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Title: A Secret of the Sea. Vol. 3 (of 3) - A Novel.
Author: Speight, T. W. (Thomas Wilkinson)
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 "A Secret of the Sea. Vol. 3 (of 3) - A Novel." ***

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A SECRET OF THE SEA.



Transcriber's Notes (Volume 3):
            1. Page scan source: Web Archive
                https://archive.org/details/secretofseanovel03spei
               (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)



A SECRET OF THE SEA.


A Novel.


By T. W. SPEIGHT,
AUTHOR OF
"IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT," "UNDER LOCK AND KEY," ETC., ETC.


IN THREE VOLUMES.
VOL. III.



LONDON:
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON.
1876.

(_All Rights Reserved_.)



CONTENTS OF VOL. III.
CHAPTER

       I.  ELEANOR'S RESOLVE.
      II.  POD'S STRATAGEM.
     III.  VAN DUREN'S DREAM.
      IV.  PRINGLE'S DISCOVERY.
       V.  A FOUND LETTER.
      VI.  VAN DUREN IN WALES.
     VII.  THE MESSAGE TO STAMMARS.
    VIII.  WINGED WORDS.
      IX.  VAN DUREN'S FLIGHT.
       X.  TOLD AT LAST.
      XI.  "AND YOU SHALL STILL BE LADY CLARE."
     XII.  THE STRONG-ROOM.
    XIII.  CONCLUSION.



A SECRET OF THE SEA.



CHAPTER I.
ELEANOR'S RESOLVE.


"I'm in no particular hurry, doctor, to get back to London," Sir
Thomas Dudgeon had quietly hinted to his medical man. "I daresay the
House can get on without me quite as well as with me, so you needn't
hurry yourself to say I'm fit for harness again till you feel quite
sure in your own mind that I am so."

Dr. Welstead was not slow to take the hint, and he kept on calling at
Stammars two or three times a week, and sending one innocuous draught
after another, which draughts Sir Thomas conscientiously poured into
the ash-pan when his wife was not looking, till the baronet's holiday
had extended itself to the beginning of May. But by this time Sir
Thomas looked so well and rosy, and was in possession of such a hearty
appetite, that a vague suspicion that she was being duped began to
haunt her ladyship's mind. She said nothing to her husband, but made
her preparations in silence. Then, one morning at the breakfast-table,
the shell exploded.

"To-day is Wednesday, dear," she said, "and I have made all
arrangements for our going up to town on Saturday morning. Dr.
Welstead seems quite at a loss how to treat you: indeed, country
practitioners, as a rule, are not competent to deal with anything
beyond a simple case of measles; so on Saturday afternoon I will
myself drive you to see Sir Knox Timpany, and wait for you while you
consult that eminent authority, who, I doubt not, will make you as
well as ever you were, in the course of a very few days."

Sir Thomas fumed and fretted, but her ladyship was inexorable. Go he
must; and when he saw there was no help for it, he made a merit of
necessity; but at the same time he registered a silent vow that not
all the wives in England should drag him to the door of Sir Knox
Timpany.

At the last moment, however, the baronet and Gerald started for London
alone. Late on Friday, Lady Dudgeon received a telegram. Her only
sister was very ill, and it was needful that she should hurry off
without an hour's delay. "Considering all that I have done for
Caroline, it is really very ungrateful of her to be ill at a time like
this," she grumbled to her husband. "She knew how anxious I was to get
back to town, and she might have doctored herself up for another month
or two. I hope to goodness she won't die till the season is over. I
can't bear myself in mourning."

"Your only sister, my dear," remarked Sir Thomas, soothingly. "I
wouldn't leave her, if I were you, while there's the least danger.
Your conscience might prick you afterwards, you know."

"Stuff!" was her ladyship's rejoinder. "Of course, I shall do what is
proper; but if I were to die to-morrow, Caroline's first thought would
be how soon after that event she might begin to wear flounces again."

Without wishing his sister-in-law any harm, Sir Thomas would not have
been sorry if her illness had kept his wife at her bedside for half a
year. The thought of having a few weeks, or even a few days, in
London, without being supervised by her ladyship, was to bring back
the feelings of his youth when school broke up for the summer
holidays. In fact, during the three weeks that elapsed before her
ladyship joined him in town, he was more like a schoolboy let loose
than the fancy sketch of him with which the _Pembridge Gazette_ one week
favoured its readers, wherein he was described as a senator, grave and
staid, whose trained and powerful intellect was perpetually engaged in
grappling with the most tremendous social and political problems of
the age.

After a little dinner, quiet and early, at which Gerald generally sat
down with him, Sir Thomas would post off to the House. But an hour or
an hour and a half there was quite enough for him. Whist and a prime
cigar at his club were far preferable to prosy speeches by people whom
he did not know, and on subjects about which he did not care twopence.

Since the day of his confession in the library, Gerald had seen very
little of Eleanor. If they met casually in passing from one room to
another, a bow and a faint smile was all the greeting that passed
between them. When they met at the dinner-table, no ordinary observer
would have noticed any difference in their demeanour towards each
other. Gerald talked as much as ever he had done: he knew that Sir
Thomas and his wife liked him to make talk for them: but fewer of his
observations were now addressed directly to Miss Lloyd than used to be
the case at one time. Sometimes he even turned over the music for
Eleanor when she played after dinner; but had Lady Dudgeon been the
most Argus-eyed of dowagers, instead of the most unsuspicious, she
could not possibly have found fault with his demeanour on such
occasions. He was Sir Thomas Dudgeon's secretary--and nothing more.

Eleanor had received his confession in a spirit somewhat different
from what he had expected. He had thought that her pride would be more
deeply wounded by the deception he had practised on her than it
appeared to be. That it was wounded, he knew full well; but when he
parted from her at the close of the interview, he did not fail to
notice the quiver of her lip, and the longing, wistful look in her
eyes. In his previous thoughts of her, it was evident he had not
calculated sufficiently on the effect which his frank confession and
prayer for forgiveness would have on a generous and loving disposition
like that of Eleanor. It seemed by no means unlikely, as Gerald said
to himself afterwards, when thinking over the interview, that she had
indeed so far forgiven him as to make his reinstatement in her regards
the question merely of a little time and perseverance; and under other
circumstances he would not have allowed a day to pass without
attempting a renewal of his suit. But fixed as he was just then, he
could not bring his mind to the adoption of such a course. That he had
fallen somewhat in Eleanor's esteem, that he had sunk to a lower level
in her thoughts, he could not doubt; and however much she might feel
inclined to forgive him, it was questionable whether--had the
circumstances of the case really been such as she believed them to
be--she could ever have looked upon him with quite the same eyes as
before. Such a change as this Gerald did not care to face. He
preferred that, for a little while, she should think all was over
between them; that he had given up all thoughts of winning her for his
wife. He knew that before very long she would have to be told
everything, and till that time should come he would speak no word of
love to her again. The more hardly she thought of him now, the greater
would be the re-bound towards him when, from other lips than his, she
should hear the whole strange story that must soon be told her.

About a fortnight after sending his first letter to Kelvin, Gerald
followed it up with another. But again came the same answer as before,
that Mr. Kelvin was still too ill to attend to business. Gerald was
debating in his own mind as to the advisability of going over to
Pembridge and seeking an interview with Kelvin, when the receipt of
certain news from Ambrose Murray decided him to wait a short time
longer. Murray told him the result of the inquiries in Wales, and how
he and Peter Byrne were going to start for Marhyddoc in the course of
a few days; and Gerald was entreated to follow them as quickly as
possible. Under these circumstances there seemed to Gerald no
necessity for troubling Kelvin any further at present. Should Ambrose
Murray find that which he was going to Wales to search for, then would
all necessity for concealment on his part be at an end. One of his
first acts would be to ask for the daughter who knew him not. Then
would come the time for Gerald to say who and what he was. His first
act after Eleanor knew that he was no longer John Pomeroy, the poor
secretary, but Gerald Warburton, the heir to Mr. Lloyd's wealth, would
be to tell her how truly he still loved her, and to ask her to become
his wife. Let her, for a week or two longer, think that he had yielded
her up without a struggle: in a very little while she should discover
that no power on earth could make him yield her up--nothing, save her
own deliberate dismissal of him, could do that.

Thus it was that Gerald left Stammars without saying a word of
farewell to Eleanor; and she, sitting half heart-broken by the window
of her own room, saw him drive off to the station, and cried after
him, "Oh, my darling, why have you left me? Perhaps I shall never see
you again."

Gerald had only done Eleanor simple justice when he said to himself
that she was ready to forgive and forget the past. "He has confessed
everything to me, and confession is atonement," she said to herself
"He need not have said a word to me, had he been so minded; but the
very fact of his telling me is proof sufficient that he is no longer
seeking to win me for my money, but for myself only."

Day by day she had been expecting to receive some word, some look
even, from him which would tell her that his feelings were still
unchanged; but day passed after day, and neither word nor look was
vouchsafed her. She was chilled and hurt by Gerald's persistent
silence and evident avoidance of her. Could it be, she asked herself,
that he thought he had sinned past forgiveness? To prove that such was
not the case, she would be more gracious and complaisant towards him
than she had ever been before. She would endeavour to let him see, as
far as a modest maiden might do so, that he had nothing to fear; that
the past was forgiven, and that the future rested with himself alone.
But Gerald might have been made of marble, so cold and impassive did
he seem to the tender-hearted girl, who had only discovered of late
how fondly she loved him.

Then her pride came to her aid, and she tried her best to emulate
Gerald's indifference. She laughed and talked, and seemed altogether
merrier than of old; but no one knew what she suffered in the solitude
of her own room.

Now it was that she determined to put into execution a project that
had been more or less in her thoughts for a longtime. She was tired of
the empty, frivolous life that she had been leading for some time
past. It had seemed very pleasant to her while the freshness lasted,
but that had now worn off, and she had made up her mind that she would
have no more of it--or only a taste of it now and then as a relief
from more serious duties. What she wanted was some plain, earnest work
to do--some work that would benefit others as well as herself For a
long time she had seemed like one groping in the dark; but at last she
thought she saw a clear line of duty marked out for her footsteps, the
following of which might not be altogether without avail.

And now her purpose grew firm within her. All was at an end between
her and Pomeroy. She had only herself to consult. In hard work she
might, perchance, find an anodyne for her wound. In any case, she
would try to do so.

"I suppose, my dear, that you won't object to give me a month this
autumn?" said Lady Dudgeon to her husband, as they sat together one
morning, about a couple of days before their projected return to
London.

"Oh, ho! it's come to that, has it?" answered the baronet. "Well, I
suppose you must have your own way in the matter, although you know
that I hate both the place and the class of people one meets there. I
suppose we can take Eleanor with us? It will be a treat to her, and
company for you."

"Eleanor's a little fool!"

"Possibly so; you know best, I dare say."

"She tells me that she is going to leave us."

"Eleanor going to leave us!"

Sir Thomas looked quite dumbfounded. At this moment Eleanor entered
the room.

"What is this I hear, little one?" he cried. "You are not going to
leave us, surely?"

"For a little while, dear Sir Thomas. Perhaps not for long," answered
Eleanor.

"I'm sorry for that--very sorry indeed. I had grown to like you almost
as much as if you were a daughter of my own."

Tears came into Eleanor's eyes. She crossed the room, and taking Sir
Thomas's hand in both hers, pressed it to her lips.

"My gratitude--my love, if you care for it--will always be yours! I
can never repay even a tithe of the kindness shown me by Lady Dudgeon
and yourself."

"Eleanor, I have no patience with you!" cried Lady Dudgeon, dipping
her pen viciously in the inkstand.

"But where is the girl going, and what is she going to do?" asked the
baronet.

"Let her answer for herself."

"You will think it very strange of me, I dare say," said Eleanor; "but
Miss Mulhouse, whose name is no doubt familiar to you, has offered to
find me a position in one of the Homes for Destitute Girls, which she
is trying to establish in different parts of London."

"Heaven bless us!" exclaimed Sir Thomas. "You don't mean to say that
you are going to leave a place like Stammars on purpose to spend your
days in a back slum in the east end of London?"

"I am going to try to find something to do," said Eleanor. "I am going
to try to make myself of some little use in the world."

"A madcap scheme, my dear--I can call it nothing else," said the old
gentleman, with a melancholy shake of the head "If you feel charitably
disposed, a twenty-pound note at Christmas, judiciously laid out, will
go a long way--a very long way, indeed."

"To give money alone does not seem to me enough. I want to work for
those poor helpless ones; to labour for them with head and hands; to
learn their histories and their wants; to win their sympathies, and to
make their lives a little less hard, if I can possibly do so."

"My dear," said Sir Thomas, turning to his wife, "what a pity it is
that you have not found a husband for Miss Lloyd!"

"Miss Lloyd has had three most eligible offers since she placed
herself under my care."

"And she refused them?"

"Every one."

"Then her case must be a hopeless one indeed."

"I have argued and reasoned with her, but all to no purpose," said her
ladyship. "She is determined to have her own headstrong way. But I
prophesy that before six months are over we shall have Miss Lloyd back
at Stammars, tired and disgusted with a task which may look very nice
in theory, but which must be excessively unpleasant when reduced to
practice."

"She will always be welcome at Stammars whenever she likes to come
back to us."

"You won't think me ungrateful for leaving you, will you, Sir Thomas?"
pleaded Eleanor.

"That I won't, my dear. I'll never think anything but what's good of
you."

Thus it was that Eleanor Lloyd, sitting in the window of her room,
watching Gerald Warburton drive away, cried to herself, "Perhaps I
shall never see him again!"



CHAPTER II.
PODS STRATAGEM.


Days and weeks passed away, but still Matthew Kelvin did not get
better. His condition fluctuated strangely. Sometimes for days
together there would be a slow but sure improvement. Appetite and
strength would alike increase, and his mother would grow glad at
heart, thinking that she should soon see him out and about again, and
as well as ever. But some morning, without the least warning, there
would come a terrible relapse, which, in the course of two or three
hours, would undo the improvement that it had taken days to effect,
flinging him helplessly back, as some strong wave flings back a
desperate swimmer the moment his foot touches the shore, leaving him,
buffeted and bruised, and with decreased strength, to struggle again
from the same point that he started from before. So it was with
Matthew Kelvin. There were times and seasons, after one of these
strange relapses, when to those about him he seemed on the very verge
of the grave--times and seasons when the patient himself prayed that
if there were to be no release from his sufferings but death, then
that death might come, and come quickly. Then would Dr. Druce be
summoned in hot haste by Mrs. Kelvin. Presently the old gentleman
would totter slowly into the room, smile blandly round at the anxious
faces about him, and, both by his manner and words, quietly pooh-pooh
their exaggerated alarm.

"I told you from the first," he would cheerfully remark, "that the
case was an obstinate one, and you must not allow these apparent
relapses to alarm you. The dying struggles of disease are often the
most severe. The garrison will sometimes make its most desperate
sortie after it knows that in the course of a few days it will be
compelled to capitulate unconditionally. For the present the pain is
over. I will send a composing draught, which the patient must take at
once; and to-morrow I doubt not but we shall find ourselves much
stronger and better."

Better next day Mr. Kelvin would undoubtedly be, but not stronger.
Each one of these mysterious relapses seemed to leave him a little
weaker than before, a little less able to cope with the enemy that
seemed bent on sapping away his life by slow degrees. But of this he
hinted nothing to his mother. Her anxiety on his account was deep
enough already; there was no need to add to her distress; so he kept
his own counsel, and put a cheerful face on the matter, and would
declare, on waking after one of the composing draughts, that he felt
stronger and better than he had felt for weeks.

If any of Mrs. Kelvin's friends ever hinted to her that Dr. Druce was
very old and very infirm, and that it might perhaps be advisable to
seek some further advice, the old lady was up in arms in a moment,
"Because people are old and not quite so active as they may once have
been, I hope they are not necessarily fools!" she would tartly remark.
"If that is the case, I must be a great fool, indeed. Dr. Druce has
practised in Pembridge for fifty years, and if his experience is not
worth more than that of a man thirty years his junior, I should like
to know what is the good of experience at all. No, no; the older a
doctor grows the cleverer he must become, if he has any brains at
all." After such an outburst as this, there was nothing more to be
said, especially as the patient himself seemed to have every
confidence in Dr. Druce's skill and ability to cope with the strange
malady from which he was suffering.

Nothing more was now said about Olive Deane's return to her duties at
Stammar. It was an understood thing that she could not possibly be
spared while her cousin's health remained as it was at present. Lady
Dudgeon had very kindly consented to keep the situation open for her
for a few weeks longer, in the hope that by that time Mr. Kelvin's
health might be so far restored as to allow of Olive's resumption of
her duties; but Olive, though she said nothing, had far different
objects in view. She laughed to herself when she read Lady Dudgeon's
note, and then tossed it contemptuously into the fire.

She had, indeed, long before this time, contrived to render herself
indispensable both to her aunt and her cousin. She could not always be
in the sickroom. Many were the hours that she and her aunt sat
together alone. Such hours she did her best to brighten by means of
pleasant, genial talk and long readings from her aunt's favourite
books, and the old lady was proportionately grateful.

"I often feel as if you had always lived with us," she would sometimes
say to Olive. "You seem altogether like one of ourselves, and however
we shall be able to let you go again, I can't tell. If Matthew were a
marrying man, he might do worse, my dear, than make you his wife. But
that is out of the question, for I don't suppose he will ever marry
now."

Olive was not quite so sure on that point as her aunt seemed to be.
Her affectionate devotion to her cousin seemed as if it were about to
bear fruit at last. He could not bear to let any one but Olive wait
upon him or minister to his needs.

Even to his mother he once or twice spoke with a slight tinge of
impatience; coming after Olive, her waiting upon him seemed slow and
bungling indeed. "If you would only sit down in that easy chair,
mother, and let Olive attend to me!" he would say. "I want you to tell
me all the gossip, and not to be bothering yourself and me about the
quality of my beef-tea."

As for having any common paid nurse to wait upon him, that was
altogether out of the question now.

As he sat in his easy-chair one day, propped up with pillows and
sipping at a cup of barley-water, while Olive sat on a low hassock
close by, waiting till he should be ready to give her the cup, he said
to her suddenly, after a long silence: "I believe, Olive, that if I
ever do get better--which I sometimes doubt--I shall owe my life far
more to your care and attention than to old Druce's filthy mixtures. I
shall never know how to repay you. I never knew that you had half the
splendid qualities in you that you have shown of late. But we men can
hardly ever see farther than our noses where a woman is concerned. I
am afraid I shall have to remain your debtor to the end of the
chapter."

"You talk very great nonsense, Matthew," she said, in a voice that was
hardly louder than a whisper. "You my debtor, indeed!"

One of her cousin's hands rested on the arm of his chair; by accident,
it may be, one of Olive's hands found its way to the same place. Their
fingers touched. Matthew put down his empty cup, and taking Olive's
hand in both his, drew her towards him. Then he put one arm round her
neck, and drawing her face close to his, he kissed her on the
forehead. They both looked round with a start. Mrs. Kelvin had quietly
opened the door, and was standing there with a smile on her face.

"Two's company--three's none," said the old lady, pleasantly. "I'll go
back to my room for a little while, and next time I come I will be
discreet enough to cough before opening the door."

"You dear old goose!" said Kelvin. "If cousins may not kiss, who may?"

"Oh, don't think that I object to your kissing each other!" cried the
old lady. "That sort of medicine might do you more good than any
other."

"By Jove, now, I never thought of that!" cried Kelvin, with a laugh.
"Only, in the present case, it was altogether a one-sided affair. It
was not Olive who was kissing me, but I who was kissing Olive."

These were the last words that Olive heard, as, with face aflame, she
hurried from the room; but what had just happened was enough to fill
her with strange, rapturous thoughts, and to strengthen hopes that
were beginning to droop and grow faint for want of sustenance. Ce
n'est que le premier pas qui coûte. The ice was broken; the first step
was taken; everything else would follow in due course.

No after allusion was made either by Matthew or his mother to the
scene just described, but Olive flattered herself by imagining that
there was a warmth, a significance, in her cousin's manner now, such
as she had never noticed before. If he would but speak; if he would
but breathe one word to which she could pin her faith--that she
could treasure up even as a half promise that he would make her his
wife--from that very day his illness should begin to leave him! But
atpresent she dare not falter in the course she had laid down for
herself. Were he to recover suddenly now, all thoughts of her and her
services would be quickly swept from his mind by the inrush of hopes,
cares, pleasures, and anxieties of everyday life, which the floodgates
of sickness had for a time partially shut out. Every additional day
that kept him helpless in her hands was so much gain to her hopes.
The more deeply he continued to feel the need of her and her services,
the more likely was his gratitude to lead him by imperceptible degrees
into the easy pathway of love. If he had not loved her a little he
would hardly have kissed her as he did. Let him but seal those kisses
with a word, and from that moment the breath of returning life should
fill his nostrils; while no man should ever have a wife more tender
and devoted than she would be to him. How bitterly it made her heart
ache to see him lying there in pain, which she alone could relieve but
dare not--to see him wasting day by day into a haggard, gaunt-eyed
skeleton of his former self--no one but herself could ever more than
faintly imagine. "If he were to die, I should poison myself an hour
after. But he won't do that. Suddenly, some day, the scales will fall
from his eyes, and he will know that he loves me and that I love him;
and that love shall bring him back to life and health from the verge
of the grave itself!"

Pod Piper was a frequent visitor in his master's sickroom. Whenever
Mr. Kelvin felt himself a little better, he would send for Pod and
dictate sundry instructions, chiefly replies to some of his many
correspondents, which that young gentleman would take down in
shorthand, to be copied out afterwards in the office downstairs. Of
course, there were times when it was requisite that Mr. Bray, the
head-clerk, should see his employer in person; but as he happened to
be slightly afflicted with deafness, the labour of talking to him was
sometimes too much for Mr. Kelvin, so he dispensed as much as possible
with the necessity of seeing him. To Olive Deane it seemed far better
that if any one must see her cousin frequently on matters of business,
that person should be a simple country lad, the chief occupation of
whose mind probably was to wonder what he should have for dinner,
rather than that quietly observant Mr. Bray, who seemed to see so much
and to say so little. So to Pod she was always coldly gracious, and
when he had finished with Mr. Kelvin upstairs, he generally found a
piece of bread and jam, or a slice of cake, or an orange, on the hall
table, put there for him by Olive herself Whatever the article might
be, it made no difference to Pod: he treated them all with the strict
impartiality of a hungry lad: but his private opinion with regard to
Miss Deane was not modified one iota thereby. He could not forget the
scene between her and Mr. Pomeroy; he could not forget the base plot
of which he had overheard the details, and of which his favourite,
Miss Lloyd, was to be the victim.

"She's a snake in the grass, if ever there was one," Pod would often
remark confidentially to himself, even while in the very act of
munching the bread and jam which Miss Deane had prepared for him.

"Doesn't the governor seem to have got fond of her all of a sudden!"
remarked Pod, parenthetically to himself, one day, as he was marching
slowly downstairs from the sick man's room. "Nobody else must wait
upon him, or even be near him. It's disgusting!"

There was a splendid orange waiting for him on the hall table this
morning. He took it with him to his den to enjoy in secret; but all
the time he was sucking the orange, his thoughts were with his master
and Miss Deane. "How close she sticks to him! Seems as if she couldn't
bear even the old lady to go near him. What a funny thing it is he
don't get better! I don't believe Dr. Druce, who's no better than an
old woman, knows a bit what's the matter with him. I've seen him two
or three times when he's had one of his bad attacks on him, and I'm
blessed if I don't have a jaw with Dr. Whitaker about it. _He's_
something like a doctor."

The Dr. Whitaker alluded to by Pod was a young practitioner who had
been settled in Pembridge some five or six years. Some professional
difference of opinion had arisen between him and Dr. Druce over a case
to which they had both been called in, and the older man no longer
recognized the younger when they passed each other in the street, or
even spoke of him otherwise than in a tone of polite contempt: all of
which in no wise troubled Dr. Whitaker, who plodded his way through
life with a kind word and a pleasant smile for everybody--even
including old Dr. Druce.

Kelvin and he had met several times at the houses of mutual friends,
and had learned to know and like each other: and when the former was
taken ill, Dr. Whitaker was the man he would have liked to attend him;
but he knew that to have breathed such a wish to his mother would
almost have broken her heart, so firmly did she pin her faith to Dr.
Druce.

If there was one thing that easy-going Dr. Whitaker detested more than
another, it was having to make out his own bills. In order to obviate
this disagreeable necessity, he had taken of late to employing Pod
Piper as his secretary. Pod wrote a capital hand for a youngster, and
was only too well pleased to be able to earn a few shillings now and
again by working after office-hours. Everybody in Pembridge knew of
Mr. Kelvin's illness by this time, and Dr. Whitaker seldom saw Pod
without inquiring after him. Thus it was that Pod saw his way to bring
under the notice of Dr. Whitaker easily, and as if in the course of
ordinary conversation, that which he was growing anxious to tell him.

Accordingly, the next time Dr. Whitaker put his usual query, "How has
the governor been to day?" Pod was prepared to go more into detail
than he had ever done before.

"Much the same as usual, sir, thank you," he answered. "But if I may
make so bold as to say so, my opinion is that Dr. Druce is no better
than an old woman. It's the liver, he says---nothing but the liver. If
that's all that's the matter, why don't he cure it? Now, if master
would only send for you, sir, I'm sure you would soon put him all
right again."

"Piper," said Dr. Whitaker, as he leisurely proceeded to light a
cigar, "Dr. Druce is one of the antiquities of Pembridge, and
antiquities should always be respected. Oblige me by getting on with
your work."

Dr. Whitaker went out, and was gone for upwards of an hour. When he
got back, Pod was putting away his papers for the night. "He was
dreadfully sick this morning when I was in the room," remarked Pod,
quietly, as if there had been no hiatus in the conversation. "In fact,
there's hardly a day passes that he isn't dreadfully sick. But of
course it's all the liver."

"Ah, ah! he's often sick, is he?" And then Dr. Whitaker whistled a few
bars below his breath. "Is his sickness accompanied or followed by any
particular pain, or any peculiar sensation, do you know?" he said, in
a minute or two.

It is not needful that Pod's answer should be set down here. It is
sufficient to say that whatever it was it put a sudden end to the
young doctor's careless mood. He lighted another cigar, and made Pod
sit down opposite to him, and questioned him closely and minutely for
upwards of half an hour; and when at last he let him go, it was with a
caution not to say a word to anyone about their interview. "Watch
closely, and tell me everything," he said. "To-day is Tuesday; you
will come to me at seven on Thursday evening. Contrive to be as much
with your master during the interval as you can be without exciting
suspicion, and note particularly those points which I have specified."

Fortune favoured Pod next morning more than he would have dared to
expect. He was called up, as usual, to take down Mr. Kelvin's notes in
shorthand. Kelvin, this morning, seemed feebler than usual, and was
obliged to pause several times while dictating his instructions. He
had got about half-way through the morning's letters, when Miss Deane
came in with a cup of tea in her hand. "Take a little of this,
Matthew," she said. "It will help to revive you."

He was sitting up in bed, propped up with pillows. He took the tea and
sipped at it. "It's a little too hot," he said. "I will drink it
presently."

Olive was in the act of putting the cup and saucer on the little table
which stood close to her cousin's hand, when there came a hurried
knocking at the room door, and next moment the head of one of the
servants was intruded into the room. "Oh! if you please, miss," said
the girl, "Mrs. Kelvin has met with a little accident. She slipped
just now as she was coming downstairs. I don't think she's much hurt,
but she wants you to go at once."

Leaving the cup and saucer on the little table, Olive hurried from the
room.

"Send me up word, Olive, as soon as you can, whether anything serious
is the matter," her cousin said to her as she was going.

He was evidently anxious. "We will leave the papers for a little
while, Piper," he said, presently. "We shall have some news from
downstairs before long." Then he took the tea and drank a little of
it. "I don't know how it is," he said, more as if speaking to himself
than addressing Pod, "but of late everything seems to have such a
queer taste."

The cup was still in his fingers when Olive opened the door.

"There's nothing to alarm you, Matthew," she said; "nothing serious
the matter. Aunt missed the bottom stair as she was coming down. She
is a little shaken--nothing worse. If you don't want me just now I
will go and sit with her for a little while."

"Go, by all means. Piper and I have not quite finished," said Kelvin.
"I am very glad indeed that nothing more serious is the matter."

Olive left the room, and Kelvin put the cup and saucer back on the
table. Then he took up a long letter which he had partly read before,
and Pod expected he was going to finish it; but, after reading a few
lines, he paused, as though considering some point in his mind. He was
still holding the letter, still evidently thinking about it, when,
by-and-by, he shut his eyes. Pod thought that he had shut them in order
to think out more clearly the case before him: perhaps he had. But in
the course of two or three minutes the hand that held the letter
relaxed its grasp, and Mr. Kelvin's low, regular breathing indicated
that he was asleep.

Pod Piper had been sitting very quietly all this time, thinking
chiefly of what Dr. Whitaker had talked to him about last evening. Now
that his master was asleep, there was nothing to hinder him from
taking a long look at him, and tears came into the lad's eyes as he
gazed at the hollow-eyed, sunken-cheeked wreck before him. "If this is
her doing--If her hand has done this--she must be a daughter of the
devil him self!" muttered Pod.

He never could tell afterwards what prompted the thought to enter his
mind, but all at once, while gazing at the sleeping man, his face
flushed, his eyes brightened, and he rose nervously from his chair.
Yes: the breakfast-cup was on the little table, and still three-parts
filled with tea. On another table near the door were a couple of empty
physic-bottles, put there for the servant to take away. Pod's mind was
made up in a moment. Another glance at the sleeper convinced him that
there was no present fear from that quarter. Stepping lightly and on
tiptoe, he went round the foot of the bed to the other side. Then he
took the cup of tea and crossed the room with it to the table on which
the empty bottles were standing. One of these bottles he uncorked, and
into it, with the loss of a few drops only, he dexterously contrived
to pour the tea. Then he recorked the bottle, hid it carefully away in
his pocket, and put back the cup on to the little table. That done, he
quietly resumed his seat by the sleeping man.

Five minutes later, Miss Deane came into the room. Pod warned her by a
gesture that Mr. Kelvin was asleep. She stood gazing at him for a
moment, and then she glanced across at the tea-cup. "Did he drink his
tea before going to sleep?" she whispered to Pod.

"Yes--every drop of it," answered Pod, without a moment's hesitation.

She took up the cup and saucer and one or two other things, and moved
towards the door. Then she took up the empty bottle, and then she
looked round as if searching for the other one. Pod was furtively
watching her, and his heart came into his mouth. She stood for a
moment as if in doubt, but not being quite sure, apparently, whether
there had been one bottle or two, she made no remark, but went out of
the room as quietly as she had come in.

In ten minutes she was back again. Kelvin was still asleep. "I think
there is no need for you to wait any longer," she whispered to Pod.
"Mr. Kelvin may sleep for an hour, or even longer. Should he want you
when he awakes, I will send for you."

So Pod went, and very thankful he was to get away. When the
dinner-hour came, he rushed off at once to Dr. Whitaker's, and telling
that gentleman what he had done, left the bottle with him.

Twenty-four hours later. Dr. Whitaker handed a sealed letter to Pod,
with instructions to give the same privately into the hands of Mr.
Kelvin at the first possible opportunity. That opportunity came next
morning, when Miss Deane left the room for a few minutes while her
cousin was dictating his letters to Pod. The moment the door was shut
behind her. Pod, who had been on the watch, passed the letter into the
hands of Mr. Kelvin. "You must read this in private, please, before
Miss Deane comes back into the room."

Kelvin looked at the lad, but broke the seal without comment. Then,
glancing at the signature, "From Whitaker!" he said. "What on earth
can he have to write to me about?"

Dr. Whitaker's letter ran as under--


     "My dear Kelvin,--

          "I need not tell you that I have been truly grieved to hear of
your long illness, as I do not doubt that you would be grieved were I
in the same unfortunate predicament. As your clerk, young Piper, is
frequently employed by me of an evening in making out my accounts, I
have been enabled to question him pretty closely as to the progress
and symptoms of your complaint. As a professional man, such details
are never without interest for me, more especially where one of my
friends is concerned. Certain things which Piper has told me of late
(in answer to my questioning) have set me thinking very seriously.

"I have a certain delicacy in writing to you as I am writing now.
Druce and I, as you are well aware, are by no means the best of
friends. He looks upon me as a juvenile who has hardly learnt the ABC
of his profession--as a believer in new-fangled notions such as the
world had never heard of when he was young; and, finally, he holds me
in most general contempt. He is quite welcome to his opinion of me. I
may have mine about him, only I keep it to myself. In such a state of
affairs, for me to interfere, either verbally or by writing, with one
of his patients, is a professional crime for which nothing less than
hanging, drawing, and quartering ought to be punishment sufficient.
Indeed, I may tell you, that unless the occasion had seemed to me a
very serious one indeed, no such interference on my part would have
taken place. But were I to go to Dr. Druce and tell him what I have
reason to think about your case, how should I be received?

"As it happens, there is no need to answer this question. I am not
going to Druce. I am going to put him aside, and, breaking through all
the rules of professional etiquette, to communicate with you direct.

"My dear Kelvin, I have heard enough from Piper about your case both
to puzzle and alarm me. Yours is certainly no ordinary liver
complaint. I may tell you that much at once. What else it may be, I am
hardly prepared as yet to say--or even to hint. But if you have any
regard for my words, or any belief in my knowledge, you will do what I
ask of you, and do it without hesitation or delay.

"What I want you to do is this: To send to me by Piper, in a bottle
sealed by your own hand, about half a pint of what ever liquid may be
brought you to drink after you have read this letter--it matters
little whether it be tea, barley-water, toast-and-water, or anything
else. Do this unknown to anyone but Piper, who will at once bring me
the bottle and contents. Whisper no word to anyone as to what you have
done, and ask Piper no questions. He may be trusted implicitly, but of
the details he knows nothing. Till you hear from me again, which will
probably be to-morrow evening, take as little liquid as possible,
and eat nothing but plain biscuits and dry toast. A little weak
brandy-and-water will do you no harm, but either mix it yourself or see
it mixed. Be sure that I am not asking you to do all this without a
reason, and a very powerful one too. Above all things--_silence and
secrecy_. Burn this as soon as read, and believe me.

                                              "Your sincere friend,

                                                        "Cyrus Whitaker."


"Burn this letter," said Kelvin to Pod, when he had read it through
twice. When he had seen it shrivelled into ashes, he lay back on his
pillows, thinking, and neither stirred nor spoke till Miss Deane came
into the room, some quarter o f an hour afterwards.

"Olive," he said, but without turning his eyes towards her, "I feel
more thirsty than usual this morning. If you have any barley-water
ready-made, I should like you to get me some."

She smiled, and went without a word. Five minutes later, she came back
with a small jug and a glass.

"Will you take a little of it now?" she asked.

"Yes, just a little, and then you can put the things on the table
within reach." After she had given him a little of the barley-water,
he said, "Piper and I have rather a heavy lot of papers to wade
through this morning, so, while we are finishing them, I wish you
would just step round to the library and get me that book of travels
we were talking about last night; or if that one is not at home, some
other: you know the sort I like."

As soon as Olive had left the room, Kelvin turned to Pod. "You have
got a bottle in your pocket, I suppose?" he said.

"Yes, sir."

"Then pour that barley-water into it, and cork it up tightly."

When this was done, Pod lighted a taper, and Kelvin sealed up the
bottle with his own trembling fingers, and stamped it with the
monogram of his ring. Then the bottle went back into Pod's pocket.

"No more business to-day," said the sick man, wearily. "Take those
papers back to Mr. Bray, and tell him to do the best he can with them.
As for yourself, you will go at once to Dr. Whitaker, and give that
bottle into his own hands. I suppose I may rely upon your fidelity and
discretion in this matter, eh?"

"You may do that, sir, with perfect confidence," said Pod, with much
earnestness.

"Yes, I think you are true and honest," said Kelvin, slowly, with his
eyes fixed full on the boy's open face. Then, as Pod went out, he
added to himself: "That letter of Whitaker's has instilled such a
horrible suspicion into my mind, that I no longer know whom or what to
believe."

Next morning. Pod smuggled another letter into the hands of his
master. It was very brief, but very much to the purpose.


     "My Dear Kelvin,

        "I must see you as quickly as possible, and in _private_. Your
restoration to health, nay, your life itself, may depend on this. No
one must know of my visit except Piper; and you must let me know
through him when you can arrange to have me admitted to your room
without any of your household being aware of my visit. Not a word to
anyone. Burn this.

                                                   "Yours ever,

                                                             "C. W."


For fully half an hour Matthew Kelvin remained buried in thought after
reading this letter. Then he said to Pod:

"Instead of Mr. Bray signing the letters this afternoon, you will
bring them upstairs to be signed by me." At five o'clock, up came Pod
with the letters. Kelvin was sitting up in his easy-chair by this
time, and it struck Pod that he looked brighter and better than he had
seen him look for some time past. When the letters were signed, and
Pod was about to go, Kelvin put into his hand a sealed envelope. "Give
this to Dr. Whitaker, and be sure that he has it to-night."

Inside the envelope was a scrap of paper, on which were written these
words:


"To-morrow morning at half-past eleven.

                                                   "M. K."



CHAPTER III.
VAN DUREN'S DREAM.


Max Van Duren's stay on the Continent, instead of lasting for four or
five days only, extended itself to a fortnight. During the whole of
that time, Jonas Pringle remained in charge of the premises in Spur
Alley. At any other time, the sudden departure of Byrne and his
daughter, taken in conjunction with what else Pringle either knew or
suspected, would have formed food sufficient for many an hour's
restless pondering, it being a matter of principle with Pringle to
suspect everybody and everything. But at present his own affairs were
quite enough to occupy his thoughts. He had been waiting patiently,
week after week, for an occasion to arise which should call Van Duren
from home, and so give him an opportunity of bringing to a climax a
certain hidden scheme at which he had been patiently working for
upwards of a year. The wished-for opportunity was now here, but the
advantage he had intended to derive from it seemed as utterly beyond
his reach as before. In other words, the key at which he had laboured
so long and so patiently, and which, he had fondly hoped, needed but a
few more touches of the file to bring it to perfection, still
refused--obstinately and maliciously refused--to open the lock of Van
Duren's safe. And rarely could there have been a more opportune time to
open it than the present. There were notes and gold in it to the amount
of two thousand pounds, as Pringle knew full well. If he could only
have obtained possession of these notes and this gold within a few
hours of Van Duren's departure for Paris, he would have had time to
change the notes and get three or four days' clear start before the
faintest suspicion that there was anything wrong could have got abroad.
It was for this that he had been biding his time so long; it was for
this that he had put up with Van Duren's hard words and starvation
salary. He had promised himself all along that he would have a day of
glorious revenge; that at one bold sweep he would make himself master
of enough, if judiciously invested, to secure for himself a comfortable
little income for life. But all his delicate manipulation with the
file, all his added touches, had hitherto proved ineffective and of no
avail. The wards of the lock that held the iron door stubbornly
refused to be coaxed; the Open Sesame was not yet found. Pringle was
terribly chagrined. Still he never allowed himself to altogether
despair. He felt that success was only a matter of time; but he would
not have cared for success to come at a moment when there might chance
to be little or nothing to reward his labours: he was anxious that it
should come now, when the reward would be great. But Van Duren could
not stay away for ever, and one afternoon brought the long-expected
telegram, announcing that he might be looked for in Spur Alley before
bed-time next night.

"Curse him for coming back so soon!" said Pringle to himself, as he
tore the telegram to shreds. "If he had only stayed away another day
or two, I should have got my key to fit and open the lock. It may be
months before he goes out of town again. It may be months before
there's as much money in the safe again as there is now. But it's just
like my luck!"

Mr. Van Duren reached home about ten o'clock next evening. Pringle was
there to receive him, and while Mrs. Bakewell was getting supper
ready, the two men went into the discussion of sundry business
details. But not more than ten minutes had passed before Van Duren,
changing the subject, suddenly said: "By-the-by, I have not made any
inquiry after my lodgers. How is Mr. Byrne?--Better, I hope. And Miss
Byrne, is she quite well?"

There was a deep longing in his heart to see Miriam again. She had
promised to give him a definite yes or no immediately after his
return, and he flattered himself that if he read the signs aright, he
had little or nothing to fear. He had brought back with him several
expensive presents for her. Never in his life before had he bought
presents for anybody, his natural instincts being those of a miser;
and it was not without a sharp pang that he had brought himself, even
in the present instance, to part from his dearly-loved money. These
presents had been in his thoughts all the way coming home. He would
spread them out before Miriam, and watch her unfold them from their
wrappers one by one; and in imagination he saw the sparkle in her eyes
and the smile on her lips as she clasped the bracelet on her wrist, or
posed before the glass while trying the effect of her new ear-rings.
Then, before the freshness and surprise had time to evaporate, he
would take her hand and press it passionately to his lips, and implore
her to give him her answer once for all. If she condescended to accept
his presents, how could he doubt what that answer would be? They would
be married before summer was over; and when once Miriam was his wife,
he would know how to bend her will to his--know how to teach her what
was best for her comfort and his--from his own point of view.

His first look from the cab, when he got in sight of the house, had
been to the windows of his lodgers' sitting-room. But all was dark
there, and his heart had chilled a little at the sight. It was almost
too early for them to have gone to bed: probably they had gone out
somewhere to spend the evening. He had secretly flattered himself that
Miriam would be there to welcome him--that the least she could do
would be to open the door of her sitting-room, ready to greet him with
a smile and a pressure of the hand as he went upstairs to his own part
of the house. But no Miriam was there to-night, evidently; and then
the thought struck him that perhaps no one had told her of his
expected return. This thought was not without its consolation; so,
hiding his impatience under his usual impassive demeanour, he went
indoors as if nothing were amiss, and not till he and Pringle had been
talking together for ten minutes did he seem to recollect the
existence of any such persons as Mr. Byrne and his daughter.

Pringle had been expecting the question for some time, and was ready
with his answer.

"Mr. Byrne and Miss Byrne went away together in a cab two or three
days after you left home."

"Went away together in cab!" cried Van Duren. "But at least they left
word where they were going, and when they might be expected back?"

"Miss Byrne said they were going to the seaside for the benefit of the
old gentleman's health; but there was nothing said about when they
might be expected back."

"Strange--very strange!" muttered Van Duren. Some presage of coming
evil seemed to touch him already. He looked from side to side of the
ill-lighted room, and shuddered. Pringle was watching him narrowly.

"Did they take much luggage with them?" he asked.

"I heard Mrs. Bakewell say that there was nothing left in their rooms
but the bare furniture."

"Have any letters been received here for them since they left?"

"Not one, sir."

"How was it you did not send me word, either by telegram or letter,
when you discovered that they were going away?"

"Because I was under the impression that they had told you, before you
went out of town, that they were going away."

This was not true, but it was necessary that Pringle should excuse
himself somehow.

"But did nobody ask them when they might be expected back?"

"Yes; Mrs. Bakewell did. Miss Byrne's answer was that everything
depended on the state of the old gentleman's health, and that they
might be away only a week, or they might be away a month."

"I would give twenty pounds this very minute to know where they are
gone to!" cried Van Duren, emphatically, as he pushed away his chair,
and began to pace the room with restless strides.

Pringle sat watching him for a minute or two. That Van Duren was
terribly chagrined, he could see plainly enough, and it pleased him to
see it. The question with him now was, should he, or should he not
tell Van Duren that he knew to what place his lodgers were gone? On
the one hand, to keep Van Duren in ignorance of what he, Pringle,
knew, would be a source of great gratification to him. But, on the
other hand, if he were to reveal what he knew, was there not a faint
probability that Van Duren might go in search of them--might leave him
alone in the house for a few days longer, and so afford him another
opportunity of making himself master of the treasure in the iron safe?
This latter thought decided him.

"I can tell you where Mr. and Miss Byrne are gone to, sir," he said,
speaking very quietly, "and I won't charge you twenty pounds for the
information, either."

"Where are they gone?" asked Van Duren, abruptly, as he brought his
walk to a sudden stand.

"Their luggage was labelled for Marhyddoc, in North Wales."

Jonas Pringle certainly never anticipated the effect which his words
would have on Max Van Duren. The latter seemed like a man suddenly
turned to stone. All the colour fled from his face, his lips turned
blue, while into his eyes there came an expression of unspeakable
terror. For a few minutes he stood like a man who neither knew where
he was nor what he was doing, who had no thought for anything in the
wide world but the terrible news he had just heard. Then he put out a
hand, and seemed to be feeling for a chair, without knowing what he
was about. Pringle took his arm and guided him to a seat.

"A sudden spasm--nothing more," he said. "I shall be better
presently."

"Shall I get you a glass of water?" asked Pringle.

Van Duren shook his head. "I have been taken like this once or twice
lately," he stammered. "I must talk to my doctor about it."

Mrs. Bakewell came in to lay the cloth for supper. This seemed to
rouse him. "I shall not want any supper; I've changed my mind. You
need not bring it in," he said. Then turning to Pringle, "To what
place did you say that Mr. Byrne and his daughter were gone?" he
asked.

"To Marhyddoc, in North Wales."

"Some little fishing or bathing place, I suppose--quiet and
salubrious, suitable for an old man like Mr. Byrne. Strange, though,
that they never told me they were going. You don't know, Pringle, do
you, what their particular reason might be for choosing Marhyddoc, out
of all places in the world?"

"I don't know that, sir; they gave no hint on that point," said
Pringle. "But I know this for a fact, that old Mr. Byrne was no more
deaf than you or me, sir; that his long white hair was nothing but a
wig, and his hump nothing but a sham; and that when he liked he could
be as active on his feet as any gentleman of fifty or fifty-five can
be."

Max Van Duren sat and stared at his clerk like a man thoroughly
stupefied. "How do you know all this?" he said, speaking in a low,
hoarse voice.

"Because I've seen it with my own eyes," answered Pringle. Then he
told him all about the Euston Square episode.

"But what possible object could Mr. Byrne have in disguising himself
in the way you mention? and what could be his motive in trying to
deceive me?"

"Don't know, sir, I'm sure. But mightn't it all be a plant--a
try-on--to get something out of you, either money or information, or
something else?"

"They got no money out of me--not a single penny," answered Van Duren.
"And as for information----"

In a moment it flashed across his mind that Miriam Byrne had indeed
got certain information out of him, which information seemed to
connect itself, in some mysterious way, with the journey to Wales.
Would she and her father ever have gone to any such out-of-the-way
place as Marhyddoc, if he had not told Miriam the story of the
shipwreck? But even in that case, what possible object could be gained
by their visit to Marhyddoc? The key to the great secret of his life
lay there at the bottom of the sea, as far beyond their reach, even
supposing them to have known of its existence, as it was beyond his.
After all, it was perhaps nothing more than a singular coincidence
that had taken them to that particular spot in Wales. Could it be that
Miriam had grown to take so deep an interest in him that she wanted to
see the very place where he had been shipwrecked? This was a thought
that made his heartbeat wildly for a moment or two; but it was quickly
succeeded by a feeling of deadly apprehension. What Pringle had told
him about Byrne and his disguise, smote him with a sense of some
hidden danger which he could not overcome. Why had Miriam pressed him
so earnestly to give her all the details of the shipwreck? And why had
they said nothing to him of their contemplated journey before he left
home?

He could not shake off the feeling that he was in the midst of some
great peril. It was quite out of the question, that he should sit
quietly down in Spur Alley, and have no knowledge of what was
happening in Wales. Even at that moment, what terrible events might be
taking place on which his fate might hang as on a thread! And yet
again, how was it possible that any harm could happen to him having
its origin in what he had told Miriam? He had simply told her that he
had lost a box containing the whole of his worldly possessions; but he
had given no hint as to the special contents of the box. How was she
or her father to connect the Max Van Duren of to-day with the Max
Jacoby of twenty years ago? And even granting that they knew his
secret so far, there would not, even in that case, be the slightest
link to connect him with the murder of Paul Stilling. But more than
all else was he rendered uneasy by the fact of Byrne's disguise. There
was something in that which he altogether failed to comprehend. He
questioned Pringle again and again as to what he had seen at Euston
Square, but with no other result than to add a more positive
confirmation to what he had been told at first.

"Pringle, I shall go down to Marhyddoc by the next fast train."

"There is one at ten in the morning, sir."

"That will suit me. Mr. Byrne and I have sundry business transactions
together which necessitate my seeing him as soon as possible. I need
not tell you how annoyed I am to find that he has gone away without
leaving a message of any kind for me."

He paused and looked at his watch. "I am terribly tired, and I must
try to get a few hours' sleep before starting. You are a light
sleeper, I know, and I will trust you to call me at six."

"All right, sir."

"You may also see Mrs. Bakewell for me, and arrange for breakfast at
eight. You had better sleep here to-night, and I will go through the
remaining letters with you during breakfast."


Then, without another word, he left the room and marched slowly
upstairs to bed. Van Duren had spoken no more than the truth when he
said that he was terribly tired. He had been travelling continuously
for eighteen hours, and was thoroughly worn out. The news told him by
Pringle had taken away whatever appetite he might otherwise have had,
while leaving the need of some refreshment strongly upon him.
He was never without cognac in his bedroom. Of this he now took a
powerful dose, and then flinging himself upon the bed, dressed as he
was, in three minutes he was fast asleep.

While sleeping thus, he had a dream--a dream more strangely vivid,
more realistic in all its details, than any that he had ever had
before.

In this dream he himself was as it were an impersonal being, the
spectator of a drama in which he was called upon to play no part. The
scene of the drama in question was the bottom of the sea. Through the
green and limpid twilight, the floor, covered with sand and shells,
and huge, smooth-washed boulders, could be seen stretching away on
every side till lost in the dim distance. Fishes of various kinds,
some such as are never seen by mortal eye, swam silently to and fro in
the liquid depths. The middle distance of the sea was filled up with a
huge mass of wreckage and broken timber. There was no need to tell the
dreamer of what good ship the wreck was now before him. Even in his
sleep, his lips murmured, "That is the _Albatross_." In and out of the
broken bulks, and rotting portholes, and shattered hatchways, strange
monsters of the sea, big and little, kept crawling continually.

But presently there was a quick, frightened movement among the fishes,
and the dreamer beheld descending slowly from unknown heights a ladder
made of stout rope and weighted heavily at the bottom. In a little
while the weights touched the ground, and the ladder became stationary
and firm. Soon there could be seen, coming down slowly and heedfully,
a man in the full costume of a diver, and looking in it no unfit
companion for the strange creatures whose haunts he had for a little
while invaded. In a few minutes he was joined by another man similarly
attired. Together the two men bent their steps towards the wreck.
There was no need to tell the dreamer what they were there to look
for. Would they find it, or would they not? But in his impersonality
he had no further interest in having this question answered than a
spectator at a play might have; indeed, so slightly was he interested,
that he laughed aloud more than once as he watched the strange,
awkward movements of the two men as they clambered around and about
the wreck.

Round and about, in and out, they moved without any apparent success.
Evidently, the object they had come in search of was not to be found.
At length, as if by mutual consent, they walked back to the ladder.
One of them had got his foot on the lowermost rung, when his mate
touched him on the shoulder and pointed back to the wreck. The
sleeper's eyes followed the direction of the man's finger, and saw
there--what? The spectral figure of a man standing on the broken
bulwarks of the ship, and pointing downwards with outstretched finger
to a heap of rotting timber and loose wreckage at its feet. The figure
was diaphanous; the broken stump of a mast in front of which it was
standing could be clearly seen through it. It seemed to have a
wavering motion, very slight, but still perceptible, like that of a
flame which quivers by the intensity of its own heat. Although its
finger pointed downwards, the face of the figure was bent full on the
face of the sleeping man--the same face that he had seen in the glass,
haggard, deathlike, with a thin line of black moustache; while its
black, inscrutable eyes gazed down through his eyes into his very
soul. There was no laughter, no cynicism left in the dreamer
now--nothing but an unspeakable horror that stirred his hair and
chilled the beating of his heart even while he slept. He could not turn
away his eyes from those other eyes that were staring into his; but for
all that he could see, as we do see in dreams, everything that was
going on around him. He could see the men moving slowly back towards
the wreck, in obedience to the invitation of the spectre, of whom they
seemed to have no dread. He could see them searching and turning over
the heap of mouldering débris at which the finger was so persistently
pointed, and presently he could see them drag from the midst of it a
small square oaken box, the silver clamps of which were all tarnished
and black with the action of the sea. How well he remembered that box!
what cause he had to remember it!

Carrying the box carefully for fear lest it should fall to pieces, one
of the men brought it presently to the foot of the ladder, close to
which, let down from the heights above, hung a cord with a hook at the
end of it. To this hook the box was now fastened by one of the men,
then a tug was given to the cord, and next moment the box began slowly
to ascend, drawn up by unseen hands above.

The finger of the spectre now pointed upward. Soon the box was lost to
view, and as it disappeared, the twilight of the scene seemed to
darken and deepen and the water to lose somewhat of its limpid
clearness. It was as though night were reaching down with its hand of
blackness to the bottom of the sea. Slowly but surely the whole scene
grew blurred and indistinct as though one filmy veil of darkness after
another were being drawn between it and the dreamer's eyes, till at
length the familiar walls of the dreamer's bedroom began to grow out
of the darkness, and Max Van Duren knew that he was awake, and that
the dawn of another day was beginning to broaden in the east. From
head to foot he was bathed in perspiration, and he was trembling in
every limb. He sat up on the bed and gazed timidly around, as half
expecting to see the eyes of the spectre staring at him from some dim
corner of the room; but presently he heard a welcome footstep on the
stairs outside, and then came the voice of Pringle, telling him that
it was time to get up.



CHAPTER IV.
PRINGLE'S DISCOVERY.


Great was the glee of Jonas Pringle when he found himself left alone
once more in Spur Alley. When he saw Van Duren off in a cab for Euston
Square he mentally bade him good-bye for ever.

So elated was he, so sure did he now feel that the moment of success
was at hand, that he went out and bought a tin of preserved lobster,
and a bottle of rum, and there and then held high festival with
Bakewell and his wife in their dungeon below stairs. He calculated
that, at the very soonest, Van Duren need not be expected back for
three or four days; and what might not be accomplished even in that
short time! He could not labour much during the day at perfecting his
duplicate key; he had too many interruptions; he was wanted too
frequently in the office by people who called to inquire after Van
Duren. But after business hours, when the hush of evening crept over
the busy city, then he could work away as long as he liked without
fear of interruption. And surely, after all that had gone before, a
few short hours only would now be needed to place the long-coveted
prize in his grasp.

All that day he remained very restless and unsettled, and seemed
unable either to stay long in any one place, or to fix his mind on
anything for more than a few minutes at a time.

Van Duren had left him several important letters to write, but after
getting as far as the date and "Dear Sir," or "Gentlemen," with one or
other of them, his ideas became so mixed up and confused that he could
no longer disentangle the subject of one letter from that of another
in his thoughts; so that at last he had to fling down his pen in
disgust, and rush off for a quarter of an hour to a favourite haunt
round the corner. Indeed, he seemed to be running in and out all day
long.

Pringle made up his mind that, if requisite, he would work away at his
key all night. When Bakewell and his wife were safe in bed--and they
rarely sat up after ten o'clock--he would steal downstairs without his
shoes, turn on the gas, and shut himself up in the strong room; and
there, file in hand, and a fresh bottle of rum by his side, he could
work on in safety till five or six o'clock next morning. But perhaps
before that time the stubborn lock would yield and the great door fall
back on its hinges, and then!---- But such a possibility was almost
too much for calm consideration.

Before beginning his work for the night, he would go down to a little
water-side tavern that he knew of, where the _Shipping Gazette_ could
always be found, together with sundry lists of vessels about to sail
from London and other ports. He had not yet decided on the spot to
which he should direct his flight, but he could make up his mind on
that important point to-night, and pick out the names and dates of
sailing of some half-dozen ships, so as to be ready for starting at
any minute.

As it happened, however, the evening turned out so wet and stormy that
Pringle was obliged to put off his proposed visit to the river-side
tavern till another day. This altered his plans a little. Instead of
waiting till Bakewell and his wife were in bed, as soon as he had shut
the office and hurriedly swallowed a cup of tea, he went to his own
room and locked himself in, and set to work at once with his file. But
he was afraid to go on working too long at a time without trying the
key in the lock. At any moment his file might give the one last touch,
which, Pringle felt convinced, was all that his key now needed to make
him at once master of the situation. So, at intervals of half an hour
or so, he stole downstairs to the strong room to try his key once
more; and once more, on finding that the master-touch had not yet been
given, he stole back to his own room and set to work again with a
slow, quiet patience that would not know what it was to feel itself
beaten.

To-night, for a wonder, it was nearly eleven before the Bakewells went
to bed. As soon as he felt sure that there was no longer anything to
fear from them, Pringle removed himself permanently downstairs for the
night. Seating himself on a pile of books close by the iron door, he
went quietly on with his work. At half-past eleven he tried the key in
the lock, but, for aught he could tell to the contrary, he might have
been no nearer success than he had been a month previously. He tried
again as the clocks were chiming the quarter before midnight, and the
wards of the lock yielded and fell back as readily and smoothly as
ever they had done before Van Duren's own key. The master touch had
been given at last.

Pringle, sitting on his heap of books, stared at the open door as
though he could not believe the evidence of his senses. Was it, could
it be possible that the golden prize for which he had laboured so long
and so patiently was at last really within his grasp? His hands were
all a-tremble, his head was burning, his mouth parched up. All at once
it struck him that he felt very thirsty, and that it was close upon
twelve o'clock. There would be time for one, or even for two last
tumblers before the taverns closed. Where would he be before midnight
should strike again? Not in London, he said to himself, but miles out
at sea on his way to some far-off land.

With some such thoughts as these flitting fitfully through his mind,
he mechanically lowered the gas, and then, leaving the safe-door still
open, but closing and locking the door of the room, he crept
cautiously up the stone staircase, with his shoes in his hand, and let
himself out at the front door with as little noise as possible. He had
made no attempt to examine the contents of the safe. A brief glance
into it had satisfied him for the time being. He knew for an undoubted
fact that the money he coveted was there, and he asked to know nothing
more. There was no fear that it would take to itself wings while he
went to have a final glass at his favourite tavern.

The final glass was duly imbibed, and at five minutes past twelve
Jonas Pringle found himself in the streets again, and on his way back
to Spur Alley. He was nearly at home, when suddenly his eyes fell on
the figure of a woman who was standing full in the light of a street
lamp, and apparently counting some money. There was something in the
outline or attitude of the woman that sent a strange thrill to his
heart. With a half-inarticulate cry, he hurried forward. Startled by
his sudden movement, the woman looked up, and her haggard face became
clearly visible in the lamplight.

"Jessie!--my daughter!" exclaimed Pringle, and he sprang forward as
though he would clutch her.

"Father!" cried the woman, in a voice of shrill, sharp agony, as she
suddenly flung up her arms. Then, before he could touch her, she
turned and fled.

"Jessie! Jessie! Don't run away from me!" cried Pringle, as he hurried
after her.

But he was no match for the fleet-footed woman in front of him. By the
time he got to the corner of the street he was completely exhausted,
and Jessie was already out of sight. He leaned for a moment or two
against the wall, with a hand pressed to his side, while he gathered
breath. Then, with a bitter sigh, he retraced his way slowly towards
Spur Alley.

"Found at last," he muttered to himself, as he stumbled painfully
along--"found at last, but only to lose her again at the moment of
finding! I would have forgiven everything--yes, everything, if she
would only have come back to me!"

During the last few minutes, he had forgotten all about the safe and
its contents, and the treasure that lay ready to his hand; but now, as
he proceeded to open the street door with his latch-key, the whole
situation came back to his mind in a rush, but with a sense of
strangeness as though it were something done by some other man, or by
himself long years before.

The house was as dark and silent as a tomb. He groped his way
downstairs, and presently he found himself in the strong-room again.
He sat down on the heap of books to think. To-night, of all nights in
his life, he had seen again the daughter for whom he had been
searching for years. He had seen her one moment, but only to lose her
the next. She had fled from him, desperately determined to avoid him;
and the chances were that, in that great wilderness of London, they
should never meet again. His heart yearned towards her as it had never
yearned before, but all her desire seemed to be to shun him. The
question with him now was, whether he should take this money which lay
ready to his hand, and go away for ever; or whether he should relock
the safe, leaving the money untouched, and go on living his old life
as if this dream of sudden wealth had never haunted his mind, and
devote all his spare hours, as he had done, years before, to searching
for his lost child, who, as to-night had proved, was so near to him
and yet so far away. The chances were that he should never see Jessie
again; and even if he should succeed in finding her, he had no proof
that she would not elude him again as she had done already. If only he
could have felt sure of finding her, and that she would stay with him
when found, not ten times the amount of money in Van Duren's safe
would have tempted him to leave London, and with it his last chance of
ever seeing her again.

His thoughts were all in a maze of confusion. He could not make up his
mind what to do. Springing to his feet, he flung wide the door of the
safe. He would at least feast his eyes on this treasure for which he
had braved so much and laboured so long. There would still be time to
decide afterwards what he should finally do.

There were several iron drawers in the safe, all of them unlocked.
These he opened one after another. One of them was full of small bags
of specie, each of which was neatly tied up and labelled, to show the
value of its contents. Another drawer contained bank-notes, drafts,
and bills of exchange. Other receptacles held promissory notes, bills
of sale, and various documents having a bearing on Van Duren's
business. Pringle paused for a moment or two while he made a rapid
calculation. In gold and notes alone, the safe held upwards of three
thousand pounds. His most sanguine hopes were more than realized.
Should he take this money and go, or should he not? At six o'clock
that very morning he could drop down the river in an outward-bound
ship, and all trace of him would be lost for ever. But to leave
Jessie!

There was one last drawer still to open. He drew it slowly out. It
held neither gold, nor notes, nor bills of exchange. There was nothing
in it but a small cedar-wood box, which box was locked. Pringle took
it out of the drawer. It was very light, and not at all strong. What
could there be inside it? Why should the contents of this box be held
as of more account than the gold and notes that lay openly about?
Perhaps within that little casket lay hidden some dark secret of Van
Duren's life. With the aid of one of his files, which lay there on the
floor, Pringle could force open the lid in a couple of minutes, and
see with his own eyes what was shut up inside. No sooner thought than
done--done without pausing to ask himself whether such an act would
not shut him out from all possibility of retreat. So long as the box
remained intact, so long as the gold and notes remained untouched, all
that he had to do was to shut and relock the door of the safe, and Van
Duren need never know anything of what had happened to-night.

But the lid of the box was forced even while this thought was floating
vaguely through his mind. He forced it, breaking it into two pieces as
he did so. To his intense disappointment, there was nothing inside but
a parcel of old letters.

Yes, at the very bottom there was something more, and yet nothing of
any great consequence: only a woman's portrait. He took it up with a
sneer, and moved a few steps nearer the gaslight, so as to be able to
examine it more closely.

For a full minute he stood staring at the portrait without moving a
muscle, with no more apparent life in him than a waxen effigy. Then he
let the portrait drop as suddenly as though it had burnt him, and
putting his hands to his face, he sank on his knees beside it on the
floor. But not long did he remain thus. With a low cry, he started to
his feet as though suddenly struck by some overwhelming thought, and
hurrying across the floor, he pulled out the drawer that held the
letters, and went back with it to the light. Holding the drawer under
one arm, he picked out a letter here and there, opened it, read a line
or two, glanced at the signature, and then put it back and took up
another. Last of all, he picked up the portrait, kissed it, laid it
atop of the letters, and put the drawer back into its place in the
safe. Then once more he sat down to think.

What a strange and terrible discovery was that which he had just made!
The likeness was Jessie's likeness, and the letters were Jessie's
letters. Max Van Duren was the villain who had robbed him of his
child.

Nineteen men out of twenty would have destroyed the letters of a girl
for whom they had ceased to care, and whom they had cast upon the
world without compunction, to starve, or die, or to live on in a way
that was worse than death. But here the letters were. They had been
written in the days when this man called Jessie his "wild rose," when
she believed him to be everything that was good and honourable; when,
at his persuasion, and for love of him, she ran away from the drunken,
disreputable father who seemed to value her so little, but who found
out how dear the motherless girl was to his heart when he had lost her
for ever. Yes; here were the letters, overflowing with sweet, girlish
confidence and outspoken love. Who could tell why Van Duren had kept
them? Not he himself, if any one had put the question to him.

Jonas Pringle had need to think. He heard the City clocks strike one,
as he sat on the pile of ledgers by the open door of the safe, his
elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands. He heard the City
clocks strike two, and still he sat like a man turned to stone.

When, years before, he had first come to London, and had reason to
believe that his daughter was hidden somewhere in the same huge
wilderness, all his spare time for many weary months had been devoted
to looking for her. But that could not go on for ever: and although he
had long ago given up all active search for Jessie, the trick,
acquired at that time, of peering up into the face of every woman who
passed him in the streets, had never wholly left him. Thousands of
times had he dwelt in imagination on the meeting which, he felt
convinced, must one day take place between his daughter and
himself--how he would snatch her to his heart and tell her that all
the past was dead and forgiven. And now he had seen her, but only to
find that she shunned him as though he were stricken with the plague.
A thousand times had he sworn to himself that should he ever knowingly
cross the path of the man who had destroyed his child, no power in
heaven or on earth should baulk him of his revenge. And now that by a
strange chance he had crossed the path of that man, should his oaths
be all forgotten, and the revenge he had promised himself nothing but
an empty dream? Not so, not so.

But what form should his vengeance take? Not the poor, paltry,
insignificant form of robbing this man of his gold. After what he had
learned to-night, rather than take a penny of his money, he would have
begged from door to door. What he wanted was not Van Duren's money,
but Van Duren's life. He would like to have seen him come home the
worse for wine, and in that condition have gone to bed, and then he
would have set fire to the house and have burnt him as he slept. He
would like to have treated him as some savage tribes treat their
prisoners--torturing them hour after hour, killing them by inches
through a long summer day. A death that would come quickly was too
good for him. Something slow and lingering, something that would make
him long for death as a prisoner longs for the order for his release,
would not be one whit more than he, and all such as he, deserved.

At length he heard the clocks strike four, and he knew that the bright
May dawning was beginning to flood the streets with the grey and gold
of another day. Then he stood up, stiff, cold, and weary, but with an
intense fire burning at his heart that seemed to light him up from
head to foot, and had already transformed him into another man. He put
out the gas, and leaving the safe-door still unlocked, but locking the
outer door, he crept upstairs to bed. He had matured his plan; he had
thought out his scheme of vengeance; everything was clearly mapped out
in his mind: he could now afford to take a few hours' sleep.

He came down at his usual hour, washed, shaven, and brushed more
carefully than common, and had breakfast with the Bakewells. He was
very chatty and affable over the meal, and entertained them with a
long and elaborate narrative of the latest murder, so that they all
enjoyed themselves greatly. An hour later, after the post letters had
arrived, he called Bakewell into the office.

"I have just got a letter from the governor," said Pringle, "in which
he tells me that he shall not be back home for a fortnight, or even
longer. So, as you and your better half will have little or nothing to
do during that time, he thinks you may as well take advantage of his
absence and have a run out to the seaside, or down into the country,
for a couple of weeks. And what do you think he has done? He has
opened his heart as I never knew him to open it before, and has
actually asked me to give you five pounds towards paying your expenses
while you are away. Bakewell, what a lucky dog you are!"

Bakewell was staggered by the news of his good fortune, as Pringle had
perhaps intended that he should be: nor was his wife less overcome
when told of it. However, they were nothing loth to go for a holiday
on such terms; and so well did Pringle work upon them, and hurry
forward their arrangements, that at six o'clock that evening he had
the satisfaction of seeing them drive away to the station, and of
finding himself left the sole inmate of the big, gloomy house in Spur
Alley.

This was what he wanted. He wanted to wait there, all alone, for the
return of Van Duren. He went about his business as at ordinary times,
but he hardly tasted drink at all. Neither did he sleep much. Of an
evening he would sit all alone in Mrs. Bakewell's underground kitchen,
smoking a long clay pipe, moistening his mouth now and then with a
little cold tea, and now and then smashing a stray beetle. He would
sit thus, his feet perched on the chimney-piece, listening to the
clocks as they struck hour after hour, thinking his own dark thoughts,
and waiting for the coming of Max Van Duren.



CHAPTER V.
A FOUND LETTER.


It was evening--the evening of the day on which Matthew Kelvin had
sent his brief note to Dr. Whitaker, making an appointment with him
for half-past eleven next morning. He had desired to be left alone for
an hour, and during that time he had contrived, with several intervals
of rest, for his weakness was very great, to write a longer letter
than had come from his pen since the first day of his illness. This
letter, duly sealed and directed, now lay on the little table by his
bedside. The address on it was very short, being simply--"Miss Lloyd,
Stammars."

By-and-by Mrs. Kelvin came into the room. As she did so, her son
quietly thrust the letter under his pillow. The old lady came to the
bedside, and beamed on him through her spectacles, as he lay there
with his arms crossed under his head. "Why, Matthew, my dear boy, I
have not seen you look so bright and well for many a long day as you
have looked during the last few hours! You have got the turn at last.
I feel sure you have. I knew that Dr. Druce would bring you round
again after a time."

"Yes, mother, I think I have got the turn at last, as you say,"
answered Kelvin, gravely. "We will never let any one say a word
against Dr. Druce again, will we?"

"Ah, he's very, very clever," said the old lady. Then she stooped and
kissed him, and as she did so, Matthew's arm stole round her neck, and
pressed her head gently on his shoulder, and kept it there some
minutes. When he let her go, she saw that there were tears in his
eyes; but she was too wise to notice them, and she began at once to
talk as though his recovery now were merely the question of a few
days, or a week at the most.

"But I shall not let you go back to business till you are quite
strong," she said. "Don't tell me that your not doing so will cost you
a great deal of money. I don't care if it costs a thousand pounds:
what is that in comparison with your health? You must have a month at
the seaside, at some cheerful place--Boulogne or Dieppe, where you
won't have time to grow melancholy. And if Olive and I go with you, we
shall not bore you overmuch with our society, but only be there to see
that you take proper care of yourself, and do not poison yourself with
those French dinners, of which you are so fond."

"I'm sure Olive deserves a holiday as much as any one," resumed Mrs.
Kelvin, a moment or two later. "What I should have done without her
all this long time that you have been ill, I'm sure I don't know. She
must be very fond of you, Matthew, to have done what she has done.
Now, don't you think she is fond of you?"

"Yes, I suppose she is fond of me--after a cousinly fashion," said
Matthew, coldly.

"Ah, you men!" sighed the old lady. "Whatever sacrifices a woman may
make for you, in your own hearts you never think they are half as much
as you deserve."

At this moment there came a tap at the door, and Olive entered the
room. She brought her cousin a basin of arrowroot, which he,
remembering his promise to Dr. Whitaker, resolved not to touch.
His eyes followed her curiously as she moved about the room. "I
cannot--no, I cannot believe it!" he murmured under his breath. "There
must be some damnable mistake somewhere."

"I have just been telling Matthew that I have not seen him look so
well for weeks as he looks to-night," said Mrs. Kelvin to Olive. "We
shall soon have him all right again now."

Olive started, and threw a quick, suspicious glance at the sick man.
He was looking at her very gravely but very kindly, as she thought.
"No: he suspects nothing, or he would not look at me in that way," she
said to herself. Then her black brows separated and her face broke
into a smile. "I really believe he is better," she said to her aunt.
"I believe he has only been shamming all this time, and now he is
getting tired of it. I should not be a bit surprised to see him come
down to breakfast to-morrow."

"I'd almost stake my life that Whitaker is making some strange
blunder!" muttered Kelvin to himself. "However, I'll carry out his
instructions, and let to-morrow prove to him how wrong he is."

Olive was anxious that he should drink his arrowroot. He just put a
spoonful to his lips, and then put it aside as being too hot. "Come in
again after my mother has gone," he contrived to whisper to her. Then
he lay back and shut his eyes, and presently both his mother and Olive
bade him good night, and left the room.

As soon as Mrs. Kelvin was gone to her own room, Olive came quietly
back. She was on the tiptoe of expectation to know what her cousin
could have to say to her. He did not keep her long in doubt.

"Olive," he said, "I have been writing a letter this evening--a letter
which I want you to deliver for me to-morrow morning."

"Very well, Matthew. You know that I am entirely at your service. To
whom is the letter addressed?"

"To Eleanor Lloyd."

"Ah!--then you have made up your mind at last to tell her everything?"

"I have made up my mind to tell her this: that I have discovered that
she is not the daughter of Jacob Lloyd, and, consequently, not
entitled to his property. But I have not made up my mind to tell her
that I've known this fact for more than six months, and have concealed
it purposely from her. I cannot tell her that."

"But why do you wish me to take the letter? Why not send it through
the post?"

"Because I am too weak at present to put down in writing more than the
barest outline of the facts, and I want you to supplement by word of
mouth what my letter fails to convey."

"Why not wait till you are a little stronger--till you can tell her,
in person, all that it is necessary she should be told?"

"Not one day longer will I wait. Eleanor Lloyd shall know the great
secret of her life before she is twenty-four hours older."

"As you will. Perhaps you are right," said Olive, quietly. "There is
no reason why Miss Lloyd should be kept in ignorance any longer."

"None whatever. I don't remember anything in my life that I have
regretted so bitterly as not having told Eleanor at first. But it is
useless to speak of the past. The future is all we can now deal with."

"Then your feeling of resentment towards Miss Lloyd has an existence
no longer?"

"It is wholly dead. A sick-bed alters one's views and feelings in many
ways. How can a man have room in his heart for any petty jealousies or
resentments when he sees the shades of death closing slowly round him?
To me all such feelings now seem as strange as though they were those
of another man, about which I had read somewhere, and had never been a
portion of my own inner life."

Olive longed to ask him whether his love for Eleanor was dead equally
with his resentment, but she was afraid that the old wound might not
yet be altogether healed.

"Then you wish me to go to Stammars to-morrow?" she said.

"I do. Miss Lloyd is there at present. I had a letter from Sir Thomas
this morning, in which he casually mentions that fact. You had better
start early--not later than ten or half-past, by which means you will
get your business over by luncheon time. Of course, you will seek a
private interview with Miss Lloyd, and not say a word to either Sir
Thomas or Lady Dudgeon about your errand. Eleanor must be left to
break the news to them in her own way and at her own time."

"It will be a bitter task to have to do so."

"It will, indeed, poor girl! Cannot you understand, Olive, my chief
reason for wanting you to go to Stammars?"

"You have told me already, have you not?"

"I have told you one reason, but not the only one. You are a woman,
Olive, and I want you to break this news to Eleanor, to whom, in any
case, it must come as a terrible shock. You do not like her, I know--at
least, I judge so from what you have said at different times. But
this is not a question of likes or dislikes. It is a question of one
woman being overwhelmed by a great trouble, and of another woman
smoothing away the sharp edges of that trouble with a little sympathy
and kindness--articles which cost so little, but, at such seasons,
mean so much. This is all I ask you to do, Olive; this is my other
reason for sending you to Stammars. Am I asking more than you care to
perform?"

"Certainly not, Matthew. It is not much that you ask me to do."

"But it means a great deal."

"How little men understand about us women!" thought Olive. "None of my
own sex, who knew the circumstances of the case, would ever have
dreamed of asking me to do what Matthew has asked me to do, and
believes I will do."

"Think what a revelation my letter will be!" continued the lawyer. "At
one fell blow she will be robbed of name, wealth, and position. Think,
and pity her."

He lay back, exhausted by the exertion of having spoken so much.

"What can I give you?" asked Olive. "Will you not have your
arrowroot?"

"No: I will take that later on. A little weak brandy-and-water is all
I need at present."

"And now I must bid you good night," said Olive, as soon as he had
revived a little.

He put the letter into her hand, and as he did so he drew her towards
him and kissed her. "I should like you to start about ten in the
morning," he said. She promised to be ready by that time, and then she
went.

"Whitaker's suspicion is nothing but a horrible nightmare," he said to
himself, as Olive left the room. "He is wrong--utterly wrong." But for
all that, Matthew Kelvin hardly slept a wink all night.

Olive took the letter to her room, locked the door, and then, after
deliberating for a few moments, she quietly tore open the envelope and
read what was inside. "If it be requisite to deliver the letter, I can
put it into another envelope, and no one will be any the wiser," she
said to herself. "If I decide not to deliver it, then another envelope
will not be needed."

"A thoroughly business-like document," she said to herself, as she
folded up the letter, "and such as any lawyer might write to any lady.
If there is no resentment in it, neither is there any love. The
resentment is dead without a doubt, but is the love dead also? Query.
Well, I will take the letter with me: there will be no harm in doing
that: but it by no means follows that Miss Lloyd will ever read it.
How easy it will be to pretend that I have lost it, and then I can
tell the story my own way--with a sting in it, and before witnesses
too, if such a thing be anyhow possible. Oh! to see her humiliation!
that will pay for everything."

She was up betimes next morning, and ready to start for Stammars soon
after ten o'clock. In answer to her anxious inquiries, her cousin
declared that he was much as usual--neither better nor worse. "You
will try your best to soften the blow, won't you, Olive?" were
Matthew's last words to her.

"You know that I will do my best," she said, with one of her faint
smiles. She laid her thin fingers in his hand for a moment, and then
she went.

By-and-by came Dr. Whitaker. Pod succeeded in smuggling him upstairs
unseen by anyone, and then took up a position in the corridor outside
to keep away any would-be intruders. Mrs. Kelvin, especially, was to
be kept out of the room. Were she to find out that her son was
closeted with Dr. Whitaker, she would imagine at once that there was a
conspiracy afoot to dispense with the services of her favourite. Dr.
Druce. Fortunately, she was busy downstairs just about that time, and
did not go near. Matthew had said that he fancied a certain sort of
pudding--an elaborate pudding, which Mrs. Kelvin was positive that no
one but herself could make properly--a pudding, as her son was quite
aware, that would require her undivided attention for at least a
couple of hours below stairs.

Mr. Pod Piper, keeping watch and ward outside his master's door, had a
long corridor all to himself, up and down which he could march as
though he were a sentry on duty. After a time, from a door at the
extreme end, there issued a pert-looking damsel, who smiled sweetly on
Pod. In one hand she carried a broom, in the other a dust-pan.

"Ah, Molly, and how are you this morning?" said Pod, with the air of a
duke addressing a dependent. "Blooming as ever, I see."

"I'm quite well, Mr. Piper, and I hope you are the same," answered
Molly, with a little blush. Then she added, with a confidential air,
"I've got such a beautiful rose downstairs. You shall have it for your
button-hole, if you'll promise to wear it."

"I'll wear it for your sake, Molly. But whose room is that that you
have just come out of?"

"Oh, that's Miss Deane's room. I've just been tidying it up a bit
while she's out of the way."

"You like her, of course? Everybody likes Miss Deane."

"Then everybody's welcome to like her.--She's too sly for me.--But,
see, I found this letter when I was sweeping just now behind her
dressing-table. It must have slipped down without her knowing it. It's
been opened; but as it's got master's name on it, I hardly know
whether to leave it where I found it or to let master have it."

"Allow me," said Pod, authoritatively, taking the letter from the
girl's hand. "You were quite right, Molly, to ask my advice." As Molly
had said, the letter was plainly addressed to Mr. Kelvin, and it had
evidently been opened. As two-thirds of the office correspondence was
seen by Pod in one form or another, and as this particular letter was
not marked "Private," he felt no compunction about opening it and
reading it. It was Gerald Warburton's first letter, in which he asked
whether it was true that Jacob Lloyd had died with out a will, and
that he was his uncle's heir.

Pod's mind was made up in a moment. It seemed doubtful whether hi
master had ever seen the letter: in any case, he should see it now.
"You had better leave this in my hands, Molly," he said, still with his
ducal air. "It is only an ordinary business letter, which has been
given to Miss Deane for some purpose, and which she has evidently
mislaid. You may depend upon my making it all right, and there will be
no need for you to say a word about it." Then he kissed Molly and told
her not to forget the rose, and then he let her go.

"Another of your little tricks, Miss Deane, or else I'm vastly
mistaken," said Mr. Piper to himself. "This letter has been cut open
with a pair of scissors. The governor never cut open a letter with a
pair of scissors in his life. Funny, very."

Pod's watch came to an end in about an hour. He was summoned into the
room, and, much to his surprise, found his master dressed and sitting
in his easy-chair. How gaunt and hollow-eyed he looked! What a wreck
of his former self! How loosely his clothes hung about him! Tears came
into Pod's eyes as he looked at him. All Kelvin's sternness and
arbitrary ways were forgotten in pity for the plight in which he saw
him now. Dr. Whitaker, with his arms folded on the table, was
regarding him attentively.

"Piper," said Mr. Kelvin, "I want you to let Dr. Whitaker out, and you
must contrive it so that my mother does not see him."

"Yes, sir."

"After that, you will come and help me to crawl downstairs as far as
my mother's sitting-room."

"Yes, sir."

Dr. Whitaker rose and took his hat. "Beg pardon, sir," said Pod to his
master, "but here's a letter which Molly the house-maid gave me just
now. She found it in Miss Deane's room while sweeping behind the
dressing-table. As the letter is addressed to you, I thought I had
better let you have it."

Kelvin took the letter with hands that trembled a little, and looked
first of all at the direction, and then at the mode in which the
letter had been opened. Dr. Whitaker came forward to shake hands.
"Don't go for a minute or two," said Kelvin. "There is something else
I want to say to you."

Dr. Whitaker sat down again, and Kelvin drew out the letter and
glanced first of all at the signature. He started when he saw the
name, and then he ran his eye quickly over the contents; last of all
he read the letter through, slowly and carefully.

"This is dated nearly a month ago," he said, "and yet I have never
seen it till to-day. It has been kept purposely from me. By what a web
of treachery and deceit am I enmeshed! It is horrible--horrible!" He
sat for a little while in silence, holding the letter in his hand, his
eyes bent sadly on the floor. No one spoke.

"Whitaker," he said at last, turning abruptly on the doctor, "I want
to go to Stammars."

"To Stammars! When?"

"Now--at once."

"Impossible! I would not answer for the consequences of such a mad
act."

"Whatever the consequences may be, I must go, and at once. Piper, run
to the 'King's Head,' and order a brougham to be here in ten minutes
from now." Pod was off like a shot.

"Kelvin, you must be crazy to do this thing."

"Perhaps so, my friend, but still, I shall do it. During the last
half-hour it seems as if the scales had fallen from my eyes. I seem
now to see that woman as she really is--not as I have always believed
her to be. I sent her to Stammars this morning with a message of the
utmost importance. How will she deliver that message? Not as I asked
her to deliver it, but----What a fool I must have been to send her on
such an errand! I tell you, Whitaker, that I must go after her: that
there is not a minute to lose."

"If you must go, you must, but in that case I shall go with you."

And in that way the matter was settled. Dr. Whitaker, finding that
further opposition was useless, yielded the point, but was determined
not to lose sight of Kelvin till he had seen him safely back in his
own room. A quarter of an hour later the brougham came round. Kelvin
managed to crawl downstairs, a step at a time, supported on each side
by Whitaker and Pod. Mrs. Kelvin, being still busy with her pudding in
the back part of the house, knew nothing of all this. Matthew sent her
a message by Mr. Bray, his chief clerk; but it was not to be given to
her till after the brougham had started.

Then Pod climbed on to the box beside the driver, and away they went.



CHAPTER VI.
VAN DUREN IN WALES.


In the dusk of a sweet May evening a man slipped quietly out of the
back door of the "Ring of Bells" tavern--a low public-house,
frequented chiefly by fishermen and labourers, in the village of
Marhyddoc, and shunning the more frequented neighbourhoods, found
himself presently in a pretty winding lane that seemed to lead to
nowhere in particular, and was quite given over to solitude. Here the
man sat down for a while on the trunk of a fallen tree. The house had
become intolerable to him: he could stay in it no longer; so he had
strolled out to this quiet nook, there to wait till dusk had deepened
into dark. Not without difficulty would even Jonas Pringle have
recognized in this man Max Van Duren. Hands and face had been stained
till they were the colour of a gipsy's, and his hair had been dyed jet
black. He had only been twelve hours in Marhyddoc, but he had already
found out a great deal that it behoved him to know. Fortunately for
Van Duren, the landlord of the "Ring of Bells" spoke English fluently,
and was very fond of airing his accomplishment, besides being
naturally of a garrulous turn of mind. As a consequence, Van Duren had
very soon extracted from him all that he had to tell--more than enough
to confirm his worst fears.

In the portraits which the landlord drew of two of the strangers who
were staying at the big hotel on the cliff, he had no difficulty in
recognizing Byrne and Miriam. He could no longer doubt that he had
been duped by these two; that they had only hired his rooms, and
wormed themselves into his confidence, in order to extract from him a
secret which, up to that time, he could have sworn would never be
whispered by him in mortal ears. And they had succeeded but too well.
What a weak fool he had been! How easily that girl had twined him
round her finger! How well he could see the sneer that would curve her
beautiful lips when she spoke of him to her father! He hated her now
with as much intensity as he had loved her before. Had Miriam Byrne
come walking down that lane in the May twilight--had she and Max Van
Duren met face to face with no third person by, the chances that her
father would ever have seen his daughter alive again would have been
very problematical indeed.

But with Byrne and his daughter at the hotel was another individual,
according to the landlord's account--an elderly gentleman, whom Van
Duren altogether failed to recognize. Not that he was greatly troubled
thereby: he had far more important matters to occupy his thoughts.

For the landlord had other news--news that he was in no wise loth to
impart, that for Van Duren was full of intense significance. He knew
all about the divers and their strange apparatus and dresses. He told
his hearer how, in the first place, someone had come down to
Marhyddoc, and, after some difficulty, had found out the exact spot
where the schooner _Albatross_ had foundered twenty years before. The
place was then marked with a buoy, and soon after that the divers had
come. Everybody in the village had asked themselves what there was in
the cargo of the _Albatross_ that could be worth the trouble and expense
of recovery after having been for twenty years at the bottom of the
sea: and for a long time the question asked by everybody had remained
unanswered. But at last it had oozed out, nobody seemed to know
exactly how, that the particular object for which the divers were
instructed to search was a small oaken box, clamped with silver. The
box was said by some to contain certain documents and title-deeds of
immense value, for lack of which the rightful heir to a great property
had been kept out of his own for years. Others knew for a fact that
the box was full of sovereigns which were being sent out to America
to buy slaves with. Others there were who averred that inside the
silver-clamped box would be found the evidence of a terrible murder
that had remained undetected all this long time.

"But of course they have not succeeded in finding the box?" Van Duren
had said to the landlord, burning with a terrible anxiety to know the
worst.

"But they have. Yes, indeed," said the man with a chuckle. Van Duren,
on hearing this, got up abruptly and went to the window. His face was
ghastly; his mouth twitched nervously in a way that he could not
control; his staring eyes saw nothing that was before them. "The
divers had been down three times without success," continued the man.
"They went down again very early this morning, and in less than an
hour they found the box. I saw it with my own eyes when they came
ashore:--a small oak box, clamped at the corners, and with two letters
on the lid."

Van Duren tried to speak, but he was like a man under the influence of
a nightmare. The words died away in his parched-up throat. Happily the
landlord took his listener's silence as a sign that his narrative was
interesting, and went on without noticing him.

"When the box was brought ashore it was given into the custody of John
Williams, the policeman. Yes, indeed. John took it up to the hotel on
the cliff where the gentlemen are staying, and there he waited with
the box on his knees till Mr. Davies of St. Owens, who is a
magistrate, came, three hours later, and then they all went into a
room together, the divers and the gentlemen, and the door was locked,
and there the box was opened."

Van Duren would have liked to say, "And what did they find in the box
when they opened it?" but not for the life of him could he have put
the question. He knew quite well--no one better--what would be found
in the box; but none the less did he hunger to hear every detail from
the landlord's lips. However, he had only to wait and say nothing; his
host's natural garrulity would do the rest.

"Whether they found title-deeds in the box, or whether they found
sovereigns, or whether they found anything at all is more than I can
exactly say. John Williams, the policeman, for all he's my own
cousin's nephew, and I treated him to three glasses of brandy after he
came down from the hotel, only shook his head and wouldn't say a word,
though he knew very well that I wouldn't have whispered it to a soul.
No, indeed. But John Williams will have no more of my brandy without
paying for it like any other man."

Such was the story told Max Van Duren in the little Welsh inn. His
worst fears were realized. The sea had given up its secret. Everything
was known. He was stunned by the blow, and seemed for the time being
to have lost all power of cool thought, all possibility of looking his
position steadily in the face and of deciding as to what steps it
behoved him to take next.

But even through the midst of the vague, unreasoning terror that now
possessed him, through the ghastly dread that now held him as with a
hand of iron, he could not help wondering by what means, through what
special agencies, this unlooked for and terrible result had been
brought about. Who forged the first link of evidence tending to
implicate him in a crime committed so long ago that at times it almost
seemed as if no such deed had ever really been done--as if it were
nothing more than a distempered dream of his own imagining? What first
induced Byrne and Miriam to come to his house and worm themselves into
his confidence on purpose to elicit from him the particulars of the
shipwreck of the _Albatross?_ How did Byrne first come to connect him,
Max Van Duren, with the murder of Paul Stilling? And, which was more
mysterious still, whence and how did he derive the knowledge which
enabled him to connect the story of the shipwreck with that crime?
Never once during all the intervening years had Van Duren troubled
himself to make any inquiry after Ambrose Murray. He had never cared
to ascertain whether the man he had so foully wronged were alive or
dead, whether he had been pardoned and set at liberty, or whether he
was still shut up in his living tomb. But now, to-day, it did occur to
him to ask himself whether it was in anyway possible that it was the
hand of Ambrose Murray which had linked together the fatal chain of
evidence--a chain that would prove strong enough to hang him unless he
took particular care what he was about. But he scouted the idea almost
as soon as it came to him. If Ambrose Murray were still alive, it was
merely as a harmless lunatic--as a melancholy madman whom one might
perhaps afford to pity, but could certainly have no cause to fear.

But it was certainly not the hand of a harmless lunatic that was at
the bottom of this plot to bring his long-hidden guilt home to him. It
was the hand, rather, of a man as strong, cunning, and unscrupulous as
himself--a hand that, so far, had won every point of the game against
him--a hand that would succeed in tying a halter firmly round his
neck, unless--unless what? he asked himself, with a mixture of terror
and despair. He did not know who his enemy was, where to look for him,
or how best to confront him. He had got a sort of vague notion in his
mind that Byrne was merely the puppet of a firmer will and a stronger
hand; that his real enemy was lurking out of sight in the background,
weaving round him, thread by thread, the meshes of a net from which in
the end he would find it impossible to escape.

Not till dusk had fairly set in did Van Duren venture outside the inn
door. He seemed to have lost his appetite entirely; but he kept up his
strength, and in some small way his courage also, by repeated doses of
the inn's fiery spirits. When, at last, he did leave the house, he had
no settled intention in doing so. The place for hours had been full of
noisy, half-drunken company, all of whom, as he could not help hearing
through the thin lath-and-plaster wall that divided his room from the
tap-room, were loudly discussing some important topic in their native
Welsh. That topic, as the landlord took care to inform him more than
once, was neither more nor less than the finding of the long-sought-for
box by the divers. At last he felt that he must either leave the house
or go mad. So he wandered out into a quiet lane at the back of the
village, and there sat down on the trunk of a felled tree.

What should he do? What ought his next step to be? His mind was all in
amaze of doubt and terror and perplexity. Should he hurry off to
London by the first train, secure all his available property, shut up
his house in Spur Alley, and drop quietly out of sight where no
possible search for him could be made? Or should he stay and brave out
everything?

Presently he began to feel very lonely among the dim shadows of the
silent lane. He fancied that he heard voices whispering, and the faint
rustle of garments, as if someone were watching him stealthily through
the foliage at his back. He looked round with a shudder, and then he
rose and walked swiftly forward. In a little while the lane took him
to a rising ground that overlooked the village and the sea. On his
right, and no great distance away, rose the cliff on the summit of
which was built the hotel where Byrne and Miriam were staying. Several
of the windows were lighted up. Which were the windows of Miriam's
room, he wondered? In the midst of all his doubts and fears for his
own safety, he could not help thinking about the girl who had played
such a short but important part in the strange drama of his life. He
had no bitterer thought, even at this bitter hour, than the knowledge
that this girl, whom he had learnt to love so passionately, had not
only never cared for him, but had duped him from the very first; that
all her smiles and looks and words had been utterly false; that it was
her hand, and hers alone, that had struck him down; that but for
her no harm could have happened to him; that but for her, the
silver-clamped box, with its damning evidence, would have rested till
doomsday at the bottom of the sea.

Without knowing or caring whither it might lead him, he had
unconsciously taken a footpath which brought him presently to a little
side wicket that opened into the grounds of the hotel. From the wicket
a winding path led upward through thick clumps of evergreens and
brushwood to the house. There was for him, in his present mood, a sort
of fascination, a grim satisfaction, in the thought of being so near
these cunning enemies of his, who seemed so thoroughly bent on hunting
him down, while all the time they believed him to be hundreds of miles
away. He had little or no sense of present fear upon him. His dread
lay in the unknown future. The next blow that would be struck at him
would not be struck here, but in London. So long as these people
stayed in Wales, he was safe. They had done their worst for a little
time to come.

He passed through the wicket, but as soon as he found himself in the
grounds of the hotel, he diverged from the pathway on to the grass,
where his footsteps were inaudible, and where the evergreens would
shelter him from the view of any passer-by. But perfect quiet reigned
around; not a sign of life was anywhere visible. No portion of the
hotel could be seen from where he was now, but he knew in which
direction it lay; and without knowing or caring to think why he did
so, he kept pressing slowly forward and upward, till at length he
emerged from the shrubbery into a more open part of the grounds, and
therein the starlight he could see the big white building straight
before him.

On one side, the hotel was built close up to the edge of the cliff,
which here sloped down to the beach, and the base of which was washed
by every tide. Huge boulders and jagged pieces of rock protruded here
and there from the face of the cliff; but these rugged features were
softened and harmonized by the numerous tufts of broom and dwarf
brushwood that grew among and around them, and by the soft, green
mosses and many-coloured lichens that nestled between them, and crept
lovingly over them, and made them beautiful with a beauty that was
other than their own. Up the face of this cliff a goat or a chamois
might probably have climbed by leaping from rock to rock, or from one
clump of brushwood to another; but no human foot had ever been known
to venture up or down it.

It was now dark, and these more minute features of the scene were
invisible to Max Van Duren. All that he could discern was, that the
hotel was built close to the edge of the cliff, at the bottom of which
cliff the tide was now washing heavily in with the noise of low
thunder.

Having satisfied himself that there was no one about, Van Duren left
the shelter of the shrubbery through which he had hitherto crept, and
swiftly crossing the intervening open space, he sought the shelter of
another fringe of shrubbery which grew between the gradually rising
edge of the cliff and the carriage-drive that led up to the main
entrance of the hotel. Keeping well within the shade of the
evergreens, and climbing higher step by step, a few minutes more
brought him close up to one corner of the house. It was now requisite
to move with extreme caution. Suddenly he heard the sound of voices,
and two or three loud goodnights. Some one was evidently leaving the
hotel, and would pass close by him in a few moments. It would never do
to be found there; so he plunged deeper into the shrubbery, and
presently found himself close to one of the lighted windows that he
had seen from the valley below. He hardly knew whether to advance or
retire. The question was. Who were the occupants of the room? If
strangers only, he would go quietly back by the way he had come; but
if there was a chance of seeing Miriam--well, to see her again, he was
prepared to risk much. He hated her, or fancied that he did, and yet
there was still a strange fascination for him in the thought that he
was close to her, that he was only separated from her by the thickness
of a wall. Had he met her there alone in the shrubbery, he would have
strangled her, but after that he would have kissed her and wept over
her, and would probably have ended all by jumping over the cliff.

He crept close up to the window and peered through the Venetians.
Fortunately for his purpose, they were not very closely drawn, and he
could see into the room without difficulty. It was a large room, and
was lighted by another window opposite to that through which Van Duren
was now looking. This second window--a French one, by the way--was
wide open, for the evening was somewhat sultry. Beyond it was
small balcony, and then the cliff, and, a hundred feet below, the
white-lipped waves. Round a table in the middle of the room, four
gentlemen were seated in earnest conversation. Three of them Van Duren
had never seen before, but in the fourth he had no difficulty in
recognizing his quondam lodger, Mr. Peter Byrne. It is true that the
white locks, the hump, and the general air of feebleness and
decrepitude had all disappeared; but Byrne's strongly-marked features
could not be mistaken for those of any other man. But hardly had Van
Duren time to notice all this, before his eyes were drawn to and
concentrated on an object that was standing in the middle of the table.
He shuddered from head to foot, and turned suddenly sick as he looked.
He had recognized the object in a moment. It was the silver-clamped box
which the divers had brought up from the bottom of the sea: it was the
box for the sake of which Paul Stilling had been stabbed in his sleep.

Was the box full or empty? The lid was open, but Van Duren could not
see inside. Anyhow, there was the box. What a host of terrible
memories the sight of it called up in his mind! Trifling
circumstances, all but forgotten, and that he had thrust persistently
from his memory years ago, came back now with the vivid clearness of a
photograph. Stilling's drunken laugh, the peculiar nervous twitching
of his left eye, the broken nail on one of his fingers, the very patch
on one of his boots, quizzically commented on by him as he was pulling
on his slippers in front of the fire--how they all came back to Van
Duren! As he stood there, it seemed to him but a few yesterdays,
instead of twenty long years, since----

He drew out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead, and shut out the
sight for a moment. When he looked again, Miriam was there. She was
bending over the back of her father's chair and saying something in
his ear. She had never looked sweeter, in Van Duren's eyes, than she
looked to-night, with her soft flowing grenadine dress, and her bows
of ribbon here and there, and a tea-rose in her hair.

He would have given all he had in the world, everything save life
itself, to have called this girl his own and have won one smile of
real love from her beautiful lips. Presently she lifted up a face that
was radiant with smiles, then she pinched her father's ear playfully,
and turned and left the room. And that was the last time that Max Van
Duren ever set eyes on Miriam Byrne.

A few minutes later the four gentlemen rose and left the room. They
left the box behind them, still standing wide open in the middle of
the table. From this Van Duren at once concluded that it must have
been emptied of its contents. Had it not, they would hardly have left
it there unguarded. Then all at once the thought struck Van Duren that
if he could only obtain possession of the box, if he could only steal
it away unknown to anyone, then would his enemies be deprived of the
strongest link in their evidence against him--perhaps the only link of
any value in a court of justice. The box could undoubtedly be sworn to
as being that which had at one time belonged to Paul Stilling; but
could the contents of the box, after twenty years' immersion in the
sea, be sworn to with equal certainty? To him that seemed very
doubtful indeed. In any case the chain of evidence against him would
certainly be weakened in a material degree should the box not be
producible by the prosecution. It would be worth risking much to
obtain it. There it was within a few yards of him, in an empty room;
why should he not take possession of it again, as he had done once
before, long years ago? Not a sound could anywhere be heard save the
low thunder of the incoming tide. But how was it possible for him to
get into the room, unseen and unheard? He tried the sash of the window
against which he was standing. Fortunately for his purpose, it proved
to be unfastened. All that he had to do was to push up the sash
sufficiently high, climb over the low windowsill, thrust aside the
Venetians, and the box would be within reach of his hand. Five minutes
would suffice for everything. If only he could make sure that no one
would enter the room for five short minutes! But of that he could by
no means make sure; he must run the risk of it. But even while these
thoughts were in his mind, his hands had been busy with the window,
and almost before he knew what had happened, he found that he had
pushed up the sash high enough to admit of his ingress to the room.

A minute later, and his hand was on the box. Even at such a moment as
that it thrilled him strangely to touch it. He glanced into it: it was
empty, as he had felt sure that it would be. Then he shut down the
lid, and taking up the box, he placed it under his arm and turned to
go. But at this instant the door was quickly opened, and some one came
into the room. Van Duren turned instinctively, and as his eyes met
those of the man who had entered, he gave utterance to a low cry of
terror and surprise.

There before him stood the man whom he had so terribly wronged--whom
he had consigned without remorse to a living tomb--who would have
become the hangman's prey had not his brain been too weak to bear the
burden of his doom. This man, then, it was--who he had fondly believed
in his heart must have died long ago--this man it was, who, like a
sleuth hound, was now on his track, determined to hunt him down
without mercy and without ruth. Ambrose Murray was but a wreck of his
former self, but Max Van Duren knew him again the moment his eyes fell
on him.

Murray, in his turn, did not fail to recognise Van Duren. "Wretch!
what do you here?" he exclaimed, as he advanced into the room. His
right hand was buried in the breast of his frock-coat--an habitual
action with him; but Van Duren took it at once that his fingers were
grasping some hidden weapon, and as Murray advanced he fell back step
by step.

He did not answer Murray's question. He seemed, indeed, as though he
had not heard it. His face worked with emotion. Surprise, and terror,
and anger seemed to glare out of his eyes in turn; but still he did
not speak.

On first entering the room Murray had not missed the box; but now his
eyes travelled from Van Duren to the table, and then back again, and
he understood everything.

"Villain! bloodthirsty villain!" he cried. "Would you steal that box a
second time?" and with that he took two or three rapid strides towards
Van Duren.

But the other, still without answering, and still facing his enemy,
fell quickly back. Murray was now between him and the window by which
he had entered; but he seemed to remember that there was another
window behind him, and it was towards this that he was now making his
way. He still evidently suspected that Murray's hand held a pistol,
and that he might be fired at any moment.

The latter continued to advance. "Max Jacoby, I have you at last, and
this time you shall not escape me!" he exclaimed, and therewith he
strode swiftly to the bell-rope and pulled it violently.

But at the first sound of the bell, Van Duren turned quickly and made
for the open French window. Before Murray had time to utter a single
word of warning, he was on the balcony. Next moment his hand grasped
the railing, and with a loud, mocking laugh he vaulted over and
disappeared in the darkness below. He had either not known, or had
forgotten, that the balcony was built immediately over the edge of the
cliff.

A few moments later Peter Byrne and two or three others hurried into
the room in response to the bell's imperative summons. Ambrose Murray
was lying senseless on the floor, and the silver-clamped box was no
longer there.



CHAPTER VII.
THE MESSAGE TO STAMMARS.


It was on the forenoon of a certain Saturday in May that Olive Deane
found herself jogging slowly along the road that leads from Pembridge
to Stammars. The morning was sunny and the road pleasant, but Olive
had no eyes for anything: her own tortuous thoughts occupied her
fully. Should she break as gently as possible the news she had to
tell, and then give Eleanor the letter after having thus paved the
way? Should she put the letter into her hand without a word, and
simply wait to be questioned as to anything further that she might be
supposed to know? Or--and this was the course that approved itself
more fully to her--should she say nothing about the letter, but tell
the news her own way, with sting and venom, and before whatever
audience chance might give her an opportunity of assembling to hear
it? Over and over in her mind she kept revolving these different
courses, as the ramshackle old fly in which she was seated jolted and
creaked its way slowly along the quiet country roads.

Lady Dudgeon, released at length from further attendance on her sick
sister, was panting to get back to London for the remainder of the
season. Sir Thomas, accompanied by his faithful Gerald, had come down
on the Friday to fetch her ladyship. They were to stay at Stammars
over the week end, but on the Monday morning the whole family would go
up to town.

In due course. Miss Deane arrived at Stammars, only to find that Lady
Dudgeon, accompanied by Miss Lloyd, had gone shopping to Pembridge,
and that she must have passed them somewhere on the road. They would,
however, so she was assured, be back in time for luncheon, so she made
up her mind to await their return. Sir Thomas and Mr. Pomeroy were
somewhere about, so the servant told her; but them, at present, she
did not want to see. The young ladies, Sophy and Carry, had gone with
their mamma, so that Miss Deane was left perforce to the evil company
of her own thoughts. "Miss Lloyd, indeed!" muttered Olive, when the
servant had left the room. "This is the last day that she will have a
right to call herself by that name. What will her name be to-morrow?
Should her ladyship have occasion to go shopping to-morrow, will she
take this nameless pauper with her in her carriage? Not if Lady
Dudgeon is the woman I take her to be."

After all, she had not long to wait--but little over an hour--before
she saw the Dudgeon equipage rolling solemnly up the main avenue of
the park. Her colourless cheeks flushed while she looked. Her heart
beat painfully. The moment so long looked forward to was close at
hand.

She was still undecided as to the precise mode in which her
communication should be made to Eleanor. She found it impossible to
make up her mind. Circumstances at the last moment would probably
decide for her.

From the place where she was standing she could see the entire length
of the avenue. She could see the two fat greys and the fat coachman,
as they came every moment, but not yet could she see who was in the
carriage behind--the carriage respecting which her ladyship had spoken
in such disparaging terms to her husband, but which was still deemed
good enough for country wear. Presently she saw Sir Thomas and Mr.
Pomeroy emerge from the shrubbery and go to meet the carriage. Then it
stopped, and Lady Dudgeon and Miss Lloyd alighted, and all four walked
slowly towards the house. Gerald and Eleanor lingered a little behind
the baronet and his wife, and to Olive's jaundiced eyes they seemed to
be deep in earnest and loving conversation. In fancy she heard
Pomeroy's low and tender tones and Eleanor's half-breathed replies.
She set her teeth, and her lips tightened as she looked. "Before they
are two hours older," she murmured under her breath, "he shall know
that she is a beggar, and she shall know that her hero is nothing
better than a vulgar adventurer!" And in the heat of her passion she
took Matthew Kelvin's letter out of her pocket and tore it in two.
"What has to be told I will tell in my own way. I have been a fool to
hesitate so long."

But Olive was altogether mistaken in imagining that Pomeroy and Miss
Lloyd were whispering love's sweet nothings to each other as they
walked across the park. Gerald was merely giving, in animated terms, a
description of the last new opera, which he had been to see a few
nights previously. Eleanor hungered, but hungered in vain, for one
tone of affection, for one whispered word of love. He knew that she
was going away--going to leave Stammars, probably for ever--and yet he
made no sign. She had long ago forgiven the deception that he had
practised on her; he could hardly help seeing that she had forgiven
him; and yet he still maintained the reserved and impassive demeanour
that had marked him from the day of his confession in the library.
Perhaps, after all, his love for her had been nothing more than a
passing fancy. If such were indeed the case, if he felt that he had
been mistaken, if his affection for her was not of a texture
sufficiently strong to stand the wear and tear of a lifetime, then he
was right to draw back while there was yet time to do so. His doing so
proved one thing: that although, in the first instance, he had sought
her for her wealth, and although his confession had led her to believe
that he now loved her purely for herself, yet when he discovered that
he had over-rated the strength of his feelings, he had retired
honourably from the field, instead of staying to win her, as he might
so easily have done, and with her that money which had first tempted
him to follow her. To know this was only a poor sort of consolation,
but it was better than none. How strange it seemed to her that she
should have given her heart away to this man, given it beyond all
power of recall, and yet that he should have nothing to give her in
return! Was the romance of her life to have this poor and ignoble
ending? It seemed so, indeed, just now. She only knew that, despite
all the arguments urged by her pride, her love was still his as
thoroughly as ever it had been. He was chatting to her now, as they
walked up the avenue together, as any ordinary acquaintance might have
done, of the new opera and the new prima donna, and yet how happy she
felt to be walking by his side, how she had thrilled from head to foot
when she first caught sight of him standing there with Sir Thomas!
Yes, whether he loved her, or whether he hated her--her heart was
still his beyond all possibility of recall.

If Eleanor had but known how much it cost Gerald to maintain this cold
and reserved demeanour towards her! If she had but known how he longed
to clasp her to his heart, and whisper in her ear how fondly he loved
her! He often felt that not much longer would his tongue keep silence;
that some moment, perhaps when he himself least intended it, the
pent-up words would burst from his lips, his arms would stretch
themselves forth and draw her to him, and in a few brief moments
everything would be told. The task he had imposed on himself was fast
becoming unbearable--would have become altogether unbearable, but that
happily there seemed at last a prospect of its coming to a speedy end.
He had had a letter from Marhyddoc, in which Ambrose Murray held out
strong hopes of his search being brought to a successful issue. Should
such really prove to be the case, then would Murray's first task be,
with the proofs of his innocence in his hands, to seek the daughter
whom he had hitherto refused to claim. Then would the necessity for
this odious concealment come to an end; then would everything be told
to Eleanor. Therefore did Gerald school himself to keep silence for a
little while longer, hoping and believing that the future would
compensate for everything.

Miss Deane's eager eyes watched the party of four come slowly up the
avenue, and saw them at length ascend the steps and enter the house.
Inside the hall Sir Thomas and Pomeroy went off together to the
library, while Eleanor accompanied Lady Dudgeon to her sitting-room.
Five minutes later a servant came to tell Olive that her ladyship
would see her. The moment so intensely longed for had come at last.
Olive's pale face grew a shade paler as she followed the servant along
the passage.

Lady Dudgeon was seated at her davenport as usual. Miss Lloyd was
sitting close by, finishing a sketch in water-colours. "Good morning.
Miss Deane; I am pleased to see you. I hope Mr. Kelvin is no worse,"
said her ladyship, offering Olive two frigid fingers.

"Mr. Kelvin is no worse, madam, than he has been all along. He is
still very ill--too ill to leave his room; and having something of
importance to communicate, and being still too weak to write down the
particulars, he has deputed me to come in his stead."

"Something of importance to communicate to me or to Sir Thomas?" asked
her ladyship. Eleanor rose and was about to leave the room.

"My errand is to Miss Lloyd. It concerns her more nearly than anyone
else."

"Eleanor, my love, had you not better take Miss Deane to your own
room?"

Eleanor flushed a little. In her heart she had never liked Olive. She
had always had a vague distrust and dread of her. How such a feeling
had originated she could not have told: none the less it was there. "I
have no secrets from you, Lady Dudgeon," said Eleanor. "Whatever Miss
Deane may have to communicate can just as well be told here as
elsewhere."

"Are you sure that you would not prefer to see her alone?"

"Quite sure."

"Then Miss Deane may as well be seated." And her ladyship dipped her
pen in her inkstand, and made believe that she was about to go on with
her correspondence.

Miss Deane drew a chair quietly forward and sat down. Eleanor, looking
distrustfully at her, caught a momentary glance out of her black eyes,
so full of malignant triumph that her heart sank within her, and a
presage of coming misfortune chilled her suddenly from head to foot.

"When Mr. Jacob Lloyd died," began Olive in a low voice, ignoring
Eleanor, and addressing her remarks directly to Lady Dudgeon, "he left
behind him a large quantity of miscellaneous papers. Those papers were
taken possession of by my cousin, Mr. Kelvin, whose intention it was
to go through them, arrange them, and indorse them at his leisure.
This process was interrupted by his sudden illness. During the last
few days, however, feeling somewhat stronger, he has endeavoured to
occupy himself with them for an hour or two now and then. Yesterday he
came across a document in Mr. Lloyd's own writing of a very singular
nature indeed."

She paused for a moment, as if to gather breath. Then she went on,
speaking more slowly and deliberately than before, so that each word
might go home to her hearers, and with her eyes still fixed on Lady
Dudgeon.

"It is a document which would seem to prove conclusively that the
young lady hitherto known as Miss Eleanor Lloyd was not the daughter
of the late Mr. Jacob Lloyd--nor indeed any relative of his whatever,
but simply the child of some unknown parents, adopted by Mr. Lloyd and
his wife out of charity or compassion."

Eleanor's face by this time was whiter than Olive's. She did not
speak, but sat staring "with wide-open eyes, as in a picture," and
with one hand grasping the back of a chair, as if to keep herself from
falling.

"Good gracious me! whatever is the woman talking about?" cried her
ladyship, taking off her double eye-glass, as if to make sure that it
was really Olive Deane who was sitting there.

"Mr. Lloyd, as your ladyship may remember," resumed Olive, without
heeding the interruption, "died very suddenly, and without making a
will. This young lady,"--indicating Eleanor by a slight inclination of
the head--"has, consequently, no claim whatever to a single sixpence
of Mr. Lloyd's property. She is, in fact, neither more nor less than a
pauper."

At this word a little cry burst involuntarily from Eleanor. She ran to
Lady Dudgeon, and sinking on one knee, buried her face in the elder
lady's lap.

"Miss Deane, you forget yourself!" said Lady Dudgeon, with severity.
"You forget that Miss Lloyd is my guest."

"I ask your ladyship's pardon if I have committed any offence. I was
but making a simple statement of fact."

"That has yet to be proved. But, in any case, the statement was most
offensively made." Then she patted Eleanor's cheek affectionately.
"Keep up your spirits, my dear. Don't get downhearted. There must be a
mistake somewhere. Miss Deane's story sounds far too romantic to be
true."

"I believe your ladyship is sufficiently acquainted with Mr. Kelvin,"
said Olive, not without a touch of sternness, "to be quite aware that
he is not a man who would be likely to send me to Stammars on such an
errand as this unless he were perfectly sure of the facts he had to go
upon. Had there been any doubt in the matter, I should not have been
here to-day."

"Oh, Lady Dudgeon, it is not that I fear poverty!" cried Eleanor.
"Don't think that. You know that I have never really valued the riches
that were said to be mine."

"That's true enough," murmured her ladyship.

"It is the thought of having lost the dearest and kindest man that
ever breathed that wrings my heart. I have lost--my father!"

"Hush, my dear--hush! Even if it should turn out that you are not Mr.
Lloyd's daughter in reality, you will always have the consolation of
knowing that he loved you as such. Nothing can deprive you of that."
Then turning to Olive, she added: "Since Mr. Kelvin has made this very
clever discovery--which, mind you, as I said before, has yet got to be
proved--he is, doubtless, clever enough to have found out the person
to whom Mr. Lloyd's property really does belong?"

"The heir-at-law is a certain Mr. Gerald Warburton, a nephew of Mr.
Lloyd, but a person whom Mr. Kelvin has never seen."

"But a person with whom he will at once place himself in
communication?"

"Undoubtedly, madam."

"Miss Lloyd's interests in this matter must not be allowed to suffer.
The case appears to be one that requires the most minute and strict
investigation, and I shall at once place it in the hands of Mr.
Barclay."

Olive bowed.

"Mr. Kelvin will no doubt either seek an interview with Miss Lloyd, or
write her full particulars, as soon as he is strong enough to do so."

"I decline to let Miss Lloyd be troubled in the affair. She is going
up to town with me on Monday next. Mr. Kelvin had better communicate
direct with Mr. Barclay."

Again Olive bowed.

"I will not fail to deliver your ladyship's message."

"Perhaps, after all, it's quite as well that you did not marry Captain
Dayrell," said Lady Dudgeon to Eleanor. "He would hardly have liked
having to give up your dowry."

Eleanor rose to her feet, and stood for a few moments with her hands
pressed to her temples, as though striving to realize to herself the
strange tidings that had just been told her. "I have no name--no
home," she said, in a dreamy way, as if communing with herself. "I can
work for my living; I am not afraid of that. But--but I have lost my
father, and I have no name!"

At this instant the door was opened, and in walked Sir Thomas.

"Eh--what's this?--what's this?" he said, cheerfully. "Hope I'm not
intruding, as what's-his-name says in the play. Rehearsing a little
comedietta, or what?"

"Run away to your room now, my dear," said Lady Dudgeon, as she rose
and kissed Eleanor. "Every cloud has its silver lining. Keep up your
spirits, and remember that you shall never want for a home as long as
Sir Thomas and I are on this side of the grave."

Eleanor did not wait for another word, but hurried out by the opposite
door as Sir Thomas came forward. Then the baronet had to be told
everything, and it is needless to say how great was his surprise,
which he expressed in far more voluble terms than his wife had done.

"If our Nelly ain't Jacob Lloyd's daughter, whose child is she?" he
said, after he had had time to calm down a little. "Kelvin found that
out, I suppose, at the same time that he found out the other."

"At present he has no clue whatever to the parentage of Miss Lloyd."

"Why, it's quite a romance! I must call and see Kelvin to-morrow, and
talk it over with him myself."

"To-morrow is Sunday, Sir Thomas," said her ladyship, severely. "And
on Monday morning we start for town."

"Ah, so we do," said the baronet, scratching his chin with an air of
perplexity.

"I have decided to place Eleanor's interests in the hands of Mr.
Barclay, so that the less you interfere personally in the matter the
better."

"Quite right, my dear, quite right. But what's to become of the poor
girl meanwhile?"

"For the present she will stay with us, as usual. It is too early yet
to legislate for her future."

Her ladyship said this with an air that seemed to forbid further
discussion. Her husband took the hint, and remarking that he had
several important letters to write, he trotted back to the library.

"I am going to have a cup of chocolate in my dressing-room," said her
ladyship to Olive. "Unless you are in a hurry to get back home, you
may come and keep me company."

Olive was in no hurry to get back; in fact, she had something for her
ladyship's private ear, and was glad of such an opportunity for
telling it.

Lady Dudgeon, on her side, was actuated by a very natural desire to
elicit from Miss Deane some further particulars of the strange story
which she had just heard. She felt sure that there must be several
interesting details, which it might not be advisable that Eleanor
should be made acquainted with, but which Miss Deane could have no
object in keeping from her. It was certainly not her intention to
cross-question Olive--she was above doing that--a delicate hint to
Miss Deane that her ladyship was willing to listen to anything she
might feel disposed to tell her, ought to be sufficient to elicit any
details that might hitherto have been kept in the background.

Notwithstanding the kind way in which she had spoken to Eleanor, Lady
Dudgeon felt very considerably annoyed in her own mind at the thought
that her pet protégée, whom she had taken everywhere and introduced to
everybody, lauding her to the skies as everything that was good and
beautiful, and who had, in a certain sense, as the presumed heiress of
twenty thousand pounds, shed a reflected lustre on her chaperon,
should turn out to be nobody knew whom, and without a sixpence to call
her own. Nothing could have been more mortifying. She had liked the
girl from a child, and would no doubt have continued to like her just
as much had Jacob Lloyd died a bankrupt, and would probably have made
a sort of humble companion of her, or would, in any case, have seen
that she was properly provided for; but to have introduced the girl to
all her fine friends and acquaintances on a footing of equality, and
now to discover that she had no claim to the status so given her--that
was indeed a bitter pill for her ladyship to swallow.

She knew well--no one better--how censorious is that Society of which
she herself formed a component atom; how one of the chief conditions
of its existence is that it shall revenge itself without mercy on
every _faux pas_ of its votaries in which they may be found out. She
knew quite well the sort of remarks that people would make. They would
say that she had wilfully allowed herself to become a party to a
fraud. They would say that she had done her best to pass off a
portionless girl as an heiress, and, in the eyes of Society, what
crime could well be more heinous than that?

It was very, very mortifying, and she could not help, in her secret
heart, visiting upon Eleanor some portion of blame for what had
happened. It seemed well-nigh incredible to her that the girl could
have lived all these years in utter ignorance that she was not Jacob
Lloyd's daughter. Of course, all these minor points would have to be
inquired into and thoroughly sifted later on. Much bitterness was yet
to come, but the foretaste she had of it already was very far from
being to her liking.

Not a shadow of all this was discernible in her ladyship's manner as
Miss Deane followed her upstairs; but Olive had a poisoned arrow in
her quiver of which Lady Dudgeon knew nothing.

A cup of chocolate was brought for each of them, and Lady Dudgeon, as
she sipped at hers, chatted away to her companion about Sophy and
Carry, and what girls they were for wearing out their boots; about the
late flower show; about Mrs. Diplock's last baby, and the state of Mr.
Kelvin's health--while waiting for an opportunity to work the
conversation round to the desired point. But Olive was in no mood for
such man[oe]uvring. She had something to say, and she was determined
to say it. A break in the flow of her ladyship's small-talk was caused
by the intrusion of a servant to ask a question, and Olive seized the
opportunity.

"There is one circumstance that took place while I was at Stammars,"
she began, "which I have sometimes thought since I ought to have
mentioned to your ladyship at the time. To-day I regret more than ever
that I omitted to do so."

"To what circumstance do you allude, Miss Deane?"

"Your ladyship must please to pardon the question, but did it never
strike you, did you never notice, that there was some hidden
understanding between Miss Lloyd and Mr. Pomeroy?"

"Good gracious. Miss Deane, whatever do you mean?"

Lady Dudgeon was surprised for the moment out of her assumed
equability.

"To put the case in plain language, and it will perhaps be best to do
so," said Olive, "has your ladyship never had reason to suspect that
Miss Lloyd and Mr. Pomeroy were engaged to each other?"

"Impossible! such a thing is utterly impossible!" was Lady Dudgeon's
emphatic reply. "I know Miss Lloyd too well to believe anything of the
kind. For once, Miss Deane, your surmises have led you altogether
astray."

"Possibly so; I hope so," said Olive, resignedly.

There was an awkward silence. Her ladyship fidgeted, but said nothing.
Singular to say, she seemed far more put out by what Olive had just
said to her than by the far more important disclosure that had been
made to her half an hour previously.

"You--you mentioned some circumstance," she said at last, not without
a touch of irritation. She felt as though Olive were doing her a
personal injury.

"Yes; a little circumstance of which I was the accidental witness. But
probably your ladyship will not think it worth while to listen to it."

"Probably it is not worth listening to, but still there can be no harm
in your telling me."

"One evening, some two or three weeks before my cousin was taken
ill," began Olive, "I was sitting in the bow-window of the back
drawing-room. The curtains were partly drawn, and when Miss Lloyd came
into the room she did not see me. She sat down at the piano and began
to play: and as there was no third person present, I saw no reason for
making my presence known. But after a time Mr. Pomeroy came in. He had
just returned from a journey, and was evidently in search of Miss
Lloyd. He hurried up to her, and, before I had time to say a word, he
had folded her in his arms. Then he called her his darling, and kissed
her several times."

"How dreadful--how very dreadful!" exclaimed Lady Dudgeon, with a sort
of terror.

"And then----Miss Lloyd kissed him back."

Lady Dudgeon could only put down her cup of chocolate and groan.

In saying that Eleanor kissed Gerald back, Olive told a lie, a
weakness that she was never guilty of unless she had some particular
end to serve.

"And do you really mean to affirm, Miss Deane, that you saw
these--these shocking things with your own eyes?" Lady Dudgeon
contrived to say at last.

"Certainly; exactly as I have told your ladyship."

It was indeed dreadful. She had been hoodwinked and bamboozled under
her own roof, and by this girl for whom she had done and sacrificed so
much. Her feelings had been outraged in their tenderest point. Eleanor
Lloyd was deposed from her throne for ever. What could anyone do for a
person who could so far forget what was due both to herself and
others?

Lady Dudgeon strove her hardest to hide from Olive the effect which
her words had upon her. "Well, well, young people will be young people
till the end of the chapter," she said at last, with a ghastly attempt
at cheerfulness.

"Mr. Pomeroy will now have an opportunity of proving the
disinterestedness of his affection," said Olive, in her slow, incisive
way. "He can now let the world see that it was not Miss Lloyd's money,
but Miss Lloyd herself, that he fell in love with."

"What a strange person you are, Miss Deane!" her ladyship could not
help saying.

Olive smiled coldly, and then rose to go.



CHAPTER VIII.
WINGED WORDS.


It was not in the nature of things that Sir Thomas Dudgeon should long
keep to himself the news which had just been told him. He was bursting
to tell somebody, and as Gerald was to a certain extent one of the
family, it seemed only right that Gerald should know all. So into the
sympathetic ear of his secretary the whole story was volubly poured,
with many a comment, and many an expression of sympathy for poor
unfortunate Eleanor. "I feel as if I loved her better now than ever I
did before," the baronet finished up by saying. "She shall never want
for a home as long as I'm master at Stammars."

"It has come at last, and I'm glad of it," said Gerald to himself,
"and has thereby saved me the necessity of telling a very disagreeable
story. I can't at all understand why Kelvin should have kept this
knowledge to himself for so long a time. There seems to me something
strangely underhand in his way of dealing with the affair. However,
better late than never--better that she should hear it from him than
from me. I must go and find her at once."

Fortunately, Sir Thomas did not detain him long. The old gentleman was
anxious to have an hour or two with Cozzard, and to go round the farm
on Grey Dapple once again. He sighed to think that it would be his
last opportunity for doing so before his return to that hateful
London. On Monday morning they were all to go up to town, and then
farewell to the dear delights of the country for at least two months
to come.

Gerald's puzzle was how to contrive an interview with Eleanor without
the knowledge of Lady Dudgeon. As it happened, he was on pretty good
terms with Tipper, the young person who, among her other duties, acted
as maid to Miss Lloyd. Her he now contrived to capture, and putting
half-a-crown into one of her hands, and a note into the other, he
found no difficulty in inducing her to do his bidding. All he said in
the note was--

"Pray do me the favour of meeting me for five minutes in the
conservatory as soon as possible."

Ten minutes later Eleanor was there.

A faint blush suffused her face as she came towards Gerald, but it was
easy to see that she had been crying. She took Gerald's extended hand
frankly, and then, before she knew how it happened, he had possession
of the other one also.

"I have heard everything," he said, "and I could not rest till I had
seen you."

She did not answer for a moment, but her eyes flushed with tears, and
Gerald felt her hands tremble within his like two frightened birds.

"It is a very strange story," she said, "and I feel at present that I
cannot altogether realize it."

"It is indeed a strange story--far too strange for Kelvin to lend
himself to unless he had satisfied himself that it was true."

"The hardest--the bitterest part is to discover that he whom I loved
so dearly while he lived, and whose memory I have cherished so fondly
since I lost him, was not my father--was nothing but my benefactor. It
makes me feel as if there were no such thing as reality in the world,
as if life itself were nothing more substantial than a dream." She
sighed, and releasing her hands from Love's sweet custody, she went
and sat down on a garden-chair, and Gerald seated himself close by
her.

"Nothing can change my love for him, or cause it to diminish by one
iota," she said. "If he was not my father in reality, he acted a
father's part by me, and he was my father in the sight of Heaven. God
bless him! God bless him for ever!" she said passionately, and then
she burst into sobs.

Gerald thought it best to say nothing for a little while; but he took
her hand and pressed it softly to his lips, and was not repulsed.

In four or five minutes Eleanor had recovered her calmness. "You asked
me to meet you here, Mr. Pomeroy," she said, "having something, I
presume, that you wish to say to me, and here am I monopolising your
time with my own selfish troubles. But you must forgive me this once,
and I will not offend again."

"You are right. I have something to say to you," said Gerald,
earnestly. "Sir Thomas has told me everything. You are no longer the
heiress people believed you to be. You are poor like myself. Pray
pardon my frankness; but that very poverty it is that gives me courage
to speak." He paused for a moment, and in the pause they both heard
the plashing of a tiny fountain in the distance, and the crabbed voice
of old Sanderson crooning some old-world ballad to himself as he bent
over his work.

"Several weeks ago, in a moment of forgetfulness," resumed Gerald, "I
said certain words to you which, bearing in mind the reason that first
brought me to Stammars, ought never to have been said by me. I
confessed my fault, and you forgave me. Since that time, whatever my
feelings may have been, I have so far schooled myself as not to offend
again. Now the case is different. No one can say now that I seek you
for your money. The reason which has kept me silent so long exists no
longer. To-day--here--now--I can tell you how dearly I love you--how
dearly I have loved you from the moment I first saw you! Here, to-day,
I ask you whether you can give me back love for love, heart for
heart--whether you can learn to care for me sufficiently to share your
poverty with my poverty and to become my wife?"

Again he stooped and kissed her hand, but she would not let him keep
it. Her eyes were wet, her bosom heaving. Her colour came and went,
then left her altogether. Twice she tried to speak, but could not.

"Oh, Mr. Pomeroy," she said at last, "your words have come upon me so
suddenly that indeed I know not how to answer them! Your pride would
not let you seek me when you believed me to be rich: my pride will not
let me give myself to you now that I am poor."

"But supposing," said Gerald, "that I had come to you at eleven
o'clock this morning--supposing I had come to you five minutes before
Miss Deane delivered her message, and had asked you then to become my
wife, what would your answer have been?"

This was a question that seemed to require consideration.

"When you asked me to meet you here, I thought you had something to
tell me. I did not know that I was coming here to be catechised."

"What I had to tell you I have told. To you, perhaps, it seems hardly
worth the hearing. To me it means everything."

She turned her eyes for a moment on his. Their glance seemed to say,
"Pity my embarrassment, and don't say cruel things to me."

"I must repeat my question," said Gerald. "If you were as rich to-day
as you believed yourself to be yesterday, and I were what I am, would
you in that case reject my suit as positively as you are doing now?"

"I hardly know. Perhaps not," was the whispered answer.

"Those words are enough. They tell me everything--they tell me all
that I want to know!" cried Gerald. "If you would not have rejected me
yesterday, you shall not reject me to-day!" and before Eleanor knew
what had happened, she was folded tightly in his arms, and a rain of
sweet kisses was falling on her forehead, her eyes, and her lips.

It was fully half a minute before she could free herself. "You are the
most impetuous person I ever met with," she said. "And see how you
have crushed my collar, and disarranged my hair. It's--it's really
disgraceful." And with that she turned of her own accord, and shyly
hid her face on Gerald's shoulder.



CHAPTER IX.
VAN DUREN'S FLIGHT.


When Max Van Duren came to his senses he found himself in darkness and
alone. A low damp wind was blowing in from the sea, sighing and
groaning as if burdened with messages from the dying to loved ones at
home. The tide had come to its height, and was now flowing out again,
with deep muttered undertones that lent solemnity to the darkness. Van
Duren's first thought was that he had died and was coming to life
again in another world. Presently he felt something trickling slowly
and softly down his face, and his finger, following the tiny stream to
its source, found that it proceeded from a huge gash in the side of
his head. Then in a flash the whole circumstances of the evening came
back to him--the scene in the room at the hotel, his attempt to steal
the casket, the sudden apparition of Ambrose Murray, the scene in the
balcony, and his own wild leap out into the darkness. Whither had that
leap landed him? He was now lying on his side, and he contrived to
raise himself on one elbow and look round, but only to fall back next
minute with a groan. He could see the sky and he could hear the sea,
and he could make out that his body seemed to be lying among some
large stones or pieces of rock, but beyond that he could tell nothing.
He lay very quiet for a little while, thinking with all his might.
What troubled him most of all--far more than his own present
condition--was the doubt as to whether the vision of Ambrose Murray,
which he had seen in the room was that of a real man or was merely a
spectre. He was no believer in ghosts--or he told himself that he was
not, despite his strange experience of the face in the glass--but for
all that, he was inclined to doubt the bodily existence of Murray. "I
was weak and ill and excited," he said to himself "I had eaten nothing
for four-and-twenty hours. My nerves were in a state of tension that
had become almost unbearable. I was just in a condition to see or
imagine anything. I had been thinking of Murray, and I imagined that I
saw him there bodily before me. If my brain had only been as cool then
as it is now, I should never have seen him. With the daylight these
silly fancies will vanish--but will it ever be daylight again?"

Even while he was reasoning with himself, a thin streak of pallid grey
was beginning to lighten in the east, though he saw it not for a
little while. He was weak with long fasting and loss of blood. The
calmness of despair had settled down upon him. He neither knew where
he was nor cared greatly to know. Had anyone been there to whom he
could have given himself up, he would have yielded himself willingly.
"The game's played out and I have lost it," he muttered to himself
again and again.

But little by little the dawn broadened, and the stars paled one by
one, and with the slow coming of the daylight there grew upon Van
Duren a restless desire to know what it was that had really befallen
him. His mood changed. The wish to live, to escape, began to grow
again within him. But first to ascertain where he was and what had
happened to him. Bit by bit, as the daylight deepened, and first one
object and then another shaped itself faintly out of the darkness, he
began to realize his position. There below him was the sea, there
above shone the white buildings of the hotel--there, in fact, was the
very balcony over which, in his fright, he had so madly leaped. He had
come down on his head and had at once been rendered insensible, and
his senseless body had begun to turn over and over in its rapid
progress down the steep face of the cliff to the wild waves lapping
at its feet, for at that time it was nearly high water. But about
two-thirds of the way down his body had been caught by two projecting
boulders, and there held, and there it was now. The box for which he
had risked so much had been dashed from his arms in the fall, and,
rolling down the cliff, had doubtless been carried far out to sea by
the refluent tide.

Van Duren did not know--he never knew--that the people of the hotel,
urged on by Ambrose Murray after his return to consciousness, had come
out with lanterns to search for him, but without much expectation of
being able to find him. They knew well what a little chance of life
anyone would have who leaped over that balcony, either by day or
night. Had the tide been out, they would have gone down to the sands,
in the full expectation of finding the stranger's body at the foot of
the cliff. But the tide was up at the time, and, if not killed by the
fall, Van Duren would undoubtedly be drowned and his body carried out
to sea. It seemed useless to make any prolonged search, and they
quickly took themselves and their lanterns indoors.

As daylight advanced, the necessity of getting away from so
dangerously prominent a position to some place of shelter and security
impressed itself with increasing force on Van Duren's attention.
Besides which, he was the prey to a burning thirst. When he began to
move, it seemed as if every bone in his body were bruised--but move he
must. There was now a broad stretch of brown sand at the foot of the
cliff. If he could only reach that, he could manage to crawl along it,
and so, in time, reach the inn where he had taken shelter yesterday.
He was dreadfully weak and ill, but the effort must be made. He got
down to the sands at last, but how he could not have told anyone--he
hardly knew himself; and so, by about half-past six, he found himself
once more in the shelter of the little inn.

To the landlord, his statement that while walking in the dark he had
slipped over the edge of the cliff seemed by no means improbable. Such
slips had happened before to strangers, and in more cases than one
with fatal results. So his head was washed and strapped up, his
clothes well brushed, and some breakfast put before him. He tried to
eat but could not; he could only drink. But while thus left alone for
awhile he had to consider what his next step ought to be. It seemed by
no means improbable that his enemies might come to the conclusion that
he had lost his life through his mad leap from the balcony. In that
case they would probably trouble themselves no further about him. But
in so serious an affair it would not do to leave anything to chance.
Now that their business at Marhyddoc was at an end, they would hasten
back to London; and it was just as likely as not that one of the first
things they would do would be to obtain a warrant for his arrest, and
send some one to Spur Alley in search of him. In such a case his only
chance of safety lay in being beforehand with his enemies. If he could
only reach Spur Alley before them, he could possess himself of the
money in the safe, and then, leaving Pringle in charge of the
premises, seek some secure hiding place, and there await the progress
of events. Even with a start of one or two days only, there were a
good many things that he could turn into cash; and, if the worst came
to the worst, why there was that other world across the Atlantic,
where energy and talent never fail to attain their meed of reward. To
catch the next train back to London was evidently the first step that
it behoved him to take. An hour later he was at the station.

As a slight measure of precaution, in case there should be any inquiry
made after him at Marhyddoc, he took a ticket as far as Crewe only.
Arrived at that station, it would be an easy matter for him to book to
any point he liked. He had not been in the train more than five
minutes before he fell into a deep sleep, and remembered nothing more
till he was roused to give up his ticket at Crewe. He got out of the
carriage giddy, dazed--staggering like a man the worse for drink. He
had evidently-lost a great quantity of blood while lying-exposed on
the cliff. A cup of coffee and cognac revived him in some degree. He
was determined to get forward to London at all risks, and he now
rebooked to Euston. He was fortunate enough this time to get a
compartment to himself. The giddiness in his head still continued, and
to this was now added a strange, surging noise in his ears. When
travelling in former days he had often amused himself by fancying
that, underlying the roar and rattle of the train, there was a kind of
rude articulate voice, and by trying to find out the words that the
voice said to him. To-day he heard this voice clearly enough, and
clearly enough he understood the two words that it said to him--that
it kept on repeating with a kind of rhythmic iteration, hundreds, nay,
thousands of times--two words only without change or variation: "Stop,
murderer!" At first it was a relief when the train halted for a minute
or two at a station; for a minute or two the voice ceased to stab him
with a repetition of its dull, passionless cry. But by-and-by, to his
previous torment there was added this other, that the moment the train
came to a standstill at a station he heard voices, at first far away
in the distance, then gradually coming nearer, the voices of men in
pursuit, eager, full of menace, always crying aloud the same two
words, "Stop, murderer!" He knew quite well, and it was a fact that he
kept repeating to himself as earnestly as though he were striving to
impress it upon some second person, that these voices were altogether
imaginary--a delusion of his own weakened brain. But that did not
prevent the illusion from growing on him to such an extent that, after
a time, he found himself getting quite excited lest the train should
not start again before the pursuing voices, growing momentarily
louder, should come yelling on to the platform itself, and proclaim
his terrible secret to the world at large.

What an everlasting journey it seemed to the poor, haunted wretch! At
length Willesden was reached, and there Van Duren alighted. There was
some sort of vague idea floating in his brain that at every London
terminus there might already be some one on the look-out for him, and
he would not venture into Euston. He chose rather to make his way on
foot through the starlit lanes--for it was dark again by this time--as
far as Cricklewood. There he found a return cab, and into that he got
and was driven to town.

In the streets of London, busy even at that late hour, there seemed
shelter and protection for him. Here he was only one atom among four
million others. What place could there be to hide in like London
itself? He still heard the voices in the distance, but the roar and
rattle of the streets partially drowned them. He discharged his cab at
the corner of Eastcheap, and made his way towards Spur Alley on foot.

It was necessary to use most extreme caution in approaching his house.
For aught he knew to the contrary, there might have been some one set
to watch it already. For fully half an hour he lingered about it,
without daring to go too near to it. There was no light in it visible
from the street, except in Bakewell's underground kitchen. Everything
looked as quiet, dark, and secure as usual. Suddenly a happy thought
struck him. He knew the tavern that Pringle was in the habit of
frequenting. Perhaps Pringle was there now. It was worth while to go
and see. From his clerk he could at once learn whether any particular
inquiries had been made after him during his absence.

Jonas Pringle, in the act of conveying a glass of hot rum-and-water to
his mouth, had never been more startled in his life than he was when
his eyes met those of Max Van Duren staring fixedly at him through the
glass door of the tavern. He put down his glass untasted, and for a
moment or two he thought that his master was dead, and that he had
seen his ghost. But presently the face appeared again, and beckoned
him to go out into the street. Then, when he had got outside under the
gaslight, he saw that it was indeed his master, but terribly changed.
Half a dozen eager questions satisfied Van Duren that no particular
inquiry had been made after him, and that Pringle knew nothing. It was
hardly likely, at so late an hour of the night, that anyone would come
and ask for him. He might utilise the next few hours in making his
preparations and getting clear away. So Pringle was sent first to open
the door, and then, two minutes later. Van Duren slid in like a
shadow, and heard, with a sigh of relief, the heavy door locked and
bolted behind him. For a few hours to come there would be rest and
safety.

He said nothing to Pringle explanatory of his sudden appearance, or of
the condition in which he was--unshaven, haggard, and with a great
wound on one side of his head. He flung himself on to a couch, and
told Pringle to lower the gas and order some coffee. He hardly seemed
to hear his clerk's explanation that the Bakewells had gone out for a
holiday, but that he, Pringle, would make him some coffee. Five
minutes later, when Pringle came to ask him whether he would not like
some toast with his coffee, he was fast asleep on the sofa.

Pringle went back to his coffee-making, chuckling to himself, "What a
fool he was to come in search of me, if he only knew! What a fool he
is to let me make his coffee for him! Why shouldn't I put a dose of
poison in it? That wouldn't be such a bad sort of revenge; and if I
hadn't decided on something different, I might perhaps have adopted
it. He looks half crazy to-night. Something queer has happened to him
while he's been away. How did he come by that gash in his head? But
all that matters nothing to me. It only matters to me that he's here,
under this roof, in my power. Better, far better for him had he never
set foot across this threshold again!"

He was wide awake when Pringle took in the coffee. "This is kind of
you, Pringle," he said, and he began to drink it eagerly.

"I find that I shall have to leave home again the first thing in the
morning," he said. "I shall sit up a great part of the night arranging
matters, as I may have to go away for some considerable time. You,
however, may go to bed. I will call you about six, and will then give
you all needful instructions before going away."

Pringle nodded his usual careless goodnight, and went. But instead of
going upstairs to the room he usually occupied, he took off his shoes
and stole down to the basement floor. He had put out the kitchen gas
before taking up the coffee, but a few embers still glowed in the
grate.

In the passage that led from the foot of the stairs to the strong-room
there was still a faint glimmer of gas, as there was in the strong-room
itself, in which the gas was seldom turned entirely off. The safe
was locked as usual, and seemed never to have been touched since Van
Duren left home.

"He's nearly sure to come down here some time in the night, and here
I'll wait for him," muttered Pringle to himself.

He groped about in the dark till he had found Bakewell's easy-chair,
in which he established himself comfortably in front of the fire, with
his feet on another chair, and there in the dark he waited. He could
hear Van Duren moving about occasionally, and two or three times he
seemed to pace the room for several minutes. The fire slowly burnt
itself out, the crickets chirped loudly in the silence, the city
clocks clanged out the hours one after one, some lightly and
carelessly as it seemed, others solemnly and slowly, as though warning
all who might hear them that they were another hour nearer eternity.
Still Jonas Pringle sat waiting, nor ever closed an eye.

At length, about three o'clock of the early summer morning, he heard
footsteps slowly descending the stone stairs, and he knew that the
occasion for which he had waited so long had come at last. The kitchen
door was shut, but not latched, so that he could hear but not see
anything that might happen outside. The footsteps came slowly and
deliberately downstairs, and then went along the passage towards the
strong-room. Then Pringle, listening intently, heard the bolts of the
great iron door shoot back as the key was turned, and next moment he
knew that Max Van Duren had entered the strong-room. He was still
without his shoes, and rising from his seat he stepped noiselessly
across the floor, and opening the door a little way, looked out. There
was still the same faint glimmer of light in the passage, but the
brighter glare that issued through the open door of the strong-room
showed that Van Duren had turned up the gas inside. As quietly and
stealthily as a tiger creeps on its prey, Pringle stole along the
passage, and only paused when he reached the fringe of stronger light
that issued from the room.

There, with his back towards him, stood Max Van Duren, peering into the
open safe, some of the contents of which were already scattered on the
floor. For a few seconds--while a clock might tick twenty times--he
stood watching him with a devilish sneer on his face. Suddenly Van
Duren turned, and his eyes met the eyes of Pringle. An exclamation of
surprise burst from his lips; but before he had time to stir from the
place where he was standing, Pringle had dashed forward, had seized
the handle of the door, had pulled it to with all his might, and had
turned the key. Max Van Duren was locked up in his own strong-room,
ten feet below the surface of the earth.

"Caged at last!" muttered Pringle to himself, as he drew out the key
and put it in his pocket. "Past three o'clock: it will be broad
daylight soon. I think I could relish some breakfast. Pity old Mother
Bakewell isn't here to get it ready for me." Whistling a tune under
his breath, he went back into the kitchen, flung open the shutters,
and began to set about lighting a fire. "Shall I have those two eggs
boiled or poached?" he asked himself, as he prepared a foundation of
firewood and paper. "I think I'll have 'em poached, just for variety.
I'm sick of boiled eggs."

Van Duren had not been silent all this time. "Pringle! what devil's
trick is this?" were his first words as he sprang at the closing door.
"Pringle, Pringle, I say, you have fastened me in! Open the door, you
fool, or it will be worse for you!" But Pringle was in the kitchen,
cutting the string of a bundle of firewood.

"Come, now, Pringle, my good fellow, a joke's a joke, as everybody
knows, but I've had enough of this. If you only knew how important is
the business I've got to attend to, you wouldn't keep me here, I
know." Pringle by this time was down on his knees, blowing away at the
blaze like a pair of wheezy bellows.

"What do you want of me? What's your grudge against me?" cried Van
Duren, behind the iron door. "Do you want an advance of salary? You
shall have it. Twenty pounds a year advance. Do you hear that? Twenty
pounds a year. If that's not enough--thirty. Only open the door, and I
promise you fifty. Think of that--fifty pounds a year advance!" Still
no answer, though he could plainly hear the rattle of crockery, as
Pringle proceeded to set out the breakfast-tray. "Come, now, Pringle,
we've had enough of this tomfoolery. I'd like to join you over
breakfast. I want to tell you my plans. I want to talk things over
with you before I go. Open the door, there's a good fellow."

The only notice Pringle took of this appeal was to turn the gas three
parts off at the meter, the effect of which was to reduce the jet in
the strong-room to a mere point of flame, and so leave Van Duren in
almost total darkness. "One had need be economical in these days,"
muttered Pringle to himself. "Gas is very expensive."

For a few moments Van Duren was silent. It might be that he began to
despair, that he began to see how useless any further appeals would
be, that it began to dawn on his mind what Pringle's purpose really
was. But in a little while he spoke again. "Pringle, Pringle, I say,
where are you? What have I done to you that you should serve me like
this? Fiend--monster--bloodthirsty villain! If you want to get rid of
me, knock me on the head and have done with it. Don't leave me here to
starve. That is too horrible!"

"These eggs are hardly as fresh as they might be, for all I gave
twopence each for 'em," muttered Pringle! "But that's the worst of
London eggs--you never can depend on 'em." Then he made himself some
toast, taking care not to spare the butter, and presently everything
was ready for him to begin. "I like my coffee made ally Frongsey," he
said, contemplatively. "It's certainly an improvement on the old
English style. Those Frenchmen don't know a great deal, but they do
know how to make coffee."

When everything was ready for him to sit down to, he walked along the
passage to the iron door and rapped at it with his knuckles. "Max Van
Duren, are you there?" he said, simply and sternly.

Van Duren, who had been silent for some little while, responded
eagerly. "Yes, yes, Pringle, I am here! I knew it was only one of your
queer practical jokes."

"I am now going to get my breakfast, after which I shall smoke a pipe.
When I have finished my pipe, I will come and have some talk with you.
Till then you may as well be silent, and behave like a reasonable
being." With that he turned on his heel.

"Pringle, my good fellow, don't leave me here all that time; don't
leave me here in the dark in this horrible den!" But Pringle was gone
already, and this time he shut behind him the wooden door at the foot
of the stairs that opened into the passage, and then he shut the
kitchen door, so as to ensure himself still further against being
disturbed; then he rubbed his hands with an air of enjoyment, and
proceeded to pour out his coffee.

He took half an hour for his breakfast, and another half-hour for the
pipe that followed, and then he told himself that he was ready for
business. All this time the prisoner in the strong-room had maintained
the most perfect silence.

Opening the outer door, Pringle traversed the passage, and, as before,
rapped with his knuckles on the inner door. As before, he said, "Max
Van Duren, are you there?"

"I am here."

"Then listen; come closer to the door and listen. You would doubtless
like to know why I have shut you up here. That is what I am going to
tell you. But first you must answer me one or two questions. Do you
know the village of Dunhope, in Berkshire?"

No answer.

Pringle repeated the question with more emphasis. "If you won't answer
my questions, I can't tell you what you are so anxious to know."

"I did know a place of that name some years ago."

"Just so. You knew it some years ago. If we were to say seven or eight
years ago, we should not be very wide of the mark. Knowing Dunhope so
well, you perhaps knew a young girl who lived there once on a time--a
girl whose name was Jessie Ember. Eh! am I right or wrong?"

"You are right; I did know a girl of that name."

"We are getting on famously. A little bird has whispered to me that
you made love to this girl, that you persuaded her to leave her
situation, and that, relying on your solemn promise to make her your
wife, you brought her to London; but that when you had once got her
here, you quite forgot your promise to marry her. Are these things
true, or are they not?"

There was a long pause. Then came the answer, with a sort of groan--

"They are true."

"Soon tiring of the girl, you turned her adrift to starve or die,
or--or to become one of earth's forlornest creatures; it mattered not
to you."

He paused, overcome by an emotion that, despite all his efforts, would
not be wholly suppressed.

"Am I not right?" he asked, a moment or two later. "Have you ever,
from that day to this, troubled yourself to make one single inquiry
after the girl whom you once swore that you loved better than life
itself? Do you even know whether she is dead or alive?"

"Who are you that you talk to me in this way? By what right do you ask
me these questions?"

"Who am I? I will tell you who I am. I am Jessie Ember's father! Who
has more right to question you than I?"

"You her father! Oh, Heaven!"

It was little more than a whisper, that seemed instinct with surprise,
terror, and anguish.

"Scoundrel! unmitigated scoundrel!" began Pringle. Then he paused.
"But I only demean myself by calling you names. You are where you
are--and I am satisfied."

"What do you want of me? I am rich, and----"

"Singular, isn't it, that I should have been with you all this time,
and never have discovered till the other day that you are the man I
have been looking for for years? But things do come about strangely in
this world."

"Unlock the door, and I will make you rich for life."

"Ha! ha! I can be rich for life without unlocking the door."

"How?"

"By waiting till you are dead, and then constituting myself your heir.
No will required. No legacy duty to pay. Funeral expenses next to
nothing. I saw such a splendid grey rat leap from behind the old
ledgers the other day."

"Villain! you would not murder me?"

"Murder you! Ha! ha! Certainly not. What put that idea into your
head."

"Then why don't you open the door?"

"Now you are asking a leetle too much--just a leetle. I would do
anything in the world for you except open this door. You know you
robbed me of my child--you ruined her and deserted her. It was only
one of your little practical jokes. It's my turn now. This is one of
_my_ jokes. You don't object, I hope?"

"Then you are going to leave me hereto starve--to die?"

"Oh no, I'm not going to leave you. There you are mistaken. I shall
come a dozen times a day to see you. These little dialogues are
interesting. I'll bring my pipe after awhile, and come and keep you
company; but on this side the door, you know--on this side the door."

"Have you no pity? Will nothing move you?"

"It will be quite a little holiday for you. Nothing to do--absolutely
nothing to do. I will do all the business, attend to the letters, and
answer all inquiries. 'Has Mr. Van Duren got back home yet?' 'No, sir,
he is still in France, but I am expecting him every day.' Ha! ha! and
you here all the time! Won't it be a lark, Van, my boy, eh?"

A deep groan was the only reply.

"And now I'm just going round the corner in search of an early nip to
digest my breakfast. Don't get downhearted, because I shan't be long
away. No, no, I value you too much to stay away from you for very
long."

And, turning on his heel, Jonas Pringle walked leisurely away,
whistling to himself as he went.



CHAPTER X.
TOLD AT LAST.


Olive Deane had taken her leave of Lady Dudgeon and was crossing the
hall towards the side door, close to which the fly that had brought
her from Pembridge was still waiting, when suddenly the doors at the
opposite side of the hall were opened, and, as they swung back on
their hinges, a sight met her eyes that for a moment or two seemed to
turn her to stone.

Supported on one side by Dr. Whitaker, and resting his other arm on
the shoulder of Pod Piper, like a man newly risen from the tomb,
Matthew Kelvin stepped slowly and painfully across the threshold. His
thin, bent form, his long, bony fingers, the worn, hollow face, the
pinched nostrils, the deep-sunk eyes, and the grave-like pallor that
overspread his features, made up a figure that looked far more weird
and startling when seen thus in the full glare of day than in the
semi-obscurity and amid the appropriate surroundings of a sickroom.

A strange, fierce light sprang to the sick man's eyes the moment he
saw who was standing there. Olive's cheek whitened as she looked, her
breath came more quickly, she pressed her hand involuntarily to her
heart, as though she were in pain; then she went two or three steps
nearer, and then she halted again, as though in doubt or fear.

"Matthew! You here!" she said at last.

"So you are not gone yet!" was the answer. "It is well. I have
something to say to you. Follow me."

Then the ghastly procession began to move slowly forward again, and,
preceded by one of the baronet's servants, it crossed the hall and
went in the direction of the library.

Olive stood aside to let it pass--stood aside with clasped hands, and
with her heart on her lips, as it were, longing, yearning for one
word, one look of kindness or recognition from her cousin, but in
vain. Matthew Kelvin's eyes were set straight before him, and he
looked neither to the right hand nor the left, till he reached the
library, where the servant at once wheeled forward a large easy chair,
into which he sank, breathless and exhausted.

Olive, following silently behind, was the last to enter the room. She
shut the door behind her, and stood quietly in the background,
unheeded for the time by everyone. Vague, dark forebodings were at
work in her heart. What did it all mean? she asked herself again and
again. That strange look in her cousin's eyes, the way he spoke to
her, the presence of Dr. Whitaker--all signs and tokens of something
that boded no good to her. Had everything been discovered? She
shivered from head to foot as this question put itself to her.

As soon as Mr. Kelvin was seated, the servant and Pod Piper left the
room.

"Why, bless my heart! is that you or your ghost?" cried Sir Thomas,
starting up from his chair and rubbing his eyes.

He had been taking forty winks surreptitiously--a little weakness in
which he indulged three or four times a day, without ever permitting
himself to acknowledge that he had been asleep.

Gerald, in the act of reaching a book from one of the upper shelves,
turned with the volume in his hand as Kelvin and the others came into
the room.

"He will be better in a little while," said Dr. Whitaker to the
baronet, who had crossed the room, and was now standing, with his
hands under his coat-tails and pursed-up lips, gazing down with
compassionate eyes at the half-conscious man before him.

"What a wreck! What a terrible wreck!" murmured the baronet. "I--I
never dreamt that he was half as bad as this."

Dr. Whitaker put something to the sick man's nostrils, which he
inhaled eagerly, and presently he began to revive.

"I trust. Sir Thomas, that you will pardon my intrusion," he said, at
last, speaking in a strange, husky voice, that was little more than a
whisper, and was totally unlike the well-remembered voice--clear and
confident--of Matthew Kelvin. "That my business here is of a very
pressing kind you may well believe, when you see me thus and so
attended."

"Whatever your business may be, Kelvin," said the baronet, kindly, "it
is almost a pity that you did not put it off till you were a little
stronger, or else that you did not send for me. I would have gone to
see you willingly. You know that."

"Yes, yes; I know all you can say," said Kelvin, a little querulously.
"But it was necessary that I should come here in person, and without
an hour's delay."

"You don't mean to say that there's going to be a dissolution of
Parliament?" cried Sir Thomas, eagerly.

Kelvin, smiling faintly, shook his head.

"Ah! I was afraid there was no such luck," said the baronet.

"I am here on the same errand that brought Miss Deane here this
morning."

"But Miss Deane has told us everything, and a queer story it is."

"She has not told you everything, Sir Thomas."

"Well, I hope there's not much more to tell. I hardly know already
whether I'm topsy-turvey or how."

"You have, I presume, read the letter that I sent by Miss Deane?"

"Miss Deane gave me no letter. She told me a long rigmarole about----"

"Oh, Matthew! I lost the letter!" cried Olive, coming a step or two
nearer. "I lost the letter; but I knew what you had written, and I
delivered your message just the same."

"You could not know what I had written, unless you had read my
letter," said Kelvin, coldly and sternly.

"Oh, Matthew! Why do you say such cruel things of me?" cried Olive,
imploringly. "You know how I knew what the contents of your letter
would necessarily be."

"Has the message which Miss Deane gave you been given also to Lady
Dudgeon and to Miss Lloyd?" asked Kelvin of the baronet.

"Certainly--to both of them. They were told first of all."

"I hope you will not think that I am asking too much if I ask you to
be kind enough to request the favour of Lady Dudgeon's and Miss
Lloyd's presence here for a few minutes."

"We'll have them here in a brace of jiffeys," said Sir Thomas,
heartily.

Gerald rang the bell, a servant came in, and a message was sent to
Lady Dudgeon and Miss Lloyd.

"I felt sure there was some mistake in that queer story which Miss
Deane told us a couple of hours ago," said the baronet, cheerfully.
"Such things never happen in real life, you know. One sees them on the
stage sometimes, and laughs at them."

Nobody answered him, and he began to whistle under his breath.
Dr. Whitaker was busy giving his patient a cordial, which he had taken
the precaution to bring with him in his pocket.

A minute later, Lady Dudgeon and Miss Lloyd entered the room.

"I suppose I ought to make myself scarce, but I shan't," said Gerald
to himself. "I shall not leave the room unless they tell me to go. The
climax is on us at last, and I think it will be found presently that
I've as much right here as anybody. Besides, my darling may want me to
back her up."

He dropped quietly into a chair in the background. Only one person
there seemed to be aware of his presence. Who that person was need
hardly be said.

Lady Dudgeon was genuinely shocked to see Mr. Kelvin looking so ill,
and chided him gently for venturing so far from home. Eleanor went up
to him, and shook hands with him. He saw the tears standing in her
eyes, and his own eyes fell before her. Love and remorse were busy in
his heart.

"How bitterly I have wronged her!" he groaned to himself "What a
confession is this which I am here to make?"

"The letter which I wrote this morning," began Mr. Kelvin, struggling
manfully with his weakness, "and which, by some strange mischance,
appears to have been lost, was addressed to Miss Lloyd. It would
appear, however, that my cousin, Olive Deane, who was certainly
cognisant of most of the circumstances of the case, has told you what
were the contents of the letter. There are certain other
circumstances, however, of which as yet you know nothing, and it is of
these that I am now here to speak."

He paused for a moment or two to gather breath, and to moisten his
lips again with the cordial.

"I presume Miss Deane has told you," he went on, "that while recently
wading through some of the late Mr. Lloyd's papers, I came across
certain documents which prove conclusively that Miss Lloyd is only
that gentleman's adopted daughter, and that, consequently, there being
no will, she is not the heiress to his property. Is not that, may I
ask, what Miss Deane has told you?"

"That is precisely what Miss Deane told us," said Lady Dudgeon; "and I
hope, with all my heart, that you are now come to tell us that it's
all a mistake, and that our dear Eleanor is Miss Lloyd after all."

"Hear, hear!" cried Sir Thomas, as if from the back benches of the
House.

"I am sorry to say that what Miss Deane told you is perfectly true,"
said Kelvin. "There is no possibility of mistake as to the main facts
of the case."

"Dear, dear! what a pity--what a very great pity!" interposed the
baronet.

"You may remember, Sir Thomas," resumed Kelvin, "that some little time
after Mr. Lloyd's death, I once or twice mentioned to you that amongst
his papers I had not been able to find any clue as to where Miss Lloyd
was either born or baptized. It was requisite, before taking out
letters of administration, that I should have some trustworthy
information on this point; but there being no particular hurry in the
matter, and I being busy at the time with other important work, one
week went on after another without my making any serious effort to
supply the necessary link. Still, when the discovery did come, it was
as great a surprise to me as it can possibly have been to any of you."

"Then you think there is not the slightest possibility of there being
any mistake in the matter?" said her ladyship.

"I have in my possession a document, written and signed by Jacob Lloyd
himself, in which he states that the young lady, supposed to be his
daughter, was merely adopted by himself and his wife in her infancy."

"Is no clue given as to her real parentage?"

"None whatever. But I have also in my possession a sealed packet which
I will presently give to Miss Lloyd--a packet addressed to her by Mr.
Lloyd himself, but with instructions that it should not be given to
her till after his death. Inside this packet I think it quite possible
that Miss Lloyd may find all the particulars she would like to know."

"Does it not seem somewhat strange, Mr. Kelvin," said Lady Dudgeon,
"that after bringing up Eleanor as his own child, Mr. Lloyd should
have left her totally unprovided for?"

"I think there can be no doubt, madam, as to Mr. Lloyd's intentions.
That he intended to provide handsomely for his adopted daughter, no
one who knew him could doubt. But he was a very dilatory man in many
ways, and he put off making his will from day to day and year to year,
till at length death surprised him suddenly, and no time was given him
to repair his fatal omission."

There was a pause. Dr. Whitaker whispered something in his patient's
ear, but Kelvin only shook his head impatiently.

"You remarked just now, Mr. Kelvin," said Lady Dudgeon, "that there
were some other circumstances connected with this remarkable case
which you thought it desirable that we should become acquainted with."

"Precisely so, madam. It is for that purpose that I am here. The
revelation I am about to make is a very painful one--very painful and
humiliating to me. But I have made up my mind to make it, and I will
not shrink from doing so whatever may be the consequences to myself."

Once more he paused and put the cordial to his lips. That he was
deeply moved, all there could plainly see, but Olive Deane alone was
in a position to guess the cause.

"This is the confession that I have to make," he began at last. "The
news you have heard to-day respecting Miss Lloyd, has been in my
possession not for a few days only, as you probably imagine, but for
five long months."

"Oh, Mr. Kelvin!" cried Eleanor.

"Dear me, Mr. Kelvin, what a very strange person you must be!" cried
her ladyship. "Are we to understand that this secret has been in your
possession for five months, and that you have never spoken of it till
now?"

"That is what I wish your ladyship to understand."

"But what could your motive possibly be for keeping a piece of
information of that kind to yourself for so long a time?"

"I will tell you what my motive was--tell you all. Eighteen months ago
I made Miss Lloyd an offer of marriage."

"Bless my heart! now who would have thought that?" cried Sir Thomas.

"Miss Lloyd rejected me. Six months later I tried my fortune again,
but with no better result. It seemed to me--but I may have been
mistaken--that in the second rejection there was an amount of disdain,
of--of contempt almost--that stung me to the quick, and I vowed that
if the opportunity were ever given me I would be revenged."

"Oh, Mr. Kelvin, how you misunderstood me--misread me!"

"To seek revenge on a woman because she rejected you! That was very
despicable, Mr. Kelvin." This from her ladyship.

"I know it and feel it now. I did not know it or feel it at the time.
My mind must have been warped by its own bitterness. So when an
opportunity came, as I thought it had come when this secret respecting
Miss Lloyd found its way into my keeping, I did not fail to seize it."

"And I certainly fail to see in what way the keeping to yourself of
this information respecting Miss Lloyd could avenge a fancied slight
in times gone by."

"There stands the temptress"--pointing to Olive Deane--"who first
suggested the idea to me. She--she it was who said to me, 'By keeping
back the information that has come into your possession so strangely,
till Miss Lloyd has become accustomed to her new position, till a life
of ease and self-indulgence shall have become, as it were, a second
nature to her, till she has learned to love--perhaps till her wedding
morn itself--then will her fall from wealth to poverty seem infinitely
greater than it would do now: then will yours be a revenge worthy of
the name!'"

All eyes were turned on Olive Deane, who was still standing in the
background not far from the door. Her eyes were bent on the carpet and
her face was deathly pale. Suddenly she lifted her eyes and flashed
back a look of scorn, that took in every one there except her cousin;
a bitter smile curled her thin lips for a moment, then she drew a
chair forward and sat down without a word. No one spoke.

"I am telling you this," resumed Kelvin, "not as blaming my cousin for
her suggestion, but as a confession of my own weakness and wretched
folly. That my feelings were very bitter against Miss Lloyd, I need
hardly tell you, and yet how I despised myself for doing as I was
doing, no one but myself can ever know. Not once, but a hundred times,
did I vow to myself that I would write to Miss Lloyd and tell her
everything, and a hundred times the recollection of her look and her
words when she rejected me, came to my mind and held me back. Then
came my illness, which lasted so long that I began to fancy I should
never get better again, but all through it the wrong that I had done
Miss Lloyd lay with a terrible weight on my conscience, and the first
day that I was strong enough to hold a pen I wrote to her that letter
which she ought to have received this morning."

"All this was very, very wrong of you, Mr. Kelvin," said Lady Dudgeon.
"Unfortunately, however, none of us can undo the past, and I am quite
sure that in this case your own conscience will be your severest
punishment. Miss Deane said something about a nephew of the late Mr.
Lloyd being the real heir."

"Yes, a certain Mr. Gerald Warburton. Now that I have broken the news
to Miss Lloyd, it will be my duty at once to communicate with Mr.
Warburton--though, strange to say, I discovered for the first time
this morning that he had already written to me during my illness, but
that the letter had been purposely withheld from me." He looked
steadily at Olive as he said these words, but whatever her feelings
might be at learning that he had somehow discovered her treachery with
regard to Warburton's letters, she still kept her eyes fixed
stedfastly on the carpet, and gave him no answering look.

"And now, Miss Lloyd," resumed the lawyer, "I will give into your
hands that packet which I ought to have placed there five months ago.
I dare not ask you to forgive me for the wrong I have done you. Such
forgiveness would be an excess of generosity such as I have no right
to expect."

He took a small sealed packet from his pocket. Then he stood up and,
weak as he was, would have walked across the room to Eleanor, but she
crossed the floor hurriedly and took the packet from his hands.

"Oh, Mr. Kelvin, I forgive you fully and willingly!" she said with
emotion. "Pray, pray do not let the thought of what is past ever
distress you again!"

Then, when she saw that the packet was addressed to her in the
handwriting that she remembered so well, she kissed it with tears in
her eyes and went slowly back to her seat by Lady Dudgeon.

"Unfortunately, Sir Thomas," resumed Kelvin, "my confessions are not
yet at an end, and I must crave your attention for a few minutes
longer."

"No apologies are needed, Kelvin--none whatever," said Sir Thomas. "I
am entirely at your service."

Kelvin bowed.

"At my recommendation, Sir Thomas," he said, "you, a little while ago,
took into your service the gentleman who is now sitting there."

"Pomeroy, you mean. To be sure--to be sure. And a very useful fellow
I've found him. I'm your debtor for recommending him to me, Kelvin."

"When I asked you to take him into your service, sir, I did not know
one thing about him that I know now."

"Ay--ay--what is that? Can't know anything bad of Pomeroy. Good
fellow, very."

"My dear! such remarks may be a little premature," interposed her
ladyship gently.

"From something that came to my knowledge only a few hours ago, I have
discovered that Mr. Pomeroy's chief motive in desiring to enter your
service, was that he might have an opportunity of being near Miss
Lloyd, and of thereby winning her affections and inducing her to
become his wife."

"Bless my heart! I would never have believed that of Pomeroy--never!"

Again Kelvin looked fixedly at Olive but she still kept her eyes
turned persistently from him. She was stupefied. How had all this
knowledge come to him--first the knowledge of Gerald Warburton's
letter, and now of the secret arrangement between Pomeroy and herself?
Had that still darker secret come to his knowledge likewise?

"I can only apologise, Sir Thomas," resumed Kelvin, "for having
inadvertently been the means of introducing, under your roof, a person
whose designs were such as I have mentioned, and I trust----"

"You are not to blame, Kelvin--not in the least," said the baronet.
"But this is very sad--very sad indeed. What have you to say, Pomeroy,
to all this?"

"Only that what Mr. Kelvin has just stated is, to a certain extent,
true," said Gerald coolly. "My inducement in seeking to enter your
service was certainly the hope of being thereby brought into daily
contact with Miss Lloyd, with whom I was specially desirous of
becoming acquainted."

"That is easily understood," said her ladyship. "Miss Lloyd at that
time was supposed to be worth twenty thousand pounds. Mr. Pomeroy's
audacious candour is quite refreshing."

"I will be candid," said Gerald with an amused smile. "For me to see
and become acquainted with Miss Lloyd was to love her, and when that
fact became patent to me, it would not do to sail any longer under
false colours. I told Miss Lloyd that I loved her--the confession
slipped out one evening unawares--but the first time I met her
afterwards I confessed to her what my reasons had been for entering
this house, asking her at the same time to forgive the wrong I had
done her, and to forget the words I had said. From that day to this
Miss Lloyd and I have been good friends: nothing more."

"Bless us all! what goings on under ones very nose, and I to know
nothing about them!" cried Sir Thomas.

"But this morning altered the position of affairs entirely," went on
Gerald. "You, sir, a little while ago told me what Miss Deane had just
told you--that Miss Lloyd was Miss Lloyd no longer, and had nothing in
the world but her own sweet self that she could call her own. This
being the case, I at once sought Miss Lloyd--found her--told her that
my love was still unchanged, and would not leave her till I had won
from her a promise to become my wife. That promise I hold, and I shall
claim its fulfilment from her before she and I are many weeks older."

"Well done, Pomeroy! That's manly--that's as it should be!" exclaimed
Sir Thomas. "I knew you would turn out a decent fellow at bottom."

Her ladyship was slightly scandalised. "My dear!" she pleaded, "you
are too enthusiastic. You let your heart run away with your head."

She drew her skirts round her, pushed back her chair a little, and
perching her double eye-glass on the bridge of her high nose, she
stared curiously at Eleanor.

Lady Dudgeon's feelings just now were of a very mixed kind. Her
affection for the girl, the growth of long years, struggled with her
very natural vexation at finding how thoroughly she had been
hoodwinked, how completely she had been ignored in the matter by
everybody. On the other hand, there was a spice of romance about the
affair that appealed to some hidden feeling, of whose existence she
herself was hardly aware.

"Child! child!" she said in an aside to Eleanor, "if you had but given
me your confidence! Two paupers! What are you to do? How are you to
live? It's dreadful to contemplate!"

Kelvin's cheeks flushed as he listened to Gerald's words. He set his
teeth and glared savagely out of his hollow eyes at his successful
rival. Was it for this that he had humiliated himself by his recent
confession? What a fool he had been to acknowledge so much before all
these people! This mere adventurer had carried away the prize for
which he had striven so boldly and sacrificed so much. Bitter indeed
were his thoughts just then. The emotion was too much for his
strength, and he fainted.

Olive was by his side in a moment, but Dr. Whitaker spoke sternly to
her.

"Stand back, if you please," he said. "I will attend to Mr. Kelvin."

She flashed a look of hate and defiance at him. Her overwrought
feelings could contain themselves no longer.

"I will not stand back," she said, speaking in her clear incisive way.
"Who has more right by my cousin's side than I, who have nursed him
through his long illness?"

Dr. Whitaker did not answer. He was trying to bring back his patient
to consciousness. Olive sank down at her cousin's knees, and took his
cold hand in hers and pressed it to her lips.

In a little while Matthew Kelvin opened his eyes and looked feebly
round, as if striving to bring to memory where he was, and whose were
the faces that were bent over him. Last of all, his eyes met those of
Olive Deane, and with a flash, as it were, everything came back to
him. Then he saw whose hand it was that was holding his. With a look
of loathing and hate that almost killed the soul within her, he flung
Olive's hand from him, and, trembling in every limb, he staggered to
his feet.

"Poisoner!--begone! Quit my sight for ever!" he cried; and then he
fell back into his chair.

As it were an echo, came the word "Poisoner!" from the lips of every
one in the room. Olive, who had risen to her feet when her cousin
flung away her hand, staggered back as if suddenly smitten.

Lady Dudgeon was the first to speak. "Surely, sir," she said,
addressing herself to Dr. Whitaker, "there must be some terrible
mistake in all this! The accusation just made by your patient can
hardly be that of a man in his proper senses."

"I am afraid, madam," said Dr. Whitaker, very gravely, "that the
accusation made by Mr. Kelvin is but too well founded. We have it on
evidence which cannot be disputed that my patient has been the victim
of an elaborate system of slow poisoning. Suspicion points in one
direction, and in one only: in the direction indicated by my patient
himself."

"It seems altogether incredible," urged her ladyship. "What possible
motive could Miss Deane have for attempting so dreadful a crime?"

"Let Miss Deane answer you herself," said Olive.

She was standing as she had stood from the moment when her cousin
hurled at her that terrible word. Everything was lost: she knew it but
too well, and she nerved herself for one last supreme effort.

"Lady Dudgeon is curious to know my motive for doing that which I am
said to have done. Her curiosity shall be satisfied. My motive was my
love for Matthew Kelvin. He loved me once, or I dreamt that he did. A
passing fancy on his part, perhaps--soon forgotten by him, but never
by me. I have never ceased to love him, I would give my life for him
at this moment. When I found how persistently his heart was set on
Miss Lloyd, I thought--foolishly enough, no doubt--that if I could
have him all to myself--if I could see him daily, hourly--if he were
ill and I could nurse him--I might perhaps succeed in winning back the
love which I could not believe had ever been wholly lost to me. He was
taken ill, and I nursed him. But to think that I would have let him
die--the man whom I loved with my whole heart and soul--is utterly
absurd! I understood too well what I was about to fear any such
catastrophe. I could bear to see him suffer, simply because
I loved him so much, and wanted him so wholly and entirely to
myself. But I would not have let him die. Your ladyship looks
horrified. Be thankful, madam, that your affections move in a less
erratic orbit--that yours is a heart whose equable pulsations could
never be quickened as mine have been. But I--I was not born in the
frigid zone. Love to me is existence itself--for what is life without
love?"

"What a dreadful person! We might all have been murdered in our beds!"
said Lady Dudgeon in a loud aside, as she felt in her pocket for her
smelling-salts.

"Matthew!" said Olive, passionately, advancing a step nearer her
cousin, "you have bid me begone, and I know that there is nothing left
for me but to obey. All is over between us. I played for a heavy
stake, and I have lost it. I leave you now, never to see you again. I
go forth into the world--whither, I neither know nor care. Listen to
these my last words--listen, and believe. I would shed my heart's
blood for you. Had you died through me, I would have killed myself an
hour afterwards. I never loved you more than at this moment. That love
I shall carry with me. Nothing can deprive me of it. Time will soften
the hardness of your judgment. Then sometimes you may think of me with
a touch of the old kindness, and say to yourself, 'Her greatest fault
was that she loved me not wisely, but too well.'"

Still keeping her eyes fixed on her cousin, but vouchsafing no glance
to any one else, she moved slowly towards the door. She reached the
threshold, and there for a moment she paused.

"Farewell, Matthew! farewell for ever!" she said; and her voice had a
ring of pathos and despair in it that her hearers never forgot. Then
she drew her veil over her face, and the next moment she was gone.



CHAPTER XI.
"AND YOU SHALL STILL BE LADY CLARE."


On leaving the library after the scene with Olive Deane, Gerald had
whispered to Eleanor: "Don't open the sealed packet till you have seen
me again. I shall be in the conservatory half an hour after luncheon."

To the conservatory Eleanor went at the time specified, taking the
sealed packet with her, and there she found Gerald awaiting her
arrival. There was a bright, happy look in his eyes, such as she had
not seen in them since that never-to-be-for-gotten evening when he
first took her in his arms and told her that he loved her. He came to
meet her as soon as she opened the door, took both her hands in his,
kissed her, and led her to a seat where they would be safe from
interruption.

Eleanor did not feel at all like a young lady on whom fickle Fortune
had been playing one of her strangest practical jokes; she did not
feel a bit like the genteel pauper Lady Dudgeon had called her: she
felt very, very happy. It was wrong of her to feel so--very wrong; but
she could not help it.

"I dare say you thought my request a very singular one," said Gerald,
as he sat down beside her, "but you will hear something still more
singular before the day is over."

"This has been a day of surprises," answered Eleanor. "It seems like
twenty years since yesterday."

"It will seem like twice twenty when you shall have heard all that I
have to tell you."

He looked into her eyes, and in their shrinking depths he seemed to
read a question which she was afraid to put into words: "Are you going
to tell me that you love me no longer?"

A kiss--or it may be half-a-dozen, for in such cases one soon loses
count--did something towards reassuring her.

"I asked you not to open the sealed packet till you had seen me again,
because I thought it better that I should first tell you a certain
strange story, of which as yet you know nothing, and so prepare your
mind for what you will find there when you come to open it."

"But--but how is it possible that you can know anything as to the
contents of the sealed packet?"

"It is quite possible, as you shall presently hear," answered Gerald,
with a smile. "But before I go any further, I want you to promise me
one thing."

"Only one! I think I may promise that. But tell me what it is."

"Simply this. That nothing I may tell you this afternoon will be
allowed in any way to prejudice the promise which you gave me this
morning."

"The promise which you stole, you mean."

"Well, then, the promise which I stole. But since you put the case in
that way, I must change my request into a warning. Take notice, that
I, John Pomeroy, do hereby warn you, Eleanor Lloyd, that whatever I
may have to tell you to-day notwithstanding, I shall consider you
bound in honour to fulfil and carry out a certain promise which,
whether it was stolen from you or given of your own free will, is none
the less a promise, and binding on your conscience as such. I cannot
just now call to mind the particular Act of Parliament applicable in
such cases, but I have no doubt that there is one. Consider yourself,
therefore, as having been properly warned."

"And now, sir, may I ask of what strange, eventful history all this
may be looked on as the prologue?"

Her lip quivered a little as she asked this question. She was
beginning to fear she knew not what. Involuntarily her fingers
closed more tightly on the hand that was still holding hers. The
close contact seemed to give her strength. "What need I fear now
I know that he loves me?" she asked herself; and her heart whispered
back--"Nothing."

"A strange, eventful history, indeed," said Gerald; "so strange, that
I hardly know how to begin it."

His tone was grave enough now. He was, in truth, puzzled how and where
to begin his revelations.

"Once on a time," he said, at last--"that is to say, some five or six
months ago--I was living very quietly in a little town in the south of
France, when, one fine morning, I was summoned post haste to London. A
certain lady, an old friend of yours. Miss Bellamy by name, was the
person whose imperative summons I felt bound to obey."

"Do you know Miss Bellamy?" asked Eleanor, opening her eyes very wide
indeed.

"Miss Bellamy used to buy me sweets when I was a very small shaver
indeed. In fact, there is a legend current that she assisted at the
cutting of my first tooth."

"But why did she send for you all the way from France?"

"Some seven weeks previously, she had sent through the post, to Mr.
Kelvin at Pembridge, the very sealed packet about which so much has
been said to-day. That packet had been placed by Mr. Lloyd in her
hands many years before, with a request that she would keep it
carefully by her till after his decease. When that event took place,
Miss Bellamy was at Guernsey, and six months elapsed before the packet
reached the hands of Mr. Kelvin. Immediately on receipt of it, his
duty was to communicate to you those facts of which you were allowed
to remain in ignorance till this morning. Finding, after a lapse of
several weeks, that Mr. Kelvin had done nothing in the affair, Miss
Bellamy sent for me, and asked me to go down to Pembridge, and
ascertain from Kelvin the reason of his unaccountable inaction. I went
down to Pembridge and saw Kelvin--whom I had once met years
previously; but, singular as it may seem, I said nothing to him of the
one particular object that had taken me there. At that time Olive
Deane was living with her cousin, and it was suggested by her that, as
Sir Thomas Dudgeon happened to be in want of a secretary, the place
might perhaps be one that would suit me. She suggested, too, that I,
being a poor man, might improve my fortunes by marrying an heiress,
the heiress in question being Miss Eleanor Lloyd. For reasons of my
own, I appeared to fall in with her views. The situation was procured
for me, and I made my appearance at Stammars.

"One of my reasons for acting thus was my desire to see and be near
you. I had heard a great deal about you at different times, and I
wanted to make your acquaintance, and judge you for myself before
letting you know that I was in any way mixed up with your private
affairs. I wanted, in fact, to meet you as an utter stranger."

"Before you go any further," said Eleanor, "I should like to ask you
one question. When you first came down to Pembridge, did you know that
I was not Mr. Lloyd's daughter, and, consequently, not entitled to his
property?"

"I did know it."

"Then it was very wrong of you to let me live on in ignorance of my
real position. You were making yourself the accomplice of Mr. Kelvin."

"Granted. But I had very special reasons for acting as I did. I
suspected the existence of some plot or scheme against you which I was
desirous of fathoming. Besides, I could not find in my heart to be the
one to strike the cruel blow that would deprive you of name and
fortune, and shake the very foundations of your life."

"The cruelty lay in not telling me. You did me a great injustice, and,
at the same time, you deeply wronged Mr. Warburton the real heir."

"Oh, if Mr. Warburton's anything like a decent sort of fellow, he
won't mind a bit when it's all explained to him," said Gerald, with a
twinkle in his eye.

Eleanor looked excessively pained. "You talk so strangely," she said
in a faltering voice, "that I hardly understand you."

Gerald's arm went round her waist, and before she could offer any
resistance half a score kisses had been rained on her cheeks.

"Oh! my darling," he cried, "cannot you see through it? Cannot you
understand it all? I--I am Gerald Warburton!"

"You Gerald Warburton!" she said, as if repeating the words
mechanically after him, but without comprehending what they meant. She
put his arm aside, and stood up and stared into his face, as she might
have stared had she been walking in her sleep, and were now coming
back to consciousness.

"You Gerald Warburton!"

He drew her down gently on to the seat again, and made one of her
hands a prisoner in his.

"It is even as I have told you," he said.

"It was I who Miss Bellamy sent for when she became alarmed by
Kelvin's long silence. It was then, for the first time, that I heard
your real history. Up to that day I had always looked upon you as my
cousin. I came here under an assumed name, and I accepted the
secretaryship to Sir Thomas Dudgeon, simply that I might see you and
be near you, myself unknown. To see you and be near you was to love
you. I determined, if it were possible to do so, to win you in the
character of a poor man. Whether I have succeeded or failed, you know
best."

"All this seems very hard to believe," said Eleanor at last. "And yet,
if you tell me it is true, I suppose it must be so." She sighed; and
then, in a low tone of voice, as if speaking to herself, she said:
"'Lord Ronald is heir of all my lands, and I am not the Lady Clare.'"

"Yes; but what says his lordship in conclusion? 'We two will wed the
morrow morn, and you shall still be Lady Clare.'"

She gazed at him sadly, wonderingly.

"Don't forget your promise," he said. "With Heaven's help, this day
month we will be man and wife!"

"Then you knew from the first that you were Gerald Warburton, the
heir, and that I was--nobody?"

She seemed as if she wanted his further assurance before that fact
would impress itself with sufficient clearness on her mind.

"I knew, dearest, what I have just told you. I heard it from Miss
Bellamy before I first came down to Pembridge."

"You came to me as a poor man, and stole my heart away before I knew
what had happened--stole it away, perhaps, for mere amusement. But now
that you have thrown off your disguise, now that I know you for the
caliph himself, the amusement is at an end, and you had better give me
back a poor trifle for which you can now have no possible use."

"As if that poor trifle, as you call it, were not the one treasure
which I hold as far more precious than aught else the world could
offer me. I have won you, and I mean to keep you, so you may as well
resign yourself to your fate."

"Are we in a land of freedom, or are we not?

"You are not in a land of freedom."

"Then resistance is useless?"

"Entirely so."

Eleanor mused for a moment.

"Tell me this," she said. "Why did you make that confession to me one
day in the library? Why did you accuse yourself of having been
actuated by mercenary motives?"

"Because I had been told of the interview between young Piper and
yourself. I knew, after that, what your thoughts must be concerning
me, so that, all things considered, it seemed to me the best thing I
could do was to cry 'mea culpa,' even at the expense of lowering
myself for a time in your estimation."

"But rather than do that, why not have confessed everything? Why not
have told me then what you have told me to-day?"

"Because at that time my plans were not ripe for such a confession.
Because I could not then have taken you to your father."

"My father, Gerald!" she cried, as she started to her feet. "Oh! say
those words again!"

It was the first time she had called him by his real name, and it
thrilled him strangely to hear it from her lips.

"Eleanor, your father--I do not speak of your adopted father this
time--is still alive--is waiting and longing to see you. I had a
telegram from him only a few hours ago. See, here it is." He took a
telegram from his pocket, opened it, and read aloud as follows:

"Everything proved. Our task is at an end. Come at once, and bring my
daughter with you."

These words, "my daughter," from a father whom she had never seen,
moved Eleanor strangely. Her heart beat so fast, that for a little
while she could not speak.

"If I have a father," she stammered out at last, "why did he not send
for me before? Why have you kept me from him all this time?"

"The story that I have now to tell you," answered Gerald, "is a very
painful one, but that it will have a happy ending there is proof
positive in the telegram which we have just read together. It is the
same story in substance as you will find told by Mr. Lloyd in the
sealed packet. I think it will be better that I should tell it to you
first, and leave you to read it afterwards."

Eleanor was trembling a little. She could not help it. She seemed to
dread hearing what Gerald might yet have to tell her. He tried to
comfort her after the foolish fashion of people in love. Then drawing
her close to him, so that her head rested on his shoulder, he went on
with his narrative.

"Many years ago, in a small provincial town more than two hundred
miles from this place, there lived four young ladies who had all been
schoolfellows together, and who, now that they were grown up, were
bosom friends. One of these young ladies married a gentleman, Ambrose
Murray by name, and a doctor by profession. You are their only child,
and your name is Eleanor Murray. Another of the young ladies married
Mr. Jacob Lloyd, and you were their adopted daughter. The third
married my father. The fourth remained unmarried, and is your friend
and mine--Miss Bellamy.

"A few months after you were born, a terrible misfortune befel your
father. He was arrested on a false charge of murder, was tried, and
condemned to die."

"Murder! Condemned to die!" gasped Eleanor.

"The charge was a false one, dearest--don't forget that. But before
the day came that would have left you fatherless, his mind gave way
under the shock, and his sentence was commuted into one of
imprisonment for life. Your mother, frail of health and delicate from
a child, found the burden of life more than she could bear, and
Heaven, in its pity, took her to itself."

Gerald paused, and as he did so he felt that Eleanor was sobbing
silently, with her head still resting on his shoulder.

"Then it was, when you were left alone in the world, that Mr. Lloyd
and his wife took you to their hearts and home. They had no children
of their own, and they adopted you as their daughter, even to giving
you their name--for, as you must remember, your fathers innocence had
never been proved. The evidence at the trial had been terribly against
him, and the world still adjudged him to be guilty.

"Shortly after their adoption of you, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd removed to
Pembridge, where they were entire strangers, and, except Miss Bellamy,
no one ever knew that you were not their own child.

"And so years went on till Mrs. Lloyd died. It was shortly after this
event that Mr. Lloyd, mindful, probably, of the uncertainty of life,
put into Miss Bellamy's hands the very sealed packet about which we
have heard so much of late. In case Miss Bellamy should survive him,
it was to be given over by her into the hands of Mr. Kelvin, who had
had the management of Mr. Lloyd's affairs for years. Mr. Lloyd himself
doubtless shrank from telling you the real facts of your history; but
as your father was still living, it was imperatively necessary that
you should be made aware of them whenever he--Mr. Lloyd--should die.
To Mr. Kelvin was delegated the task of breaking the news to you. In
what way he has fulfilled that task we have now seen.

"All these long years Mr. Murray had been shut up in his living tomb.
In the course of time his senses had mercifully been given back to
him. Two or three times a year Miss Bellamy went to see him, and took
him tidings of you and of the outside world. He knew that you were
safe and well, and he would not let your young life be blighted by the
sad story of his wrongs and sufferings."

"Oh, if some kind friend but told me!" exclaimed Eleanor. "It was
cruel, cruel to keep me in ignorance of what it was my simple right to
be told! It was my place, not Miss Bellamy's, to go to see him and
comfort him."

"It was at Mr. Murray's own frequently-expressed desire that you were
left in ignorance."

"All those years--all those summers and winters while I was growing up
a happy, careless girl, he--my father--was shut up between the
terrible walls of a prison. I--I cannot bear to think of it!"

"But it is air over now, and in a few hours more you will be with
him."

"And you know him, Gerald! You have seen him and talked with him! No
wonder some instinct of the heart bade me love you."

Gerald kissed her again--whether for the twentieth or twenty-first
time in the short space of thirty minutes, matters nothing to nobody.
He felt that he had long arrears to make up. Then he went on with his
story.

"The first time I ever saw Mr. Murray was in Miss Bellamy's
sitting-room a few nights after my arrival in London in answer to her
summons. Your father had escaped from prison, and had come to Miss
Bellamy, as the only person living whom he knew, for shelter."

"Escaped! Oh! if I had only been there to receive him!"

"He and I became friends at once when he knew that I was the son of
one whom his wife had known and loved so well. Fortunately, no very
extreme search was made after him, and I may so far relieve your mind
at once by telling you that he has never been re-captured. In making
his escape from prison, Mr. Murray's mind seemed to be possessed by
one idea, and one only. That idea was the possibility, or probability,
of being able to prove to the world his innocence of the dreadful
crime laid to his charge twenty long years ago.

"How and by what means this great end has at last been accomplished,
it would take me too long to tell you in detail now. That may be left
for an after occasion. That he has succeeded completely and fully in
what for a long time seemed an utterly impossible task, this telegram
in his own words is ample proof. Not till he should have so succeeded
would he allow you to be communicated with, or even to be made aware
of his existence."

"How very strange of him! If he had but trusted me!"

"But the troubles of the past are over now. I propose to start for
London by the six o'clock train this evening, and to take you with me.
We shall find your father waiting at Miss Bellamy's to receive you."

"This evening! See my father this very evening!"

"Why not? Has he not sent for you?"

"I shall have to speak to Lady Dudgeon, and--and----"

"And you will be ready equipped for your start by 5.30. I will ask Sir
Thomas to let Fenton drive us to the station in the wagonette."

Eleanor stood up and pressed both her hands to her head. "I am far
from sure that it's not all a dream," she said.

Her eyes were still tear-stained, but a wan April smile was hovering
faintly round her lips.

"Kiss me, and try to discover whether you are awake or asleep that
way."

"Does my father know that you are acquainted with me?" she asked
suddenly.

"Not till a few days ago was he made aware that I had ever seen you."

"Then all the time you have been at Stammars you have known my father,
but without making him aware that you knew me, as you have known that
I was not Mr. Lloyd's daughter, and that you yourself were the heir to
his property."

"It would be impossible to state the case more briefly and clearly."

"Even now I hardly seem to see clearly the motives by which you were
actuated. But I have heard so many strange things to-day, that that is
hardly to be wondered at."

"The two most powerful motives that actuated me were these: your
father's strongly-expressed wish that you should be left unaware of
his existence and of the terrible story of his life till he himself
was prepared to reveal everything; and secondly, my desire to win my
wife as a poor man wins his--for himself alone, and not for whatever
worldly goods fortune may have encumbered him with."

"I am afraid," said Eleanor, still with a smile, "that you are a far
more enigmatical character than I took you to be--that I shall find
you far more difficult to understand than, in my simplicity, I ever
dreamt of."

"You hold the key to my heart, and that unlocks everything. When you
come to know me better, as I hope you will do some day, you will find
that, like most of my fellows, I am very shallow when properly gauged.
Only, perhaps, I have the art of hiding it better than some. But now I
must leave you for a little while. Remember, I shall expect you to be
ready by half-past five. In fact, I have already telegraphed that we
shall leave for London by the six o'clock train."

He pressed her hastily to his heart, and then she fled.

It was half-past seven when Eleanor and Gerald alighted at King's
Cross Station. Miss Bellamy was there to meet them. Eleanor's arms
were round her neck in a moment.

"Oh, my dear Miss Bellamy!" she exclaimed, half laughing and half
crying, "how happy it makes me to see you again! I thought you had run
away from me forever."

"Only for a little while, love. I had some one else to look after of
late--someone who is anxiously waiting to see you."

They all got into a cab. There was no opportunity for much
conversation as they rattled through the noisy streets; but just then
Eleanor did not want to talk. She sat holding Miss Bellamy's hand very
fast and inwardly trembling.

It was a good hour's drive to Ormond Square, but to Eleanor it seemed
only a few minutes. Gerald, having handed the ladies out of the cab,
took his leave for a little while, promising to call again in an hour.
Eleanor, still like one in a maze, and still clinging tightly to Miss
Bellamy, found herself next moment indoors.

"Take off your hat, love, but don't bother about anything else just
now," said Miss Bellamy.

Then they went upstairs, and then a door was flung open, and there,
in the middle of the lighted room, Eleanor saw standing a tall,
frail-looking man, who seemed as though he were obliged to steady
himself by clinging to the back of a chair, and whose lips were
working with nervous excitement.

"Eleanor Murray, there is your father!" said Miss Bellamy, in a voice
that was not without a touch of solemnity.

Eleanor staggered forward into the room. Ambrose Murray met her
half-way, and caught her in his arms. She fell on his breast in a
passion of sobs.

"Oh, papa, papa! why have you kept me from you all this time?" was all
she could say.

Miss Bellamy came gently out and shut the door.



CHAPTER. XII.
THE STRONG-ROOM.


"No chance of anybody hearing him but the dead folk in the churchyard,
and they'll only grin to themselves and take no notice." So muttered
Pringle to himself as he stood at the foot of the stairs and listened
to Van Duren's cry for help.

And he was right. So long as the doors were kept shut, Van Duren's
loudest cries would not penetrate beyond the basement-floor of the old
house. In the office above people might, and did, come and go on
business, but not the faintest echo of that terrible cry of despair,
that was so near and yet so far away, ever reached them.

Pringle was there, as usual, to attend to the different callers, so
far as it was possible for him to do so in the absence of his chief.
Many were the inquiries during the day as to the probable date of Van
Duren's return.

"He may be here at any time, or he may be away for another week. Most
uncertain in his movements," Pringle would say to the inquirers. And
as soon as they were gone he would rub his hands, and chuckle to
himself, and mutter: "Revenged at last! Every dog has his day, and
mine has come now."

And so the day slowly wore itself through till evening came round
again. Pringle shut up the office at the usual time, and then, after a
hearty tea, he prepared to sally forth for the evening's enjoyment. He
told himself that he would take the entire round of the haunts where
he was known, indulging himself with a glass or two at each of them,
and have, altogether, a very pleasant time of it.

Before starting he went to bid Van Duren good-bye.

"If the postman comes while I'm out, you'll kindly take in the
letters, won't you?" he said, with a sneer. "There have been more
inquiries than usual for you to-day. What fun it was to send them
off--some with one excuse, and some with another--and you within a
dozen yards of them all the time! But I must go now. You are very
pleasant company, Mr. Van Duren, but I must leave you for a little
while."

Thus saying, Pringle locked the outer door, and having made sure that
he had the latch-key in his pocket, he put down the kitchen gas, and
let himself out by way of the front door, which he clashed to after
him with a bang loud enough to wake every dismal echo that had its
lodgment in the dismal old house in the churchyard.

It was close upon midnight when Jonas Pringle came picking his way
carefully along the silent streets in the direction of Spur Alley.
This care on his part was necessitated by the number and strength of
the potations in which he had indulged during the evening. He knew
quite well what he was about; he knew that he had taken more than was
good for him; he knew that his course along the streets was rather a
mazy one; he knew that his speech was a little thick, and that short
words were infinitely preferable to long ones; but for all that, it
was only his legs that were affected: his head was still as coldly
calculating as ever it had been.

He had just turned the corner of Spur Alley, and was within a few
yards of the house, when suddenly a woman, who had been sitting in the
shadow of the steps, sprang to her feet, stood for a moment gazing
fixedly at him, and then took to her heels and quickly disappeared
round the opposite corner. A presentiment that it was his daughter
shot through Pringle's heart the moment he set eyes on her. He shouted
to her to stop, but she never even turned her head. He made an
abortive attempt to run after her, but that was equally unavailing.
Then he sat down on the steps where his daughter had been sitting--for
he felt sure that it was she--and began to cry.

He was roused by the clocks striking the half-hour after midnight. He
got up, shivering from head to foot, and let himself in by means of
the latch-key. He did not go downstairs, but stumbled his way to his
own room, and, without undressing, flung himself on his pallet, and
slept unbrokenly till long after broad daylight.

He lighted the kitchen fire and got his breakfast ready before going
near his prisoner. Last night's excitement and dissipation had left
him, if such a thing were possible, harder and more cruel than before.
Not one single grain of pity for his wretched victim made itself felt
in his heart when, after breakfast, he went and knocked at the door of
the strong-room. He was still convinced that it was his daughter whom
he had seen over-night, and the sight of her only served to freshen up
his wrongs, and to intensify a hatred that needed no additional fuel.

"Max Van Duren, are you still alive?" The cried, rapping with his key
on the door.

A deep groan was the only reply for a little while.

Pringle kept on hammering at the door. "Why don't you answer me?" he
screamed.

"For Heaven's sake, Pringle, give me a drop of water, or else leave me
to die in peace!" It was hardly to be recognized as the voice of Van
Duren, so faint and full of anguish was it.

Pringle's only answer was a laugh.

"Pringle, I am dying!" pleaded the imprisoned man. "The wound on my
head has opened afresh, and I am slowly bleeding to death. I am
too weak to stand. A few hours will end everything. Give me some
water--give me a pillow for my head--give me a little light--and then
you may leave me to die."

"All very fine, Mr. Van, but you don't get over me with any of your
dodges. Once get the door open it would be all over with me."

"Pringle, I swear to you that I am dying--that I have not strength to
walk across the floor."

"Then die," cried Pringle. "It is all you are fit for. Ask for no pity
from me." And with that he strode away without waiting to hear another
word, and shut the outer door behind him.

He stayed in the office as usual till evening; but he did not go near
Van Duren again all day. He had found a bottle of brandy upstairs in
Van Duren's room; this he appropriated, and his devotions were paid to
it so often during the day, that when evening came very little of it
was left. When he had closed the office, he sallied out, as on the
previous evening, but still without visiting his prisoner. He had no
appetite to-day; he could not eat. All he craved was more drink, and
so long as he had money in his pocket there was no difficulty in
getting that. Again he took what he called his rounds, and again it
was close on midnight when he found himself back in Spur Alley.

He was fumbling with his latch-key, when a hand was laid lightly on
his shoulder. He had heard no sound of footsteps, and he turned with a
low cry of terror. He turned and saw that it was his daughter who had
touched him.

"Why, Jessie--Jessie, my darling! is that you?" he exclaimed.

"Yes, it is I," said the woman, bitterly. "What have you done with Max
Van Duren?"

"Oh, never mind him just now. But why don't you kiss me, Jessie? Why
don't you kiss the foolish old man that has never ceased to love you,
and search for you, and long for you, day and night?" He was half
laughing and half crying as he spoke.

She just put her lips to his cheek, but he was not satisfied till he
had drawn her to him and she had kissed him again and again. Then she
repeated her question: "Father, what have you done with Max Van
Duren?"

"Oh, I've got the scoundrel in safe custody, never fear!"

"In safe custody! What do you mean?" she asked, anxiously.

"Come inside, and I'll tell you all about it."

He had succeeded in opening the door by this time, and his daughter
followed him into the dark entrance-hall.

"You needn't be afraid of meeting anything worse than black-beetles,"
he said, with a chuckle. "Follow me, Jessie, and mind the stairs," he
added, when he had bolted the front door. "There's fifteen of 'em;
I've counted them many a time. We shall find a glimmer in the kitchen,
I dare say."

They groped their way down, and entered the room.

"Many a worse crib than this," said Pringle, as he turned the gas full
on.

Then he stirred the fire, and drew a chair up for his daughter and
another for himself, and produced a bottle of brandy.

"And now for a comfortable little confab," he said, gleefully. "I've
quite a lot to tell you, dear; and I dare say you have something to
tell me."

"Suppose you tell me your news first," said the woman.
Neither in her manner towards him, nor in her mode of addressing him,
was there the slightest trace of tenderness, or any token by which a
stranger would have guessed that the man before her was her father,
whom she had not spoken to for several years. Her hard mouth and her
watchful eyes never for a moment relaxed their hardness or their
watchfulness.

"Funny, wasn't it," began Pringle, rubbing his lean, yellow hands in
front of the fire, but with his eyes fixed on his daughter, "that I
should have been Van Duren's clerk for three years before finding out
who he was?"

"And how did you find it out at last?" asked Jessie, without any
apparent emotion.

"I was rooting about among his papers one day, when I found some of
your letters, my dear. It was the greatest surprise I've ever had in
my life."

"He has kept my letters, has he?" said the woman, in an eager,
passionate way, breaking for a moment through the restraint she had
hitherto put upon herself.

"He _has_ kept them; so much the worse for him, as things have turned
out," said Pringle, grimly.

"What did you do next?"

"I put back the letters where I had found them, and waited for him."

"And waited for him?" cried the woman, wonderingly.

"Yes; he was away from home at the time I discovered the letters, and
I waited till he came back."

"And what did you do then?"

"It was only the night before last that he got back home. I had made
up my mind from the first how to act. He was only here for the night.
He was going to start away again next morning; but I guessed he
wouldn't leave without visiting the safe in the strong-room. So
instead of going up to bed, I came down here and waited in the dark
for him. I seemed to have been waiting a month, but it was only a few
hours, when he came. He went forward into the strong-room, and turned
on the gas. Then I stole swiftly after him. He did not hear me--he did
not see me till the last moment; and then it was too late. Before he
could reach the iron door, I had shut it on him and turned the key."

"You locked him in!"

"I locked him in. I made him my prisoner; and there he is at this very
moment."

The woman had changed colour and started to her feet when her father
made this disclosure. But another thought seemed to strike her, and
she sat down again, her ashy face turned full upon him, and a strange,
half-savage, half-defiant look in her eyes, which it was just as well
that the old man did not notice.


Pringle lighted his pipe.

"There's nothing like taking things comfortably," he said. "What a
fanny girl you are," he added presently. "I thought when you heard how
I had bowled out the scoundrel who had blasted both your life and
mine, that the least you could say would be, 'Well done!' But there
you sit as cool as a cucumber, and as mum as a mouse--just as if I had
been telling you a bit of news out of yesterday's paper."

"Your news has taken me so much by surprise, that I don't know what to
say," replied Jessie; "I want time to think it all over."

"But aren't you glad, girl, that we've got the villain fast? Isn't it
sweet to you to feel that his turn has come at last? My wrongs are
deep, but yours are deeper. You ought to exult in what I've done!"

"So I do, but I can hardly realize it yet. I keep on fancying it must
all be a dream."

"It's an uncommon ugly reality as far as he's concerned," answered
Pringle. "I don't think he'll trouble us long. I think another day and
night will about finish him."

Gradually the warmth of the fire, and the brandy he had taken and was
still taking, had a somnolent effect upon Pringle. He found his
eyelids closing involuntarily.

"I don't think an hour or two's snooze would be a bad sort of thing,"
he said.

"Where is this strong-room that you talk about?" asked Jessie.

"Why, close by here--on the bottom floor--just at the end of that
passage."

"And the keys--who keeps them?"

"Who should keep them but me? I've got them safe enough, never you
fear," and he tapped his pocket to verify the fact.

He poured himself out some more brandy, and when he had drunk it she
assisted him to the sofa, lowered the gas a little, and then took up
her own position in the big easy-chair on the opposite side of the
fireplace.

A few minutes later her father's deep, regular breathing told her that
he was fast asleep.

Then she crossed noiselessly over to where he was lying, and began
to feel for the pocket that held his keys. She was not long in
finding what she wanted. Then she lighted a candle, and taking the
candle-stick in one hand and the two keys in the other (after giving
a last look at her father), she set out in search of the strong-room.

The little Dutch clock in the kitchen was on the stroke of eight when
Jonas Pringle opened his eyes. He opened them, rubbed them, shut them,
and opened them again. He might well stare and ask himself whether he
had not taken leave of his senses. On a mattress in front of the
kitchen fire, a coverlid thrown over him, lay the form of Max Van
Duren. His eyes were shut and he was breathing heavily. Pringle was
still staring at this terrible object, and trying to pull his wits
together, when his attention was attracted by the noise of footsteps
descending the stairs, and next moment Jessie ushered into the room a
stranger, who at once crossed to where Van Duren was lying, and gazed
fixedly down on him. The stranger was, in fact, a doctor whom Jessie
had summoned by bribing a passing milk-boy to go and fetch him.

Van Duren was an utter stranger to him.

"Who are you, and what have you come for?" screamed Pringle. "Get out
of this, or it will be worse for you! I'll have no thieving quacks
here."

"Who is this man?" asked the doctor.

"My father."

"Then the sooner you have him removed the better. He must be either
drunk or mad."

Jessie took her father by the shoulders and pressed him down by main
force on to the sofa.

"Speak another word at your peril," she said sternly. "Disturb this
gentleman again, and as sure as I am what I am, I'll have you locked
up in there--in there, do you understand?" and she pointed in the
direction of the strong-room.

There was something in his daughter's face that cowed him--that
frightened him even. He had never seen such an expression on any other
face. He sat down without a word.

The doctor was down on one knee by this time, examining the
unconscious man.

"How did he come by this terrible wound on his head?" he asked
presently; "and why has he been allowed to sink so low? Some one ought
to have been called in two days ago."

"It's only about two days since he got home," said the woman, "and he
brought the wound with him. How he came by it nobody knows but
himself. Then, he was accidentally"--with a glance at Her father--"shut
up in the room where he keeps his books and things, and couldn't help
himself, and there I found him about two o'clock this morning."

"Was he conscious when you found him? Did he know you?"


"Yes."

"Why did you not send for medical assistance as soon as you found
him?"

"Because he wouldn't let me--he wouldn't hear of it."

"More fool he," said the doctor brusquely. "What did you give him to
eat or drink?"

"All that I could persuade him to take was a little brandy and water."

"Well, I can do nothing for him till he wakes," said the doctor as he
rose to his feet. "I may tell you that he appears, so far as I can
judge at present, to be in about as bad a way as it is possible for a
man to be. I don't think it advisable to disturb him, and this sleep
may do him good. I will call again about ten o'clock. Should he awake
before then send me word, and till I arrive keep on giving him a
teaspoonful of brandy every few minutes." With that the doctor went.

Jessie was kneeling by Van Duren's head, and she never moved to let
the doctor out. Pringle, with his red, watery eyes, and doubled-up
back, still sat on the sofa, his elbows resting on his knees, and his
chin in the palms of his hands, looking like a ghoul waiting for its
prey. Suddenly his daughter turned her head, and their eyes met.

"Look on your work and be satisfied," she said.

"I am looking, and I am satisfied," was the grim reply.

"And now," said the woman, speaking quietly, but with the same look on
her face that had already cowed him, "you had better leave me, or
there'll be harm done. I know there will. If you hadn't been my father
I should have stabbed you to the heart before now for what you have
done here"--pointing to the dying man. "Go! go! or worse will come of
it."

Pringle cowered before her, and muttering something to the effect that
a good wash would freshen him up, he slunk out of the room and
shuffled upstairs, coughing painfully as he went.

Jessie resumed her watch by the unconscious man, bathing his brows now
and again with a little vinegar. Presently he opened his eyes and
gazed up wonderingly into her face. Then he tried to raise himself on
his elbow, but fell back with a groan. Jessie gave him a little
brandy, and that seemed to revive him.

"Where am I; what has happened?" he murmured.

"Hush! don't talk now," said Jessie. "The doctor will be here in a
little while, and give you something to revive you."

"The doctor? The----Ah! everything comes back to me now. It was you
who opened my dungeon and helped me, bit by bit, to crawl here. What
good angel sent you to me, Jessie?"

Then, before she could answer, he began to mutter to himself in
German, a language which he very rarely spoke, and evidently knew her
no longer.

At this moment there came a sound of loud knocking at the front door.
At the noise Van Duren again turned his eyes on Jessie.

He looked at her as he had never looked at her before: with a pathos
and tenderness indescribable. But he did not speak.

Jessie's quick ears had heard her father open the door in answer to
the knocking, and now there was a sound of footsteps coming down the
stone stairs that led to the kitchen. Next minute the door was pushed
open, and three men came into the room. One of them was Peter Byrne,
and the other two were members of the police force in plain clothes.
Byrne was startled at the sight before him, but he did not lose his
presence of mind.

"There, gentlemen, is the man you are in search of. This is Max Van
Duren, formerly known by the name of Max Jacoby."

One of the officers advanced. "Max Jacoby, you are charged with being
the murderer of one Paul Stilling, at Tewkesbury, many years ago, and
I hold a warrant for your arrest."

"A warrant for my arrest!" echoed Van Duren feebly. "You have come too
late, gentlemen--too late, I say! I am beyond your reach now. I am
going where you dare not follow me!"

His eyes closed once more; he breathed three or four times, and then
not again.



CHAPTER XIII.
CONCLUSION.


On the sands at Boulogne-sur-mer. Time, a sunny afternoon. The persons
are Mrs. Kelvin and her son. The lady is half sitting half reclining
in the Bath chair in which she has been wheeled down to the sands.
Matthew Kelvin is sitting on a camp stool close by his mother, smoking
a cigarette, and dividing his attention between the bathers and a lazy
skimming of the London papers, which have just come to hand. He is
looking infinitely better than when we saw him last, and his mother
thinks that if she can only persuade him to stay away from that odious
business for another month, he will become as strong and hearty as
ever he was. It is her fixed belief that Matthew cannot really be
happy out of his office, and it is a belief that he had never cared to
disturb.

Mrs. Kelvin's attention, like that of her son, is half distracted from
the gay scene before her. The steamer has brought her several letters,
which she is reading intermittently, smiling to herself now and then
as she reads, and anon lifting her eyes to note the latest arrival on
the sands, or to watch for a moment the kaleidoscopic changes in the
ever-varying groups of loungers and bathers with which she is
surrounded. There is one letter, however, that she has kept till the
last. Her face clouds as she opens it. She glances at Matthew, and
sees that he is still busy with his newspapers. The letter does not
take her long to read, and, with a little sigh, she puts it back into
its envelope. The sigh rouses Matthew--he looks up.

"What is it, mother?" he asks. "Have Mrs. Aylmer's preserves turned
out badly? or has Miss Rainbow's ancient tabby given up the ghost at
last?" He takes her hand, and squeezes it with a little affectionate
gesture.

"Matthew," says the old lady very gravely, "I have had a letter this
morning from Olive Deane."

He turns quickly round, and his face seems to harden as he turns.

"And has she really dared to write to you?" he says, sternly. "Does
she think that the past can be so soon forgotten?"

"My dear, you are not like you talk in that way," answers Mrs. Kelvin,
as she lays her hand caressingly on her son's shoulder. "I never
rightly understood the reason of that terrible quarrel between you and
Olive. You were too ill for me to question you much at the time, and
since you have been better the mere mention of Olive's name has seemed
so distasteful to you, that I have spoken of her as little as
possible. But to say that I should not like to know how it happened
that you fell out so strangely, would be to say that I am not a
woman."

Under his breath Mr. Kelvin calls himself by a very strong name for
having spoken so hastily. He has carefully concealed from his mother
the fact of Olive Deane having been implicated in any way with regard
to his long illness. He has dreaded the effect such a revelation might
have upon her. He has allowed her to surmise and wonder as to the
origin of their sudden estrangement, but he has never really
enlightened her.

"Olive went off to Stammars one morning with a letter from you,"
resumes the old lady. "An hour later you rush off after her, although
you have not been out of your room for two months. You come back after
a time, but Olive does not. Next day she sends for her boxes, but from
the hour when she set out for Stammars till now, I have never set eyes
on Olive Deane."

"Yes, it must have seemed strange to you," says Mr. Kelvin, after a
pause; "but the subject was such a very painful one that I always felt
reluctant to mention it."

"You never thought, dear, how painful it must be to me to be left in
such a state of doubt and uncertainty."

"I know that I ought to have told you long ago. I will tell you now."
He pauses while he looks at his watch and folds up his newspaper. "The
facts of the case can be told you in very few words," he says. "Olive
Deane, during the time that I was ill, suppressed a very important
private letter that had been sent to me through the post."

"That was wrong, very wrong indeed," says the old lady, gravely. "Had
any other than you told me of it, I could not have believed them."
"That morning when she went to Stammars it was with a letter from me
addressed to Miss Lloyd. That letter she also suppressed, after
having, I presume, opened it and read it. I was very angry with
her indeed. I spoke my mind very strongly on the point, and we
parted--never, I hope, to meet again."

Mrs. Kelvin does not speak, and Matthew, looking up, sees that her
eyes are full of tears. "How would she feel, and what would she say,
if she knew everything?" he asks himself. "But she must never be
told."

"What you have just told me has pained me deeply," she says at last.
"But what a strange thing to do! What could her motive possibly be? I
believed in her as implicitly as if she had been my own child. And
then how kind and attentive she was during your illness!" Matthew
shudders. "She was simply invaluable to me at that time. And so fond
of you, too! And now you tell me these strange things about her. I--I
can't understand it at all."

"The subject is a very painful one to both of us. Suppose we say
nothing more about it," says Matthew, speaking very gently.

"I thought it strange that she never once mentions your name in her
letter," says Mrs. Kelvin, as she wipes her eyes. "It is just as well
to know that the girl is not without a home. She writes me that she
has accepted a situation with a family who are going out to the Hague
in a couple of months; so that she is not likely to trouble any of us
in time to come."

At this moment, who should march gravely up, and raise his hat with
what he firmly believes to be an air of the most refined fashion, but
Mr. Pod Piper? Mr. Piper wears a wideawake and a fashionable tweed
suit. He has taken care to button up his coat two minutes ago, so as
to hide from Mr. Kelvin's eyes the elaborate filigree chain, of Palais
Royal workmanship, which is festooned across his waistcoat. But the
huge pin in his scarf cannot be so easily kept out of sight, and all
the time he is talking to Mr. Kelvin he feels--and the feeling gives
him what he calls the "tingles"--that that gentleman is critically
regarding it, and as he stands there he inwardly resolves that he will
make a present of it to his bosom friend, Bob Tacket, the very day he
gets back to Pembridge, and that he will never wear another pin in his
scarf as long as he lives.

"Why, Piper, is that you?" says Mr. Kelvin, in his most pleasant
voice. "Got back safe and sound, eh? How have you enjoyed yourself?"

"Oh, splendidly, sir!--thanks to you. Never had such a holiday before.
Paris is a wonderful place, sir!"

"I suppose you speak French like a native by this time, eh?"

"Not quite that, sir. I know about fifty words, and I've got along
famously. Fifty words are quite enough to go from one end of the
country to the other with: a smile and a shrug go such a long way with
the French."

"I think you had better not cross till to-morrow morning," says Mr.
Kelvin. "You can then take over with you some papers for Mr. Bray. We
dine at six, and you must dine with us to-day."

Pod stammers out something--he hardly knows what--and colours up to
the roots of his hair. Dine with the governor! What will they say at
Pembridge when he tells them? He feels himself grow an inch taller in
two minutes. After a few kind words from Mrs. Kelvin, he is dismissed
till six o'clock.

Pod's trip to Paris is accounted for by the fact of his employer
having made him a present of a twenty-pound note and a week's holiday.
Ten pounds out of the twenty Pod has given to his mother. With the
remaining ten, and some previous savings, he has enjoyed himself for a
week in Paris.

"You don't mean to say, Matthew, that that boy has been to Paris all
alone?"

"I suppose he has. Why not?"

"Consider his age. Consider the temptations of such a place."

"Oh, I would trust Piper anywhere. He's got the head of a man of
thirty on those boy's shoulders of his."

"He seems a shrewd boy, certainly. You appear to have taken a quite
uncommon interest in him of late, Matthew."

"Yes, I do feel a great interest in him. It is not often I take a
fancy, but I've taken a fancy to Piper, and I mean to put him in the
way of making his fortune."

"As how?"

"By having him articled to a first-class legal firm, and afterwards by
purchasing a partnership for him, or else by setting him up on his own
account."

"But that will cost a great deal of money."

"Not so much, perhaps, as you imagine. But whatever the cost may be, I
have made up my mind to do it, and do it I will."

Mrs. Kelvin knows nothing of the great service which Pod Piper has
rendered her son. She does not know that but for Pod's shrewd
thoughtfulness and presence of mind she might perhaps no longer have
had a son. But Matthew Kelvin knows, and does not forget.

"But if you want to have young Piper articled, why not article him to
yourself, Matthew?"

"Because I think we shall be better apart, and that it will be better
for him to leave Pembridge for a few years. Because, too----"

"Because what, dear?"

"Because I have some serious thoughts of retiring from business before
long."

A pause. Mrs. Kelvin tries to adjust her spectacles, but cannot, her
hand trembles so much.

"The business, Matthew, that was built up by your father and
grandfather, through so many years of industry and thrift?"

"Yes, the business that was built up by my father and grandfather, and
that has been crowned by me with many years of quiet work. Mother, I
am rich enough to give it up. I shall never marry and have children,
and--I am ambitious.--Because my father and grandfather lived and died
two quiet country lawyers, that is no reason why I should be content
to do the same. To-day is not as yesterday. I have larger views and
different aims than theirs. I am sick and tired to death of the petty
drudgery necessitated by a business like mine. I want to get into
Parliament, I want to----"

"Into Parliament, Matthew! How proud I should be to see you there!"

"Would you? Then I hope you will see me there before this time next
year. I know for a fact that Sir Thomas means to give up his seat next
spring. Some of his chief supporters have been coquetting with me
already. But if I become M.P., I must give up my profession and devote
the whole of my time to my new duties. I hope to make my mark yet
before I die."

"You are right, and I was wrong," says Mrs. Kelvin. "Business must be
given up. You have a career before you. After a time, perhaps, you
will marry, and then----"

"Never, mother. I shall never marry," says Matthew very gravely.

The tide has been coming in very quickly, and a bigger wave than
ordinary now comes creaming up nearly to their feet. They must move at
once.

"It is time to go, the breeze is growing chilly," says Mrs. Kelvin.
"You must tell me more of your plans and thoughts to-morrow."

As they turn the corner of the Etablissement, they meet and pass three
people--a lady and two gentlemen--who are on their way to the sands.

"What a remarkably handsome woman!" says Mrs. Kelvin to her son.

"Just my thought, mother. I wonder what country woman she is--not
English, certainly."

But in saying this, Matthew Kelvin is mistaken. The lady who has
attracted the admiration of himself and his mother is, in fact, none
other than our old acquaintance, Miriam Byrne--now Mrs. James Baron.
The gentlemen with her are her father and her husband.

Mr. Kelvin and Peter Byrne have never met, and are unaware of each
other's existence. They have both been prominent actors in that
strange drama which has had Eleanor Lloyd and Gerald Warburton for its
central figures--a drama which must of necessity have worked itself
out in an altogether different manner had neither of them, or only one
of them, played a part in it. Yet, to-day, they pass each other,
knowing nothing of all this, each going his own road, never to meet
again. So runs the world away.

Mr. Byrne looks younger and more jaunty than ever. His new set of
teeth are marvels of dentistry and gleam whitely in the sun every time
he smiles--and to-day he seems to be one perpetual smile. There is a
fine bright colour on his cheeks, the origin of which it might not be
wise to inquire too curiously into. His blue frock-coat is tightly
buttoned, so as to show off the elegance of his figure. He wears
lemon-coloured gloves and carries the slimmest of umbrellas.

Nearly everyone turns to look at Miriam. Various types of French and
English beauty are by no means uncommon on the sands at Boulogne, but
Miriam's peculiar style of face is very rarely seen in the north of
Europe, and it strikes the gay crowd with all the freshness of
novelty.

Miriam is dressed in the latest fashion of seaside extravagance. She
is quite conscious of the sensation which she creates as she moves
slowly along, but she has been used to be stared at from the time that
she can remember at all. To be admired seems to her as natural as to
breathe: admiration is her birthright, and she accepts it with the
serene self-unconsciousness of a queen accepting the homage of her
subjects.

Mr. James Baron is one of those fair-haired, blue-eyed young Saxons
who seem all to have been cast in the same mould, and of whom there is
little or nothing to be said. But he is Miriam's choice, and Miriam
loves him, and that is enough.

The services rendered Ambrose Murray by Peter Byrne and his daughter
have been most liberally rewarded. But, in addition to this, some old
mining shares which Byrne had long looked upon as utterly worthless
have--to use his own phrase--"turned up trumps" at last, and the old
poverty-stricken days in Amelia Terrace are at an end for ever.
Through Gerald's influence, a capital situation has been found for
young Baron with a large wine firm at Bordeaux, so they are all
keeping holiday together for a little while before the young couple
set out for their new home.

"Papa," says Miriam with a smile, "if anyone had told you, three
months ago, that you would be walking here with James and me, that you
would call James 'my dear boy' a hundred times a day, and that you
would have actually given me away--with your blessing--to the man
whose name you could not bear to hear me mention, what would you have
said?"

"I should have recommended the immediate application of a strait
waistcoat. But circumstances alter cases, as we have all lived to
prove, and it's only your narrow-minded people who will never admit
that they are in the wrong."

"Do you remember how shocked you were when I told you to what use I
should put Mr. Warburton's money if it ever came into my hands?"

"Ah, my dear, you never really understood the secret of my opposition
to your little love affair. James, here, has a great deal to thank me
for. I knew your disposition, dear, better than you knew it yourself.
I knew that if your courtship were allowed to go on in a quiet,
conventional, hum-drum sort of way, without any parental opposition to
infuse a spice of romance and difficulty into the affair, you would
never learn to care quite so much for James, or to value him so highly
as you would do if your wishes were judiciously thwarted for a time.
You like your husband all the better because you have had a difficulty
in making him your husband. It is a sort of weakness by no means
uncommon with your sex. As I said before, James has much to thank me
for."

Mr. Baron and his wife both burst into laughter.

"Trust papa for never being without an excuse!" says Miriam.

The scene changes. The accident ward in a London hospital. Time, eight
p.m.

On a pallet in one corner of the ward, between which and the long row
of other pallets stands a big black screen, lies all that remains of
Jonas Pringle. He has breathed his last but a few minutes ago.
Kneeling on the floor, her face buried in her hands, is the dead man's
daughter. Run over in the streets when drunk, he has been brought here
early in the afternoon. He is just able to tell his daughter's
address, and then he lapses into unconsciousness. He never opens his
eyes or speaks again, but with his daughter's hand clasped in his, he
sleeps himself away as gently as though he were a little child hushed
on its mother's breast.

Jessie is roused at last by a hand laid gently on her shoulder. She
looks up, and sees one of the visiting sisters of mercy. She rises to
her feet, and the sister, who has thought she was crying, is surprised
to see that her eyes are dry and tearless.

"He was your father," says the sister, with a slight touch of surprise
in her voice.

"Yes, he was my father," says Jessie, gently.

Then she asks for a pair of scissors, and having cut off a lock of her
father's hair, she wraps it in a piece of paper, and places it inside
the bosom of her dress. Then, still with dry and tearless eyes, she
kisses the dead man's cold forehead.

"I've got money at home," she says to the sister, who is standing
quietly by. "The parish mustn't lay a finger on him. I'll bury him
myself."

Then, with a muttered good night, she turns and goes. She stands for a
moment at the hospital door, gazing up and down, the rainy, lamp-lit
street, and shudders as she gazes. Then she draws her scanty shawl
more closely round her, and stepping out into the rain, she hurries
away--whither?


Again the scene changes. The great drawing-room at Stammars. Time,
nine p.m. of a January evening.

It is Miss Sophy's birthday, and there is a large gathering of young
people to celebrate the event. There are only five grown-up persons in
the room, and all of them are known to us. First and foremost come Sir
Thomas and Lady Dudgeon, looking exactly as they have looked any time
these ten years. That thin, dreamy-looking, white-haired gentleman in
the corner, with a very tiny young lady on his knee who is resting
from her romps for a few minutes, is Mr. Ambrose Murray. That dark,
foreign-looking gentleman, and that handsome lady, who are walking
through a quadrille with two partners of the mature age of twelve, are
Mr. and Mrs. Warburton. They two, together with Mr. Murray, having
eaten their Christmas dinner with dear, kind-hearted Miss Bellamy,
have come down for a month's visit to Stammars.

Mr. Murray can now bear his own name, and is as free to come and go as
any one. Acting on the advice of friends, he went back to the asylum
from which he had escaped, and gave himself up. A case was then
prepared for the Home Secretary, and that high functionary, having
considered the same at his leisure, has been graciously pleased to
advise that Ambrose Murray be granted a free pardon, and that the
conviction recorded against him be considered null and void.

Eleanor and Gerald have been married three months, and are as happy as
they deserve to be. This morning they walked through the lanes and
fields, as far as the little churchyard in which Jacob Lloyd sleeps his
last. Eleanor always feels as if she must have had two fathers--one
in the past and one in the present. With tears in her eyes, she
talks to her husband of the dear father who lies here, and she kisses
the wreath of everlastings she has brought with her before she lays it
gently on his grave.

On their way back they call at the lodge to see "little Miss Waif," as
Gerald calls the child whom, a year ago, he found so strangely in the
hedge bottom. It has never been claimed, and probably never will be
now. Eleanor has had it christened after herself, and is very fond of
it. Gerald, too, has a sneaking sort of liking for the child. He
cannot forget that it was while he was holding it in his arms, and
blushing to the roots of his hair, that he first saw Eleanor, and
first spoke to her. Many a laugh have they had about that incident
since their marriage. That the child's future will be carefully looked
after we may safely assume.

When ten o'clock strikes, the juveniles troop off to supper, and Sir
Thomas buttonholes Gerald, and takes him off to the smoking-room.
There is something on his mind which he is evidently bursting to
confide to Gerald.

"Look here, Pomeroy," he says--he can't forget the old familiar
name--"I'm going to tell you something that I've not told to anybody,
and that I wouldn't have her ladyship know just yet for the world. What
do you think? I've made up my mind to resign my seat!"

"You do indeed surprise me!" says Gerald.

"I mention this to you because I think it would be a good chance for
you to try to get into parliament yourself. You know, Pomeroy, I
always said you were cut out for an M.P."

"You flatter me, Sir Thomas. All the same, I'm greatly obliged to you
for honouring me with your confidence in this matter, although I shall
not be able to do what you have so kindly suggested. My wife and I
have made up our minds to travel for a couple of years before I settle
down to anything."

"Ah, that's a pity now! because I could have given you such a lot of
support."

"May I ask what your motives are for resigning your seat?"

"I've found out, Pomeroy, that it was never intended by Nature that I
should write M.P. after my name. And then I hate London. I'm never
either well in health or happy in mind when I'm there. Give me,
instead, what my wife calls 'the dull pursuits of country life.'
Though why she should call them dull, I can't for the life of me see.
What can be more exciting, for instance, than a show of prize
bullocks, or a good ploughing match? And where is there anything in
all London half as pretty as a field of wheat on a midsummer morning,
especially when the crop's a good one, and the field happens to be
your own?"

"It will be a great disappointment to her ladyship."

"That's the deuce of it," says Sir Thomas, with a dismal shake of the
head. "Between you and me, I dread telling her. There will be an
explosion, my boy--an explosion. But I've made up my mind to go
through with it, and go through with it I will."

He jingles the loose change in his pocket and whistles under his
breath, but is evidently far from easy in his mind.

It need hardly be said that Eleanor stands higher in the favour of
Lady Dudgeon than ever she did before. If she is penniless herself,
has she not a husband who is worth twenty thousand pounds? Her
ladyship could afford to condone much in face of such a golden fact as
that. Not that there is anything to condone in the case of Eleanor, as
matters have turned out; but had it unhappily been the case that
Gerald was not his uncle's heir, it may be feared that Eleanor's
offences would have been altogether past condonation.

The evening wears on, and one after another the young people take
their leave, till only a few are left, who are not going home till
morning. These, tired out at last with dancing and romping, gather
round Ambrose Murray, and beg of him to tell them a fairy tale. So he
tells them a tale in which there is a giant and a dwarf, and a castle
with walls of brass, and a magic horn that hangs by the gate, and a
beautiful princess who is shut up in a dungeon, and a brave knight who
has many wonderful adventures and hair-breadth escapes.

When the tale is done, being a little weary, he bids the children a
kindly goodnight, then he shakes hands with Sir Thomas and Lady
Dudgeon, and asks them to excuse his retiring. Eleanor goes with him
to the foot of the stairs, where they kiss each other and say
goodnight. Eleanor stands and watches him as he goes slowly up the
wide staircase, looking very tired, she thinks. He turns when he
reaches the landing, and smiles, and waves his hand to her. She blows
him a last kiss. Next moment he is gone, and she hurries back to the
drawing-room.

When Ambrose Murray reaches his room, he rakes the glowing embers
together, and puts out his candle. He often sits in the dark for
hours. Then he draws up one of the blinds, and looks out. The
atmosphere is very clear, and the sky is brilliant with stars. He
stands there for a long time, gazing up at the stars with rapt look on
his face. His thoughts are evidently far away--far away, it may be,
from earth and all its weariness and troubles. By-and-by he goes and
kneels down by the side of his bed, and clasps his hands.

And there next morning they find him, still kneeling, still with
clasped hands, and with a look of ineffable peace on his white, worn
face--of that peace which passeth all understanding.



THE END.



______________________________________________
BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD, SURREY.





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