of her beauty and the magnificence of her
dress. It was a splendid procession, a vision of white loveliness
accentuated by gleaming pearls and flashing diamonds, and those
who had spent hours of weary waiting felt that they were receiving
their reward.

Esmeralda walked up the aisle with downcast eyes, but though she
could feel the universal gaze upon her, she was not frightened.
Fear had no place in the heart of the pride of Three Star. And as
she raised her eyes and saw the crowd, the white-robed clergy,
and the tall, commanding figure waiting for her at the altar,
she thought of the camp. Only a few months ago she was Esmeralda
Howard, a girl of no importance, running wild in a diggers’ camp;
and now-- Was it all a dream?

The service commenced; it was as elaborate and ornate as a full
choir, enthusiastic organist, and a famous bishop could make it,
and the spectators felt almost as if they were assisting at a state
ceremony.

The ring was slipped on, the hands of the pair were joined, the
bishop delivered his little address, and pronounced his blessing
in his well-known manner--a mixture of sacerdotal dignity and
sweetness--and Esmeralda walked down the aisle the wife of the
Marquis of Trafford.

There was a crowd in the vestry, for every one was anxious to
inscribe his name in the registry, or at least witness the ceremony
of signing.

The duke was the first witness, and when he had written his name
rather shakily, he turned to the bride and kissed her, and they all
saw that there were tears in his eyes.

Every one thronged round her, and she felt her hand pressed, and
sometimes her lips, in a kind of whirl; but through it all she was
conscious of Trafford’s nearness, and the words, “My husband,” were
singing in her heart.

“I wish you a long and happy life, Lady Trafford,” said the courtly
bishop, taking her hand in his soft one and smiling benignantly at
her; “and, with God’s blessing, I think my wish, and the wish of
many, will be fulfilled.”

There was a large crowd outside, and as the bride emerged upon her
husband’s arm, it cheered vociferously, and some children from
Belfayre, who had been brought to London, scattered flowers upon
her path.

Esmeralda looked at the bright, rosy faces, and for the first time
her eyes filled; but the tears were those of happiness, and did not
fall.

The wedding-breakfast--for the old-fashioned feast was kept--was a
very great success, and the guests, unusual as was the hour, did
not despise the spread. Esmeralda, as she sat by her husband in the
center of the side of the table, was pronounced the loveliest bride
that had been seen for the last ten years: which is a long time in
the annals of beauty; and the men looked from her to Trafford with
generous envy.

Esmeralda was rather bewildered at first by the number of the
guests and the proportion of strangers, and sat for a time with her
long lashes sweeping her cheek, but presently she looked around,
and the first face she saw was that of Norman Druce. He was seated
almost opposite her. She very nearly started. She had not seen him
in the church or in the vestry, and had very nearly forgotten him.

He was not pallid or downcast, as the rejected rival is generally
represented; on the contrary, his handsome face was flushed, and he
was talking and laughing with what looked like an utter absence of
embarrassment; but Esmeralda felt, rather than saw, that he avoided
her eyes, and that he carefully looked away from her. It was a
brilliant party, and there were many beautiful women present beside
the bride. Lady Ada’s delicate, ethereal loveliness looked its best
in her bride-maid’s dress, and Lilias seemed more _petite_ and
_mignonne_ than ever in her virginal white and lace. Lady Wyndover
was now indeed in her seventh heaven of happiness, and, a marvel
of artistic make-up, looked little more than a girl as she beamed
under the compliments of Lord Selvaine.

“I am continually mistaking you for the bride, Lady Wyndover,” he
said; “and, really, this has been so successful a performance that
I am almost tempted to arrange a repetition for my own benefit.
Would you be very much shocked if I were to propose to you after
they have all gone?”

“Take care,” she retorted, with a delighted laugh; “I may hold you
to your words. What would you do then?”

“Live happy ever afterward, of course,” he said, with his bland
smile. “This sort of thing is terribly contagious. Look at Trafford
and Esmeralda. Are they not enough to make any man and woman go and
do likewise?”

“Ah, yes!” she sighed, gazing at them with a touch of envy; “but
they are so young.”

“I think you are not too young to follow their example,” he said,
blandly.

“Get your blushes ready, Esmeralda,” said Trafford. “There are
going to be some speeches, and they are an awful ordeal. Look at
poor Ffoulkes! I can see his hand trembling from here. He will
upset that glass if he does not take care.”

The speeches were, fortunately, not long, and everybody declared
them to be most brilliant efforts, from the few words spoken by
the duke, in his thin, aristocratic voice, slightly quivering with
emotion, to the stammering and broken sentences of the agonized
Lord Ffoulkes, who was trembling with nervousness, though he had
led a forlorn hope in one of our little wars without a tremor.

There was much laughter, more applause, and a delightful thrill
of excitement, and then Lady Wyndover looked significantly
at Esmeralda, and she and the bride-maids went to change the
magnificent bridal-dress for a traveling costume.

More champagne flowed when the bride had left the room, and the
laughter and talking grew louder; but Norman Druce, who had been
as joyous as any one, suddenly became quiet and thoughtful. He sat
for a few minutes staring vacantly at the table, and answering the
remarks of the pretty girl beside him at random, until at last she
said:

“I don’t believe you’re listening to a word I’m saying, Lord Druce.
What is the matter? If you are really very much in love and can
only think of her, whoever she may be, I will let you alone and
talk to the bishop.”

Thus adjured, he roused himself, and, with the aid of champagne,
which he drank as if it were water, became brilliant once more;
indeed, he grew rather too noisy for the young lady who had
bantered him, and she turned her attentions to the bishop after all.

Trafford’s health was drunk about fifty times, and he sat patiently
smiling and waiting. He had gone through it all extremely well,
and had earned the encomiums of the men, who declared that he had
played the part like a hero.

“Never broke down or cried once!” said Ffoulkes, with an enthusiasm
and admiration born of champagne, and the relief of having got
through the speech which had haunted him for weeks past and made
his life a burden. “Never saw anything like it. Give you my word
that I should have fainted at the very least. Awful ceremony!
Enough to keep any thinking man single for the whole of his life. I
say, old chap, hadn’t we better be getting our togs together? Won’t
do to keep the bride waiting, you know; bad example; though, by
gad! they don’t want any example in that business, as a rule.”

Trafford went into the hall for his light overcoat.

“I had a stick somewhere,” he said. “Where did I put it? Oh, I
remember, I left it in the anteroom last night.”

“I’ll get it,” said Ffoulkes. “Got to wait on you hand and foot
to-day, you know.”

“You wouldn’t find it. Go back into the dining-room--but don’t have
any more champagne,” said Trafford, and he laughed.

Lord Ffoulkes nodded and grinned, and Trafford went into the
anteroom. The stick was standing where he had left it, and he took
it up and was leaving the room when Ada entered.

She closed the door, and stood looking at him, her face white, her
lips tightly compressed.

“I--I have been watching,” she said, with a catch in her breath. “I
knew--felt--that you would want to say ‘Good-bye.’”

Trafford looked down gravely, remorsefully; he had not thought
of her. He did not know what to say, so, of course, he said the
unwisest thing.

“Is--is Esmeralda ready?”

Her cheeks flushed and her eyes gazed at him reproachfully.

“Let us forget her for--for these last few moments,” she said,
painfully. “We shall have a few moments only for this, the parting
of our lives.”

She drew nearer to him, and laying her hand upon his arm, looked
up into his face with a yearning misery which made his heart ache;
for what man can look unmoved upon the face of a woman whose
unhappiness he has caused?

“I am very sorry,” he said in a low voice; and the trite,
commonplace words seemed altogether inadequate.

She tried to smile, but the smile was more pathetic than tears.

“It could not be helped,” she said, almost huskily. “It is
fate--fate. You are lost to me forever now, Trafford--forever! The
words have rung in my ears all day! Ah, God, what I have suffered!”
She put her hand to her lips as if to stifle the cry of anguish,
and her fingers tightened upon his arm. “You will never know, never
understand, for a man’s love, even at its best and fiercest, is not
like a woman’s!”

“Hush!” he said, pityingly and warningly; and he glanced at the
door which led into the drawing-room. “Be calm, Ada! For God’s
sake-- I think I heard some one in that room!”

“There is no one there,” she said, with the recklessness of despair.

He took a step toward the door, then stopped, for her hand detained
him. If he had gone to the door he would have discovered a girlish
form standing, with white face, behind it; would have found
Esmeralda herself.

A few minutes after Ada had left the dressing-room, and just as
Barker was putting on her mistress’s hat, Esmeralda missed her
golden heart, the present from Three Star.

“My heart!” she cried.

“Good heavens! Your heart! Do you feel ill? You are not going to
faint, now it is all over!” exclaimed Lady Wyndover, with fright.

“No, no!” said Esmeralda. “It is the heart they sent me from Three
Star! I have lost it.”

“Oh, that!” said Lady Wyndover, immensely relieved. “Never mind; we
will look for it after you have gone. Where did you have it last?”

Esmeralda stood quite still, thinking.

“I know,” she said; “I remember. I heard something drop in the
drawing-room as I came through just now. I thought it was a jewel
or something and didn’t mind-- If I’d known it was my heart-- I
must go down for it; I know exactly where it fell.”

“Let Barker go,” said Lady Wyndover.

“No--no,” said Esmeralda, impetuously. “She will look everywhere
but in the right place, and I know the exact spot where it fell. I
will go; wait here for me; I will not be a moment.”

She ran out of the room even as she spoke, and Lady Wyndover
laughed and shrugged her shoulders.

“She is just a girl,” she said to Lady Lilias.

“Yes, the dearest, sweetest of girls,” said Lilias. Esmeralda
ran down the stairs--the hall was empty, for the guests were in
the dining-room, and the servants feasting below--and into the
drawing-room. She found her precious gift just where she expected,
and was turning to run back, when she heard voices in the adjoining
anteroom.

She paused half mechanically, a thrill running through her as she
recognized Trafford’s--her husband’s!--and was about to leave the
room when the words Ada said smote her ear; literally smote, for
they fell almost like a physical blow that half stunned her. She
stood rooted to the spot, the color fading from her face, her
lovely eyes slowly distending with fear and horror.

She could hear every word, for the door was slightly ajar; by
moving a little she could have looked in upon the two; but she was
powerless to move; powerless to do anything but stand and listen
with horror and a gradual, slowly growing sense of calamity and
utter misery.

“Such love as mine lasts for a whole life, Trafford,” said Lady
Ada. “It can never die. But you know that. I didn’t come to tell
you that I should never change; only to say good-bye and--and to
hear you say once more, and for the last time, that you--you love
me!”

He stood looking at her, with knit brows.

“You know my heart, Ada,” he said. “Why do you torture
yourself--and me--to no purpose?”

“Yes; it is to no purpose, I know,” she said, bitterly. “You are
married now. You have married this girl for her money; she has
slipped into my place, and it is all over--all over and done with,
and I must live out my life as best I can. But you will not forget
me, Trafford. Promise me that--promise me. It is not too much to
ask, seeing that--” Her voice broke and her head drooped upon his
shoulder.

“I shall not forget you,” he said, hoarsely. Her anguish, her utter
_abandon_, was torture to him. He forgot that he was just married
to a girl who loved him with all her pure heart’s passionate
devotion; at that moment he remembered only this woman whom he had
loved and who still loved him.

“Ah, do not,” she said. “It will comfort me as nothing else could
do. To remember that, had I possessed her wealth, I should have
stood in her place to-day!”

The sound of laughter came from the dining-room; it sounded in
Esmeralda’s ears like open mockery. She put her hand to her head,
and then covered her eyes. Surely she must be dreaming. Yes, that
was it. She was asleep, and this was a nightmare, not reality. But
Trafford’s voice awakened her to a sense of the reality. She was
awake, and it was Lady Ada and Trafford who were in the room there.

“Go now, Ada,” he said, and his voice was almost harsh through the
intensity of his emotion. “There is no use in staying. Some one
will come in.”

“Yes, I will go,” she said. “But, after all, it need not be
good-bye forever, Trafford.” Her tone was piteous and imploring.
“We shall see each other often--often. Why should we not? Trafford,
you will still need me, though--though you are married to _her_.
She can not be all in all to you, as I should have been.” She drew
a long sigh. “She can not even be a companion for you. She is
ignorant and uncultivated; she knows nothing of the things that go
to make up _our_ lives. You will need sympathy--you will come to
me, Trafford.”

Even under the stress and strain of his emotion he was not quite a
fool.

“Will it be wise, Ada?” he said, gravely.

“Yes, yes!” she urged. “I will--I will keep watch and ward on
myself. This is the last time that--that you will hear me speak of
my love. I will be careful, even when we are alone. Trafford, I
can’t--I _can’t_ lose you altogether. I must see you sometimes.
Why do you hesitate? Do you think it will be unfair to _her_?”

His face flushed slightly.

Her eyes flashed.

“You think more of her than of me. You--you think that she is a
marvel of innocence and purity, that she has never loved any one
but you.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, with something like sternness in his
tone.

Lady Ada bit her lip. It was not the time to refer to Norman Druce;
she would keep that as a trump card to be played at the proper
moment.

“Nothing, nothing; do not be impatient with me. I only mean that
she may not be so guileless as you think. But--ah, what does it
matter? We are not to part, Trafford? You will come to me when
anything troubles you, just as you have been used to do? Oh, my
love, my love, is it too much to ask? Think--think of all I have
surrendered to-day; think--” Her voice broke.

“Let it be so,” he said after a pause, during which Esmeralda could
picture him bending over her. She shuddered, and her hand pressed
against her heart.

“I will go now,” said Lady Ada. “Good-bye, Trafford. Remember,
though you are lost to me forever, my love is never dead, can
never die. How could it, while I remembered that though she bought
_you_ with her accursed money she has not bought your heart. That
is still mine, Trafford. Say it; bend down and whisper it, oh, my
love, my love!”

Esmeralda felt choking, fainting, the desire to cry aloud almost
overmastered her. She covered her mouth with the sleeve of her
jacket to stifle the shriek that threatened to express the agony
of tortured love and womanly shame that burned like a consuming
fire in her bosom. She staggered toward the drawing-room door, but
her feet refused to support her, and she sunk on to a couch. There
she sat, breathing painfully a moment or two, then she struggled
to her feet and went slowly upstairs, supporting herself by the
balustrade. Outside the dressing-room door she paused to recover
something of her self-possession, then she entered.

They were waiting for her impatiently.

“Well, have you got it, dear?” asked Lady Wyndover, with her back
to her.

“Got what?” she asked.

At the sound of her voice, hollow and strained, Lady Wyndover
swung round, and she uttered an exclamation as she saw the white,
drawn face.

“Good heavens, child! what is the matter? Barker, the--the
water--some brandy! Are you ill--do you feel faint? Oh, dear, dear!”

They gathered round her, and Barker sprung to a table for water,
and held it to Esmeralda’s lips.

She put it from her gently and set her teeth hard. At any cost
they must not know anything; they must not even know that she was
suffering.

“I am all right,” she said, forcing a smile. “I feel a little faint
just now. Yes, give me some wine--brandy--anything.”

Barker flew out of the room and returned with some champagne, and
Esmeralda drank a glass slowly. They all saw that she shook like a
leaf. Lilias knelt beside her and held her hand.

“What is it, dear?” she asked, with loving anxiety. “You have kept
up so well until now.”

“That is it,” said Lady Wyndover, hovering over them with sal
volatile in one hand and a fan in the other. “I said that such
calmness and _sang-froid_ were--were unnatural, and I felt sure
that she would pay for it and break down later on. Well, it’s
better that it should come now, that it is all over, than in the
middle of the ceremony.”

“All over! Yes, it is all over; it is too late now,” thought
Esmeralda.

“I am better now,” she said aloud, and with the same faint smile.
“It is so hot, and--and I suppose I was tired--that is all.”

“Are you sure?” asked Lilias, anxiously.

“Yes; what else should there be the matter with me?” responded
Esmeralda, doggedly. Her strength was coming back to her; the
horrible faint feeling, that was akin to death itself, was passing
away. “Is it time to go? I am quite ready, am I not? What are we
waiting for?”

She asked the question almost fiercely.

Lady Ada came into the room.



CHAPTER XXII.


Esmeralda’s hand closed tightly, and she raised her head and looked
at Lady Ada’s pale face for an instant, then lowered her eyes.

“I have just been down to see if they are ready,” she said. “The
carriage is at the door, and Lord Trafford is waiting-- What is the
matter?” she broke off, as she saw Esmeralda’s face.

“Nothing,” said Lady Wyndover, with a feminine little frown at her.
“Esmeralda felt rather faint--that is all. It has passed over now,
and she is quite ready. Are you not, dearest?”

“Quite,” said Esmeralda, rising.

With intense thankfulness, she found that she could stand quite
steadily.

“You will be able to rest during the journey,” said Lady Wyndover.
“I am so glad that I arranged you should drive all the way, and
not bother with trains! I hope you will find everything nice,
and--and-- Oh, dear! _I_ have got to say good-bye now, and I’m
afraid I’m going to break down, too!” and the little woman, whose
heart was of the truest metal, notwithstanding the gilt and tinsel
of her exterior, put her arms round Esmeralda and hugged her
just as any washer-woman might have hugged her newly married and
just-departing daughter.

Esmeralda trembled, and gripped the small, tightly corseted figure
almost painfully. She could not speak for the lump that rose in
her throat and threatened to choke her. She kissed the painted and
powdered face twice, thrice, and Lady Wyndover did not shrink or
avoid the art-destroying kiss.

“Good-bye, dear! Oh, I didn’t think I should feel it like this! But
no one can help loving you, dear; no one, and”--with a sob--“I’ve
grown as fond of you as if you were my own. Don’t--don’t forget me
in--in your happiness, Esmeralda. It will seem awfully lonely and
desolate without you! Oh, what a selfish little beast I am! Barker,
have you got the marchioness’s dressing-bag and the jewel-case?
Don’t let them out of your hand. Good-bye, dearest, dearest! You
_must_ go!”

They followed her down the stairs. The rest of the guests had come
into the hall, and were laughing and talking. There was a great
deal of excitement among the men and the younger women, for, though
persons of their class do not take _too much_ champagne, they take
enough.

Lord Ffoulkes had a fairy-like slipper in one hand and a bag of
rice in the other. There was a quantity of bags of rice altogether.

At sight of the bride they broke into a kind of subdued cheer.
Esmeralda, looking down, saw them as through a mist, a mist out of
which grew prominently the tall, commanding figure of Trafford. He
stood at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for her. As she came,
his grave face lighted up with a smile of welcome.

Her eyes met his for a moment, then looked away.

The duke stood near the door, leaning on his stick.

“God bless and keep you, my child!” he said, tremulously, as he
kissed her. “Trafford, take care of my daughter!”

For a moment Esmeralda’s eyes grew moist, then they grew dry and
hot again. Trafford led her to the carriage. The guests thronged
behind, slippers and rice were thrown, the horses pranced, one,
struck by one of Ffoulkes’ slippers, reared; there was a plunge,
a cry of “Stand back; out of the way there!” addressed by the
coachman to the crowd, and the Marquis and Marchioness of Trafford
had started upon their honey-moon.

“And they were married and lived happy ever afterward!” murmured
Lord Selvaine, as he watched the carriage dash down the square.

Trafford waved his hand while the house was still in sight, then
carefully and gently brushed the rice from Esmeralda’s clothes.

“It is fortunate that it is not the fashion to throw brickbats
after the newly married,” he said.

Esmeralda did not respond. She leaned back in her corner--as far
from him as possible--and looked straight before her. She was
still pale, and there was a vacant, absent look in her eyes. Lady
Ada’s--Trafford’s--words were still ringing in her ears like a
knell. She was asking herself what she should do. At one moment she
felt as if she must cry and sob aloud, or feel her heart break; but
she fought against her tears.

Esmeralda, the pride of Three Star Camp, had not lost all the
spirit of which “the boys” had always been so proud; and that
spirit was slowly rising within her now.

She was only a girl--just a girl--as Lady Wyndover had said--but
she was enough of a woman to feel that she had been cruelly wronged
and deceived. She had been bought and sold. The man beside her--her
husband--this great nobleman had led her to believe that he loved
her, but had really married her for her money!

In Three Star, conduct of the kind of which he had been guilty
would have been promptly punished with the rope or the bullet. The
blood burned in her veins as she thought of it, as she realized
that she was tied and bound, a prisoner and helpless in his power.
And yet, while the passion of indignation and resentment throbbed
through her, there was an aching sense of loss in every nerve that
was almost greater than her anger and humiliation.

She had loved him--loved him! Her heart had thrilled whenever he
came near her. She had loved him so dearly, so truly, that she
would have laid down her life for him. Why, if he had come to her
and told her that it was her money and not herself he wanted, she
would have given him every penny and gone back to Three Star and
her old poverty without a murmur! Oh, why could he not have done so!

And now what was she to do? What--what?

“Are you very tired?” he asked after a time. He too had been
thinking, and Ada’s passionate sorrow and desperate appeal were
still ringing in _his_ ears. Then he determined to put all thought
of her away from him--and forever. All his life for the future
should be devoted to this girl-wife of his, this beautiful,
innocent girl who loved him and who had trusted herself to him.
His past was over and buried, and the future looked bright,
notwithstanding Ada, for he was wise enough to know that no man
could live with such a one as Esmeralda without coming to love her.
“Are you very tired? I am afraid that it has been an extremely
trying day,” he said; and, almost unconsciously, his tone was
tender and lover-like.

Esmeralda started from her miserable reverie.

“Yes, I am tired,” she said. He was struck by the weariness, the
“deadness” in her voice, and his voice was still more tender as he
said:

“I was afraid you would be. Close your eyes and try to sleep for a
little while; if you do not sleep you will get some rest that way.
I will pull down the blind on your side. Does your head ache? There
is some eau de Cologne in my dressing-bag.”

He pulled down the blind, and as he did so he touched her hand
lovingly. She drew her hand away slowly, stealthily, and closed her
eyes.

“I will try and sleep,” she said. “No, do not trouble about the eau
de Cologne.”

He drew the dressing-bag under her feet for a foot-stool, and
arranged the other blind so that she should get all the air there
was and yet be screened from the sunlight; then he leaned back,
and, that she might not think he was watching her, got a magazine.

The horses went fast, London was soon left behind, and the green
lanes of Surrey reached. With every mile he felt as if he were
leaving his past--Ada--behind him, and with every mile a sense of
relief was increasing. Now and again he glanced at Esmeralda. She
was quite motionless and breathing regularly, and he thought of the
Sleeping Beauty. A childish fancy for so grave and world-worn a
man, but a sweet one. He had been the prince to call that sleeping
innocent soul of hers into life and love. The thought sent the
blood coursing through his veins, and filled him with a new-born
sense of joy. He thought of _her_, not her money; of the girl, not
the millionairess, whom he had married to save the great house
of which he would some day be the head. He had vowed to love and
cherish her; why--why should he not love her? The magazine, stored
with delightful stories and clever illustrations, remained unread.

Esmeralda was not asleep, but she kept her eyes closed and remained
motionless until the carriage slowed off, and passing a tiny lodge,
drove up a narrow but well-kept drive; then she opened her eyes.
She was pale still, but the rest had soothed her nerves, and the
terrible tension was relaxed.

“We have arrived,” Trafford said. “Are you rested, dearest?”

She started at the endearing term.

“Yes, yes,” she said in a subdued voice. “How long it has been!”

“Yes, I’m afraid it has been too long, too tiring for you,” he
said. “Perhaps, after all, we ought to have gone by train.”

The carriage drew up at the house, and the footman opened the
door. Barker, who had come by train, was on the steps. Esmeralda
saw a pretty cottage, with brown beams projecting through the
cream-colored stone, and with lattice windows daintily curtained
with muslin.

The hall was a miniature affair, with old oak furniture. There
was a big china bowl of roses on the table; a sweet perfume of
“country” flowers--and how different they are to the effete London
orchid--through the place. Trafford dismissed the carriage--they
had Esmeralda’s pair of ponies and a “jingle”--a square governess
cart--then led the way to the drawing-room.

It was tiny but exquisitely dainty, with its decoration of white
and gold and its light Japanese furniture. Another bowl of roses
stood on a side table near the Lilliputian piano.

He took Esmeralda’s hand.

“It is fairyland!” he said, with a laugh. “Let us explore.”

They crossed the hall into the dining-room, and found it to be
almost as small as the drawing-room. The furniture was of light
oak, and the tidy sideboard glistened with silver and cut glass.
There were flowers there also. There was a small morning- and
smoking-room behind it, and a conservatory glowing with simple
plants; no orchids anywhere.

Trafford looked round with a smile of satisfaction and anticipation.

“I have often dreamed of this kind of house,” he said.

Esmeralda said nothing. Its _petite_ beauty and rusticity would
have filled her with delight under other circumstances; but it
seemed just a prison to her, and no more.

“Will you come upstairs, my lady?” said Barker, who had hovered
about them.

Esmeralda looked round to see who “my lady” was, then started
to realize that it was herself, and she followed Barker up the
narrow stairs, built and balustrated like a baronial staircase in
miniature.

Trafford looked up after her.

“Get some rest, Esmeralda,” he said. “We shall not dine till--what
hour, Barker?”

“Seven, Lady Wyndover said, my lord,” said the housekeeper, an
elderly woman, who looked like a dean’s widow at the very least.

“Look after your mistress, Barker,” Trafford said; and the
delighted Barker bowed, and said:

“Yes, my lord.”

Esmeralda’s room was small like the others, and like the others as
dainty as a piece of Dresden china. It was all white and sea-blue,
and flowers were everywhere and filled the air with their perfume.
Esmeralda sunk into a chair, and looked round her dreamily.

“Isn’t it a pretty little place, miss--I beg your ladyship’s
pardon--my lady?” said Barker, as she took off Esmeralda’s hat
and jacket. “I’ve often heard of it, but I’d no idea it was so
beautiful. And it’s all the same all through. And there’s a
dairy--a tiny little place like a doll’s house. And there’s an
orchard at the back, and some meadows with cows and a donkey in
them. I’ve unpacked some of your ladyship’s things--I’m sure I
don’t know where I shall put them--and what will your ladyship wear
this evening?”

Esmeralda roused herself.

“Anything--it does not matter,” she said.

Barker looked rather shocked, as if Esmeralda had been guilty of
profanity.

“Oh, my lady!” she murmured, “I was thinking that the black lace of
Worth’s--”

“That will do,” said Esmeralda, indifferently.

“Yes, my lady; and”--as she got the dress from the white-wood
wardrobe--“there are only two men-servants, a gardener and a groom,
and the gardener sees to the cows. So different to Belfayre, isn’t
it, my lady? But it’s the prettiest place I ever saw; a paradise in
a nut-shell, I call it. Will your ladyship wear the diamond or the
pearl suite? Either will go with this dress.”

“Which you like,” said Esmeralda, absently.

What should she do? Keep silent, or tell him all she had heard?

“The diamonds, I think, my lady,” said Barker. “Your ladyship
carries them so well; it’s very few ladies can wear diamonds; they
always seem to be thinking of them, whereas your ladyship doesn’t
seem to know what you have on. And you ought to wear your best
jewels to-night, your wedding-night, my lady.”

Esmeralda made an uneasy movement.

“I will wear what you like,” she said. “But--but I want a rest. I
am tired, and--”

“Of course, my lady,” murmured Barker, full of sympathy. “If you
will lie down on this couch I will cover you up carefully, and you
can try and sleep till it’s time for me to dress you. His lordship
said you were to rest.”

Esmeralda threw herself upon the dainty couch, and Barker “covered
her up” carefully; but as soon as she had left the room, Esmeralda
threw the things off, and rose and paced to and fro like a caged
wild animal. The old Three Star spirit was burning within her. She
had been deceived, and her whole nature rose in revolt. At one
moment the thought of flight flashed across her mind; but that, she
knew, was impossible. She had to “face the music.”

At half past six Barker came to her, radiant and enthusiastic.

“There are bees, miss--I beg pardon--my lady; ever so many hives,
and the garden is beautiful, and so are the lanes. And it’s quite
out of the world; I’m sure your ladyship will be delighted with it.
I heard his lordship say that he had never seen a more beautiful
little place.”

She dressed Esmeralda, and stepped back, as usual, to admire the
effect.

“You look--” She paused. “That dress suits you, my lady,” she said,
with suppressed admiration.

Trafford was waiting for her in the tiny drawing-room. He looked a
little impatient--for the first time since she had known him--and
a little restless. She noticed that he wore a diamond in his
shirt-front instead of the black pearl. As his eyes rested on her,
they lighted up with a strange expression. There was admiration in
it, and something more, something that made her heart leap for all
its aching misery.

“How well you look!” he said in an undertone. “You have been
resting? That is right. That is a beautiful dress. Is it one of the
new ones?”

Two days ago his praise, the warmth of his admiration, would have
thrilled her, now--

“I think so,” she said, quietly.

He gave her his arm and they went in to dinner.

The cook, though a woman, was an artist, and the dinner was a good
one. A pretty maid waited, and waited well.

Esmeralda could scarcely eat, but she made a pretense of doing
so, and Trafford, though he noticed her lack of appetite, made no
remark. Once or twice he leaned forward, from his end of the table,
with the champagne to fill her glass; but it remained full as the
maid had at first filled it.

He did all the talking, and, even to him, she seemed strangely
silent.

“There are some pretty drives about here,” he said. “The ponies are
here, and I have told them to send some horses. You will like to
ride.”

“Yes,” she said, looking at the plate.

The maid brought in some dessert and a plain glass jug of claret,
and Esmeralda rose.

“I shall not be long,” he said. “One cigarette only.”

He opened the door for her, and would have touched her--on the hand
or the arm, or perhaps the shoulder--but she kept away from him
with a kind of reserve.

She went into the tiny drawing-room and paced up and down. The
words she had heard in the anteroom at Grosvenor Square rang in
her ears. How could any man--he least of all--be so false--so
treacherous! He pretended to love her, whereas he had married her
only for her wretched money! How handsome he was! How musical his
voice! And he loved not her, but Lady Ada. Oh, God! what should she
do?

Trafford smoked his cigarette and sipped his claret, and as he
smoked, his past slipped still further away from him and his future
beamed more roseate.

He flung the end of the cigarette into the fire-place and went into
the drawing-room.

On his way through the hall he paused a moment to bend over the
bowl of roses; they reminded him of Esmeralda. She was just as
fresh, as sweet, as pure.

He entered the drawing-room. She was standing by the window looking
at the sunset with large dreamy eyes. As he approached her, he
thought her the most lovely of the daughters of Eve. And she was
his wife!

She did not turn to greet him with a smile, but stood quite still,
quite motionless.

He put his arm round her waist and drew her to him.

“Esmeralda, dearest!” he said, and there was _love_ in his voice.
“Are you happy--my wife?”

She turned upon him as if he had struck her.

“No!” she said.



CHAPTER XXIII.


“No!”

The word came direct from her breaking heart, but, because of its
very intensity, it was low and subdued.

Trafford started slightly, then smiled; he thought she was jesting;
that, girl-like, she wanted him to ask the question again. He stood
silent, and looking at her. Beauty unadorned is all very well, but
beauty attired in a Worth dress of soft black lace, with diamonds
glistening in its hair, gives the unadorned article very long odds.
Esmeralda was a vision of loveliness as she stood in the light of
the window; that light which is so trying to imperfect features and
faulty complexions, but which only serves to accentuate the charms
of a loveliness like Esmeralda’s. It fell upon the bronze-gold
hair and lighted it up until it shone softly; it fell upon her
olive-pale face and touched it with a warm tint, rose on ivory; and
it revealed the depth and the color of the wonderful eyes shaded by
the long lashes.

Trafford’s heart leaped as he told himself that this marvel of
Nature was his bride, his very own, and that she loved him!

His emotion kept him silent for nearly a minute, then he said, with
a smile:

“This is the first time I have heard you plead guilty to
unhappiness, Esmeralda. I am glad it was only in jest; you--”

“It was not in jest,” she said; “I am very unhappy.”

The smile died slowly from his face, leaving his eyes last, as he
looked at her.

“I don’t understand,” he said, gravely but gently. “Do you feel
lonely--dull? I suppose a girl--just taken from her friends, and
entering on a new life--must feel it. But, dearest, you are with
me, with your husband--”

“Yes,” she said, almost inaudibly. “That is it.”

He stood and gazed at her with a presentiment of coming ill; and he
noticed, for the first time, that her lips were compressed and her
brows drawn straight, as they always were when she was serious or
troubled about anything.

“Esmeralda!” he said, in amazement. “My dear one, you--you are not
serious?” He took her hand and held it caressingly, soothingly.
“Such words hurt me, though they are only in jest. You _can not_ be
serious. And yet--let me look at you!”

She did not resist as he drew her round slightly so that he could
see the whole of her face, but she was passive only, and her eyes
looked over his head and beyond him with a dull kind of resentment.

“Something has happened to trouble you,” he said, very
gently--“something since we arrived. What is it? Don’t you like
this place, the servants? What is it? We need only stay the night;
we need not stay even so long if you would rather go. Tell me,
Esmeralda.”

“The place is very well,” she said, and her voice came slowly,
painfully. “I do not wish to go--unless--”

“Unless--what?” he asked. “Be frank with me, dearest. You should
have no thought that I do not share. You say that you are unhappy.
Great heavens! I can scarcely believe my ears.” He tried to smile.
“You know that all my life is devoted to making you happy. Tell me
what is wrong?”

“Do you wish me to tell you?” she asked.

His surprise grew at her tone and manner.

“I do wish it,” he said, gravely. “There should be no secret
concealments between us, dearest.”

“You think that, you say that,” she said, with a kind of sad
bitterness. “Would you answer me frankly, truthfully, if I were to
ask you a question, Lord Trafford?”

“‘Lord Trafford!’” he said, raising his brows. “Why do you call me
by my title, Esmeralda? For God’s sake, let us get to the bottom of
this mystery at once, for it is a mystery to me. Of course I will
answer you, and frankly and truthfully. I am not in the habit--” He
checked himself and spoke more gently. “What is it, dear one?”

“Why did you marry me?”

The face opposite him was that of a girl, the voice that of a woman
struggling with pain and misery. He started and dropped her hand,
and the color flew to his face, then left it, and left it paler
than before.

“That is a strange question,” he said in a low voice, and with a
ghost of a smile. “A strange question from one’s bride and at such
a time. Have you forgotten that we were married only a few hours
ago?”

“I have not forgotten,” she said, and her voice was altogether sad
now. “But answer me: you promised.”

He laughed, but with an undercurrent of uneasiness.

“I will, if you must have it. I married you because I love you.”

Her eyes flashed; the Three Star spirit flamed up within her.

“It is a lie!” she said, not loudly, but with terrible distinctness.

Trafford’s face went white, and he stood for a moment, breathing
hard and looking at her as if he had not heard her aright.

“What--what is that you say, Esmeralda?” he asked, almost inaudibly.

“That is not true--and you know it!” she said. “Wait; I don’t want
you to answer me, to talk to me as if I were a child, an ignorant
girl. I--I should hate to have you lie to me. Besides, it is too
late.”

He stood like a man bewildered by a sudden blow.

“Too late!” he echoed, mechanically.

“Yes,” she said, with a little catch in her voice. “Oh, if it
were not--if it only were not! Lord Trafford, it--it is not my
fault that we were married. I only knew the truth afterward--soon
afterward; but it was afterward. I know now--now that it is too
late--that you married me for--for--”

She paused; the shameful words threatened to choke her.

“Go on,” he said, with an awful calmness.

--“For my money!” she said in a whisper, and with downcast eyes, as
if it were she who was guilty.

He did not start, but a hand seemed to grasp his heart. It was
so true--and truth is often so ghastly, so all-powerful and
insurmountable.

“How--who--”

“Ah, you admit it,” she said, sadly as if she had hoped, even
against hope, that he would deny it, even in the face of the
truth. “I will not tell you how I learned it. But it is the truth;
you can not deny it!”

She put her hand to her lips for a moment, as if to steady them,
for they were quivering.

“It was not _me_, but--but the money you wanted,” she went on. “All
the time you have--perhaps, _hated_ me; have been laughing at me
even while you--you have been saying--saying--”

Her voice broke. She remembered--it flashed upon her at that
instant--how few loving, really _loving_, speeches he had made to
her.

“I ought to have known,” she faltered. “But I did not. How should
I? brought up in a diggers’ camp. And there was no one like you at
Three Star, no one who thought of such things. I was just ignorant,
and--and believed you.”

“My God!” he murmured, under his breath. He understood all she was
feeling; and he shared her agony of shame and humiliation. Another
man might have turned to her and lied to her, fluently declaring
that he had loved her from the first; but Trafford could not do
that. It would have seemed to him as if he were insulting her and
mocking her misery.

“I believed you,” she went on, almost as if she were speaking to
herself. “I thought you--you cared for me--”

“Esmeralda!” broke from him; then as he met her sorrowful gaze, he
stopped and turned his head away.

“When you took me down to Belfayre, and they were all so good to
me, I didn’t understand, I didn’t guess the truth. And the duke
talked as if he were rich, as if money--money was not even thought
of. And you--you seemed”--her voice broke--“as if you could not
do or even think anything mean and-- It is just that; I didn’t
understand.”

Her bosom heaved, and her eyes, dry and burning, gazed vacantly at
the sky, now reddening with the setting sun.

“But I know all now. Ever since I found out the truth I have been
thinking--thinking until I thought I should go mad! All the way
here, while you thought I was asleep, I was going over it all, and
my eyes were opened, and I--I understood! It was the money you
wanted; and not only you, but the duke, and Lord Selvaine, and
Lilias--” Her voice grew thick.

“No--no!” he exclaimed, hoarsely. “Not Lilias!”

“Yes,” she said, sadly; “I blame her more than the rest, for she is
a girl, a woman, and understood. She knew I was ignorant and didn’t
know the ways of the world; but she is a great lady, and she ought
to have been above--above sacrificing me!”

The word stung him like the cut of a whip. His lips set tightly;
but he said nothing. What could he say?

“You all thought of yourselves and your family pride, and--nothing
of me!” she went on, after a pause. “I was only a nobody, something
little more than the girls who work in the fields: why, I _am_
little better!”

He spoke at last.

“Esmeralda--be just; I--no one of us but respected, admired--”

“I know,” she said, with a deep sigh. “My money made you forget
what I was. Lady Wyndover used to say that it was no matter what I
did. I didn’t understand that, among other things, but I do now.
And I do not blame her for the part she has played.”

She spoke with a kind of calm, pitying contempt.

“She could not help doing what she did, being what she is. She
thought that nothing mattered so that I was a marchioness, and
would be a duchess some day. I do not blame her, though--though she
has been as cruel as the rest of you!”

She was growing weary under the strain, and she leaned against the
window, and for a moment let her head rest against it, but for a
moment only.

“I suppose most girls would not mind. But I expect I’m different,
having been brought up differently, and--and I can’t bear it.”

The words had a ring of anguish in them that found an echo in his
heart and made him half turn to her. But her face, the look in her
eyes, kept him back.

“I am married now, and--and it is too late; you can have the
money--”

“My God! have some mercy, child!” broke from him, the sweat
standing on his white brow.

“What mercy have you had on me?” she asked in a low voice. “Ah! why
did you do it? Why did you not come to me and tell me what it was
you wanted? You might have had the money--every penny of it!”

He wiped his face but said nothing.

“I would have given it to you gladly, gladly. For I--I--I cared for
you!”

He turned to her with outstretched hand, but she did not move, nor
did the steady regard of her sorrow-stricken eyes flinch or yield.

“It was no good to me. It has never been any good. All the things
I have bought with it I never cared for. I hate it--I _hate_ it
now! It is the cause of all--of all my misery. I was happy at Three
Star.” Then the longing of her heart broke from her in a despairing
cry. “Oh, my God! why did I ever leave it?”

She sunk into a chair and covered her eyes with her hand. He stood
for a moment motionless, then he went to her side, and looking down
at her with pallid face, said, hoarsely and slowly, as if he were
weighing every word:

“Esmeralda, listen to me; I understand now; I know all you feel.
I will not ask you who told you--how you discovered the truth.
It _is_ the truth--partly. Esmeralda, it was the desire of the
money--and I curse it now as you do--that led me to yield.”

“I know it,” she whispered, brokenly.

“Yes, there shall be no concealment, no evasion. It was the money.
You say you can not understand how I could have been so--mean, so
bad. You can not. You do not know the need that urged me on, the
devil of family pride that thrust me forward. See, I speak to you
now as to a woman--you can not call yourself ignorant any longer.
I will speak--yes, as man to man--the truth and the whole truth.
Esmeralda, we were nearly ruined; we stood on the brink of utter
destruction; in a few months Belfayre would have been sold over
our heads. There was only one person who could save it, only one
way of saving it. It is a way that is common, all too common.
Men--women--of the world think nothing of it; no one shrinks from
it. I could save my people, the place, by marrying money, and--”

“You deceived, sacrificed me!” she said, slowly.

He made a gesture with his hand.

“I will deny nothing that is true,” he said. “I asked you to be my
wife because you were rich--yes.”

She rose, her eyes fixed upon him, her breath coming fast, and he
met her gaze steadily, almost calmly.

“At that time I did not love you.”

She put up her hand as if to still the heaving of her bosom.

“It is to be the truth between us,” he said. “I did not love you. I
admired you; who could do less? I knew that you were good and sweet
and pure; but”--his voice rang low--“but though I did not love you
then, _I love you now_! Wait! Listen to me!”

He stood erect, his eyes flashing, his heart beating fast.

“If I ever doubted myself, I doubt no longer. I know, now that I am
in danger of losing you, that I love you.”

Her eyes sought his; she seemed to be drawn toward him; she was
yielding under the spell of his voice, his eyes, the magnetic power
of his love. Then she called all her spirit and her pride to her
aid, and faced him.

“It is not true,” she said--“it is not true!”

His hand fell upon the back of the chair beside him and gripped it,
and his face went white again.

“Esmeralda,” he said, hoarsely, “you _must_ believe me! I love you,
dearest! For God’s sake, believe me! Do as you will by me; I yield
myself, my future, to you. It is only right; but--but believe me--I
love you!”

“It is false, false!” she said, almost inaudibly; for Lady Ada’s
voice was ringing in her ears and drowning her own. “I do not
believe you! I _know_ that you do not love me! Nothing you could
say could convince me--nothing, nothing!”

He stood for a moment or two with bowed head, his breath laboring,
his face dark.

“There is no more to be said,” he said, at last, and his voice
sounded harsh and strained. “I can not _make_ you believe me if you
will not. You must continue to think me a liar and a scoundrel.
Some day you will know that I am speaking truly. God grant it!”

“Never!” she breathed, Ada’s voice still in her ears.

He looked at her--a long, yearning, despairing look--then he turned
his eyes away, as one turns away from a treasure that has slipped
from one’s hand forever.

“I have been guilty; I have pleaded guilty to your accusation,
Esmeralda,” he said, at last. “What do you wish me to do--to have
done? I will do anything; I owe it to you.”

She tried to think.

“If I could only get away--back to Three Star!” she said, rather to
herself than to him.

He winced.

“I do not think you could do that,” he said, hoarsely.

She drew a long sigh.

“No, I know. I am not so ignorant as you think me. I have learned a
great deal since the night you came up to me at Lady Blankyre’s.”

“For God’s sake, spare me!” he pleaded.

“I know that I am your wife, the Marchioness of Trafford, one of
your family, and that I must think of you and them. I can’t go
away.” She remembered the lake at Belfayre and the duke’s words.
“The wife of the Marquis of Belfayre can’t do that. It would be
better for me to kill myself.”

He uttered not a word.

“But do not be afraid. That would bring scandal, would it not? and
I will not do that. I--I care for them--the duke and Lilias--too
much, and I will think of them--though they did not think of me.”

He put out his hand imploringly, then let it fall to his side.

“I will go,” he said in a whisper.

Her head drooped.

“Yes; thank you.”

The simple words tortured him more keenly than anything she had as
yet said.

“I will go presently--in a day or two,” he said. “I would go at
once--for that is what you most ardently desire--but scandal-- You
have spoken of it, not I.”

“Yes,” she assented, dully. “I am to blame for being so
ignorant--more than all the rest--and I do not want to make
everybody unhappy and bring disgrace on--on the duke and Lilias.”

He bit his lip. She did not think of him; it was “the duke and
Lilias.”

“I understand,” he said in as dull and dead a voice as her own.
“You--you do not wish any one--the servants, the family--any one to
know of this--this division between us?”

“No,” she said.

“No one need discover it,” he said. “We will remain here for a
time--a few days--as long as you like--then I can go away. I can
even stay, if you wish it; everything shall be arranged as you
wish. We can be friends--in outward seeming, at any rate.”

“Yes,” she assented, mechanically.

She was weary to the point of exhaustion. If he had gone up to her
and taken her in his arms, and held her against his heart in spite
of herself, her heart would have yielded, and all would have been
well.

But he did not do so. He thought that love was slain in her heart,
and that to touch her--to utter a word of love--would but insult
her and harden her. Men are always fools where the woman they love
are concerned.

“The money”--he moistened his lips--“the money shall be made over
to you again.”

She rose and shook her head.

“No,” she said in a low and firm voice; “I will not have it.
The--bargain is made, and I will stand by it.”

“I can not consent to that,” he said, grimly.

“You must,” she said, simply. “If you were to do it--give it back
to me--I should refuse it, the whole truth would come out, and I
should go back to Three Star.”

He breathed hard.

“You have no mercy,” he said, brokenly. “You exact your revenge and
force me into the very dust.”

“I don’t mean to do that,” she said in a low voice; “but the money
must stop where it is.”

“For the present,” he said. “If you knew me you would realize how
bitterly you make me suffer.”

“I, too, suffer!” she said, turning away her head. “Only hide the
truth, and let people think that there is no trouble.”

“I will try to do so,” he said. “You may trust me. Never by word or
look will I ever remind you that we are husband and wife. That I
can promise you.”

Her lips moved--they were very white at this moment--but all he
could hear was:

“Thank you. I--I trust you.”

“You may do so,” he said, as simply as she had spoken.

There was a silence. The night had fallen suddenly, unnoticed by
them. They stood motionless--as if a chasm had suddenly opened and
gaped between them.

Then he seemed to awaken from a spell.

“I--I will go out,” he said. “Will you have the lights?”

The commonplace question struck hideously. She shook her head.

He walked to the door, then paused, and looked back at her.
She stood quite motionless, gazing vacantly into the night. He
sighed--it was very nearly a groan--and then, like an idiot, went
out and left her.



CHAPTER XXIV.


She heard him pass through the Lilliputian hall, and down the
garden path; heard the gate clang behind him, and at the sound a
pang of pain shot through her.

She sat, where he had left her, looking out at the night with
vacant eyes. Her life seemed to have come to a sudden stop; he had
taken all the joy, the hope in it away with him.

She had tried to think, to realize her future; but it was hard
work, for his voice was ringing in her ears, and his face--so white
and haggard--came between her and the darkened window. She had
promised not to go, not to leave him--to avoid the scandal; and
he had promised to forget that she was his wife. They would be
friends, in outward seeming, at any rate. She sighed. She knew she
could trust him, for in all else but in marrying her for her money,
she felt that he was the soul of honor, and a promise would be
sacred to him.

Not one word of Lady Ada had she said; shame for him, not herself,
kept the name from her lips. He should never know she had heard
Lady Ada’s shameful avowal or his words of love to her.

Life stretched before her grim and black; she thought of Three
Star, of Varley Howard’s love, of the “boys’” protecting care of
her, and her eyes grew moist, and a tear dropped upon the Worth
dress, and shone beside the diamonds. If she could only go back,
and forget that she had ever been anything but the pride of a
diggers’ camp! Forget she was Miss Chetwynde, the millionairess--a
crimson blush rose like a stain to her pale face; no, she was not
Miss Chetwynde, but the Marchioness of Trafford. She was married to
a man with whom she had quarreled on her wedding-night, a man to
whom she was only to be “a friend in outward seeming!”

She scarcely gave a thought to Norman Druce, for Trafford and Lady
Ada were the central figures in her mind, and no one else counted.

She did not know how long she sat in the darkened room, but she
felt at last that it must be very late, and, with a dazed feeling,
she rose, and went upstairs. Trafford had not come in, she knew,
for she had not heard him. Where was he? Had he changed his mind
and left her?

Barker was waiting for her, and being still full of the rustic
charms of Deepdale, was eager to talk. Esmeralda let her chatter
on, scarcely hearing a word, then sent her away as soon as
possible. A strange feeling of loneliness took possession of her;
and yet it was not strange, for until to-night she had always had
friends near her. To-night she was utterly alone. The Marchioness
of Trafford, the future Duchess of Belfayre, with a jewel-box
crammed with gems, with a million of money to do as she pleased
with, was, with it all, one of the unhappiest women in all England!

She sat up for hours listening; the little house grew still; she
went to bed at last, but lay awake, listening still. But his
footstep did not sound on the gravel path. The house remained as
silent as the grave.

It was her wedding-night.

Trafford went out into the darkness, feeling like a man who had
been smitten by a mortal illness. His brain was in a whirl; the
whole thing seemed like a hideous nightmare. He did not ask himself
how Esmeralda had discovered the truth; it never occurred to him
that she might have overheard Lady Ada’s wild words; he thought
that, perhaps, some fool of a woman had been talking to her, and
opening her eyes.

As he strode along the perfumed lanes he felt his love for her--the
love which had been growing gradually for months past, but which
he had only fully realized to-night--sharpening his misery. How
beautifully she had looked as she stood before him, with her
indignant accusation! Her face haunted and tortured him. There was
no one like her in the wide world. The women of his set, with their
selfishness and artificiality, seemed hateful to him beside her
purity and true nobility. She was a waif of the wilds, no doubt,
but all the same she was one of Nature’s gentlewomen.

How sweet she had looked, how exquisite, in her beautiful dress,
with the diamonds which she wore so unconsciously! Any man might be
proud of her--not only love her, but be proud of her. And he had
lost her! Well, it served him right. For the first time in his life
he had played a base part, and he was deservedly punished. Rather
than deceive this girl who loved him, he should have let Belfayre,
twenty Belfayres, go to the devil.

Now, what was he to do? Well, there was only one thing to do--to
keep the promise he had made her. She had behaved nobly. If she
had left him, and gone back to that place in Australia, he could
scarcely have blamed her. She had sacrificed herself, had condemned
herself to living in the same house with him, to avoid a scandal;
he must do what he could to make her life at least endurable.

The thought brought him a grim kind of consolation. His life should
be devoted to her; no woman in the world should be more surrounded
by watchful care and attention than she should be. She should do
exactly as she liked, should go where she pleased; her wish should
be his law; he would be just a superior kind of servant to her.

He strode on, heedless of the direction he was taking, and as
heedless of the time. His excitement gave place to a dull, hopeless
weariness. Presently he felt that the air had grown cooler; it
was the chill of early dawn. He stood in the center of the lonely
heath, and looked round him, and its vague outlines seemed to
symbolize his own life; for he felt as Esmeralda had done, that it
had come to a sudden stop. He turned and walked slowly back to the
cottage. The dawn was breaking, and a thrush was beginning to sing
timidly and sweetly as he went up the narrow path. Somehow, it
reminded him of Esmeralda’s voice. He entered the house, and went
upstairs very quietly, and he paused at the door and listened with
knit brows, and his lips moved, shaping the words: “My love, my
love!” Then he went into his own room, and threw himself, dressed
as he was, upon the bed; and he, too, lay awake communing with his
unhappiness.

When Esmeralda went down to the breakfast-room the next
morning--the dainty room redolent with the perfume of the roses
which stood in great bowls on the table and sideboard--she saw him
outside in the garden, and a faint blush rose to her pale face.
How should she greet him? What should she say to him? When he came
in, they were alone, and he stood in the door-way for a second or
two, looking at her. She just glanced at him, and was busy with the
coffee cups.

“What a lovely morning!” he said. His voice was grave and weary,
though he tried to make it light, and she had noticed that he was
pale and haggard.

“Yes,” she said, without looking up.

He went to his place at the other end of the table, and, to their
mutual relief, the neat parlor-maid came in to wait upon them.

“What are you going to do to-day?” he asked.

She crumbled her toast nervously, just glancing at him. “I do not
know,” she said. “Anything you like.”

“Will you have the ponies, and go for a drive?” he said. “The
country round here is very beautiful, and it will not be very
dusty; there was a shower this morning.”

“Yes, that will be very nice,” she said, trying to speak as if it
did not matter what she did or where she went.

“I must get a map of the country,” he said, “and plan out some
excursions.”

He went on talking, and she responded now and again--they were
acting for the benefit of the parlor-maid. When the girl had left
the room, they fell into a silence; but Trafford struggled against
it. They could not go through the whole of their lives sitting
mum-chance opposite each other.

“Esmeralda,” he said, “I want you to do, to go wherever you please.
Whatever you do will seem right in my eyes. If this idea of the
drive doesn’t suit you, you will say so, will you not?”

“Yes,” she said in a low voice; “I should like to go.”

“Would you like to have me with you?” he asked, paying great
attention to his plate. “Don’t say ‘yes’ if you’d rather be alone.”

She considered for a moment, then the thought that the fact of her
driving about the country without him on the day after her marriage
would excite surprise, flashed upon her, and she said:

“I think it would be better if you came.”

He had hoped that she would have said: “I should like you to come,”
and his face fell.

“Better?” he said. “Ah, yes; I see. I will order the ponies. Would
you like to come round the garden?”

She arose at once with wifely obedience. The garden was flooded
with sunlight, the flowers shone like so many gems, the full
concert of birds was in progress. These two mortals looked round
with aching hearts.

“It is an earthly paradise,” he said; and he sighed.

“Yes,” she assented; and both of them thought of that other
paradise into which the eating of the Tree of Knowledge had brought
so much misery.

He cut a blush-rose and held it in his hand for a minute or two,
then with an affectation of carelessness, he held it out to her.
She took it with a little feeling of surprise which she carefully
concealed, and put the blossom in the bosom of her dress. He looked
at it for a moment, and then turned his eyes away.

The ponies came round with the diminutive groom in attendance, and
Trafford was just on the point of dismissing him, when he reflected
that perhaps Esmeralda would prefer to have the lad with them, and
the boy got up in the rumble behind. She took her seat in the place
beside the driver’s, but Trafford shook his head with a smile and
gave her the reins.

“You must drive your own ponies,” he said; and then he grew red,
for it seemed to him an unlucky speech, as if he wished to remind
her that in reality her money had bought them; but Esmeralda was
not thinking of money, of her wealth and his poverty, at that
moment, and did not notice his embarrassment. The ponies were
fresh, and her whole attention was taken up by them at the time. A
faint tinge of color came to her face, as it always did when she
was riding or driving, and she seemed to forget for the moment the
cloud that hung over her life. Trafford watched her management of
the ponies with admiration, which was shared by the boy behind, who
talked about it for an hour when he got back to the stables.

There is no lovelier county than Surrey, and Deepdale lies in one
of the prettiest parts of it. Trafford thought how happy they
would have been under other circumstances, if only Esmeralda had
not made her fatal discovery. He remembered their drive to Shirley,
and how he had put his arm round her and proposed to her. Why, he
must have been in love with her then. What a double-dyed idiot
and fool he must have been not to have known it! They were almost
silent during the drive. They stopped at the nearest town.

“Don’t you want to buy something?” Trafford asked. “I’ve never
known a woman go into a town without wanting to buy something.”

She looked round the drowsy place, with its shops prettily
affecting a London air, and shook her head.

“I suppose I’m not so fond of buying things as most women,” she
said. “Lady Wyndover used to say that I was uncanny and unnatural.
I never seem to want anything.”

“Not some ribbon?” he said. “I thought women wanted ribbon every
hour of the day.”

“I’ll buy some if you like,” she said; and she pulled up at the
linen draper’s.

The shop-keeper and one of his assistants came out hurriedly to
wait upon the great folk. Of course every one in the little place
had heard and read of the great Marquis of Trafford, and of his
rich and lovely bride, and felt that their presence in the county
shed a luster upon it. Some ribbons were brought out and Esmeralda
purchased some.

“I haven’t any money,” she said. The shop-keeper almost bowed
himself to the ground.

“Certainly not, my lady,” he said. “We will put it down. If at any
time your ladyship should want anything, we shall be happy to send
one of our young men down to Deepdale.”

People came to their doors to look at the illustrious pair in a
covertly respectful way, which had been familiar to Traffords all
his life, but to which Esmeralda was not even yet quite used. The
shopman’s “my lady” had somewhat startled her.

They drove home at a rattling pace, and once or twice the ponies
evinced an ardent desire to bolt, but Esmeralda’s slim wrists were
like steel, and she kept them in hand “like a stunner,” as the
boys said in the stable afterward. When they got home there was
lunch, and she and Trafford again sat opposite each other, and
again played the farce for the benefit of the parlor-maid; and he
felt, while he was playing his part, that it would be impossible
for him to continue to do so for very long. To sit and calmly utter
commonplaces to a lovely girl whom you longed to crush to your
heart was more than any man could be expected to accomplish.

He went out after lunch and did not appear until dinner-time. Their
dinner was as elaborate a farce as the breakfast and the luncheon,
but, alas and alas! they found themselves playing it more easily.

A box of books had been sent down from Mudie’s, and Esmeralda sat
in the drawing-room with one of them in her hand. It was a love
story, in which the love ran roughly through two volumes and a
half, and then glided smoothly through the concluding chapters. She
read it with a kind of bitterness. Her love had run smoothly enough
through its first chapters, and now only in the concluding ones
had the roughness come in. She could hear Trafford pacing up and
down outside with his cigarette. Once he paused at the open French
window and looked at her. She could feel his eyes upon her, though
she did not look up from the book.

“It is very warm,” he said; and she answered:

“Yes, it is.”

So the days wore on, one day like another. No one could have been
more devoted to her than he was. He seemed to study her every wish,
and his attentions to her were rather those of a lover than a
husband. He appeared to have no will but hers. The little household
was eloquent in praise of him, and declared that they had never
heard or read of any one so much in love with his wife as was the
marquis.

If Esmeralda wanted to ride or drive, he himself went down to the
stable and saw to the harnessing of the horse; if she wanted to
walk, he got her sunshade or umbrella, and guarded her from the
rays of kingly Sol, or Jupiter Pluvius, as if she were something
so precious that heat or rain might melt. He would rise from the
table to carry to her some trifle that he thought she might want,
and every morning he gathered with his own hand a little bunch of
flowers which, with his own hand, he placed beside her plate.

All this would have broken down Esmeralda’s pride and resolution,
but for her memory of his parting with Lady Ada. Never for a moment
did she forget it. She saw him grow more pale and haggard day by
day, but she thought that he was pining for the love and sympathy
of the woman he had not been able to marry.

At the end of the week Trafford found the strain tighter than he
could endure. He felt that if he remained by her side another day,
his love would break the bounds of restraint and force him beyond
himself; so he said that he must go up to town on business; and he
went.

The day seemed very long and dreary to Esmeralda after he had gone,
and she could have found in her heart to welcome his return by
throwing her arms round him; but she restrained herself, and said
only, with a smile.

“I suppose London is very hot?”

“Yes,” he said; “very hot.”

He had sat in the smoking-room of the Marlborough nearly all the
time--sat and thought of the wife he loved, the woman who was wife
to him only in name, and who would never be anything more.

One or two men had approached him with greetings of welcome, but
had been frightened away by his grim coldness.

“Trafford doesn’t seem to have been improved by his marriage,” said
one. “It’s always the way; the best fellow in the world is spoiled
by marrying. You can go as far as you like with women, if you stop
short of that.”

Trafford began to hate the prettiness of Deepdale, its rustic
garden and the sunny country around it, and when there came a
letter from Lilias to Esmeralda inviting them, if they were tired
of Deepdale, to Belfayre, he breathed a sigh of relief.

“Would you like to go?” asked Esmeralda, as she threw the letter
across to him.

He kept his eyes on it long after he had read it.

“It is for you to decide,” he said.

Esmeralda looked at her plate and sighed also. The strain was
beginning to tell upon her, too. Anything would be better than this
daily, hourly companionship with a man for whom she dared not show
her love.

“We will go if you like,” she said.

“It is for you to say,” he said.

“Then let us go,” she said. “You must be tired of this small place,
and want to see the duke and Lilias and--other people.”

“I do not want to see any one,” he responded, grimly; “but you must
be dull. We will go.”

They started two mornings afterward, and all the way down his
attention to her was exemplary. As they drove from the station to
Belfayre, they saw several small crowds on the road, and presently
the carriage passed under a triumphal arch. Trafford looked up
and saw “Welcome to the happy pair!” upon it, and he glanced at
Esmeralda and then looked aside.

Esmeralda looked straight before her; she, too, had seen the
inscription. When they drove up the terrace they were aware of a
mob which had gathered to welcome them. The servants were ranged in
double file, the duke, and Lilias, and Lord Selvaine were standing
under the famous peristyle.

“It is evidently a gala day,” said Trafford, grimly. As he assisted
her out of the carriage a hearty cheer rose from the crowd, the
duke came hobbling down the steps, bare-headed and with one hand
extended, and he took Esmeralda’s hand and drew her toward him and
kissed her.

“Welcome home, my dear!” he said in his thin, quavering voice. “It
is very good of you to come so soon.”

Esmeralda, with dry eyes, looked round her. Lilias came and kissed
her; then some one came forward and took her hand.

It was Norman Druce. He looked at her earnestly, noted the pallor
of her face, the sadness in her eyes. He flushed, then went pale,
and he glanced quickly from her to Trafford with a puzzled,
startled look. Esmeralda, suddenly made aware of his presence,
started too.

“Are--are you here?” she said.

“Yes,” said Lilias, with a smile; “Norman is here, and Ada Lancing,
and one or two others. We thought you might be dull!”



CHAPTER XXV.


The excitement attending their arrival had brought a flush to
Esmeralda’s face, and no one excepting Norman noticed the change in
her, but it was remarked that Trafford looked pale, and quite as
grave, if not graver, than of old. There was a great deal of bustle
and stir in the hall, for all the household was anxious to see and
welcome the young marchioness who had been popular with them as
Miss Chetwynde, and whose importance was now increased tenfold by
her position as the wife of the marquis.

As Esmeralda entered the hall, Ada Lancing came down the stairs.
Esmeralda’s heart beat fast and then seemed to stop, but Lady
Ada came toward her with a smile and a pleasant, unembarrassed
greeting. She would have offered to kiss her, but Esmeralda stood
away from her a little and only offered her hand. Lady Ada looked
at her with an instant’s scrutiny, then went to Trafford.

No one watching them would have suspected them of being anything
more than old friends; indeed, Trafford’s words and manner were
markedly reserved.

Lilias made haste to take Esmeralda upstairs; she had her old
rooms, with Trafford’s adjoining them. Barker discreetly left the
two ladies alone, and Lilias helped Esmeralda to take off her hat,
stopping once to kiss her lovingly.

“I am so glad you have come,” she said. “We scarcely hoped that you
would consent, for Deepdale must be so beautiful now, and--and you
must be so happy there,” she added, shyly. “How well you look”--for
the flush rose to Esmeralda’s face at Lilias’s innocent speech, but
it died away presently, and Lilias added--“but you must be very
tired. I will leave you so that you can rest.”

“No, no; don’t go yet!” said Esmeralda, almost hurriedly. “I am not
tired; and--and I am glad to get back to see you, Lilias. How--how
long have Lord Norman and--and Lady Ada been here?” she asked,
inconsequently.

“They came last night,” said Lilias. “Selvaine thought we ought to
ask some one so that you might not feel dull, it is such a huge
place and we are so quiet, and you know them so well; they are old
friends, are they not?”

“Yes,” said Esmeralda, with her face averted.

“And will you dine at the old hour, dear?” asked Lilias.

Esmeralda stared at her.

“Why do you ask me?” she asked.

Lilias blushed.

“You are the mistress here now, dearest,” she said, sweetly.

“No, no!” Esmeralda exclaimed, with a strange expression in her
voice and face. “No, no! I am not!”

“But, dearest,” remonstrated Lilias, gently, “you are Trafford’s
wife, the duke’s daughter, and, of course, the mistress of the
house. You must take the lead; and how well you will do it!” she
added, admiringly.

Esmeralda turned and looked at her curiously.

“I will not, Lilias,” she said. “You--you do not know. I mean”--she
faltered--“I would rather not. You shall be the mistress at
Belfayre, as you always have been. Do you think I would supplant
you and take your place? Why,” she forced a laugh, “I could not, if
I tried. I should not know what to do, what to order. No, you must
be the mistress.”

Lilias shook her head smilingly.

“That would not be right, dear,” she said, quietly. “You must be
the châtelaine for the future; I will be your obedient lieutenant,
if you like, but you must be the chief and the mistress. Do you
think I could presume to take charge of Belfayre now that Trafford
has a wife?”

Esmeralda felt an almost irresistible impulse to exclaim, “I am
Trafford’s wife only in name!”--to unburden her heart of its secret
and its misery to this gentle, loving girl, whose very gentleness
and affection had helped to mislead Esmeralda--but she remembered
her promise of secrecy to Trafford and closed her lips tightly.

Lilias, suspecting nothing of the truth, remained with her for a
little while, then went away to send Barker.

All the while she was dressing, Esmeralda was thinking of Lady
Ada’s presence, and her heart ached and burned with the emotion
which she scarcely recognized as jealousy. The woman whom Trafford
loved was in the same house with them! The thought brought the hot
tears to Esmeralda’s eyes. How long would she stay? Would she and
Trafford be much together? How should she--Esmeralda--endure the
presence of her rival under the same roof and make no sign? Her
heart ached with apprehension, then burned with a kind of defiance.

She looked in the glass. Lady Ada was a beautiful woman; but
she--Esmeralda--well, she had been told often enough that she was
beautiful, also. Was she to show the white feather in the presence
of her rival? A flame of the old Three Star spirit rose once within
her bosom, and for the first time since her wedding she displayed
some interest in her dress.

Barker was delighted, and pondered over the innumerable costumes,
with her finger to her chin, until they decided upon one which
Barker considered most suitable.

“There’s the French gray velvet and point, my lady. That’s more of
a dress than this; but perhaps it’s too much for a house-party. You
will want to keep it for a dinner; there are sure to be several
while we’re here. I think this one will be the best for to-night,
after all.” And she shook out with a loving hand a soft, creamy
silk with touches of sea-blue flowers--a darling dress, which
only a woman with Esmeralda’s wonderful hair and complexion could
venture upon.

“I don’t care; only let me look well to-night,” said Esmeralda,
almost feverishly; and Barker nodded and glanced at her curiously,
and yet approvingly.

“You’ll do that, whatever you wear, my lady,” she said, with
perfect honesty. “I’m glad your ladyship takes an interest-- I beg
your pardon, my lady, but you never seemed to care at Deepdale.”

“That was different,” said Esmeralda, hurriedly, and in a low
voice, as she turned over some of her costly jewels with a hasty
hand.

“Certainly--so it was, my lady. There was no one to see
you--begging his lordship’s pardon for calling him no one--but I
meant--”

“I know what you meant,” Esmeralda broke in, with an impatience so
novel that Barker was almost startled. “Let me look my best--my
very best, please. What is that way Lady Ada does her hair?”

Barker shook her head and smiled.

“Lady Ada does her hair very nicely, my lady,” she said, “and it
suits her, because her hair is short and doesn’t go so far, and
that way makes the most of it; but there’s no need for you to have
it done like that, with the mass your ladyship has got.”

“Do you think mine prettier than Lady Ada’s?” said Esmeralda; and
then she blushed with shame at her question. What had come to her?

Barker smiled.

“Lady Ada!” she said. Then she added, quietly: “I’ve never seen
such hair as yours, my lady. No one can see it for the first time
without raving about it. If you could hear the gentlemen--”

But Esmeralda had descended low enough.

“Thank you, Barker,” she said, recovering herself; “I don’t think I
want to hear what the gentlemen say about it.”

“No, my lady,” assented Barker, humbly.

When Esmeralda went down they were all assembled in the
drawing-room--she had waited until she had heard the second bell,
waited with a strange nervousness which she had not felt on her
first visit to Belfayre--and her entrance made a sensation. The
shaded light fell upon her ivory-clear face and red-gold hair, and
upon the superb dress and flashing jewels, so that she looked like
a picture of Rossetti’s.

“Great Heaven, she is more lovely than ever!” murmured Lord
Selvaine, startled, for once, out of his cynical calm.

“Yes--yes!” breathed Lilias.

Lady Ada looked at her, and then away. Norman Druce caught his
breath and turned away also; the duke looked round with pride,
as if she were indeed his daughter. And Trafford--Trafford
stood motionless for a moment, his pale face growing paler, an
expression of wistfulness, intense enough for pain, in his eyes.

The duke led her to the head of the table. She glanced appealingly
at Lilias, whose place she was taking, but Lilias shook her head
with a smile; and so, for the first time, Esmeralda, the waif of
Three Star Camp, presided over the ducal table at Belfayre; and
the duke smiled at Trafford as if he had done the greatest and
cleverest thing a man could do in winning so lovely and divine a
wife.

When she could collect herself sufficiently to look round,
Esmeralda found that she had Norman Druce upon her right and Lord
Selvaine on her left. The table was oval, and the party of a family
character.

For a little while she did not speak; but presently she found the
two men regarding her, each after the manner of his kind--Norman
Druce with a dog-like kind of watchfulness, and Lord Selvaine with
that concealed scrutiny for which he was famous; and in an instant
she fancied that they were thinking that she was too silent, that
there was something amiss, and she forced herself to talk. She
sipped her champagne, and the wine seemed to give her strength and
self-possession. She carefully avoided looking at Trafford and Lady
Ada, and tried not to hear their voices.

As the dinner proceeded she became almost gay, but there was a
feverishness and unrest in her mood which both men noticed. Norman,
whose mood seemed to reflect hers as a pool reflects the sun,
exerted himself to win a smile from her, and when he succeeded in
getting one of her low, rippling laughs, his eyes grew bright and
his tanned cheeks flushed. He had all the gossip of fashionable
London and the clubs to select from, and he retailed such of it as
was fit for publication in a capital style.

It was: “You remember Mrs. Everyoung, Lady Trafford? She wears a
golden wig now; it used to be black, you know.”

“I know,” said Esmeralda, smiling.

“Well, it’s quite gold now. Shall I tell you of an awful slip Lady
Blankyre made with her? Mrs. Everyoung went away for a week, and
when she came back--with the new wig--she asked Lady Blankyre if
she didn’t think she looked better for the change. ‘Oh, very much
better, indeed, dear. There is nothing like _change of air_,’ says
Lady Blankyre, innocently. They say Mrs. Everyoung’s face was a
study.”

“I remember that chestnut when I was a boy in knickerbockers,”
remarked Lord Selvaine, plaintively; but Esmeralda laughed, and
Norman urged on his wild career.

“Did you hear of the _contretemps_ at the Dodsleys’ picnic? Dodsley
is under the delusion that he can make a salad, you know, and
he had brought all the ingredients with him in a small hamper.
He mixed the thing behind a tree and brought it forward with an
air of triumph, and the first man to taste it was the Bishop of
Barnstaple, and he sprung up and said something like ‘jam’ or
‘lamb,’ and they had to give him brandy to bring him round.”

“What was the matter with it?” asked Esmeralda.

“Oh, nothing much; only Dodsley had put in paraffine in mistake for
white vinegar.”

“Our double refined oil without smell,” murmured Lord Selvaine; but
he nodded encouragingly to Norman.

“Tell me some more,” said Esmeralda. “They are all new to me, and I
believe them, whatever Lord Selvaine may say.”

“There’s one about a wedding,” said Norman. “Ffoulkes tells it, and
swears it’s true. It was a brother-officer of his, so he says, who,
when the clergyman asked him whether he would take this woman for
his wife, said, with an air of surprise:

“‘Why, that’s what I’ve come here for!’”

“Ffoulkes has an admirable memory,” murmured Lord Selvaine; but
Esmeralda laughed, though the laugh was a very quiet one; for the
word “wedding” jarred upon her. “You should edit a book of jokes
and call it, ‘Ancient and Modern--Mostly Ancient,’ Norman,” said
Lord Selvaine.

Norman passed from jokes to legitimate gossip, and kept Esmeralda
amused, as he thought, until the ladies left the room; then he
drank off a glass of wine and fell back in his chair, like an actor
who has played his part for all he knows.

Lord Selvaine looked at him curiously.

“You have done very well, young man,” he said, quietly.

Norman started.

“Eh, what? I beg your pardon?”

“Nothing,” said Lord Selvaine. “I am not offended, though I have
every reason to be, after what I have suffered.”

“Ah, well--she laughed,” said Norman, under his breath. “Pass the
wine; I’m thirsty. It’s the heat, I suppose.”

Lord Selvaine pushed the decanter across.

“Esmeralda is looking well,” he said, in a casual way.

“Yes,” said Norman, abstractedly. “She is so pale, and--there is a
strange look in her eyes--”

“I said ‘well,’” remarked the diplomatist, blandly.

Norman started and colored.

“Oh, yes, yes!” he said; “very well;” and he began talking to
Trafford, as if he dreaded being drawn into a conversation about
Esmeralda with Lord Selvaine.

The duke sat and sipped his thin claret with an air of perfect
felicity. He had not noticed anything wrong in Esmeralda’s
expression or manner, and that he was thinking of her beauty and
queenliness was evident from the remark which he made to Trafford.

“I should like her portrait painted, Trafford. It has not yet been
done, has it?”

Trafford looked up and then down at his dessert plate.

“No, sir.”

“Ah! I am almost glad that it has not; for I think she is still
more lovely than she was before her marriage. Will you see about
it, and at once, if you please?”

“Yes, sir,” said Trafford, gravely.

“I think Millais had better do it,” continued the duke,
thoughtfully. “What do you say, Selvaine?”

“Millais, certainly,” responded Lord Selvaine.

“It should be done at once, and it must be the size of the others
in the hall. There will not be a more beautiful face there. I
should like a miniature also, to place with the others in the
cabinet. I do not know who is now most famous for miniatures; but
you will know, Trafford. Please do not lose any time over the
matter; it is really an obligatory one.”

“Yes, sir,” said Trafford again. His quietude and lack of
enthusiasm seemed to strike the old man; and he looked at him with
a faint surprise, then he smiled.

“It is all very well for you, my dear boy,” he said. “You possess
the original, but we shall not have her here always, and so we
need her picture. How admirably that dress became her,” he went
on, after a pause. It was evident that he was absorbed in her.
“Some women have the faculty of wearing their clothes with that
instinctive grace which indues the robe with something of their own
charm; Esmeralda is one of them. The simplest frock would become
imperial while she wore it.”

Lord Selvaine smiled his cynical smile.

“Is the door closed, Norman? Do you think they can hear us in the
drawing-room? You really should be careful, sir.”

The duke laughed and shook his white head.

“I should not be afraid even if she could hear me,” he said.
“Esmeralda is the only woman in the world incapable of vanity.”

“Do you always carry the end of her chain, Trafford?” said Lord
Selvaine. “Angels have an awkward knack of flying; a woman without
vanity must be an angel.”

Trafford started slightly.

“I think you deserve that, sir,” he said to his father, with a
forced smile.

The duke laughed again unabashed.

“Even Selvaine can enunciate a truth in a jest,” he said. “She is
an angel--in my eyes; as she must be in yours, Traff,” and he laid
his hand approvingly on his son’s.

Norman sat listening in perfect silence; once he reached for the
decanter, then paused and put it away. He had had quite enough
wine, he remembered suddenly.

Yes, she was paler; and--and what did that look in her eyes mean?
She had not looked so at Three Star; she had not looked so when she
came into the room at Lady Wyndover’s to be introduced to him. It
could not mean that she was--_unhappy_!



CHAPTER XXVI.


They went into the drawing-room. Lilias was seated in a low chair
by the window, looking at the magnificent view. Lilias was at a
piece of fancy-work which she sometimes affected; Lady Ada was
at the piano, scarcely playing, but touching a note here and
there, too softly to be a nuisance. Norman looked at each of them,
then round the room, with a feeling of indefinable disquietude.
Something seemed to be in the air.

Esmeralda was gazing over the wide-stretching lawn far away into
the distance, where the clouds were tinged with a copper hue from
the glow of the setting sun. The gayety she had displayed during
dinner had left her when she went into the drawing-room with the
other women. Ada had tried to talk to her; but Esmeralda, though
she had spoken without evincing any animosity, had, so to speak,
kept her at arm’s-length, and Ada had gone to the piano to wait
for Trafford’s entrance. Lilias had taken up her work, because she
thought Esmeralda was tired and would like to be quiet. The duke
went to his accustomed chair. Lord Selvaine took up a “Quarterly
Review,” which he had not the least intention of reading. Trafford
went and sat beside Lilias and asked after the people and things
at Belfayre. Norman wandered about the room, in an aimless,
restless kind of fashion for a minute or two, glancing wistfully
now and again at the quiet figure by the window; then, as if he
were drawn toward her, he went up to her.

She started slightly at his approach and looked up at him. She
had been thinking of the dark cloud over her life; of the husband
who was divided from her; of Lady Ada, the woman he loved; and
the sight of Norman, with his bronzed and handsome face and lithe
figure, recalled Three Star Camp to her, the wild woods, the keen
mountain air, and all that past in which she had been so free from
care and so ignorantly happy.

A smile stole over her face; it was like a smile of welcome, and he
smiled in response.

Not for a moment did he forget that she was Traff’s wife. He tried
to efface the memory of his love, the night by the silver stream
below the camp; but she would always be Esmeralda to him, the girl
he had loved, the woman for whom he would at any moment gladly lay
down his life.

“You didn’t stay long,” he said.

“No,” she said; “we all wanted to come in here.”

“Did you really?” said Esmeralda. “I often wonder why you should
want to come into the drawing-room. It must seem so dull to you,
and you are always so merry after we leave you. We can hear you
laughing. I suppose you are telling funny stories?”

“We didn’t to-night,” said Norman. “The conversation was rather
limited to one subject.”

“I wonder what that was?” she said, with a smile.

“Well, it was about you,” he said. “It isn’t fair to tell tales out
of school, but I suppose a bride expects to be talked about; and
the duke was very great. Selvaine says that you have bewitched him.”

Esmeralda sighed slightly.

“I am very fond of him,” she said.

“And he returns the compliment tenfold,” remarked Norman. “You are
to have your portrait painted by Millais--but perhaps I ought to
have left Trafford to tell you that.”

“Why?” she asked.

Norman looked rather surprised.

“Oh, because he’d like to. It is a husband’s privilege to bring all
good news to his wife.”

“Oh, yes, yes,” she assented, gravely.

Something in her tone struck him, as the expression in her eyes
had done. What was it? He glanced toward Trafford and then at her.

“This room seems hot,” he said.

“It is hot,” she assented, drawing a quick breath.

“Let us come outside,” he said; “I’ll get you a shawl or something.”

“No, no,” she said; “it will be quite warm out there. I hate being
smothered up.”

He noticed the novel impatience in her manner. They went on to the
terrace and along the winding path through the lawn. They were
silent for a little while. Norman was troubled by something that he
thought he ought to say, and wondering whether, after all, he had
better not leave it unsaid. At last he said, speaking in a low and
embarrassed manner:

“I haven’t seen you since the wedding. I--I wanted to tell you how
sorry I’ve been that I rushed myself upon you that morning.”

Esmeralda looked at him, and then straight before her, but said
nothing.

“I could have knocked my head off, and Trafford’s too,” he
blundered on. “Of course it was a shock to you, seeing me all in a
moment and without a word of warning.”

“I was startled,” said Esmeralda in a low voice.

“Of course you were,” he said, eagerly; “and--and so was I. I’d
only come back to England the night before, and I didn’t know that
you had changed your name--I mean, that you were Miss Chetwynde,
the millionairess.”

“Don’t call me that,” said Esmeralda.

Norman wondered why she objected; but said, hastily:

“I beg your pardon. Since I left Three Star Camp, of course, I
hadn’t heard of you. How should I?”

“How should you?” she repeated, absently.

“And I wanted to tell you, Esmeralda--I may call you Esmeralda, may
I not?”

“Oh, yes,” said Esmeralda; “you may call me what you like. We are
cousins, or something of that sort, are we not?”

“Thank you--yes. I wanted to say--I wanted to ask you to forgive
me for--for what happened that night. It was presumptuous of me,
and--and you were right to be angry and offended,” he added, humbly
and penitently.

A faint color had risen to Esmeralda’s eyes.

“I was not angry--offended,” she said in a low voice.

“Weren’t you?” he said, gratefully. “I thought you were--you left
me without a word.”

“I-- But what does it matter?” she broke off, with a kind of
weary impatience. “It is all so long ago, it is as if it had never
happened. Why do you talk of it, and bring back the past?”

She spoke almost fiercely, and Norman was filled with remorse.

“You’re quite right,” he said. “I’m an idiot to go back to it. I
beg your pardon. As you say, what does it matter? You are married
now, and to the best fellow in the world. There’s no one like
Trafford--no one--and you are sure to be happy.”

“Yes,” she said, quietly, “I am sure to be happy.” Then she
laughed. “Is any one in the wide world _quite_ happy? I doubt it.
Are you?”

Norman started.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “But why did you say that? You
spoke as if--oh! it’s stupid of me, of course,” he laughed
apologetically--“as if _you_ weren’t quite happy.”

“That would be so very ridiculous and impossible, wouldn’t it?” she
said, with a mirthless smile.

“Well, I think it would,” he said, candidly. “With Trafford for a
husband and everybody loving you”--he colored and stammered as a
man does when he speaks of love.

“And being a countess and having plenty of money,” continued
Esmeralda, with a hard laugh, “I could not be anything but happy,
could I? Why, all the women envy me, as Lady Wyndover says, and
what more could I want?”

He looked at her with a troubled frown on his face.

“I don’t know whether you are chaffing me or not; I suppose you
are,” he said.

“What does it matter?” she said, with the same weary impatience.

“It matters a great deal to me,” he retorted, his face flushing
then growing pale. “I’ve tried to forget--forget Three Star, and
I mean to: don’t be angry, but hear me out,” for she had made
as if to interrupt him. “But--but though you wouldn’t listen to
me--and you were quite right--and as you are Traff’s wife, I should
like you to let me be your friend. Oh, Lord! that sounds tame and
feeble! Look here, Esmeralda, what I mean is that I should like to
be your _special_ friend, some one you could come to if you were in
trouble, some one to fetch and carry for you--you know what I mean.
I’d go to the end of the world for you, not only because you’re
Traff’s wife, but--but because”--he turned his head away. Esmeralda
fancied that there might be tears in his eyes--“because of--of that
night by the stream at Three Star.”

She looked straight before her. She felt that, had she not been
Traff’s wife, he would have loved her still, and the thought fell
upon her love-thirsty heart with a strange and dangerous sense of
comfort.

“I know what you mean, Norman,” she said in a very low voice, “and
I’m very grateful to you. If ever I am in any trouble that you can
help me in, I will come to you.”

“That’s a promise,” he said, eagerly. “Not that you are ever likely
to be,” he added, almost in a tone of regret.

She smiled gravely.

“One never can tell,” she said. “But I will promise; yes,
and--and, Norman, you shall be the friend you want to be to me,
because--because of that night we will both forget after this.”

She put out her hand to him impulsively, and he took it, held it
for a moment in his firm grasp, then bent over and kissed it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Trafford sat beside Lilias for a time, and all her talk was about
Esmeralda--how beautiful she was, how exquisitely the dress suited
her, of how happy Trafford must be. It was almost unendurable for
him, but he made the proper responses, and smiled, and tried to
look happy. Then he went to the piano where Ada was still softly
touching the keys. He had thought it bad taste of her to come to
Belfayre, and, as if she had discerned his thought, her first
words, spoken in too low a voice to be heard by the others, were:

“Trafford, do not be angry. I could not help coming. I had told
Lilias I was not going anywhere before she asked me.”

He smiled gravely.

“Why should you not come?” he said, ignoring the reason.

She drew a long breath.

“If you are not angry I do not mind. You can not think that I
_wanted_ to come? Have you been well?” she broke off to ask,
looking at him intently.

“Quite well,” he responded. “Why do you ask?”

“I thought you were looking thinner and--and, well, not as you
usually look.”

“I am quite well,” he said, with barely concealed impatience;
and he proceeded to ask after Lady Grange and Lady Wyndover, and
mutual friends. His manner, just pleasantly friendly, stung her.
It would have been more endurable if he had been harsh or angry.
Never treat a woman you have once loved with indifference; she will
bear anything but that. “I knew when my husband ceased to swear at
me that he had ceased to love me!” says the heroine of one of the
modern emotional comedies; and she speaks truly.

But Lady Ada laid the blame on Esmeralda, and as she looked up at
Trafford, with the love-light in her eyes, her heart burned with
hate of the woman who had come between them. At that moment there
was nothing she would not have done to wreck Esmeralda’s happiness,
to separate husband and wife. She did not know how widely they were
already separated.

While they were talking, the duke got up to retire to his room.

“Where is Esmeralda?” he asked, peering round the vast room.

“She is in the garden; she went out with Norman some time since,”
said Lilias. “I will call her.”

“No, no!” he said at once. “Do not disturb her. It is a beautiful
night and she may be enjoying the air. Say ‘Good-night’ for me.”

Trafford came forward and rang the bell for the valet, and gave
his arm to his father to the door. Then he went to the window and
looked out. Two figures could be seen on the lawn in the gloaming.
They were Esmeralda’s and Norman’s. He had eyes for Esmeralda’s
only, and he gazed at her wistfully, with the wistfulness of a man
who loves without hope. How graceful she was! Her lithe figure in
its marvelous dress seemed symbolic of youth itself; youth and
beauty.

“There they are,” said a voice at his elbow, and Lady Ada came up
beside him.

He nodded.

“They are wise. It is cool out there,” he said; but he did not
offer to go and join them.

Ada’s keen eyes watched the two figures, their faces turned to each
other as if the owners were deeply engrossed in conversation.

“How interested they look,” she said. “It must be nice for
Esmeralda to meet with such an old friend.”

“An old friend?” Trafford repeated.

Lady Ada glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes.

“They are old friends, are they not?” she said. “They met at that
place in Australia where she was brought up. What is its name? Three
Star. Don’t you remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” he said.

“How handsome Lord Norman has grown!” she said, after a silence.
“That boyish way of his is very taking. He has been making quite a
number of conquests since he came back; some of the women declare
that he is irresistible.”

“He is a good fellow,” said Trafford, absently. He was looking at
Esmeralda and thinking of her, not Norman.

“Oh, very,” she assented. “I wonder what they are talking
about?--old times, I imagine-- Ah!” she broke off suddenly with the
exclamation, and Trafford started.

They had both seen Esmeralda extend her hand to Norman, and the
kiss which he had bestowed upon it.

Trafford had started, but he was ashamed of his movement of
surprise. Why should not Norman kiss Esmeralda’s hand, if he wanted
to do so, and if Esmeralda’s did not object. It was Lady Ada’s
exclamation which indued the episode with importance.

“Let us go,” she said in a low voice. “They would not like us to
watch them.”

“Why not?” he asked, almost roughly.

She did not reply, but looked at him with a tender, almost pitying
significance, and glided--Lady Ada was famous for her walk--to the
piano. Half mechanically he followed her. If she had not started
and remarked upon the kissing of Esmeralda’s hand, he would have
thought nothing of it. Now that she had done so, the action assumed
larger proportions.

She touched the keys with deft fingers.

“What shall I play to you?” she asked. “Grieg or Chopin? Grieg. I
remember your tastes, you see.”

She played with the skill of a well-taught amateur, and the room
was flooded with exquisite melody.

“You must not be angry with her, Trafford,” she murmured through
the music. “You will make yourself unhappy if you are. Remember,
they are old friends.”

“I am not angry,” he said, with a smile; but there was a frown on
his brow.

“That is right,” she sung rather than spoke. “They meant
nothing--oh, I am sure of that; though, do you remember how
startled she was when she saw Lord Norman on the morning of the
wedding?”

“I remember--yes,” he said. “But was she startled?”

“Yes, yes; quite so,” said Lady Ada. “I never saw any one so
overwhelmed. Do you like this thing of Grieg’s, or shall I play a
Chopin now?”

He did not answer. He was going back to the morning of the wedding,
to Esmeralda’s embarrassment at sight of Norman.

“Get me the book of Chopin, will you?” asked Lady Ada.

He got the volume and placed it on the music-stand, and bent over
her to turn the leaves.

As he did so, Esmeralda, followed by Norman, entered the room by
the window. She saw the two at the piano. Trafford bending over the
player, and the color rose to her face, then left it ivory pale.
She stood quite still, looking at them.

“Have you had a nice walk, dear?” asked Lilias, folding up her
embroidery.

Esmeralda nodded.

“Yes,” she said, almost curtly.

At the sound of her voice, Lady Ada made an affected start and
looked round.

“Oh--ah--we were going over some old favorites of Lord Trafford.
What a pity it is that you don’t play, don’t care for music,
Esmeralda!”

The color flashed into Esmeralda’s cheeks.

“Oh, but I do care for music,” she said; “I am very fond of it.”
She looked round for Norman Druce. “Norman, go and sing something.
Sing one of the songs you sung at Three Star.”

Norman hesitated and looked from her to Trafford and Lady Ada;
then he went to the piano as he would have gone to the scaffold
if Esmeralda had bidden him, and he sat down and played and sung
one of the songs he sung in MacGrath’s saloon that night Esmeralda
had listened outside; and Esmeralda, her face flushed, her eyes
sparkling, stood beside him--bent over him, indeed--and beat time
with her hand.

Trafford’s face grew troubled and cloudy, and Lady Ada from a
little distance watched him.

“Bravo!” he exclaimed. “That was very good. Sing another, Norman.”

But, though the words were all right, there was a tone of
constraint--was it also of suspicion?--in his voice, and Lady Ada’s
eyes flashed, and she drew a quick, short breath.

The ground had been prepared and the seed was sown, and the devil’s
harvest lay in the lap of the Future!



CHAPTER XXVII.


Esmeralda went to her room that night with her head throbbing and
her heart aching. The sight of Trafford bending over Lady Ada
at the piano had almost driven her mad; it had made her quite
desperate, and the laughter and applause with which she had
encouraged Norman had something of recklessness in it. She did not
acknowledge to herself that she had meant to play him against Lady
Ada; to show Trafford that, if he did not love his wife, there was
some one else who did, but she knew the effect she had produced,
and the remembrance of Lady Ada’s smile of comprehension stung
her as she tore off her jewels. The sight of them filled her with
loathing. They were so magnificent that every one who saw them
upon her must be reminded of the fact that she was the rich Miss
Chetwynde. Perhaps everybody knew that Trafford had married her for
her money, and was laughing at her contemptuously in their sleeves.

As for Norman, he went to bed very well content with himself. He
had said what he wanted to say to Esmeralda, and put things square
between them, as he phrased it, and everything was now very jolly
and pleasant. It had been all fancy, that idea of his that she
might be unhappy--just fancy. Never for a moment did it occur to
him to desire to flirt with Esmeralda; he was incapable of such
disloyalty to his friend and hero Trafford. Esmeralda’s behavior at
the piano, her laughter and reckless gravity, did not convey any
sinister significance to him; it was just her way to laugh and let
her eyes sparkle like her diamonds when she was happy; and no doubt
the songs he had sung had reminded her of Three Star.

If he could have seen and understood the smile which gleamed in
Lady Ada’s cold eyes as she undressed that night, he would not
have felt quite so serene and self-satisfied. It is said that
there is a good deal of the serpent in every woman, but Lady Ada
was all serpent as she stood before the glass looking at her
“faultily faultless” face, and recalling the scene at the piano and
Trafford’s frown. If she could only separate Trafford from the girl
he had married! She had no plan deftly formed as yet, but--well,
she would wait and watch. Meanwhile, things promised well.

The neighbors flocked to call upon Lady Trafford, and
dinner-parties were arranged in her special honor, and it was
agreed on all sides that she bore herself remarkably well. The men
raved about her beauty quite as much as, if not more than they had
done, before her marriage, and the women wondered at the coolness
and _aplomb_ with which the young girl, who was a “mere nobody”
before her marriage, took her place in the ranks of the nobility.
Only one or two of the elder ones noticed something strange in her
expression, something vaguely and indefinitely puzzling in her
manner. They all agreed that matrimony had not lightened Trafford’s
gravity, and that he was rather more absent-minded and reserved
than ever, excepting when his wife was speaking or any attention
was due to her from him.

“He is evidently devoted to her,” remarked Lady Chesterleigh, after
the Belfayres had departed. “I never saw a man more hopelessly in
love.”

“And no wonder,” retorted her husband, with a yawn. “She’s the most
beautiful young woman I have ever seen, present company excepted,
my dear, and his marriage has pulled Belfayre out of the mire
and set it on its legs again. Devoted! I should think so! He has
reason, as the French say.”

No one suspected the truth, that husband and wife were divided
by that gulf which had so suddenly opened between them on their
wedding-night.

Outwardly it was a very happy party at Belfayre. Norman, for one,
was enjoying himself amazingly. Esmeralda had promised to treat him
as her “special” friend; she had dispelled, by her gayety, the idea
that she was unhappy, and his light heart rose buoyantly. He was a
general favorite at Belfayre, and even the duke liked to hear him
talk, and forgave him the slang which Norman had always to explain
and translate into ordinary English for his grace’s enlightenment.
It was very amusing to see them together; the old man the picture
of courtly preciseness, the young one full of _fin de siècle_
gayety and careless, easy irresponsibility.

“Not a bad run, you know, sir,” he would remark, in the midst of a
description of a race--the duke was always pleased to hear of the
great events of the outer world into which he so seldom entered.
“Soup Ladle ought to have won; all the pencilers had the spondulacs
upon her; but she ran wild and all over the shop--”

At this point his grace would look puzzled, and, with a smile,
remarked gently:

“Forgive me, my dear Norman, but I’m afraid I do not quite
understand. I fear that you will think that I am growing stupid.
Who are the ‘pencilers,’ and what are ‘spondulacs?’ and--I think
you said that the horse with the ridiculous name ran into a shop.
Is there any shop near the course? I do not remember it.”

Then Norman would laugh and look guiltily at Lilias, who often sat
in the garden with them and listened with intense amusement; and
she would smile and shake her head as much as to say that she would
not help him.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” Norman would explain, with a
suppressed groan. “Quite forgot I wasn’t talking to one of the
other Johnnies--I mean, fellows. The book-makers are called
pencilers--they book their bets with metallic pencils, you know;
and spondulacs is money, and when I say that Soup Ladle ran all
over the shop, I mean that she was all over the course.”

“Ah, yes, I see,” the duke would say. “Quite so. It was very stupid
of me; but--my dear Norman, I am quite out of the world, and am
ignorant of its jargon.”

“That’s all right, sir,” Norman would say, encouragingly; and
start off again, with a nod of self-satisfaction to Lilias and a
whispered “Got off that time; shall catch it some day, though; and
serve me right.”

Lilias ought to have been shocked at the young man’s slang and
general levity, but, strange to say, she was not. Your very quiet
and exquisitely mannered women are always attracted by the wild
and rough-and-ready way of the other sex. It is the law of natural
selection.

She liked to listen to Norman’s stories, and his laugh--frequent
and not seldom rather loud--did not jar upon her; and Norman, half
unconsciously, got into the habit of going about with her and
talking to her. Though she insisted that Esmeralda should be the
“mistress” at Belfayre, and always consulted her upon all important
matters connected with the huge household, Lilias still, in
reality, “ran” the place, and she often found Norman at her elbow
at busy moments. He wanted her to go for a walk, or a ride, or to
play tennis with him; and when she declared that she was busy with
the housekeeper, or arranging the _menu_ for a lunch or dinner, he,
after a slight remonstrance, dropped into a chair beside her, and,
as she put it, “hindered” her terribly.

“You’ve made me put down the wrong soup and leave out one of the
_entrées_,” she would say. “Can’t you find something to amuse
yourself with for half an hour?”

“I’d scorn to amuse myself when I can be helping you,” he would
retort. “If it were not for my assistance you would break down
under the weight of your duties. Now, when you’ve muddled that bill
of fare as much as you want to, hand it over to me and I’ll set
it straight for you, and without extra charge. And look here; I
wish you’d tell the butler to tell the second footman--I think his
name is Grooms--not to spill the melted butter down my coat when
he is laughing at my jokes. I’m a poor young man, and have only
one dress-coat in the world, and Grooms ought to have more human
sympathy. Oh! come on, and let the housekeeper finish that thing;
she’ll do it far better than you can. I’ve got the balls and your
racket.”

“Why don’t you ask Esmeralda or Ada to play with you?” Lilias would
ask.

“Esmeralda has got a headache, and is sitting with the duke in
the west arbor, and Lady Ada has gone for a ride with Traff and
Selvaine.”

“And so you come to me because there is no one else?” Lilias would
say, with affected indignation.

“Exactly--that’s it,” would be the cool response. “So come on.” And
in the end he would have his way, and, protesting that he was a
nuisance, Lilias would put on her tennis-shoes, which he had in his
pocket, and they would go off together, and Esmeralda would hear
Lilias’s soft ripple and his clear laugh where she sat beside the
duke.

The old man seemed to grow fonder of her every day, and Esmeralda’s
affection for him was almost piteous. He was the only person in
the Belfayre group who did not think of her money--who had not
abetted her marriage to Trafford with mercenary views. They were
very much together; he seldom went into the grounds without her,
and very often she went to his own sitting-room and read to him.
Sometimes they would sit for half an hour without talking, and his
grace would glance at her occasionally or take her hand and pat it.
If her unhappiness dawned upon his dimmed perceptions, he never
spoke of it; but once or twice he had looked at her curiously. His
pride in her was extraordinary, and on the morning of the great
dinner-party at the Court, he actually asked her what she was going
to wear.

Esmeralda laughed softly, then stifled a sigh.

“I don’t know,” she said; “Barker generally settles it. It does not
matter. But it is very kind of you to ask, duke.”

They were sitting by the open window of his room. Lilias was with
the housekeeper, Norman lounging at the door and “hindering,” as
Lilias declared, and Trafford and Ada were walking up and down the
terrace. Esmeralda could see them from where she sat. Trafford was
pacing slowly, with his head bent and his hands behind him; Ada
gliding gracefully by his side, and now and again looking up at him
with the expression on her face which always set Esmeralda’s heart
beating.

How much longer could she endure the sight of them together?

“I take an interest in everything concerning you, my dear,” said
the duke. “I have not had a daughter until now, and my interest
has been accumulating, you see. It is to be a large party, is it
not?”

“Yes,” said Esmeralda, absently, “I think so. Yes, it is,” she
added, turning her eyes from the two persons below. “We have asked
everybody.”

“That is right,” he said, approvingly. “Belfayre has been quiet too
long; it is only fitting that we should be hospitable, and on a
large scale. I hope I shall be well enough to be at dinner. In any
case, I shall come into the drawing-room afterward, if only to see
you, my dear. By the way, you know that I have given instructions
to the surveyors to begin the Bay plans?”

The famous watering-place scheme had dropped out of sight lately,
and Esmeralda had almost forgotten it. She started as the duke
referred to it. She understood. It was her money that was to work
the miracle.

She laughed with a touch of bitterness, for which she was sorry a
moment afterward. After all, it was the best use the money could be
put to; it would amuse and gratify this old man who loved her for
herself and not her millions.

“I am very glad,” she said.

“Yes,” he went on, “I tell them they must be as quick as possible.
I should like something tangible accomplished before I pass
away. I want them to build the pier or the esplanade, and I hope
that you will lay the foundation stone, or whatever it may be. I
should like to see you inaugurate this scheme, my dear, to have it
associated with you. You always thought well of it, did you not?
I have fancied that the others--even Trafford and Selvaine--were
rather lukewarm about it, until these last few days and since your
marriage.”

Esmeralda understood. It had only been since her marriage that the
scheme had become possible.

“I shall take the greatest interest in it,” she said. “We will go
down, you and I, and watch the workmen; and when the foundation
stone is laid we will have a tremendous feast and paint the whole
place red.”

The duke looked at her doubtfully.

“Would not red be--be rather a staring color, my dear--all red?” he
said, mildly.

Esmeralda laughed.

“That was only slang, like Norman’s. I mean, that we shall have a
great fuss and jollification.”

“Yes, yes,” he assented, nodding. “It shall be done, my dear;
anything that will give you pleasure and amuse you.”

Esmeralda left him presently, nodding his head and talking softly
to himself, and went to her own room. The prospect of that night’s
dinner irritated and annoyed her. The great crowd would come
to stare at her and whisper about her wealth and her “luck” in
marrying a marquis, and she would have to go about among them and
talk and smile--smile though her heart was breaking. She moved
about the room restlessly for a time, then went into the garden,
carefully avoiding crossing the terrace where Trafford and Ada were
talking, and suddenly came upon Norman lying full length in the
shade of a bay-tree. A tennis racket was by his side, and a straw
hat tilted over his eyes. He heard her step, and sprung to his feet
with a sigh of relief.

“Some one to talk to at last,” he said.

Esmeralda smiled.

“Thanks!” she said. “Where is Lilias. I thought you were playing
tennis.”

“So did I,” he said, ruefully; “but it always appears we are
not. Somebody comes and fetches her away in the middle of every
game. It’s this confounded dinner-party to-night. I wonder why
people give dinners? Everybody hates them and avoids them when
they can. There is more envy, hatred, and uncharitableness bred
at a dinner-party than by anything else on earth. Take my case,
for instance. Here am I, an able-bodied young man, simply dying
to amuse myself--and some one else--and yet I am deserted and
neglected, and driven to smoking all the morning, just because
there is a dinner-party.”

“I’m not worrying about it,” she said, sinking on to the grass;
“and there is--Trafford.”

“Oh, Trafford,” he said, disgustedly. “He seems to have dropped
tennis and everything that is wholesome. He and Ada have been
stalking up and down the terrace talking books or the improvement
of the working classes, as if they weren’t bad enough already. If I
went and asked Trafford or Ada to play, they’d stare and smile at
me in the superior way that makes a man want to go and shy stones
at his grandfather. And as for Lilias--well, I’d better not express
my sentiments about that young lady.”

Esmeralda looked at him curiously. His voice had dropped as he
spoke Lilias’s name.

“Any one would think that the whole place would come to a
standstill if she didn’t fuss around with the housekeeper and
the butler and the steward and the rest of them. What do the
housekeeper and the butler do for their wages, I should like to
know? Any one would think Lilias was the manager of a hotel.”

“Yes,” said Esmeralda, quietly. “It is I who ought to do all she
does, and fuss around.”

“Oh--you?” he said, quickly. “That’s different. No one expects you
to do anything but”--he looked at her with a quaint mixture of
admiration and devotion--brotherly devotion--“but just exist and
look beautiful.”

Esmeralda did not blush.

“Thanks,” she said again.

“Oh, it’s quite different with you,” he went on. “And it’s all
right that Lilias should look after things.”

“But she need not neglect you in doing so,” said Esmeralda, naïvely.

“Exactly,” he said, calmly, but with a little heightened color.

“Why don’t you tell her so?”

His color deepened, and he glanced at her wistfully.

“I wish I dared,” he said under his breath.

“I’ve not remarked any great lack of courage on your part in that
way,” said Esmeralda, dryly.

“Oh, no; I’ve got cheek enough for most things,” he assented, with
a sigh. “But--but-- Isn’t she--isn’t she--”

Esmeralda laughed softly.

“Yes; she is the sweetest and dearest girl in all the world,” she
said. “And you are just finding it out? Ah, how happy you must be!”

And she sighed.

“Happy!” He flushed. “I don’t see where the happiness comes in. You
appear to forget that I am a pauper, Esmeralda.”

“Yes,” she said, gravely. “I forgot that. The hateful money!”
The words burst from her with fierce energy. “What does it
matter? Do you think you would be any the happier if you
had--yes”--bitterly--“all my money? If you love her you can tell
her so, and if she loves you--marry her right away.”

Norman stared at her breathlessly, then laughed ruefully.

“You’d better let Lord Selvaine--he’s one of her guardians, you
know--hear you offering that advice. He’d have a fit--no, he
wouldn’t, because nothing ever throws him over; but he’d smile and
ask me when I thought of going back to my lunatic asylum.”

“And you could tell him to go to his,” said Esmeralda, her eyes
flashing. “You could tell him that the people who are mad are those
who sell themselves and their wretched little souls for money.
Money--money! I hate the sound of it. And you are in love with
Lilias?” she said, after a pause, recovering herself, and with a
little smile.

Norman looked rather ashamed of himself, and Esmeralda laughed a
little wearily.

“There’s no occasion to look like that,” she said, in a way that
reminded him of Three Star. “Why shouldn’t you be in love with her
or any one else?” She laughed. “You don’t think I mind?” for Norman
still looked uncomfortable. “Why should you keep on remembering
what--what happened ever so long ago--when I’d quite forgotten
it?” she added, rather cruelly. “And I don’t see how you could
help falling in love with her, and I think you’ll be a very lucky
young man if you can persuade her to fall in love with you. And
mind,” she went on, almost fiercely, “if you can get her, _marry
her_! Never mind being a pauper, never mind people telling you that
because you haven’t any money of your own you ought to marry some
wretched girl who has. Shall I tell you what would happen if you
did?”

Norman stared at her as she stood before him with pale face and
somber eyes, behind which lay something which mystified him.

“She’ll hate you, and you’ll hate yourself, and wish that you’d
married the girl you loved, though you’d only a loaf of bread to
share with her!”

Norman was almost frightened, and seeing it, Esmeralda controlled
herself and forced a laugh.

“You see I’m an old married woman, Norman,” she said, with a
reckless gayety. “And so I’m allowed to bully you. See?” She
almost ran away from him, and left Norman with his hat tilted far
back on his head and a bewildered look in his blue eyes; also the
conviction that no man alive could ever understand a woman.

Esmeralda had forgotten all about Trafford and Ada on the terrace,
and was not aware that they had both been witnessing her interview
with Norman, though they were too far off to hear a word. Trafford
had watched the animated little scene with gloomy eyes, and Ada
with a significant smile; he went down the steps as Esmeralda
approached the terrace with her swift, light step. He saw that she
was flushed, and that there was something like tears in her eyes.
He looked from her to Norman, who still stood, a nice study for a
statue of Perplexity.

Esmeralda was about to pass him, but he stopped her with a question.

“Have you been playing tennis?” he asked.

She looked at him for a moment, as if she had not heard, then she
said, unsuspectingly:

“No; I’ve only been talking to Norman.”

“Judging by appearances,” he said, “it must have been an
interesting conversation.”

“It was,” she said. She looked at him wistfully for a moment,
thinking that if all were well between them, how she should like
to tell him of Norman’s secret, how she should like to plan with
him some way of giving Norman the money which would enable him
to ask for Lilias; but she remembered the gulf between them--the
sight of Ada leaning on the terrace rail reminded her forcibly
of it--and she remained silent. Trafford stood still, his face
overcast, struggling against the growth of the suspicion which Ada
had planted in his mind, and which Esmeralda’s conduct and manner
seemed to justify. She waited a moment or two as if to see if he
wished to say anything more to her, then went into the house. As
they passed her, Ada said: “How hot it is!” and Esmeralda made the
proper response and gave a suitable smile. She met Lilias in the
hall.

“There is a young man waiting for you, dear,” she said, “with a
tennis racket in his hand and bad words in his mouth.”

Lilias blushed ever so faintly and sweetly.

“You mean Norman?” she said. “I told him I was too busy to
play--but he is so foolish!”

“Go and be foolish, too,” said Esmeralda. She bent and kissed
Lilias impulsively.

Lilias looked a little startled, and went out rather slowly, and
Esmeralda went up to her own room. As the day wore on, the coming
dinner-party began to make itself felt, and quite half an hour
before the usual time Barker came in to dress her. Esmeralda
was lying down; she had been pacing up and down the room until
she had nearly worn herself out, and she received Barker with a
listlessness and indifference which filled that young woman with
dismay.

“I thought you’d like to be dressed in good time, my lady, so that
you can go down to the drawing-room before the party arrives. Of
course, you’ll wear white velvet with the diamonds and sapphires?”

“I’ll wear anything you like,” said Esmeralda.

Barker got out the magnificent dress with a reverent care, and
Esmeralda submitted herself to the robing with a dull kind of
apathy. Barker grew anxious and tried to rouse her mistress’s
interest.

“If you’d only just look in the glass, my lady,” she said. “It
really is superb! And there won’t be anything like it in the room.
They used to talk about Lady Desford’s pearl satin, but this
completely effaces it.”

“Effaces is a good word,” said Esmeralda. She turned to the tall
pier glass and looked at the reflection. She knew that Barker had
spoken the truth--it was superb. The combination of the soft tones
of the white velvet with the magnificent diamonds and sapphires
was simply perfect. Devoid of vanity as she was, a little thrill
ran through her; she realized that it was not only the dress and
the gems which were beautiful. Then, suddenly, with a pang, she
remembered that it was all of no use; the man she loved loved her
not. He had married her for her money; to him her beauty would be
as nothing; he would have no eyes for any one but Ada Lancing. She
turned suddenly to Barker.

“Take these off!” she said. Every one, as they gazed at her, would
say that the Marquis of Trafford had married her for the wealth
which the dress and the jewels proclaimed. “Take them off!”



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Barker stared at her aghast.

“Take them off!” said Esmeralda, almost fiercely. “Are you deaf?”

“N-o, my lady,” stammered Barker; and she obeyed. “What will your
ladyship wear, then?” she asked.

Esmeralda went to the wardrobe and pointed to a plain muslin frock.

“That,” she said, curtly.

Barker could have cried aloud with astonishment and disappointment,
but she got out the dress and put it on.

“What--what jewels will you wear with this, my lady?” asked Barker.

“None,” said Esmeralda.

“None!” echoed Barker. “Not the pearl suite, my lady?”

“Not the pearl suite, nor the diamond suite, nor the emerald suite,
nor any of them,” replied Esmeralda, firmly. “Stay; give me my
Australian heart.” She caught sight of the locket Norman had given
her, and pointed to it. “That, too,” she said.

Barker could have groaned aloud.

“How will you wear them both, my lady?” she asked.

“Put them where you like,” said Esmeralda.

Barker twisted the chain of the locket into a bracelet and
despairfully slipped it over Esmeralda’s wrist. As she did so,
there came a knock at the door. Barker opened it. It was Lady Ada;
she was in her dressing-robe.

“Oh, Barker,” she said, “can you find me a small piece of ribbon
to match this? I meant to buy a piece at Belmont to-day, but quite
forgot it. Oh, Esmeralda, I didn’t see you! Don’t let me worry you,
but I thought perhaps Barker might have something of the kind.”

“Come in,” said Esmeralda. “I dare say Barker will be able to find
you what you want. She generally has a milliner’s shop somewhere
about.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” murmured Lady Ada. “But aren’t you going
to dress?”

“I am dressed,” said Esmeralda.

Lady Ada looked at her in astonishment.

“Do you mean to say you are going to wear--”

Esmeralda smiled coldly.

“What you see,” she said. “Barker, get Lady Ada what she wants. I
am going down now.”

But she paused outside and went into her _boudoir_ by the outer
door. Barker began hunting for the piece of ribbon Lady Ada
required.

“I know I have a scrap or two like it somewhere, my lady,” she
said; “and I’ve seen it lately, but I can’t think where. The
marchioness used to wear a dress something of that color, and there
were ribbons on it; but it was a long while ago, before she was
married. It must be in one of the boxes that came from Grosvenor
Square.”

She went to a box and began turning out the things hurriedly.

“Oh, never mind,” said Lady Ada; but she knelt down beside the
litter and hunted with her. As she did so, she saw a sheet of
note-paper; it was evidently an old letter, and was creased as
if it had been carried about. She picked it up and glanced at it
mechanically; then her face flushed, and she looked sharply at
Barker, but Barker’s back was turned to her. She slid the letter
into her pocket.

“Never mind, Barker,” she said; “I can’t wait any longer. I’ll
wear another dress. Shall I help you put the things back?”

“Oh, no, my lady,” said Barker; “don’t trouble. They are only old
things, some of those that the marchioness had when she first came
to England. I can tumble them in anyhow now and set them straight
afterward.”

Lady Ada went to her room, and sent her maid away on some errand,
locked the door, and took the letter from her pocket.

She was not mistaken; it was in Norman’s handwriting. There were
only a few lines, but as she read them her heart beat so fast as
almost to prevent her breathing.

  “I can not stay here now that there is no hope for me. It was too
  much to hope that you would love me; but I must go on loving you
  till I die.

  NORMAN.”

The lines danced before her eyes. She looked at them as if she
could not believe the reality of their existence--as a man might
look who had unexpectedly come upon a rare gem; or as a woman might
look who had suddenly found ready to her hand a weapon with which
she could strike a hated foe to the very heart.

As she carefully placed the soiled and creased letter in her
bosom--it seemed to strike warm, as if it had life--she saw opening
before her a triumph which dazzled her and almost made her afraid.
With this letter she could thrust the girl she hated not only from
her lofty position but from Trafford’s side. It only needed skill
and a heart hard enough to laugh at scruples; and her heart was
adamant, and her love for Trafford rendered her incapable of a
conscience.

The guests were arriving when Esmeralda went down to the great
drawing-room. They were all eagerly awaiting her appearance.
They expected to see her beauty enhanced by splendid apparel and
the glitter of the Belfayre diamonds, and her appearance in the
white muslin frock with the simple golden heart at her bosom was
positively startling. She looked like a girl who had just run out
of the school-room, and they held their breath as she crossed the
room to greet them. She was no paler than usual, but there was a
strange, fixed look in her eyes which some of them noticed, and
afterward remembered. The women regarded the simple dress as a
piece of “theater.” Trafford alone, as he stood beside her, with
compressed lips and drawn brows, partly understood. She wished to
remind him of her contempt for her money in the most effectual way.

But even as the thought stabbed him, he thrilled at her beauty; for
the white muslin dress but heightened the effect of the wonderful
hair and the glorious eyes with that strange expression in them.

She was quite self-possessed, and talked with one and another, and
smiled and laughed in her usual frank way; and when the duke peered
at her curiously, she, unseen by any other but himself, dropped him
a swift, bewitching little courtesy.

“This is what I wear to-night, duke,” she said in a low voice.

“Yes, yes; charming, my dear!” he said, innocently. He thought the
plain muslin was some kind of rare silk, and that she had left
her diamonds upstairs in their case because she did not wish to
outshine some of the elder women. It was like her good taste, he
thought, and he nodded at her with loving approval. The dinner
was a stately one. It would have been a solemn one also but for
Esmeralda. She had never been in better spirits, apparently, and
she talked and laughed as she used to do before her marriage.

The duke looked on delightedly, and many of the staidest caught
fire at the flame of her bright, flashing spirit; the dinner was,
unlike such functions, both brilliant and enjoyable. But it was
with Norman that she exchanged her airiest badinage, that swift,
delightful repartee which came of the old Three Star stock with
London wit grafted on it.

Trafford, sitting near her, listened and watched. She dazzled
him, bewildered him, and bewitched him. He knew that the men were
looking at him with friendly envy, and he said to himself: “She is
my wife, and I love her!” He felt an almost irresistible impulse to
rise from his place, take her in his arms, and carry her to some
place where he could say to her, “You are my wife; you belong to
me; you shall not separate yourself from me any longer. Let the
past go to the devil; I care not what may have happened, I care
not whether you believe me or not, I tell you that I _love_ you,
and that you are mine, mine!” Then he looked across the table at
Norman, his face flushed and smiling, and he thought of the hideous
hint that Ada had thrown out.

Trafford was an extremely temperate man. He had gone through his
wild time, and, like most men who go through it and come out the
other side, was absolutely abstemious; but to-night he astonished
the butler by signing to him to fill his glass again and again.
He did not think the wine was having any effect upon him, was not
conscious that his usually pale face was growing flushed, that he
was talking rapidly, that his laughter rang now and again, with an
unnatural ring, above that of the others.

When the ladies left the room he passed the wine diligently. Some
of the men remarking it, looked at each other covertly. They
had never seen Trafford in this mood before, or, at any rate,
for some years. When they entered the drawing-room he looked
round for Esmeralda. The magnificent room, with its gilding and
innumerable candles, seemed to whirl before him, and the women,
in their brilliant dresses, to swim together like the figures
in a kaleidoscope. His heart clamored through the stress of his
excitement for Esmeralda; he wanted to speak to her, to touch her
hand; but she was surrounded immediately, and he could not get near
her without pushing aside some of those who encircled her. He felt
that he could even do that.

Some one was at the piano; they were playing the waltz which had
been playing the night he had stood beside Esmeralda when she
dropped her bracelet over the balcony. God! what a fool he had been
not to know that he loved her even then!

Lord Chesterleigh came up and spoke to him, and he scarcely
knew what Chesterleigh was saying or what he himself responded.
Esmeralda seemed to evade him like a will-o’-the-wisp; from
whatever part of the room she was standing or sitting there came
bursts and ripples of laughter; those who were not immediately
round her or talking to her were talking of her. Old Lady Desford
sung her praises in the duke’s ready ear.

“She really is the most brilliant creature I have ever met!” she
said. “One quite forgets, while listening to her, that she is
only a girl. No wonder you are so proud of her, and Trafford is
so devoted. It really makes one wish that our own girls could go
out for a time to the wilds of Australia on the chance of their
acquiring something of the dear marchioness’s spirit.”

“Ah, yes,” he said in his courtly way; “I am told that black
swans are not _rara avis_ there, but I can only say that I have
seen but one specimen--my daughter.” He said “my daughter” with
a pride beyond description. Presently he rose to retire, and
when Esmeralda, who had been watching him, came up to wish him
good-night, as she always did, no matter how large or stately the
company, he bent and kissed her.

For a moment a little tremor ran through her, and her hands clung
to his arm and a mist rose before her eyes; but she set her teeth
hard and turned swiftly to answer some one who had spoken to her.
Trafford took his father to the door, as usual, and the duke
murmured a few words of congratulation.

“She is surpassing herself to-night, Trafford,” he said. “Don’t let
her tire herself too much. She is very precious to me--as to you.”

Trafford could not speak. He turned back into the room and looked
round for her. He could not see her.

When the duke had gone, Esmeralda had suddenly begun to feel weary;
the excitement was bringing about the reaction. Almost abruptly she
left a group and passed into the fernery and stood, drooping like
one of the exotics, her arms hanging at her side, the golden heart
rising and falling on her bosom slowly and heavily. If she could
have done so she would have gone straight to her room. She sunk on
to a seat and let her head fall upon her arm outstretched upon the
back of the bench.

Norman’s voice roused her.

“Oh, I beg your pardon!” he said. “I mean I have startled you,
haven’t I?”

“No,” she said, looking up. Then she smiled faintly as she saw him
look round. “You did not expect to see me--you thought it was some
one else? Shall I guess?”

He colored guiltily.

“I--I thought I saw her pass this way,” he said.

“If so, she will come back presently,” said Esmeralda. “And if she
does, are you going to take the advice I gave you this morning and
tell her that, though you are only a pauper, as you call it, and
you’ve no money, you’ve grit enough to ask her to be your wife?”

He looked at her, the color coming and going in his face.

“No, not to-night, Esmeralda,” he said. “I’ll go to Selvaine first;
I’ll do the straight thing.”

“And if he says no?”

“Oh, then,” said Norman, ruefully, “I don’t know. I don’t suppose
Lilias would marry me without his and the duke’s consent, and
they’ll never give that.”

Esmeralda looked at him with a tenderness that had something
pathetic in it.

“What a lucky thing it is for you, Norman, that I didn’t accept you
that night by the river! No, I’m not laughing at you. I like you
all the better for--for having cared for me once. One doesn’t get
too many people to love one. And if you marry Lilias, I shall get
a brother as well as a sister; so I feel I’m taking a hand this
deal, as Varley would say.” She sighed as she spoke Varley’s name,
and looked beyond Norman’s handsome head. “Yes, I’m going to take a
hand in the game, and I think I hold the cards that will win it for
you.”

“What do you mean?” he asked in a low voice.

She laid her hand on his shoulder.

“You go to Selvaine to-morrow,” she said, “and ask for Lilias, like
a man, and tell him I sent you.”

Norman started and turned crimson.

“Esmeralda!” he exclaimed, scarce above his breath. “Do you mean
that you offer me--”

“Money?” she said. “No, no; I know I mustn’t do that. You’d be too
proud to take it, and from me. No, I daren’t offer you money. But I
don’t think they’ll refuse my wish.” Her eyes flashed. “How could
they? They have got all _they_ want. For very shame they _dare_ not
refuse me this one little thing. It’s all I shall have of good out
of the bargain; it’s all I shall ask. But”--the old Esmeralda of
Three Star stood before him, flashed from her eyes, spoke in her
voice--“but this I _will_ have!”

Norman went pale in his excitement.

“What can I say to you, Esmeralda?” he said, huskily.

“Say nothing,” she said. “I owe you something for caring for me
once, Norman--”

“I care a great deal for you now!” he broke in, in a passion of
gratitude.

“In another way. Yes, I know--in another way,” she said.

“By Heaven! there is no one like you,” he said--“no one in the
whole world so good, so generous!”

“Not even Lilias?” she said, with a little smile. “But I’m content
to come second to her. Yes”--he had bent his head so that his lips
were near her face--“you may kiss me, if you like. I will pass it
on to Lilias when we say good-night.”

He kissed her on the forehead with a brother’s love, a strong man’s
reverence. She sighed. A faint sound came from a bank of ferns
behind them. She turned her head listlessly.

“Some one is coming,” she said. “Stay here, and I will go and find
Lilias and manage to get her to come to you.”

She passed into the drawing-room as she spoke.



CHAPTER XXIX.


Esmeralda passed into the drawing-room, and left Trafford standing
behind the bank of ferns. He had entered the fernery almost
immediately after she had done so, and had been going to speak to
her, to tell her of his love once more, and to plead with her, when
Norman had entered.

Trafford had intended to leave them at once, but something
had prevented him--a vague feeling of coming evil, and he had
remained--remained to witness the interview. He could only hear a
word now and again, but he had seen Norman’s agitation, had seen
him kiss Esmeralda. It was the faint groan that had burst from
Trafford’s lips which Esmeralda had heard. What he had seen had
seemed to him irrefutable evidence of her guilt.

He stood still as a stone, and almost as cold. Esmeralda, who had
been to him the embodiment of purity and honor, loved Norman, and
had brought dishonor upon her husband. It was not only her wounded
pride at the discovery that he had married her for her money which
had kept them apart, but an illicit and dishonorable love for
another man.

The place reeled before him. He was incapable of action, almost of
thought. What should he do? His first impulse, when his brain had
cleared a little, was to follow Norman, and charge him with his
baseness, to wreak the vengeance of an injured husband, a betrayed
friend. He moved a few steps, putting out his hand toward the
pedestal of a statue, to support himself, for he was trembling and
scarcely able to stand, and as he moved toward the door, he heard
the rustle of a dress, and looking round vaguely and dimly, saw
Lady Ada. She, too, had witnessed the scene, and was as convinced
of Norman’s and Esmeralda’s guilt as was Trafford himself. It
soothed her conscience, and made her task easier. Her heart was
beating furiously, but she smiled and fanned herself slowly as she
came forward.

“Oh, are you here, Trafford?” she said, as if she had just entered.
“I was looking for Esmeralda.”

He drew back, so that his face was in the shadow of a palm.

“What do you want with her?” he asked, hoarsely.

She affected not to notice the change in his voice.

“I have something of hers I want to restore to her,” she said,
with a little laugh. “I borrowed some ribbons and things from her
a little while ago, and this must have been among them. I did not
notice it until I got to my own room. It is an old letter; I don’t
suppose it is of any importance--I haven’t read it, of course--but
she may like to have it back.”

He held out his hand mechanically, and she extended the letter, but
drew it back slightly.

“I needn’t trouble you,” she said. “I shall see her in the
drawing-room.” His hand dropped, but she held out the letter again.
“Perhaps you had better take charge of it,” she said, carelessly;
“I may lose it; for, of course, I haven’t a pocket to put it in.”

He took the letter, and humming an air which was being played on
the piano, she passed him and left the fernery. Trafford held
the letter for a moment or two; then, as mechanically as before,
looked at it and read it. For a brief second its significance did
not strike him, and when he realized its full import, it did not
startle him. Coming after what he had seen, it appeared to be just
another link in the chain of damning evidence.

He crushed the letter in his hand, then let it fall upon the ground
and put his foot upon it. He understood now why Esmeralda had been
so startled at meeting Norman on her wedding-morning. A hundred
little circumstances rose in his mind to help to condemn her. His
heart was torn with conflicting emotions; there was wounded love,
outraged honor, the terrible ruin of all his faith and trust. But
with it all there was a feeling that the gods had only meted out to
him bare justice. He had married her for her money; when proposing
to her, he had not spoken of love; well, she had given him her
money, she had bestowed her love upon Norman!

And now, what should he do? Should he go into the drawing-room and
take Norman by the throat? Should he proclaim his wife’s dishonor
before the brilliant mob there?

He felt strongly impelled to do so; then he thought of the scandal,
the open shame, his father, Lilias, and he stood irresolute.
Besides, even at that moment his love pleaded for her. She was so
young, so inexperienced; there had been no one to help her, to
stretch out a hand and pluck her from the brink of the precipice.
No! he could not proclaim her guilt.

He wiped the cold sweat from his face, and went out into the night.

The party was already beginning to disperse when Esmeralda
re-entered the drawing-room, and as the guests made their adieus
they one and all spoke of the delightful evening they had spent,
and congratulated the marchioness upon her brilliant dinner-party.

They looked round for Trafford to wish him good-night, but some one
said he was in the hall, and they passed out.

Esmeralda stood by the door, the smile with which she had bidden
her guests farewell fading from her face. She looked very tired,
and she stretched out her bare arms with a little weary gesture.

“What a success!” said Lady Ada. “My dear Esmeralda, you have had a
triumph!”

She, too, looked pale, and her lips were drawn tightly.

“Yes, it has been a very pleasant evening,” said Esmeralda,
absently; “but, oh, how tired one gets!”

“We must go to bed at once,” said Lilias, putting her arm round
her. “It is no use waiting for Trafford and Norman; they will be
sure to have gone to the smoking-room; they always fly there as if
they were dying for a cigar.”

The three ladies went upstairs. Lady Ada wished Esmeralda and
Lilias a more than usually affectionate good-night, and went into
her own room. Lilias followed Esmeralda into hers; Esmeralda went
and threw the window wide open and drew a long breath. Lilias stood
beside her and put her arm round her waist.

“How proud and happy you must be to-night, dear,” she said,
lovingly. “You have covered us all with glory; there has not been
such a party at Belfayre since I can remember. But what made you
wear that muslin frock to-night?”

“A whim,” said Esmeralda.

“It was a very clever whim,” said Lilias, with a laugh. “You
outshone them all. I shouldn’t be surprised if plain muslin frocks
became the fashionable evening wear next season. What a relief it
was to the glitter and the glare!” She looked at the slight figure
admiringly. “You look such a girl to-night!” she said.

“And I feel so very, very old,” said Esmeralda, almost to herself.
Then she started slightly, and drew back from the window. “There is
some one down there on the terrace,” she said.

Lilias looked out.

“It is Trafford or Norman,” she said.

“It is Trafford,” said Esmeralda.

“Yes, so I see,” said Lilias.

“Love’s eyes are quick,” said Esmeralda in a low voice and with a
smile. “You would have recognized Norman, would you not?”

There was a gentle significance in the question which brought the
color to Lilias’s face. Esmeralda said no more, and both girls
stood in silence and watched the solitary figure pacing up and down
between them; then Lilias kissed Esmeralda.

“I must not keep you up, dear,” she said. “I am so happy to-night!
I think it is because you are here--because I have found a sister
to love and to love me.”

Esmeralda took the sweet face in her hands.

“Perhaps some day you will have some one else to love you, dear,”
she said. “Good-night.”

Lilias went, and Barker came. Esmeralda was sitting by the open
window.

“Leave me alone for a little while,” she said. “I am too tired to
undress. Will you give me some water before you go?”

Barker gave her mistress some water, then went down-stairs to
continue the discussion of the party in the servants’ hall.

Esmeralda leaned back with her eyes closed. She could hear her
husband’s footsteps as he paced restlessly on the terrace below.
Her husband’s! A wave of bitterness swept over her as she thought
of the misery that hung like a dark cloud over her life. At that
moment, doubtless, he was thinking of Lady Ada; perhaps wishing
that he had not “married for money!” She clasped her hands
tightly and pressed her lips together to keep back the tears that
threatened to rise. She heard the door open, but thinking it was
Barker, did not turn her head. Then she became conscious that the
footsteps were heavier than those of Barker, and, looking up, she
saw that it was Trafford. In her surprise and amazement she did not
move, but sat and gazed at him.

He had never entered her room before. Why had he come to-night? A
sudden hope shot warmly through her heart, and the blood began to
rise in her face; then it died away again, for as he came forward
into the light of the softly shaded lamp, she saw his face and
noted its haggard and stern expression. There was something in
his dark eyes that she had never seen there before--a terrible
sternness which added a vague terror to her surprise at his
presence.

“Trafford!” she said.

She rose and stood in her white dress, her hands by her side, her
face turned toward him. He looked at her long and fixedly; then, as
if he had remembered, he turned back and locked the door and stood
beside it, still looking at her with the terrible sternness which
was slowly making fear predominant in her heart.

“What is the matter?” she asked. “Why have you come?”

It seemed as if he had almost lost the power of speech, there was
so long a pause after her tremulous question.

“Do you not know?” he said, at last, and his voice was hoarse
and stern. “I have come to speak to you, Esmeralda, for the last
time. Let there be as few words as possible between us. I have
been thinking over your shameful secret, and I have arrived at a
decision regarding your future--and mine.”

Esmeralda gazed at him, speechless. Had he gone mad? “Shameful
secret!” What did he, what _could_ he mean?

“My--my shameful secret!” she said, dully. “What is it that you
mean?”

“Spare us both!” he said, sternly. “Do not force me to formulate
the wrong you have done me. Let it be taken for granted that my
knowledge of your sin is as full and complete as your own.”

“My sin--my sin!” she said, not indignantly, not yet angrily, but
with an overwhelming amazement and fear; for she thought that in
very truth he had gone mad.

He looked at her steadily.

“I was behind the bank in the fernery to-night,” he said in a low
voice.

“Well?” she demanded.

The rage in his heart flamed in his face for a moment, then left it
white again.

“You are an admirable actress,” he said. “But your art is thrown
away. I was in the fernery and saw you and Norman together. I saw
all--the whole shameful scene.”

Her breath came fast, the color mounted to her brow and dyed her
neck. A light, a fierce light, began to gather in her eyes. She was
beginning to understand; slowly, very slowly at first; for, in her
innocence, it seemed so incredible that Trafford--Trafford, of all
men!--should for one single instant believe her capable of such
vileness as his words implied. She opened her lips to laugh, but he
went on before the laugh came.

“Do not speak, do not attempt to deny your guilt. Words can be of
no avail between us. You can not say anything in extenuation of the
wrong you have done me which my heart has not already pleaded for
you. You, too, have been wronged.”

She started slightly, and her face went white. He was confessing
his love for Ada! Her heart hardened to adamant at that moment, and
she thought no more of laughter.

“I am justly punished,” he went on; “I accept my punishment. You
thought I did not love you; I know with what bitterness against me
your heart was filled--it is only natural that you should love him,
that your heart should turn to the man who loved you before we met.”

“I love Norman!” she said, more to herself than to him. The denial
implied by her words roused his anger again.

“You can not deny it,” he said, between his teeth. “I have seen you
together! Do you think I have forgotten your manner when I brought
him to you, thinking you were strangers? And if I wanted clearer
proof of the vile truth, I have it here.”

He held out the letter. She recognized it in a moment. The blood
surged to her face, her lips moved, she was on the point of crying
out: “It is true he loves me, but I never loved him; I have never
spoken a word of love to him in all my life. It was of Lilias we
were talking; it was for Lilias--the kiss.” Then the recollection
of Lady Ada flashed upon her; he had confessed that he loved her.
Her pride rose like a tide and swept away all softer emotions.

This man she loved had married her for her money while loving
another woman, and now dared to deem her guilty of the worst crime
of which a woman and a wife can be capable. Well, let him think her
so! She would not utter one word of denial, she would scorn to do
so.

The color faded from her face, she drew herself up to her full
height, her eyes flashing, her bosom heaving. It was not only
Esmeralda of Three Star Camp but the Marchioness of Trafford that
spoke in every line of her face, in the almost imperial gesture
with which she extended her hand.

“That letter is mine!” she said, defiantly and haughtily. “Where
did you get it?”

“You confess, then?” he said.

“I confess--I deny--_nothing_!” she said. “Give me my letter!”

She snatched it from him and pressed the hand in which it was
gripped against her throbbing heart. Trafford gazed at her with a
smoldering fire in his eyes, his teeth clinched.

“The truth now stands between us,” he said. “It was because I held
conclusive proof of your guilt that I asked you to spare us both.
I will now ask you to listen to the proposal I have come to make
to you. Ignorant of the world as you are, you will know that it
is impossible that we should live together under the same roof any
longer. It is impossible that we can breathe the same air.”

She stood perfectly motionless, her eyes meeting his steadily.

“You must know,” he went on, “that I could put you away from
me--that the law could divide us and set us free--but I do not
intend to ask for a divorce. No shadow of such shame has ever
fallen upon my people. I am desirous of averting it now. You shall
remain my wife still in the eyes of the law and the world; you
shall remain here, at Belfayre, or where you please, still bearing
my name and taking your place in the world as the Marchioness of
Trafford.”

She neither moved nor spoke, but waited for the end.

“I make only one condition,” he said. “You can guess that?”

Her lips formed the word “What?”

“That you promise to see him”--he could not speak Norman’s
name--“no more. I will deal with him--will find some means of
enforcing his separation from you.”

He waited for an answer, but she did not speak.

“I gather from your silence that you consent?” he said.

She did not contradict him by word or look.

“I have now to speak of the money you brought me. It shall be
returned to you. You refused it the night--the night of our
marriage; you can not do so now. It shall be transferred back to
you, and without the knowledge of the world. To-morrow I leave
Belfayre and England; it is not probable that I shall ever return.
For me, life is over. I shall never see your face again.” His voice
broke at the words, but he mastered it again quickly; he did not
see the shudder, the tremor, that shook her as she heard them.
“If there is any question you wish to ask me,” he went on in so
hoarse and low a voice that she could scarcely hear it, “write
to me before I go, and I will answer it. I desire to make every
arrangement that will tend to render your future an assured one.
God knows I have no desire to punish you! As I said, there has
been wrong on both sides; I have acknowledged it. You will deem
it but a hollow mockery, but I wish you happiness in the future,
forgetfulness of the past.”

His breath was labored, and the words issued from his white lips
slowly and painfully. He had never been more conscious of her
loveliness than he was at that moment; she looked like an angel of
innocence and purity as she stood in her white frock under the soft
light of the shaded lamp; and his heart ached with a passionate
love which, for the moment, almost overwhelmed his jealousy and
his sense of terrible injury and wrong.

If she had only spoken; if she had only said to him: “It is all
a mistake! I am innocent; I could not help Norman loving me; he
is nothing to me, and never has been. It is you I loved and still
love!” If she had said this with her eyes meeting his steadily, he
could not but have believed her; she would have been in his arms,
and the history of Esmeralda, of Three Star Camp, might very well
have closed here.

But she said nothing; there was scarcely room for love in her
heart, it was so full of pride and an innocent girl’s resentment
and indignation. Perhaps he expected, half hoped, that she would
speak, would plead for forgiveness; and he felt in his heart that
if she were to do so he must yield and take her back.

When he found she did not speak, he turned to the door and unlocked
it. Even then he paused.

“Have you nothing to say to me--not one word?” he said.

She shook her head.

“No, not one word,” she said, slowly, mechanically.

Then, with a swift change of manner, she raised her head still
higher, and, with a spot of red on either cheek, said:

“Yes! You believe that I have done this thing. You believe that
all this time, not only before, but since--since I have been
your--wife, I have been deceiving you, have let another man make
love to me, have made love to him--”

“How can I help believing it?” he broke in.

“You think that I am a liar and a false woman?” she said. She drew
a long breath. “Well, think so. It is easy for you to do so. You
judge me by yourself. Have you not deceived me, before and since
our marriage? You say you cared for me! You came to me and asked
me to be your wife. You knew that I knew nothing of the world, and
your sort of man. You were a lord, a gentleman. ‘A gentleman!’” She
laughed with bitter scorn. “They were better gentlemen in the Camp;
and, though you might be disposed to call them a set of vagabonds,
there’s not one of them who would stoop, who would be so mean
as to do what you did. You asked me to be your wife because you
wanted the money, not because you loved me--for you loved another
woman--you love her still!” He took a step forward, his face white,
his lips opened to utter a denial. She held up her hand, and it
shook. “No use, no use! I have known it ever since the day we were
married. I have played the spy, as you have done!” She laughed
bitterly. “I was in the anteroom, and heard you and Lady Ada--heard
every word!”

His head drooped. He stretched out his hand.

“Don’t say a word!” she said, with an impatient movement of her
head. “I have seen you together since she has been here; I have
seen her look at you, have heard her voice when she spoke to you. I
have learned a great deal since I came to this London of yours. I
know what these grand ladies are. Do you think I haven’t listened
to the stories of Lady Wyndover and other women? Do you think I
don’t know how they live, how little they care what they do, what
other women’s hearts they break, so that they can have their own
way? You think I don’t know that Lady Ada says to herself, that
though you may be my husband, you really belong to _her_?”

Trafford stood stricken dumb. What could he say? If he had
possessed the eloquence of a Cicero he would not succeed in
convincing her that his love for Lady Ada was a thing of the past,
and that he had grown to love his wife. He turned his head away
with a sigh that was like a groan. She looked at him with flashing
eyes.

“Have you nothing to say to me--not one word?” she said, repeating
his words mockingly. “No; better not; it would be of no use. We
know each other, as you think; but you are wrong. You don’t know
me; you never have known me!”

He found his voice at last.

“Esmeralda!” he said, hoarsely.

She turned away with a little weary, impatient gesture.

“I am tired!” she said, with a quiver of the lips, but with no
abatement of her pride and _hauteur_. “I do not wish to hear any
more! Surely you must have said all you have to say! I quite
understand what you want me to do. I know that you and I can not go
on living together under the same roof. I will think over what you
said, and--I will do as I please! Will you go now? I’ve told you
I’m very tired!”

A storm was raging within him. He strode across the room and caught
her by the arm.

“Come back to me, Esmeralda!” he said, almost inarticulately.

For a moment’s space, the half of a second, she wavered, then she
drew her arm from his grasp.

“You, a _gentleman_, ask me--believing me to be what you say--to
come back to you!”

She laughed discordantly. The laugh struck him like the cut of a
whip. He stood looking at her, his breath coming fast and thickly;
then, with set lips, he walked to the door. With his hand upon the
handle, he looked over his shoulder at her--a long and lingering
look in which a man’s agony was expressed. Then he went out and the
door closed upon him.



CHAPTER XXX.


Esmeralda stood where he had left her as one stands after receiving
a mortal blow, in a dull stupor too profound for pain. She sunk
into a chair, and with her eyes fixed on the dark sky, gradually
realized what this was that had happened to her. Her husband
believed her to be guilty of betraying him. They had agreed to
part. She should never see him again.

Presently the details of his proposal came back to her; she was to
go on living at Belfayre, and before the world as his wife. How
little he knew her! A smile that was far more bitter than tears
crossed her face. She got up and paced the room, sometimes with her
hands hanging limply and wearily at her side, at others clasping
her burning brow. She was trying to think what she should do.

Suddenly, in a flash, it came to her. With a change of manner
that indicated a new-born resolution, she took off her dress, and
put on the quietest of her traveling costumes. Then she went to
the velvet-covered safe and took out her jewel-box. Slowly and
carefully she selected the various articles which she had purchased
before her marriage, and put these into a case by themselves. In
the drawer of the safe were some bank-notes and some gold; she
placed these with the jewel-case in her traveling-bag, and locked
it.

As she did so, the light fell upon the wedding-ring upon her hand.
She held up her hand and looked at it. Then, with tightly set lips,
she drew the ring from her finger, and going to the writing-table,
placed the ring in an envelope, and addressed it to “The Marquis
of Trafford.” This she placed in the center of her dressing-table.
Then she put on her hat and traveling-cloak and stood looking round
the room with a strange expression on her face, as of one who is
taking leave forever of all that she once held dear.

She opened the door and listened. The great house was very quiet;
there was no sound but the ticking of the tall clock that stood in
the hall and the heavy breathing of the great hound which lay on
the rug before the fire-place.

She went out on to the corridor, not stealthily, though her
footfall made no sound on the thick piled carpet. She wished to
leave Belfayre unseen and unheard; but, though every man and woman
had stood in her way and tried to bar her progress, she would have
walked through them; no one should stop her.

From that moment, from the moment she had taken the wedding-ring
from her finger, she had, in her mind, ceased to be Trafford’s
wife; she was no longer the Marchioness of Trafford, but Esmeralda
Howard.

As she passed along the corridor she paused at the door of the
duke’s room and for a moment the unnatural calmness of her face
wavered and broke up, as it were.

It was the duke’s habit to sleep with the door partly open; it was
so open to-night. An irresistible longing to look once more upon
the old man who loved her took possession of her. She could not
beat it down, and softly pushing the door open, she entered the
room.

The duke lay in a great bed with hangings of white velvet. The
furniture of the room was white--a fancy of the old man’s. She went
softly up to the bed, and looked down on him. He lay sleeping as
peacefully as a child, his face as placid as that of a marble mask.
She could scarcely hear him breathe as she bent lower and lower
until her lips touched the wrinkled forehead. As she kissed him, a
tear, the existence of which she was ignorant, fell upon his face.

He did not move or wake, but a smile passed over his face like
the sunlight falling upon a still mere. She was glad that he had
smiled, that her last look at his dear face should ever linger in
her mind with that deep and solemn presentiment of an old man’s
peace and happiness. She stretched out her hands to him, and
her lips moved, but no spoken words broke the almost death-like
stillness, and slowly, with her eyes lingering upon him, she passed
out.

As she went down the stairs into the hall, the hound woke and
sprung to his feet with a low growl; but when he saw that it was
she, he came forward slowly, wagging his tail and looking up at her
with loving eyes, and pushed his head against her hand, assured
of the caress which she never denied him. She took his head in
both her hands and kissed the great smooth forehead almost as
lovingly as she had kissed the duke; for both man and dog loved her
well--better than the husband who believed her to be a vile and
guilty woman. The dog would have followed her when she opened the
door, but she softly bid him go back, and he stood and watched her
with wistful and troubled eyes as the slim figure stood against
the darkness of the night for a moment before it disappeared.

She paused for a moment or two under the great fluted column to
decide which way she should take; then she went down the terrace
steps and straight along across the garden to the avenue. Had she
turned to the right, she would have entered the path which led to
the small wood or spinny where Trafford was pacing up and down in
his agony; had she turned to the left, she would have crossed the
path and met the gamekeeper on his rounds; but, as it happened, she
chose the direct road and was seen of none, and so passed through
the great gates like a spirit of the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

Norman, like most strong and healthy young men, was a heavy
sleeper. Trafford used to declare that nothing short of an
earthquake, or the announcement of breakfast and the prospect
of something to eat would waken Norman. Usually Trafford’s man
knocked at Norman’s door, and never by any chance getting an
answer, entered after a respectful interval. On this morning he did
not wait after knocking, but went into the room and said rather
louder than usual: “Half past eight, my lord.” This being repeated
half a dozen times without any perceptible effect, the man gently
shook Norman by the shoulder, and at last the blue eyes opened
with an amazed expression, which invariably gave place to one of
disgust, and the yawning question: “Oh, is that you? Getting-up
time already?” This morning he looked more disgusted and yawned
more widely than ordinary, for he had sat up smoking until late,
or rather, early, thinking of Lilias, and Esmeralda’s wonderful
goodness to him, and he felt as if he could very willingly have
knocked the awakener’s head off.

“Half past eight?” he said. “Dash it, I don’t seem to have been
asleep more than half an hour.”

“Sorry to disturb you, my lord,” said the man. “I knew your
lordship was up late last night, and I should have let you sleep
for another half hour, but this telegram’s just come for you, my
lord.”

“Telegram this time in the morning?” said Norman, with a yawn,
holding out his hand for it.

“It is early, my lord; but the boy who brought it said it had come
as soon as the office was open.”

Norman sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes, and extracted the
hideously colored and uncomfortably feeling paper, read it, then
sprung out of bed quite wide awake now.

“Get my things ready at once!” he said, hurriedly and anxiously.
“What’s the first train I can catch?”

The valet thought a moment.

“You might catch the twenty to ten, my lord, if you were very
quick. I hope your lordship hasn’t had bad news.”

“Yes, I have,” said Norman.

It was a telegram from The Manor saying that his mother was ill,
and asking him to come at once. With the deftness of a well-trained
servant, the man helped him to dress as quickly as possible.

“I will have some breakfast ready for you in the west room, my
lord, and I’ll order the dog-cart. While you’re having your
breakfast I’ll pack your lordship’s things.”

Norman thanked him.

“I don’t care anything about the breakfast,” he said. “I _must_
catch that train; and, look here,” he added, “don’t say anything
about the telegram. Just say that I’ve gone up to town, and that
I’ll write.”

He did not want the duke to hear of Lady Druce’s illness too
suddenly, for very little upset the old man now. Norman would break
the news in a letter directly he reached The Manor. But as he went
down-stairs he thought he would tell Trafford, and he knocked at
his door; but no answer came, and after waiting and knocking again,
he went down, thinking it strange that Trafford, who, he knew, was
generally so light a sleeper, should not have heard him. He got
some breakfast hastily. No one appeared to be up, and he longed,
lover-like, for a word with Lilias; even Esmeralda would have been
something.

As he was putting on his light overcoat in the hall, he heard a
footstep upstairs, and looking up, saw Lady Ada. Even in his hurry
and anxiety he noticed that she was very pale, and that there was a
singular, tense expression in her face. She started, too, at sight
of him.

“Oh, is that you?” she said. “You quite startled me. I’ve a stupid,
nervous headache this morning.”

“Yes, it’s me,” said Norman, with his delightful grammar. “I’m
off to catch the first train. I’ve had a wire; my mother’s
bad. I’m glad I saw you before I went. Will you please tell
Lil--Esmeralda”--he stammered and blushed slightly in his
confusion--“how it is that I’ve had to go so suddenly?”

She looked at him curiously, with her steel-blue eyes dwindling to
points.

Norman was rather surprised at her manner of taking his request;
but there was no time for further speech. He jumped into the
dog-cart, took the reins, and drove off full pelt.

Lady Ada stood at the door and watched him with a line drawn
vertically between her eyes. She had not slept all night. Part
of the time she had paced her room; she had heard Trafford go to
Esmeralda’s; she fancied that she had heard their voices now and
again, as if they were quarreling; then Trafford’s step had passed
her door, and all had been still for a time, when she heard, or
fancied she heard, lighter footsteps going along the corridor.

Lady Ada was not Lady Macbeth, and though she had dealt what she
hoped would prove a mortal blow to Esmeralda’s happiness, she was
inwardly quaking as to the result. The schemes of mice and men--and
even women--have sometimes an awkward knack of “ganging aglee.”
It was just possible that Esmeralda had succeeded in explaining
away what Lady Ada considered the irrefutable evidence of her
guilt--men are such fools where women are concerned! She desired,
yet dreaded, to see Trafford. If Esmeralda had “got over him” and
persuaded him of her innocence, he would be sure to turn upon her
(Lady Ada), and all would be over between them. She herself was
convinced of Esmeralda’s guilt. She didn’t believe for a moment
in the telegram or Lady Druce’s illness. Esmeralda had found an
opportunity of warning Norman; and he was off, as a man always is
on such occasions.

It was very hot in the house, and her head was really aching. She
went out in the garden, but there was no shade on the lawn, and
she turned into the little spinny. She had not walked half a dozen
yards under the trees when she was startled by seeing the figure of
a man lying, with his head upon his arm, among the dew-wet bracken.

It was Trafford lying asleep in his dress clothes! She stood
stock-still, terribly frightened, and, as if he felt her eyes upon
him, he woke, and, seeing her, rose to his feet and stood looking
round him for a moment with a dazed air.

“Trafford!” she said.

He turned his eyes upon her like a man slowly coming back to
life--and not gladly.

“Why are you lying here?” she asked. “What is it?” And she went up
to him half fearfully and touched his arm.

“I--I fell asleep,” he said in a hard, strained voice, “I was out
here--walking--and lay down. I must have fallen asleep without
knowing it.”

He passed his hand over his wet hair with a weary, listless gesture.

“What has happened?” she asked under her breath.

He looked at her for a moment before he answered, then he smiled--a
terrible smile.

“Esmeralda and I have parted!” he said. “No; don’t ask any
question! Let that suffice. We have parted! Go back to the house.”

“But-- Trafford!” she panted.

“Go!” he said, harshly. “Leave me alone. I can not bear to speak to
any one. I will go into the house by the back way. Tell no one that
you have seen me; say nothing. I can rely upon your silence?”

“You can always rely upon me, Trafford,” she said; “always!”

She would have clasped his arms with both her hands, but he pushed
her from him almost roughly.

“Whatever you may know, whatever you may guess--say nothing, now
nor in the future.”

“I will obey you in everything, Trafford,” she said.

Then she turned and left him.

He walked slowly through the spinny to the small door in the north
of the house. It opened on to a hall from which there was a passage
to his own rooms, and he gained them without being seen.

His man had gone down with some clothes to air, and Trafford
undressed and had a bath. His head felt heavy, his limbs stiff from
lying on the wet ground and in the cold morning air, but his brain
cleared after the bath, and he was able to realize the grim fact
that he had parted from Esmeralda forever.

He would go up to London by the midday train, give instructions
to the lawyers to transfer back to Esmeralda the money Belfayre
had received at his marriage, and then he would leave England as
quickly as possible, and--forever.

His valet noticed that he looked white and ill, and he decided
that he would not tell him about the telegram and Lord Norman’s
departure until after he had had his breakfast, for the man was
fond of his master, and considerate.

Trafford went down-stairs. As he descended, he thought of Norman:
he had to deal with him before he left. In the hall stood Lady Ada.
She looked at him, and her lips moved, but she said nothing; and he
stood a little away from her, his eyes fixed upon something above
her head, as if he scarcely saw her.

“I want Norman,” he said.

“Norman!” she repeated, dully.

“Yes,” he said, with a touch of impatience. “Is he down yet?”

She trembled; she was face to face with a terrible situation.

“Norman has--has gone!” she faltered.

He moved slightly and his teeth set.

“Gone? When?”

“An hour ago,” she said. “He caught the morning train.”

“Why?”

“I--I do not know,” she replied.

The lie was badly delivered, but he did not notice her momentary
hesitation and confusion. He took a step toward the stairs, a
hideous thought, suspicion, dread, flashing across his mind.

“Esmeralda!” he said under his breath.

She understood.

“I will go and see,” she said.

He put out his hand, as if to stop her, then went up the stairs
and knocked at Esmeralda’s door. It was opened, but by Barker. She
looked rather troubled and uneasy.

“The marchioness? I wish to see her.”

Barker’s uneasiness increased.

“My lady is not here, my lord,” she said.

Trafford put his hand up against the side of the door, as if to
grasp at something.

“Not!”

“No, my lord,” said Barker, looking at him questioningly and
beginning to tremble. “When I came in this morning her ladyship was
not here. She must have dressed by herself and gone out; she has
taken one of her traveling-dresses.”

As she spoke, she glanced toward the inner bedroom. His eyes
followed hers, and he saw that the bed had not been slept in. A
crimson light seemed to flash across his eyes, and then for a
moment he became blind. He stood looking with sightless eyes at the
bed; then, without a word, he turned and walked away with uncertain
steps like a drunken man.

As he reached the duke’s door it opened quickly, and the duke’s
valet rushed out with a cry of horror.

“Oh! my lord, my lord!” he gasped, and turned back into the room
wringing his hands.

Trafford followed him and stood beside the bed. One glance told him
what had happened. His father was dead.

The old man had passed away into the land of Peace and Rest; had
passed away with Esmeralda’s tear still glittering upon his face,
with the smile which her kiss had awakened still lingering on his
lips.

Esmeralda was the Duchess of Belfayre!



CHAPTER XXXI.


The duke was dead--long live the duke!

All was confusion at Belfayre, and it was not only Trafford who was
stunned by the sudden shock. All men must die, and the duke was an
old man; but he had seemed so well and strong that those who had
seen and talked with him on the night of the party were startled
by the news of his death, which was soon flashing over the world.
The telegraph-girl at Belfayre was overwhelmed by the number of
messages going and coming.

Under ordinary circumstances, Lady Ada must have left Belfayre
at once; but Lilias was, for the time, at any rate, completely
prostrated by the suddenness of the blow. Like Esmeralda, she had
loved the old man dearly, and Lady Ada could do no other than offer
to remain with her.

Trafford moved about among the frightened and excited household
like a man dazed. He almost forgot that his wife had left him--had
flown with his closest and dearest friend--until Lilias came to
him, with white face and quivering lips, to tell him that neither
she nor Barker could find Esmeralda.

“Esmeralda!” he repeated, vaguely. Then a shudder ran through him;
but he controlled his voice, and answered, almost carelessly--too
carelessly--if Lilias had been in a condition to notice: “She
has gone off to London,” he said in a dry voice--“to--to Lady
Wyndover’s. She went up unexpectedly, and--and left word with me to
tell you.”

Lilias repeated:

“To London?”

“Yes,” he said, almost impatiently. “Why should she not? She wanted
to see Lady Wyndover about--about something, I forget what. Why do
you stare at me, Lilias?” Then, as he saw the tears start afresh
from her eyes, he went on, remorsefully: “Forgive me; I scarcely
know what I am saying. It is so sudden--so sudden! Yes, I am glad
that she has gone.” The words stuck in his throat, but he managed
to get them out. He must lie for the present, at any rate. Soon the
hideous fact must be known, and all the lying in the world would be
of no use; but he would screen her, hide the shameful thing as long
as he could. “It is a good thing; she would have been terribly
frightened and--and cut up. I will go to London directly--as soon
as I can--and break the news to her.”

“She will hear it before you can get there,” said Lilias. “It--it
will be in the evening papers.”

“Yes,” he said, passing his hand over his brow with a sigh.

How would Esmeralda receive it? It would seem like a stroke from
Heaven to punish her.

He went upstairs and entered her room, and absently walked to the
dressing-table. There still lay upon it the envelope addressed
to him; for Barker had not noticed it, in the confusion of her
discovery of Esmeralda’s absence, and the greater confusion of the
duke’s death. He took it up, and with shaking hands opened it. The
ring fell to the floor, and for a moment or two he seemed incapable
of searching for it. When he had found it, he held it in the palm
of his hand and gazed at it dully, as if it were something curious
and unique; then its meaning bore down upon him, and with a groan
he left the room, the ring clinched in his hand.

Telegrams of condolence commenced to pour in at once; friends
and neighbors drove up to express their sympathy and to offer
assistance, and Trafford opened the telegrams and saw the visitors.
They went away impressed by the expression on his face and in his
voice.

“The poor fellow seems quite knocked over!” remarked Lord
Chesterleigh. “I never saw a man so stunned.”

“There was a very strong affection between him and his father,”
said the man to whom he spoke.

“Yes, I know, very strong; but--well, Trafford looks as if he
himself were smitten with death. It will be a dreadful blow to the
marchioness and Lady Lilias. The marchioness is the duchess now. It
sounds strange. We have not had a Duchess of Belfayre among us for
so long.”

Nearly all the visitors talked of Esmeralda as they drove away from
the hushed house, and some glanced up at the shrouded windows of
her apartments, little guessing that she had flown as the angel of
death had entered.

Before the day was over something like order was restored, and
the vast place settled down into that solemn hush which follows a
death. The servants stole about on tiptoe in the darkened house;
the tread, that peculiar tread--who does not know and shudder at
it?--of the undertaker’s men seemed to pervade the whole place.
Lilias, shut up in her room with Lady Ada, heard it, and wept
afresh.

“Yes, I am glad--glad that Esmeralda was not here,” she said. “She
loved him so; and now she will have heard of it before she comes
back, and--and the first bitterness and sorrow will have passed.
She _must_ hear of it to-day, of course; and she will be back
to-morrow. I dread her coming, and yet I long for her.”

“She will come to-morrow--yes,” said Ada, faintly, as she sat
beside the bed on which Lilias lay.

Would Esmeralda stop in her flight and--and come back? Death unites
as well as divides. Under the shock of this sudden bereavement her
heart might turn to Trafford, and he might melt toward her. It was
not of the old man who lay in his death-sleep that Lady Ada was
thinking as she sat in the darkened room. Her own fate hung in the
balance.

Trafford moved about the house with the restlessness of a lost
spirit, yet issuing the necessary orders and answering the
inevitable questions with a grim calm. He could not leave Belfayre
that day; but the next morning, when Lilias came down and asked,
with tremulous eagerness, “Have you heard from Esmeralda?” he
answered:

“No; she can not have heard of it. I will go up to town.”

“And bring her back with you? Yes, that will be best,” she said.

“Yes, that will be best,” he repeated, dully, and looking beyond
her.

She put her hand on his arm with that touch which is so eloquent of
sympathy and consolation.

“You will bear up--for her sake, Trafford?” she said in a low
voice. “You look so ill--so worn. Dear, it had to come some day;
and--and he must have died so happily! Tell Esmeralda that; it will
comfort her.”

“I will tell her,” he said, hoarsely.

He could scarcely restrain himself from crying aloud as he played
his part.

All the way up to town he had to keep repeating to himself,
“Esmeralda has gone--gone forever,” for his father’s sudden death
had, for a time, obscured his other and greater sorrow.

As the cab drove to the house in Grosvenor Square, he looked up and
saw that the blinds were down; they had heard the news. The footman
who opened the door to him met him with a solemn face.

“Her ladyship is in, your grace,” he said.

Trafford started at the too ready “your grace,” and followed
the man up to the _boudoir_ in which he had so often sat with
Esmeralda.

Lady Wyndover rose from the couch and came to meet him with both
hands extended. She looked pale and shocked, and he saw that she
had been crying.

“Oh, Trafford!” she said, with a catch in her voice. “How--how ill
you look! Why have you come? Is--is Esmeralda ill? Do you want me?
She has sent for me?”

He stood looking at her, yet scarcely seeing her. He did not know
how to break the other--and far worse--news to her.

“Sit down,” he said, almost curtly. “Is--is Esmeralda not here?”

He asked the question with that futile hoping against hope which we
are all so apt to indulge in.

Lady Wyndover stared at him.

“Esmeralda here!” she said. “No! How--how could she be here? She is
at Belfayre; you left her there, did you not?”

“No!” he said in a low voice. “She is not there. I thought she
might be here with you.”

He sighed at the destruction of his unreasonable hope.

“She is not here. You thought-- Do you mean to say that you don’t
know where she is?”

He shook his head.

“That you haven’t heard from her? But I don’t understand! Why do
you not answer, Trafford? You--you frighten me!”

“Do not be frightened!” he said, though he knew the injunction was
useless; she would be overwhelmed with terror, horror, presently.
“She--she left Belfayre the night before last, or--or early
yesterday morning.”

“Left Belfayre? Well, where has she gone?”

“I do not know.”

She uttered a cry--a low, inarticulate cry.

“Trafford, something has happened! Where--where is Esmeralda?” she
exclaimed; and there was a note of demand in her voice as if he
were responsible for Esmeralda, as if he were answerable for her
absence.

“I do not know,” he said again, huskily. “She left the house
without my knowledge--without leaving a message for me”--he
remembered the ring: it seemed to burn his flesh as it lay in his
waistcoat pocket--“no letter, no word.”

Lady Wyndover rose, then sunk down again.

“My God, you have quarreled!”

“Yes, we have quarreled.”

“Then--then it was your fault!” she said; and her color glowed
crimson through the powder on her face. “It _must_ have been your
fault. Oh, Trafford, and so soon!” she wailed.

“It was my fault,” he said. “In the beginning--yes; it was my
fault--and yours.”

“Mine!”

He inclined his head with a terrible calmness.

“Yes; she discovered that I married her for her money.”

Lady Wyndover trembled.

“When?” she demanded in a whisper.

“The day of the wedding,” he said. He turned his head away from
her gaze. “She--charged me with it on our wedding-night, and--and
separated herself from me.”

Lady Wyndover covered her face with her hands, and groaned.

“And--and you? What--what did you say? Surely you, a _man_--could
influence her, could--”

He shook his head dully.

“No. You know her as well as I do. All I could say was of no avail.
The poison had entered her mind, her heart: it was hardened against
me!”

“And she loved you so--before!”

His face flushed, then went white.

“You are mistaken,” he said, grimly. “She never loved me.”

“Never? You are mad!”

“No! I have been, but I am sane now. She never loved me. She loved
the man she has gone off with.”

Lady Wyndover sprung to her feet.

“Oh, you are mad!” she cried, with a kind of helpless scorn.
“Esmeralda loved the ground on which you trod! I know it--I _know
it_! Do you hear?”

“I hear,” he said, bitterly. “But you are wrong. She deceived
you--all--as she deceived me. She loved Norman Druce--she left
Belfayre with him.”

“It is a lie!” sprung from Lady Wyndover’s lips; and she went white
with passionate indignation. “It is a foolish lie! She loved you,
and only you, I tell you! I have heard her-- Oh, what is the use!
Do you think a woman does not know whom another woman loves? The
girl was like my own--had no secrets from me.”

“Save this one,” he said. “Be calm, and listen to me; you will need
all your calmness. Esmeralda and--and Norman”--his teeth clinched
after he had spoken the name--“had met at the place she came
from--Three Star. He had proposed to her there, and--why, I know
not--she had refused him; but she must have loved him, for she has
gone away with him. They have been together at Belfayre. Oh, do you
not see how the devilish thing has been brought about? Separated
from me--a wife in name only--the presence of the man who had loved
her in the past, still loved her. Yes, it must be plain enough even
to you!”

Lady Wyndover was walking up and down the room like a caged tiger.

“I do not, I will not believe it!” she panted. “She is incapable of
it--incapable!”

He sighed almost patiently.

“Then--where is she?” he demanded, grimly.

Lady Wyndover stopped as if she had been shot, and stared at him
aghast.

“I--I--do not know!”

“Wherever she is, she must have heard of my father’s death.
If she had not gone off with Norman she would have written,
telegraphed--come back as fast as horses, trains, could bring her.”

Lady Wyndover sunk on the couch and clasped her head.

“I am bewildered, dazed!” she wailed. “Give me time to think! It is
so--so sudden!”

“I have had time,” he said, bitterly, “and I can come to no
other conclusion. And you have not heard all. I charged her
with--her treachery; I had seen them together in the conservatory
at Belfayre, had”--his voice grew hoarse--“seen him kiss her. I
charged her with it, and--oh, my God! she confessed it, defied me!
The next morning she was gone! _They_ were gone! He went without a
word!”

He dropped his head in his hands, and hid his face.

Lady Wyndover sat and gazed beyond him, breathing hard.

“I hear all you say,” she said, at last, huskily, “and still I
repeat: it is not true. Esmeralda is incapable of it--and Norman!
Yes, he, too, is incapable of it!”

He groaned in his anguish.

“He is only a man--and he loved her--loved her before I saw her,
and she--have you forgotten already how beautiful she is? He is
only a man, not an angel from heaven to withstand a temptation
which only an angel could resist. Why”--he laughed bitterly--“_had
I been in his place I should have done the same_.”

Lady Wyndover broke into a storm of tears.

“If I were only dead!”

“Wish _her_ dead!” he said, grimly. “She has chosen a life worse
than death!”

“I don’t believe it!” she reiterated, firmly. “No, if--if she were
to confess it to me here at my knees, I could not believe it. I
should think her mad, as I think you. She may have gone; _that_ I
can understand, but she has not betrayed you. Esmeralda! She is the
soul of truth and honor.”

“Then where is she?” he demanded again; but Lady Wyndover was not
crushed by the terrible question.

“I do not know. It is your place to find out. Have you searched for
her?”

He shook his head wearily.

“No. Wait. You forget--my father--”

“A man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.”

He made a movement of his hand.

“Yes, while she remains with him. God knows that she was all the
world to me.”

“Then find her!”

He repeated the movement again.

“No, I shall find him. She will be with him,” he said, almost
inaudibly.

“Go at once!” she cried. “Oh, if I only knew where to go--what to
do. And all this time people are asking for her--wondering where
she is.” She almost screamed as she realized the hideous wreck of
Esmeralda’s life.

“Be calm!” he said. “I--I have thought of that. I came to ask you
to help me. We must keep the fact of her flight secret--for a time,
as long as we can. I have told them--Lilias--that she is with you--”

“Yes--yes,” she panted, eagerly. “I see. But--but the servants
here, they know that she is not?”

“Go down to Deepdale,” he said, slowly, as if he were imparting
something he had learned by heart. “Tell them that she went there
thinking that you were there, that she is ill--the sudden shock of
my father’s death. You understand?”

“Yes--yes,” she repeated, getting up and stretching out her hands
nervously as if for her out-door things. “I understand. But--but
how long can we keep it up?”

He shook his head.

“I know not. But it will give us time. It will be something to have
hidden the truth until--until after the funeral.” His head drooped.

Lady Wyndover went over to him and laid her trembling hand upon his
arm.

“Forgive me, Trafford. I have been--been hard with you. I had
forgotten that he was dead. But I”--her voice broke--“I love her
so! I’ve never had a child of my own, and Esmeralda--” Her sobs
choked back the words.

“I, too, loved her,” he said, simply.

There was a pause, then he rose in a dazed kind of way.

“You will do as I ask? Go down to Deepdale at once. She may come
to you-- No, she will not leave him. Why should she? He loves her
and she thinks I do not. Wait there till you hear from me, and--and
send me word to come to you if you hear anything.”

He moved toward the door, looking so wan and aged that Lady
Wyndover, even in the midst of her grief for Esmeralda, could have
cried aloud for pity of him.

“Oh, believe in her still, Trafford!” she sobbed.

“If I only could!” he said, with a groan, and went out. He went
to his rooms, and sat there brooding--playing the solitary game
called, “Looking Back At the Past.” It is a poor game, and one
seldom wins at it. He was so lost in his thoughts that he managed
to lose the train, and had to remain in town; and so he gave Lady
Ada another opportunity.



CHAPTER XXXII.


Norman found his mother very ill. The doctor did not forbid all
hope; but a crisis was approaching. They could only wait. Norman
was very fond of his mother, and greatly upset, and he put off
writing his letter to Trafford until the morrow; and in the morning
he, of course, read the news of the duke’s sudden death.

He would have dashed off to Belfayre then and there, but he could
not leave his mother; and he did the next best thing to going--sat
down and wrote a letter to Trafford--the letter of a close and dear
friend--and adding that the moment he could leave his mother he
would hasten to Belfayre on the chance of being some use. He sent
his love to Esmeralda, and his “kind regards” to Lilias. Then he
posted his letter with his own hands, and returned to his mother’s
bedside to mourn; for the duke had always been very good to him,
and he loved the old man.

The letter reached Belfayre the next morning, and was carried
up with scores of others in the post-bag, which was placed on a
side-table in the breakfast-room.

For the last two days Lady Ada had opened the bag, and helped read
and answer the letters, and this morning Lilias gave the key to her
almost as a matter of course.

Almost the first envelope that fell from the bag as she emptied it
on the table was Norman’s, addressed to Trafford. She recognized
the handwriting in a moment, and her face grew hot. Norman writing
to Trafford! What could he have to say? News of Esmeralda! She
turned the letter over in her hand with a thirsty longing; then
she opened it. It would be easy to say that she had opened it by
mistake.

Its contents amazed her. Norman wrote as if his mother were
actually ill, and as if--as if he were innocent.

She stood gaping at the badly written scrawl--Norman was anything
but literary in his tastes--as if she could scarcely credit her
eyes. Norman innocent! Then where was Esmeralda? She looked at the
postmark; it bore the Oakfield stamp right enough; the letter had
been posted there. She was confused and bewildered, and had the
letter still in her hand when Lilias entered the room. She slipped
the letter in her pocket, and went on opening the others.

“Here is a telegram from Trafford,” said Lilias in the hushed
voice in which they all spoke now. “He lost the train last night,
but will come by this morning’s. Esmeralda”--Lady Ada started and
turned her pale face--“Esmeralda is ill. She is at Deepdale with
Lady Wyndover. Trafford says it is the shock, and that she will
not be able to come down for some days--perhaps a week. I--I am
almost glad that she is not here. I will write to her to-day. Poor
Esmeralda! I know exactly how she feels.” She sighed. “Are there
many letters? Any that must be answered?”

“There are a great many; they are all condolences as far as I have
got,” replied Lady Ada, with a peculiar dryness in her voice.

Was it true that Esmeralda was at Deepdale? If so, Trafford had
seen her, had become reconciled, perhaps.

Trafford arrived in the afternoon and went straight to the library,
and Lilias found him there, seated at the table, with his head in
his hands.

He looked up and tried to smile as she entered, but the attempt was
a ghastly failure.

“Esmeralda?” was Lilias’s first word.

He looked down and pulled some letters toward him.

“She is at Deepdale,” he said. “She--she is ill. The shock--”

“Yes, I can understand that,” said Lilias. “Did she look very ill?”

“I--I did not see her,” he said, with feigned easiness. “There
was no time. I saw Lady Wyndover. Esmeralda--there is nothing
serious--she is prostrated--just that. She will be better--”
The string of falsehoods broke off short, and with a gesture of
impatience he took up a pen. “Are these all the letters?” he asked.

He had already searched among them, hoping against hope, for a
letter, line, one word, from Esmeralda.

“Those are all,” said Lilias. “Ada has been attending to them;” and
she looked gratefully at Lady Ada as she entered the room at that
moment.

Ada’s hand, as it hung at her side, could feel the sharp edge of
Norman’s letter in her pocket. Should she take it out and give
it to him? She glanced at his face covertly, and its haggardness
encouraged her. She had heard him say that he had not seen
Esmeralda. They were still apart, wherever she might be; he still
thought her guilty. She would keep the letter from him and trust to
chance. Fate seemed to be playing the game for her still.

The day of the funeral arrived, and the black-clad crowd of friends
and neighbors, gentle and simple, followed the old duke to his last
resting-place in the huge marble vault in the crypt of Belfayre
church. He had been very popular as well as great, and there were
many wet eyes among the multitude; and not a few were moved to
tears as much by the sight of the son--the new duke--as by the
remembrance of the father; for Trafford looked like one who sorrows
without hope of comfort. There was something awe-inspiring in the
death-like calm of his face, in which every clear-cut feature
seemed drawn and sharpened, and his most familiar friends among the
mourners watched him aghast and somewhat puzzled.

“I am afraid that Trafford must be anxious about his wife,” said
one. “She is at Deepdale--that place of Lady Wyndover’s, you
know--ill. I saw it in the papers. I hope she isn’t worse than we
think.”

When the funeral was over and the somber guests had departed,
Trafford shut himself up in the library and remained there alone
till far into the night. There was a mass of papers on the table
before him--for with his dukedom his new responsibilities had
commenced and were clamoring for attention--but he looked at none
of them. He could not even think of his dead father. Esmeralda,
Esmeralda--it was all Esmeralda!

In the morning Lilias came to him with the red rings round her eyes.

“Do you think I might go up to Esmeralda, Trafford?” she said. “Ada
has offered to stay--she is so good and kind--and I could come back
this evening.”

She put the question wistfully, and was rather startled by his
manner of receiving it and refusing it.

“Certainly not,” he said, almost harshly. “You can not leave
Belfayre just now. You must remain here. Besides, I am going to her
to-day.” He felt that he should go mad if he remained in the vast
house with the echoes of Esmeralda’s voice and laugh alone breaking
the silence; for wherever he went he seemed to see and hear her,
and everything he saw and touched seemed associated with her.

He went up to town and wandered from his rooms to the club, from
the club to his rooms. Men and women greeted him with hushed
voices and sympathetic looks, and he returned their greetings with
the unnatural calmness which had fallen upon him since he had
discovered her flight; but very often he did not know to whom he
was speaking. He was leading a life in death, moving and speaking
like a man in a dream. He had promised Lady Wyndover that he would
seek for Esmeralda at once; but he did not seek for her; he felt
that it was of no use. By this time she and Norman were hidden away
beyond pursuit.

And he missed Norman by just a few yards and a few minutes. For as
he walked out of the Marlborough, with his head bent low and his
hot eyes fixed on the pavement, Norman turned the corner of St.
James’s Street. They were actually within hail of each other. If
they had but known it!

The crisis they had been anxiously waiting for at Oakfield was
past, and Lady Druce was better; so much better that Norman could
leave her for a few hours, though not long enough to go down to
Belfayre. He had seen the paragraph in the papers stating that
Esmeralda was ill at Deepdale, and he thought that he might, at any
rate, run down there and hear how she was. Lady Wyndover would see
him for a few minutes, and he should have tidings of--of all at
Belfayre, and Lilias. And Lady Druce urged him to go.

“I am going to get well quite quickly now, dear, and”--she added,
mother-like--“I don’t like to think of your being shut up here in
this dull place. Yes; go, Norman!”

He had to go to London to buy some articles of mourning--gloves
and a hat-band, and so on, which he could not obtain in primitive
Oakfield--and so he passed down St. James’s Street within a
stone’s-throw of Trafford.

He walked from the station to Deepdale and rang the bell. No one
came immediately, and the door being open, he walked into the
little hall. As he did so, he heard a faint cry of amazement,
and--as it seemed to him, horror--and turning sharply, saw, through
the door of the drawing-room, Lady Wyndover standing looking at him
with white face and startled eyes, as if she had sprung up at the
sound of his footsteps.

He entered the room with outstretched hand.

“Lady Wyndover, I am sorry I startled you. Please forgive me!”

She did not seem to see his hand, but stared at him breathlessly.

“You! Where is--Esmeralda?” she gasped.

With his hand still extended, Norman returned her gaze with one
almost as startled and bewildered as her own.

“Esmeralda!” he echoed; and he looked up at the ceiling helplessly.
“Esmeralda? Where? She is here, is she not?”

Lady Wyndover stifled a cry and pointed a shaking hand at the door.

He closed it and stood regarding her wonderingly. Had she taken
leave of her senses? She looked ill and anxious, and her manner was
fearfully strange.

“How--how dare you come here?” she said at last, her indignation at
his presence, at his offer of his hand, overwhelming for the moment
her anxiety respecting Esmeralda.

“How dare I? For God’s sake, what do you mean?” he exclaimed. “Why
do you look at me like this--why do you talk to me! What about
Esmeralda? She is here, isn’t she?” And he looked round vaguely.

Lady Wyndover approached him unsteadily, her eyes distended.

“Do you mean to say that you don’t _know_?” she whispered. “Are you
trying to deceive me, to--to brazen it out? You _know_ that she is
not here!”

“Not here? I saw in the papers that she was here--ill. Where is
she, then?”

“You _know_!” she repeated, fiercely. “You are acting! Norman, you
are a scoundrel!”

He scarcely started. Just as _she_ had deemed Trafford mad, so
Norman deemed her. What other explanation of her manner and words
could there be?

“What is it you mean, Lady Wyndover?” he said, almost soothingly,
certainly without any resentment--as yet. “Tell me as quickly as
you can why you call me--what was it?--a scoundrel?”

His manner, the steady regard of his blue, honest eyes staggered
her. She sunk on to a couch, and pressed her hand to her heart.

“Either you are a devil of deceit, or you--you have been wronged!”
she gasped. “Esmeralda is not here; we--none of us know where she
is; but we believe that she is _with you_!”

He started and gazed at her with wild eyes.

“Esmeralda with me? Why should she be with me, instead of here or
at Belfayre? Explain!”

He spoke with the air of command which few women can resist. Lady
Wyndover insensibly grew calmer.

“God forgive you if you are deceiving me, Norman!” she
breathed. “We think that she has gone with you. She has left
Belfayre--suddenly, without a word. You took her away with you!”

Norman’s face went white, and he bit his lip till the blood came.

“She has left Belfayre? When?”

“The morning the duke died. And left no word! Oh, you know--you
_know_! Why do you stand there so shamelessly?”

“Because I am innocent!” said Norman, savagely. “Does--does
Trafford believe this d--n foolery? I beg your pardon!”

The adjective, while it made her shudder, brought a sense of relief.

“Yes! It was he who came to me and told me. Norman, how could you
do it? It was your fault, not hers! Oh, Norman, Norman, and we all
trusted you so! You are the last person--”

“Thanks!” he said. “Never mind about me. You say Esmeralda has--has
gone! Gone! Great Heaven! _why_?”

Lady Wyndover looked at him through dimmed eyes.

“Because--because you tempted her!” she said in a whisper.
“Trafford saw you together in the fernery in the conservatory--he
had other evidence; but that was enough.”

Norman uttered an exclamation; it was more like an oath. His
brain was clearing from its bewilderment, and he was beginning to
understand.

“Saw us in the fernery? Ah!” He drew a long breath.

“Yes; and he knew that you had known her before she came to
England; that--that you had loved her.”

He nodded, his face white, his teeth set.

“I see,” he whispered to himself. “And he went and--and bullied
her!”

“There was a quarrel--yes, a terrible scene that night, and in the
morning she had gone. He said she confessed.”

Norman nodded again.

“Confessed!” he said. “You mean that she did not _deny_! No,
she would not! She’d scorn to do so. I know her!” He had almost
said--“better than Trafford does.” “Gone; of course she’s gone! And
you are surprised--_you_ who know what Esmeralda is, who have lived
with her like a mother! You expected her to be accused of--of this
and stand it!” He laughed with fierce bitterness. “My God! what
fools people can be!”

Lady Wyndover stared at him.

“And--and you deny it!” she faltered, with a gleam of hope. “I--I
said that you were not guilty. But--but the evidence!”

He laughed again, then his face grew red.

“Yes; looks bad, doesn’t it?” he said, scornfully. “I--I suppose
you say he saw me--kiss her.”

Lady Wyndover trembled. Was her hope going to be destroyed?

Norman took a turn up and down the room, then confronted her.

“Lady Wyndover, I am going to tell you what no one but Esmeralda
knows as yet. It is true that I once asked her to be my wife--”

Lady Wyndover drew a breath of fear.

--“Yes; but that was long ago. When I came back to England
she was going to be married to Trafford. I loved her then
still, but I stamped it out. Why, great Heaven! you might
well call me a scoundrel if you thought me capable of robbing
Trafford--Trafford!--of his wife! And _he_ thinks it!”

“But--but the kiss--”

“Yes, I kissed her; all the world may know it, for there is no
shame in it for her or me. The kiss was meant for--for some one
else.” He faltered. “Lady Wyndover, I want Lilias to be my wife.
Esmeralda knows it, and promised to help me; and in my gratitude,
yes, and my love for her--for I still love her, though not as I
love Lilias--”

Lady Wyndover sprung to her feet with a deep cry of relief, of
thanksgiving; then her face fell.

“But--but you left Belfayre with her--without a word. Why?”

“Great heavens! don’t you know? I was wired for that morning. My
mother was ill; she is ill now. I have only just left her. She will
tell you: go to her.”

Lady Wyndover gasped as she sunk on to the couch again.

“But you left no word--no message.”

“Yes, I did!” he retorted, almost savagely. “I told--who was it I
told?” He put his hand to his brow. “I can’t remember; my brain’s
in a whirl. But you see now--you _must_ see that I am innocent. My
mother, she will tell you.”

Lady Wyndover put out a trembling hand and touched him on the arm.

“Oh, forgive me, Norman!” she cried. “I said from the first that
you _could_ not have done it. Forgive me!” Then she uttered an
exclamation. “Esmeralda! If she did not go with you, where is she?”

The question stunned him.

“Has--has she not gone back? She must have done,” he said.

“No--no, she has not. Trafford would have telegraphed me at once.
He knows that I am dying of anxiety and terror. Oh, Norman, think
of her! Alone in the world, and so--so wretched! Where is she?”

“Have you been looking for her?” he asked, pacing up and down.

“Trafford--” she began; but he seemed scarcely to hear her.

His brain was at work, and at work clearer than Trafford’s, for
many reasons; Esmeralda was not all the world to _him_ now; though
he loved her as a sister is loved, and he could be calmer than
Trafford.

“She can not be with any friends or she would have written;
they would have written,” said Lady Wyndover. “Besides, that is
impossible. They would not hide her from us; and there is no one
she knows intimately enough--”

He broke in upon her with a cry, the cry of a man who sees a
glimmer of light through darkness.

“Three Star!” he cried.

Lady Wyndover stared at him open-eyed.

“Three Star! That place in Australia?”

He nodded excitedly.

“Of course! What an idiot I was not to think of it at once! That is
where she has gone!” He tore out his watch, then groaned. “I was
thinking that I had only to catch a train to overtake her. But she
must be on the sea by this time!”

He paced up and down.

“Don’t speak to me for a minute or two.”

Lady Wyndover watched him in something like awed silence; the
careless, light-hearted boy suddenly loomed before her--a man; and
a man of resources, a man to be relied upon.

“She must be followed at once and overtaken!” he said. “Keep calm,”
for Lady Wyndover had risen as if about to start for somewhere,
anywhere, at that very moment. “Wire and ask Trafford to come to
you at once. Where is a form?”

She went to the desk and wrote as he dictated, and the telegram was
dispatched.

“Now,” he said, “I will go and find out what vessel leaves for
Melbourne; _you_ must go down to my mother and explain that I can’t
come back till to-morrow. You will find her better; but still too
ill to hear the truth of this business. Tell her anything you like,
but not the truth, please.”

“Yes,” said Lady Wyndover, feverishly.

“Wire to me at my club how she is,” he said. “You will get
Trafford’s wire before you go; you can send that on to me. Wait a
moment. Is there anything else we can think of? Yes; when Trafford
comes send him to his rooms; I will have engaged a berth for him
and have his things packed--”

Lady Wyndover caught his hand, and looking up into his face, began
to cry.

“Oh, Norman, you--you make me feel so ashamed. But I said--I _did_
say from the first--”

“That’s all right,” he said, pressing her hand and laughing
brokenly. “It doesn’t matter about me. Esmeralda--Esmeralda! We’ve
got to find her, to catch her before she gets to that place, before
the story leaks out!”

He rang the bell and ordered a vehicle, and in ten minutes was
being driven to the station.

Lady Wyndover got her things on and waited for the answer to her
telegram. It came speedily; for telegrams from people in high place
run swiftly.

  “Trafford not here. In London. How is Esmeralda?”

Lady Wyndover uttered a cry at the simple question. Then she
started off for Oakfield.

Norman went to the shipping agents and made his inquiries. A vessel
started that night from the London Docks, another left Liverpool
on the next morning; the “Neptune,” from London, was the faster
vessel.

Norman booked two berths--two, because they would afford more
comfort and privacy--and Norman knew he would need both in his
frame of mind. Then he took a cab to Trafford’s rooms.

The door was shut; no response met his knock. He went to the
Marlborough and inquired of the porter.

“The duke was here this afternoon, my lord,” he said, “and he dines
here to-night.”

Norman breathed a sigh of relief, then drove to his own club and
called huskily for a soda and whisky. While he was drinking it, it
occurred to him that Trafford would not have any traveling clothes
up with him, and that, as he would most assuredly start for Three
Star immediately he heard Norman’s exculpation, it would be awkward
for him to travel, say, in an evening suit.

He went back to the rooms, but they were still closed and lifeless.
Then, with a thoughtfulness which would have considerably amazed
his friends, he went to an outfitter’s, bought an outfit, had it
packed in an overland trunk, and started it down to the docks.

By that time he was famished, and as he drove to the Marlborough he
wondered whether he could persuade Trafford to sit down to dinner
_before_ he had convinced him of his, Norman’s, innocence.

“The duke has not arrived, my lord,” said the porter.

Norman went in and waited. Time passed--slowly, then quickly. He
began to fret and fidget. Then he remembered the telegram Lady
Wyndover was to send him, cursed himself for his heartlessness--for
he was a good son--and bounced off to his own club. The telegram
was there.

  “Lady D. quite out of danger, and going on very well. Is anxious
  that you should not come back on her account. T. in London.”

With this to cheer him a little, back he went to join Trafford.

“The duke has been in, my lord,” said a footman. “Did you wish to
see him?”

“Did I! Good heavens, didn’t you know? Didn’t the porter tell you?
Where is the porter?”

“He has gone out, my lord. I’m afraid the duke is not coming
here again this evening. I heard him tell the cabman to drive to
Waterloo.”

Norman looked at his watch and groaned.

“Ask the duke, if he comes in again, to please come to the London
Docks, ‘E’ side, as fast as he can,” he said. He drove to the
docks. Outside the gates was a shabby coffee stall. It was not the
first time Norman had roughed it, and he ate his rasher of bacon
and drank the “coffee” without outward grumbling. If Trafford would
only arrive!

He crossed over to the agent’s office.

“Has any one inquired for me?” he asked.

“No, my lord,” said the man. “Your trunk has come. I have had
it put in your berth. Perhaps you’d like to go aboard and get
comfortable before she starts?”

Norman started, then went white and trembled--actually trembled.

Why not? Why should he not follow her? Trafford was not here, the
berths were booked, the ship would sail to-night--in half an hour!
His mother was out of danger--better! In what more effectual way
could he prove his great love for and gratitude to Esmeralda than
in going after her and in restoring her to love and happiness?

He set his teeth tight.

“Yes,” he said, grimly. “I think you’re right. I’ll go aboard. Can
you give me a light? Thanks. If any one comes for me--even at the
last moment--let me know, anyhow, at any cost.”

He stepped on board.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


It has been remarked more than once that truth is stranger than
fiction; certainly no one, however highly imaginative, would have
planned out a stranger and more improbable game of cross-purposes
than was played by Trafford and Norman that night.

Trafford had wandered about in a Heaven-forsaken way from his rooms
to the club, and through the park, just missing Norman by a minute
or two; possessed by that restlessness which insomnia by night and
brooding over his troubles by day had superinduced. If the porter
had been in when Trafford wandered into the club on the second
occasion, he would have heard of Norman’s call and inquiry for him,
and the two men would have met, explanations would have ensued,
and some portion of the awful load would have been lifted from
Trafford’s mind. But the porter had gone out to meet the young
woman to whom he was engaged, and had not transferred Norman’s
message to the footman.

Trafford sat in a corner of the smoking-room moodily smoking for
half an hour; then, as if unable to remain quiet for a longer
period, got up and wandered out again. Esmeralda was never absent
from his mind for a moment, and as he strode along the deserted
paths under the trees in the park, he asked himself how he could
best begin the search. An advertisement in the papers would be of
no avail, even if she saw it; the private detective was not to be
thought of for a moment. He did not know where to look for her--and
Norman.

He went back to the club, and after smoking another cigar, he had a
cab called and told the man to drive to Waterloo, half resolved to
take Lilias into his confidence and seek her advice.

As he drove to the station, the cabman opened the trap-door in the
roof and thrust down an evening paper.

“Like to see the paper, sir? Holocaust’s won.”

Trafford thanked the man and glanced at the paper absently. And
suddenly, amongst the shipping advertisements, two words struck
through his vacant eye upon his mind. They struck with the force of
a revelation. The words were “Australia,” “Melbourne.” The thought
of Three Star flashed upon him at once.

It was to Three Star, to her old friends, to the guardian of whom
she always spoke so gratefully and lovingly, that Esmeralda had
gone!

He cursed himself for a fool for not having thought of it before,
and startled the cabby by jerking up the trap-door, and in a voice
that trembled with excitement telling him to drive to the city
office of the agents of the shipping company.

It was not the cabman’s business to tell his fare that the office
would be closed, and Trafford did not think of the lateness of the
hour until he was in front of the shut-up office. He sat and stared
at it moodily for a moment or two, then he remembered that another
address, at the docks, was given in the advertisement; and he told
the cabman to drive there.

He felt that he could not gain much time by posting down at that
time of the night; but he could not wait until the morning; he was
doing something, commencing to search, at any rate.

When he arrived at the docks he was directed to the “E” side, and
found a small crowd of men lingering about with that appearance of
reaction which follows close upon extra exertion and excitement.
He made his way to the agent’s office and found a young man just
locking up for the night. He stared at Trafford’s haggard face,
and as he listened to the sharp, stern questions as to the next
vessel, at once concluded that Trafford was a criminal escaping
from justice.

“If you’d been an hour and a half earlier you could have gone with
the ‘Neptune,’” he said, with a smile. “She has only just left the
dock. A fine vessel, too; one of our fastest.”

Trafford frowned impatiently.

“When does the next sail?” he asked.

“Thursday morning,” replied the clerk. As he spoke he turned over
the passenger’s list mechanically.

“No, you wouldn’t have been able to go by the ‘Neptune,’ though,
for she was full up. Her last two berths were taken this afternoon.”

“Is there none before Thursday?” asked Trafford, wearily.

“Not from here. The Blue Ball liner leaves Liverpool to-morrow,”
said the clerk, reluctantly--his company was the White Ball. “You
might catch her; but she’s not a particularly good ship, and not
fast; nothing to be compared to ours.”

Trafford leaned against the desk; he was feeling the sinking,
exhausted sensation which comes from want of food, too many
cigars, and much mental travail, and the clerk eyed him almost
sympathetically.

“Pity you weren’t here in the afternoon and secured one of those
berths before the gentleman who took them. He’s a lord, I see--Lord
Norman Druce.”

Trafford started and gazed at the man fiercely.

“What name did you say?” he demanded so sternly that the young
fellow drew back as if he expected a blow.

“There’s the entry; you can see for yourself, sir,” he said, rather
sullenly, and pointing to the book. Trafford looked at it, and for
a moment could see nothing; then he read the line, “Lord Norman
Druce, two berths. Nos. 128, 129. Paid.”

The blood surged to his face, and he gripped the edge of the desk.

The young man altered his opinion of the gentleman’s character.

“Did--was Lord Druce alone? Was he accompanied by a lady?” Trafford
asked in a thick voice.

“Can’t say, sir,” replied the clerk. “The berths were booked with
the agent himself. I only came on for the nightwork, and didn’t see
the gentleman.”

“Is--is there any one here who did?” asked Trafford. The clerk
considered for a moment.

“I’ll go and see; one of the porters or the dock-man might have
noticed. Just wait a moment, sir.”

He was gone five minutes, which seemed five years to Trafford, who
could not remove his eyes from the significant entry.

“I can’t find out for certain, sir,” said the clerk, upon his
return. “There’s always such confusion in starting; but one of our
men says he saw a gentleman, a tall, fair man, talking with a lady
in the saloon deck, and he fancies they went aboard together; but
he couldn’t swear to it.”

Trafford wiped the sweat from his forehead.

“Thank you,” he said, as steadily as he could. “I have given you a
great deal of trouble. One more question. Could I catch that vessel
that sails from Liverpool to-morrow?”

The clerk glanced at the office clock.

“Well--you _could_,” he said, succinctly.

Trafford thanked him again and went out to the cab. He reeled
slightly as the cool air met his face, and he passed his hand over
his eyes. There was no doubt now. Since seeing Lady Wyndover he had
permitted himself now and again to hope; but there was no doubt
now. Norman and Esmeralda had gone back to Three Star, where they
had met and learned to love each other.

He stood looking at the cab, his brain whirling. Common sense
said: “Let them go; apply for a divorce; forget her.” But he was
not in the mood to listen to common sense. He wanted--thirsted--to
find them, to confront Norman, to exact the vengeance due to
him. The blood was coursing through his veins like fire. “Follow
them--follow them!” something seemed to whisper, to shout, in his
ear.

He got into the cab and told the man to drive to Euston--and fast.
The man looked at him curiously.

“Anywhere after that, sir?” he asked. “’Cause I’d get another horse
or borrow a steam fire-engine.”

Trafford found that a train started for Liverpool in little more
than half an hour, and having dismissed the cab, and filled the
cabman with delight by the liberality of his fare, he paced up and
down the platform, consumed with a burning impatience. He thought
of Lilias once or twice, but the telegraph offices were closed, and
the thought was only transient; his whole being was absorbed in
the pursuit which had begun. At the last moment he got a whisky and
soda and tried to eat a biscuit, but the well-known and detested
station comestible seemed more sawdust than usual, and he dropped
it in disgust.

When he reached Liverpool he drove straight to the docks, and
found, with a kind of sardonic joy, that he could get a berth on
board the “Trident,” and that she sailed early in the forenoon. He
booked the berth in one of his numerous and seldom-used names, sent
a telegram to Lilias and Lady Wyndover saying that he would write,
and having purchased an outfit, went on board.

As the ship left her moorings, he stood looking down the river
toward the sea--unlike the other passengers who looked, some
tearfully, toward the shore they were leaving--stood and gazed
with hot eyes and clinched teeth. In his mind he spanned the six
weeks--the six dreary weeks which must elapse before he came up
with the fugitives, and in fancy he already stood face to face with
Norman, the friend who had betrayed and dishonored him.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


The Australian winter had passed, the spring was smiling with
strict impartiality on Three Star and Dog’s Ear alike, and the
heavy rains had swollen the stream beside which Norman and
Esmeralda had sat in the placid moonlight into a mighty torrent,
whose brawling filled the camp with a sullen music, to which the
men worked as to an accompaniment.

Things were looking up at Three Star, and times were flush. The
Eldorado had been newly painted--a brilliant red picked out with
green--some of the tents had developed into quite respectable
wooden houses; MacGrath’s whisky had not improved, and was still
as deadly; but empty champagne cases, piled ostentatiously outside
the saloon--for the benefit of Dog’s Ear, which had not been
lucky--indicated the prosperity of the camp.

At a newly covered table Varley sat, as of old, deftly and
gracefully shuffling the cards, and softly inquiring, “Who plays
this deal?” In honor of the blandness of the season he wore a new
suit of the latest Melbourne fashion, and Esmeralda’s diamond pin
glittered and shot fire from his correctly tied scarf.

The saloon was full, business in fine swing, and MacGrath, from
his place behind the bar, dispensed, as of old, noggins of his
infamous whisky; there was the usual noisy game of billiards going
on, and now and again a youth with musical gifts was hammering on
the tin-kettle piano. Taffy, gloriously drunk, was bawling out the
last comic song--it had expired in England of general loathing six
months ago--and two men were quarreling in a corner and breathing
threats of mutual destruction.

As of old, Varley sat serene, impassive, languid, his white hands
shuffling and dealing the cards, his dark eyes glancing at the
faces round the table as if he were performing some feat of magic,
from which, sooner or later, as surely as fate or death, he would
reap the benefit.

In a pause of the game, Taffy with difficulty steered his way to
the table and smiled round with tipsy complacency.

“How’s the game a-going, Varley?” he asked, with a hiccough.

Varley nodded.

“I’ll sit down and take a hand,” said Taffy.

“No, you won’t,” remarked Varley, examining his cards with a quick
sweep of his eye, which took in their value in an instant.

“I won’t?” said Taffy. “Oh, won’t I! Why not?”

“Because you couldn’t sit down if you tried, you old soaker; and if
you did, you couldn’t see the cards. Go and get another drink and
waltz off to bed; your nurse is waiting to undress you, my child.”

Taffy subsided, as he always did, with a tipsy grin.

“That di’mond o’ Esmeralda’s is a-firing away to-night fine,
Varley,” he said, changing the subject discreetly. “Reminds me of
them eyes of hers. Blame me if they usedn’t to shine jes’ like that
when she was in one of her tantrums.”

Varley gave the slightest of nods, and Taffy leaned against a chair
and sighed with maudlin tenderness.

“Ain’t--ain’t heard from her lately, I s’pose, Varley?”

“Not lately,” said Varley. “Get out of the light.”

“’Pears to me she don’t write as often as she might,” remarked one
of the players. “Dessay she’s a’most forgot us all--forgot as there
ever was such a dog-darned place as Three Star.”

Taffy lurched threateningly toward the speaker.

“What’s that?” he demanded, with the quick resentment of a tipsy
man thirsting for a fight. “Who’s that as spoke? Scraggy-head,
warn’t it? I _thought_ so! And you calkilate Esmeralda’s forgot us
all, do you, Ed-er-ward? Ain’t that what he said, boys, or did my
ears misdeceive me? Here, come out of it! Stand up and repeat them
words like a man, and I’ll knock the head off yer!”

The man growled and looked at Varley appealingly.

“Why don’t somebody take the old man home?” he said, aggrievedly.
“I ain’t said nothing’ agin her. It’s only natural as a fine lady
should forget such a crew as us and such an all-fired hole as this.”

This repetition of the offense was too much for Taffy, and he
lurched on to the speaker and gripped him by the arm.

The always imminent row would have commenced at once, but Varley
rose and laid his hand on the giant’s huge shoulder.

“Drop it, Taffy!” he said in his listless way. “You’re interfering
with the game--_with the game_, do you hear?” as if he were
charging Taffy with something little short of sacrilege. “Come out
of it, and go and get a drink.”

“Jes’ let me lay him fust, Varley,” pleaded Taffy, with almost
touching meekness. “There ain’t no one going to say a word agin our
Esmeralda while I’m able to stand up for her!”

“You wooden-headed idiot, you can’t stand now!” said Varley.
“Here!” And with a twist of his wrist he swung Taffy off his
man--who had sat quite still, as if the whole responsibility and
further conduct of the affair were in Varley’s hands--and led Taffy
to the bar.

“A big soda,” he ordered, and was served immediately, though other
men were clamoring. “Now drink that, and sit down there quietly;”
and with a dexterous push he thrust Taffy into a bottomless chair
in a corner, then he sauntered back to the card-table, and the game
was resumed.

Suddenly, in the midst of a deal, his hand became motionless, and
he looked up listeningly. His ears, quicker than the others--and
they were by no means slow--had caught a significant sound.

“What is it, Varley?” asked one of the players.

“A shot,” he said, languidly.

Almost as he spoke, the sound was repeated, and this time was heard
by some of the other men who were listening. They sprung to their
feet, on the alert in a moment.

“Comes from the east,” said one. “Some o’ them darned Dog’s Ear
scum!”

The hubbub in the saloon ceased as if at a word of command, and
every eye was turned toward the east.

Varley rose and put on his hat, and, as if it were a signal, the
others drew their revolvers and moved to the door. Before any
one could reach it, it was thrown open, and Bill, the postman,
staggered in. He was covered with mud, was bleeding from a wound on
the side of his head, and was panting and breathless.

The men rushed to him and collected round him as he sunk on to a
chair, mopping his face with the sleeve of his coat, and staring
before him with bulging eyes.

Varley pushed his way through the circle, and laid a white hand
upon the heaving shoulder.

“Been dancing, Bill?” he inquired, languidly. “It’s dangerous at
your time of life. Here, some one get him a drink!”

One of the men brought him a “stiff” whisky, and Bill, clutching
it, tossed it off, and drew a long breath.

“Didn’t know as I was alive till I tasted it,” he remarked, as
coolly as his shortness of breath would permit him. “Don’t offer me
another, or I shall take it.”

Another was brought, and he disposed of it, the group waiting with
sympathetic patience.

“What’s the shindy, Bill?” asked Varley, as the empty tumbler was
taken away from him.

“Oh, only a little affair with some Dog’s Ear gentry,” said the
postman, drawing his sleeve across his mouth this time. “I s’pose
you thought you was never going to get your letters, eh, boys,
seeing as I’m a matter of six hours late? Seems to me as things is
coming to a pretty pass when Dog’s Ear takes to makin’ a target of
her majesty’s mail.”

The listeners growled.

“Spin it out, Bill!” exhorted one.

“It’s this way,” he said, preparing himself for the narration by
expectorating on the floor and pulling down his coat-cuffs. “I was
a-riding up the slope of the Green Bank, when I see a couple o’ men
crouching behind a tree. There was somethin’ so unornary in their
way o’ looking around and fingerin’ their irons that it struck me
they weren’t holding a Bible class, and I steered the mare behind
a bush and took stock of ’em. They couldn’t see me, ’cause I was
on the lee o’ the hill. It was evident that they was a-waitin’ for
some one, and, as there ain’t any one as passes that way ’cepting
myself, I concluded that they was laying for me. I led the mare a
matter o’ a quarter of a mile off the track, and tied her up; then
I crept round to the clump o’ trees where them two was a-waitin’
as innocent as babes, and I heard them talking as plain as you
hear me. ‘He’s late,’ says one--that long-legged son of a sweep
they calls Simon--‘and I never knowed Bill late afore,’ which was
highly complimentary. ‘No,’ says the other--I don’t know him, but
he’s Dog’s Ear, too. ‘Are you sure the swag’s on him?’ ‘Almost
certain,’ says Simon. ‘It’s about time for that girl o’ theirs to
be sending coin or presents.’”

“Esmeralda!” exclaimed one of the listeners.

“Right, sonny; Esmeralda’s who they meant,” assented Bill. “I
believe she sends money or jewelry pretty nigh every month. See’d
that diamond pin Varley wears?”

All eyes turned to the sparkle of fire shining in Varley’s scarf,
and Bill nodded again.

“‘He’ll be here presently,’ says Simon. ‘You shoot the mare, as
arranged, and fire straight, or she’ll be off, and I’ll cover Bill.
He may make a fight of it, for he’s precious proud and fussy about
that mail-bag o’ his; but I’ll persuade him into reason.’

“‘Oh, will you!’ says I to myself, and, as I didn’t think their
conversation elevatin’, I crawls back to where the mare was tied
and thinks things over a bit.”

He wet his lips suggestively, and, without a word, one of the men
got his glass replenished.

“Now, boys, there’s a kind of affection ’twixt me and the mare;
anyhow, I’m thinking her’s too good for a running target for the
scum of Dog’s Ear to shoot at, and so I just leaves her there quiet
and contented, and set off on foot to make a round of it. I’d got
a couple of miles when I hears something moving, and there was my
two friends lightin’ out on my trail. I lay low and quiet-like for
a bit, then went back on my tracks and waited; that dazed ’em a
bit, and then I made straight for here on a bee-line, and keeping
under cover of the scrub. I’d spent the afternoon at this game, but
I thought I’d given ’em the slip, when up rides a third gentleman
a’most a top of me. ‘Hold up!’ says he, covering me. I chucked up
my hands, but I’d took the precaution to stick a revolver down the
back of the collar o’ my coat--it’s a darned bad fit, and there’s
room--and I snatched it out and fired without waiting to ask how
his mother was. Then, as he tumbled off his gee-gee, I lit out for
all I knew, for I heard the other two comin’ round the bend. I’d
got in sight o’ this blessed haven o’ rest an’ respectability, when
one o’ the darned skunks fired and peeled a bit off my cocoa-nut.
Don’t none o’ you faint,” with a grin--“it ain’t nothin’ to speak
of.”

A low growl rose.

“And they’ve got the mail,” said one, with an oath

But the postman turned on him with an angry twinkle in his eyes.

“How’d you guess that, now?” he asked.

“Where’s the bag?”

“Lyin’ beside the mare, you precocious infant,” said Bill, showing
his teeth. “The bag’s there, but it’s empty; the _mail’s_ here.
Jes’ you come and take off my boots, you mutton-headed idiot!”

The man, by no means resentful, obeyed, and the letters came
pouring out of Bill’s long boots.

The men cheered and offered to grab them up, but Bill kicked out
warningly.

“Thank _you_, all the same,” he remarked, with an ironical smile.
“But I guess I’m capable of distributing her majesty’s mail without
assistance;” and sweeping the letters into a small heap with his
huge feet, he dealt them out to their owners with more than his
usual solemnity. “And now, boys, I’m thinking I’ll go and fetch the
mare. Oh, she’s safe enough; you bet those Dog’s Ear lambs will
get back to their kennel as fast as they can moozle, now they know
that I’ve got to shelter, and that Three Star is posted up in their
little game.”

There were plenty of volunteers for the task of recovering
the pony, but Varley remarked languidly that Bill and he were
sufficient, and they decided to start after Bill had got his wound
washed by Mother Melinda, who, as chief nurse in Three Star, was
sent for.

While Bill was submitting to the operation as patiently as he
could, Varley opened his letters. They were partly on business,
partly personal; invitations from various camps to come and open
a gambling saloon; flowery epistles from members of the fair
sex--most of them reproaching him for his long absence and neglect
of writing.

The men glanced at him from time to time as he leaned back in
his tilted chair and read and tore up his letters with languid
impassiveness; and Taffy, rousing from a peaceful slumber, got up
and drifted across the room to him, and now quite sober, looked
down at him sheepishly.

“Post in, Varley, eh?” he remarked in a low and insinuating voice.
“Anything interestin’?”

“Nothing particularly so,” said Varley, rolling a cigarette and
lighting it with the last of his letters, an epistle written in the
sentimental woman’s hand known as “Italian.”

“Ah!” Taffy drew a long breath of disappointment. “Nothing--nothing
from Ralda, I s’pose?” he added in an off-hand way.

“No,” said Varley.

Taffy, while elaborately filling and lighting his pipe, stole a
glance at the clear-cut, impassive face.

“Nothin’ this mail,” he said, as if it were rather satisfactory
than otherwise. “Of course not. ’Tain’t to be supposed that Ralda
ain’t got nothing else to do than to sit on a cheer writing letters
to Three Star, as if she were a blamed clerk in a store, is it?”

Varley nodded.

“An’ yet, somehow,” said Taffy, under his breath, “I shouldn’t
a-been sorry if there’d been a line or two this post, so as I
could have got the bulge on Ed-er-ward. It ’ud a-shown him that
Ralda ain’t so mean as to forget old friends, as he and some other
mutton-heads may suppose.”

Varley nodded again.

“Make your mind easy, Taff,” he said. “Esmeralda hasn’t
forgotten us; but just at present she mayn’t have much time for
letter-writing; young ladies who are just married don’t find time
hang on their hands much.”

“Jes’ so. You’re right every time, Varley,” assented Taffy,
brightening up. “Of course not. She’s cavortin’ around with her
new husband, and don’t have time to write; but presently she’ll
settle down like and send us a regular long ’un; one o’ them kind
that makes us bust ourselves a-laughing one minute and want to go
for some o’ them fools over there the next. Well, if there ain’t no
letter, I’m off home. Not another drop, thank ye, Varley. _I_ know
when I’ve had enough,” he concluded, though Varley had not offered
him a drink.

Varley smoked on, with his eyes half closed, through the renewed
din--for this last piece of audacity on the part of Dog’s Ear was
being discussed warmly and with an appropriate accompaniment of
fiery language; but though he looked the embodiment of mental and
physical ease, there was an under-current of vague anxiety and
disquietude running below his outward placidity. Esmeralda had not
written for the last six weeks; and notwithstanding the reason
which he had given to Taffy for her silence, he was disquieted.
She had written, until this break, so regularly, and she had
promised to give him a full account of her wedding. He had read a
description of it in the Melbourne paper, it is true, but he wanted
to read it in her own words, to glean between the lines whether she
were happy or not.

“I’m a fanciful fool,” he thought. “I want a change of air--a
little rough-and-tumble work somewhere; and I’d better get it or
I shall be drifting into melancholy. Happy? Of course she’s happy!
Why shouldn’t she be? Married to a man she loves--_that’s_ evident
enough; she gives herself away in every letter--and treated like
a princess by the family. If they had come the high and haughty
business and looked down upon her: but they haven’t, so she says.
Happy? Yes, that’s it; she’s too happy to write!” He stifled
a sigh as Bill came across the room with his head tied up in
a--comparatively--clean dish-cloth. “Well, William, are you ready?”

“Right away, cap’n,” responded Bill. He turned up his eyes at the
bandage apologetically. “Any one ’ud think, by the appearance of
me, that I’d lost the whole uv my scalp, instead o’ only havin’ one
side o’ my hair cut; but don’t let on about it now.” He jerked his
head toward Mother Melinda, who, with her arms akimbo, was watching
him with a surgeon’s pride. “I’ll wait till I get outside ’fore I
takes the blamed thing off. It wouldn’t do to hurt her feelin’s,
Varley; she’s as proud of it as if she’d took a leg off me.”

The two men filled up their revolvers and went out quietly.
There was no particular peril in the business; the mare, with
the intelligence acquired in several similar situations, would
remain quiet until her master came for her, and the Dog’s Ear men,
knowing that Three Star was on the alert, would stop in their camp
for that night at least; but Varley and Bill kept a sharp lookout
notwithstanding. They went along in silence for some time, then
Bill said, quietly:

“Varley, I didn’t let on before the boys to all I heard them Dog’s
Ear chaps talking. You see, some of our boys are a bit young-heady,
and ’ud a-opened their mouths too wide, and perhaps spoiled the
game.”

“Your wisdom is always supernal, William,” said Varley, absently.
“What is it? Is Dog’s Ear going to attack the Melbourne Bank?”

“No,” said Bill, quietly; “but they’re going to ‘put up’ the coach
to-morrow.”

For all his nonchalance and _sang-froid_, Varley was rather
startled.

“That’s rather high and lofty tumbling for Dog’s Ear,” he remarked.
“Sure?”

“Sartin,” said Bill, succinctly. “Them two vermin was a-talking
about it. A gang of their best men is to lie in the hollow at the
Gulch and surround the coach. It ’pears that they’ve had news
that some Melbourne gents is a-coming, along, and they calkilate
that there’ll be some coin aboard, likewise watches and other
gim-cracks, and that the coach will be worth overhauling.”

Varley pondered over this choice piece of information.

“How many?” he asked at last.

“Can’t say,” replied Bill. “I calkilate they wouldn’t take more
than they could help; the fewer the better in jobs o’ this kind,
you see.”

“Half a dozen, perhaps,” said Varley, meditatively. “What time does
the coach pass the Gulch?”

“Nine fifteen.”

“Ah, dark!”

“Yes, dark,” said Bill, nodding. “They could put up the old thing
and clean it out, and ride off without a blessed soul knowin’ who
did it.”

“They could have done so, yes,” said Varley. “Dog’s Ear is growing
clever. But I suppose it is off now? They know you heard them?”

“Not they,” said Bill. “They never knew I was near them when they
was talkin’. No, you bet the game is on still, Varley, and you an’
me is going to take a hand, eh, pard?” and he grinned and rubbed
his smarting head with that anticipation which we are told is the
keenest joy.

“Yes. You were right to keep your mouth shut in the saloon,” said
Varley; “and, as you say, we will take a hand in it. It’s no
business of Three Star to provide a police force for the protection
of the Ballarat Coaching Company’s old Noah’s ark, but we’ll do it
this once, just to spoil Dog’s Ear’s fun. Where’s this said mare,
William?”

They found the mare patiently awaiting them, and Bill, after
bestowing a few words of praise, which the animal understood and
appreciated most perfectly, insisted upon Varley’s getting into the
saddle. As they rode back to the camp, Varley concocted and matured
a plan of operation. No one would have guessed that anything
serious was in the wind, as the two men sauntered up to the bar of
the Eldorado, and with a “Mare’s all right!” called for a drink.
Nor had any one any inkling of the expedition even, when, at six
o’clock the next evening, Varley, stretching himself and yawning,
got up from the table and sauntered into the open air, where, at
a little distance, Bill and five other men were already in the
saddle, with Varley’s fast mare in their midst.

“Ready, boys?” he said, as he mounted.

“We’re on, Varley!” responded Bill, briefly. “Here’s the boys
accordin’ to orders; but they don’t know what game’s afoot.”

Varley nodded.

“Dog’s Ear is going to ‘put up’ the coach at the Gulch,” he said.
“Don’t shout and don’t laugh,” for, after a moment of incredulous
astonishment, some of them opened their mouths as if to greet
the statement with a contemptuous guffaw. “It’s a fact; William
overheard those two fellows yesterday. See? Right! Now, boys, for
the plan of attack. You, Taffy, and MacGrath will ride round the
bend and get behind the clump of trees on the left side of the
road. Go right round, and keep a sharp lookout. Benson and Karl
will keep a quarter of a mile _this_ side, and wait in the hollow;
Bill and I will hide ourselves on the other side of the Gulch. If
all goes well, and Dog’s Ear doesn’t smell a rat, they’ll drop on
the coach as it passes over the bridge. It will take them a minute
or two to put up the coach, and we’ll wait until they’re engaged in
the business, and drop on _them_. Wait till you hear me fire, and
then ride in. Got it?”

“We hev,” responded Taffy, emphatically.

“Then, so long,” said Varley, laconically; and the men, with their
mouths set grimly, rode quietly away.

“It’s a’most too many for the business, I’m thinking, Varley,” said
Bill; but Varley shook his head.

“I know Dog’s Ear, William; there will be more than six in this
affair.”

They separated at the bed of the river and rode openly in the
direction opposite to that of the coach road, as if they were
simply out for a gallop. They, at any rate, reached their appointed
place without, so far as they could tell, being seen, and well
hidden by the darkness under the trees and the thick scrub, waited
for the coach.

Presently they heard the muffled tramp of horses’ hoofs on
the short turf, and Bill, crouching in his saddle--quite
unnecessarily--whispered, “Dog’s Ear.”

Varley nodded, and a faint smile played about his lips. The men they
were going to checkmate were within a few yards of them, divided
from them only by the road that spanned the Gulch. They could hear
a voice, husky and low, giving orders, a few muttered responses,
then all was still again.

“How many?” asked Varley, with his mouth almost at Bill’s ear.

Bill shook his head doubtfully.

“Almost a dozen,” he said.

Varley nodded; it confirmed his own estimate. Then both men sat
motionless, straining their ears for the sound of the coming
coach. Presently Varley moved slightly, and stretching out his hand
in the darkness, touched Bill’s arm, and a moment or two afterward
the latter heard the rhythmical beat of the horses’ feet, and yet a
little later the dull roll of the wheels.

There was an instant or two of suspense, interrupted by the musical
notes of the guard’s horn, then out from the darkness there grew
two specks of light from the lamps; the rhythmical beat struck
sharper, the roll of the wheels deepened, and suddenly the coach
loomed through the night and the leaders rattled on to the bridge.

This was evidently the signal for the Dog’s Ear attack; for, as
the metal of the horses’ shoes rang upon the timber, there was a
rush from the Gulch beneath, and a body of horsemen surrounded the
coach, while one man, mounted on an appropriately black horse, rode
up alongside the coachman and covered him.

“Chuck up your hands, Johnson, and get down!” he said, curtly.
“Come down now, like a good boy, and don’t alarm the passengers.”

The driver peered into the darkness and swore, voices from the top
of the coach called out inquiringly and excitedly, then a deep
silence followed.

“Persuade him to come down quickly, gentlemen,” said the leader of
the gang. “We don’t want any fire-works, but--we mean business.
It’s our show, you see, and it’s no use making a fuss.”

Two or three men scrambled down and were instantly surrounded, but
the coachman did not move for a minute; then he turned to some one
on the seat behind him and said something.

“Are you coming, or not?” demanded the ringleader, impatiently, and
he significantly imitated the click of a trigger with his lips.

Johnson looked down.

“Yes; it’s your show,” he said, coolly. “If I’d only a-known jes’
a quarter of a mile back--but that’s neither here nor there. I’m
coming. Save your powder!”

Even then he did not hurry, but took off his thick gloves with a
deliberation which must have exasperated the man below. Then he
climbed down with unnecessary caution, and stood with his hands
in his pockets, the revolver still covering him. Two of the gang
were at the leaders’ bridles, the others were busy “emptying” the
three passengers, and all was going merrily and to the entire
satisfaction of Dog’s Ear, when Varley, firing just over the
commander’s head, plunged up the other side of the Gulch and rode
down upon him.

The startled man swore and tried to swing his horse aside, but
Varley was on him with an impetus too swift and irresistible, and
coolly knocked him out of his saddle as the man fired.

Instantly the place, wrapped a moment before in the solemn calm of
an Australian night, was transformed into a miniature pandemonium.
Shots, yells, oaths, the crack of revolvers, and the dull “ping” of
the bullets, mingled with the stamping of the rearing horses.

The driver, startled for a moment, soon took in the turn of events,
and snatching out his revolver, shot one of the men stationed at
the leaders’ heads, and rushed for his companion, who turned and
fled.

The darkness increased the confusion--it was difficult to
distinguish friend from foe--and Varley was just in time to stop
the driver from sending a bullet through him by shouting out:

“All right, Johnson! It’s I--Varley! Keep to the horses; we’ll
manage the rest.”

As he spoke, his low, clear voice ringing out, a cry rose from the
top of the coach. It was a woman’s voice, and the cry a strange
mixture of fear and joy.

Something in it made Varley’s heart jump as it had not hitherto
leaped that night. He reined in his plunging horse for a moment.

“God! I must be dreaming!” he muttered.

Then he dashed forward, and snatching one of the huge coach-lamps
from its socket, held it above his head and peered up in the
darkness.

The light flickered in his grasp as he swayed to his horse’s
movements, but as its rays swept across the top of the coach,
he saw a woman kneeling on one of the seats, her face, pale but
fearless, bent down toward him.

It was Esmeralda--or her ghost!

He gasped, and held the lamp higher.

“Esmeralda!” he shouted, his voice thick and husky. “Esmeralda, is
that--”

“Yes, yes, yes! It’s I--Esmeralda! Varley! Varley!” she cried,
holding out her arms to him.

In the excitement of recognition they appeared to have quite
forgotten what was going on around them, and Varley was completely
ignoring the fact that the lamp was revealing him to his foes and
making a splendid mark for them.

One of the Dog’s Ear men rode round, stared, swore, and raised
his revolver, and Varley would have paid the penalty for his
fool-hardiness there and then, but with a cry of warning Esmeralda
bent down and snatched the lamp from Varley’s hand and dashed it
into the face of his assailant. The next instant all was darkness,
for one of the Dog’s Ear men had smashed the other lantern with a
bullet.



CHAPTER XXXV.


As the bullet crashed through the lamp, and it fell to the ground,
the whole scene was plunged in darkness. Varley reached up for
Esmeralda, calling for her, but before he could reach her, his
horse fell under him, and he heard through the din her voice crying
with a sharp sound of alarm. He struggled to his feet and shouted
for a light; Taffy answered the shout with a yell, and suddenly the
scene was illumined by a fierce glare. Taffy had torn off his coat
and set fire to it.

As Taffy waved the burning coat above his head, Varley saw Simon
riding across the plain. There was something lying across the
saddle in front of him, and Varley saw that it was Esmeralda. He
snatched up a rifle lying beside him, and kneeling, took careful
aim at Simon’s horse. The bullet whizzed past its neck, and Simon,
with a yell of derision, dug his spurs into the animal’s side and
tore on. Varley set his teeth hard and fired again; the bullet
struck the stirrup and Simon pulled up for an instant, hesitated,
then dropped Esmeralda to the ground. Varley went across the plain
like a greyhound, but before he had reached her she was standing
upright, and the next instant she was on his breast, sobbing and
laughing hysterically.

“It is you--it is you, Esmeralda!” was all he could say for a
moment or two. “I can scarcely believe my eyes. How did you come
here? But there is no time for questions; I must go back!”

“Yes--yes. Go back, Varley, dear,” she panted, “I will come with
you.”

“No--no,” he said, hurriedly. “Stay here; you are safe here.”

He patted her on the back encouragingly and ran back to the coach,
and, of course, she followed him, although at a little distance.

The fight was nearly over when Varley reached the coach, and his
reappearance put the finishing touch to it. Two of the Dog’s Ear
men lay stretched upon the ground; the Three Star men, breathless
and perspiring, were gathered round them; the passengers were
huddled together in a heap and trying to realize that this was the
end of the nineteenth century; Johnson and the guard were coolly
soothing and rubbing down the horses as if this little affair were
quite in the ordinary way of business.

Varley ordered the two Dog’s Ear men to be taken and put inside
the coach, made a roll-call of his own men, found that two were
wounded, and ordered them also into the coach, then he turned to
examine the passengers, to discover which was Esmeralda’s husband.
As he did so he found Esmeralda at his side.

“Which is your husband?” he asked in an undertone.

She laid her hand upon his arm and turned her head aside.

“He is not here, Varley,” she said in a low voice.

He looked at her with momentary surprise; but even yet there was no
time to ask questions.

“Get up into your seats, gentlemen,” he said. “The little play is
over.”

One of them came forward with his hat in his hand and mopping his
forehead.

“This is an outrageous business; and but for you, sir, it would
have been a very serious one. But for you and your brave companions
we should have been robbed and probably murdered. We desire to
express our gratitude, and we should like to know the name of the
gentleman to whom we are so deeply indebted.”

Johnson, the driver, lurched forward.

“You’re right, sir, every word,” he said, slowly. “If it hadn’t
been for these boys, we should have been skinned of everything, and
filled up with lead into the bargain. If you want to know the name
of the gentleman who saved our bacon, it is Varley Howard. There
ain’t many in these parts as don’t know him, and I reckon you won’t
forget him in a hurry.”

The passenger held out his hand to Varley.

“Permit me to thank you, Mr. Howard,” he said, “for the great
service you have rendered us. I am one of her majesty’s
commissioners, and it will be my pleasant duty to bring your
gallant conduct, and that of your brave followers, under the notice
of the authorities.”

Varley shook the proffered hand.

“Thanks,” he said in his languid way. “We’ve enjoyed the fun. You’d
better start the coach, Johnson, or you’ll beat the record for
unpunctuality. Get up, dear,” he said to Esmeralda in a whisper.

But she shook her head.

“Let me go with you, Varley,” she said. “I can ride behind, as I’ve
often done. I’m not a bit heavier--see!”

He hesitated a moment, remembering that riding double was scarcely
a proper mode of progress for a great lady; then he took her in his
arms and swung her behind him.

But by this time the boys had realized the fact of her presence,
and were crowding round in clamorous amazement.

“It’s Esmeralda!” shouted Taffy, as if he could not believe his
eyes.

“Yes, it’s Esmeralda,” said Varley; “but don’t bother now, boys.
I’ll bring her down to the Eldorado presently--”

“Yes, yes!” cried Esmeralda, stretching out her hand to them, half
laughing, half crying.

--“And you’d better keep your mouths shut about her till we turn
up. Off you go, Johnson! Come down to the camp when you’ve put your
horses up. The boys will want to see you.”

He spoke excitedly, for Esmeralda’s presence filled him with joy.
He had no idea that anything was wrong.

Johnson started the coach, touching his hat gravely to Varley, as a
soldier salutes a general; the boys sent up a ringing cheer, which
was answered by the passengers; then Varley put spurs to his horse.

“Are you safe, comfortable?” he asked, patting the hands clasped
round him.

“Yes, yes,” Esmeralda replied. “Do you think I have forgotten how
to ride? Oh, Varley, to think of it’s being you who saved us!”

“‘The long arm of coincidence,’ as the novelists say,” he said.
“And now, what brings you here, Esmeralda?”

He felt her sigh.

“Wait till we get home,” she whispered.

He said no more, and they rode on over the plain, through the
valley, and up the hill to the old hut.

With what commingling of emotions Esmeralda looked upon it all!
Though she could not see anything distinctly, she seemed to see;
for she knew every inch of the road, every tree, every curve of
the upstretching hills; and they all seemed to welcome her. She
could almost fancy that she had never left the beloved spot, and
that all that had happened since she bid good-bye to Varley, long
months ago, was but a fantastic dream; as if Miss Chetwynde, the
millionairess, the Marquis of Trafford, Belfayre and all its ducal
splendor, had never existed, save in her imagination.

She leaned her head against Varley’s shoulder and sighed.

There was a light in the hut, and at the sound of the approaching
horse, Mother Melinda came to the door with her candle held above
her head. As its rays fell upon Esmeralda she uttered a shriek and
dropped the candle. The next instant Esmeralda was in her arms, and
the two women were sobbing, laughing, and exclaiming as only women
can.

Varley tied up his horse, got a light, and managed to tear the two
women apart; then he put Esmeralda into a chair, hinted to Mother
Melinda that Esmeralda might be hungry, and having got the old
woman into the outer hut, sat on the edge of the table and gazed
at his child with a smile that did not hide his tender joy at her
presence.

But he asked no questions until Esmeralda had eaten and drunk, and
was leaning back in the chair with her hands folded in her lap.

“And now, my child,” he said. “Why this thusness? Where is the
noble marquis, your husband?”

“Are you very glad to see me, Varley?” she said, ignoring the
question.

“Well, just a little,” he replied, with a smile. “But where--”

“Do you remember our bargain, Varley?” she said. “I promised that
if ever I were in trouble that I would come back to you, and you
promised to take me.”

“I remember,” he said, gravely. “And you are in trouble?”

“I have come back,” she said, significantly.

“What is the trouble?” he asked. “Where is your husband?”

The color mounted to her face.

“He is not here,” she said in a low voice.

“So I see,” he remarked, dryly. “Where is he?”

“He is in England,” she said, almost inaudibly.

“And he allowed you to make this journey alone?” he asked in those
ultra-quiet tones which were always so ominous with him.

“He--he did not know. I--I had left him.”

He was silent a moment, then he looked at her hand.

“Where is your wedding-ring?” he asked, as quietly as before.

She looked at her hand.

“I have left it behind me,” she said. “I--I am not his wife any
longer.”

“Divorced?”

She crimsoned to her neck.

“No. I--I have only left him.”

He looked at her steadily, and then, as if he had read the answer
to his unspoken question in her pure eyes, he drew a long breath.

“It was his fault, then?”

“Yes,” she said in a whisper. “Don’t ask me to tell you all,
Varley. I--I couldn’t. It would be like tearing open a wound; and
it would do no good. We are separated forever!”

She turned her head away from him, and he saw her lips quiver.

“Do you mean that he has been bad to you?” he asked. “Remember that
I am your guardian.”

She was silent a moment. Not even to Varley could she tell the
whole sordid story of her misery and humiliation.

“He--he never loved me. It was my money he wanted, and not me.
You know how rich I am? I did not know the truth--I was just an
ignorant girl, strange to their ways and the way they think about
such things--I didn’t discover it until after we were married.”

He bent forward a little and just touched the sleeve of her dress.
The tender, pitying caress almost shattered her self-restraint.

“And that’s not all. He had married me for my money, but all the
while there was some one else. Oh, Varley! Varley!” She hid her
face in her hands and her slight figure shook.

Varley rose from the table and went outside the hut. His face was
deathly white, and his dark eyes were alight with a terrible fire.
He shook from head to foot like a man torn by an internal devil,
and his hands, thrust in his pockets, were clinched so tightly that
the nails were driven into the soft palms. But he said not a word,
though every vein in his body throbbed with a curse.

He was still very white, but to all appearance calm and
self-possessed, when he re-entered the house and resumed his seat
on the table. He had given Esmeralda time to master her emotion,
and she looked up at him now with a smile more pitiful than tears.

“I’ve really told you all now, Varley,” she said in a whisper.
“I’ve left him; I’m no longer the Marchioness of Trafford. Why, I
am a duchess! The old duke--he was very good to me, Varley, and I
loved him!”--her eyes filled with tears, and she sighed--“he died
the night I ran away, and never knew, thank God!”

“A duchess!” said Varley, grimly.

“Yes. A strange duchess, Varley!” She laughed sadly. “But all
that’s done with now. I have left it all behind, never to go
back to it. I want to be plain Esmeralda of Three Star once
more--Esmeralda _Howard_, Varley, if you will have me. I’m going
to be just as I was before--before I went away. Ah, how I wish I
had never gone! Everybody--you and Mother Melinda, and all the
boys--loved me and were good to me, though I was only a poor girl
without even a name.”

His face twitched.

“That’s so,” he said, hoarsely.

“In England, London, they only care for your money. No, let me be
just; that’s not true. There were one or two--the duke, a young
girl, Lady Wyndover--who were fond of me. But the rest--” She
shuddered. “Ah! it’s better to be here, Varley, with only a couple
of dresses, and short of boots and shoes, with just a hut to live
in, but warm, loving hearts around you, than to reign over there a
great lady, a duchess, with more dresses than you know what to do
with, with diamonds that only make people envy and hate you because
they’re better than theirs. There’s bad luck here sometimes, and
it’s rough and ready, but”--she stretched out her arms with a
gesture almost fierce--“but it’s heaven here compared with the
false hell over there.”

He was terribly moved, and the thin hand with which he rolled up a
cigarette shook so that the tobacco fell upon the table.

“So I have come back, Varley,” she said, “and I want you to help
me to forget all--all that has happened; to take me as your little
girl again, to be Esmeralda of Three Star once more. I think the
boys will be glad to have me back, won’t they?”

“We’ll see presently,” he said, laconically.

“You can tell them,” she went on with a sad little laugh, “that it
was all a mistake--my going, my being Miss Chetwynde.”

“Kind of changed your birth?” he said.

She laughed with her eyes closed.

“Yes; and that I find I’m only their Esmeralda, after all. Tell
them to ask no questions, but to go on as if I had never been
away.”

“You shall go down to the saloon to-morrow,” he said, quietly.

“No, to-night!” she exclaimed, rising with a sudden light in her
eyes. “I want it all over at once. I want to go back to the old
life this minute. I’m longing to see them all, to look upon the
faces that don’t smile and smile at you while they stab you in the
back, to see, once more, _honest_ men, with too much grit in them
to buy and sell women, to deceive a girl because she _is_ a girl
and is ignorant of the ways of the world! Take me to them now, at
once, Varley!”

“You shall go,” he said, very quietly.

She caught up her hat and put it on with trembling fingers and in
eager haste.

He placed her on the horse, and they rode down to the camp as they
had ridden to the hut; and once again, as they rode through the
cool air and amidst the familiar surroundings, the past life in
England seemed but a dream. Only, in the innermost recesses of her
heart there lay, like a tiny snake, a stinging pain of wistful
longing for the man she had cast off forever. She tried to ignore
it, to think only of her joy in getting back to Varley and Three
Star; but the love which is at once woman’s greatest blessing
and greatest curse, was there still, and would not be crushed
out. Trafford’s face rose before her in the close darkness, his
voice--ay, every tone of it--mingled with the rhythmical beat of
the horses’ hoofs.

As they approached the camp, the lights from the Eldorado flashed
out through the darkness. There was a stir of excitement, and the
buzz of shouting and singing.

Though the fact of Esmeralda’s presence was not generally known,
the affair of the coach had become common property, and Three Star
was up in arms. Every soul in the camp was collected in or about
the saloon. Bill, Taffy, and the other men engaged in the business
were surrounded by an excited crowd, eager for every detail, and
vowing vengeance on Dog’s Ear. Varley’s name was on every lip, and
shouts of, “Where is he?” “Where’s Varley?” rose above the din.

Esmeralda’s arm tightened round Varley’s waist.

“It’s the old noise, the old sound!” she whispered, tremulously.

“Yes; keep your hair on, little one,” he responded; for he could
feel her trembling.

As they rode down to the door and came into the light that streamed
from it, the crowd outside sent up a shout and pressed round him;
but as they saw and recognized Esmeralda, the shout died away for
an instant, then rose with redoubled force, and her name was cried
aloud. Those inside the saloon rushed to the door, Taffy and Bill
giving vent to their pent-up feelings by loud yells.

Varley dropped to the ground, and lifting Esmeralda in his arms, as
he had so often done when she was a child, forced his way through
the crowd to the end of the saloon, and then, with his arm around
her, stood and faced them.

The din was indescribable. Everybody seemed to be speaking at once
and trying to drown his neighbor’s voice.

Varley stood erect, a faint smile upon his clean-cut lips, his
white hand, stained with blood, stroking his mustache and smoothing
the closely cut gray hair at his temple--the, apparently, one calm
man in the raging sea of human beings.

“Varley! Varley! Esmeralda! Esmeralda!” they shouted.

Esmeralda stood very pale, her lips apart, her breath coming
quickly, but with a tender smile in her eyes which would have told
them, even if they had doubted, that she was indeed Esmeralda.

Varley held up his hand, and almost instantly the din subsided.

“Boys,” he said, and his voice, musical and low, rang out so that
every one could hear it and note the thrill of emotion which
vibrated in its even tones, “Esmeralda’s come back! Quiet! Yes,
she’s come back as she promised. England’s all very well; but when
you’ve once lived in the free air of Three Star you kind of pine
after it. And Esmeralda was almost born here. She’s come back, and
she’s come to stay!”

The excitement and enthusiasm broke through all restraint at this
announcement, and a roar of delight interrupted the speaker.

“Esmeralda!” went up from the hot throats.

Varley held up his hand again.

“_Why_ she’s come back is no business of ours. We’re too glad to
get her back--eh, boys?--to ask questions. If she’d been happy
where she was, she’d have stayed there. But she wasn’t; and so
she’s come back, and there’s an end of it, now and for the future.”

He took a glass of whisky from MacGrath’s hand and raised it aloft.

“Here’s health, long life, and happiness to Esmeralda of Three
Star!”

Every man seized a glass, full or empty, and up they went as high
as arm could extend them. A mighty roar rose from the packed crowd,
while shouts of “Esmeralda--our Esmeralda!” rent the air. The
mob seemed mad with pride and delight. Esmeralda had come back.
It seemed too good to be true. Men laughed hysterically; Taffy
and Bill danced with ecstasy. Men who had been mortal enemies a
few minutes ago shook hands and laughed in each other’s faces.
There were some whose eyes were wet. And through all the phases of
expression there ran the current of an emotion which shook Three
Star to its foundations.

Then they saw that Esmeralda’s lips were moving, and with
exhortations, and even friendly blows, they commanded each other to
keep silence.

Esmeralda’s lips moved for a moment or two wordlessly, then they
heard the voice which they all loved say, in soft and tremulous
tones:

“Yes, I have come back--and to stay!”

A cheer, such as had never been heard even in Three Star,
threatened to lift the roof off the Eldorado, and Varley, drawing
Esmeralda’s arm within his, succeeded, after many herculean
efforts, in getting her through the throng and into the open air.

She was sobbing as if her heart would break as they rode back to
the hut, for the mighty torrent of love which had been poured out
upon her had swept away her power of self-restraint. But not even
Varley guessed that her tears were caused not only by the reception
which had been accorded her, but by that aching love for Trafford
which still throbbed through her whole heart.

Concerning the proceedings of the boys at the Eldorado which
immediately followed her exit, and were kept up until the dawn rose
above the hills, the kindly historian will be silent. Suffice it
that MacGrath’s whisky was completely sold out, and that Taffy was
conducted to his virtuous couch by a devious course of something
like a mile in length by several fellow-convivialists who, having
deposited that hero in bed, deemed it wise and expedient to coil
themselves up on the floor beside him.

There had been several “warm nights” at Three Star; but this, the
night of Esmeralda’s return, was the very, very warmest that had
ever been recorded.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


Neither Varley nor any of the boys asked Esmeralda any further
questions. The boys seemed to take it as quite a natural thing that
she should come back to them and the camp, and when she appeared
among them the next day in her old dress, which Melinda had
religiously kept, they at once began to forget that she was a great
lady, and treated her with the old affection, which had always been
of a respectful and even worshiping kind.

She took up her life where she had left it the day Mr. Pinchook had
taken her away. Her beautiful horse had been kept for her, as if
everybody had expected her to come back, and it welcomed her as if
he had been parted from her for only a few days. She strolled about
the camp, sat on the edge of the claims, rode up the valley and
over the hills with Varley or some of the boys, and took her share
in the household duties in the hut, just as of old.

In the wonderful air, so thin and light and permeated with the
brilliant sunshine, the strength which she had lost came back to
her; her hands began to brown, the freckles to return to the clear
ivory of her face. She had been very thin and worn-looking when
she arrived; but she gained flesh with her strength, and the old
suppleness, which, for want of a better name, we call grace.

Now and again something of the old brightness shone in her eyes,
as she laughed at some jest of Taffy’s or some wild, eccentric
prank of the boys; but the brightness was only transient, and the
laugh came but seldom, for on her face and in her eyes there dwelt
an expression hard to define--Eve’s may have worn it when she was
turned out of paradise.

She liked to take long rides across the hills in the soft light of
the evening with Varley by her side. Often they rode in silence,
and Varley, glancing now and again at her face, would see, by the
pensive and far-away look in her eyes, that she was dwelling upon
that past of which he knew so little. She would pull up on the brow
of a hill, and letting her reins hang loosely on the horse’s neck,
lean forward and gaze at the magnificent view. But it was not the
wide-stretching Australian valley that she saw, but the trim-kept
lawns of Belfayre, the English sea that rolled at the bottom of
the cliffs, the plantation through which she and Trafford had so
often wandered hand in hand; and as the mental vision passed before
her, a great pain would fill her heart, a terrible wistfulness take
possession of her, and she would fain stretch out her arms to where
England and Trafford were and cry aloud.

And Varley, as he watched her, would set his teeth hard and want
to cry aloud, too, but with a very different feeling. His heart
overran with hate for the man who had taken this beautiful
child-woman and broken her heart. Once, as they thus rode, he said
to her:

“You don’t want to go back, Esmeralda?”

She started, as if she had forgotten his presence, and the color
rose to her face, then it went again, and left her pale, and with
something like tears in her eyes.

“No,” she said; “I could never go back, Varley. All that is past
and done with. There would be no one to go back to but Lady
Wyndover and Lilias, and they--they will soon forget me. In the
world over there the people do not remember many days; they are all
so busy with their pleasures that they haven’t time to remember. It
is each for himself, and in the rush and tear the best of friends
are soon forgotten.”

“Would to God you had never gone there,” he said.

“Ah!” She drew a long breath. “At any rate, I have learned to value
true love and friendship, Varley. I think they are only to be found
in Three Star.”

“It seems hard to realize that you are a duchess,” he said; “that
you ought to be queening it over there amongst the best of them.”

She smiled faintly.

“I find it hard to realize, too,” she said.

“A duchess is a very great personage, even in England,” he said.

“Yes,” she assented. “She is next to royalty itself; all the other
women make way for her, and everybody treats her as if she were
made of something better than ordinary flesh and blood. If you
had seen, as I have, a whole room full of people begin to flutter
and turn with toadying, simpering smiles when a duke or a duchess
entered!”

“Just so,” he said; “and I’m thinking that your disappearance,
Esmeralda, must have caused some stir and excitement even amongst
that flutter-headed crowd. They must be looking for you.”

“Perhaps,” she said, listlessly, as she thought that Trafford would
be glad that she had gone so noiselessly and quietly. He would have
Lady Ada to console him.

Varley saw that she did not want to say any more, and he changed
the subject.

“Dog’s Ear has been very quiet since the affair of the coach,” he
said.

“Has anything been done?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” he replied. “The police have taken the affair up, and
there has been an inquest on the two men and an inquiry; but, as
usual, it has come to nothing. Simon and the others who were
engaged have cleared out, and the rest of Dog’s Ear swears that it
knows nothing about it. The police have had a hunt after Simon, but
they are not likely to catch him; they never do. Dog’s Ear gave the
two men a public funeral, and I’m given to understand that they did
me the honor to burn me in effigy after the ceremony.”

“They are very quiet about it,” she said.

“Yes; rather too quiet,” said Varley, languidly. “When Dog’s Ear
is quiet it’s generally planning some meanness or other. Taffy
suggests that it would be rather a good thing to turn the whole
crew out and burn the place; but that seems to me rather an extreme
measure, and I don’t know how the government would like it. You
know, I suppose, that I received a letter from the secretary?” he
added, more languidly than before.

“No,” said Esmeralda. “You didn’t tell me, Varley. What was it?”

“Oh, didn’t I?” he said, modestly. “It was a very nice letter, in
the most beau-ti-ful language, intimating that I and Taffy, and
the rest of us, were the saviors of our country, or something to
that effect. MacGrath wanted to have it framed and stuck up in
the Eldorado, and so I took it away from him and put it where it
couldn’t do any damage--in the fire. The boys are quite vain enough
already; if that letter were left lying around they’d want to build
a church, or a jail, or some highfalutin institution of that kind.”

Esmeralda laughed, and they rode home.

The days passed calmly and peacefully; Esmeralda’s strength
increased, and her hands grew still browner, but the far-away look
did not leave her eyes, and often still in the middle of a ride she
would pull up suddenly and seem lost in thought; and sometimes,
when she was clearing away the things after a meal, she would stop
and set down the plates or cups and look before her vacantly, as if
she had quite forgotten where she was and what she was doing. At
such times she was thinking of Varley’s words, and wondering why no
search had been made for her. One evening she was standing thus,
a cup in her hand, her eyes fixed, when a voice outside the door
called her name. She was alone in the hut, for Mother Melinda had
gone down to the store, but quite unsuspectingly she set down the
cup and went to the door.

There was no one in sight, and thinking she must have been
mistaken, she turned to re-enter the hut again, when suddenly a
cloth of some kind was thrown over her head, and she was seized in
a rough grasp. She struggled and tried to tear the cloth from her
head, but the man held her tight.

“Keep quiet,” he said, with an oath, “or it will be worse for you.”

She felt that she was powerless, and keeping up her heart as best
she could, ceased to struggle.

“Have you got her?” asked another voice, which she recognized as
that of the man Simon.

The man who had made her prisoner replied in the affirmative.

“Ask her if she’ll come quietly,” said Simon, “or we’ll settle her
off-hand.”

“You hear?” said the other man to Esmeralda.

“I hear,” said Esmeralda through the cloth. “What do you want with
me?”

“Don’t worry yourself,” said Simon, with malignant irony. “You’ve
got to come along with us dead or alive; you can take your choice.”

“You coward!” said Esmeralda. “If there were only one of the men
here!”

“But there ain’t,” chuckled her captor.

“Bring her along,” said Simon, with an impatient oath.

The man who held her raised her in his arms, and Esmeralda felt
herself lifted on to a horse. The hoofs must have been muffled, for
her quick ears had heard no sound.

“Now catch hold of the reins and sit on quietly,” said Simon, “and
remember I’m ridin’ beside you, miss, and I’ve got you covered.” He
clicked the lock of his revolver significantly.

Esmeralda gripped the reins tightly, the thought flashing through
her mind that she might even yet make a dash for it; but she felt
a hand on each side of the reins and her heart sunk. She could
scarcely realize the horror of her position. She could hear the
murmur rising from the camp below, could have seen the lights if
the horrible cloth had not shrouded them from her sight. She could
see Varley seated at the card-table, hear the men laughing and
singing--while she was in the hands of these Dog’s Ear scoundrels!
What would Varley say when he came up to the hut to bid her
good-night and found her gone?

The men rode beside her silently, and proceeded quickly but
cautiously. She knew by the direction of the wind that they were
going from Three Star toward the hills, and her heart sunk under
the heavy weight of a terrible fear.

Just as she had pictured him, Varley was as usual presiding at the
card-table. Luck was going against him that night, and he was not
playing with his usual skill and concentration. He was thinking
of Esmeralda; indeed, he thought of little else. The thirst for
vengeance upon the man who called himself her husband and had
broken her heart was gradually absorbing Varley’s whole being; and
even as he shuffled and dealt the cards with his usual languid,
nonchalant grace, he was asking himself how and when he could
avenge her wrongs.

“’Pears to me, Varley,” said Taffy, as Varley missed a point which
would have won the game for him, “that you’d better chuck up cards
and take to dominoes. They’re a nice, child-like game, and don’t
make no call on your brain. Or how would skittles suit you? ‘Mr.
Varley Howard presents his compliments to the nobility an’ gentry
of Three Star an’ other camps, an’ begs to inform ’em that, findin’
cards too much for his constitootion, he has opened a saloon for
skittles an’ other infant games, where he ’opes to meet his former
patrons at hop-scotch an’ peg-top. No playin’ for money allowed.’”

Varley smiled listlessly.

“Yes, I’m a little off color to-night, Taffy,” he said. “We’ll
double the stakes if no gentleman objects.”

This characteristic proposal meeting with no objection, the game
proceeded; but Varley’s ill luck stuck to him, and not even
the high stakes improved his play. A kind of presentiment of
coming evil hung over him; and, like all gamblers, Varley was
superstitious. He looked just as careless and was as impassive as
ever, but the weight was upon him; and as he lost steadily, he
called for some whisky--an unusual thing for him to do.

“Yes, bring a couple of gallons,” said Taffy, with solemn gravity.
“’Ave a bath in it, Varley; it might pull yer round.”

Varley smiled in harmony with the laugh evoked by Taffy’s
witticism, and dealt the cards as slowly and carefully as usual;
then, presently, having silently noted his losings, he said, with
his little drawl:

“The game’s up, gentlemen; the bank’s broke.”

A roar of not unsympathetic laughter arose from the players.

“’Tain’t often we get the best of you, Varley,” said Taffy, smiting
him on the shoulder. “I’ll celebrate the event by calling for
whisky all round.”

But Varley declined his glass, and with a pleasant, musical
“Good-night, boys,” sauntered out of the saloon.

The light was burning in Esmeralda’s hut, and he looked toward it
with a little sigh.

As he made his way along the rough foot-path, he heard the sound of
a horse’s hoofs. He stopped, and instinctively slid his hand upon
his revolver. It is a trick which one very soon acquires in the
wilds.

The sound came nearer, and a horseman rode past Varley--that is, he
would have ridden past; but Varley stretched out his left hand and
gripped the bridle, his right hand holding his revolver ready.

The rider was almost thrown from his seat, but he pulled himself
together and stuck on.

“What’s your hurry?” said Varley.

At the sound of his voice the rider uttered an exclamation and
flung himself from the saddle.

“Mr. Howard, I think?” he said.

“Yes,” said Varley, coolly. “It’s Lord Druce, isn’t it?”

He made the guess as if not quite certain.

“Yes,” said Norman, eagerly.

Varley’s face darkened. He had heard no ill of the lad, but he
could not forget that he belonged to the aristocratic set Varley
had learned to hate for Esmeralda’s sake.

“So you’ve come back to Three Star?” he said.

“Yes,” responded Norman, wiping his face, for he was hot and tired,
and there was a tone of anxiety and eagerness in his voice. “It
is strange that I should run against you the first moment of my
arrival--the man I wanted to see so badly.”

“Well, I am here, as you say,” said Varley, laconically. “What do
you want with me?”

Norman looked round as if he did not desire to be heard.

“I have come all the way from England post haste, Mr. Howard,” he
said. “You can guess on what mission.”

“I’m not fond of guessing,” said Varley.

Norman dashed into it at once.

“Is--is Esmeralda here?” he asked.

“Before I answer that question, Lord Druce,” replied Varley, with
his most languid drawl, “permit me to ask you what business that is
of yours?”

Norman was taken aback for a moment. He was tired to death, and the
excitement of his sudden meeting with Varley, coming on top of his
anxiety to know whether Esmeralda was indeed there, confused him.

“I grant your right to ask that question,” he said, “but I have
come all the way from London in search of her, I am a friend of her
husband.”

It was an unlucky speech.

“Then allow me to inform you that you are no friend of mine, Lord
Druce!” said Varley, with a tightening of his lips; “and I should
advise you to go back to England.”

“Then she _is_ here!” said Norman, with a short breath of relief.
“Mr. Howard, I must see her--I must see her at once. There has been
a hideous mistake!”

“There has,” said Varley, quite slowly; “and the man you call her
husband will find it so if ever I have the pleasure of making it
clear to him.”

Norman moved impatiently.

“I quite understand,” he said. “I honor you for your feeling this
way; but I tell you there has been a mistake. I have come over to
set it straight. I can explain everything to Esmeralda if you will
take me to her.”

Varley looked at him in silence for so long that it almost seemed
as if he had forgotten him, then he said, with a sternness that
sounded strange coming from him:

“Or you think you can. Stop; don’t tell me anything. I will take
you to Esmeralda. She may see you or she may not. But mind, if
she should refuse to do so, you’ll go straight back to England,
or to the devil, if you like; and if you set foot in Three Star
again--you, or any of your kind--I’ll shoot you like a dog!”

Norman bit his lip.

“I agree,” he said. “I’m quite willing that you should shoot me now
and here, Mr. Howard, if it would help to set matters straight and
restore Esmeralda to her husband and happiness. Take me to her.”

The two men went up the hill-side in silence. Varley paused once
to roll a cigarette, and smoked it with his usual deliberation,
but there was a fire in his eyes, hidden behind their long lashes,
which indicated the condition of his mind.

As they approached the hut, Varley took hold of Norman’s bridle.

“Wait here!” he said.

Norman understood, and pulled up. He saw Varley enter the hut, then
he heard a sudden, hoarse cry. It was so terrible in its suddenness
and depth that it sent his heart to his mouth. He dashed forward
and met Varley staggering out of the hut, his face white as death,
his hands clinched.

“My God!” Norman exclaimed. “What’s the matter?”

Varley’s lips moved for a second without sound, then he pointed,
without looking at it, to a man’s cap lying on the floor.

“She’s gone!” he said, hoarsely. “They’ve taken her!”



CHAPTER XXXVII.


The two men looked at each other in silence, that silence which is
more terrible than any sound can be, even the cry of anguish.

Varley’s face was livid, and big drops of sweat stood upon his
forehead.

“Gone!” said Norman at last, and in a whisper. “What do you mean?”

“She has gone!” said Varley. “They have kidnapped her!”

“Do you mean to say that they have taken Esmeralda away?” said
Norman, in utter amazement.

Varley assented with a gesture and a groan.

“Why did you leave her unprotected?” asked Norman.

But he was sorry, a moment afterward, that he had allowed the
question to escape him, for Varley looked as if he had been struck.

“She was not alone,” he said. “Mother Melinda was with her. They
can both use a revolver as well as you or I. Esmeralda is a dead
shot.” He glanced at the weapons on the wall of the hut. “She must
have been lured outside, and they must have taken her suddenly
by some trick, and before she could utter a cry; for, if she had
shouted, some one would have heard her.”

“Why should they take her--Esmeralda?” asked Norman, still in the
same awe-struck whisper.

Varley’s head drooped.

“Because it’s the deadliest blow Dog’s Ear could strike at us all,”
he said. “We prevented them robbing the coach the other day, and
this is their revenge.”

“The curs!” ground out Norman.

Varley started suddenly, as if awakening from the paralysis of
anguish.

“What are we standing here for?” he said, almost fiercely. “Give me
your horse. Follow me down to the camp!”

He sprung into the saddle and rode down to the camp, Norman
following him as fast as he could run. The men were coming out of
the saloon, and Varley rode into their midst, pulling up his horse
on its haunches. He had regained something of his presence of mind
by this time, and his voice was almost as clear and cool as usual
as he said:

“Boys, I’ve bad news. They’ve taken Esmeralda.”

After a moment, they grasped his meaning. There was no need to ask
who had taken her; they all understood. A roar like the growl of
an infuriated wild beast rose, and every man’s hand went to his
weapon, while they thronged round Varley, instinctively waiting for
his word of command. He drew his head up with the air of the born
leader, and kept them cool by his own coolness.

“Let every man mount and meet me on the road,” he said. “Let there
be no noise, no shouting.”

“Ay, ay!” came the instant response. They rushed off. Taffy brought
Varley’s horse, and Norman sprung on to his own.

“What do you mean to do?” he asked.

“Bring her back, if I have to kill every man in Dog’s Ear!” said
Varley between his clinched teeth.

In a few minutes they heard the clatter of horses’ hoofs, but
not a word, so implicitly was Varley obeyed. He and Norman rode
toward the road. Neither of them at that moment thought of Norman’s
mission, or, indeed, cared anything about it. Esmeralda was in
danger, and everything else was of secondary importance.

By the time they had reached the bend of the road they found the
men awaiting them. They looked a formidable band, and their silence
was more ominous than any shouting or fierce oaths could have been.
Some of the men’s faces were as white as Varley’s own, and there
was a look on Taffy’s so full of blood-thirstiness that for a
moment or two Norman could not take his eyes from him.

“Boys,” said Varley in a low voice, “we shall go to Dog’s Ear and
demand Esmeralda. Let no man speak but me; let no man fire a shot
or strike a blow unless I give the word.”

The men gave a hoarse assent, and the band went forward, Varley and
Norman leading the way.

“They will not harm her?” said Norman, almost inaudibly.

“They dare not,” said Varley, hoarsely--“they dare not!”

“You mean that they will hold her to ransom?” asked Norman,
feverishly.

Varley nodded.

“Yes,” he said, “or they would have killed her at the hut.”

Norman drew a long breath of relief. They rode on in silence, the
dull thud of the horses’ hoofs breaking the deep silence of the
night. As they approached Dog’s Ear they heard the baying of dogs,
then saw lights moving to and fro. It was evident that the camp had
been made aware of their approach.

Dog’s Ear lay in a little hollow, and as Varley and Norman rode
down the winding pathway, almost at full gallop, they heard men
shouting, and presently saw forms looming in the semi-darkness.
They rode straight into the camp, and were instantly surrounded by
a crowd of men and women, the former with their revolvers in their
hands.

One man, a burly fellow as large as Taffy, and evidently one of the
leaders, pushed forward and looked up at Varley with a scowl of
surprise and resentment.

“What’s this ’ere,” he growled--“a picnic?”

A hoarse kind of roar, low and threatening, arose from the Three
Star men. Varley held up his hand to command silence.

“You can call it a picnic if you like,” he said, and his voice was
almost as soft and languid as when he was calling the game. “You
know what we have come for.”

The man glared at him.

“You’re wrong!” he said, with an oath.

“That’s a lie!” said Varley. “My daughter has been stolen from our
camp. She is here!”

The man began a grin, but it died away at a look that suddenly came
into Varley’s face.

“Oh, the gal’s been stolen?” said the man. “Well, that’s no
business of ours. You ought to be able to take care of your own
gals.”

Varley’s revolver--and not only Varley’s--covered him. He drew back
slightly.

“We know nothing about it,” he said, sullenly. “We didn’t take her,
and she ain’t here. We’ve plenty of gals of our own; in fact, too
many, and you’re welcome to some of ’em as I could name.”

Varley turned his head over his shoulder.

“Search the camp, boys,” he said, briefly.

The Dog’s Ear men were not all cowards, and they snarled and showed
their teeth, and the big man was unwise enough to seize Varley’s
bridle. The next instant his arm fell useless to his side; Varley
had struck it with the butt end of his revolver.

“See here,” he said, “there’s no need for fighting unless you’re
spoiling for it. We mean to search the camp, every inch of it;
we’ll do it quietly, if you like, but we shall do it. The first
man who hinders us will pay the penalty. You know me!”

The big man cursed him fluently and with an astonishing wealth of
detail; but none of his men ventured to raise a weapon, for the
Three Star men had gradually surrounded him and pressed them into a
little group. Varley addressed a dozen men by name.

“Keep guard,” he said, “and if any man offers to move, shoot him;
otherwise don’t fire a shot.” Then he and Norman dismounted, and,
followed by Taffy and several others, commenced their search. With
candles and torches of pine wood in their hands they went the round
from tent to tent, hut to hut; every tool-shed, every inch of
cover was closely examined. As they proceeded, Varley’s heart grew
heavier. Esmeralda was not there.

“What is to be done?” asked Norman.

Varley wiped the sweat from his brow and looked straight before him
without answering. At that moment, the vivid imaginations of both
men were busy picturing the girl they loved so dearly helpless in
the hands of an implacable and unscrupulous foe. Varley went back
to the crowd of prisoners and confronted the big man, whose arm was
now bandaged to his side.

“She is not here,” he said, sternly.

The man swore.

“I told you so,” he said. “You call yourself a clever man, Mr.
Varley Howard; I call yer a fool to think that we should bring the
gal here where yer could foller her. I tell ye we know nothin’
about ’er. Most like she’s gone back to England, where she come
from.”

Varley retained his calm by a supreme effort. His eye wandered over
the sullen group.

“There is one of you I miss,” he said. “Where is Simon?”

“He ain’t here,” said the man; then he leered malignantly. “Ah,
Simon!” he said, “now yer mention it, I shouldn’t be surprised if
he had ’ad a hand in this game.”

The Three Star men emitted a growl, and one or two fingered their
revolvers longingly.

“Shouldn’t be at all surprised,” continued the man, with a sardonic
satisfaction and stroking his wounded arm. “Yer see, you spoilt his
game with the coach the other night, and this may be his way of
payin’ you off. Yes, I shouldn’t be at all surprised if Simon’s got
the gal; and if so you’ll have to pay pretty dear to git her back.
Simon ain’t a man to be trifled with, is he, boys?”

The Dog’s Ear men grinned discreetly, and with sidelong glances at
the shining revolvers of their captors.

“Where is he?” demanded Varley; and the man shrugged his uninjured
shoulder and spat on the ground with exaggerated indifference.

“Can’t say, guv’nor,” he said; “I’m not Simon’s nuss. He left
this ’ere camp jest after the coach bus’ness, and when the police
came poking their noses. We ain’t answerable for Simon and his
goings-on, and if yer want ’im yer’d better go and find ’im. An’
if yer arst me, I think you Three Star chaps are playin’ it pretty
low down on a neighborin’ camp. Dog’s Ear ain’t ’ad much reason for
regardin’ Three Star with brotherly love up ter now, an’ this ’ere
foolishness is a-goin’ to be chalked up agin you.”

The threat broke down Taffy’s self-restraint.

“Let him or any one of ’em come out ’ere, the best man among ’em,
and let me have it out with him, Varley!” he implored, pressing
forward; but Varley put him back with a hand upon his breast.

“No,” he said. “I’ve given my word. The camp has been searched.
Esmeralda is not here. Back to Three Star, boys.”

The men got on their horses and rode away; but they looked back at
the sullen crowd they had left behind, reluctantly, and muttered
amongst themselves. They returned to the Eldorado in a fever of
fury and anxiety which no amount of MacGrath’s “infamous” could
assuage.

Varley waited until they had drunk, and then stopped in his pacing
up and down outside and issued a fresh order.

“Break up into threes,” he said, “and search the hill. It will be
light presently, and you’ll be able to see any tracks. Let there
be no violence if it puts Esmeralda in danger. The man who has
kidnapped her is Simon, and he may want money. If so--”

A shout interrupted him.

“All we’ve got, Varley!” exclaimed Taffy, hoarsely.

“That’s so,” said Varley. Then, as the men divided themselves and
sprung into their saddles, he beckoned to Norman and rode up the
hill toward the hut. “They may have left some trace behind them,”
he said, as the horses cantered up the hill. “I made so sure of
finding her in that accursed camp!”

When they reached the hut they found Mother Melinda sobbing and
wringing her hands. Varley comforted her as well as he could.

“All right; it’s no fault of yours,” he said in response to her
reiterated and wailing assertions that she had only left the hut
for a few minutes, and that Esmeralda had always been able to take
care of herself.

“You’ll get her back for me, Varley?” she cried, with clasped hands
and tears streaming from her eyes. “It was bad enough when she went
to England, but this is wuss!” Then suddenly, as she saw Varley’s
face, her tone changed, woman-like: “Don’t take on about it so,
Varley; don’t give up hope. Yer heart’s breakin’, I can see.”

Varley smiled.

“It’s broken!” he said, simply.

While he had been talking he had been examining the room for some
traces of the kidnappers, and now he went outside with the lantern
and examined the ground beyond the threshold.

Norman had been hunting round also, and suddenly he uttered a cry
and held something white aloft.

Varley ran up to him where he stood, about a hundred yards from the
hut.

“I’ve found this!” said Norman, eagerly. “It’s a sheet of paper
with a piece of stick stuck through it.”

The two men held the candle above the paper and read it together.
It was a badly spelled scrawl, written on the back of an old
play-bill, and ran thus:

  “We’ve got the gal. You can hev her by payin’ two hundred pounds,
  which we should hev got out of the coach. Let one man bring the
  muny ter the old hut in the Raven Claim on fridy evenin’, an’ the
  gal shall be given up. We wait til then, an’ no longer.”

There was no signature.

The two men’s hands trembled as they held the paper.

“Thank God!” said Norman.

Varley drew a long breath.

“To-day is-- What is it?”

He passed his hand across his brow.

“Thursday,” said Norman. “It is not many hours to wait. I suppose
we must wait?”

Varley bowed his head.

“Yes!” he said through his clinched teeth. “She is in their hands,
and we are powerless. Any attempt on our part to recapture her
might lead to--”

Norman shuddered.

“If we’d only found this thing before. Some of the search-parties
may discover them and bring about a catastrophe.”

Varley nodded.

“Come with me,” he said.

They climbed the hill behind the hut, Varley gathering some pine
branches as he went along. When they had gained the summit, he
piled the branches in a heap and set fire to them.

“What are you doing?” asked Norman.

“Calling the men back,” he said. “Fire your revolver.”

Both men fired as the flames shot up in the darkness. Presently
they heard a muffled shout; it was followed by several others from
various directions, and a little later they could hear the men
galloping toward the signal-fire, and were presently surrounded by
the excited search-parties.

“Esmeralda! Have you found her? Is she here?” came the sharp
questions, as the men flung themselves from their horses.

“No; but we have heard of her,” said Varley, standing beside the
fire, and he read Simon’s note. The men stood silent for a minute
in that intense reaction from a terrible suspense.

“Two ’undred pounds,” said Taffy. “The darned fool; he should ’ave
said two thousand!”

Varley looked round.

“Is there two hundred in the camp?” he asked, quietly.

The men exchanged glances and their faces fell. It was all very
well to value their Esmeralda at two thousand or two million, but
it suddenly broke in upon them that they might not have even the
paltry two hundred.

Norman stepped forward to offer the money; then he remembered that
his worldly wealth consisted of about ten pounds, and his face
fell; but he took out his leather purse from its hiding-place and
put it into Varley’s hand. The other men followed suit with an
almost fierce eagerness. Varley knelt beside the fire and counted
the contributions; there was about forty pounds.

“You can make up the rest, eh, Varley?” said Taffy. “We sent ours
by the bank agent yesterday; you wasn’t in the saloon when he came,
and you’ve got enough at the hut, haven’t you?”

Varley looked up with a white face.

“I met him at the bend and gave him every penny I had, excepting
what you won last night.”

The men uttered not a word, but looked at each other and then at
Varley. He rose and looked at his watch.

“To-morrow night!” he said, grimly. “I must ride to Wally-Wally.”

Taffy swore.

“You can’t do it in the time,” he said.

Varley smiled faintly.

“We shall see,” he said. “Lead the mare down, Taffy, give her a rub
over and a feed of oats, plain.” Then, without another word, he
walked down to the hut.

Norman almost forced him to eat and drink.

“You will never do it!” he said.

Varley smiled again. Taffy brought up the mare presently, and
Varley mounted, surrounded by the whole camp. He looked round,
with a touch of his old _insouciance_ breaking through the stern
determination written in every line of his face, flashing in the
dark, somber eyes.

“Don’t be afraid, boys,” he said. “We shall do it.” The next
instant, amidst a ringing cheer, the mare had sprung toward the
road.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


As Esmeralda rode along between her two captors, she felt that they
were ascending one of the hills, and then that they were going down
on the other side. Neither of the men spoke, and at last she said:

“Will you not take this thing off my head?”

“Not yet,” growled the man on her right.

She knew that prayers and protestations would be of no avail, and
said no more.

It would be vain to deny that she was frightened; but she was not
overcome by terror, and she was able to reason. It occurred to her
that they did not mean to kill her, or they would have shot her
long before this. It was not the first time she had been in danger;
for in the rough and lawless camps which first dotted the wilds of
Australia, life was not held of much account, and men--and women,
too--were often in peril of life and limb.

She had been reared amid scenes which would have terrified a
London girl to death, and her nerve, strengthened by her rough
experiences, did not desert her at this juncture. Once or twice
she could even feel that she was capable of a smile, though the
smile did not actually come. Very few duchesses had ridden across
Australian hills with their heads muffled in a cloth and a couple
of ruffians with drawn revolvers at her side. If Lilias could only
see her now!

After a considerable ride, they pulled up; the man lifted her from
the horse, and taking her hand, led her into a hut; Esmeralda
offering no resistance, for she knew it would be worse than useless.

The man removed the cloth from her head, and, passing her
hand across her eyes--for they were confused by their long
blindfolding--she saw that she was in a diggers’ hut. A woman
stood by a table holding a candle in her hand. Esmeralda’s heart
rose as she saw her, and she looked at her with more than the
usual feminine curiosity--with an anxious scrutiny. The woman
was middle-aged, with a careworn face which was not altogether
repellant. She glanced at Esmeralda, then looked at Simon, as if
awaiting his orders.

“We’ve brought her,” said Simon, shortly. Then he turned to
Esmeralda: “So long as you keep quiet and behave yourself,
nobody’ll do yer any harm; I’d advise you not to make any attempt
to get away.”

Esmeralda said nothing, but stood looking at the woman.

“Give her some food,” said Simon, “and make her comfortable. We’ve
no grudge against her, as long as she doesn’t try to escape. We’re
outside, remember,” he added, to Esmeralda.

The two men went out, and Esmeralda sunk into a chair. The woman
put some food on the table and motioned Esmeralda to eat and drink.
She drank some tea and nibbled at some bread and butter, though, as
may be well understood, she was not much inclined for eating; but
she deemed it best to put on a cheerful countenance and affect to
take things coolly.

“Will you tell me your name?” she asked the woman.

The woman bit her lip, as if she found it difficult to resist the
fascination of the sweet voice and the lovely, pleading eyes.

“My name don’t matter,” she said. “You’d best not talk.”

She glanced unconsciously toward the door.

Esmeralda smiled a little wearily.

“Why not?” she said, pleasantly. “There’s no harm in talking,
surely, and I shall not say anything that I mind their hearing. Do
you know how long I am to be kept here?”

The woman shook her head.

“I don’t know anything,” she said, “and I couldn’t tell you if I
did. Them’s my orders, and I’ve got to obey them.”

She sighed as she spoke, and Esmeralda quickly divined that the
woman was an unwilling participant in her capture and detention.
Out of pity for her she refrained from asking any more questions,
but finished her tea and sat silent, with her head upon her hand.

“You’d best lie down,” said the woman; and she pointed to a rough
bed in the corner.

“Thank you,” said Esmeralda, gently, as she got up and went to the
bed; but she made no pretense of sleeping, and lay on her elbow,
watching the woman thoughtfully.

“Will you not let me help you wash up?” she said, presently. “I’m
not used to sitting by and seeing others at work that I can help
in.”

The woman shook her head.

“You look like a great lady,” she said, reluctantly, and as if she
could not help speaking, which was not strange, for few men and
women in the great world of London had been able to resist the
subtle fascination of Esmeralda’s manner.

“I am Esmeralda of Three Star Camp,” she said; “that is all.”

The woman stopped in the process of washing up, and looked at her
with an interest marked by the same reluctance.

“I heard somewhere that you was a great lady,” she said--“that you
was a lady by birth and in your own right.”

“Well, I suppose I am,” said Esmeralda, with a little laugh, for it
struck her as comical that she should be the Duchess of Belfayre.
“But it doesn’t much matter, does it, seeing that I’m a prisoner
here?” Then suddenly a thought flashed upon her. “Do you think they
want money?” she asked. “Because, if so--”

The woman shook her head.

“I don’t know anything about it; I don’t think so.”

Esmeralda dropped back with a sigh.

Simon had really made a very great mistake. Instead of applying to
Varley Howard for ransom, he should have obtained a written promise
for a sum of money from Esmeralda; but he had either not thought of
this, or deemed it better to obtain cash on the nail.

“If it is money they want,” said Esmeralda, “I would give them what
they asked. I am not anxious or afraid about myself, but I know
what trouble they will be in at Three Star.” Her voice faltered for
the first time, and she turned her head aside. “Go and tell them
what I say.”

The woman hesitated for a moment or two, then she went to the door
and spoke to the man on guard there.

“It ain’t for me to say,” Esmeralda heard him answer. “Simon’s
gone away for a bit; she can speak to him when he comes back.”

The woman continued talking for a minute or two, and during that
time Esmeralda looked round the hut. She saw a man’s coat hanging
on a nail, and her quick eyes caught the glint of a revolver stock
protruding from the pocket. She darted from the bed noiselessly,
snatched the revolver from the pocket, and concealed it in the
folds of her dress as she lay down again in her former attitude.
The woman came back to the table and stolidly took up a plate.

“It can’t be done now,” she said; “you’ll have to wait.”

“Very well,” said Esmeralda, with a sigh.

Then she let her head fall upon the pillow and closed her eyes, to
think, not to sleep.

She knew she was not in a camp, by the intense silence around, and
she rightly judged that she had been brought to a hut on one of
the deserted claims which were so numerous in the district. When
once a claim was deserted, it was not only neglected, but shunned
as a place of ill luck. No doubt Simon had taken refuge here from
the police. No one was likely to pass in this direction, and no
one could approach without giving Simon timely warning. She was a
prisoner on this lonely hill, utterly helpless, and in the power of
two unscrupulous men. But was she helpless? Her hand closed upon
the revolver, and her heart beat with a throb of that spirit which
she had breathed into her with the free air of Three Star. She had
heard that Simon had gone; there was, therefore, only one man on
guard, and this woman who bore her no ill will. She began to think
of escape, and her heart beat so fast that she could almost fancy
the woman would hear it. She opened her eyes from time to time and
looked at the woman, measuring her, as it were, and asking herself
whether she was a match for her in strength.

It was evident by Simon’s leaving them and the carelessness of the
guard outside--for she could hear him snoring at intervals--that it
had not occurred to them that she should dare to make any attempt
at escape, by which they proved that they did not know Esmeralda of
Three Star. She lay still, thinking intently. All her married life
passed before her as in a panorama. She wondered where Trafford was
at that moment. Perhaps he had obtained a divorce and was going to
marry Lady Ada; her eyelids quivered, and a long sigh broke from
her parched lips. The woman started.

“I thought you were asleep,” she said.

Esmeralda smiled.

“Would you be able to sleep if you were in my place?” she asked.

The woman bit her lip.

“I’d try to sleep, all the same,” she said, doggedly. “P’r’aps
you’re cold; I’ll get you another blanket.”

She passed behind the bed and reached up to a shelf for the
blanket. As she did so, Esmeralda rose, and gliding behind her,
touched her on the forehead with the muzzle of the revolver.

“Don’t cry out, don’t speak!” she said in a whisper.

The woman dropped her arms and turned her head away with a startled
and terrified expression on her careworn face.

“Don’t be frightened,” said Esmeralda in the lowest of whispers.
“I am not going to shoot you--but you can pretend I am--I mean to
escape, and you may as well help me, while pretending not to. Don’t
speak! You’re a woman like myself; think of what your friends would
be suffering if you had been carried off as I have been--if you
were in the same danger as I am! It is of them I am thinking more
than myself, and I mean to get away.”

The woman trembled, though more in fear of the men than Esmeralda,
as Esmeralda felt.

“You can’t,” she said, hoarsely. “There’s the man outside.”

Esmeralda backed behind the door, still covering the woman with the
revolver.

“Call him in,” she said in a whisper. “Offer him supper, a drink.”

The woman stood stolidly silent for a moment, and Esmeralda watched
her with a fast-beating heart. Was she going to refuse, or going to
give the alarm? It was a moment of suspense which seemed to spin
into years, for she knew that if her attempt failed her life would
pay the forfeit. Her eyes were fixed upon the woman’s face with an
imploration in them more eloquent than any spoken prayer could have
been; it was woman pleading to woman for help against their natural
foe--man.

The struggle that was going on within the woman’s mind was clearly
depicted on her face. She hesitated for another moment, then she
said in a voice of affected carelessness:

“Bill, you’d better come in and have something to eat and drink.”

Esmeralda held her breath and waited. She had heard the man yawn
and stretch himself; then the door opened and he entered, rubbing
his eyes and yawning again.

Esmeralda glided between him and the door, and said, quietly,
though every vein in her body was thrilling with excitement:

“Throw up your arms!”

The man swung round with an oath to find himself covered by the
revolver. His amazement was almost ludicrous, and he looked from
Esmeralda to the woman in speechless astonishment for a moment.

“Well,” he exclaimed, with an oath; “if this don’t beat anything!
How did she come by the iron?”

The woman shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she said, dully.

The man glanced at the coat hanging up on the wall of the hut, and
nodded.

“Well,” he said, philosophically, “it’s Simon’s coat, not mine. He
can’t blame me.”

He had his arms above his head, of course, as he spoke, and in his
bewilderment and chagrin he looked more comical than ever; but
Esmeralda knew that one false move of hers would turn the comedy
into a tragedy. The man had received orders to shoot her if she
attempted to escape, and he would carry them out promptly enough if
she gave him the chance.

Still covering him, she advanced slowly, and with fingers that
trembled notwithstanding her courage, she drew the revolver from
his belt.

The man offered no resistance, for he had heard of Esmeralda;
and if he had not, there was something in her flashing eyes, and
her lips, set resolutely, which would have inspired him with a
wholesome fear.

“Now get me the horse!” she said.

The man looked at her with a reluctant admiration.

“You’re a game ’un!” he said. “It ’pears to me that Simon has met
his match at last.” Then he turned to the woman: “I hold you to
witness that it was no fault of mine. It wa’n’t my revolver she got
hold of.”

The woman inclined her head.

“Get the horse,” said Esmeralda again. “This woman is as blameless
as you. I threatened to shoot her, and would have done so. You
forgot when you took me that I was reared in Three Star.”

She could not have denied herself the note of triumph if her life
had depended upon it.

“Yes; you’re always one too many for us,” said the man, resignedly.
“But there’ll be the devil to pay when Simon comes back.”

“Then pay him!” said Esmeralda. “Get the horse!”

As the man left the hut, she went to the woman and held out her
hand.

“Good-bye,” she whispered. “I know that you’re glad I am escaping;
for you are a woman, as I am.”

The woman’s hand closed over hers and her lips moved.

“Yes, I am glad,” she said, casting a fearful glance toward the
back of the man; “but you have not gone off yet.”

“I am not afraid,” said Esmeralda.

Her colloquy with the woman had taken but a second, and she
followed close upon the man’s heels. The horse was tethered close
beside the hut; the man put the saddle on without a word, and
Esmeralda sprung into it, the revolver still in her hand. The horse
was a young one, full of spirit and eager to be off, but she reined
him in for a moment.

“You won’t tell me the way to Three Star, I suppose?” she said in
her sweet voice.

The man looked up at her for a moment in silence.

“Well!” he exclaimed, with an oath, “if you ain’t the coolest hand
I’ve ever met with, may I be roasted eternally!” Then he blurted
out: “Keep on the ridge till you come to the stump of a pine,
then turn to the left, past the old Raven Claim, and go down the
track--and may Gawd help me when Simon comes back!”

“Thank you,” said Esmeralda, as courteously as if she were in a
London ball-room; and the next moment the man was left staring
after her, still in a state of mingled bewilderment and admiration.

At noon of that day the good people of Wally-Wally were startled by
a man riding at full gallop into what is called its market-place.
The horse was covered with sweat, flecked with foam, and panting
as if it had just won the Derby; the man was white, almost livid,
and his short hair clung to his brows in perspiring streaks. He
was covered with dust and without his hat, for it had fallen off
some ten miles back and had been disregarded and left to ornament
the plain. It took the crowd some few minutes to recognize in
this perspiring and livid gentleman the usually calm and languid
individual, Mr. Varley Howard, the well-known gambler; but when
they recognized him, they gathered round him with sympathetic and
curious glances and questions.

“Riding a race against time, Varley?” said one.

“Anybody’s house afire?” inquired another.

“What’s yer hurry, Varley?” demanded a third.

Varley slid from his horse.

“Is the bank closed?” he asked in a voice rendered dry and husky
by the clouds of dust through which he’d passed like the Spirit
of Life or Death, by the terrible exertion crowded into those few
short hours.

“Just closing,” said one. “What’s the matter, Varley?”

“Nothing,” said Varley, languidly. “I want eighteen pence to pay a
man who’s hard up.”

The crowd was quick to appreciate the repartee, and laughed with
keen enjoyment.

“Take my horse and wash him down, and give him as much oats as he
can eat,” said Varley; then he passed into the bank.

The manager was at the counter, and received him with a smile of
fellowship and the air of respect which were always unquestioningly
and freely accorded to Mr. Varley Howard.

“Give me a hundred and sixty pounds in gold--and quick!” said
Varley.

The manager looked at him in surprise, but a little exclamation of
Varley’s, scarcely a word, not much more than a breath, spurred
the manager to haste. He counted out the gold and put it in a bag,
which Varley consigned to his pocket. Then, with a “Thanks; hot,
isn’t it?” he walked out. His reappearance was of course greeted
with numerous offers to drink. Varley went to the nearest pub and
tossed off a glass of whisky and water, then he rolled a cigarette
and smoked it deliberately. His admirers watched him with curious
and worshiping regard.

“Been killin’ any one, Varley, and want to provide for the widow?”
asked one. “Where have you come from?”

“From Three Star,” said Varley, quietly. “I left there at two
o’clock this morning.”

From any other man the assertion would have been received with
incredulous amusement; but Varley’s word was always ever so much
better than any other man’s bond, and the group stared at him with
amazement. He finished his cigarette and sauntered out. Half an
hour later he was mounted on his mare, who looked as if she had
just come fresh from the stable after a week’s rest, and was going
at an easy swing out of the embryo town.

As rider and horse were disappearing in a cloud of dust, the
Ballarat coach drove in. The coachman--no other than Johnson,
the phlegmatic--nodded toward the disappearing horseman, and,
addressing a gentleman who sat beside him, remarked:

“There goes the best man we’ve got on show in these parts.” The
gentleman to whom he spoke turned a somewhat pale and weary face to
the coachman.

“Who is he?” he asked.

“Mr. Varley Howard,” answered Johnson.

Trafford, for it was he, started slightly.

“Varley Howard?” he repeated, mechanically.

“Yes,” said Johnson. “He’s just ridden in. He ain’t made much of a
stay. I heard at the stables that there was some trouble at Three
Star--something in which his ward, Esmeralda, was concerned.”

Trafford almost rose from his seat.

“Esmeralda!” he exclaimed, half unconsciously.

“Yes,” said Johnson. “It must be something to do with her, or you
wouldn’t find Varley Howard moving at this rate. She came out with
my coach six weeks ago or thereabouts. We was ‘put up’ by the Dog’s
Ear men, and Varley saved us.”

“And Esmeralda--this lady?” asked Trafford, with a tightening of
the lips.

“Oh, she was safe enough. Varley brought her down to the camp, and
they gave her a reception that took the cake! What’s happened to
her now, I don’t rightly know.”

Trafford leaned back and wiped his brow, and something like a groan
escaped his lips. She was here, then!



CHAPTER XXXIX.


Trafford looked before him, his eyes fixed sternly, his lips drawn.

Yes, he had been right! She was here, and Norman was with her.
His heart was torn with jealousy and rage--and love. For he loved
her still. He had had time to think on the outward journey, and
the more he thought, the more easy it had become for him to find
excuses for Esmeralda. He thought of her, a wild, uncultivated
girl, ignorant of the world into which she had been flung by a whim
of capricious fortune.

During those weeks spent on the boundless sea in perpetual reverie,
in endless brooding, he had learned to realize something of what
she had suffered when she discovered that she had been married, as
she supposed, for her money alone. He could understand why she had
refused to believe that he had grown to love her, and how easily
she had believed that he loved Ada Lancing.

He could make excuses for her, but none for Norman. Against Norman
his heart surged with a bitter fury and thirst for vengeance.

The journey had tried him a great deal, and he was looking
thinner than ever, and haggard and worn. He had avoided his
fellow-passengers; had, indeed, scarcely spoken to them, and the
weeks of solitude and painful self-communing had given his face
an expression of sternness which indicated his grim resolution to
follow Esmeralda and Norman, though it were to the other end of the
world, and punish the latter.

He sat beside Johnson, the driver, with his arms folded tightly,
his brows knit, and Johnson glanced at him now and again, and then
whistled softly to his horses. He did not know what to make of him.
A question trembled on Trafford’s lips, and at last he put it.

“You say Miss--Howard--this young lady--traveled by your coach some
time ago. Was she accompanied by a gentleman?”

Johnson didn’t like being pumped by this stranger with the stern
and handsome face.

“Can’t say,” he said, nonchalantly. “She might ha’ been, or she
might not. I don’t take partickler notice of my passengers so long
as they’ve got their tickets all right; an’ if I did,” he added,
“I shouldn’t mouth about ’em to the first stranger as asked me
questions.”

A faint flush rose to Trafford’s brow.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “You are quite right.”

Johnson was a little mollified.

“To tell you the truth, I can’t say,” he said. “She might ha’ been,
or she might ha’ been met at the crossing where the scrimmage took
place. There was such a flare-up, what with the shoutin’ and the
shootin’, that I got ’em mixed in my mind.”

Trafford asked no more questions. Why should he? He felt certain
that he should find Esmeralda and Norman together.

When they reached the coaching station where the road to Three Star
branched off, Johnson pointed to it.

“That’s your road,” he said.

“Is there no coach, no vehicle, to take me?” asked Trafford.

“Nary one,” said Johnson, coolly. “You’ll have to hire a horse here
an’ take yer luggage in front of you, or leave it an’ get some of
the Three Star boys to drive over for it.”

Trafford walked into the hut which was dignified by the name of
station, and looked round for a horse.

He succeeded in hiring one, and was preparing to start, when
Johnson, who had been regarding him curiously, laid a huge hand
upon his shoulder.

“Ain’t yer goin’ to have somethin’ to eat an’ drink?” he said, not
unkindly, as he looked at the worn face. “It’s a long ride to Three
Star, an’ to my knowledge you’ve had neither bite nor sup for a
devil of a time.”

Trafford shook his head.

“Well, I say you shall drink, at any rate,” said Johnson, quietly;
and he called for a glass of whisky and water.

Trafford drank it, more to please the man than because he
acknowledged the need of it, and Johnson, tossing the empty glass
to a stable help, said:

“Have you got yer revolver all fixed up? You may need it; there’s
some rough characters about, an’ they’re fond of target practice.”

Trafford smiled and touched the revolver in his belt. Johnson eyed
the spare but muscular figure clad in the rough and semi-digger
clothes which Trafford had procured at Ballarat, and nodded
approvingly.

“You’ll do,” he said. “I don’t know what yer business is at Three
Star, an’ I don’t want to know, but I’ll bet yer’ll carry it
through!” and he held out his paw.

Trafford shook it, and getting into his saddle, rode off. His
heart beat fast as he found himself galloping along the Three Star
road. Along this road Esmeralda must have often traveled. As he
looked round upon the wide-stretching plains with their background
of towering hills, the whole place seemed to breathe to him of
Esmeralda. He could picture her, a slim and graceful girl, not
clad in the costly raiment of a London ball-room, but in the short
blue skirt and wide felt hat which she had so often described to
him. He could understand how strange and bewildering to her must
have been the change from these wild solitudes to the whirlpool
of fashionable life; how bitterly she must have contrasted the
falseness, the selfishness, the self-seeking of his aristocratic
set with the simple natures of the rough but honest and genuine
folk with whom she had been brought up.

As he rode on, the scenery grew more beautiful and seemed to him
still more eloquent of her presence; seemed, in its loveliness,
to be part and parcel of the beautiful girl whom he had held in
his hands but to let slip and lose forever. He was so touched by
his thoughts, that once or twice he found himself breathing her
name softly and sadly. The horse was a good one, and carried him
quite easily; he paid little attention to his way, so absorbed was
he in his reverie, and when he suddenly found himself at a part
of the road from which forks branched right and left, he pulled
up, realizing that he had forgotten the precise directions which
Johnson had given him.

He was in a dilemma. It would be night before very long, and it
behooved him to reach the camp without delay. He looked from right
to left with a puzzled frown; then it struck him that he would let
the horse choose; no doubt it had often traveled the road before.
The horse, after a moment’s hesitation, chose the left fork--and
the wrong one.

Trafford rode on and found the road rougher than the one he had
left, and more winding. After a time it dwindled to a mere track;
but Trafford had no serious misgivings, for he thought that there
would not be any very great traffic between Three Star and the
station, and he trusted, in this case wrongly, to his horse. But
presently the horse stopped and looked vaguely from side to side,
as a horse will do when it wonders what its master would be at.

Trafford did not like to turn back, for he was as uncertain about
the other road as he was concerning this, and it occurred to him
that the track must lead somewhere, so he put the horse to a trot
and rode on. After covering some miles, the track mounted a hill to
escape a torrent, and then, to Trafford’s disappointment, dipped
down again toward the valley.

Half-way down he pulled up to consider. The solitude was intense,
and, to a man fresh from the crowds of England, somewhat
awe-inspiring. The mountains towered above him, the torrent roared
in the valley below, a bird rose from the undergrowth and darted
upward with a shrill cry.

As he sat upon his horse and gazed round him, he thought of his
past life and all its follies. What was human ambition and all
its vexing vanities worth in this vast solitude? He thought of
Esmeralda, and his heart ached for his wife as only a strong man’s
can ache. If she were only by his side now, to share with him the
mystic beauty of this scene, the solitude would then be transformed
to a paradise like to that in which our forefather and foremother
moved and loved.

As the reflection lingered in his mind, he heard the soft thud,
thud of horses’ feet. It came so softly as to seem rather a part of
his waking dreams than reality. He sat motionless for a moment or
two; then he remembered the driver’s warning, and, dismounting from
his horse, cautiously drew it behind a projecting rock, and watched
and listened.

He had been sitting motionless so long that it was not likely the
new-comer would be aware of his presence. As he leaned against the
saddle, he wondered who this sharer of his solitude could be. The
thud, thud came nearer, and presently, in the clear evening air,
Trafford saw emerging from behind a clump of trees the horse and
rider. He did not move a muscle--not even when he saw that the
rider was a woman.

He did not move or cry out even when he saw that the woman was
Esmeralda.

As a matter of fact, he did not believe his eyes. He had eaten
nothing since the morning; his nerves were overstrained; the
solitude had wrought its influence upon him. In simple truth, he
thought that he was looking upon a vision of the imagination--a
vision called up by the aching longing in his heart, by his nervous
and overwrought condition.

Vision or reality, she was passing before him. He could see the
exquisite outline of her profile, could catch the glimpse of the
red-gold hair that hung in tangled confusion upon her shoulders.

She was dressed in the short skirt and blue blouse in which he had
pictured her all the way along. She looked weary, and there was
something of anxiety figured in the graceful, drooping form.

She was riding down the slope and away from him. In another moment
or two she would have disappeared. With a sob he stretched out his
arms toward her and breathed her name, but so softly that the still
air carried it only a few yards.

Then suddenly the reality of her presence began to dawn upon him.
He started upright, with his hand upon the saddle, ready to spring
upon the horse and follow her; but as he did so he heard the thud
of another horse coming from the direction in which she was going,
and he stood stock-still and waited, his heart beating so fast that
it seemed as if about to leap from his bosom.

The sound came nearer, and it was evident that Esmeralda, if indeed
it was she, heard it also, for she pulled up her horse and raised
her head in a listening and expectant attitude.

After a moment or two, which seemed an age to Trafford, a horseman
came in sight, saw Esmeralda, and pulled up his animal almost upon
its haunches. Trafford saw the two regard each other for a moment,
then the horseman sprung from his saddle, and rushing forward,
caught Esmeralda as she seemed about to fall, and Trafford heard
her voice exclaim with joy, a world of joy and relief:

“Norman!”

Trafford stood motionless as a stone, then he reeled, and, as he
clutched the bridle, uttered a cry of rage and anguish.

He was right; he had found them together.

Esmeralda and Norman heard the cry, and both turned their heads in
his direction, but he was completely hidden behind the rocks, and
they saw nothing of him.

“Quick! Mount, Esmeralda!” said Norman. “Be brave, dear girl!” and
he put her in the saddle and gained his own. Holding her bridle, he
led her away at a hard gallop, leaving the solitary figure dazed
and rendered incapable of movement by the paroxysm of wounded love
and furious jealousy which possessed him as by a devil.

Norman and Esmeralda rode on for some time in compulsory silence,
then, when they heard no sound of pursuers, Esmeralda turned to him:

“Norman! You here?” she panted.

“Yes, Esmeralda,” he said, breathlessly. “I’m here. Did you think
I should not come after you? Did you think I should not know where
you had gone when you took flight?”

Esmeralda sighed.

“Oh, Norman!” she breathed, “but why did you come?”

“I came to clear up this hideous mistake, to take you back,” he
said.

“Mistake?” she whispered.

“Yes,” he exclaimed. “But I will tell you all about it, everything,
when I have got you to a place of safety, when we have reached
Three Star. Tell me what has happened to you. I only reached the
camp just before you were carried away, just in time to join in the
search for you.”

Esmeralda pushed the hair from her brow with a weary, almost
bewildered gesture.

“It all seems like a dream, a horrible dream,” she said; and slowly
and with many breaks she gave him an account of her capture,
detention in the hut, and escape.

Norman regarded her with wondering admiration.

“Is there any woman in the world so brave as you are, Esmeralda?”
he exclaimed. “And you, a slip of a girl--I beg your pardon,
dear--managed to get away from a ruffian like that, with a woman to
help him! But that was hours ago. Why did you not ride straight to
the camp?”

Esmeralda shook her head.

“It would not have been safe,” she said. “They would guess that
I should do that, and would have followed and overtaken me. As it
was, Simon came back and followed on my track, and I had to break
it short by taking the horse up the stream and going into the wood.
I lay hid there for hours; twice he passed me almost close, and
it was not until I saw him ride back across the hill that I dared
venture to make for the camp. Then I lost my way, and have been
wandering about for--oh, I do not know how long. Perhaps I must
have got in the direction of the hut again, and no doubt that was
Simon we heard cry out just now.”

“Then why did he not follow, or fire on us?” said Norman.

“I don’t know,” she said, wearily. “He may have been afraid, seeing
you.”

“Or he may have gone back for help,” said Norman. “We must ride on.”

“Won’t you tell me something about--about Lilias?” said Esmeralda
in a low and faltering voice.

“Lilias is quite well,” said Norman, with sudden color. “But it is
about Trafford I want to tell you.”

“Trafford!”

Her voice was scarcely audible, and it quivered as it spoke the
beloved name.

“Yes,” he said. “But I will not tell you any more until you are
quite safe, and have rested. You are too overdone and exhausted
now. But, Esmeralda, it will all come right.” He laid his hand
upon hers. “How glad they will be to see you at the camp! I can’t
tell you the state they were in until Varley and I found that
scoundrel’s note.”

“What note?” asked Esmeralda.

“The note saying that he held you to ransom, and that he would give
you up on payment of two hundred pounds. ‘The fool!’ as Taffy said;
‘we would have given him two thousand, twenty thousand!’ and he
laughed. ‘Three Star would willingly pay every penny it possessed
to recover its Esmeralda.’”

“I didn’t know that he had made that offer,” said Esmeralda. “Then
I need not have escaped, if I had known it; and need not have
frightened that poor woman out of her wits. I had only to wait
where I was.”

“Yes,” said Norman. “But you’ve got the better of them. Varley will
have had his ride for nothing.”

“His ride?”

“Yes. When we found the note we made a collection, and could only
scrape up about fifty pounds. Unfortunately, the bank agent had
taken all the gold from the camp the day previously. So Varley
started off for Wally-Wally to get the balance, and he was to take
the two hundred to a place called the Raven Claim to-night. It’s
a tremendous ride, and some of the boys are in deadly fear that
he won’t do it; but I’ll back Varley. They wanted to surround the
place in a body, but I dissuaded them from that course. I felt sure
that Simon would take precautions. I was afraid that any attempt to
rescue you might place you in danger.”

“Varley! Raven Claim! To-night!” she murmured. “Then he’s going
there now?”

Norman nodded, and laughed.

“Yes; and they’ll be sold! You’ll be safe in camp by that time.”

But Esmeralda did not laugh. Instead, she uttered a cry, and pulled
up her horse.

“What’s the matter?” asked Norman, whose masculine brain did not
move as quickly as Esmeralda’s.

“Don’t you see!” she almost wailed. “He will go there with the
money--they will be waiting for him--he will not believe that I
have escaped, and think that they mean to trick him. They will set
on him for the money! He will be killed! Oh, Varley, Varley!” she
panted in broken sentences.

“My God!” said Norman. “I never thought of that! What is to be
done?”

“There is only one thing to do,” said Esmeralda. “We must ride for
the claim. We must get there before Varley. We must! we must!”

“No--no,” said Norman; “I will go alone. You are not fit--you must
stay here or make for the camp.”

Esmeralda laughed hysterically in his face.

“And leave Varley?” she said. “No; I must be there to give myself
up. Oh, don’t talk, don’t argue! He may be riding to his death at
this very moment! Come, I know the way;” and in a frenzy of love
and terror she struck her tired horse into a gallop.



CHAPTER XL.


By the time Trafford had recovered from the emotion which had
produced the inaction of stupor, Esmeralda and Norman had ridden
out of sight and sound. Trafford got into his saddle and rode after
them, but he was inexperienced in Australian locomotion, and before
he had ridden very far in blundering haste across the thick and
knotted undergrowth, his horse made a false step and threw him.

There was no great harm done, and Trafford picked himself up,
shook himself, and mounted again. But by this time the pair he was
pursuing had completely vanished and had left no clew behind them.
His horse, though uninjured by its fall, was not rendered more
cheerful by the mishap, and did not evince any very great interest
in the proceedings, but went along rather sullenly for a time.
Presently, however, he pricked up his ears and quickened his pace.
It was evident that he had been made aware, either by the sense of
smell or hearing, of the proximity of some human being or friendly
animal.

Trafford, quivering with excitement and a mixture of emotions, let
the horse have its head, and the animal trotted quickly down the
slope to the valley below. At a sudden bend in the track--if it
could be called track--Trafford caught sight of a small stream,
the ground near which had been broken and disturbed by the hand of
man. He conjectured that this must be the site of an abandoned camp
or gold-digging, and the conjecture proved correct, for he came
presently upon a ruined hut standing amidst some deserted claims.

He pulled up, or rather the horse stopped of its own accord, and
Trafford looked round. He appeared to be alone, amidst the _débris_
of the camp. Here and there were signs of life and activity which
had ebbed away; a broken wheelbarrow, a rusty pick, shovels bent
and twisted, and planks half hidden by the weeds that had grown
round them, lay about in dismal confusion. The whole place, with
its air of desertion, was weird and depressing, and Trafford,
in his weary and high-strung condition, could scarcely repress
a shudder. He wondered why the horse had brought him there, for
though he listened intently and looked about him keenly, he could
neither see nor hear any sign of the presence of any human being
save himself.

He dismounted, and loosely fastening the bridle to a tree, so that
the horse could feed, entered the hut. It was in ruins, and looked
as if it had been left hastily. Trafford half hoped that he might
find some remnant of food, but there was nothing of the kind. He
went down to the stream and got a drink of water, and threw himself
down to wait until the horse had rested and he could resume his
journey.

He felt that he would be wise to remain the night there, but the
place depressed him, and it seemed to him that he could know
no rest until he had found Norman and Esmeralda. He lay, with
his head upon his hand, watching the horse and still feeling
half stupefied, when suddenly he knew that something alive was
approaching him. It was dusk now, it would soon be dark. He peered
into the shadow of the bush from whence the sound came, and his
hand sought his revolver. A moment or two later a tall, well-built
figure emerged from the bush and approached the hut, a horse
followed at a little distance with drooping head, as if too weary
for anything save following in his master’s footsteps.

Varley, for it was he, walked to the hut and entered.

He came out a moment afterward, and Trafford, who could now see his
face plainly, was struck by its well-bred air as well as by its
pallor and the expression of stern resolution which seemed to mask
anxiety.

Varley looked round about him searchingly, then sunk on to the
upturned wheelbarrow, sighed, and removing his hat, wiped the
perspiration from his brow. He had all the appearance of waiting
for some one.

Trafford watched him closely, and he felt convinced that this
man was neither a bushranger nor a common digger. At this moment
Trafford’s horse neighed a greeting to Varley’s, and Varley sprung
to his feet.

Trafford, knowing that concealment was no longer possible, rose and
walked toward the hut. At the sound of his footsteps, Varley turned
and confronted him.

He had expected to see Simon, and he stared at Trafford with
surprise for a moment, as if too astonished to speak. Then he
raised his hat, and said, in a voice husky with the dust of the
long journey, but with his usual languid manner:

“Good-evening.”

Trafford raised his hat in response.

“Good-evening,” he said.

The two men stood looking at each other as two men meeting, perfect
strangers and in such a place, must necessarily look; and though
neither touched his revolver, each was ready to draw and fire.

It seemed to Trafford that he had seen the tall, well-knit figure
before, but he did not identify it, for the moment, with the
horseman Johnson, the driver, had pointed out.

He was the first to speak; the silence between them was becoming
unendurable.

“I am a stranger here,” he said, “and I have lost my way.”

Varley glanced round.

“That is not at all difficult,” he said.

“No,” assented Trafford. “What place is this?”

“It is called Raven Claim,” answered Varley.

As he spoke, it flashed across his mind that Simon had stipulated
that only one person should be sent with the ransom. No doubt he
had Esmeralda concealed somewhere near, and was waiting to see what
the presence of two men meant.

He, Varley, must get rid of this stranger as quickly as possible.

“May I ask what place you were making for?” he said.

“Three Star Camp,” replied Trafford.

Varley did not start, but he glanced keenly from under his long
lashes at the worn and weary face.

“Three Star Camp?” he repeated. “You are a long way from there.”

“I feared so,” said Trafford.

“Yes,” said Varley. “Are you anxious to reach it to-night?”

He looked, as he spoke, at the dust-stained figure and pale face.

“I am very anxious to do so,” said Trafford. “I wish to reach it at
the first possible moment, and I shall be extremely obliged if you
will direct me.”

“It is not easy to direct you,” said Varley, “but I will endeavor
to do so. You appear to have had a long ride?”

“I have,” said Trafford, “and I am almost knocked up; but I must
reach Three Star to-night.”

Varley drew a silver flask from his pocket and held it out.

“Will you have a drink?” he said.

Trafford took it gratefully.

“Don’t spare it,” said Varley; and he rolled up a cigarette and
watched Trafford, who had seated himself upon the trunk of a felled
tree, and was sipping the spirit as a tired man sips who is seeking
a stimulant and tonic to enable him to undergo fresh exertion.

“Will you have a cigarette?” asked Varley in his slow and languid
way.

“Thank you,” said Trafford, with a faint smile. “I think that will
do me as much good as your excellent whisky.”

Varley handed him the pouch and paper, but Trafford’s hands were
shaking, and Varley, saying, “Permit me,” took them from him and
rolled a cigarette, offering his own for a light, and watched
Trafford smoke, with that sense of satisfaction which we all feel
when we are playing the part of the Good Samaritan.

“I am very grateful to you,” said Trafford, after a silence,
broken only by the breathing of the two horses and the shrill cry
of a bird fishing in the stream. “May I ask your name?”

“My name is Howard--Varley Howard,” said Varley.

Trafford started, with his cigarette half-way to his mouth.

“Varley Howard?” he echoed. “Of Three Star Camp?”

“Of Three Star Camp, and very much at your service,” said Varley,
with his little drawl. “May I ask the same question?”

Trafford rose.

“My name is Belfayre,” he said.

Varley’s fingers closed over his cigarette, and the red flamed in
his face for a second, to leave it deathly pale.

“The Duke of Belfayre?” he said in a perfectly expressionless voice.

“Yes; I am the Duke of Belfayre,” said Trafford.

There was a moment’s silence, Varley breathing hard and looking
just above Trafford’s head. The blood was beginning to burn in his
veins as Esmeralda’s wrongs rose before him. This man standing
there was the man who had deceived her and wrecked the child’s life.

“It seems I am not unknown to you, Mr. Howard.”

Varley drew a long breath.

“You are not,” he said. “I have heard of you. Will you think me
impertinently inquisitive if I ask your business in Three Star?”

The blood began to mount to Trafford’s face.

“You have every right to ask me that question, Mr. Howard. It is my
duty to answer. I have come in search of my wife.”

“My ward--adopted daughter?”

Trafford inclined his head.

“Yes; I am in search of her, Mr. Howard,” he said.

“What do you want with her?” asked Varley; and if Trafford had
known him he would have recognized the ominous significance of his
quiet, languid tone.

It was a strange question to put to a husband, and for a moment
Trafford could find no answer.

“Surely that lies between her and me,” he said at last.

Varley’s dark eyes flashed.

“Pardon me,” he said, with frigid courtesy. “My ward has left you;
she is under my protection.”

Trafford’s eyes flashed across to the other man.

“Yes, she has left me,” he repeated; “but I am desirous of finding
her, and I am going to Three Star for that purpose.”

“You will waste your time,” said Varley. “She is not there.”

“That is a lie!” said Trafford, deliberately.

Varley’s hand went to his revolver; but he checked himself, and,
with a smile which would have made any man who knew him tremble,
raised his hat an inch or two.

“Your grace is polite,” he said.

“I spoke the truth,” said Trafford. “When she left England and me
she fled to Three Star with a man who had stolen her from me.”

“Permit me to repeat your elegant retort, and remark, ‘That is a
lie!’” said Varley.

“It is the truth,” said Trafford. “I have seen them here--together.”

Varley raised his brows.

“You appear to be laboring under a strange delusion, your grace,”
he said, with sardonic courtesy. “You appear, also, to forget that,
though Esmeralda is, or was, your wife, she was, and still is, my
ward, and that I have the right to repel any false accusation you
make against her.”

Trafford looked at him without speaking for a moment; then he said,
hoarsely:

“When I say that she has come to Three Star with a man with whom
she fled from me, I speak the truth, and you know it. I have seen
them together.”

“And I say again--you lie!” said Varley. “Esmeralda came to Three
Star to claim my protection from the man who had married her
and betrayed her. Stop--do not speak! It is my call, I believe.
I have wanted to meet you very badly, my lord duke. I have had
something on my mind that I wanted to say to you, and Providence
has granted my wish. You will have to listen to what I have to
say. My child”--his cool, almost nonchalant voice very nearly
broke--“Esmeralda, left me and the people among whom she had been
brought up, and who loved her, in a way that you could scarcely
understand, a happy, light-hearted girl. She went to England and
met you and your kind, and you took advantage of her innocence and
her ignorance of your world, and tricked and trapped her as we over
here trick and entrap some wild and helpless bird. You married
her for her money; you cared nothing for her. No doubt you made
a jest of your success and laughed among yourselves. Having got
possession of her money, you lost no time in breaking her heart.”

Trafford stood rigid and motionless, the big drops of sweat
gathering on his brow.

“But you were not satisfied with that; you must needs cover her
with shame and dishonor. You accuse her of being a vile and
abandoned woman, and you come here to press your charge and torment
her further. My lord duke, you could not have come to a better
place. If you had searched the world over you could not have found
a man better fitted to thrust the lie down your throat. Esmeralda
has been to me like a daughter of my own. I know what she was; I
know what she is--the purest and best of women--and I tell you that
you are a liar and a scoundrel!”

Trafford extended his hand half imploringly, half defiantly.

“Wait!” he said, hoarsely. “Listen to me. I--I can bear with you--”

Varley laughed.

“Bear with me!”

“Yes. For you have loved her as I loved her until--until she was
false to me.”

“False to you?” echoed Varley. “If she had been, it was no more
than you deserved. But I will answer for her purity with my last
breath. I know nothing of her story; I have never asked her, and
she has never told me, but I would believe her word against all
the dukes in Christendom. You married her for her money; you have
broken her heart; you have followed her here to inflict further
torture upon her. My lord duke, you have gone a step too far. You
have to deal with me, Varley Howard, her guardian, the man who
has loved her as a father, who will stand up for her truth and
innocence against a world of d----d dukes!”

Trafford again made a gesture, half of entreaty, half of defiance.

Varley caught his breath.

“Ever since she came back to Three Star, I have longed to meet
you. I have lain awake, tortured by the desire to grasp you by the
throat and call you to account. I am not a religious man, but I
have prayed, actually _prayed_ for this hour. And it has come!”

Trafford stood erect and fearless, the blood surging in his face.
The two men gazed at each other, watching each other as two wild
animals might watch before the struggle of life and death.

Varley was the first to recover his composure.

“I have said my say, your grace,” he said, with a return to his
old languid _sang-froid_. “I imagine that you have nothing to say
in response, and that you plead guilty. I suppose in your world
a woman’s heart counts for little, and that, if you break it, a
graceful apology is considered all that is necessary. Out here, in
this wild, God-forsaken place, we judge differently. We hold that
a woman’s broken heart demands some reparation--and punishment. I
demand that reparation and penalty. You and I, my lord duke, have a
long and bitter account to settle. We will settle it here and now,
if you please.”

Trafford looked at him with knit brows.

“What do you mean?” he asked, hoarsely.

“I mean,” said Varley, attempting to roll a cigarette but failing,
“I mean that only one of us shall leave this place alive. You are
a gentleman and a nobleman, and therefore, I presume, a good shot.
I also am accounted a fair one. We are therefore equal. We will
measure out twenty paces--and fight at that.”

As he spoke, he drew his revolver from his belt and examined it
with almost a listless air. It seemed as if in his own mind he were
quite sure that he should exact the full penalty he deemed payable.

Trafford stood stock-still for a moment, then he too drew his
revolver.

As Varley turned to measure the distance, a man came from behind
the hut. It was Simon. He stood and stared at the other two with
undisguised astonishment. Varley nodded to him.

“Where is Esmeralda?” he asked.

“Escaped,” said Simon, coolly.

Varley expressed no astonishment, but a faint smile flashed for a
moment over his face.

“You Dog’s Ear men are unlucky,” he said. “I’ve brought the money;
but if she’s gone you can’t claim it.”

“That’s so,” said Simon, with the phlegm of his kind. “But what
does this mean?” and he looked curiously from Trafford to Howard.

Varley smiled.

“This gentleman and I have met and had a little difference,” he
said. “And we have decided to settle it here and now. You have come
just in time, and can act as umpire.”

Simon looked confused and bewildered for a moment. Then his face
cleared. For a fight of any kind, with or without weapons, is
always a precious thing to a man, wild or tame.

“Is that so?” he said, addressing Trafford.

“It is so,” said Varley; “you may take my word for it. Measure out
twenty paces, will you?”

Simon strode twenty paces, and the two men took up their positions.

Varley tossed his silk handkerchief to Simon.

“Count three and throw it in the air,” he said. “You understand?”
he added, addressing Trafford.

Trafford inclined his head. He scarcely realized what was
happening, and yet he felt the rude justice of it. It was true that
he had married Esmeralda for her money, and, so far, Varley Howard
was only exacting his right.

Well, so be it. As for him, Trafford, now that he had lost
Esmeralda, death would be welcome.

He looked at his revolver, braced himself to the occasion, as the
French say, and stood pale and erect. He knew what he intended to
do: he would fire above Varley’s head.

“Are you ready?” asked Simon, with the handkerchief in his hand.

“Quite ready,” responded Varley in his most languid tones.

“I am ready,” said Trafford, hoarsely.

Simon looked from one to the other.

“Can’t this be settled?” he asked.

“No!” said Varley, sternly. “This man and I have got a long account
to square.”

“All right!” said Simon, phlegmatically. “One, two, three!”

As he uttered the word “three,” Esmeralda rode down through the
bush. She pulled up almost within reach of the combatants, sat for
an instant as if turned to stone, then flung herself from her horse
and upon Trafford’s breast.

At that same moment Simon dropped the fatal handkerchief, and
Varley fired.

A cry, a sob, went up to Heaven, and Trafford, who had not fired at
all, was in time to catch Esmeralda’s sinking form to his heart.



CHAPTER XLI.


As Esmeralda sunk unconscious against Trafford’s breast, a sharp
cry of horror rose from Varley, and was echoed by Norman, who
came up a moment or two afterward. The revolver dropped from
Varley’s hand, and he stood staring before him with ashen face and
quivering lips. She had come between him and Trafford at the very
moment Varley pulled the trigger; there had not even been time for
him to divert his aim.

For an instant or two not one of them was capable of realizing what
had happened; then, with cry of anguish, Trafford pressed Esmeralda
to him, and looked down into her face, which was as composed as if
by the hand of death. He saw a line of red trickling over the bosom
of her dress, and a groan burst from his lips.

“My God, you’ve killed her!” he exclaimed, hoarsely.

Varley came up with uncertain steps, but Trafford half turned away
with his precious burden, as if to prevent Varley from touching
her. Norman stood shaking and trembling, and it was Simon who,
being the least interested, retained his presence of mind, said:

“P’r’aps she isn’t killed; let us see!”

Trafford knelt down, and with her head still upon his breast,
unfastened her blouse.

The blood was oozing from a little wound in her shoulder; he could
feel her heart beat, though faintly, under his hand.

“She ain’t dead,” said Simon, judging by the swift look of
unspeakable relief upon Trafford’s face. “I thought as how Varley
Howard aimed too high to hit her mortal, like. It’s lucky for you,
mister, that she come a-tween you, or you’d been a dead ’un. She’s
saved your life--if she’s lost her own.”

Varley knelt on the other side of Esmeralda in speechless agony.
Simon turned to Norman.

“What’s to be done?” he asked. “They two have lost their wits, and
you and me will have to act.”

“We must get her to some place of shelter,” said Norman, huskily.

“That’s so,” said Simon. “If you’ll wait here, I’ll go and fetch my
man; we’ll make a kind of litter and carry her to the hut--p’r’aps
we could fix up something out of the things lying about here,” and
he looked round.

“Yes--yes, for God’s sake, let us do something!” said Norman.

With some of the _débris_ and a couple of planks from the hut they
constructed a litter, Varley assisting them in a kind of stupor.
When they carried it to where Trafford still held Esmeralda in his
arms, he looked up with bewildered eyes.

“She is alive--she is alive!” he said.

He did not seem to be aware of Norman’s presence, to be conscious
of anything but the limp figure lying in his arms. He made a pillow
of his coat, and they placed Esmeralda upon the litter and started
for the hut, Trafford, as he bore one corner of the stretcher,
bending over her with a distraught gaze. They went slowly, picking
every step, and almost in silence. Varley walked with bent head and
shoulders, crushed by this last blow from the hand of Fate.

They reached the hut at last, and the woman, hearing their steps,
came out to meet them; she uttered one cry at sight of the
motionless figure of the brave girl, then helped them place her on
the bed and silently drew a curtain before it. Trafford sunk on a
chair and hid his face in his hands; Varley leaned against the wall
as if utterly exhausted, as indeed he was; Simon looked from one to
the other grimly.

“I’ll trouble you for that two hundred, Varley Howard,” he said,
laconically.

Varley started, drew the bag containing the money from his pocket,
and handed it to him without a word.

The woman came from behind the curtain.

“She’s alive,” she said in a low voice, and with her eyes fixed
upon the ground. “You’d better fetch a doctor.”

“I will go,” said Norman, abruptly.

Both Trafford and Varley started as if to go also; but Norman waved
them back.

“No, no; you stay here. She may want you, if she comes to.”

As he hurried out of the hut, Simon followed him, and Varley and
Trafford were left alone.

Presently Trafford felt a tingling sensation in his arm, and saw
that the blood was oozing from under his shirt-sleeve, but he paid
no attention to it.

Varley went outside, and paced up and down. He saw now that
Esmeralda still loved her husband, and that if he had shot him,
he would have broken her heart, and so, perhaps, have killed her
one way as surely as he had, in all probability, killed her with a
bullet. Every now and then he went into the hut and gazed at the
curtain with a terrible anxiety, and on one occasion he noticed the
blood dropping from Trafford’s arm, and he pointed to it.

“You were hit?” he said.

Trafford looked stupidly at his arm.

“Yes; it is of no consequence,” he said, dully.

Varley got some water in a bowl, and offered to examine and bind
up the wound. Trafford made to repulse him for a moment, then
submitted with palpable indifference.

“It is a pity you didn’t kill me outright, Mr. Howard,” he said,
bitterly. “It would have been more merciful.”

Varley made no response, but bound up the wound as if he were
ministering to a close friend, and then went outside again.

The woman came from the bedside occasionally, but always with the
same report: Esmeralda was still unconscious.

The night passed; the dawn broke with exquisite beauty, and the sun
shone upon the white and haggard faces of the two men watching and
waiting with feverish and almost intolerable anxiety. Presently
they saw a party riding up the hill at a furious gallop; they were
Norman, the doctor, and Mother Melinda.

The doctor turned the men out, and went with Mother Melinda to the
bedside. Trafford withdrew to a little distance from the hut, and
sat with his face hidden in his hands, and Norman and Varley leaned
against a tree and waited silently for a time. Then Norman said,
with difficulty, as if there were a lump in his throat:

“It’s all my fault. If I had told you everything the night I
arrived, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Varley said nothing. He felt that if Esmeralda were to die, it
mattered little whose fault it was; the burden of her death would
lie upon his--Varley’s--soul forever.

After what seemed an interminable time, filled up with a suspense
beyond the power of words to describe, the door of the hut
opened and the doctor came out. The three men started forward
simultaneously. The doctor addressed Varley.

“She is still unconscious,” he said. “Keep up your heart, Varley;
the wound isn’t a mortal one. It isn’t the wound I’m afraid of;
it’s the shock to the system, and what has gone before. She was
dead beat when you--when this happened to her. She’d gone through
enough to knock up a strong man, let alone a woman, and she’s just
exhausted and played out.” He looked at Trafford as he said this,
and Trafford turned aside and stifled a groan. “You’re her husband,
sir, Lord Druce tells me. You’d better stay here. You, Varley, and
Lord Druce, had better get back to Three Star; I don’t want a crowd
round her, and you can do no good. I’ll give you a list of things I
want from the camp; you can send them by Taffy, in the spring-cart.
I shall move her down to the camp as soon as she’s fit.”

“She will recover?” exclaimed Norman, eagerly.

“I didn’t say that, young man,” said the doctor, pursing his lips.
“We shall see. If you think it’s an easy case you make a very
great mistake; as I said, I haven’t got to fight the wound alone;
there’s something behind that.”

Varley and Norman went toward their horses, which Simon, before
he left, had carefully tethered. Half-way, Varley paused and
looked round at Trafford, who was following the doctor to the hut.
Trafford stopped and waited, and the two men looked steadily at
each other.

“Our account is not yet settled, your grace,” said Varley, sternly.

Trafford inclined his head as if assenting.

“No--no!” said Norman in a kind of despair. “You neither of you
understand!” and he laid his hand upon Varley’s arm; but Varley
shook it off as he turned, and walked to his horse.

Trafford entered the hut. The two women had undressed Esmeralda,
and she lay like a flower, the red-gold hair framing her face and
streaming over the pillow; her eyes were closed, and she seemed
scarcely to breathe. She looked so “dead” that Trafford, as he
sunk on his knees beside the bed, shuddered, and had hard work to
repress the cry that rose to his lips. He would have taken the hand
that hung down so lifeless and laid it on his bosom, but the doctor
forbid it with a gesture.

“Don’t touch her,” he said. “There may be a glimmer of
consciousness in her somewhere, and I can’t have her startled.”

A silence fell upon the place, broken only by the whispering of
the two women as they moved about in ministration. The doctor
went in and out, always with that quiet gravity on his face which
the medical man wears in the presence of a “difficult” case. He
had brought his medicine-case with him, and once or twice he had
administered a few drops of something, and Trafford watched him as
if the precious life were depending upon him.

The hours passed by, hours fraught with such anguish as few men
have suffered. As he knelt there beside the girl who was his wife
only in name, Trafford had no thought for anything but his love for
her. He did not ask himself if she were guilty; at that moment he
did not care. If she had opened her lips and confessed her guilt,
he would not have cared. He loved her; and she had offered her life
for him. Yes. Whether she had ever loved him or not she had been
willing to die for him. There was no woman in the world like her,
guilty or not; and he loved her--loved her! It was all summed up in
that word. Honor, the desire for vengeance, were as nothing to him
now. If she should recover--if God should give her back to him, he
would hold her against Norman, against the whole world, no matter
what she had done, how deeply she had sinned.

Time passed unnoticed by him; he was in a kind of trance, and he
started when the doctor touched him upon the shoulder and beckoned
him from the bedside.

“You must have something to eat, my lord,” he said, eying Trafford
keenly.

Trafford shook his head and moved his hand impatiently.

“But I say you must,” said the doctor, with quiet determination.
“You’re looking almost as bad as she is; worse, in some ways.
Let me look at that arm of yours. H’m! Varley’s almost as good a
surgeon as he is a shot.”

Trafford took his arm away impatiently.

The doctor forced him into a chair, and motioned to the food which
the women had prepared.

“Eat, and try and look a little more cheerful,” he said. “If she
should wake and see that face of yours as it looks now, she’d think
it was a ghost, and get scared.”

Trafford forced himself to eat and drink, then went back to the
bedside.

Later on the cart arrived, then all was silent again. The day
passed, the shades of evening began to fall upon the valley below
as he sat and watched the white, lovely face.

The doctor was outside with the two women arranging the stores
which Taffy had brought. Trafford was alone with his girl-wife.

Suddenly he saw a faint color rise and spread over the white face,
her lips moved and quivered, and one hand, the one nearest him,
stirred like a wounded bird.

Trafford’s heart leaped, and he was about to rise from his knees
and fetch the doctor, but before he could do so, he heard her
speak, and her voice, so low as to be almost inaudible, chained him
to the spot.

“Trafford!” she breathed.

Trafford trembled at the sound of his name spoken with an infinite
tenderness.

“Trafford, don’t you think you could love me a little? I know that
I am ignorant and common, almost a savage compared with her, and
that you have loved her for a long time--but I am your wife, after
all, and I love you as well as she does.”

Trafford bit his lip to stifle the moan that would have expressed
the anguish of his heart; and not the anguish only, but a sudden
swift joy which ran through every vein like fire. She was speaking
in unconsciousness, speaking from her heart, the soul’s truth.

“You don’t believe me,” she went on, her brows contracting. “You
don’t believe me; you think that I am telling you a lie, that I
love some one else--who was it? I forget! I forget!” She moved her
head restlessly to and fro. “It is not true. I have never loved any
one in the world excepting you, Trafford, my husband. But you are
not my husband, are you? You only wanted my money, not me, and you
sent me away because you love Lady Ada.”

Trafford could bear no more. He rose and staggered out of the hut
and leaned against the wall, with his face upon his arm.

The doctor glanced at him and hurried inside, followed by the two
women. He came out again presently to fetch something from the
stores, and Trafford grasped his arm.

“How is she?” he demanded, hoarsely.

The doctor shook him off almost roughly.

“In a high fever, if you must know,” he said. “The battle’s just
beginning; keep outside here, and leave us to fight it.”

“You will save her? You must--you must! I tell you she must _not_
die! She loves me--she loves me! I know it now! You must save her!”

The doctor looked at the distorted face and wild eyes, and setting
down the bottle he had in his hand, took up another and poured out
a draught.

“Drink that,” he said. “Drink that, man! For God’s sake, calm
yourself, or I shall have a mad man, as well as a sick woman, on my
hands.”

Trafford raised the cup with trembling hands to his burning lips,
and pushed the hair, damp with sweat, from his brow.

The doctor led him to a mound under a tree.

“Lie down there, and try and sleep,” he said. “Keep quiet, at any
rate; if not for your own sake, for hers. If she should come to
and ask for you, and you presented yourself in your condition, I
wouldn’t answer for the consequences.”

Trafford sunk upon the mound and covered his face with his hands as
a sob shook him from head to foot.

“Yes, yes!” he said. “Tell her-- Oh, God! let me go to her the
moment she wakes!”



CHAPTER XLII.


The next day Trafford rigged up an apology for a tent under that
tree, and dwelt there while the doctor was carrying on the grim
fight with Death in the hut.

Sometimes Trafford stole in and gazed at the flushed face and
too brilliant eyes, and listened to the wild, delirious stream
that issued from the parched lips. His name was ever on those
lips--sometimes breathed with a passionate tenderness, sometimes
uttered imploringly, at others thrilling with womanly indignation;
and every time she spoke his name her voice went to Trafford’s
heart like a distinct stab.

He was bound up in her, heart and soul; he forgot everything but
this girl, whom he loved with a love which would turn his life to a
hell or a heaven. He forgot that he was the Duke of Belfayre, and
no more thought of writing home than he thought of leaving her.
Everything in the world might go, if she would only live and give
him back her love.

A deep anxiety sat upon Three Star. Men went about with grave faces
and preoccupied manner, and the gayety of the Eldorado saloon was
crushed out by the weight of suspense. Men spoke in hushed voices,
the tinkling piano was silent. No one had even the heart to fight.
Varley and Norman and several of the miners rode frequently to
the hut to make inquiries, and hung around on tiptoe, and with
suppressed voices. Presents innumerable were sent from the camp;
everything that Esmeralda could be supposed to fancy--the most
grotesque articles--arrived as tokens of Three Star’s love.

At the approach of visitors from the camp, Trafford invariably
disappeared; he could not endure to meet any one--least of all,
Varley and Norman. He had a reckoning to make with both, but he
postponed it. His anger against Norman had become dwarfed and
dulled by the vastness of his anxiety for Esmeralda. There was
no room in his heart for rage or jealousy, or any feeling but a
consuming love.

One evening, about a week later, he was leaning against a tree
beside his tent, when he saw the doctor coming from the hut.
Something in his gait, in the poise of his head, sent the blood
to Trafford’s face. He came forward eagerly, with the unspoken
question in his eyes.

The doctor nodded, with a little triumphant smile about his big,
strong mouth.

“Yes,” he said; “she’s better--”

Trafford staggered slightly and drew himself up and set his teeth
hard; good tidings are sometimes as difficult to bear as bad
tidings.

--“She is conscious, and the crisis is past. It’s been a terrible
struggle, and if she hadn’t had her youth and a devil of a strong
constitution, I should have lost this game.”

Trafford held out his hand; it trembled like a leaf; he tried to
force a smile.

“I won’t try to thank you, doctor,” he said.

“That’s all right,” said the doctor. “Besides, we aren’t out of the
wood yet. She’s fearfully weak, and there might be trouble still.”

“May I see her?” asked Trafford in a low voice.

“No,” said the doctor, bluntly. “You certainly may not; that would
about finish it. I came out to tell you so, and to advise you to go
away for a night. Take a ride, and try to get rid of that scared
face of yours. You still look too much like a ghost to present
yourself at a sick-bed. Why not go down to the camp and see the
boys? You might go to the Eldorado and get a drink or two; in fact,
I should advise you to get several drinks and make a night of it;
you’ll be all the better for it. Your mind’s been dwelling on one
thing; you’ve been harping on one string too long. Go down and have
a spree, join in a fight, if you like; anyway, get rid of that
undertaker expression; a black eye would be better than that.”

Trafford smiled.

“I will go down to the camp,” he said, almost humbly.

He followed the doctor to the door of the hut and stood and
listened in the hope that he might hear the beloved voice, but all
was still, and he went back and mounted his horse and rode toward
Three Star. The relief from the terrible suspense made him feel
almost light-headed, and he rode along in a kind of dream, looking
about him as if earth and sky were something new to him. Every now
and then he breathed her name. As he approached the camp, he saw
Varley just preparing to mount his horse; he was going to ride to
the hut. At sight of Trafford, he stopped and stood, with one arm
resting on the saddle, awaiting him. Trafford rode up, dismounted,
and raised his hat; Varley raised his, his dark eyes fixed sternly
on Trafford’s face.

“I have brought good news,” said Trafford. “The crisis is past; she
is better.”

A flush rose to Varley’s face and he turned his head aside to hide
his emotion; then he faced Trafford again.

“What do you mean to do, my lord?” he asked, sternly.

Trafford was silent, and Varley went on, speaking slowly, and as if
he had already prepared his words:

“I have a right to ask. I am her guardian. You have lost the right
which belonged to her husband; you have brought her nothing but
misery. Do you mean to continue to make her unhappy? The sight of
you must be almost as intolerable to her as it is to me. She fled
from you to me, to her old home. Do you mean to leave her quietly,
or not?”

“She shall decide,” said Trafford, gravely, almost solemnly. “I
acknowledge your right to ask me such a question. Not only because
you have been a father to her, but because I have brought so much
trouble upon you.”

“Yes,” said Varley in a broken voice, “not satisfied with breaking
her heart, you were the cause of my very nearly killing the being I
love better than my life.”

Trafford bowed his head.

“I know it,” he said. “Do you think I shall ever forget it? That is
why I have come to you now to tell you that I place myself in her
hands. I shall claim no right to her; I shall advance no plea; I
shall just leave my fate to her.”

“She can only decide one way,” said Varley. “She can have no love
for the man who meanly deceived and betrayed her.”

His stern words produced such an effect upon Trafford, that even
Varley could have found it in his heart to pity him.

“Do you know the whole story?” asked Trafford, when he could speak.
“Has Norman told you?”

“No,” said Varley; “he has told me nothing. I wish to hear nothing.”

“You must hear it,” said Trafford.

Varley pointed to the hut near which they were standing, and
Trafford followed him in. The two men stood facing each other,
Trafford with his back to the door.

“It is right that you should hear the truth. You may think worse of
me than you do already. It is of little consequence, though. Mr.
Howard, I value your good opinion more than you can imagine and can
believe. You accuse me of marrying Esmeralda for her money.” His
face flushed as if with shame. “I plead guilty. I and mine were
in terrible straits; I was tempted, and I fell. As you have said,
I married Esmeralda for the wealth which she possessed, the money
which could save my house from ruin.”

Varley rolled a cigarette, his pale face set with a kind of
impatient contempt.

“And you are what is called a nobleman!” he said.

“I deserve that,” said Trafford, quietly. “But there is nothing
that you can say which can be more bitter than that which I have
already said to myself.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Varley, after a moment.

“On our wedding-day,” continued Trafford, speaking very slowly,
and as if he were communing with himself, rather than addressing
Varley, “I made a discovery. I discovered that I loved her--loved
her as passionately and truly as any man ever loved since the world
began.”

Varley raised his eyes for a moment and carefully lighted his
cigarette.

“I would have married her if she had been penniless. I looked
forward to laying a life of devotion at her feet. There had been
one woman”--he hesitated a scarcely perceptible second--“whom I
would have put in Esmeralda’s place--I tell you this because I have
resolved to conceal nothing from you--but my love for Esmeralda had
erased, destroyed, any feeling I may have had for any other woman.
I loved her with all my heart. But it was too late!” He sunk on
to the table and continued, with his head averted from Varley’s
piercing eyes: “She had discovered, by a conversation which she had
overheard, that I had married her for her money. Her pure soul rose
in revolt. She refused to believe that I had grown to love her. My
punishment began; we virtually parted on our wedding-day.”

Varley looked at him, but said nothing.

“It was a punishment more terrible than you can imagine. We were
husband and wife in name only, living under the same roof as
strangers--worse than strangers. We went to Belfayre, and there
Norman Druce was awaiting us. He and Esmeralda had met here. I knew
nothing of it, did not know that he loved her, and that he had ever
asked her to be his wife; though I might have suspected something
from the confusion which they displayed when I took him to her on
my wedding-morning.”

Varley flung his cigarette away and turned with flashing eyes.

“You accuse Esmeralda--” he began.

“Hear me out!” said Trafford. “Norman and Esmeralda were with us
at Belfayre. She and I were separated; he loved her still; it was
only natural that he, they, should be tempted. I see, now, how much
excuse there was for her--yes, and for him.”

As he spoke, a shadow darkened the door-way, and a man stood
in the entrance. It was Norman. He stopped at sight of the two
men, and would have turned away, but Varley, with a gesture which
Trafford, sitting with bowed head, did not see, signed to Norman to
remain. Trafford sighed heavily.

“They were together, spent hours together. It was only natural
that she should turn to him, the man who had loved her and still
loved her, from the husband who she believed cared nothing for
her. One night I saw them together in the conservatory. They were
agitated--I could hear nothing--but I saw him kiss her.” He wiped
the sweat from his face and seemed unable to proceed for a moment.
“I went to her that night and told her all I had seen, charged her.
She denied nothing. Next morning she had left me. He, too, had gone
without leaving a word behind him. They had flown together. My
father died that night; I could not follow her--I was like a man
distraught; I think I was indeed mad for a time. I followed them
here later on, and here, as you know, I found them.”

Varley looked straight before him. For the first time he saw the
terrible business from Trafford’s point of view. It looked as if
indeed Esmeralda had been guilty; and yet he could not believe it.
He glanced at Norman with a stern, fierce inquiry, and saw on his
face a strange expression. It did not look in Varley’s eyes like
guilt.

“I have told you all,” said Trafford. “And now I answer your
question as to what I intend to do. As I have said, Esmeralda shall
decide.”

“Esmeralda?” said Varley.

“Yes,” said Trafford, looking straight before him. “It shall rest
entirely with her. The moment she is strong enough to see me, to
hear me, I shall go to her and say, ‘Esmeralda, I love you. You
shall choose between me and Norman. If you return to me, I swear
that never by word or look will I remind you of what has passed.
For that I am as answerable as you. It shall be buried, never to
rise between us again. Choose between me and him. If your choice
falls upon him, I will submit. You shall marry him; I will do all
I can to help you to regain the happiness of which I robbed you; I
will leave you in peace with the man you love.’”

Varley looked at him fixedly.

“You will do this?” he said, a strong man’s reluctant admiration
showing in his eyes.

“I will,” said Trafford, solemnly.

Norman stepped into the hut, his face lined with emotion, too
agitated to speak for a moment.

Trafford started to his feet, his face growing red, his lips
compressed tightly. Norman looked him straight in the eyes.

“Trafford!” he exclaimed.

“You have overheard?” said Trafford in a constrained voice. “Good!
I have but one word to add to you. You, too, will abide by her
decision. If she should choose me, then you will go your way, and
leave us in peace. You will refuse at your peril.”

Norman still looked at him steadily, and, to Varley’s surprise, did
not wince or flinch.

“My God! how blind you have been!” he said. “How blind you are!
Esmeralda choose between me and you? Why--why-- Oh, I can’t get it
out fast enough! I don’t know where to begin. Why, man, she has
loved you all the time! She loves you still. There was never a
woman in the world loved a man as Esmeralda loves you”--both men
stared at him; he was hot with eagerness and indignation--“and
always has loved you. Why, any one could see it--and they had
only to look in her eyes when you came near her. The whole thing
is a hideous mistake. Wait! You wait, and hear me, as I’ve heard
you--and I’ve had hard work not to burst in or howl aloud. What
you said is true enough as far as a certain point. I _did_ love
Esmeralda. I own it; I’m proud of it! I did ask her to be my
wife, but she refused; and quite right, for there was a better
man--_you_--waiting for her. I don’t know how you heard that I
proposed to her.”

“Your letter to her was given to me,” said Trafford, almost
inaudibly.

“Oh! When I came to England I was in love with her still. I own it;
I’m proud of it! Every man ought to fall in love with Esmeralda.
But when I found that she was to be your wife, I crushed it out.
Do you think I’m a cur, Trafford? What have I ever done that you
should think I would play the scoundrel--and to _you_, of all men
in the world?” Trafford looked at him, and began to breathe hard.
“I crushed it out. And then I went down to Belfayre; and--and
there was Lilias; and--yes, Lilias crept into the vacant place
in my heart, and taught me not to think of Esmeralda, excepting
as a sister and the wife of my best friend. And she is the best
sister, the sweetest and truest, that a man ever had! She soon
found out that I loved Lilias, and set about helping me.” He
paused for want of breath. Trafford’s hand gripped the edge of
the table. “That night, in the conservatory, we were talking of
Lilias, and Esmeralda was promising to plead for me. I was full of
gratitude--carried away, if you like--and I kissed her, as you saw.
She took the kiss merely for Lilias’s sake.”

Trafford rose, then sunk down again.

“The next morning your man brought a telegram. My mother was ill; I
had to start at once. You say I left no word behind me--”

Trafford’s lips moved.

“It’s not true,” said Norman, almost savagely. “Your man knew, and
I told”--he hesitated a moment, as if confused and bewildered by a
sudden thought that had struck him--“told some one else. I had no
idea that there was anything wrong, that Esmeralda had gone, until
I saw Lady Wyndover. Then I went straight to town in search of
you. I didn’t want to seek Esmeralda; I knew where _she’d_ gone; I
knew she’d come here. I played hide-and-seek with you for nearly a
day. I booked a berth for you, got everything ready, and when you
didn’t turn up, I went on board the vessel myself, and came after
Esmeralda to explain--to one of you, at any rate, what a hideous
mistake and bungle the whole miserable business was. Choose between
you and me!” He panted for breath, and laughed outright. “Why, man,
she chose long ago! There’s no other man in the world but you, and
the whole of the masculine gender might go hang for her, so long as
she had you!”

He dropped into a chair, and mopped his red and streaming face; it
was hot work.

Trafford rose trembling, looking from one to the other like a
man waking from a ghastly nightmare, and Varley watched him with
pitying and sympathizing eyes; for as he realized all that Trafford
had suffered, he could find it possible to forgive him.

“Norman!” said Trafford, hoarsely. “What am I to say? I can only
ask you to forgive me. It is _I_ who have wronged _you_! I have
been a fool, a mad fool--worse than a fool! I am not fit to stand
in the presence of the friend I have wronged!”

He extended his hand with profound humility.

Norman sprung to his feet, with tears in his eyes, grasped the hand
and wrung it, and kept on wringing it in a manner that would have
been ludicrous but for the tragedy of the situation.

“Dear old Trafford!” he murmured, brokenly. “But she’s better! I
know that from what you’ve said! And it will all come right!”

Trafford’s lips quivered.

“God grant it!” he said. “She--she may not forgive me. Her love may
have died.”

Norman laughed broken and incredulously.

“You wait and see!” he said.

“I must go to her at once,” said Trafford, feverishly.

“One moment,” said Varley, gravely, and with something like his old
languid tone. “I, too, should like to shake hands with you, if you
will permit me. It strikes me you’ve not been the only fool in this
business. And that there’s a villain, too.”

They looked at him inquiringly.

Varley sat on the edge of the table, with his hands thrust in his
pockets, looking like the old Varley, as he said:

“Will you allow me to ask you a question or two, my lord?”

Trafford assented mutely.

“I’m rather curious to fit in a little piece of this puzzle which
seems to me to be missing just at present, and which the thing
wants to make it a complete map of the whole business. You’ve seen
those children’s puzzles, I dare say, my lord?”

The two men waited with intense gravity.

“I should like to ask you, duke, who gave you that letter of
Norman’s?”

Trafford was silent for a moment.

“I can not refuse to answer you,” he said. “It was a lady--Lady Ada
Lancing.”

Varley’s face was quite impassive, and he swung one leg in a
languid, meditative way.

“Thanks. May I ask you, Lord Druce, who the ‘some one’ was who you
told about that telegram which caused you to leave Belfayre so
suddenly?”

Norman colored and bit his lip, and glanced at Trafford uneasily. A
cloud was gathering on Trafford’s face.

“Answer,” he said, curtly.

“It was--Lady Ada,” said Norman in a low voice.

“Thanks,” drawled Varley. “And she did not tell you, duke, or any
one, apparently, of the cause of Lord Druce’s sudden departure?”

Trafford’s silence was a sufficient answer.

“One more question,” said Varley. “A rather delicate one, I’m
afraid. You said that there was another lady whom you might have
made your wife; will you think me unduly inquisitive if I ask you
to tell me her name?”

Trafford turned his face away. It was lined by a deep emotion.

“Lady Ada Lancing,” he said, almost inaudibly.

“Ah!” remarked Varley in the slowest of drawls. “We have a great
deal to thank Lady Ada Lancing for. We owe her a great debt. It’s a
pity she isn’t a man or--we could pay her!”

“My God! Ada! Is it possible?” exclaimed Norman, under his breath.

“My dear young friend, anything is possible to a woman who loves
another woman’s husband, and thinks she sees a chance of robbing
her of him.” Then, after a moment, as the two men stood with
downcast eyes, each filled with shame for this woman’s sake, he
laid his hand upon Trafford’s shoulder. “This seems a suitable time
for a drink,” he said.

Trafford started.

“I must go back at once!” he said, taking a step toward the door,
but Varley’s hand had gripped him firmly.

“After a drink,” he said.

Trafford allowed himself to be led to the Eldorado, and Varley
administered the doctor’s prescription--and liberally.

But within the hour Trafford was riding to the hut on the hills as
if he were racing for life. Whereas he was only racing for love!



CHAPTER XLIII.


Esmeralda lay in her hammock slung in the shadow of the hut. It was
a lovely evening with the day’s heat lingering in the air, and as
she lay back, in perfect comfort, she could look over the superb
tract of country upon which the sun was beginning to shed a glory
of crimson and gold.

It is good to lie in a hammock at most times, it is peculiarly and
particularly good so to lie on the brow of an Australian hill with
an Australian view to look at; and if you happen to have just come
through a dangerous and trying illness, it is about the best thing
you can do.

Esmeralda looked very fragile, as if a violent puff of wind would
blow her clean out of the hammock and into the valley below. She
was pale still, the freckles had nearly disappeared, her hands were
white and thin, but the light was beginning to return to her eyes,
and though they were still wistful and touched with melancholy,
they had lost that wild and despairing expression which the doctor
had watched for so many weeks. A bunch of flowers lay in her lap
beside a book, but she was not reading, and she was scarcely
thinking; she was just gazing across the valley to the opposite
range of hills, in that dreary state which the invalid alone seems
able to manage. Her mind had worked so hard through her delirium
that it was taking a rest now; it declined to worry her, or, in
fact, to execute its usual functions in any way whatever. She was
just capable of feeling that it was rather good to be alive still,
that it was decidedly good to be lying in a hammock with the murmur
of multitudes of insects in her ears, the perfume of the flowers
stealing over her senses. She was not even thinking of Trafford.
Though neither the doctor, nor her two women nurses had mentioned
his name, she had a vague idea that he was not very far from her.
But she had not inquired for him; she was not quite sure that she
wanted him; not so sure as that she should want her beef-tea in
an hour’s time. She had seen Varley for a minute or two, and by a
look and a kiss had granted him full absolution for his misdirected
shot; she had asked after Taffy and MacGrath, and the rest of the
boys; had even seen some of them at a distance, but she had made no
mention of Trafford.

As a matter of fact, she was living in a kind of dreamland, in
which all the characters of her past history were so vague, so
intangible as to seem more like persons in some story she had read,
than real living beings with whom she had lived and loved and
suffered. Most invalids feel like this, and it is a very good thing
for them that they do; for while the mind is asleep and dreaming,
the body has time to look around and grow strong.

Mother Melinda came out of the hut presently, with a pitcher and a
can in her hand, and stood beside the hammock to regard her patient
with critical affection.

“How do you feel now, dearie?” she asked.

Esmeralda looked up at her with half-closed eyes, and the smile
which repaid Mother Melinda for all the weary and anxious nights.

“Delightful,” said Esmeralda in a voice that was not so feeble as
soft and sleepy. “I feel as contented as a fraud always does. And
I am a terrible fraud, Melinda! I wouldn’t admit it to everybody,
but I don’t mind telling you--because you know it very well
already--that I am quite well, and quite strong enough to get up
and go about as usual.”

Mother Melinda shook her head, and laughed.

“I should like to ketch you at it,” she said, with tender sternness.

“At any rate, you won’t,” said Esmeralda, with a soft echo of a
laugh. “I’ve just discovered that lying here in the cool, doing
nothing, and thinking of nothing--except whether I shall get
two pieces of toast or one with my beef-tea--is just what I was
intended for; and I give you fair warning, ’Linda, that I mean to
lie here, and gaze about generally, as long as you’ll stand it.”

Mother Melinda looked at her lovingly.

“I think as how you are looking better and stronger, Ralda,” she
said.

“Don’t you believe it,” said Esmeralda, closing her eyes with an
obvious affectation of extreme weakness. “I’m not fit for anything
but what I’m doing, and I mean to keep so for--oh, ever so long.
Why, you silly old goose,” she continued, opening her eyes and
flashing them suddenly upon the wrinkled face with one of her old
looks, “I could take you up in my arms and carry you down to the
stream and back; and I would if I weren’t so beautifully lazy.”

Mother Melinda laughed, and looked down at the ground with a
curious little expression.

“The doctor’s gone down to the camp,” she said. “He said you might
have anything to eat you fancied. Is there anything you’d pertikler
like, dearie?”

“Yes,” said Esmeralda; “I should like a beefsteak, a big one, and
some potatoes, and a custard pudding, _with_ currants in it, and
any little trifle of that kind suited to an invalid with a huge
appetite; but I suppose it will be the usual beef-tea and the piece
of toast. You wait a little while. I’ll have my revenge. I’ll shut
_you_ up in a hut, and feed you on beef-tea for a few weeks, and
then I’ll ask _you_ if there is anything you fancy, you cruel old
woman!”

Mother Melinda laughed again--chuckled, rather.

“We’ll see what I’ve got,” she said. “I’m going down to the stream
for water; I sha’n’t be long, and I shall hear if you call. You
won’t feel lonely, will you, dearie?”

“Oh, go away,” said Esmeralda. “You know that I know that you only
want to steal away and talk to the boys; I heard some of them in
the wood a little while ago. Go and stay as long as you like,” and
she turned her head away and closed her eyes.

A quarter of an hour elapsed, and she heard footsteps ascending the
hill and stop beside her. She did not open her eyes, but waited
for Mother Melinda to speak; but when a minute had passed, and the
exquisite silence remained unbroken, she turned her head and opened
her eyes to find not Mother Melinda, but Trafford, standing beside
her.

She did not utter a cry, but lay placidly gazing at him, as if
she considered him a part of her waking dream. And as she looked,
she thought, in a vague way, how handsome and tall and strong he
looked, and how bronzed he was, and she thought that the expression
in his eyes, as they dwelt upon her, was like that which they had
worn the night of their marriage, just before they parted. Of
course it was a dream; but the look drew the blood gradually to
her face, and made her heart beat with a queer little throb. Then
suddenly, very gently, and with a quiver in his voice, as if he
were trying not to frighten her, he said:

“I have brought the water, Esmeralda.”

At the sound of his voice, her eyes opened wider, the color
deepened in her face, and then left it paler; so that she looked,
with her red-gold hair and her long lashes contrasting with the
olive clearness of her face, and the deep tint of her eyes, like
some exquisite tropical flower, with its wonderful harmony of hues
and shades. She began to understand that she was not dreaming, but
that this strong man was Trafford himself--her husband. But she did
not quite realize his presence until he whispered her name again.
Then she trembled a little and her lips quivered, as if she were
panting.

“Esmeralda,” he said, very gently, very fearfully, as if he were
afraid that the sound of his voice might frighten and trouble her.
“Have I startled you? Mother Melinda said I might come. I have been
waiting all this weary time--but I will go again if you wish it, if
you are not strong enough to see me.”

She did not speak for a moment or two, then she whispered:

“Why--why have you come?” Had he come to upbraid her, as he had
done the night they parted? She looked at him with her brows drawn
together.

“Are you frightened of me, Esmeralda?” he asked, with a world of
remorse and self-reproach in his voice.

“I don’t know,” she breathed. “Are you going to be angry with me
again? Is it of any use?”

He knelt down beside the hammock, and his hand went out toward
hers; but he drew it back; he did not dare to touch her.

“I have not come to be angry with you, Esmeralda,” he said. “I have
just come to look at you--to hear you speak, I won’t say another
word to you; I will go away now, this moment, if you wish it, if my
being here is too much for you.”

She looked at him questioningly. Her brows were still straight, her
lips slightly apart.

“I am not tired,” she whispered. “What is it you want to say to me?”

“Only one sentence, Esmeralda,” he said. “And see, dearest, I say
it kneeling at your feet. It is: Forgive me!”

She breathed quickly.

“Forgive you?” she said, wonderingly, her heart beating faster.

“Yes,” he said, his eyes eloquent with imploration. “I scarcely
dare ask you, there is so much to forgive! Ever since we first
met, I have wronged you, have cruelly misjudged you, have proved
unworthy of you.”

She looked at him with a sudden dread in her eyes, a dread which
gradually disappeared as he went on.

“But ever since we first met, I have loved you very dearly, though
I did not know it at the beginning, and I have been true to that
love.”

“Been true?” she murmured.

“Yes,” he said, earnestly; “there has been no other woman in the
world for me since I saw you.”

There was truth in his accents, and the blood rose to her face as
her heart throbbed with a joy which had long been absent from it.

“Not--not Ada?” she breathed, almost inaudibly.

“Not Ada,” he said, solemnly. “She passed out of my life when you
entered it, Esmeralda.”

Her eyes closed, and a little tremor, born of her new joy, ran
through her.

“I have enough to answer for,” he said, “without that. I have
wronged you very deeply. I know now how innocent you were, how
vilely I was blinded by my own jealousy, and the malice of a wicked
woman.”

“You know?” she whispered.

“Yes,” he said. “Norman has told me everything; the scales have
fallen from my eyes; I see now that you were as pure as a lily, and
incapable of what I deemed you guilty.”

She closed her eyes again, and when she opened them she looked at
him through a mist of tears.

“I have come to ask you to forgive me, Esmeralda,” he said, “to
tell you that I love you, have loved you from the beginning. But
do not be afraid. I know how easy it is to kill love; that though
you may have loved me, my cruelty to you may have slain that love
outright.”

She did not speak; and, after a moment, he went on, with bent head
and eyes fixed on the ground, as if he dreaded to read his sentence
in her face.

“If you wish it, I will go away again, and leave you in peace. I
could not go until I had told you with my own lips--until I had
confessed to you, and tried to obtain your forgiveness. I know that
I do not deserve it, but I know, dear, how tender your heart is,
and that you will not let me go without your forgiveness.”

She was silent for a moment, then she whispered: “I forgive you.”
Her heart was throbbing with this new delicious joy, but perhaps
because of the very depth and intensity of her emotion, her tone
sounded constrained and even cold. And he had been hoping against
hope for just a hint of tenderness, of love.

He stifled a sigh, and rose. He would steal away now, and leave
her; he would not harass her and make her ill again by an emotional
leave-taking. She had forgiven him, it was true; but it was evident
by the tone of her voice that he had slain love outright. He forgot
at that moment, or, in his timidity and self-reproach, did not
attach significance to the fact that she had thrown herself between
him and Varley’s avenging bullet. When a man loves as passionately
as Trafford loved, he is always doubtful and despairing; it seems
too much to hope that his love should be returned. He stood beside
the hammock looking down at her--looking at the face with its
downcast lids, with its flower-like mouth, the lips apart as if she
were breathing painfully. The murmur of the bees filled the silence
with a subtle harmony, the scent of the flowers in her lap stole
over his senses; he thought that for all the years he should live,
that Providence should lay upon him as a burden, he must think of
her as she lay there in her beauty; and that the sound of the bees,
the scent of the flowers, would ever be with him, to torment and
torture him with a mocking reminder of all that he had lost. She
was his wife, his lawful wife, and yet as divided from him as if
she were a perfect stranger!

She had moved slightly, and the pillow had slipped a little. He
noticed this, and instinctively he stretched out his hand to put it
in its place, to make her more comfortable, as he would have done
in the past; then he remembered, and let his hand fall to his side
again; but the displaced pillow harassed him. Surely, he might put
it straight before he went? He would do it very gently--perhaps she
would not shrink from him.

“Your pillow has slipped,” he said, trying to speak calmly, and,
indeed, in quite a casual way.

“It does not matter,” she said; and, for the same reason as before,
her tone was constrained and cold.

“Will you not let me put it right for you?” he asked.

She raised herself on her elbow, her eyes still downcast, the long
lashes sweeping her cheeks, one hand grasping the edge of the
hammock.

He lifted the pillow to its proper position, and, thinking that he
had finished, she leaned back; but he was smoothing the pillow, and
she rested on his arm. An electric thrill shot through him, and his
face went white; hers grew crimson, and she raised her head and
looked at him.

Only for a moment did her eyes meet his, but something passed from
them to his very heart--something that made him utter a short,
sharp cry. His arm tightened around her, and he drew her up to
him and pressed her to him in a grasp that was steel and velvet
combined. She made no effort to free herself, but hid her face upon
his breast and lay there panting--and satisfied.

“Esmeralda!” he breathed. “You not only forgive me, but love me?”

“I have always loved you!” she whispered; and he could feel her
lips move.

It seemed too wonderful to be true; that even a woman’s love could
survive the blows he had dealt it.

“Say it again, dearest,” he said, “again! again!”

“I love you! I love you!” she said.

He let her fall back slowly in the hammock, his arm still round
her, and as he knelt, he hid his face on her bosom.

“Poor Trafford, poor Trafford!” she said, with a faint and tender
smile and a loving woman’s true insight.

“Yes, dearest, pity me!” he said. “Pity me for all my blindness has
cost me!”

She laid her cheek against his head.

“I will make it up to you, Trafford,” she whispered in so low a
voice that, but for the movement of her lips, he might have fancied
that she had not spoken.

They remained thus for who shall say how long or short a time; not
they. Then she said, very sweetly:

“I must go in now, dearest! Help me out of the hammock.”

He rose and lifted her in his arms. How light she was! It was as if
he carried one of the flowers upon his bosom.

“I can walk,” she murmured. “I am quite strong again. I can walk;
put me down!” But her arm did not unwind itself from his neck,
and her head nestled closer on his shoulder, and he laughed as he
pressed her tighter to him and carried her--as gently as if indeed
she were a flower, some precious lily he had gathered on his life’s
path--to the hut.

As he laid her on the bed, and bending over, kissed her not once
only, and looked into her eyes, something cooking in front of the
fire began to fizz. She looked beyond him at it, and laughed--the
laugh of a happy child.

“It’s the steak!” she said.

He went to the fire and laughed also, as he dished up the steak and
lifted the lid of the saucepan containing the coveted potatoes.

“It’s my supper,” she said. “You have come just in time, Trafford.”

“Yes,” he said, looking at her, “just in time!”

Half an hour later Mother Melinda came up the hill and glanced in
at the window; the door was closed. She just glanced, then, with a
silent chuckle of satisfaction and delight, turned, and went down
the hill again. And not until she had reached the bottom did she
laugh outright, and, with tears in her eyes, exclaim: “God bless my
dearie! Oh, God bless my dearie!”



CHAPTER XLIV.


Now, Trafford would have liked to have remained, and, indeed,
have settled, at Three Star; for the greatest happiness of his
life had come to him there, and it was there that he learned what
Esmeralda’s love meant. And again he became almost as popular as
Esmeralda herself. The men admired him for his strength, for the
fearless way in which he rode, his skill with weapons of offense
and defense, and the complete absence of “side.” He was always
ready to lend a helping hand with their work, or to take part in
anything going on, and his appearance in the Eldorado was always
heartily welcomed. He almost forgot that he was a duke, and Three
Star may be said to have quite forgotten it.

He and Esmeralda led a perfect life. The wonderful air, the life of
exercise, but, above all, her surpassing happiness, soon brought
back her old strength and light-heartedness, and she became, as
Mother Melinda said, “just a girl” again.

Between Trafford and Varley a very deep friendship ensued. Love
of Esmeralda was common to both, and now Varley understood how
passionately Trafford loved her, all traces of Varley’s animosity
against him disappeared.

They were all perfectly happy, and were learning to forget the
dukedom and its claims upon them, when one day Bill, the postman,
brought a letter for Trafford. It was from Lord Selvaine, and
consisted of one line:

  “Don’t you think you had better come back now?”

He showed it to Esmeralda without a word, and after gazing before
her in silence, and musingly, she said, very softly, and with a
tone of regret:

“Yes, we must go back, if only for Norman’s sake.” For Norman had
stuck by his friends, though his heart was aching for a sight of
Lilias.

Lord Selvaine had not written until he had felt compelled to do
so. This was how the matter stood. When Lilias had received the
telegram from Trafford, saying that he had sailed for Australia,
she was naturally both startled and frightened.

“What does it mean?” she asked Lady Ada, anxiously. “Why has he
gone so suddenly, and where is Esmeralda?”

Lady Ada turned pale, but gazed at the telegram in silence.

“I must go to town; I must see Lady Wyndover at once. Esmeralda
must be there.”

“And I will go with you,” said Ada in a strained voice. “It is time
I went home.”

Lilias went up to London and down to Deepdale; but Lord Selvaine
had been there before her. Careful as Lady Wyndover had been, a
whisper or two had gone round that something was wrong at Belfayre,
and Selvaine was one of the first to hear it. He had had his
suspicions all along, for he was as sharp as a lynx, and had seen
signs of trouble in both Esmeralda’s and Trafford’s faces. He went
straight down to Deepdale, and the moment he was ushered into Lady
Wyndover’s presence, went as straight to the heart of the matter.

“Where is Esmeralda?” he asked in his quiet way, but with his
piercing eyes fixed on her.

Lady Wyndover knew that it would be worse than useless to endeavor
to conceal anything from the terribly astute Lord Selvaine, whom
she regarded with unmixed awe.

“I don’t know,” she said, with her hands pressed closely together.
“I tell everybody she is here, but she is not. I suppose you’ve
heard something,” she added, timidly.

“I have heard--something,” he responded.

Almost at that moment the servant entered with a telegram from
Lilias. It said:

  “Trafford has sailed for Australia. I am coming to you at once.”

She gave it to Lord Selvaine with trembling hands.

“Oh, what does it mean?”

He read the telegram with half-closed eyes and tightened lips.

“It means that he and Esmeralda have taken a sea voyage.”

“But--but suppose they haven’t? Suppose he has gone alone?” she
whispered, fearfully.

He smiled grimly.

“We won’t suppose anything of the kind,” he said. “My dear Lady
Wyndover, what is more natural? Trafford and Esmeralda have both
been very much upset by the duke’s death. There is nothing in the
world so helpful in a bereavement of this kind as complete change
of air and scene. Trafford has very wisely taken Esmeralda to what
may be called her native air.”

Lady Wyndover gazed at him with a certain doubt mixed with her awe
and admiration.

“But it is so sudden--so soon after his father’s death.” She shook
her head. “Nobody will believe it.”

He smiled blandly.

“True,” he said. “But I forgot to mention that Trafford received
some information respecting some business affairs of Esmeralda’s
in Australia, which necessitated their starting for that place
immediately.”

He told the fib so coolly, with such an air of truth, that Lady
Wyndover herself for a moment almost believed him.

“Oh, how clever you are!” she gasped.

“Thank you,” he said, with a bow. “But all my cleverness, if I
possess any, will be of no avail unless you and the family back
me up. It will not be difficult. Just repeat what I have said,
and repeat it with a cheerful countenance, and all will be well.
Married life, my dear Lady Wyndover--I speak of it with authority,
because, being a bachelor, I play the part of spectator, and, as
you are aware, the spectator sees more of the game than the actual
player--married life does not run even as smoothly as true love.
Very soon after the nuptial knot has been tied, some little trouble
is sure to occur; sometimes it smooths itself away; sometimes, when
one or both of the married couple are foolish, the little trouble
grows into a big one, and there is--scandal. Now, I am resolved
that this trouble of Trafford’s and Esmeralda’s shall not wreck
their lives. I happen to know that they are both ridiculously in
love with each other, and I shrewdly suspect that our friend, the
demon Jealousy, is at the bottom of this mischief; to give him his
due, he generally is. When Lilias arrives, tell her what I have
told you; give her a loving message from Esmeralda, and then go up
to London and see all her friends, and break the news of Trafford’s
and Esmeralda’s departure for the delightful Antipodes.”

He himself went back by the next train, and sauntering into his
club, remarked casually to the greatest gossip he could find:

“What a delightful trip the duke and duchess will have, and what
a good thing it is that they should both be obliged to go at this
particular time!”

He made this remark at several houses at which he called, and at a
great reception that night, and had the satisfaction of reaping the
reward of his astuteness in the shape of a paragraph in the next
morning’s paper to the effect that the Duke and Duchess of Belfayre
had started for Australia on important business connected with the
vast estates which the duchess possessed there; and the society
journals, making haste to copy, inferred that nearly all Australia
belonged to her grace.

Lord Selvaine’s good offices did not stop at this. He went down
to Belfayre and undertook the management of the estate, and any
doubts which the curious and suspicious might have entertained
were dispelled by his suave and perfectly easeful and contented
manner. He did not trouble Trafford with any letters, and he “ran
the show” as long as he was able. But there came a time when he
could do without Trafford’s presence no longer. Then he wrote his
single-line but significant missive, and shortly afterward came
into the breakfast-room to Lilias with a cablegram in his hand.

“Trafford and Esmeralda are coming home, my dear,” he said,
composedly.

Lilias uttered an exclamation of joy.

“Oh, Selvaine, I am so glad! I can’t tell you how anxious I have
been--how their absence and silence has worried me!” and the tears
rose to her eyes. “I have had a dread that something was wrong,
that something had happened; and though you are very clever, I have
sometimes thought that you, too, were anxious about them.”

“I am never anxious about any one, my dear Lilias,” he said--“least
of all about married people--and if I were you, I would not be
anxious any longer. Trafford and Esmeralda are quite capable
of managing their own affairs, and that we have not received
any letters from them only proves that they are sensible people
and not given to letter-writing. The facilities for epistolary
correspondence constitute one of the curses of the age, and I trust
we are arriving at a period when the writing of an unnecessary
letter will be a capital offense. Will you give me another cup of
coffee? By the way, did I mention that Norman was with them and
would accompany them home? No sugar, please.”

Lilias’s face crimsoned.

“I am very glad,” she faltered. “Oh, I have put in three lumps! I
am very sorry. I will pour you out another cup. I quite forgot that
you didn’t take sugar.”

Lord Selvaine smiled blandly.

One day, some six weeks later, the place was in a flutter of
excitement, which became almost frantic when a cloud of dust
appeared on the road leading to Belfayre, and a man who had been
watching from a point of vantage galloped toward the castle,
shouting: “They have come!”

There were no triumphal arches, but groups of the Belfayre people
were gathered by the road-side and round the gates. The bells had
been set ringing, and men were standing on the tower with the
flag-ropes in their hands, ready to hoist it the moment his grace
the duke should cross the threshold. A hearty welcome awaited them,
and the good folks were just as eager to see Esmeralda as Trafford
himself.

The carriage came along swiftly and reached the entrance, and
there, as if she could not wait until Esmeralda could gain the
hall, stood Lilias, the brisk spring wind blowing her rippling hair
into disorder, the soft spring sun shining benevolently upon her
eager face. Esmeralda was in her arms almost before the carriage
stopped, and Lilias was so engaged in kissing her and being kissed,
in holding her at arm’s-length and gazing at her with loving
admiration, that she appeared to be quite oblivious of the fact
that Esmeralda had not come alone.

“How well you look, dear!” she exclaimed, as she scanned
Esmeralda’s face, more lovely than ever with the light of happiness
glowing in her eyes, the smile of a heart at rest on her lips. “And
how brown! What will Lady Wyndover say when she sees you? She will
be here this afternoon; she would _not_ come before. And how strong
you look. What a wonderful place Australia must be to work such a
change in so short a time!”

“If you have quite done with Esmeralda, my dear Lilias, perhaps
you will allow me to say ‘How do you do’?” said Lord Selvaine.

Lilias turned with a blush to welcome Trafford and Norman--Norman,
who was standing gazing at her with his heart in his eyes--and
the blush deepened as she gave him her hand, and tried to say in
quite a commonplace way: “How do you do, Norman?” Then she started,
for there was another gentleman present; a tall, thin man, with a
handsome face and dark eyes; a distinguished-looking man who stood
gravely waiting with a little smile on his well-cut lips.

Esmeralda took his hands and led him up to Lilias.

“Lilias, this is ‘Varley,’ my dear, dear guardian! We’ve torn him
away from his beloved Three Star by sheer force and brought him
over to England in chains.”

“They can knock them off now, Lady Lilias,” said Varley; and the
gallant little speech, uttered in his languid, drawling way, and
with “the Varley smile,” won Lilias’s heart on the spot.

“I’ve heard so much about you, Mr. Howard,” she said.

“Don’t you believe all you hear, Lady Lilias,” he said. “This is
the land of justice; give me a fair trial.”

They were all talking at once, and were still talking when Lady
Wyndover arrived, and the excitement was kept going by her meeting
with Esmeralda; and it was not until they were seated at dinner
that they were able to catch their breath, so to speak. Indeed,
Esmeralda, for one, could scarcely realize that she was back--at
home--that the horrible past was buried, and that a future, glowing
with the sunlight of happiness, lay before her. She looked round
the familiar objects of the magnificent rooms doubtingly, and it
was only when her eyes rested upon the handsome and well-browned
face of her husband that she could realize that the ugly corner on
life’s road-way had been turned, and that she was on “the pathway
of flowers.”

It was not only a happy but also a boisterous party, for Trafford
seemed to have regained his youth in Three Star, and he laughed
and talked in so light-hearted a manner that once or twice Lord
Selvaine looked at him with as much astonishment as he ever
permitted himself. Varley’s presence, too, added a zest to the
gathering, and Lord Selvaine remarked in an under-tone to Esmeralda:

“You are quite right to admire your guardian, my dear; he is one of
the most charming men it has ever been my fortune to meet, and that
Three Star, or any number of stars, should have been permitted to
monopolize him, is worse than wicked--it is absurd.”

Perhaps the least talkative of the party was Norman; but though he
did not say overmuch, like the well-known bird belonging to the
mariner, he thought the more. He was seated next to Lilias, and
his eyes were eloquent enough if his lips were silent. She felt
his eyes upon her, and now and again her own sunk and the color
would rise to her face; and once, when his hand touched hers, she
trembled outright. Indeed, she seemed curiously nervous, and her
nervousness increased when a little while after dinner he came to
her and asked her if she would be kind enough to show him whether
there was any place in the fernery in which they could put some
orchids which he had brought home. She rose, still very nervous and
with downcast eyes, and Norman leading her to the remotest part of
the fernery, apparently forgetting all about the orchids, seized
her hand, and with an abruptness which he had no doubt acquired
in the wilds of Australia, said, with half-bold, half-fearful
eagerness:

“Lilias, I can’t put it off any longer. I love you, dearest! Will
you be my wife?”

Lilias ought to have retreated and affected surprise, even if she
did not feel it--for that is the proper mode of receiving such a
“stand-and-deliver” style of proposal--but, being quite as much in
love with him as a maiden ought to be, she looked straight into his
ardent eyes, and said, with a little gasp:

“Yes!” Then, a moment afterward, added, with a frightened look:
“What will Selvaine say?”

“I’ll tell him, and see,” said Norman, as he pressed her to him
with his strong arms.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, at that moment Lord Selvaine himself
came in, followed by Varley, and the lovers were caught.

“May I ask what this means?” said Lord Selvaine, with real or
affected sternness. Varley was about to beat a retreat, but Norman
signed to him to remain.

“I have just asked Lilias to be my wife,” he said, “and she has
promised to be--subject to your approval, Selvaine.”

“Thank you,” said Lord Selvaine, “you are very considerate. As
I have the misfortune to be the young lady’s guardian, it is my
unpleasant duty to ask you what are your prospects? I have always
been under the melancholy impression that you hadn’t any.”

“That must have been before Lord Druce came out to Three Star,”
said Varley, with his most delicious drawl. “Seeing that he holds
five of the best claims in that prosperous and high-toned town,
he may be said to be very rich, and not only in prospects but in
actuality.”

Lord Selvaine smiled.

“I haven’t the least notion what a ‘claim’ is, or what it is worth,
but I willingly accept Mr. Howard’s estimate, and in the words
of a well-known character, I have only to say; ‘Take her and be
happy.’ I shall want this hand again, my dear fellow,” he added,
wincing under Norman’s terrific grasp. “And I think, Mr. Howard,
that I will show you the fernery another time. We’ll go out on the
terrace where, I trust, lovers will cease from troubling, and we
two bachelors can be at rest.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“And where should you like to go for the honey-moon, dearest?”
asked Norman, when they were discussing their marriage some weeks
later. “Paris is very nice; so would Florence be just now--rather
hot, perhaps--then there’s Switzerland.”

“You don’t care where you go?” asked Lilias in a muffled voice. It
is difficult to speak distinctly with your face half hidden against
a gentleman’s breast.

“Not in the very least,” he responded, promptly; “so that you go
with me. You’ve only got to choose your place, from Greenland’s icy
mountains to Afric’s golden sands, and I’m your man.”

“Really? How good and unselfish you are, Norman, dear!”

“I am--I am!” he assented. “It is my only failing, and I have
suffered from it since my birth. We will go wherever you please.”

She was silent a moment, then she whispered:

“When does Varley go back to Three Star?” It will be noticed that
she called him “Varley.” Now, a girl like Lilias must be very fond
of a person to call him by his Christian name.

“Just after the wedding; he stays for that. Why? You don’t mean to
say--”

“Yes, I do,” murmured Lilias. “We will go with him, Norman. We will
spend our honey-moon at Three Star.”

       *       *       *       *       *

At one time it was rather a question whether Varley would ever be
permitted to go back, for he made so many friends and became so
popular in England that, as Lord Selvaine said, it would be cruel
of him to leave it. It was wonderful how unanimous was the verdict
in Varley’s favor, how everybody conspired to make a lion of him,
much to his surprise, and how eager every one was to show him the
best side of this old but not altogether worn-out England.

“I have had a splendid time,” he remarked to Norman one evening, as
the two men were standing on the cliffs, watching the men at work
at the new Belfayre watering-place. “A splendid time,” he repeated.
“I imagine that I have seen pretty nearly everything that is worth
seeing, and have met with as much kindness as will last me for
the remainder of my abandoned life.” He paused and looked at his
cigarette attentively. “I have made the acquaintance of princes,
and dukes, and lords, and ladies of high degree; have seen all the
wonders of this remarkable little island of yours, and I am both
delighted and grateful. But there is one person whom I had hoped to
meet and exchange a few words with when I came to England; in fact,
it was one of my principal reasons for coming.”

“Oh!” said Norman, curiously, and with some surprise, “who is he?”

“It isn’t a he; it’s a lady,” drawled Varley, looking straight
before him--“Lady Ada Lancing, the lady you left that message with,
and who stole that letter of yours.”

Norman colored and shook his head.

“You are not likely to meet her,” he said, gravely. “Lady Ada left
England before we returned. She is living on the Continent.”

“I am sorry,” said Varley in his most languid tones. “I have
something I want to say to her very badly. Do you know when she is
coming back?”

“She will never come back,” said Norman.


THE END.



  TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE

  Obvious typographical errors and punctuation errors have been
  corrected after careful comparison with other occurrences within
  the text and consultation of external sources.

  Except for those changes noted below, all misspellings in the text,
  and inconsistent or archaic usage, have been retained. For example,
  undertone, under-tone; nut-shell, nutshell; bridal-dress, bridal
  dress; indued; troublous; desponding; quietude; intrust; bowlder.

  Pg 8, ‘as sung as’ replaced by ‘as snug as’.
  Pg 21, ‘effort scramble into’ replaced by ‘effort scrambled into’.
  Pg 39, ‘his and lead him’ replaced by ‘his and led him’.
  Pg 57, ‘Wyndham stared at’ replaced by ‘Wyndover stared at’.
  Pg 62, ‘Wyndover eat a dinner’ replaced by ‘Wyndover ate a dinner’.
  Pg 65, ‘yes, you you can walk’ replaced by ‘yes, you can walk’.
  Pg 85, ‘I adore Ida’ replaced by ‘I adore Ada’.
  Pg 87, ‘its destinties since’ replaced by ‘its destinies since’.
  Pg 95, ‘lot of gees-gees’ replaced by ‘lot of gee-gees’.
  Pg 102, ‘othewise murders’ replaced by ‘otherwise murders’.
  Pg 106, ‘rail still futher’ replaced by ‘rail still further’.
  Pg 107, ‘to the softly woman’ replaced by ‘softly to the woman’.
  Pg 109, ‘a look he indicated’ replaced by ‘a look she indicated’.
  Pg 142, ‘as she eat a’ replaced by ‘as she ate a’.
  Pg 150, ‘was every unhappy’ replaced by ‘was ever unhappy’.
  Pg 166, ‘Belfayre phenix’ replaced by ‘Belfayre phœnix’.
  Pg 177, ‘Does you head’ replaced by ‘Does your head’.
  Pg 191, ‘unhppiest women’ replaced by ‘unhappiest women’.
  Pg 192, ‘vague oulines’ replaced by ‘vague outlines’.
  Pg 198, ‘and quiet as grave’ replaced by ‘and quite as grave’.
  Pg 210, ‘was bought up’ replaced by ‘was brought up’.
  Pg 262, ‘he eat his rasher’ replaced by ‘he ate his rasher’.
  Pg 272, ‘to glean beween’ replaced by ‘to glean between’.
  Pg 279, ‘down the the horses’ replaced by ‘down the horses’.
  Pg 311, ‘acknowleded the need’ replaced by ‘acknowledged the need’.
  Pg 328, ‘forbid it it with’ replaced by ‘forbid it with’.
  Pg 335, ‘saw them togther’ replaced by ‘saw them together’.





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